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That title comes from the New Living Translation of Hebrews 12:2:

Isn’t that a strength-infusing image? Picture our Lord Jesus wearing a spotless white robe, sitting tall on a regal white horse, a golden sash encircling his chest.  See his face glowing like the sun, eyes blazing like fire. And in his hands rests a scepter of iron. Everything about him conveys authority, glory, and power.[1]

Statue located in Hendersonville, TN at Trinity Music City. Photo by Brent Moore.

But more important than how he looks, of course, is what he does. And that list is extensive. 

We have a Champion on our side—an all-victorious One—who is ready to help us win this race of life as we stay focused on him.[2]

Scripture reveals remarkable truths about our Champion. The following sixteen statements not only create an acrostic, but offer glorious reasons for praise.  

Our Lord Christ is:

Jesus, the Son of God through whom all things were created and through whom we live.[3]

Everlasting Father, protecting and providing for us now and always.[4]

Sovereign over all, reigning with wisdom, righteousness, and mercy.[5]

Unfailing and unchanging in his personal love for each of us.[6]

Savior to all who believe in him.[7]

Overcomer of our arch enemy, Satan, who’s already been defeated.[8]

Upholder of justice and truth, always acting with integrity, always speaking rightly.[9]

Rescuer from every evil attack, who will take us to heaven when the time is right.[10]

Conqueror of death who brought us the good news of salvation, offering life to us that never ends.[11]  

Hero of impeccable character and omnipotent power, willing to help us every moment.[12]

Alpha and Omega, the all-sufficient One who always was and always will be.[13] 

Mighty Warrior King, coming to earth again to establish his glorious kingdom.[14] 

Perfector of our faith, who will never give up on us.[15]

Intercessor for all believers, continually pleading for us before God.[16]

One and only Word of God—communicating and manifesting the magnificence of God to us.[17]

Name above all names, the result of his absolute perfections and humble sacrifice in our place.[18]

And what will be the result as we focus our contemplations upon Jesus our Champion?

His influence will penetrate to the core of who we are.

The Apostle Paul put it this way:

We’ll begin to act and react like Jesus, talk and even think like Jesus.

And in the process we’ll become champions ourselves—victors and conquerors, able to triumph over whatever comes our way.[19] 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I praise You, Lord Jesus, for being my Champion. What a glorious relief to know that you—the all-sufficient One–go before me each day, ready to defend, protect, guide, and provide. May I keep my eyes fixed on you to bolster my faith and grow me more like you. I do want to live in confident victory!

2 Corinthians 2:14a; Deuteronomy 31:8;

Psalm 91:14-15; 2 Peter 3:18; 1 John 5:4

Scriptural support for this post:


[1] Daniel 7:9; Revelation 19:11-15; 1:13-16; Daniel 7:14

[2] Philippians 3:7-12; Hebrews 12:2

[3] 1 Corinthians 8:6 NLT

[4] Revelation 21:4

[5] Ephesians 1:19b-21; Jeremiah 23:5; Isaiah 42:1; James 5:11

[6] John 15:13

[7] John 3:16

[8] John 16:33; 1 John 3:8

[9] Jeremiah 33:15; Revelation 19:11; 1 Peter 2:22

[10] 2 Timothy 4:18; John 14:2-3

[11] 1 Timothy 1:10 CEV

[12] 1 John 2:1; Ephesians 1:19; Philippians 4:13

[13] Revelation 22:13; Colossians 1:13-20

[14] Isaiah 42:13; Psalm 72

[15] Philippians 1:6

[16] Romans 8:34 GNT

[17] John 1:1; Colossians 1:15; 2:9

[18] Philippians 2:6-11

[19] 1 Corinthians 15:57; Romans 8:37

Photo credits: http://www.canva.com; http://www.flickr.com (Brent Moore); http://www.rawpixels.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.rawpixels.com; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org.

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Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes,

our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions,

they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

John Quincy Adams

Many in today’s world want to believe that truth is relative. You’ll hear them say, “What’s true for you isn’t necessarily true for me.”

