Sheep in the Stable

Today we will continue our study of the animals surrounding Jesus at His birth. We know the characters. Let’s get to know the animals better. We may discover that we have personality traits similar to the characteristics of the animals.

Luke 2:7 says, “And she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. People in Bethlehem did not provide a place where Jesus could be born. However, the animals welcomed Him into their shelter. It may have been a little stinky but I don’t think that bothered Jesus.

As I gaze upon our nativity scene, I pick up a little lamb. I also pick up the figure of baby Jesus, the Lamb of God.

In John 1:29, John the Baptist proclaims, Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! John not only gave Jesus a title but defined His purpose. Jesus was born, probably among lambs, in order to provide salvation for people. He would die for the salvation of the people who would not provide Him a warm, clean place to be born. I think Jesus, as the Lamb of God, would have been very comfortable among some four-legged creatures who were snuggled down for the night in a cozy barn.

The lambs and sheep surrounding Jesus at His birth, symbolize us. Jesus came to earth and was born in a stable to offer us eternal life. We cannot forget the words of John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.We need the Lamb of God.

Sheep are rather dumb animals. No other livestock requires more handling and detailed direction than sheep. We will have to admit that we can act and react in some not so brilliant ways. At times, we can be stubborn and dumb like sheep. If we had lived over 2000 years ago, we may have been like the innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph. Today, do we have room in our hearts for Him?

Isiah 56:3 states, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.We are sheep. Jesus is the Lamb who came for His sheep. I Peter 1:19 says we are redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Jesus says in John 10:27-28, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.

If we are part of the Lord’s sheep fold, we can personalize Psalm 23. We are privileged to have the Lord be our Shepherd, We can be confident that we shall not want for provision. We know we will lie down in green pastures and be led by still waters. The Lord assures us He will restore our souls and guide us in paths of righteousness. He does it for His name’s sake. Even though we may walk through valleys and shadows, we are told that we do not need to fear evil because He promises to be with us. He prepares us a table even if we are surrounded by enemies. He will anoint our heads with oil. Our cups will overflow. We have the blessing of knowing goodness. Mercy will be available  and we will always dwell in the house of the Lord.

I now place a couple of little lamb figures in our nativity scene. I put one close to the feet of Jesus. This little lamb represents those of us who have a personal relationship with Jesus. We desire to sit at His feet and learn from Him. We want to hear His voice and follow Him as our Shepherd. I place another lamb further back in the stable. This one may symbolize the one lost sheep that Jesus talks about in the parable of the lost sheep. (see Matthew 18:10-14) Jesus desires to bring this little lamb into His fold.

During this Advent season, I encourage you to carefully examine your life and determine your location in the manger scene. Do you truly believe He is the Lamb of God? Is He your Shepherd? Do you hear His voice? Have you invited Him to be born in your heart? Is there room in your life’s inn for Him?

 

A Donkey in the Stable

Advent has begun. It is time for me to get out Christmas decorations. The first thing I set up is our nativity scene. I lovingly hold each figure as I place it in the stable. Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, take center stage. Rightfully so. However, my attention is drawn to the animals.

No scripture mentions the animals being in the barn. However, we know Jesus was born in a stable. A stable was the home of animals. They had to have been there! It was the animals who were willing to share their abode with Jesus because there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn.

Luke 2:7 NKJV says, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

During the coming weeks of Advent, we will carefully look at the various animals who surrounded Jesus at His birth. We will think about the nature of each animal and meditate upon their symbolism.

Our first focus is upon the donkey. After all, it was a donkey that brought the star character to the scene. While Jesus was still being cradled in his mother’s womb, he traveled upon a donkey to where he would be born. Without the donkey, there would not have been a baby born in Bethlehem’s manger. There would not have been a reason for a star to shine above the stable. It all depended upon the donkey. This animal was the mode of transportation for the fulfillment of the prophecy recorded in Micah 5:2. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.

A donkey is a cross between horse and mule. It is a lowly animal. Mary and Joseph were also of lowly status. In the Magnificat, Mary described herself as being in the humble state of a servant. (Luke 1:48) Joseph was a carpenter. He was not wealthy nor a man of political status. When people learned that Mary was pregnant and unwed, she was looked down upon.

Lowliness is humility. On two occasions, Jesus and a donkey shared humility. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He traveled to Bethlehem upon a donkey while still in Mary’s womb. Jesus died in Jerusalem. He arrived in Jerusalem riding upon a donkey where He was tried and crucified.

