The Gifts we Give

So much of this time of year is devoted to spending money on gifts for everyone. But how many people have stopped to think about why? Is it fun to give gifts? One hundred percent yes! It’s one of my favorite ways to show I care for someone. But why do people choose a celebration that is supposed to be about Jesus to make it about everyone else? Think about it. The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion. What?!?

Let’s not forget that it was Jesus who received gifts upon His birth. It wasn’t humanity, but the Savior of humanity that was honored. As we celebrate the birth of our Messiah, throughout this fall and winter season, let’s keep it about our Messiah. The last thing kids need is to be showered with presents. Materialism is an enemy of the soul. What our kids need is to love Jesus. What our family members need is to love Jesus. That’s the greatest gift. Think about what one person can do for the cause of Christ with $700 rather than buying stuff that has zero eternal significance. Or what one nation could do with a half a trillion dollars. Americans could provide clean drinking water to the entire world in one holiday season. Just one. You could provide a billion kids with a free education in impoverished nations. Those are causes worthy of honoring our Savior.

Celebrating the birth of Christ is celebrating the greatest gift, which has already been given. God became flesh and dwelt among us. We already received the gift. It’s our turn to give the gifts back to Him and to raise up our children to love and honor Him with their lives. I love giving things to my kids. I really do. And I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get gifts. But why, for a celebration that is supposed to be all about Jesus, do we make it about anything other than Jesus? Let’s give the gifts of love, self-sacrifice, and service to those in need. Let’s devote our heart to Jesus as our gift to Him. He gave all of Himself to us. Now it’s our turn.

Peace in Christ, our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, and Almighty God!

The Gifts we Give

So much of this time of year is devoted to spending money on gifts for everyone. But how many people have stopped to think about why? Is it fun to give gifts? One hundred percent yes! It’s one of my favorite ways to show I care for someone. But why do people choose a celebration that is supposed to be about Jesus to make it about everyone else? Think about it. The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion. What?!?

Let’s not forget that it was Jesus who received gifts upon His birth. It wasn’t humanity, but the Savior of humanity that was honored. As we celebrate the birth of our Messiah, throughout this fall and winter season, let’s keep it about our Messiah. The last thing kids need is to be showered with presents. Materialism is an enemy of the soul. What our kids need is to love Jesus. What our family members need is to love Jesus. That’s the greatest gift. Think about what one person can do for the cause of Christ with $700 rather than buying stuff that has zero eternal significance. Or what one nation could do with a half a trillion dollars. Americans could provide clean drinking water to the entire world in one holiday season. Just one. We could provide a billion kids with a free education in impoverished nations. Those are causes worthy of honoring our Savior.

Celebrating the birth of Christ is celebrating the greatest gift, which has already been given. God became flesh and dwelt among us. We already received the gift. It’s our turn to give the gifts back to Him and to raise up our children to love and honor Him with their lives. I love giving things to my kids. I really do. And I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get gifts. But why, for a celebration that is supposed to be all about Jesus, do we make it about anything other than Jesus? Let’s give the gifts of love, self-sacrifice, and service to those in need. Let’s devote our heart to Jesus as our gift to Him. He gave all of Himself to us. Now it’s our turn.

Peace in Christ, our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, and Almighty God!

Spiritual Homes

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you go to church? Or why you go to small groups? I used to. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. We need to understand why we do things, especially as important as church. And we need the answers.

I used to be among those who didn’t always see the value of going to church. I’ve said my fair share of statements like, “you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian”. I never experienced church how it was meant to be experienced. I never found a place that felt like home. They were all so distant, methodical, cold, monotonous, and the like. Relationships were hard to come by and getting connected was not easy to do. It didn’t fee all that different from going most places. Most of the time it was far less rewarding. That’s sad to say.

The other problem I had, besides the churches that I went to, was a lack of knowing why God wants us in “church” in the first place. A huge gap in many people’s lives, who give up on church, or go “church hopping” is that they don’t know why they’re there in the first place. I fully admit that some churches are just hard to be in. Jesus addressed seven churches in the book of Revelation, which can also be seen as types of churches in all eras, most of which did not receive good marks. With the exception of those churches that are not good environments to be in, we can all do ourselves a huge service by understanding why we’re there.

