Here’s one conversation Mary didn’t have to have with Joseph as they awaited the birth of the baby she was carrying: “Joseph, what should we name the baby?” Unlike most people awaiting a birth, they had no question about what they would call this child.
The angels who visited both Mary and Joseph told them each that the baby’s name would be Jesus (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31). Joseph’s angel explained that this name indicated that the baby would “save his people from their sins.”
He would also be called “Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14) which means “God is with us,” because He would be God in human form—deity wrapped in swaddling clothes. The prophet Isaiah revealed additional titles of “Wonderful Counselor” or “Mighty God” or “Everlasting Father” or Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), because He would be all of those things.
It’s always exciting to name a new baby. But no other baby had such a powerful, exciting, world-changing name as the one who was “Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:16). What a thrill for us to be able to “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2)! There is no other name that saves (Acts 4:12).
Let’s praise Jesus and contemplate everything He means to us this Christmas season!
When two of my grandchildren tried out for the musical Alice in Wonderland Jr., their hearts were set on getting leading roles. Maggie wanted to be young Alice, and Katie thought Mathilda would be a good role. But they were chosen to be flowers. Not exactly a ticket to Broadway.
Yet my daughter said the girls were “excited for their friends who got the [leading roles]. Their joy seemed greater cheering for their friends and sharing in their excitement.”
What a picture of how our interactions with each other in the Body of Christ should look! Every local church has what might be considered key roles. But it also needs the flowers—the ones who do vital but not-so-high-profile work. If others get roles we desire, may we choose to encourage them even as we passionately fulfill the roles God has given us.
In fact, helping and encouraging others is a way to show love for Him. Hebrews 6:10 says, “[God] will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people.” And no gift from His hand is unimportant: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
Just imagine a church of encouragers “diligently” using their God-given gifts to His glory (Hebrews 6:11). Now that makes for joy and excitement!
According to the family legend, two brothers, one named Billy and the other Melvin, were standing on the family’s dairy farm one day when they saw an airplane doing some skywriting. The boys watched as the plane sketched out the letters “GP” overhead.
Both brothers decided that what they saw had meaning for them. One thought it meant “Go preach.” The other read it as “Go plow.” Later, one of the boys, Billy Graham, dedicated himself to preaching the gospel, becoming an icon of evangelism. His brother Melvin went on to faithfully run the family dairy farm for many years.
Skywriting signs aside, if God did call Billy to preach and Melvin to plow, as seems to be the case, they both honored God through their vocations. While Billy achieved greatness and fame during his long preaching career, his success doesn’t mean that his brother’s obedient calling to plow was any less important.
While God does assign some to be in what we call full-time ministry (Ephesians 4:11–12), that doesn’t mean those in other jobs and roles aren’t doing something just as important. In either case, as Paul said, “each part [should do] its work” (v.16). That means honoring Jesus by faithfully using the gifts He’s given us. When we do, whether we “go preach” or “go plow,” we can make a difference for Jesus wherever we serve or work.
I recently attended a high school graduation during which the speaker provided a needed challenge for the young adults awaiting their diplomas. He mentioned that this was a time in their lives when everyone was asking them, “What’s next?” What career would they be pursuing next? Where would they be going to school or working next? Then he said that the more important question was what were they doing now?
In the context of their faith journey, what daily decisions would they be making that would guide them each day to live for Jesus and not for themselves?
His words reminded me of the book of Proverbs, which makes many pointed statements about how to live—now. For instance: choosing the right friends, now (12:26); living with integrity, now (13:6); having good judgment, now (13:15); speaking wisely, now (14:3); practicing honesty, now (11:1).
Living for God now, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, makes the decisions about what is next much easier. “The
Recently I read through a stack of World War II-era letters my dad sent to my mother. He was in North Africa and she was in West Virginia. Dad, a second lieutenant in the US Army, was tasked with censoring soldiers’ letters—keeping sensitive information from enemy eyes. So it was rather humorous to see—on the outside of his letters to his wife—a stamp that said, “Censored by 2nd Lt. John Branon.” Indeed, he had cut out lines from his own letters!
