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Joy to the World

macro photography of joy ornament
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

                        Psalm 98:4-6
Inspired by the words of Psalm 98, Joy to the World was the most published Christian hymn in North America in the 20th century. First published in 1719 and written by Isaac Watts, the hymn beautifully captures the joy expressed in the Psalm. But what is it about this hymn that makes it so popular?
Many churches end their Christmas Day worship with this song. Who can sing this hymn and not be filled with joy? The carol describes almost every part of creation as singing with joy about the birth of the Savior.
With the fall into sin, not only did mankind come under the curse of sin, but so did all of creation. We see the fallen state of the world all around us. We know that things are not as they were meant to be when God created the heavens and the earth. Left to ourselves, we would be lost forever with no hope. No matter how hard we try to be good and correct our errors, we always fall short. If things are to be made right, we need a Savior.
And thanks be to God that that is exactly what He provided. Through the birth of Jesus, God delivered on His promise to make all things right again. No longer do we need to rely on our own goodness, but instead we lean on Him who covers us with His righteousness. In so doing, our hearts are filled with joy and praise for all of His mighty works.
While sin still remains and our world is still under the curse, we look forward to His return and the restoration of all things. In His time, He make all things new and the praises that we sing now will never end. There was joy to the world that day that the Savior was born, and there will be even more when He returns. Come quickly Lord Jesus!
Prayer: Lord, though we have done nothing to deserve Your love and grace, You pour it out on us abundantly. Thank You for the gift of forgiveness and the promise of life eternal for the sake of Jesus in who’s name we pray. Amen.


Peace of God

bible on table
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7  (NIV)
Only a fool would try to explain a “peace of God which transcends all understanding,” so here goes.  This peace of God is not rationally comprehensible.  You can’t logically explain how a Christian is at peace while her family is in turmoil or her finances are in shambles?  This peace of God is spiritually comprehended.  When God speaks to the believing heart his promise to make all things work out for our good and to give us strength to cope and a way out when we can’t anymore, the Christian experiences peace.  The Word of God is that powerful and the Comforter is that reassuring.

The apostle gives us a path to such peace, beginning with “rejoicing in the Lord.”  The Bible nowhere tells us to rejoice in the circumstances of our life.  Sometimes life stinks.  But we can always rejoice in the Lord who rules our life with grace and truth.  “Gentleness” is not over-reacting to people and events that are upsetting.  When you remember that “the Lord is near,” you quit thinking that you’re facing tough times alone; and his return is near, so how significant are our problems anyway.  Prayer is the apostle’s prescription for dealing with what seems impossible.  Let go of your death-grip on problems and let God handle what you can’t.  “With thanksgiving” is an important notation.  When you’re thanking God for blessings instead of complaining about problems, your heart finds peace far more readily.

This peace of God is a guard against things that mess up your mind and heart, like the guilt and regret and bitterness that make your past a dark cloud hanging over your life.  God’s forgiving love takes care of that stuff.  The peace of God is the guard against doubt and stress and fear that distort your view of the present.  Turn down the demonic sirens in your head, and your heart will find rest.  The peace of God protects your future as well, from worries and what-ifs.  He’s got all that covered.  You don’t have to understand how the peace of God works.  Just look once more into the manger that holds your God in human flesh, see the lengths he went to assure you of his presence and his love.  Peace is with you.
OK, God, I get it.  I don’t have to figure everything out and I don’t have to manage everything myself.  Get into my head with Your truth and into my heart with Your love; and let me know Your peace.  Then let that peace seep into my life.  Amen.


The Reason for Christmas

“Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.” from “What Child is This?”

How was your Christmas? For many families across the country, it was unlike any other. Family gatherings were smaller in many cases; some did not even occur. But does that mean that there was no Christmas?

Perhaps this year more than most, it struck me how television programs emphasized how Christmas is all about family and friends, about showing love and being nice to one another. Really? Do they seriously think that these are at the heart of Christmas?

While there is nothing wrong with being nice, showing love, and spending time with family and friends, if that is what Christmas has become, we are of all people most to be pitied (borrowing a phrase from the apostle Paul).

But as Christians, we know the real reason for Christmas. We love to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And while the birth of any child is something to be celebrated, this was a child like no other. But what child is this that we just celebrated?

One of the best parts of Christmas for many people is listening to and singing the beautiful and classic Christmas hymns and carols. In our home, the Christmas music went on early this year (mid-November). Even as I write this today, I have it playing in the background.

