Sunday, December 20, 2020

From Heaven to the Manger: God the Creator Born as a Baby

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Somebody shared this wonderful insight: Jesus became flesh on His own volition and lived among us! And without ceasing to be God, He became a human being like us. This is the main reason whenever we display a manger. 

The apostle Paul explained it this way: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:5-7. NKJ). In a nutshell, Jesus, the Creator of everything, came as a baby, born in a poor stable and grew up in a poor carpenter’s home. From a spiritual standpoint, Jesus came as a poor man to make us rich: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9, NKJ).

Why does the manger's story matter now? Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, Micah accurately prophesied Christ’s birthplace and His preexistence: 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 old, from ancient times (Micah 5:2).

Let me share specific reasons why the manger matter today. Primarily, the manger matters because of the revelation of Jesus and His incarnation. John Stott shared, “If Jesus was not who the apostles say he was, then he could not of done what they say he did. The incarnation is indispensable to the atonement.” Read the lyrics of “God rest ye merry, gentlemen” and you’ll know what I mean: 

God rest ye merry, gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Savior

Was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

Next, the manger matters because this is how we understood the revelation of God’s plan of salvation for humanity. Jesus became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world as John the Baptist proclaimed (John. 1:29). Most importantly, becoming part of humanity is an unavoidable circumstance in fulfilling God’s plan of salvation. This message of hope was fulfilled in the birth of Christ and the establishment of His eternal kingdom as you read the lyrics of “Hark! The herald angels sing” and you’ll understand what I mean:

Hark! The herald angels sing

"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings

Ris'n with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by

Born that man no more may die

Born to raise the sons of earth

Born to give them second birth

Hark! The herald angels sing

"Glory to the newborn King!"

Finally, the manger where Jesus laid as a baby in the manger became an indicator of His nature, as the God-Man and His purpose, as the Messiah of Humanity. Rather than coming to earth with pomp and majestic arrival, the King of Creation and God's own Son chose His birth among the animals in a stable, having lowly shepherds from the fields, as His first visitors. However, this humble God-Man would grow up to one day sacrificing His life on a cross for sinners, rise again, and then return to His Father's side in power and glory. Thus, from a woman’s womb and a manger, the story of God’s salvation started. The story began in Genesis, fulfilled in a manger and God’s plan of salvation through the birth of Jesus unfolded. From the manger, Jesus started His journey towards the Cross of Calvary. Billy Graham summarized it wonderfully: The very purpose of Christ's coming into the world was that He might offer up His life as a sacrifice for the sins of men. He came to die. This is the heart of Christmas.

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Monday, October 26, 2020

The Cost of Following Jesus

In pursuing spiritual growth as a Christian believer, it involves navigating various challenges along the way. Here’s how Jesus simply put it: And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23). There’s a cost in following Jesus and we must learn to count the cost in doing so. Somebody described what is and what is not about the cost of following Jesus:

Counting the cost means recognizing and agreeing to some terms first. In following Christ, we cannot simply follow our inclinations. We cannot follow Him and the world's way at the same time (Matthew 7:13-14). Following Him may mean we lose relationships, dreams, material things, or even our lives.

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Allow me to expound on what Jesus meant and the prerequisites involved in following Him. When Jesus spoke then (“And he said to all…”), He still speaks today with the same challenging message of choosing Him above anyone and anything in this world. When an individual hears and heeds the calling of Jesus, it is a wholehearted decision with an unwavering determination of choosing Jesus above oneself (“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…”). The apostle Paul illustrated it similar to an athlete: 

Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. ~1 Corinthians 9:26-27

Next, it is a resolution made daily (“…take up his cross daily and…”) with a clear view of what’s ahead and a willingness of forsaking distractions in following Christ. The apostle Paul shared his heart on this matter: I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20). Finally, there’s a focused destination ahead with Jesus (“…follow me”). The apostle John shared a wonderful picture of this decision: “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28).

Even if more than two thousand years since Jesus came, the prerequisites of discipleship never change today. In attaining victory, we need to look to Jesus! Jonathan Parnell[1] shared, “Looking to Jesus means relying on him. The word translated “looking” has the idea of zeroing our gaze on something with confidence. Looking to Jesus means looking to him alone. Looking to Jesus means he is our reward.” In knowing what’s ahead, we need to listen to Jesus! J. G. Machen, an American Presbyterian New Testament scholar and educator in the early 20th century (Wikipedia) shared, “The more we know of God, the more unreservedly we will trust him; the greater our progress in theology, the simpler and more childlike will be our faith.” 

