Krista stood in the freezing cold on a winter day, looking at the beautiful snow-encased lighthouse along the lake. As she pulled out her phone to take pictures, her glasses fogged over. She couldn’t see a thing so she decided to point her camera toward the lighthouse and snapped three pictures at different angles. Looking at them later, she realized the camera had been set to take “selfies.” She laughed as she said, “My focus was me, me, and me. All I saw was me.” Krista’s photos got me thinking of a similar mistake: We can become so self-focused we lose sight of the bigger picture of God’s plan.
Jesus’s cousin John (a.k.a. John the Baptist) clearly knew his focus wasn’t himself. Right from the start he recognized that his position or calling was to point others to Jesus, the Son of God. “Look, the Lamb of God!” he said when he saw Jesus coming toward him and his followers (John 1:29). He continued, “The reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed” (v. 31). When John’s disciples later reported that Jesus was gaining followers, John said, “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ . . . He must become greater; I must become less” (3:28–30).
May the central focus of our lives be Jesus and loving Him with our whole heart.
Last year, friends and I prayed for healing for three women battling cancer. We knew God had the power to do this, and we asked Him to do so every day. We’d seen Him work in the past and believed He could do it again. There were days in each one’s battle where healing looked like it was a reality, and we rejoiced. But they all died that fall. Some said that was “the ultimate healing,” and in a way it was. Still the loss hurt us deeply. We wanted Him to heal them all—here and now—but for reasons we couldn’t understand, no miracle came.
Some people followed Jesus for the miracles He performed and to get their needs met (John 6:2, 26). Some simply saw Him as the carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55–58), and others expected Him to be their political leader (Luke 19:37–38). Some thought of Him as a great teacher (Matthew 7:28–29), while others quit following Him because His teaching was hard to understand (John 6:66).
Jesus still doesn’t always meet our expectations of Him. Yet He is so much more than we can imagine. He’s the provider of eternal life (vv. 47–48). He is good and wise; and He loves, forgives, stays close, and brings us comfort. May we find rest in Jesus as He is and keep following Him.
Caesar Augustus is remembered as the first and greatest of the Roman emperors. By political skill and military power he eliminated his enemies, expanded the empire, and lifted Rome from the clutter of rundown neighborhoods into a city of marble statues and temples. Adoring Roman citizens referred to Augustus as the divine father and savior of the human race. As his 40-year reign came to an end, his official last words were, “I found Rome a city of clay but left it a city of marble.” According to his wife, however, his last words were actually, “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.”
What Augustus didn’t know is that he had been given a supporting role in a bigger story. In the shadow of his reign, the son of a carpenter was born to reveal a glory far greater than any Roman military victory, temple, stadium, or palace (Luke 2:1).
But who could have understood the glory Jesus prayed for on the night his countrymen demanded His crucifixion by Roman executioners? (John 17:4–5). Who could have foreseen the hidden wonder of a sacrifice that would be forever applauded in heaven and earth?
It’s quite a story. Our God found us chasing foolish dreams and fighting among ourselves. He left us singing together about an old rugged cross.
“I have a message for you!” A woman working at the conference I was attending handed me a piece of paper, and I wondered if I should be nervous or excited. But when I read, “You have a nephew!” I knew I could rejoice.
Messages can bring good news, bad news, or words that challenge. In the Old Testament, God used His prophets to communicate messages of hope or judgment. But when we look closely, we see that even His words of judgment were intended to lead to repentance, healing, and restoration.
Both types of messages appear in Malachi 3 when the Lord promised to send a messenger who would prepare the way for Him. John the Baptist announced the coming of the true Messenger, Jesus (see Matthew 3:11)—the “the messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1) who will fulfill God’s promises. But He will act “like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (v. 2), for He will purify those who believe in His word. The Lord sent His words to cleanse His people because of His loving concern for their well-being.
God’s message is one of love, hope, and freedom. He sent His Son to be a messenger who speaks our language—sometimes with messages of correction, but always those of hope. We can trust His message.
My husband invited a friend to church. After the service his friend said, “I liked the songs and the atmosphere, but I don’t get it. Why do you give Jesus such a high place of honor?” My husband then explained to him that Christianity is a relationship with Jesus. Without Him, Christianity would be meaningless. It is because of what Jesus has done in our lives that we meet together and praise Him.
Who is Jesus and what has He done? The apostle Paul answered this question in Colossians 1. No one has seen God, but Jesus came to reflect and reveal Him (v. 15). Jesus, as the Son of God, came to die for us and free us from sin. Sin has separated us from God’s holiness, so peace could only be made through someone perfect. That was Jesus (vv. 14, 20). In other words, Jesus has given us what no one else could—access to God and eternal life (John 17:3).
Why does He deserve such a place of honor? He conquered death. He won our hearts by His love and sacrifice. He gives us new strength every day. He is everything to us!
We give Him the glory because He deserves it. We lift Him up because that is His rightful place. Let us give Him the highest place in our hearts.
In “Christmas Every Day,” William Dean Howells tells of a little girl who gets her wish. For one long, horrible year it is indeed Christmas every day. By day three, the yuletide joy has already begun to wear thin. Before long everyone hates candy. Turkeys become scarce and sell for outrageous prices. Presents are no longer received with gratitude as they pile up everywhere. People angrily snap at each other.
Thankfully, Howell’s story is just a satirical tale. But what an incredible blessing that the subject of the Christmas celebration never wearies us despite the fact that we see Him throughout the Bible.
After Jesus had ascended to His Father, the apostle Peter proclaimed to a crowd at the temple in Jerusalem that Jesus was the one Moses foretold when he said, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me” (Acts 3:22; Deuteronomy 18:18). God’s promise to Abraham, “Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed,” was really a reference to Jesus (Acts 3:25; Genesis 12:3). Peter noted, “All the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days”—the arrival of the Messiah (Acts 3:24).
We can keep the spirit of Christmas alive long after the celebrations have ended. By seeing Christ in the whole story of the Bible we can appreciate how Christmas is so much more than just another day.
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!