Philippians 2:5-11 describes the mind of Christ exhibited by Jesus while He lived on earth. Verses 7-8 say, “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.

I believe the lowly donkey sets an example for us.
Proverbs 16:19 declares, “It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Philippians 2:3-4 encourages us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (my emphasis)

I place the donkey near Mary, Joseph and Jesus in our nativity scene. As a lowly animal, the donkey symbolically reminds me of humility. Colossians 3:12 is a good scripture for us to strive to fulfill during this season of preparation for Christmas. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

A Cornucopia of Gratitude

November 28 is when the people of the United States of America will celebrate Thanksgiving in 2019. A cornucopia is a common symbol of the Thanksgiving season. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary describes a cornucopia as “a curved, hollow goat’s horn or similarly shaped receptacle (such as a horn-shaped basket) that is overflowing with fruit and vegetables.  It is used as a decorative motif of abundance.” It is also known as a horn of plenty.

Historically, one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations took place in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast. This was after the colonists’ first successful corn harvest. I can imagine a goat’s horn filled with an abundance of harvested crops placed in the center of the table. It probably was a horn filled with plenty of corn, squash and pumpkins. Everyone expressed their thankfulness.

As a child, I remember my mother placing a cornucopia on our kitchen table during the Thanksgiving season. It was a horn-shaped wicker basket filled with artificial grapes, apples, and pears. (We ate the real fruit.) It was our horn of plenty. It was a reminder of God’s bountiful provision. We were thankful.

Today, I imagine myself being a cornucopia in the flesh. I am filled with an abundance of gratitude to God. I do not look like a cornucopia but my heart is overflowing with thanksgiving. A musical horn produces a pleasant melody when it is played. Maybe I am a human horn of plenty vocally expressing praise and gratitude to God for His bountiful blessings.

The following scriptures are examples of the spiritual fruit that is flowing out of my carnal cornucopia.

I give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
His love endures forever.
I Chronicles 16:34

I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High.
Psalm 7:17

I will give thanks to You, LORD, with all my heart;
I will tell of all
Your wonderful deeds.
Psalm 9:1

I will come before His presence with thanksgiving,
I will shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For the LORD is a great God
And a great King above all gods,
Psalm 95:2-3

I will praise the LORD. I will give thanks to the LORD,
for He is good; His love endures forever.
Psalm 106:1

Let me give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness,
And for His wonders to the sons of men!
Psalm 107:8

And whatever I do, whether in word or deed,
I do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:17

Thanksgiving is more than just the name of the holiday when we gather together for a feast of food. As we look at the cornucopia, may we be reminded of the true meaning of our Thanksgiving. May Thanksgiving Day be a day of giving thanks.

 

Find Him in the Hallway

Everyone occasionally encounters dark and difficult situations while walking through life. In the following paragraphs, we will look at the same situation from two different perspectives.

Walking down a dark hallway alone:

You have been living a comfortable, enjoyable life. Suddenly you are pushed out of your comfort zone. The loss of a job – a devastating health report – a rocky relationship. You are shoved into a hallway. The door behind you slams shut. You are in a dark corridor. You can’t perceive what is next. You are afraid.

You cannot see where you are going. Which way do you turn? Do you go to the right or to the left? No open door. Wait a minute. One door is ajar. Is there a glimmer of light? Is there a ray of hope? You shove the door open. A job interview – a new treatment or procedure possibility – a text from the estranged person that sounds encouraging. However, it is only a dim daydream that does not materialize. The little light is snuffed out. Into the dark hallway again.

It seems darker. You feel your way down the hallway. You try every doorknob you encounter. All are unyielding. Then your hand touches a familiar shape on the wall. It is a light switch. You flip the switch’s little lever. Light!

You are immersed in light. A stairwell is directly ahead of you. You do not tumble down the stairs. You see a way up and out of the darkness. You progress up the stairs! There is a sunbeam beckoning you to a higher level.

Relief floods your mind. This encounter has not been fun. It has been worrisome. You wonder where the corridor will lead next. You are out of the dark hallway and into the light for now. Life continues.

Walking down a dark hallway with the Lord:

You may encounter the loss of a job – a devastating health report – a rocky relationship. You may feel like you are shoved into a dark hallway. It is scary walking down a darkened corridor.

