Why Christmas Matters

Over the millennia, God has appeared in many forms in His ongoing pursuit of intimate relationship with the ones that He created in His own image – people.

To Abraham, He appeared as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.

To Joseph, He appeared as an interpreter of dreams.

To Moses, He appeared in a burning bush, and revealed Himself as “I am.”

To Israel, He appeared as the One whom no one could approach except Moses, and later, the High Priest.

To Elijah, He appeared as a the One who sent down fire from heaven, and then later, as a gentle whisper.

To Isaiah, He was the One sitting high and lifted up, exalted on a throne, and the train of His robe filled the temple.  The sight of Him caused Isaiah to repent in terror at his own unworthiness.

To Ezekiel, He appeared as Glory that caused Ezekiel to fall face down in the dust.

To Daniel, He appeared as the Ancient of Days, seated on a fiery throne.

To Mary and Joseph – ah, to Mary and Joseph.  To them, He appeared as a newborn child, crying, still wet with amniotic fluid, umbilical cord needing to be severed, helpless and tiny.

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The One who spoke all things into existence appeared as a baby.  The One Who created Mary and Joseph in His image, Who holds all of creation together, the One Who simply is, existing outside of time, Ancient and yet making all things new, the One who will one day return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords – that One depended upon Mary for sustenance, and upon Joseph for protection.

And in that moment, the One who had appeared in so many forms and in so many glorious personal revelations set aside His rights and privileges and revealed Himself as Immanuel – the One who humbled Himself so that we could have the possibility of relationship with Him.

Wonderful Counselor?  Absolutely.

Mighty God?  The only One.

Everlasting Father?  Yes.

Prince of Peace?  Yes, the only One who will bring lasting peace.

But most wonderful, most amazing, most difficult to understand and accept – He is Immanuel.  God is with us.

His good friend John, who knew Him when He was an adult, wrote this about Him:  “The Word became human and lived here on earth among us.”  (John 1:14, NLT).  Literally, it means that He pitched his tent among us – He moved into our neighborhood and became one of us, so that we could know Him and one day, move into His neighborhood.

Never forget this deepest, truest meaning of Christmas – that the Eternal, Almighty, Omnipotent God loved you and wanted a relationship with you so desperately that He humbled Himself and exchanged the only Throne that matters for a feeding trough in Bethlehem, and later, a cross outside of Jerusalem.

And what gift could you or I possibly give Him this Christmas that would be enough to properly thank Him?

Would it be to give up all we have?  To attend every service we can?  To feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit those in prison?  To heal the sick and cleanse lepers and even cast out demons?

All those things can be good.  They each have a place.

But all He really wants is you.  Your heart, your love, your faith in Him.

“To all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn!”  (John 1:12-13, NLT)

He wants you to accept His offer of relationship.  It’s why He came.  It’s the whole reason for Bethlehem, for Golgotha, and for the empty tomb.

How do you accept His offer?

Just tell Him.

It’s as simple as that.  Thank Him, tell Him you’re sorry for trying to do this all on your own, and that you believe that He is Who He says He is – the Savior.

Then just trust Him.  He’ll do the rest.

Merry Christmas!


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, or want to try a new devotional for the New Year, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

Suffering, Christmas, and Hope

Christmas stirs up a ton of emotions.  I’m sitting here at my desk in front of my MacBook screen, trying to write and in the meantime, my mind is being bombarded with stuff that concerns me – stuff I wish I could do something about, or change:

  • A close friend whose teenage daughter is suffering debilitating episodes from a disease that currently has her unable to speak and to move her dominant hand.
  • A parishioner who lost his wife of 60+ years last month and is about to experience his first Christmas alone.
  • Another parishioner who is currently going through chemo treatments and is stuck at home for the duration.
  • Another parishioner who just lost a son.  The week before Christmas.
  • A close friend who is about to experience his first Christmas as a divorced man after being married for over two decades.
  • My in-laws are about to have Christmas alone in North Carolina while we’re in Pennsylvania.
  • My parents and my brother and his family are about to have Christmas together in central PA while we are in Western PA.  (I am very thankful, though, that my immediate family is together and will be able to spend the day together.)
  • My wife is recovering from her second surgery in less than a year, and is experiencing pain that I can’t do anything about.
  • Families that I know that are basically at war with one another.  Their Christmas observance will be marred by their anger with one another.