Now, I still believe that a person does not need to be a member of a church to be a Christian. At least not the way that the western mindset thinks of church. But we are commanded to not neglect meeting together and encouraging one another. However that may look for you. Whether it’s a home church, a Bible study small group, you and a friend or two getting together, or an organized church gathering, it’s important. That’s because God knows that we need each other. We need a spiritual home to unpack our lives and establish our spiritual roots. We need a safe place. We need relationships that are healthy and can help keep us moving forward towards Christ.

A 2 hour trip to a building once a week just can’t cut it. Especially when the other 166 hours of the week are spent out in the harsh environment of the world. Also, if those 2 hours are spent singing a handful of songs, listening to a sermon, making some small talk, and then going about our day, then we aren’t getting the meaning of church. Perhaps that’s why so many lose heart and lose focus. Or maybe didn’t ever gain the right focus in the first place.

Church is, and always has been, a place for relationship. The primary relationship that needs to be fed is between us and the God we worship. Heartfelt worship is certainly one way to do that. Hearing from Him through His word and teachings can also help tremendously. But those are all things we can do on our own. And we should be doing those things every day on our own. But corporate worship is powerful. Whether it’s you and a friend or a congregation of thousands, multiple voices lifted to heaven is amazing. We need to be helping one another to understand the word of God and holding one another accountable in our pursuit of Christ. That, we cannot do on our own.

The other relationship that is important about church is the one we find in a friend. We have so many people at our church who we consider more than a friend. We consider them our family. They aren’t by blood. In fact, one a few are related to us. But they are closer than most of our family members. They know us more deeply. They’ve been there for us, and us for them. We pray together, serve together, sing together, and simply do life together. That is what church should look like. That is what is missing for so many, and what was missing for me for most of my life.

Church is a place where we should be pouring ourselves out every bit as much as we’re getting filled up. Church is not a department store where we go to find what we are in the market for. Yet that’s how so many treat it. We can’t go into church asking what we can get out of it. If we do, we’re lost before we ever walk through the doors. It’s not about our entertainment or satisfaction. It’s about relationships. And those only thrive when they are a two way street. Why should you be gathering with other believers? Because we need one another. Desperately. And our relationship with Yahweh only suffers when we decide to go it alone. Let’s worship together, learn together, and grow together. If that is truly what you want in life, God will open the door. Because that is what God wants for you.

God bless brothers and sisters. And may you find deep and meaningful relationships with other believers. And may your relationship with your Savior be more fruitful than ever! Shalom.

White noise

Life is so full. Full of cares and concerns, responsibilities, obligations, and the like. There’s work time, play time, and down time. When I was single, I thought life was busy. When I got married it seemed even busier. Add children to the mix, and time becomes one of the most precious commodities. But no matter how busy life is, it seems like we always find time and ways to distract ourselves.

In a media-driven world it seems altogether too easy to create white noise in our day. Stopping to check ESPN scores, news updates, the social media feed, likes and shares, video games, movies, Netflix, or a quick stop on YouTube for short videos. All of these simply amount to us creating distractions for ourselves. We’re drawn to these things because they are easy and they matter very little. We can escape the weightier matters of life through these other mediums. We can “check out” for a bit. Some might view it as regrouping. After all, some of life’s responsibilities are just too heavy to carry.

I am as guilty as most when it comes to making time to escape. But my goal is to fill that time escaping in more profitable ways. I want to feed my emotional, spiritual, and physical health in that space. It’ll be hard. I’ll have to fight so many urges and temptations. But in the end, if I’m successful, it’ll be so worth it. For me it’s drawing, playing music, working out, and writing that fill me back up. But what fills me the most, is time alone with Jesus. Praying, studying, and journaling. He is our ultimate source of strength and regeneration. He is the vine that provides the necessary nutrients to our souls. There is no greater escape we could make than to escape with Jesus. Then we can return to life’s matters fully equipped with His spiritual strength to face whatever the world throws at us.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah‬ ‭40:28-31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

May His peace and strength grow in His children so we can face the world full of joy and courage. God bless loved ones.

The Messiah of Psalm 118

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Often regarded as the center chapter of the Bible, Psalm 118 contains multiple prophecies regarding the Messiah. This psalm is beautiful and it paints a glorious picture of the future hope the Messiah brings. From verses 17 through 26 God addresses His chosen nation. The Messiah will be sent to Israel, be rejected, but while the temple still stands, He will be presented and His death will only be temporary. Below are three prophecies and how they played out many years later in Jesus of Nazareth.

