Run for God’s Resounding Applause!

“This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting–God’s applause!” (2 Timothy 4:7-8, The Message).

There comes a moment in every life when a corner is turned and the finish line comes into view. This was Paul’s moment, and in his closing letter to his young friend Timothy he calls him out as a champion, and gets him ready for the run of his life. “Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble,” he said to him, “there’s no way getting around it.” (ch.3:12).

He then encouraged him to remain steadfast in the teachings of the Bible, and to keep the Message alive with his life and works. “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another,” he said, “Showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (ch. 3:16-17).

He reminded Timothy that God would always be there backing him up, looking over his shoulder; thereby empowering him to stay focused and complete the work that God gave him to do.EricLiddell 02

Finally, Paul turns his gaze to the finish line and says, “This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting–God’s applause!”

These times in which we live are filled with transition. There are many who have labored long and hard, faithful to the Lord, and are now headed for the finish line as they pass the baton off to you and me. Grab hold of it firmly, and run with fire to the finish.

May we be like Eric Liddell, Scottish Olympic Champion and Missionary to China, who “felt God’s pleasure” when he ran — so much so that he would throw his head back and smile all the way across the finish line!

My friend, run for God’s resounding applause!

Thank You for 2013!

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The God Who Gives Himself Away

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found of you,” says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:13,14, New American Standard).

seek godDid you ever play hide‘n seek when you were a kid? Sure you did. Did you ever hide so good that nobody could find you? Perhaps. If so, let me ask you this — after awhile, did you get tired of hiding? What did you do to get caught?

Did you clear your throat at the appropriate moment, or click your tongue, or fake a cough? Did you throw a rock, or make some other noise? It was your way of letting the seeker know where you were; you were in fact “giving yourself away.”

God does the same for us!

He is right now next to you, breathing upon you, putting His hand upon your shoulder. Oh I know you don’t feel it — but, I’m tellin’ you, He’s there. Occasionally He even makes His presence known. Actually. Literally. Physically!

In other words, He “gives Himself away.”  He lets Himslef be found.

Just as a man in hiding would make his whereabouts known by stirring, so also God makes His presence known to us by stirring in our midst, by moving upon us with His Spirit. The fact is that no one could have ever found Him unless He gives Himself away! Unless He lets Himself be found.

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found of you,” says the Lord.

Perhaps you may wonder if you can find God? I assure you that you can. The Bible makes clear that you were created by God and put on the earth — at the right time and in the right place — to provide you the best possible opportunity to seek after and to find the Lord. “He is not far from any one of us.”(see Acts 17:26,27).

God gives Himself away to those who seek Him. But here is a thought for you to consider: He is seeking you! Are you hiding cleverly, thinking you will not be found? If so, isn’t it time for you to now give yourself away to Him? It’s easy, really — just call upon His name and say, “Here I am, Lord! Here I am!”

And you will find each other!

Thank You for 2013!

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The Word Became Flesh

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).

Looking upon the Babe in the Manger we realize that there is something more to this scene than meets the eye – something awesome, staggering, and absolutely incomprehensible. Something mysterious, magnificent, and undeniably Divine. God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, has Himself become a man!

The word “incarnation” comes from the Latin, and it means “in the flesh.” Paul the Apostle wrote to Timothy, saying, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16).

Church tradition holds that Four Homilies were preached on the four Sundays of the Advent season. The Third homily records a conversation between God and Gabriel concerning the Incarnation.

At one point Gabriel says, “Strange is this matter; passing comprehension is this thing that is spoken. He who is the object of dread to the Cherubim, He who cannot be looked upon by the Seraphim, He who is incomprehensible to all the heavenly powers – how can the womb contain Him who cannot be contained in space? How can the womb sustain the fire of divinity? Thy throne, O God, blazes with the illumination of its splendor, and can the virgin receive Thee without being consumed?”

burning bushAccording to the homily, the Lord answered that even as the bush in the desert was ignited with the fire of His presence and yet was not consumed, so would it be with Mary.

And is it yet possible for the Word to become flesh in you and me? Oh, not in the same manner as with Mary — certainly not. But nonetheless, Christ may be made manifest in each one of us everyday in a number of ways.