Those are just a few of the things I think about that I’m aware of personally.  (There are a ton more.)  That doesn’t include stuff like:  ISIS; the economy; our fractured nation; poverty; Aleppo; and a host of other issues that our nation and world are facing.  Or ignoring.

Now, that’s the negative.  I could also list a ton of things that are running through my mind for which I am grateful, including amazing family and friends, wonderful experiences that I’ve had in the last year, newlywed couples that I know get to enjoy their first Christmas together, the blessings of freedom, a wife who loves me no matter what, a daughter whose company is always good for my soul, two friends with whom I can always “take the masks off” with and know I won’t be judged, and so much more.  (And I know that gratitude is a powerful thing – I’m amazed at what a difference it makes in my day to list five things for which I’m grateful every morning.)

But there’s so, so much trouble in this world.  So many suffering, hurting people.  And for many of them, I can’t fix it.

What do we do with that?

Pray for them, for one thing.

Do what you can, for another.  Call someone.  Write someone.  Encourage them.  Stop in for a quick visit and pray for them.  Do what you can; don’t dwell on what you can’t.

And hope.

Christmas is, after all, all about hope.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.  The government will rest on his shoulders.  And he will be called:  Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  His government and its peace will never end.  He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.  The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:6-7, NLT)

Those words fill me with hope.  The child has been born; the son has been given.  He IS the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.  He knows me.  And I know Him.

These words fill me with longing – the child has been born, the son has been given; but his rule has not yet been fully established.  He has departed to His Father; and someday, He will return, and His rule and eternal reign will be established.  He will finally bring peace, and fulfill our hopes and dreams.  His government will be truly right and righteous, and He will set all things right.

Christmas reminds us, in the midst of sorrow and suffering, that there is hope.  That one day, soon, the babe in the manger will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  That one day, soon, Christmas will not just be about hope – one day, Christmas will be about hope and longing fulfilled.  Christmas will no longer be just about what was once accomplished and yet still is to be completed – it will be about celebrating the final coming of our Lord, and the end of sorrow and suffering.

May that thought fill you with hope this Christmas.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

The Christmas Story We Never Hear

We’re so familiar with the Christmas story and its different elements – Gabriel appearing to Mary, an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream; Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the manger, the shepherds, the magi, the Bethlehem star.

But there’s one part of the story that we often miss – a perspective that is often ignored – a Biblical account of the story that we don’t usually hear read at Christmas Eve candlelight services.  I preached on this passage a couple of years, and just yesterday, saw a blog post that reminded me of the importance of this part of the story.

Here’s the Christmas story you may not have heard, from heaven’s perspective:

Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.  Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads.  His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.   She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne.  And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.  Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels.  And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven.  This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.  Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

“It has come at last—salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.  For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth—the one who accuses them before our God day and night.  And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony.  And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.  Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!  And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!  But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.”

When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.  But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time.  Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon.  And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.  Revelation 12:1-17 (NLT)

The Book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature, and therefore filled with imagery and symbolism.  This account is no different – a pregnant woman (Mary), a large red dragon (Satan), a son (Jesus), angels, 1260 days – it can all be very confusing.

But don’t miss the larger story.

Christmas wasn’t just a silent and holy night, filled with awe and wonder and stars and angels and shepherds and a baby in a manger.

That first Christmas was an invasion.

God sent His Son to invade this earth – to fight to the death against the ancient serpent.

Why?

Because the world around us “is under the control of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19)

You don’t need me to tell you that.  All I need to do is list a few places, a few names, to stir up images in your mind that tell you that it’s true.

Aleppo.

Iran.

Ethiopia.

Castro.

Human trafficking.

North Korea.

Evil is at work in our world.  Has been since…well, since Adam and Eve disobeyed God.

But Christmas is the message of hope.

The dragon may be angry.  He may be committed to making war against us.

But his time is short.

On that first Christmas, he was served notice of that fact.

At Golgotha, he thought he had reversed it – thought darkness had won.

But darkness cannot overcome light.

And on the first Easter Sunday, the dragon’s power was broken.  His destiny was sealed.  His doom was secured.  And your freedom was purchased.