II Corinthians 5:7 NKJV reminds you that you walk by faith and not by sight. Darkness need not scare you. The Lord is with you during the dark and doubtful times. Psalm 37:23 NLT assures you, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

You may describe your dark hallway as a dark valley. Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you (the Lord) are with me.” You remember the words of Isaiah 41:13, “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”

A switch takes place when you reach out for the spiritual light switch. Your frustration can turn into faith. Your light switch – your source of light is Jesus. John 8:12 says Jesus is the Light of the world. Jesus says in John 12:46, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.”

You remember Philippians 4:6. You say, “I will not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, I will present my requests to God.”

Now you proclaim Colossians 1:13-14, “For He rescued me from the domain of darkness, and transferred me to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom I have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

You remember Proverbs 16:9, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” You will be able to echo the words of Psalm 18:28, “God turns my darkness into light.”

Your testimony may include Isaiah 9:2. “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” You can share Ephesians 5:8 saying, “I was once in darkness, but now I am a light in the Lord. I will live as a child of light.”

You can declare Nehemiah 8:10, “I do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is my strength.”

Summary:

You will encounter hallways while walking through life. Some of these corridors will be dark. I have heard it said that it is hell in the hallway. No! Allow hallways to lead you to heaven. Shut out your human imaginations and reach for the spiritual reality. Jesus is the light that overcomes the darkness.  He is with you no matter what your circumstances.

Sarah Young is the author of the devotional book Jesus Always. Hear Jesus speak the following words. “As you journey through life in this dark world, I am with you each step of the way. I provide Light not only to your path but also to your mind and heart. I delight in giving you Joy – now and throughout eternity. Your brightest moment on earth will one day look very dark in comparison with the Glory-Light of heaven!”

YET

YET is a little 3 letter word I keep in the pocket of my heart. Frequently, I pull it out and apply it to my life. I can say, “I don’t have it YET.” (definition: up until the present time) Or, I can say, “YET I will praise the Lord.” (definition: nevertheless)

According to II Corinthians 1:20, I know God’s promises are yes and amen. Hebrews 11:1 tells me, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
When I have a need, I find a scriptural promise and ask God to fulfill it. I believe He will answer. However, I do not always see the manifestation of God’s answer as quickly as I would like.
So, I pull out this powerful little word, YET, from my pocket.

For example.
I need a physical healing.
In Exodus 15:25, God says, “I am the LORD, who heals you.” According to Matthew 4:23, Jesus healed every disease and sickness among the people.
I claim and pray. However, my aches and pains do not immediately disappear.
Does this mean I ignore my physical limitations? Certainly not.
Does this mean I cannot claim healing? Not at all!
I pull out the concept of YET from my heart and proclaim, “I do not see or feel my healing YET.”

YET reveals my faith in God’s ability to hear and answer my request for healing.
I walk by faith, not by sight. (II Corinthians 5:7)
I believe in healing.
I also believe God answers in His time. (He has made everything beautiful in its time. – Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Another example.
There are family members who are not walking with the Lord.
I claim the promise of Acts 16:31. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.”
No immediate turn around by the wayward ones after I pray.
I verbally state, “These individuals have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior YET.”
I am still believing. I trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

Kris Vallotton has said, “between the promise and the palace, there should always be a process that is natural and needed.” He goes on to say, “If you’re in the middle of the process, what I really want you to hear today is that this time is just as purposeful as when you will one day be in the palace.” This is where I pull out my YET. No immediate answer to my prayer does not mean God is not answering. He has His way. (“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9)

Since I have the word YET out of my pocket, I use it another way.

In Habakkuk 3:17, the prophet describes his current circumstances. There are no figs or fruit or olives. The fields produce no food and the flocks are deteriorating. Not good! However, he then says in verse 18. “Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”

My application.
Although I may still feel physical pain, I will declare, “YET I will praise the Lord for He is God. He is my Healer.”
O
r, I may admit that my loved ones have not changed their paths of life. YET I praise the Lord because He is God. I know He is at work.
I demonstrate my belief in the promise through praise.

I cast my cares on Him according to I Peter 5:7. I choose not to worry as I’m told in Matthew 6:34. I worship – not worry. Like Paul in Philippians 4:4, I will rejoice in the Lord. According to verses 6 and 7, I will “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving I will let my requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” I rejoice in the Lord always. I rejoice in God – not my problems.

I keep the little word YET handy in the pocket of my heart. I use it often. It is a powerful word.

My Reader, is YET in your heart’s pocket?

 

God’s Word is Alive!

The Bible. It is not simply words about God – it is the Word of God. It is not just printed ink on a bunch of pages – it is the voice of God in print. Graham Cooke says, “God’s Word is living and active. It contains divine energy, always moving and accomplishing His purposes.”