In the case of taste, that statement may apply. You might love coconut, hard rock music, and skinny jeans ; I do not. And that should be OK. We all have our preferences.

But to understand the absolutes of reality, we must consider the facts and evidence in order to judge rightly and respond accordingly. Truth is truth. And when it comes to our eternal destiny, we cannot risk basing our hopes on untruth, no matter how well-intentioned.

Yet falsehoods frequently masquerade as truth, and have for centuries.

So how are we supposed to know what is right and true concerning our eternal destiny?

Behold the Truth

There’s no getting around the fact that every one of us will die. And though we don’t know the details of what happens next, the Bible is clear: When we trust in Jesus, who took the punishment we deserve for our sins, God graciously grants us eternal life with him in heaven (John 3:16). This is the way he’s established (John 14:6).

But why should we believe the Bible? That‘s a key question every person needs to be able to answer.

Whole books have been written on the subject; I’ve listed a few at the end of this post. But here’s a sample of categories that affirm the Bible is reliable truth, to whet your appetite. And with each I’ve provided just one example or a link to one.

So what facts and evidence prove the Bible is true?

  • Thousands of archaeological discoveries verify names and places mentioned in the Bible. Nothing has been found to repudiate any scripture. (One amazing example: When Truth Unfolds.)
  • Over 5,000 ancient manuscripts or fragments corroborate the Bible.
The Dead Sea Scrolls include 800-900 manuscripts representing every Old Testament book except Esther. They date from about 225 B.C. to 50 A.D.
  • Hundreds of prophecies have come true with 100% accuracy. (Compelling Evidence offers just one set of prophecies concerning one city–all of them fulfilled with mind-boggling perfection.)
  • A number of scientific and medical facts mentioned in the Bible have also been proven accurate. One example:
  • Over the centuries, millions of lives have been transformed because of Christ’s work within them. (When Love Drove Out Hate tells just one miraculous story.)

But don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself “the state of facts and evidence.”

Study the photos of archaeological finds. Many are available online.

Learn about fulfilled, biblical prophecies and why the argument that they were written after the fact is provably false. (Read Is the Bible True?/ Fulfilled Prophecy as a good starting point.)

Consider all the scientific and medical facts mentioned in the Bible and how unfolding knowledge over the ensuing centuries has verified their accuracy.

Read biographies of those who hit rock bottom in their lives and how God lifted them up, often in miraculous ways.    

We begin to recognize lies

when we know the truth.

Beth Moore, Praying God’s Word, 76

And if we truly seek after God, he has promised, we will find him (Proverbs 8:17).

Believe in the Truth

Many people believe that heaven is earned. If our good deeds outweigh the bad, God will allow us to enter. But that teaching is not in the Bible. And if we’re going to assert the veracity of scripture (which we must, given the overwhelming evidence), then we have to accept:

This is not a matter of taste, choosing our beliefs depending on what we like, as with food, music, or clothing.

This is a matter of life and death.

Now is the time to behold the Truth, believe in the Truth, and belong to the Truth, if you haven’t made that choice before.

You’ll be so glad you did!

If you’re already a Christian, please share in the comment section below about what brought you to accept the Bible as truth and Jesus Christ as the Way to eternal life.

For further reading: The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith, both by Lee Strobel, and Why Should I Trust the Bible by William D. Mounce.

Photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.jenikirbyhistory.getarchive.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.canva.com.

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(in celebration of Poetry Month)

Inside us all exists a place

unique in space and size.

Just one thing can fill this space;

it’s nothing money buys.

Some people try to fill the void

with work and busy-ness.

They think that to be well-employed

will bring true happiness.

Others try a different route—

they seek recognition.

But all too soon they learn about

the failings of ambition.

But inside me there is no void—

it’s a marvelous sensation!

Inside me grows peace and joy,

defying explanation.

The future holds no fear for me,

sleepless nights I don’t endure.

There’s no need to fret continually,

because my destiny is secure.

Even when problems come my way,

a sense of joy pervades.

