“Small Town Boy Makes Good”

Day Two: Twelve Days of Christmas

I like small towns; they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Living In Small Towns

Living in a small town can be a blessing, an answer to prayer, a chance of a life time. However, they usually have little to offer in terms of importance.

Our town got excited when a stop light was finally installed. It was a big deal. As if the town had risen in status. Sorry, but a single blinking light doesn’t qualify for status change.

Exceptions

Sure, when a small-town kid goes on to be famous. Like a world-class athlete, or a superstar entertainer, or President. When a town produces a bona fide celebrity, the celebrity status rubs off on the town. 

An Example

Jesus came from a small town, the village of Nazareth, in Galilee. It was Mary and Joseph’s home town. It was agrarian, had little economic strength, and never exceeded five hundred in population. It wasn’t important.

In fact, when Nathanael heard that Jesus the Messiah was from Nazareth he asked,

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

Think about Jesus and his humble beginnings. Nazareth wasn’t famous. It couldn’t boast about anything, it didn’t even have the equivalent of a blinking light. It didn’t make the   top ten list of best places to live in Palestine.

Wouldn’t Jerusalem have been a better choice? It hosted the Temple, the Sanhedrin, and many famous Rabbi’s. It was the city of prophets and kings. It makes sense that the Messiah would be raised there. But no, our savior was a small-town boy.

Nazareth
Nazareth today, but not even close to the small village of Jesus our Messiah.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, and went on to give salvation to the world, but the world knew nothing of his home town.

In Closing

Nazareth wasn’t anything special, and yet, the world still celebrates Christmas; not because the town was special but because he was.  

Jesus came for everyone. He came for those in big important places, and for those in small unheard of places. He came for all of you, and he came for me.

I like small towns, they tend to be charming, friendly, and peaceful.

Thank you Prince of Peace

Merry Christmas

Day One: Twelve Days of Christmas

Day 1

Have you ever lost a child? Ever had to search for your child?

When The Kids Were Young

We took separate cars to church. I would leave early and the family would come later. It worked fine. But not the Sunday when my wife left after church, thinking our son was coming with me. I walked in the house, she looked at me, and said,

“You left him behind?”

I went searching and found him at the Father’s house, he was still at church.

And Jesus?

At age twelve, Jesus was no longer a boy, but transitioning to manhood. Culturally, if he had learned the Torah, he would be rewarded with his first trip to Jerusalem for Passover. He was with Mary, Joseph and the caravan as they traveled to the temple.

Afterwards, returning home, they realized that Jesus was missing, that he wasn’t with the caravan. So, Mary and Joseph went back to look for him, probably walking all night. Imagine how worried they must have been, and afraid.

They Found Him

After three days, they found him in the temple courts, with the Rabbis, who were amazed with Jesus. Mary and Joseph were less amazed and more astonished. They were upset with their first born.

Jesus in the Temple Courts

Mary said,

“Son, why have you treated us like this? We have anxiously searched for you.”

Jesus said,

“Why were you searching, didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  

But they didn’t understand. They didn’t understand that his being in the Father’s house was being about the Father’s business.  

His Father’s Business

Before he ascended, there was a resurrection, a tomb, a cross, and a ministry. There was time in Egypt. There were shepherds, wise men, and a violent, ruthless King. There was a virgin birth. All of which were the Fathers’ business.

In Closing

Jesus was never lost, and frankly, didn’t need his parents to find him, but we understand why they did. He wasn’t lost, just moving forward to the time when he would be the one doing the searching, the one who would seek and save the lost.

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Merry Christmas

People As Gifts

Four gifts that blessed my life.

When?

Each gift was given over the week end and none of them were wrapped presents.

Who & What?

  1. Our Life Group

We belong to a Life Group, a small group ministry at church. Each year, we host the LG Christmas party. It’s parents only, not because we don’t want the children, but because the parents don’t want to bring them. We get it. We’ve known these families for years and have watched them grow into loving, spiritually mature people. Having them in our home was a gift.

  1. The Baby Blessing

Our church is overrun with young couples and new babies. It’s wonderful. Our tradition is to gather around each family and their new baby, to have our elders pray for them. It’s a sweet moment! Yesterday, in 1st service, we prayed over a young couple with their first child, a son. Having them there with their infant son was a gift.