I quote numerous scriptures in most every blog I post. I use scripture verses to support what I write. Today, I want to share verses that validate the power of God’s Word.

The sum of Your word is truth [the total of the full meaning
of all Your individual precepts]; and every one
of Your righteous decrees endures forever.
Psalms 119:160 AMP

The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40:8 AMP

Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass.
I have purposed it; I will also do it.
Isaiah 46:11 NKJV

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:11 NKJV

Then said the Lord to me, “You have seen well,
for I am alert and active, watching over My word to perform it.”
Jeremiah 1:12 AMP 

For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God
shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.
Luke 1:37 AMP

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
so that the man of God may be adequate,
equipped for every good work.
II Timothy 3:16-17

For the word of God is alive and active.
Sharper than any double-edged sword,
it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow;
it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12

But the Word of the Lord (divine instruction, the Gospel) endures forever.
And this Word is the good news which was preached to you.
I Peter 1:25 AMP

Do you believe these words from the Word? According to Hebrews 6:8, it is impossible for God to lie. Romans 4:21 reminds us that Abraham was convinced that God could do whatever He promised. We can have the same confidence. II Timothy 2:13 AMP declares, “He remains true (faithful to His Word and His righteous character), for He cannot deny Himself.”

There is no doubt in my mind that God’s Word is true and powerful!

Lessons from Letchworth

Our favorite place to enjoy the autumn colors is Letchworth State Park. It is located in western New York state approximately an hour from our home. I want to share a few lessons I learned from the Lord while recently visiting this scenic wonderland.

Letchworth State Park covers 14,500 acres. It is the largest canyon east of the Mississippi River and is known as the Grand Canyon of the East. It is massive! As I survey the height and depth of this canyon and gaze at the tremendous trees, I am reminded of Ephesians 3:17-18. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

We are embedded in beauty. The accumulation of crunchy brown leaves on the ground creates a mattress. As our eyes survey the fall foliage forest on the banks of the canyon, a multicolored patchwork quilt is displayed.

Let me describe this brilliant quilt of colorful leaves. There is an abundance of yellow and gold. Gold is both a color and a commodity. I Peter 1:7 NKJV says, “the genuineness of your faith, is much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.Orange swatches are outstanding. The orange leaves remind me of flames of fire. Tongues of fire describe the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:3. “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Patches of green are intermingled. Evergreen trees and everlasting life. I John 2:25 says, “And this is what He promised us–eternal life. The reds are not as abundant but still evident. The red leaves are precious similar to the preciousness of Jesus’ blood. I John 1:7 NLT tells us, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.Beautiful colors are exhibited and powerful scriptures are interwoven in nature’s quilt.

Although we are captivated by the beauty of the trees, we also watch the Genesee River wind its way along the bottom of this gorgeous gorge. I am reminded of John’s words in Revelation 22:1-2. “Then He showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.The source of the spiritual River of Life is God’s throne. Nature’s Genesee River is a tributary of Lake Ontario and it flows through the park.

Letchworth State Park features three large waterfalls – the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls. There was in abundance of water flowing from these falls this year. John 7:37-39 says, “Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

We were enveloped in a mist of water vapor while standing near the Middle Falls. Suddenly, we saw a rainbow! Water droplets and rays of sun combined to create a bow of colors. God says in Genesis 9:13&16, “I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. I praise the Lord for His beauty and His promises!

We lingered at various overlooks taking in the magnificent overview of the canyon. We also lingered in the Lord’s presence. Throughout the day, He revealed multiple meandering messages. Let me continue to share a few more mini-messages.

When we stopped at the overlooks to get a better view, we saw a few burning bushes. Moses encountered a burning bush while taking care of sheep. Exodus 3:2-5 says, “The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, ‘I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.’ When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’” I felt like we were standing on holy ground while being consumed with the scenic surroundings.

We observed the massive rock formations creating the canyon’s walls. Time for another scripture. Psalm 118:22 says, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus is the rock, the sure foundation of our lives.

There was an abundance of sunshine throughout the day. The sunshine accentuated the beauty of autumn. I use a play on words while thinking of Jesus as the Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus is our Sonshine. He is with us throughout every day because according to Hebrews 13:5 He never leaves us or forsakes us.

Psalm 96:12 declares, “Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.Today, we have heard the joyful song of the trees in Letchworth State Park. We have sung our praises along with the forest. We have experienced the grandeur of the Grand Canyon of the East and the greatness of our God!