From an inner strength, fears are allayed,

and anxiety begins to fade.

This peace and joy inside me

come from one amazing Source.

It’s Jesus Christ—he’s the key,

the almighty, empowering force!

The Lord alone can fit that space;

nothing else will ever do.

While following his excellent ways,

I experience his blessings too!

Art & photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

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Tonight, the Thursday before Easter, we remember the Last Supper and the heart-wrenching scene in the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was there Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done”(1).

In a matter of hours from that moment, Jesus would face unimaginable pain and suffering. Yet his prayers were not only for himself that night. He prayed for his disciples, and he even prayed for us—those who would believe in him in the future. His desire was that God’s love and his presence would be in us (2). I marvel at such selflessness in the midst of supreme crisis, don’t you?

As a result of his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, Jesus made possible the fulfillment of that prayer. Our crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ indwells every believer (3).

Think of it. The all-powerful, all-wise Lord of the universe lives within us! But just what does that mean?

I like Sarah Young’s explanation: We are intertwined with him in an intimacy involving every fiber of our beings (4).

It means that God makes available to us everything we need:

  • Power to handle life’s challenges (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  • Wisdom to determine right actions from wrong (James 1:5)
  • Access to talk to him at any time (Hebrews 4:16)
  • Personalized purpose, to fulfill a God-ordained plan (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • Hope that can never be disappointed (Isaiah 40:31)
  • Resources that can never be exhausted (Philippians 4:19)

It means that in Christ we have:

  • Complete forgiveness (Hebrews 8:12)
  • Everlasting life (John 3:16)
  • Overflowing joy (Psalm 16:11)
  • Deep peace (John 14:27)
  • Attentive care (1 Peter 5:7)

Sometimes I act like the Israelites on their trek to the Promised Land. Remember the manna God provided so they wouldn’t go hungry? It tasted like wafers made with honey (5).

Yet they became so accustomed to the provision, they began to complain. Manna wasn’t good enough after a while.  “Yes, Lord,” they may have said.  “You’ve been very gracious to provide manna, but we need meat!”

These blessings of Christ in us listed above are more precious even than miraculous manna. How could I take such astounding blessings for granted? Add to that the incredible price Jesus paid so I could enjoy those blessings. How dare I think, Yes, Lord, you’ve been very gracious, but I need more!

*     *     *     *     *     *     *   *     *     *

Dearest Jesus, as I contemplate your deep distress in the Garden of Gethsemane, your suffering at the hands of Roman soldiers, and the unfathomable pain you endured on the cross, my petty wants become inconsequential.

Forgive me for allowing familiarity to dull my senses of awe and gratitude for the sacrifice you made. Willingly.  Lovingly.  

“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” (6).

So be it.

Notes:

  1. Luke 22:42
  2. John 17:26
  3. Colossians 1:27
  4. Jesus Calling, 332.
  5. Exodus 16:31
  6. From the hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Art credit:  www.free bible images.org.

(Revised and reblogged from April 17, 2014, while we enjoy a week-long visit from our daughter and family.)

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While exercising last Friday I listened to a podcast of Pete Briscoe’s sermon, “Every Day Jesus.” He made the point that we can actually see “tangible evidence of his intangible love” if we’re paying attention.

Pete told the story of a man who began looking for hearts, as emblems of Jesus’ love for him. He found them everywhere—heart-shaped rocks, shells, clouds, a heart-shaped stain on his jeans, even a heart-shaped dinner roll.

Pete told Jesus, I’d like to find tangible evidence of you too.  That very afternoon he spotted a pile of grass clippings on the side of the road, shaped just like a heart. He shared a photo on the sanctuary screen, and sure enough, there was no mistaking it.

Oh Lord, I thought, while finishing a set of push-ups.  That sounds like such fun. But I wonder if my emblem might be different than hearts—something personal. What could I look for?

No sooner did I get up from the mat than there it was: a star—a big one—blazoned on the wheel of our exercise bike. (Jesus made sure I didn’t miss it!)

