The repair man looked young—too young to fix our problem, a car that wouldn’t start. “He’s just a kid,” my husband whispered to me, showing his doubt. His disbelief in the young man sounded like the grumbling in Nazareth where citizens doubted who Jesus was.
“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son,” they asked (Matthew 13:55) when Jesus taught in the synagogue. Scoffing, they were surprised to hear that someone they knew was healing and teaching, asking, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” (v. 54). Instead of trusting in Jesus, they were offended (vv. 15, 58) by the authority he displayed.
In this same way, we may struggle to trust in our Savior’s wisdom and power, especially in the familiar and ordinary details of our daily lives. Failing to expect His help, we may miss out on the wonder of His life to transform our own (v. 58).
As Dan found, he first needed to see that the help he needed was already here. Finally agreeing to accept it, my husband allowed the young man to look at our old car’s battery. By switching just one bolt, the young man had the car running in seconds—engine humming and lights ablaze. “It lit up like Christmas,” Dan said.
So, too, may we expect and experience the Messiah bringing fresh light, life and help into our daily journey with Him.
Well before the calendar flips to December, Christmas cheer begins to bubble up in our northern town. A medical office drapes its trees and shrubs in close-fitting strings of lights, each a different color, illuminating a breathtaking nighttime landscape. Another business decorates its building to look like an enormous, extravagantly wrapped Christmas present. It’s difficult to turn anywhere without seeing evidence of Christmas spirit—or at least seasonal marketing.
Some people love these lavish displays. Others take a more cynical view. But the crucial question isn’t how others observe Christmas. Rather, we each need to consider what the celebration means to us.
A little more than thirty years after His birth, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). They gave responses others had given: John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe another prophet. Then Jesus made it personal: “Who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
This year, many will celebrate Christmas without a thought about who the Baby really is. As we interact with them, we can help them consider these crucial questions: Is Christmas just a heartwarming story about a baby born in a stable? Or did our Creator truly visit His creation and become one of us?
My parents taught me to love all sorts of music—from country to classical. So, my heart beat rapidly as I walked into the Moscow Conservatory, one of Russia’s great music halls, to hear the Moscow National Symphony. As the conductor drove the musicians through a masterful Tchaikovsky piece, themes developed that gradually built to a powerful crescendo—a profound and dramatic musical climax. It was a magical moment, and the audience stood to roar its approval.
The Scriptures move toward the most powerful crescendo of history—the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the moments following Adam and Eve’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, God promised that a Redeemer would come (Genesis 3:15), and throughout the Old Testament that theme moved forward. The promise rang out in the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:21), the hopes of the prophets (1 Peter 1:10), and the longings of the people of God.
First John 4:14 confirmed where that story had been going: “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” How? God accomplished His promised rescue of His broken world when Jesus died and rose again to forgive us and restore us to our Creator. And one day He will come again and restore His whole creation.
As we remember what God’s Son has done for us, we celebrate the great crescendo of God’s grace and rescue for us and His world—Jesus!
In 1986, five-year-old Levan Merritt fell twenty feet into the gorilla enclosure of England’s Jersey zoo. As parents and onlookers cried out for help, a full-grown male silverback, named Jambo, placed himself between the motionless boy and several other gorillas. Then he began to gently stroke the child’s back. When Levan began to cry, Jambo led the other gorillas into their own enclosure as zoo-keepers and an ambulance driver came to the rescue. Thirty years later Levan still talks about Jambo the gentle giant—his guardian angel who had acted in a shockingly unexpected way, changing his perception of gorillas forever.
Elijah may have expected God to act in certain ways, but the God of gods used a rock-shattering wind, a powerful earthquake, and raging fire to show His prophet Elijah how not to think of Him. Then He used a gentle whisper to show His heart and to express His presence (1Kings 19:11-12).
Elijah had seen God’s power before 18:38-39). But he didn’t fully understand the One who wants to be known as more than the greatest and most fearsome of gods (19:10, 14).
Eventually, that quiet whisper found fullness of meaning in the powerful gentleness of Jesus, who said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Then he quietly allowed Himself to be nailed to a tree— to deepen our understanding of the Great God who loves us.
In Charles Spurgeon’s many years at his London church during the 1800s, he loved to preach on the riches of Isaiah 49:16, which says that God engraves us on the palms of His hands. He said, “Such a text as this is to be preached hundreds of times!” For, he continued, this thought is so precious that we can run over it in our minds again and again.