Never forget that Christmas isn’t just “Silent Night” and “We Three Kings” and “The First Noel” and “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night.”

It’s also the story of an invasion, of a battle to set you free forever.

It’s a story of hope, and ultimately, of victory!


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

Just Believe

Note:  This short story is fictitious and was originally published in the Ridgway Record, December 17-18, 2016 Edition.


“I’m sorry, Ms. Peters, but we just can’t keep you on until Christmas.  We’ve had to make some cutbacks, and as the newest employee, unfortunately, you’re the first one to get cut.”  Rick Gordon frowned, looking sympathetic.

“But…it’s three weeks until Christmas, Mr. Gordon,” Jodi pleaded.  “I’m still catching up on my bills from before.  I don’t have anything for my children yet.  I was counting on every paycheck.  Please.  Isn’t there something you can do?”

“No, I’m sorry.  I wish there was.” Rick stood, indicating that their meeting was over.  Jodi followed his lead and stood too.  She looked out the office window at the falling snow, her mind racing.  What would she do?  How would she pay her bills, let alone provide Christmas for her children?  As a single mom, it was hard enough to make ends meet on one paycheck, let alone dealing with being out of work.

The next half hour passed in a blur as Jodi left the building, pulled onto 120, and headed back into town.  The drive through town itself was difficult – all she could think about was that there would be no Christmas for her children this year, but it seemed like everywhere she looked, there were reminders of the season.  Outside of St. Leo’s, a nativity scene proclaimed the birth of the Savior; the Chamber of Commerce was decorated with lights; the usual wreaths lined Main Street; and outside the Salvation Army, a lone figure stood ringing a bell over the traditional kettle.  Further on, as she approached the Clarion, she noticed that Ace Hardware was well-stocked with Christmas trees and a wide variety of lights and both indoor and outdoor decorations.  As she drove, the snow fell, light and fluffy, as if she were driving through a snow globe that had just been shaken.  It felt like Christmas cheer was in abundance everywhere but with Jodi and her children.

She slowed as she approached the fire station, and turned right up Ash Street.  Passing the Faith Church, Jodi realized that she was just a few more turns from home.  She hadn’t thought through how she was going to break the news to Danny and Allie.  It seemed like there had been nothing but bad news for the three of them this past year.  Jodi had been looking forward to Christmas – it had always been her favorite holiday, and she had shared that love with her kids.  Christmas was about hope, Jodi thought, but this year, it felt like there was suddenly no hope.  There would be no presents for the kids, and nothing for her but a stack of overdue bills with more to come.  She had no family to turn to for help, and she knew that the odds of getting a job anytime soon were against her.  The economy was still pretty shaky, and in another few weeks, most retailers would be laying off the extra help that they had hired for the Christmas season.

Jodi pulled her well-used ’97 Buick Century up to the curb and parked.  She took a moment to collect herself, and then got out and trudged through the snow to the front door and let herself in.

*                    *                    *

The house was chilly, but the glow of the Christmas tree in the living room made that part of the house seem as if it were warmer.  Jodi called to Danny and Allie, letting them know she was home, and asked them to come join her in the living room so she could talk to them.

Allie, nine years old and full of energy, came running in and bounced on the couch.  “What is it, Momma?  Am I in trouble?”  Danny, who was fourteen, took his time.  Jodi was about to call him again when he finally sauntered in and slumped into a large, threadbare easy chair.

“Danny, Allie, I’ve got some bad news.  I don’t know how to tell you this other than to just say it.  The plant has to cut back, and I lost my job today,” she explained.

“Awww!  Momma, I’m sorry!  But it’ll be okay, you’ll see – it always is,” Allie assured her.  Danny didn’t have any comment – he just looked down at the floor, the way he always did when something was bothering him but he didn’t want to talk about it.

“Here’s the thing,” Jodi continued.  “You both know Christmas is coming.  But I haven’t had any extra money to start buying presents.  I have…well, I have nothing.  Not one single present bought and hidden away, nothing at all.  We had too many bills that I had to catch up on, and now, well, I lost my job and…I don’t know if I’ll be able to find another one before Christmas.  I sure hope I do, but I don’t know.  So this kills me, but there aren’t going to be any Christmas presents this year.  I’m sorry, kids.  I love you.  I hate this for you.  I’m going to do everything I can, but I don’t think we’re going to have much of a Christmas at all.  I’m really sorry.”