Lastly, in discovering the lessons of spiritual growth. We need to learn about Jesus! Jesus Himself encouraged us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Matthew 11:29a). I found this enlightening insight from Bits & Pieces (April 2, 1992): “Learning usually passes through three stages. In the beginning you learn the right answers. In the second state you learn the right questions. In the third and final stage, you learn which questions are worth asking.”

In summary, while salvation is free, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave this stark reminder “but discipleship will cost you your life.” When all is said and done, the prize of following Jesus outweighs the price of following Jesus because He is worth following. He gave His life and died for us and that’s more than enough reason for giving our life to Him. After knowing this truth, what’s holding you back in following Him?

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Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Significance of the Names of God Today

The absolute truth of the matter is this: God provided His people with the means to call on Him using His various Names that fully represents His attribute and His power. Somebody shared this  wonderful story: The early church leader Augustine was once accosted by a heathen who showed him his idol and said, "Here is my god; where is thine?" Augustine replied, "I cannot show you my God; not because there is no God to show but because you have no eyes to see Him."

There are three Names of God revealed and associated with significant events. When God redeemed Israel from Egyptian bondage, Moses heard God’s name as the “Great I AM.” Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3:13-14).

During the New Testament, God sent Jesus as the Saviour of fallen humanity: She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Then, when Jesus returned sometime in the future, He will come back as the “Word of God” and the “King of kings.“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelations 19:11-16).

Thus, in understanding the significance of God’s Name today, there are three things for our learning perspective. First, God’s Name connects us to His power. Next, God’s Name conforms us to His character. Lastly, God’s Name communicates His faithfulness. Accessing them becomes a key to discover God’s reality in our lives today, tomorrow and until he comes. Furthermore, when we understand the value of God’s Name in our lives, we can avoid how the world deals with God’s Name as E.A. Robinson shared, “The world is a kind of spiritual kindergarten where bewildered infants are trying to spell God with the wrong blocks.” Let me challenge you to study further the Names of God because each Name of God reveals one aspect of His revelation to His people who believe in Him. When we do, God becomes personal in His dealing to each of us.

As a final note on this topic, allow me to share a fascinating revelation of God’s Name explained using the Chinese character for “GOD” from God is represented in the Chinese language by the word Shén. This word may be written in two different forms (see to the right and below). The etymology of this image reveals details about God's work in creation. On the left side of the character, we see an image meaning to REVEAL or DECLARE. Over and over in the Biblical creation account, we are told that "...God said..." (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, NKJV). On the right side of the character, two images are intertwined. There, we find a MAN and a GARDEN. Man, the crowning jewel of God's creation (Genesis 1:26), was placed in the garden of Eden.

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Monday, August 31, 2020

Lessons from Job: Facing Unexpected Storms

In facing unexpected storms, Mildred Witte Struven shared this wonderful insight, “A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain” (Bits and Pieces, September 19, 1991, p.6.).

If you haven’t read about the story of Job, it provides an excellent overview of the battle we face when facing unexpected storms. The setting of the book of Job began with God and Satan having a conversation.

To begin with, God boasted about Job’s faith (Job 1:8-12) and shared His pleasure over his faith:

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:1, 4-5,8). However, Satan disagreed and looked at Job’s faith with contempt: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land” (1:9-10). Then Satan proposed a plan in proving Job’s faith as fake: “But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (1:11). Instead of defending Job, God agreed to Satan’s proposal: “The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord” (1:12).

What did Satan unleash against Job? Satan targeted and decimated his properties and possessions:
 13One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”16While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”17While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

In an instant, Job’s first three storms made him poor in an instant from being the richest man in his time” (Job 1:3). The worst of it all came when a tornado hit where Job’s children gathered and killed on one swoop:

18While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”IN an instant, Job lost his ten children.” (Job 1:2)

In their next encounter, God filled with pleasure at Job’s integrity, proved Satan wrong about Job:
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” (2:3).

Satan disagreed and blurted out another accusation “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life.” (2:4). Then he proposed the action of turning Job against God: But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (2:5a). God agreed to the proposal with a specific restriction: The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life” (2:5b). Armed with another opportunity, Satan immediately, “…afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes” (2:6-8). In this unexpected storm, Job’s next storm was a physical attack of painful sores all over his body” (Job 1:2). Losing children, Job’s wife snapped and with anger confronted Job: His wife said to him,Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?In all this, Job did not sin in what he said” (2:9-10).