Spurgeon makes the wonderful connection between this promise of the Lord to His people, the Israelites, and God’s Son, Jesus, on the cross as He died for us. Spurgeon asked, “What are these wounds in Your hands? . . . The engraver’s tool was the nail, backed by the hammer. He must be fastened to the Cross, that His people might be truly engraved on the palms of His hands.” As the Lord promised to engrave His people on His palms, so Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross, receiving the nails in His wrists so we could be free of our sins.
If and when we are tempted to think that God has forgotten us, we only need to look at our palms and remember God’s promise. He has put indelible marks on His hands for us; He loves us that much.
As we distributed snack food for children at a Bible School program, we noticed a very hungry little boy. After devouring his snack, he also ate the leftovers of the children at his table. Even after I gave him a bag of popcorn, he still was not satisfied.
As leaders, we were concerned as to why this little boy was so hungry. But are we perhaps like him when it comes to our emotions. We look for ways to satisfy our deepest longings, but we never find what fully satisfies us.
The prophet Isaiah invites those who are hungry and thirsty to “come, buy and eat” (Isaiah 55:1). But then he asks, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (v. 2). Isaiah is talking about more than just physical hunger here. God can satisfy our spiritual and emotional hunger through the promise of His presence. The “everlasting covenant” in verse 3 is a reminder of a promise God made David in 2 Samuel 7:8–16. Through David’s family line, a Savior would come to reconnect people to God. Later, in John 6:35 and 7:37, Jesus extended the same invitation Isaiah gave, thus identifying Himself as the Savior foretold by Isaiah and other prophets.
Hungry? God invites you to come and be filled in His presence.
Back at the police station, Officer Miglio slumped wearily against a wall. A domestic violence call had just consumed half his shift. Its aftermath left a boyfriend in custody, a young daughter in the emergency room, and a shaken mother wondering how it had come to this. This call would wear on the young officer for a long time.
“Nothing you could do, Vic,” said his sergeant sympathetically. But the words rang hollow. Some police officers seem able to leave their work at work. Not Vic Miglio. Not the tough cases like this one.
Officer Miglio’s heart reflects the compassion of Jesus, who loved children and had a stern warning for any who would harm them (Matthew 18:6). But Jesus gave us some instructive hope along with that warning. Calling a small child to Him, He told His disciples, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 3).
What did Jesus mean? Simply this. We can’t earn God’s favor. Even the toughest and most competent of us needs a childlike faith in Jesus. That’s why Jesus also said, “Whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 4).
Earthly families can fail their children. Not so our heavenly Father, who invites us through childlike faith in Jesus to become His sons and daughters.
Riding along with my husband on some errands, I scrolled through emails on my phone and was surprised at an incoming advertisement for a local donut shop, a shop we had just passed on the right side of the street. Suddenly my stomach growled with hunger. I marveled at how technology allows vendors to woo us into their establishments.
As I clicked off my email, I mused over God’s constant yearning to draw me closer. He always knows where I am and longs to influence my choices. I wondered, Does my heart growl in desire for Him the way my stomach did over the idea of a donut?
In John 6, following the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the disciples eagerly ask Jesus to always give them “the bread . . . that gives life to the world” (vv. 33–34). Jesus responds in verse 35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” How amazing that a relationship with Jesus can provide constant nourishment in our everyday lives!
The donut shop’s advertisement targeted my body’s craving, but God’s continuous knowledge of my heart’s condition invites me to recognize my ongoing need for Him and to receive the sustenance only He can provide.
One of the tellers at my bank has a photograph of a Shelby Cobra roadster on his window. (The Cobra is a high–performance automobile built by the Ford Motor Company.)
One day, while transacting business at the bank, I asked him if that was his car. “No,” he replied, “that’s my passion, my reason to get up every morning and go to work. I’m going to own one someday.”
I understand this young man’s passion. A friend of mine owned a Cobra, and I drove it on one occasion! It’s a mean machine! But a Cobra, like everything else in this world, isn’t worth living for. Those who trust in things apart from God “are brought to their knees and fall,” according to the psalmist (Psalm 20:8).
That’s because we were made for God and nothing else will do—a truth we validate in our experience every day: We buy this or that because we think these things will make us happy, but like a child receiving a dozen Christmas presents or more, we ask ourselves, “Is this all?” Something is always missing.
Nothing this world has to offer us—even very good things—fully satisfy us. There is a measure of enjoyment in them, but our happiness soon fades away (1 John 2:17). Indeed, “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself,” C. S. Lewis concluded. “There is no such thing.”