Silence for a moment.  Then Danny stood up, shook his head, mumbled “it figures,” and headed back up to his bedroom to finish his homework.

Allie snuggled in beside Jodi.  “It will be okay, Momma.  It’s Christmas.  You’ll see.  Don’t worry.”

Jodi closed her eyes against the tears.  “I know, honey.  I’m sure it will be okay.”

*                    *                    *

But it wasn’t going to be okay.  Over the next week and a half, Jodi put in as many applications as possible.  Jodi filled her gas tank a couple of times with gas she couldn’t afford just so she could drive to Johnsonburg, St. Mary’s, Kersey, even Brockway, putting in applications everywhere she could think of.  She went to the library – how she loved Center Street and some of the stately old homes in Ridgway – and spent several hours putting in applications online.  She went to CareerLink and applied for as many positions through that office as she could.

She also went to every agency and church that she could think of and tried to get help.  But everywhere she went, she heard the same basic things – “It’s the end of the year and we don’t have any funds left.  Come back after the first of the year.”

“We’d love to help with presents for your kids, but we’ve already done everything that we can.  You’re way past the deadline and we can’t help.”

“We’re sorry, but…”

Jodi’s friends and neighbors didn’t seem to be much help, either.  Money was tight for everyone right now, and most people either had nothing to share or lend, had already spent it, or made excuses.

Her landlord, Fred, had lived in Ridgway all his life.  She asked him for ideas.  He didn’t have any new ones, but promised to let her know if he heard of anything.

Christmas was approaching, and Jodi was out of options.

*                    *                    *

Two nights before Christmas Eve.  The kids had both gone to bed.  Jodi had come back downstairs to sit in the living room.  She loved to just look at the Christmas tree lights – she could sit there for hours and stare at them.  It brought back memories of better times, better Christmases.  But tonight?  All she had was a stack of bills, and shut-off notices from a couple of the utility companies.

Almost three weeks of trying to hold it together for the children’s sake had taken its toll.  As she sat there in darkness, watching the lights twinkle, the tears finally came.  Jodi cried herself to sleep.

*                    *                    *

“Jodi.  Wake up.”

She came around slowly.  Who was it?  Who was in her house?

She sat up and looked around, but there was no one there.

“Jodi.  It’s going to be all right.”

She looked around again.  Nobody.

But the voice sounded like it came from the tree.

She looked at the tree, wondering what was going on.

As she watched, the tree looked as though it were growing brighter.  From the top down.  Looking up, she gasped.  It actually appeared as though the angel on the top of the tree was – growing?  It couldn’t be!

But it was!  The angel grew until it filled the room, taller than the tree.  “Jodi.  It’s going to be all right.  Just have faith.  Remember – Christmas is a time of good news, that will cause great joy for all people.  Just believe.”

This couldn’t be real.  “Who are you?  Is this a dream?” she asked.  She closed her eyes, shook her head, and then opened her eyes and looked again.

And fell off of the couch.  It had all been a dream.  But it had felt so real.

“Just believe.”  Could she really do that?

She had tried everything else, and nothing else had worked.  So.  Just believe.

*                    *                    *

Christmas Eve.  Jodi had done everything she could, tried everything she could, gone every place she had been told to go – and nothing.

She decided that she and the kids would walk down the street and go to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.  It would be all the celebration that they would have this year.  Maybe the service would lift her spirits a little.  Before they left the house, Allie pointed out that it was snowing for Christmas.  Danny asked if they could have hot chocolate (with marshmallows!) when they got home.  Jodi thought it was a great idea – at least it was something for them to look forward to.

*                    *                    *

Jodi and the children were just walking into the church when she heard someone calling her name.  “Ms. Peters!  Ms. Peters!  Could I speak to you for a moment?”

She turned, surprised.  It was Rick Gordon, her former boss.  “Hello, Mr. Gordon.  What is it?”

“Merry Christmas, Ms. Peters,” he said, handing her an envelope, and turning to walk away.

She looked down at the envelope in her hands.  It was a pay envelope from the plant.  “What is this?  What is this about?” she asked.