  1. The Commissioning

Our church is involved with a non-profit ministry called, Hope For Haiti’s Children.We sponsor hundreds of Haitian kids for Christian education. We send them Christmas presents each year, and at the close of 2nd service, our elders commissioned one of our members who is going to Haiti to help distribute the presents. Having her be blessed and commissioned to Haiti was a gift.

  1. The Meal

My wife woke up feeling poorly and I encouraged her to stay in bed. After 2nd service, one of our members asked if I would like to have lunch, since his wife and kids were busy with other activities. I called to check on my wife who was making something to eat and headed back to bed. So, I got to go with a good friend and share a good meal. Having him invite me to lunch was a gift.

To Close

Four gifts that blessed my life. The gifts of people. The relationships, service, and connection that comes only through God’s Kingdom, through the church of our Lord.

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Happy Holidays

It’s The Month of Our Lord!

Welcome to December, the birth month of Christ.

Still Debated?

At one time, it was important to me to argue about the date Jesus was born, and I could argue it still, but I won’t.

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Why Not?

Because I don’t care. It’s not apathy, I’m just less interested in arguing things I can’t prove, and if I could, would it make much difference?

I’ve planted my flag in the ground of peace, for he is the Prince of Peace and instructs me to live in peace.

Yes, there is theology and doctrine that should be defended with conscientious diligence. But his birthdate isn’t one of those.

It’s A Celebration

The angel told the shepherds how to find Mary, Joseph, and their infant son. He said he brought good news of great joy for all the people, that a savior had been born: Christ the Lord. The infant savior was the anointed of God.  

Saviors save, it’s their purpose, and Jesus came to save. It’s what the angel told Joseph:

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Even his name was about salvation, for Jesus or, “Yeshua” in Hebrew, means,”God saves.”

Jesus said about himself:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

To Close

Frankly, I don’t think the Messiah was born in December. But whether he was or not, he did come, and his coming made all the difference! 

Welcome to December, the birth month of Christ!

Shalom

It’s The Family Holiday Fusion!

Thanksgiving is over, Christmas has begun.

It’s Okay

Actually, Christmas has already started, it was visible before Thanksgiving. In fact, Christmas now starts well before Halloween, back in the summer with decorations for sale.

We have morphed into a Holiday Season, starting with Halloween (which isn’t a true holiday) then Thanksgiving, then the blitz to Christmas, the Christmas Eve service, and finally, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. But it’s okay.

It’s the holiday season.

For Me?

I love it.

I enjoy the Holidays primarily for one reason: our kids come home. You might snigger at that, since our son, daughter, and son-in-law live in Houston, as we do.

But still, to have them spend the night on Christmas Eve, waking up to a warm fire, with brightly wrapped gifts under the tree, with glowing candles and carols playing, well, it doesn’t get any better. I’m a fully confessed holiday romantic.

christmas tree at home

A Reflection

As I think about it, all of my holiday joys, memories, and happiness revolve around family. It doesn’t’ matter that our kids are no longer children. It only matters that they enjoy making new memories, and want to make them with us.

To Close

In this season of celebrating the birth of Christ, let’s note that Jesus and his family had “Holiday” traditions of their own: Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, Yom Kippur, to mention a few. “Going up to Jerusalem” for the feasts were national events, and not to be missed.

Jewish caravan going to Jerusalem

      They contributed to the family’s unity, faith and values. Sounds good to me.

So, from my home to yours, welcome to the Holidays.

Shalom

Pt 12: Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas conclude today, the day to reflect.

It’s The Morning After Christmas

I’m thinking about the events of the past few weeks. The parties in our home with friends and coworkers were sweet and enriching. The three days I got to spend in the Texas Hill Country were fun and restful. Our Children’s Christmas Musical was a night to remember.

The Christmas Eve service was a beautiful expression of God’s love expressed in the birth of his son. Seeing hundreds of candles lifted up in honor of the infant king never fails to move me!

Our Christmas Sunday service was just tremendous, so very uplifting, immersing us in the good news of great joy.

Then finally, it was Christmas at our house. The fireplace was crackling, the stockings were filled, and brightly wrapped presents eagerly awaited us. It was a Christmas I’ll never forget.

Regarding Joseph & Mary

Their trip to Bethlehem, with Mary nine months pregnant, must have been very hard. I’ve imagined their experience out there in the cold, with the animals. What a difficult place for Mary to deliver her firstborn child.  I’ve thought about that night, a night of angels and shepherds. It was a night divine, a silent and holy night.