Self-censoring is really a good idea for all of us. Several times in Scripture, the writers mention the importance of taking a good long look at ourselves to find what’s not right—not God-honoring. The psalmist, for example, prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart. . . . See if there is any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:23–24). Jeremiah put it like this: “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the
The Holy Spirit can help us turn from any attitudes or actions that don’t please God. So before we head out into the world today, let’s stop and seek the Spirit’s help in doing some self-checking so we can “return to the
I can never recapture the splendor that was our daughter Melissa. Fading from my memory are those wonderful times when we watched her joyfully playing high school volleyball. And it’s sometimes hard to remember the shy smile of contentment that crossed her face when we were doing family activities. Her death at age seventeen dropped a curtain on the joy of her presence.
In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah’s words show he understood that the heart can be punctured. “My splendor is gone,” he said, “and all that I had hoped from the L
But that’s not the end of his story. Light shined through. Jeremiah, burdened and broken, stammered out “I have hope” (v. 21)—hope that comes from realizing that “because of the L
Even in our darkest days, God’s great faithfulness shines through.
It was nighttime when the leader set out by horseback to inspect the work that lay ahead. As he toured the destruction all around him, he saw city walls that had been destroyed and gates that had been burned. In some areas, the vast debris made it tough for his horse to get through. Saddened, the rider turned toward home.
When it came time to report the damage to the officials of the city, he began by saying, “You see the trouble we are in” (Nehemiah 2:17). He reported that the city was in ruins, and the protecting city wall had been rendered useless.
But then he made a statement that energized the troubled citizens: “I also told them about the gracious hand of God on me.” Immediately, the people replied, “Let us start rebuilding” (v. 18).
And they did.
With faith in God and all-out effort, despite enemy opposition and a seemingly impossible task, the people of Jerusalem—under Nehemiah’s leadership—rebuilt the wall in just fifty-two days (6:15).
As you consider your circumstances, is there something that looks difficult but that you know God wants you to do? A sin you can’t seem to get rid of? A relationship rift that’s not God-honoring? A task for Him that looks too hard?
Ask God for guidance (vv. 4–5), analyze the problem (vv. 11–15), and recognize His involvement (v. 18). Then start rebuilding.
Sitting in his wheelchair at a senior citizens home in Belize, a man joyfully listened as a group of American high school teenagers sang about Jesus. Later, as some of the teens tried to communicate with him, they discovered he couldn’t talk. A stroke had robbed him of his ability to speak.
Since they couldn’t carry on a conversation with the man, the teens decided to sing to him. As they began to sing, something amazing happened. The man who couldn’t talk began to sing. With enthusiasm, he belted out “How Great Thou Art” right along with his new friends.
It was a remarkable moment for everyone. This man’s love for God broke through the barriers and poured out in audible worship—heartfelt, joyous worship.
We all have worship barriers from time to time. Maybe it’s a relationship conflict or a money problem. Or it could be a heart that’s grown a bit cold in its relationship to God.
Our non-talking friend reminds us that the greatness and majesty of our Almighty God can overcome any barrier. “O Lord, my God—when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made!”
Struggling in your worship? Reflect on how great our God is by reading a passage such as Psalm 96, and you too may find your obstacles and objections being replaced by praise.
It can be inspiring to watch people’s passion and dedication in pursuing their dreams. A young woman I know recently graduated from college in just three years—a task that took total commitment. A friend wanted a particular car, so he worked diligently baking and selling cakes until he reached his goal. Another person who’s in sales seeks to meet one hundred new people every week.
While it can be good to earnestly seek something of earthly value, there’s a more important kind of seeking that we must consider.
In desperation, struggling in a desert, King David wrote, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you” (Psalm 63:1). As David cried out to Him, God drew close to the weary king. David’s deep spiritual thirst for God (v. 1) could only be satisfied in His presence.
The king remembered meeting with God in His “sanctuary” (v. 2), experiencing His all-conquering love (v. 3), and praising Him day after day—finding true satisfaction in Him that’s not unlike enjoying a full and satisfying meal (vv. 4–5). Even during the night he contemplated God’s greatness, recognizing His help and protection (vv. 6–7).
Today the Holy Spirit convicts us to earnestly seek after God. As we cling to Him, in power and love God holds us up with His strong right hand. By the leading of the Spirit, may we draw close to the Maker of all good things.