He paused and looked back at her for a moment.  “It’s a severance check for three months pay,” he said.  “I’ve never seen the company do that for anyone who wasn’t in management.  I don’t know who or why, but someone in the corporate office decided that it was the right thing to do for you.  No need to worry about the check bouncing – we called and checked into the whole thing.  It’s legitimate.  I brought it down myself this evening because I figured you could use it as soon as possible.  Anyways, Merry Christmas, and again, I’m sorry about the job.  Hopefully this will help out some.”  He nodded his head, turned, and walked off into the night.

Jodi stood there for a moment, shocked.  She couldn’t believe what had just happened!  It didn’t solve everything, but it was a huge help and would definitely enable her to hold things together until she was able to find a new job.

Filled with gratitude, Jodi found Danny and Allie, who were already seated in the sanctuary.  She slid in beside them, lost in her thoughts, and waited for the service to begin.

“Jodi!  I’m glad you’re here!”  The loud whisper startled her.  She turned and looked over her shoulder.  Ella Griffiths, one of her neighbors, smiled at her.

“Thanks, Ella, I’m glad I’m here too.  You know how much I love Christmas,” she responded.

“Yes, I do,” Ella said.  “I love it myself.  Especially when I get to bless someone.  This year, it’s you!  Here you go!” And Ella handed her an envelope.

“Ella, thank you, but you didn’t have to do anything for us.  I feel bad that I don’t have anything for you,” Jodi replied.

Ella smiled again.  “Don’t worry about it.  I was just praying this morning about who I should bless this year, and in my mind’s eye, right away, I saw your face.  So you can thank God for this gift – He’s the one who told me to give it to you.”

Jodi thanked Ella again.  She tucked the card away to open later when they got home.  Just then, everyone around them stood up as the service began.

For the next hour, Jodi took comfort in the familiar carols and cadence of the candlelight service.  The ancient words brought her hope – “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  And as the candles were lit, Jodi thought that perhaps, with the unexpected check from work and Ella’s gift, some light was beginning to shine into her personal dark time.

After the service, the kids couldn’t wait to get home – the hot chocolate was calling!  So the three of them hurried home, leaving footprints in the freshly-fallen snow.

When they arrived at the house, Jodi was surprised to see several sets of footprints on their walkway.  It looked as though someone had been in and out of the house!  Panicked, she rushed to unlock the door – someone must have broken in.

But when she walked in, she received another shock.

The area under the Christmas tree was filled with presents!

How?  What had happened?

Danny walked in behind her.  “Hey Mom, someone left this envelope stuck to the door,” he said.  It looked like the landlord’s handwriting on the front.

She opened it, wondering what was going on.  A note fell out, scrawled on legal paper, along with a couple of ten dollar bills.

Hey Jodi – sorry about letting someone in without your permission.  But I was walking by and two different people were standing at your door knocking.  I asked them what was going on and they said that they had presents to deliver for your family from their charities.  You weren’t home, so I let them in and made sure they really were delivering stuff, not taking stuff!  Anyways, hope you have a Merry Christmas.  I know times have been tough for you recently – here’s a little gift from me too.  Treat yourself and the kids to something.  – Fred

Jodi was overwhelmed.  She didn’t understand any of this.  Where had the presents come from?  All of the charities that she had spoken to had told her it was too late; so she hadn’t submitted her kids’ names anywhere.  And what was up with check from work?  And the gift from Ella?

She decided just to enjoy it.

For the next couple of hours, she and kids sipped hot chocolate and opened presents.  And there plenty of presents – for all three of them.

What a Christmas Eve it turned out to be!  And Jodi couldn’t grasp why, or how.  She was grateful, but bewildered.

*                    *                    *

Later that night, after the kids had gone to bed, Jodi sat in the living room, drinking in the lights and surveying the unwrapped presents.  She closed her eyes and said a simple prayer of thanks.  When she opened them, she thought she saw a flash of light at the top of the Christmas tree.  She looked up to see the angel looking down at her.  And she could have sworn she heard a voice say, “I told you it would be all right.  Just believe.”


Copyright © 2016 by Donald W. Hunter

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a review.