The verse in Revelation came to mind where Jesus calls himself the bright morning star (22:16). And brief research delightfully expanded my understanding, so I’d appreciate more the stars yet to be discovered.

Just as Venus, the morning star, is always present whether we see it or not, so is Jesus. He is FAITHFUL and TRUE (Revelation 19:11), even when there’s no evidence in the moment.

Just as the morning star gives us assurance of approaching dawn, so Christ gives us assurance of approaching eternal life with him in heaven. He is our HOPE (1 Peter 1:3-5).

And just as the morning star cheers the night-weary soul, so Jesus brings JOY to the discouraged soul (John 17:13).

Each star then, would be a reminder of my Savior’s unfailing faithfulness, the confident hope I have in him, and the ineffable joy he provides.

Since Friday stars have been appearing with surprising frequency.

For example:

A friend posted a photo of her snow-covered garden. Right of center stood a small windmill –with a star on top.

While looking for an old photo on my phone I came across a springtime star from our own backyard.

We watched our Cincinnati Bengals squeak a win over the Titans last Saturday night. I’d never paid attention before to the NFL logo—with its stars.

The Titans’ helmets also include stars. See them surrounding the T?

In our refrigerator are a half-dozen stars or so. . .

. . . if you were to cut the apples horizontally, instead of stem to calyx.

A devotional reading this week just happened to be titled, “Star Gazing.”

In my office you’ll find paper clips shaped like stars. . .

. . . and on a table sits a Czechoslovakian, star-topped creche that I leave out all year.

On a shelf in the family room a crystal star adds sparkle . . .

. . . and even makes rainbows when placed in the sun.

With each star discovery, my heart sings. He is here—with us—revealing his extraordinary presence among the ordinary moments of our lives.

 *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Lord God, after less than a week I’m already rich with stars! You’ve scattered them throughout my days with such creativity.  Thank you that each one reminds me: my faith is not misplaced, my hope is assured, and every joy of life is enhanced—because of your loving presence.

Do you find tangible emblems of Jesus’ intangible love as you go about your day? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

P.S. Here’s a link to Pete Briscoe’s sermon: https://benttree.org/sermon/part-1-everyday-jesus/

(Art & photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); Nancy Ruegg (4); http://www.pxhere.com.)

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For most of us, the words Christmas scriptures bring to mind the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke.  We may even remember the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah.

Rarely will we think of the psalms as part of the Christmas story, yet at least a dozen passages from the Book of Songs include references related to Christ’s birth. A few qualify as outright prophecies; other statements are less direct, but hindsight allows us to make delightful connections.

So for each passage quoted below, see if an aspect of the Christmas story doesn’t come to mind!  (To keep this post from getting too long, I’ve included just six examples. Answers appear below.)

1. “The Lord said, ‘I have made a covenant with My chosen one, I have sworn to David, My servant, I will establish your offspring forever and build up your throne for all generations” (Psalm 89:3-4 HCSB).

2. “[The Lord] himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Psalm 130:8).

3. “Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart” (Psalm 97:11).

4. “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory” (Psalm 97:6).

5. “Send me a sign of your favor.  Then those who hate me will be put to shame, for you, O Lord, help and comfort me” (Psalm 86:17 NLT).

6. “Praise the LORD and pray in his name! Tell everyone what he has done” (Psalm 105:1).

7. “Because of your temple at Jerusalem, kings will bring you gifts (Psalm 68:29). 

(The second Jewish temple; a model in the Israel Museum)

Answers:

1. Jesus’ lineage and reign described in Matthew and Luke fulfill this prophecy perfectly (Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:32-33).

2. Psalm 130:8 sounds very similar to Matthew 1:21, doesn’t it?

3. The Light of the world began to shine that night in Bethlehem, and the angel of the Lord proclaimed great joy for all people (Luke 2:9-10).

(by Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1740-1812)

4. The psalmist may have thought he was writing about the stars, sun, and moon—all declaring the power and glory of God.  Little did he know his words foreshadowed events on the night Jesus was born, when the heavenly host proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:9) and the shepherds saw the glory of the Lord shining around them (v. 9, 13-14).