Job’s next storm was losing moral and spiritual support from his wife” (Job 1:2). Yet in all of these things, Job stood on his faith and integrity. Somebody said, “In adversity we usually want God to do a removing job when He wants to do an improving job. To realize the worth of the anchor, we need to feel the storm.

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What are the lessons we can learn from Job’s journey in facing unexpected storms? Primarily, we need our faith in God as reliable as it can be through the storms of life. Oswald Chambers reminds us, “Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am visibly delivered or not, I will stick to my belief that God is love. There are some things only learned in a fiery furnace.”

Next, let the integrity of our faith in God’s ways and means becomes resilient as the storm intensifies. J.C. Ferdinand shared an interesting illustration relevant to this situation: A bell buoy rings only during storms. The beating of the waves and wind bring out the music that is within it, so too do trials reveal what is inside a person.

Finally, let our commitment to maintaining God’s honour becomes resolute in the midst of the storm. How do we accomplish all of these things? Overcoming is not our goal when facing unexpected storms. It is showcasing our faith in a God who promised His provision, protection and power.  Here’s something I found in seeing God at work and how we must respond in the middle of unexpected storms:

God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our life through;
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
But God has promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way;
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love. ~Source Unknown.

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Friday, July 31, 2020

Rhythms and Routines of Christian Life

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No copyright infringement intended


I found this article of Dr. Danielle Forshee[1] describing the “Psychological Benefits of Routines” as an affirmation of its value from a medical perspective.  

·      Routine in adults is very similar to routine in children. It is crucial to set routines to enable yourself to get better at the things you do.

·      Routine helps us cope with change, it helps to create healthy habits, and more importantly, it helps to reduce stress levels.

·      Routine helps alleviate stress. Creating routines will allow you to set times for specific tasks, and allow you to set times for fun, or things that you enjoy or make you happy. 


Alannah Francis[2] added:


Routine is essential if we're to develop a strong and substantial faith and relationship with Christ. When we think about how we're defined by what we do every day in so many other areas of our lives, it makes sense that this carries over into our spiritual life.


From a biblical perspective, “How did God provide the means to keep our rhythms and routines working flawlessly each day?” Looking back at Genesis (1:14, NLT), God provided, “the seasons, days, and years.” With this in mind, God marked the rhythm and routine between day and night with the 24-hour cycle on a weekly basis before Adam was created. Ever since that day, everything operated this way. God, in his Omniscience, thought about the pattern for us to live by on a weekly basis as far as daily rhythm and routine is concerned


Another significant provision is the Sabbath Day or the 7th Day. This is the day where God rested and declared it a holy day:


So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. 2On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. 3And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation (Genesis 2”1-3, NLT)


Moses, in giving the law, reiterated the Sabbath day principle:  


“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. Exodus 20:8-11, NKJ)


What does the Sabbath law mean for us today? Simply put, the Sabbath Day is God’s reset button as part of the rhythm and routines He set up for us to follow. Following the Sabbath Day is not being dogmatic or even about rule-keeping. It’s more than these two things, as many subscribed to. If it’s only these, then we’ve missed the whole point of God altogether. I believe it to be a very simple system intended for our benefit personally and spiritually, from God’s standpoint. God gave us rhythms and routines to follow but also a day of rest from it as a reset. Here are some valuable perspectives on this matter:


·      God knew the rhythm of life needs a reset button. In providing one day where we rest, God declared the 7th day as a day of worship, reflection and reset.

·      Observing the Sabbath Day removes our attention to ourselves after six days and instead focused on God, our Creator, who gave us everything for one day. 

·      Having one day reserved as a day of worship impacts our children and their future. What we sow is what we reap.


How did the early church follow God’s prescription on a daily basis? Michaelle Justice shared this wonderful insight:


In the early church, how they acted in their daily lives and interactions with others defined their Christian life. The ministry of daily life is about living in the Word, walking the path with Jesus whether we’re behind a desk, or pushing our grocery cart down the frozen food aisle. It can be how we act, without words, how we treat others – even those we might only meet in passing as we go through our daily routines. 


That’s why, Steve May shared, “The Christian life isn’t about flashes of occasional spiritual brilliance. It’s about day-to-day consistency.” God is concerned with our personal and spiritual health, thus, the provision of a reset for us is given. Try it and you’ll never be the same.


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