Printed in the United States of America.  First Printing, 2016, The Ridgway Record.

www.donwhunter.com

The Soul’s Worth

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “O Holy Night.”  I love the tune, the power of the song, and the message of the lyrics.  And I have another confession – I’d rather hear my daughter sing it than anyone else!

The first verse of the song contains these memorable lines:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

oh-holy-night-christmas-music

“Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.”  What is your soul worth?

The world in which we live doesn’t put a whole lot of value on the human soul.  There’s more value placed in appearances, possessions, positions, stature, and achievements.  But according to Jesus, that’s a false value system that one day will leave us empty.  As several have said, to climb the ladder of success and then, at the end of your life, find that the ladder is leaning on the wrong building, is the ultimate loss.

Jesus himself put it this way:  “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?” (Mark 8:36, NLT).

The truth is that your soul is worth everything.  Jesus paid the ultimate price so that He could offer you salvation for your soul.  That’s why the song tells us that it wasn’t until He appeared that the “soul felt its worth” – because the only price that could be put on a human soul was the life of God’s Son.

Here’s another angle to consider as well:  until Jesus “appears” in your life – until you have a relationship with Him – you will never know the true worth of your soul.

Everyone else will try to tell you what you are worth.  Your value to others often will depend on what you’ve done for them, what they want you to do for them, what you can do for them, or even how well you meet their expectations.

And the truth is that most of us value our soul’s worth based on either other peoples’ opinions of us, or narratives that we’ve been told our whole lives – or even narratives that we’ve told ourselves.

But, as my friend Dr. Rob Reimer first told me, the question of your value was settled at the cross.

Your soul’s worth?  The life of the sinless Son of God.

God is bigger than you, wiser than you, and He knows things you don’t know.  And He placed a value on your soul – your life – when He sent His Son to give His life to redeem you.

Any other value system – any other method of valuing your soul – is simply wrong.

This Christmas, remember that an important part of the story of the Babe in the manger was that He appeared so that YOU would know the true value of yourself.  You don’t have to wonder what God thinks of you, or if He loves you.  That issue was already settled.

He loves you.  And no matter what you do or don’t do, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how good or bad you or anyone else thinks you are – the One who created you has already set your true value.  You are of infinite value.

Your soul can know its worth.

It was worth the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

Our Hopes and Fears

As much as I love and enjoy contemporary worship music, when it comes to Christmas, I’m pretty much a dyed-in-the-wool-old-fashioned-Christmas-carol lover.  For me, there’s something about the depth of the Christmas story, the familiarity of the carols, and yet the fact that we only sing the carols a few weeks out of the year that keep them fresh and meaningful to me.

This year, I’ve been preaching an Advent series on the subject “fear not.”  (Thanks to Craig Groeschel for a great series on that theme that inspired and informed me!)  As I was studying, researching, and preparing back in November, I was listening to the familiar “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and I heard these familiar words: “…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

A little context is helpful.  Here is the complete first verse:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

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It’s an intriguing phrase, don’t you think?  What are the hopes and fears of all the years?

I don’t know that there is an easy answer to that question.  Or at least, there’s not a short answer to that question.  The fears of all the years?  Well, the list of human fears is consistent – people are people, experiencing the same challenges, even as life changes – but it’s a long list.  Fears of things like death, dying, sickness, loss, grief, darkness, loneliness, depression, being forgotten; fears of things on behalf of our families and friends; fears for our nation, our security, our future…  As I said, the list is a pretty long one.

How about the hopes of all the years?  I think, even though sometimes it seems that we can come up with the negative more easily than the positive, the truth is that we are created in God’s image, and therefore, there is something in us that hopes – or at least wants to hope.  Hope can be for temporal things – a better job, a new car, a raise, a white Christmas, (preferable with not enough snow to have to shovel it!); for our family – children, safety, a better future, a better life; and the list of things we can hope for can become quite long, too.  Hopes and dreams for our kids, our town, our nation, our church, our friends…

But there’s something in us, I think, that hopes more deeply.  Something in us hopes for love, for joy, for peace.  For home.  Or should I say, for Home.  We hope – we long for – we were created for – God’s Presence.  And something within us will never be completely satisfied, completely fulfilled, until we are Home with God.