Nativity

I’ve wondered about their anxiety with Herod trying to kill the baby. And what about the other families; the infant sons who Herod arranged to kill in his efforts to exterminate the new born King. How horrible for them and how distressing to Mary and Joseph knowing other families lost their babies while they escaped to Egypt. What a burden to carry.

And Finally

Christmas is a lot of things to a lot of people. But in the beginning, it was the night of Immanuel. The night our God came near. For God so loved his world that he gave us his son. Ours was a world in great need of love, forgiveness, and a savior. 

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 When we say, “Merry Christmas” what we are really saying is:

     “May the God of all grace bless you in the celebration of his Son’s birth.” 

Merry Christmas

Pt 11: Twelve Days of Christmas

It’s early Christmas morning and I’m the first one up. 

Christmas Traditions

I’m always the first one up. I light the candles, get a fire going, and crank the AC down because we live in Houston. Then its coffee and carols. And then it’s my daughter, coming out in her pajamas to sit with me by the fireplace. She’s 27 and married, but she still likes to begin Christmas with her dad, as she’s done for many years. The rest of the family will be out soon and the presents, stockings, and wrapping will all be front and center.

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For Mary and Joseph?  

Christmas morning was different for them. They made it to Bethlehem, an exhausting trip, especially for Mary. As they approached the village, they surely were looking forward to a warm room and a comfortable bed. But it wasn’t to be, for the inn was full.

Did the exchange go something like this:

Inn Keeper: “I’m sorry folks, but we’re booked solid.”

Joseph: “You don’t understand, we’ve traveled for days and my wife is expecting. You must have something?”

Inn Keeper: “Well, it isn’t much, but you’re welcome to stay out back with the sheep, donkeys, and camels.”

Joseph: (looking at his exhausted and very pregnant wife) said, “Okay, we’ll take it.”

It Was Time

Mary was in labor. Was it a difficult delivery? Did she have any help or was only Joseph by her side? She probably didn’t have her mom or any help at all.

But the Savior was born. I imagine Joseph cutting the cord and Mary swaddling him in strips of cloth. The infant king nestled in his mother’s arms. All of heaven was in joyous celebration; with the angels singing in glorious praise.  

It was a silent night, a holy night, a night adorned by a brilliant star in the east. At long last, after thousands of years, God made good on his promise, he came to be with us.

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To Close

It’s early morning. It’s just me, a perfectly lit tree, and my perfectly beautiful daughter. The fire is crackling, the coffee is fresh, and the carols are softly playing.

It was a very different experience for Mary and Joseph. But it all started with them. They brought the Savior into the world and his coming was good news of great joy. He came because we needed him. We still do.

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It’s Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas

Pt 10: Twelve Days of Christmas

These days, a happy, or unhappy, trip is measured by flight delays, bag arrival, and the rudeness factor of passengers. Traveling can be rough. Bless my heart, right?

Back To Bethlehem

The betrothed couple faced a hard journey, for Caesar Augustus had declared a census of the entire Roman world. Joseph would have to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the town of David.

He and Mary traveled together, going southeast around Samaria, then along the Jordan River to Jericho. Then they headed southwest to Bethlehem, eight miles south of Jerusalem.

It was a ninety-mile journey and Mary was nine months pregnant.

Mary Joseph 2

The Trip

Riding a camel, travelers could make twenty miles a day, fewer on a donkey. We don’t know if Joseph owned such animals; it would be uncommon for a young couple to have them. But given Mary’s condition, it’s unthinkable that she would have walked the ninety miles.

 They could have stayed in homes at night, given the sacred honor of Jewish hospitality. But they might have pitched a tent. Temperatures would be in the 50’s and in the 40’s at night. In December, the nights could drop to freezing. It would be a difficult trip for Joseph and nothing short of miserable for Mary.

On The Trail

I wonder what they talked about; was it all about the baby?

Maybe they discussed prophecies? They knew the baby was due. Did they connect the dots between Micah’s prophecy and being in Bethlehem? Did they discuss what would happen if the baby came while they traveled? Did they know that Jesus could only be born in Bethlehem?

Mary Joseph

For Consideration

We know Bethlehem is a part of Christmas, just part of the story. But truthfully, the trip was difficult, dangerous, and painful. 