The Word itself stirs us to this great longing — “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh!” (2 Corinthians 4:11).

In what ways might others see Jesus in you today?

Thank You for 2013!

It has been our delight to provide these daily devotions throughout this past year. Would you make a year-end tax deductible contribution to TruthWorks to help us carry on into 2014? We would appreciate it far more than you could possibly even know; and you will be blessed in ways we could never imagine!

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The Coincidence of Christmas

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.” (Luke 2:1-3).

We know that Joseph and Mary lived in lowly Nazareth, and that they were relatively poor. We also know that the prophets of old foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is about 70 miles south of Nazareth. And we know that somehow Joseph and Mary, despite their financial challenges, would need to move to Bethlehem before the child is born.

But there is more to this story than at first meets the eye.

An angel could have appeared to them and said, “It’s time to go.” And a miraculous provision could have been made whereby the trip was rendered effortless. I mean, Elijah’s flaming chariot could have swooped down and whisked them away in seconds. Or, for that matter, the Spirit could have mysteriously transported them like He did with Ezekiel, or with Philip the Evangelist after he baptized the Ethiopian.

MaryJosephDonkeyBut no, it was a donkey ride for a very pregnant Mary.

Furthermore, it was necessary that Bethlehem be very crowded — in fact, over-crowded, so as to insure that there would be no room for them in the Inn; thus leaving them to the one place no one would choose on purpose — a stable behind the Inn, where a manger would serve as the Baby’s bed. And, mind you, all this had to happen in ways that could not be detected as Divine.

So God put it in the heart of Caesar Augustus to issue a decree that all the world be taxed, requiring every man to return to his home town. Thus Joseph, against his better judgement, had to submit to the law of Caesar and make the perilous trip to Bethlehem. Arriving at such an hour that all rooms had been taken — he settles into the stable and unknowingly finds himself at the epicenter of human history.

The Bible tells us that “God works all things after the counsel of His will.” So while Caesar regarded himself as the Emperor of the world, it was the Lord of Heaven and Earth who directed the King’s heart to accomplish His divine will.

When we carefully examine all the extraordinary events that each had to occur in an exact order and with specific timing so that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, in a manger — we cannot but be staggered at how the hand of God worked in all these things.

This was more than mere coincidence — it was the Coincidence of Christmas.

Let me close by asking a question. Is it possible that the hand of God is still working in coincidental ways today, both in our world as well as in our personal lives, in order to bring more and more of Jesus into our daily affairs? And instead of murmuring and complaining about disruptions and inconveniences — might we all be better served by looking for how God’s hand is working, and then start thanking Him for what He is doing?

Thank You for 2013!

It has been our delight to provide these daily devotions throughout this past year. Would you make a year-end tax deductible contribution to TruthWorks to help us carry on into 2014? We would appreciate it far more than you could possibly even know; and you will be blessed in ways we could never imagine!

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The Great Disruption

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.” (Luke 2:1-3)

The mighty Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, seeing that the economy needed a boost — made a decree that threw the ancient world into an upheaval of inconvenient travel and disgruntled activity. And thus was born what has been with us to this very day — the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

Philip Yancey, in The Jesus I Never Knew, writes,  “Sorting through the stack of cards that arrived at our house last Christmas, I noted that all kinds of symbols have edged their way into the celebration.

“Overwhelmingly, the landscape scenes render New England towns buried in snow, usually with the added touch of a horse-drawn sleigh. On other cards, animals frolic: not only reindeer, but also chipmunks, raccoons, cardinals, and cute gray mice. One card shows an African lion reclining with a foreleg draped affectionately around a lamb.

traffic_jam“Angles have made a huge comeback in recent years, and Hallmark and American Greetings now feature them prominently, though as demure, cuddly-looking creatures, not the type who would ever need to announce “Fear not!” The explicitly religious cards (a distinct minority) focus on the holy family, and you can tell at a glance these folks are different. They seem unruffled and serene. Bright gold halos, like crowns from another world, hover just above their heads.