And, there’s something in us that fears deeply.  Fears separation, fears loneliness, fears loss – but at its root, perhaps unrecognized by many or even most – it’s the fear of a meaningless eternity, separated from God.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote these words:  “God has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NLT)  It’s part of God’s design that we know deep within us that there is something more, something greater.

Something to hope for; something to fear.

The hopes and fears of all the years – in the town of Bethlehem, on that first Christmas – were met.

All the hopes, the deepest, truest desires of the human heart – the birth of Jesus was God’s “YES” to our greatest hopes.  There is more.  So much, much more!

And all the deepest, darkest fears of the human heart?  They were also answered on that night.  The birth of Jesus was God’s shout to all humanity – “Fear not!”

There is, finally, nothing to fear.  Emmanuel, our Savior, has conquered every fear.  Even death itself.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

Christmas Lights

Most of us associate Christmas with light.  Christmas tree lights; splashy lighted signs that say “Merry Christmas” and “Season’s Greetings”; candle-light services; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s infamous shiny red nose that requires you to say “it glows”; the Bethlehem star; and even carolers traipsing through town with blinking lights hung around their necks, laced around their wrists, or somehow attached to their hats.

Of course, as followers of Jesus, we all know that this imagery tells us a deeper truth – that  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)

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Most of us associate light at Christmas with heaven’s invasion of earth in tiny Bethlehem, over 2000 years ago – God in a manger, coming to our rescue, “when we were gone astray…”

But let’s not forget that it wasn’t always that way.

In the beginning, God created our world for light.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  Genesis 1:1-3 (NIV)

Our world – and you and I – were created for light, to live in light – not in darkness.

And Jesus?  He was there, in the beginning.

He didn’t wait until Bethlehem to bring light into the world.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John 1:1-5 (NIV)

This world was dark that first Christmas night in Bethlehem.  But it wasn’t always dark.  And even that night, it wasn’t completely dark.  Oh, it was fallen, broken, sin-stained, dark – but there was still light.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

It’s a good reminder for you and me today.

Whatever you’re facing, whatever challenges are stretching and frustrating and pulling at you – remember, even when you can’t see the light, it’s still there.  The darkness has not overcome it.  The darkness CANNOT overcome it.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There are times in our lives when we need a “fresh touch” from God – times when it feels like we are living in darkness, when it may even feel like the darkness has snuffed out the light.  Times when things are so dark that we cry out to God for intervention, for His light to once again invade the darkness.

Election year darkness.

Medical diagnosis darkness.

Depression darkness.

Financial darkness.

The darkness of the uncertainty of the future and what it may hold.

The kind of darkness doesn’t matter; the thickness of the darkness doesn’t matter; the strength of the darkness doesn’t matter.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Whatever darkness may be threatening you, looming over you, hiding the Son from you – remember that the Son will always shine through.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is the good news of Christmas – Light has come, and darkness will not overcome it.

Every time you are discouraged, every time you are tempted to doubt, every time you feel overwhelmed, every time you wonder where God is during this Advent season – look for lights, and remember what they symbolize.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.


During this Advent season, I will be writing on Advent themes.  In January, I will resume working through the questions and concerns that you shared with me this fall.


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.

Dream Big…But…

When I began this series of devotionals back in the fall, I asked you to send my your questions and issues that you’d like to see dealt with in a blog.  We’ve been taking our time moving through them…well, okay, I’VE been taking my time moving through them, because I wanted to try to not just answer questions, but also provide some suggestions and practical helps.  So for the last 5 weeks (!), I’ve been writing about issues to spending time with God – making time, finding time, all those things we use to express our frustration that it’s so difficult in our crazy post-modern world with all our gadgets and time-management tools to actually manage our time and do the things we want to do.

One last post on this.  Here’s a question that one of you submitted that I loved, and I wanted to save for the end of this series of posts on time with Jesus – God says to ask big, to dream big, to hope big but is it too much to hope to achieve a continual walk in His presence this side of heaven? Because there is the constant struggle with the flesh and living in this world, can we still hope for and be looking for a time when we can enjoy a constant communion with God without becoming a “Brother Lawrence” and live in a monastery.  I look forward to reading your thoughts on this subject.”

Great question!  In fact, this is one of those questions that books can be (and have been) written about by people with some pretty impressive theological credentials.  But I’ve committed to writing my answers in a blog for now, so I’m limited as to how long this can – and should – be.