5. This verse also brings to mind the lowly shepherds (whom others often despised) as well as the angel’s words, “This shall be a sign unto you . . .” The birth of the Messiah brought great help and comfort to all his people, but perhaps especially the marginalized. For everyone, the long wait for his appearing was over.

6. The shepherds followed this directive as they left Jesus’ birthplace and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17).  They glorified and praised God for all the things they’d seen and heard, just as they had been told (v. 20).

7. That’s exactly where the Magi went first—Jerusalem—seeking the one born king of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-2.)  And of course they came bearing gifts–gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:10-11).

Isn’t it amazing–from the Book of Songs written eons ago, come the distant strains of the exquisite, eternal Christmas Song that we celebrate to this day:

All your works declare Your glory;

all creation joins to sing.

Praise resounds as earth rejoices

in the birth of Christ the King (2)!*

*the last four lines of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” stanza 2)

Art & photo credits: Steve Ruegg; http://www.stockvault.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.pixabay.com.

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To say I love decorating our Christmas tree would only be partly true.  If an assistant could arrange the prickly branches of our artificial tree and then drape and tuck the lights so they’re evenly dispersed, I’d be thrilled.

For me, the fun doesn’t begin until I unpack our collection of beloved hodge-podge ornaments—from family, friends, members of the churches my husband pastored, and students of the elementary classes I taught. It’s a delightful challenge to find the perfect spot for each one.

Some I hang where a tree light can serve as a tiny spotlight.

Other ornaments are perched over a light . . .

 . . . and still others are lit from within.

The aim is to create a tree that glows with reflected light.

One year, on a mid-December afternoon, Steve came home to find the tree collapsed on the floor.  Strings of lights snaked outward in uneven loops, and decorations lay scattered hither and yon. (Thankfully only a few ornaments shattered; the most prized survived.)

Our tree was much bigger with many more decorations,
so you can imagine the mess!

A moment later I arrived home.  Steve met me at the door, a pained expression on his face. “I have some bad news,” he began.

Immediately our two college-age children Eric and Heather came to mind—due to arrive home for winter break at any moment. Had there been an accident? Or maybe it was our youngest, Jeremy, who still lived at home.  Had something happened to him?

However, Steve’s expression didn’t indicate that level of emergency.  In the split second before he continued my mind riffled through other scenarios. Maybe one of our incoming Christmas cards included sad news, or perhaps something untoward had happened to a church member.

When Steve did reveal the problem, I actually felt relief and gratitude. A toppled Christmas tree was nothing compared to those other conjectures.

While taking my turn to evaluate the damage, Steve said, “I’m so sorry; I know how much you love the tree.  Listen–I’ll go to CVS and pick up that prescription you called in this morning; you wait here for the kids. We can figure this out later.” And off he went.

Unbeknownst to me, as he was pulling out of the driveway, Eric and Heather pulled in. They rolled down their windows to greet one another, then Steve told them, “Be extra nice to your mother—the Christmas tree fell down. I’m on my way to CVS to pick up a prescription for her.  I’ll be back in a few minutes!”

Steve continued backing out toward the street; Eric and Heather looked at one another in astonishment.

“Whoa!” Heather exclaimed.  “I can understand Mom’s upset, but she needs a prescription?”

They pictured me in full grieving mode.

Moments later the three of us laughed uproariously over the misunderstanding, then again when Steve returned, and once more when Jeremy arrived. 

Little did we know that all these years later we’d still be laughing about that toppled tree and Mom needing a prescription. In fact, just two weeks ago on Thanksgiving the story was repeated and everyone chuckled–again.

No doubt you have your own stories of imperfect Christmases. Interesting isn’t it–those are the ones that especially warm our hearts and make us smile.