  1. Death is not the end for the Messiah (Psalm 118:17)
    • In Luke 24 the tomb of Jesus is found to be empty. Not only that but there is an angel watching over it declaring that Jesus is risen. He says, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Jesus met with hundreds of people after He had risen from the grave. Death was not the end for Him.
    • “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV
  2. The Messiah is the rejected Chief Cornerstone (Psalm 118:22-23)
    • Jesus told several parables or stories about how the religious authorities of the time would reject Him. And most did. The parable about the landowner in Matthew 21 was particularly concise at building this theme. His time here on earth, Jesus was met by constant criticism and hostility by the religious authority.
    • “For it stands in Scripture: Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV
  3. The “Blessed One” of the Lord will be presented to Israel while the Temple stands (Psalm 118:26)
    • Multitudes sang praises about Jesus as He entered Jerusalem as being the Blessed one of God. Check out Matthew 21. Not long after this, Jesus enters the Temple to cleanse it from the profane acts being done there. Not long after, the vail would be torn and the Temple period would come to a quick close. But the Temple still had to be there. Let’s not forget that Israel was without a Temple for a long time until Herod rebuilt it just in time for Jesus’ arrival on planet earth. If the Messiah had come at any other time, these three prophecies couldn’t have worked. They could only come true in Jesus.

This concludes our walk through the book of Psalms. There are so many other Psalms we could look at. Here are some that were not included if you’d like to give them a read for further study: Psalm 78:1-2, 80:17, all of 88, 89:27 and 35-37, 90:2, 91:11-12, 129:3, and 147:2-6. We’ll conclude phase II of this study by looking at a couple of the Proverbs. Stay tuned! God bless brothers and sisters.

Divine Embrace

Lost in the moment in treasure’s embrace. The concerns that once flooded my mind vanish, without a trace.

My heart is overwhelmed by loves great call. How long has it been? I couldn’t recall.

Since the power of love had carried such force. What I felt was so beautiful, no fear or remorse.

It grasped my attention and broke down my walls. It was as the pure light which illuminates all it befalls.

My heart was so light yet my eyes filled with tears. For a few short moments, I had no problems, no fears.

I couldn’t escape, but why would I want to? I held on a little tighter, what else could I do?

As I stand in worship, life’s memories are before my eyes. Thankfulness in my heart continues to rise.

At times I am silent, I can’t muster my voice. And at times I can’t help but lift praise and rejoice.

The weight of this moment I couldn’t comprehend. But one thing I knew, I didn’t want it to end.

For the love of the Father has set me free. I may be holding my little girl, but God you’re holding me.

*A while back at church my daughter Anna and I were together for worship. She wanted to be held and I had no problem fulfilling that request. In the middle of worship, while I was holding my then five-year-old little girl, I was completely ambushed by God’s love. I’m not sure if that’s the right way to put it but that’s how I felt. It was out of nowhere. And extreme emotions overtook me. I was captivated all over again. God used my immense love for my daughter to remind me of His even greater love for me. It was a cherished moment that I’ll never forget. The words of this poem cannot fully express how I felt. But it’s at least a small glimpse. I hope you’ve all felt overwhelmed by His love for you. If not, that’s my prayer for you. God bless brothers and sisters.

The Messiah of Psalm 72

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The entire gospel message surrounding the life of the Messiah is presented in Psalm 72. From the birth of Jesus to His death, and ending with His exaltation and the impact on those who believe…it’s all there. Some of it is symbolism and other passages are quite clear. I’m going to divide up the three phases in a table below and put them with their New Testament counterparts. As always, I would encourage a full contextual reading of all of the passages below.

Theme Psalm 72 New Testament Meaning
The birth of the Messiah May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!

(verses 10-11)

Matthew 2:1-11 When Jesus was born, kings from all of the known world came to visit Him and bring Him gifts.
The death of the Messiah May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field!

(verse 16)

John 12:23-25

John 1:12-13

The grain in this passage is a symbol that Jesus used to reference Himself. When the “grain” dies or is harvested, it produces an abundance in the land. That abundance causes people to blossom or come to life.
The exaltation of the Messiah May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!

(verse 17)

Galatians 3:8

John 12:13

Revelation 5:8-12

The name of Jesus lives on forever and those who live in and believe in Him are blessed in the best possible way. 

In addition to all of these passages, the Psalm opens up with an address to God about His Royal Son. He is declared to be one who brings justice and care for the needy. The Son will uphold the cause of the oppressed and declare the righteousness of God. Any reading of the New Testament shows the life of Jesus did just that. Praise God for His Royal Son!