“Inside, the cards stress sunny words like love, goodwill, cheer, happiness, and warmth. It is a fine thing, I suppose, that we honor a sacred holiday with such homey sentiments. And yet when I turn to the gospel accounts of the first Christmas, I hear a very different tone and sense mainly disruption at work.”

But, as I will point out tomorrow, there is a very specific reason for this great disruption. One that will amaze you, and lift your faith higher in these tumultuous days in which we now live.

See you tomorrow.

Thank You for 2013!

It has been our delight to provide these daily devotions throughout this past year. Would you make a year-end tax deductible contribution to TruthWorks to help us carry on into 2014? We would appreciate it far more than you could possibly even know; and you will be blessed in ways we could never imagine!

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Just When You’re Minding Your Own Business…

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8).

No one knew but Joseph and Mary, and their closest relatives. To all other observers Mary was a pregnant girl shrouded in scandalous rumor; and Joseph was a rascal. This may account for the added disinterest shown to them when they needed a place in crowded Bethlehem for the Babe to be born.

An Inn Keeper showed them kindness and offered the stable behind his Inn. And there, the Baby was born. No one knew but Joseph and Mary, and their closest relatives, that this Baby was the Messiah; the Savior of the World.

Who would be the first outside the Holy Family to hear the news? It was the lowly shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

At first telling this strikes us as somewhat strange — but not any more so than all the other unexpected turns and twists in the story thus far. And then we may deem it rather quaint that humble shepherds would be told first; after all, haven’t we all read, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Maybe God has a tender place in His heart toward shepherds, and thus decided to let them in on it first.

In reality, there was a very specific and important reason why these particular Shepherds were the first to hear the announcement.

In his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim explains that these BethlehemJesus_Lamb3 shepherds were distinct from all others in Israel; and their flocks, which they tended so closely at night, were also very special. For you see, these shepherds were a part of the priesthood, and these sheep were specifically set aside to be sacrificial lambs in the Temple services.

The shepherds had the responsibility to make sure that a lamb without spot or blemish be preserved from harm, until it could be brought forth for sacrifice. It was only fitting therefore that the angels would make the news known to them, just when they were minding their own business.

And listen carefully to the words the Angel spoke. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

In other words, the Spotless Lamb has come. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the World!” said John, as he saw Jesus walking by the Jordan some years later.

Seeing these priest shepherds were about to be put out of business once the ultimate Lamb was sacrificed, it was only fitting that they were given notice well in advance!

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:16-18)

Phillips Brooks, Rector of Philadelphia, wrote the words to O Little Town of Bethlehem in 1868, following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was inspired by the view of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine especially at night time; hence the lyrics.

His church organist, Lewis Redner, wrote the melody for the Sunday school children’s choir.

There is a line from the first verse that almost gets lost in the bigger picture of the song. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Hopes and Fears represent the polar ends of a wide range of feelings.

adoration of the baby JesusAs we gaze back into that historic moment laid out before us in the Gospels, there we see a most remarkable assortment of figures gathering round about this infant boy. And unknowingly they unite to send a singular message down through the Ages.

We can come together in the presence of Christ.

This is the message of Christmas — kings and shepherds, angels and men, rich and poor, foreigner and citizen, influential and powerless — all ALIKE in one unforgettable moment of Community in the presence of the infant Christ.

Now consider — if the Babe in the Manger was orbed with such compelling influence that He could bring together those who otherwise would have nothing to do with one another, how much more so is this possible now that He is crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

The hopes and fears of all the years were once gathered and resolved in a sacred evening long ago. O Lord, do it again in our world today — for night has fallen upon us, and we need Your light to show us the way.

May the full blessings of that first Christmas be yours on this blessed day, and everyday hereafter through the remaining days of your journey!

                                                                         MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Thank You for 2013!

It has been our delight to provide these daily devotions throughout this past year. Would you make a year-end tax deductible contribution to TruthWorks to help us carry on into 2014? We would appreciate it far more than you could possibly even know; and you will be blessed in ways we could never imagine!

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The Visited Planet

“What is man, that thou should magnify him? and that thou should set thine heart upon him? What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visiteth him?” (Job 7:17 and Psalm 8:4).