The first Christmas story includes its share of imperfect moments too—although certainly not the humorous variety:

  • A grueling trip to Bethlehem at the very end of Mary’s pregnancy
  • No place to stay when Mary and Joseph arrived
  • The birth of the Messiah-King in a stable-cave
  • His first bed–a feeding trough
  • His first visitors–scruffy shepherds

Little could Mary and Joseph have known that the story of Jesus’ birth –full of imperfections as it was–would warm our hearts and make us smile all these years later. Why?  Because the Lord of heaven became one of us—born into the imperfect circumstances of this world. He understands completely every imperfection we face.

He also knows our internal flaws–our weaknesses, failures, and sinfulness—yet loves us anyway, and offers His perfect gift of salvation and eternity in heaven with Him.

One day—perhaps soon–all imperfections will be erased when Jesus returns to earth. 

May these truths of the ancient Christmas story warm your heart and make you smile—all season long and beyond.

_______________

(Other related scripture:  John 1:14; Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 9:15; James 1:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 21:1-4)

P.S. We never did determine exactly what caused the tree to fall!

Photo credits: Nancy Ruegg (4); http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.jeffholcomb.com; http://www.pixhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

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If asked to name a theme from the Christmas story, most people would probably mention one of these:

  • Love—expressed by God when he sent his Son to be born a man, then die in our place (John 3:16)
  • Joy—that the Savior of the world has come (Luke 2:10-11)
  • Peace—because Jesus is our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Hope—in the knowledge that our future is secure in heaven, when we believe in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-5)

But another word is mentioned more often in the account than any of the four mentioned above.  Perhaps you’ve already discovered this theme: 

FEAR.

You’ll remember:

  • Mary was greatly troubled when Gabriel appeared. He had to reassure her, “Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:29-30).
  • Joseph received an angelic visitor in a vision. “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,” he was instructed (Matthew 1:20).
  • The shepherds were terrified when an angel materialized before them.  They too heard: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:9-10).
Annunciation to the Shepherds
by Edouard Joseph Dantan (1848-1897)

I jump and shriek if my husband walks into the room and I haven’t heard him coming. What must it feel like to witness the sudden appearance of an angel?    

And just so we understand:  Angels are formidable beings—quite different from the delicate, winged creatures or sweet little cherubs often found in paintings or nativity scenes. (See Daniel 10:5-6 for one description of a fearsome angel.)  

The Nativity by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

One of our pastors said Sunday, “In my imagination, I see Gabriel about the size of Dwayne Johnson!”

No wonder these Christmas-story participants were afraid, to be confronted with such a large, commanding presence.

But surely the angel’s message of “Do not be afraid”–spoken three times in the narrative–is not just happenstance.  Perhaps God would have us learn how to respond to fear from the examples of Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds.

First, Mary would teach us to counter fear with faith.

It’s doubtful the fear brought on by the angel’s appearance just evaporated at his command. Yes, his message contained good news, including great honor for Mary, but it also came with risks: “scandal, misunderstanding, lunacy charges, and possibly stoning.”[1]

Yet this young girl responded, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Mary demonstrates:  Faith and fear can coexist as we exercise the former to control the latter.

Second, Joseph would teach us:  “Do it afraid.”[2]

Courage is not the absence of fear; courage acts rightly in spite of fear.

Joseph is a prime example. He’d face scandal himself as news of Mary’s pre-marriage pregnancy spread through Nazareth. Would his neighbors whisper in the shadows as he passed?  Might people refuse to employ him as their carpenter? Would his reputation as an honorable man (Matthew 1:19 GWT) be sullied forever? Surely such questions plagued Joseph.

Yet he chose to do the right thing.

Third, the shepherds would teach us to fight fear with truth.

Even while cowering in fear, the shepherds listened to the angel.

“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people,” the angel announced.  The shepherds’ hearts that had pounded with fear the moment before must have continued racing, in anticipation of what this glad celestial news might be:

I imagine the angel’s voice boomed with emphasis upon each phrase.  And now all-out excitement coursed through the shepherds’ veins.  Fear had been eradicated by the truth of what God’s messenger had told them.

In our time we’ve no need to wait for an angelic visitation to bring us good news. Our Bibles provide all the truth, wisdom, and encouragement necessary to meet all circumstances—even those that cause fear.