One of my personal favorites is “What Child is This?” Written by W. Chatterton Dix in 1865, the lyrics were set to a popular pub tune by this insurance salesman. What an interesting combination, but one that has produced a song that not only shares the story of Christ’s birth, but also the reason He came.

Consider those words again, ““Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me, for you. Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary.” Without the cross, there would be no reason to celebrate the birth. As beautiful and important as Christmas is, we must never take our eyes off of the reason Christmas was necessary. Because of our sins, God needed to step into our world, take on our flesh, and die for our sins so that we would have life with Him. Now that’s something to celebrate!

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, thank You for sending Your Son into the world to give His life for us. May that be our celebration today and always in His name. Amen.


The Peace of Christmas

happy new year greeting card

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”  Luke 2:13-14  (NIV)
The angels weren’t announcing an era of world peace, for Jesus told Christians to expect wars and rumors of war until his return.  The angels weren’t promising that family relationships would be all sweetness and light, for Jesus warned that following him could set relatives against each other.  And the angels weren’t suggesting that you won’t experience emotional stress and worry, for Jesus invited people who were “weary and burdened” to come to him.  So what was this Christmas peace proclamation?

The Savior, whose birth announcement this was, came to earth in order to establish peace between sinners and their God.  By taking our place in human flesh and bearing the punishment for our sins, the Son of God ended the hostility between human beings and their holy God.  God’s favor rests on you, the angels sang. He’s not mad at you. He loves you.  He wants what’s best for you.  And you have an eternity with him to enjoy that peace fully.  God’s peace is not a conditional treaty or an uneasy truce.  God’s peace is a fact to which you can return every time the harsh reality of life in this sinful world intrudes on your sense of well being.  The sequence is FACT – FAITH – FEELING.  Focus on the facts of God’s Word.  That will confirm your faith; and faith crowds out the peace-robbers so you can experience what Christmas means.

The Hebrew word for peace – Shalom – is the greeting that for centuries expressed what the angels sang.  That word means more than a peaceful feeling or “you’re OK by me.”  It means wholeness, things the way they’re supposed to be.  In contemporary terms we might say it means being in a good place.   That’s where you are because Jesus came – in a good place with God.  Shalom!  Merry Christmas!
PRAYER:  Thank you, Jesus, for the peace with God you came to give us and for all that this means each day.  Help us to live with that peace in our hearts and to share that peace in our relationships until the day you take us home to perfect peace forever.  Amen.


What a Surprise

The Nativity set figurine
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
(Luke 2:8-14)
What a surprise!   The shepherds were doing what they did every night.  They simply kept watch over their flocks.  The protected defenseless animals from predators and thieves.  This night would be different.  Suddenly the heavens were torn open and the glory of the Almighty God cast its radiance around these men.  An angel speaks and a choir of angels sing.  These are men who seem to fear nothing.  These are men who lay their lives on the line.  Tonight they are terrified.  They have never seen nor experienced anything so magnificent.  The message is clear—a Savior is born.  It is a message that changes the lives of these men.

The message is of no surprise to us.  We know the entire Christmas account.  We know angels will appear and shepherds will run to the stable and see the Savior wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  We are not terrified at the message.  We are not shocked or puzzled by the message.

I’ll be honest with you.  There are times I’m still surprised by the message.  Yes, like you, I know the Christmas account, but the true message of Christmas is astounding—not just the virgin birth or the fact that God took on flesh and made His dwelling among us.  What seems to surprise me is that Jesus never demands that I prove myself worthy of His love and His sacrifice.  But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). 

In those times that I have spiritually stepped out of line and felt the guilt of my sin, it is easy for me to mutter, “How could God love someone like me?”  Surprise!  He does!  What have we done to deserve eternal life in heaven?  Surprise!  Nothing!  Jesus did it all by living the perfect life for us; by dying on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin; by rising from the grave and proving His sacrifice was all that is needed for our salvation.

Christmas is such a wonderful surprise.  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:4-7).  God chose you and me simply because He loves us!  Surprise!
Prayer: Almighty Lord, thank You for Your never-ending love.  Though we in no way have earned Your love, You still love us.  Though we cannot save ourselves from sin and death, You came to rescue us.  Thank You for Your mercy and grace, which assures us of forgiveness, new life and life eternal with You in heaven.  Keep us strong in faith.  In Your name I pray.  Amen.