J.B. Phillips, in The Visited Planet, tells the Christmas story from the viewpoint of the angels. In one dramatic scene, a senior angel is showing a very young angel around the splendors of the universe. They view whirling galaxies and blazing suns, and then flit across the infinite distances of space until at last they enter one particular galaxy of 500 billion stars.

visited planetAs the two of them drew near to the star which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and glory of all he had already seen.

“I want you to watch that one particularly,” said the senior angel, pointing with his finger.

“Well, it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel. “What’s so special about that one?”

The little then angel listened in stunned disbelief as the senior angel told him that this terrestrial ball was, in fact, the renowned Visited Planet.

“Do you mean that our great and glorious Prince…went down in Person to this fifth-rate little ball? Why should He do a thing like that?” the little angel asked, his face wrinkled in disgust. “Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures of that floating ball?”

“I do,” said the senior angle. “And I don’t think He would like you to call them ‘creeping, crawling creatures’ in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He loves them. He went down to visit them to lift them up to become like Him.”

The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension. And then he whispered, “O Lord, make me more and more like You.”

He Did Descend, Undressing All the Way

“He stripped Himself of all privileges and rightful dignity, so as to assume the guise of a slave, in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself still further and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8, Amplified Bible).

Bruce Shelly, a professor at Denver Seminary, published a book titled Church History in Plain Language. His opening sentence of the first chapter is one of the most compelling statements I’ve ever come upon. He writes, “Christianity is the only major religion which has as its central event the humiliation of its God.”

It is FinishedGod’s humiliation began with the Incarnation, and ended with the Crucifixion.

“The God of power, as He did ride in His majestic robes of glory, resolved to light; and so one day He did descend, undressing all the way.”(George Herbert).

Consider that He restrained His omnipotence within the frailty of human flesh; He confined His omniscience within the limitations of human thought, and He contained His omnipresence within the body of one human – Jesus of Nazareth. This in itself is humbling, but there’s more.

In addition, He came as a Servant instead of One who is served. A King willing to be treated as a slave! But there is still more.

In the ultimate descent and undressing, He humbled Himself unto a horrible death on a despised cross. Shelly is right, “Christianity is the only major religion which has as its central event the humiliation of its God.”

Any why did He so willingly humble Himself? Why, it was so that He might lift us up!

The greatest gift you can give to Jesus is a life lived above the common. He descended that you might ascend; he came down that you might go up; He became sin, that you might be made righteous. He died that you might live.

Yes, He did descend, undressing all the way.

Thank You for 2013!

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Why Bethlehem?

“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.” (Micah 5:2).

Why Bethlehem? Of all the places Jesus could have been born, why Bethlehem? And mind you, it wasn’t a random happenstance that He was born there — it was foretold. He was ordained by God to be born there, and the prophets of old declared it. Bethlehem was the chosen city of His birth. But why?

Maybe we might suppose that Bethlehem was chosen specifically because it was so small and insignificant. After all, God seems to take special delight in exalting the lowly and humbling the proud. He forever is taking the things that are foolish, and confounding the wise; the things that are nothing, to bring to nothing the things that are thought to be something.

So, maybe this is why He chose Bethlehem. Maybe. But I think there is still something more to this that is worthy of our consideration.
Away in a Manger 01
The name Bethlehem means “House of Bread.”

Jesus said of Himself, “I am the Bread of Life.”

Don’t you find it it more than a little remarkable that the Bread of Life was sent down from Heaven to be born in the House of Bread. But there is still one more detail, too important to overlook.

We know that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. But what we may not know is that the manger in which He was placed was actually a feeding trough.

And now the full picture unfolds before us — the Bread of Life was sent down from Heaven above into the House of Bread, and placed in a feeding trough. Why? That we might eat and live!

This is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.” (John 6:51)

The plain meaning of the passage is, that by his body and his blood offered in sacrifice for sin, He would procure pardon and life for man; that they who partook of that, or had an interest in that, should obtain eternal life. He uses the figure of eating and drinking because, among the Jews, eating and drinking was expressive of sharing in or partaking of the privileges of friendship.

You hungry? Take this Bread and eat.