His birth was announced by angels, witnessed by shepherds, and honored by the Magi. He survived King Herod and life in exile, and then finally made it home. When the time came, he went to the cross. But before any of that could happen, Mary and Joseph had to make it to Bethlehem.

To Close

Our Savior was born to strong and determined parents.

They were so young, so unprepared, but willing and submissive to God.

We should be grateful. There would not have been a Christmas if it wasn’t for them.

Merry Christmas

Pt 9: Twelve Days of Christmas

What criteria did God use for selecting the Messiah’s mother?

The Usual Things?

Was he looking for a sweet personality? Perhaps a top tier, upwardly mobile, highly intelligent woman? Did those things matter? Were there other considerations?

Other Considerations?

The Messiah had to come from the tribe of Judah, of the line of David, and have a virgin birth. He would be called a Nazarene, so God needed someone from Nazareth, and Nazareth was a very small village. How many virgins, from the tribe of Judah, of the line of David, could there be in Nazareth? He only needed one.

Was There Something Deeper?

Gabriel told Mary some incredible things. He said that God favored her and that she would deliver the Holy One, the son of David. That she would be with child and yet remain a virgin. That the power of the Most High would overshadow her. Can you imagine? Most of us would have fainted on the spot. But not Mary. Her response was,

              “I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said.”

Was that the deeper quality God was searching for, a submissive spirit?

Amazing Strength

The Messiah’s mother would have to be incredibly strong. Do you remember what Simeon said at Jesus’s dedication?

                    “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

She watched her son be beaten and scourged. She heard the insults and hateful words She witnessed the hammering  of spikes. Did she wince when the old rugged cross settled into it’s resting place, with a sudden and violent thud? Probably not as she wouldn’t have wanted Jesus to see her pain, only her love.

She bore his cross with her head held high. Only a mother could do that, and maybe not every mother.

Mary was an amazing person, she had to be. She was heaven’s choice to be the Messiah’s mother, she was the choice of God.

The Bible

In Closing

I think Mary was smart, gifted, and beautiful. But God’s criteria had little to do with such things. He was looking for a gentle and quiet spirit, for a deep well of inner strength, and for someone with unimpeachable character. He found her.

This Christmas, let’s be thankful for Mary. For she embraced the most difficult challenge of all. She gave birth to her son and then raised her son to die.

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Thank you Mary.

Merry Christmas

Pt 8: Twelve Days of Christmas

We often know the right thing to do, but choosing to do it is the real test.

Some Difficult News

Imagine, your fiancé has just informed you that she is pregnant. You know the baby couldn’t possibly by yours. You are beyond disappointment, you are devastated. The two of you were promised to each other and the promise was based on you both being virgins. Sadly, your dream of a sweet life with her has ended.

How could she do this to you?

Unbelievably, she swears she hasn’t been with a man. “So how can you be pregnant,” you ask her. She says, “The baby is from God, through the power of the Spirit. Gabriel appeared to me and said this was going to happen, I promise!”

You respond with, “Uh huh, okay.” Then, with a bitter soul, you bellow out your anger, tell her it’s over, and leave forever.

Doing The Right Thing

Instead of being bitter, what if you chose to be considerate. You decide not to embarrass her with shame and public disgrace. That’s exactly what Joseph did. He must have been broken hearted but he still chose compassion over vengeance. He chose to be righteous.

Then the angel explained everything to him. Can you imagine the next conversation between Joseph and Mary?

joseph and mary

To Think About

Jesus is Lord, King, and the Savior of the world. But some 2,000 years ago, in a small Galilean village, it almost ended before it started. A lesser man would have walked away and called for the stoning pit for Mary. But Joseph wasn’t a lesser man.

Jesus Did The Right Thing

When the time came, Jesus chose compassion instead of wrath and judgment. He gave up his right to condemn. Even on the cross he forgave those who were violently cruel to him.

Yes, Jesus did his Father’s will. But from the human perspective, Jesus turned out just like his Dad. Joseph must have been a wonderful example to his son.

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In Closing

We don’t know much about Joseph. But he was heaven’s choice to be the Messiah’s earthly father. In this season of Immanuel, I am deeply grateful for Joseph.

Because he was a righteous man, we are all blessed beyond measure.

Merry Christmas