(By the way, a few great books on this subject are “Union With Christ” by Rankin Wilbourne; “Letters by a Modern Mystic” by Frank Laubach; “Walking With God” by John Eldredge; and “Hearing God:  Developing a Conversational Relationship With God” by Dallas Willard.)

So my short answer to “is it too much to hope to achieve a continual walk…this side of heaven?” is – No (it’s NOT too much to hope for)!  And – Yes!  How’s that for decisiveness????  Maybe “yes” is too strong of a word – perhaps a better response would be “not always.”  Read on for my explanation…

Here’s the “No, it’s not to much to hope for” part of my answer.  Remember that truth is not what our world tells us, what our experiences or our senses tell us, but what God tells us.  He is the source of all truth; He is, in fact the very essence of truth.  Jesus Himself claimed to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  And here are a couple of very important truths about continually walking with God:

  • While I am sitting at my desk in Ridgway, and you are wherever you are as you read this, the truth is that we are also “seated in heavenly places” – our position is that we are constantly in God’s Presence and He is constantly present with us, whether we feel like it or not.  So the reality is that you ARE continually walking in His Presence, according to what He says.  (Read Ephesians 2:6 and Colossians 3:1, for example, for insight on this.)
  • Jesus walked continually with His Father, in His Presence.  He testified that He only did what He saw His Father doing; that He and the Father were one; and that to see the Father was to see Jesus.  But He didn’t stop there.  He called us His friends.  And Romans and Hebrews mention that He is our “older brother.”  1 John 4 tells us that in this world, we are like Jesus.  God’s goal for you and I is for us to be transformed so that we become like Jesus – and that includes having a walk with the Father that is like Jesus’ walk with Him.  In fact, Colossians 1:27 tells us that a mystery is at work in us – Christ is actually within each of us as His followers, giving us His Presence now and His hope for the future.

Now, on the “yes, it’s too much to hope for…” (or it’s “not always realistic”) side of things, there are these truths:

  • We live in a world where a constant battle is raging between the Kingdom of God and the evil one.  The truth is that because of this battle, sometimes our attention is drawn away to the world, our own flesh, or the enemy.  Sometimes we allow ourselves to get distracted, to have our vision clouded.  Our walk with Jesus is both a completely free grace-gift from Him (Ephesians 2:8-9) AND an ongoing series of choices that we ourselves make (Ephesians 2:10) about whether or not to obey Him.  Each day is filled with hundreds of choices; each choice I make affects my sense of God’s Presence.
  • Although God’s desire is for us to be like Jesus, that work won’t be completed in us until we see Jesus face-to-face (1 John 3:2, for example).  In seeing Him, we will be finally and completely transformed to be like Him, with a resurrected body like His.  Until then, our glorious spirits are trapped in imperfect bodies that are constantly being affected by this sin-tainted world.  In fact, our present bodies are dying each day (isn’t that encouraging!) – but one day, we will be given new bodies, and we will know God perfectly, as He already knows us perfectly!

So having walked both sides of that line, briefly – again, this could take a book to explore fully – let me add one more thing:  to be walking in God’s Presence and aware of His Presence doesn’t mean that we are out of touch with the world around us.  Jesus was a very busy man, pressed by many people with great needs.  He kept His eyes on both them and the Father.  He lived with the realization that His Father was at work in this world.  Sometimes I think we forget that.  Sometimes I think we think that being aware of God’s Presence means just praying, reading the Bible, soaking in worship, etc.  But being aware of God’s Presence also means loving the person in front of me, who was created in God’s image.  It means serving the person in front of me, whether that person knows Jesus or not, because I know that in serving that person, I am serving Jesus.  Being aware of God’s Presence means doing everything I do for God’s glory and to honor Jesus – even when I am washing the dishes or folding the laundry or practicing my musical instrument or having dinner with family or writing/reading a blog.

God is always present with me.  For me, the issue becomes reminding myself to clear away the clouds that obscure my vision that He actually IS with me.

What do you think?


If you’re interested in learning more about following Jesus, check out my new devotional book, Forty Days of Walking With Jesus:  A Devotional Guide, now available on the Kindle Store.