Like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, we have a choice: give in to fear and become disheartened, paralyzed, and useless, OR we can exercise our faith to become encouraged, empowered, and useable.


[1] Patsy Clairmont, Joy Breaks, p. 109.

[2] Suzanne Eller, A Moment to Breathe, p. 43.

Art & photo credits: http://www.freebibleimages.org; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.pxhere.com; www. rawpixel.com; http://www.pixhere.com.

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Well-known preacher, C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), delivered at least twelve sermons on the same three verses of scripture, but attested that a minister could never preach too often on the passage. 

“In its depths are pearls for which we hope to dive,” he said [1].

Another anonymous enthusiast for these verses called them “the greatest invitation that was ever issued.”

What scripture were they referring to?  Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 11:28-30.

Will you go diving with me for the pearls of this passage?  What new treasure might God present to us, even in such familiar verses as these? 

Each key word and phrase offers insight into the glorious ways Jesus wants to bless us:

Come 

To come to Christ is simply to put our trust in him. As our Savior who died for us, he is more than worthy of our trust. As the all-powerful King of kings over everything in the universe, he is more than qualified to warrant our trust.

All who are weary and burdened 

A 2017 Gallup Poll revealed eight out of ten Americans feel stress sometimes or frequently every day [2].  But Ann Voskamp, in her book, One Thousand Gifts, suggests that “to choose stress is an act of disbelief”[3]. I see her point.

On the other hand, choosing to trust in Christ—with praise and gratitude for all he is and all he does—results in peace and joy.

Rest 

Our souls find rest when we affirm the truths we know about our Lord, including his constant presence to strengthen, help, and guide.  “The very act of confidence is repose,” wrote theologian, Alexander Maclaren.

Take my yoke upon you 

Like the young ox who is teamed with a trained animal in the wooden harness holding them together, Jesus invites us to companion with him and follow his ways, his example.

Learn from me 

He’s anxious for us to enjoy the abundant life he offers, so Christ suggests we learn how he handled life—in close companionship with his Father.  And for his part, our Father delights in manifesting his life-enhancing attributes in our lives.[4]

I am humble and gentle 

You’ve probably noticed our Savior is not an unreasonable and stern taskmaster, wielding his omnipotent power to bully us into submission.  Time and again in the Bible record of his life we see evidence of Jesus’ being kind and understanding, gracious and tenderhearted.  He is the same toward us because:

My burden is easy and light 

Easy = well-fitting.  Just as the farmers of old would shape the wooden yokes to uniquely fit their oxen, the ways of Christ fit us perfectly.  After all, he designed us; he knows what’s best for us.  And his yoke is lined with love.[5]

Perhaps now you see why someone would call these verses the greatest invitation ever issued. Jesus offers:

  • Salvation from the consequences of our sin
  • Relief from our burden of cares
  • Rest in his all-sufficiency
  • Instruction in the ways of abundant living, side by side with the gracious King of the universe

No wonder Spurgeon called such blessings pearls—lustrous pearls that can transform our reality, when we simply come to Jesus.

Which pearl(s) particularly caught your attention today?  Share with us in the comment section below!


[1] www.preceptaustin.org

[2] https://news.gallup.com/poll/224336/eight-americans-afflicted-stress.aspx

[3] p. 148.

[4] Jeremiah 9:24

[5] Matthew Henry

Photo credits: http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.wikimedia.org.

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Eight-year old Jennifer Wiseman tagged along behind her parents down the road in front of their farm, just as she did every evening on their habitual walk.  No matter how many times the family of three and various pets set out under the dark sky, Jennifer always ended up trailing them, her head craned backward to study the stars.

With no city lights within miles, the countryside of her Ozark Mountain home offered a spectacular heavenly view.  Jennifer shuffled along, mesmerized. 

It seemed as if heaven’s glory itself shone through thousands of pinpricks in the black canopy of sky.  Jennifer knew about heaven from her parents and their church community where she saw lived out what was being taught.

Her interest in stars grew as she watched Carl Sagan’s television program, Cosmos.

(Carl Sagan)

 What would it be like to explore space, she wondered, to stand on a far-distant planet amidst its craters and mountains? To make new discoveries about the universe? Maybe one day I can be a part of space exploration.

That interest remained with Jennifer.  But whether to become an astronaut, astronomer, scientist or engineer building space probes—Jennifer didn’t know. So she majored in physics at MIT, since that basic science could be applied in many areas of study.

A few months before graduation in 1987, Jennifer traveled with other students to the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.  On photographic plates taken by astronomer Brian Skiff, she discovered a new comet that became known as the Wiseman/Skiff Comet.

(An unidentified comet)

Jennifer continued her education at Harvard, receiving a Ph. D. in astronomy in 1995.  From Massachusetts she moved to Virginia as a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to research star formation.  Her childhood dream had finally become reality [1].

(Galaxy Grand star forming, photo from Hubble Space Telescope)

Currently she is the Senior Project Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope.

(Dr. Jennifer Wiseman)
(Jennifer teaching a seminar)

Dr. Wiseman is a sought after speaker because not only is she articulate and passionate about her subject of outer space, but as a believer in Christ she’s a strong defender of exploration as a divinely Christian activity.  She sees no conflict between science and her faith, sharing often a quote from John Calvin [2]:

As Jennifer considers the billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, she recognizes God is responsible for it all, and has been supporting and sustaining this ever-changing universe over billions of years, long before life existed.

(a star forming, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope)

For some, that realization fosters a feeling of insignificance, but not for her.  Jennifer senses a reverent fear and gratefulness that God engineered the universe to mature over eons of time until at least one planet can support abundant life.

“And I get to be a part of that for just a little while,” she says. “So I’m grateful. It also makes me a little fearful:  am I using my time well [3]?”

Jennifer allows her awe to impact her worship as she contemplates her Savior, the one who sustains the universe (Hebrews 1:3).  “He’s the one responsible for galaxies, black holes, planets, oceans, and porcupines!” she says.

(NASA photo of a dwarf galaxy)

“When we say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ we must mean that Jesus is Lord of all time and space.  Who was the Lord at the Big Bang when Time began?  Jesus.

“Who was Lord when the first galaxies coalesced and the first stars turned on?  Jesus.

(Colliding galaxies. Photo credit: ESA, Hubble, & NASA)

“Who was Lord as our own solar system came into being?  Jesus.

“Who was Lord during all the epochs of life on Earth—the Cambrian, the Pleistocene, the era of [early humans]?  Jesus.

“And who will be Lord as long as time exists, and forever outside of time as well?  Jesus [4].”

(The Omega Nebula or Swan Nebula)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

We do praise you, O God, for the wonders of your universe. Thank you for giving us the capability to study and understand its marvels at least in part, providing opportunity to gain insight into your greatness.

(Planetary Nebula)

We also praise you for working at the infinitesimal level—in our individual lives. How glorious we can never come to the end of your attentive loving kindness any more than we can reach the end of your universe.

(Psalm 19:1; Genesis 1:27; 1 Chronicles 29:11;

Matthew 10:29-31; Psalm 57:10)

 Notes


(NASA’s Power Couple, Jennifer Wiseman and Mark Shelhamer)

[1] Meanwhile she married fellow NASA scientist Mark Shelhamer in 1997.  They met at MIT when she was an undergrad and he was pursuing his master’s degree.

[2] https://news.belmont.edu/dr-jennifer-wiseman-speaks

[3] https://blog.emergingscholars.org/2013/07/interview-with-jennifer-wiseman-part-2/

[4] www.letterstocreationists.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/how-science-can-inspire-can-inform-worship-jennifer-wiseman/

Other Sources:

www.technologyreview.com

www.testoffaith.com

https://biologos.org/podcast-episodes/jennifer-wiseman-light-in-space

Photo credits: http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pxhere.com;www.pixabay.com; http://www.stockvault.net; http://www.snappygoat.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.wikimedia.org.

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