The picture above is from Ouro Preto in Brasil. It is a road with many curves. It reminds me of what a professor said once. God does not always lead in a straight line. He shared this in my Pentatuch class as he showed paths of Abraham’s journeys laid over a map of the bible lands. Abraham followed God all over the place in his journey to where he was called to go. Fitting that God first said to Abraham to go to the land that I will show you in Genesis 12. In other words, get going but you won’t know where to yet, just follow my call.
Each year when New Year’s is getting close, I wonder where God will lead me, more specifically, who will God bring into the path of my life. My Christmas Eve celebration portrays what I am trying to say very well. I enjoyed Christmas Eve at the home of friends from Brasil along with other friends from Brasil. Interesting for me is the fact that I did not know any of them last year at this time.
Last year at this time, I was preparing for guests to come from Brasil, had just finished my first semester of Português, and enjoyed spending time with some students from Brasil. Early last year, one student told me of Juliano a professor from her university that was coming here as a visiting professor and asked if I would be willing to help him. We skyped together a few times and messaged on facebook. Juliano arrived in Lincoln in August. I have enjoyed spending time with Juliano and his family.
I also had the opportunity to meet Rodrigo and his family in August. Rodrigo is also a visiting professor from Brasil. It has been a pleasure to spend time with Rodrigo and his family too. Rodrigo and I began meeting for lunch at the East Campus Student Union and through those lunches I met some undergraduate students from Brasil. That culminated in hosting a Thanksgiving lunch at my church with Brasilian food thanks to Juliano’s wife Wal and brigadeiro thanks to Rodrigo’s wife Flavia. It has been my privilege to get to know the students and to have lunch with them. The week of Thanksgiving, I was able to help one of the students with her mother’s visit. That made my Thanksgiving week a memorable one.
As I sat with my friends on Christmas Eve, I reflected on the the fact that I knew none of them one year ago, and yet, I consider them my good friends. Friends that I hope to visit in Brasil in the future. I also thought about all of the students I met through them. Then I wondered something. Who will God bring across the path of my life next year? What adventures lie ahead for me in 2015?
One of my greatest blessings in my work and ministry is the opportunity I have to meet people from so many different countries and cultures. On this Christmas Day I am mindful of the words of Jesus about God’s gift to us that we remember on Christmas Day. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” When I consider those words- For God so loved the WORLD, it causes me to think about my friends living in Lincoln who are from many different countries and my friends I have met in my journeys in several countries
It is my wonderful privilege to have the opportunity to share God’s love with my international friends. Yesterday I went to Christmas Eve service with friends from Brasil and then I shared Christmas Eve dinner with friends from Honduras. In the past I have shared Christmas in Romania, and with friends from Brasil, Mexico, Korea, China, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Vietnam. Honduras, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Hungary, France, Taiwan, Burma, and El Salvador living here in Lincoln. Every time I have shared Christmas with my international friends I think about how each culture is unique and yet they all share one thing in common. God loves the people in all cultures and countries.
God is our artistic creator who created all of us. We, His creation, were alienated from Him because of our sin. God had a plan to bring us back to Him. He sent His very best, His one and only Son. Jesus is God’s gift to us. A gift sent to show us God’s love.
In the summers of 2009 and 2010 I was able to travel to Brillion Wisconsin for 4th of July family reunions. The summer of 2010 was also a time to celebrate my nephew’s graduation from high school. Family reunions can be a time of joy for those who are able to attend. It was good to see my brother and his family in Wisconsin, my brother from California, and my sister and brother who live in Lincoln. We had fun with fireworks, a lot of good food, and seeing places like Lake Michigan.
At Christmas time we celebrate Jesus coming as a human baby. We celebrate God the Son who is eternal stepping down from His throne in heaven to become a human baby. When I think about this, I realize it truly should be Joy to the World as the song goes. But what about Jesus? Was there joy involved for Him?
In Hebrews 12:2 it says about Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”. Jesus came to die for us. There was joy for Him, not in being crucified on the cross, but something else set before Him. I have been pondering this because Jesus was seated at the right hand of the throne of God before He came as a baby. There seems to be something more in play here. Then when I consider Philippians 2 where it talks about how every knew will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord it seems to shed a little more light on the joy Jesus would feel because of enduring the cross. Jesus is not egotistic like we are, so the mere fact that all people will bow to Him does not seem to suffice as the sole reason for His joy. God gave us freewill, so the thought of Jesus taking joy in the fact that all people would bow to Him and many not out of choice, seems to not fit.
Then I think about how in Psalm 166 it says ” 15 Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His saints.” Our death is precious to Jesus? That could seem sadistic until we consider this fact. In this life we think of death as going away somewhere. In the eyes of Jesus our death means we come home to Him. The joy for Jesus was not just that He would be seated at the right hand of God. It was also that WE WOULD BE THERE WITH HIM. We can be home with Jesus forever. This causes great joy for Jesus. It makes His sacrifice worth all of the pain that we could be with Him forever in a place we cannot comprehend. We can only know that it is far better than this world.
It has always amazed to think about how at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. When we go to church services, read the Christmas story from our bibles, give Christmas cards and presents, and listen to Christmas songs like Silent Night, we are basically saying Happy Birthday to Jesus. We are celebrating that Jesus our Savior was born of the Virgin Mary.
The reason this amazes me is that Jesus did not begin His life when He was born. He began His earthly life as the God/Man, the Son of God on earth. Jesus actually has no beginning. He has existed for all eternity. The bible says in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word is one of the titles of Jesus. Jesus is the Creator. He is God and is with God. He is eternal.
What amazes me even more is that Jesus came here to earth to live as one of us and at a time when life was much harsher than it is now. He came here to die for us to pay our punishment for our sins. He is the Lamb of God. His love is so great that He would sacrifice Himself for us.
As I celebrate Christmas this year, I will be mindful of the fact that while we celebrate and thus say Happy Birthday to Jesus, we are really celebrating that Jesus loves us so much that He left heaven to come into this world and this life for us.
Merry Christmas 🙂
When children are born, one of the most important decisions is what name to give to the baby. Names have meaning to them. Some names are from grandparents or parents. Other babies are named because of the meaning behind the name. We have celebrities who are known their first name. If someone says Oprah there is little doubt show they are talking about.
The angel told Mary her baby’s name would be Jesus. The angel told Joseph to name the baby Jesus. in that culture it was the father chose the names of the babies. Joseph was Jesus’ earthly step-father, so on earth it was his role to choose a name for the baby, however, it was God who actually chose the name Jesus.
The name Jesus means salvation. That is why the angel told Joseph to “name Him Jesus for He will save His people from their sin”. The whole purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to save us. God wants us back with Him. God wants us to be His children. He loves us so much that He sent His best. He sent His only Son, Jesus.
Several years ago there was a popular song with lyrics like “if God was one of us” which sang about how if God was like one of us then God would understand how hard life is here. The meaning behind that song seemed to be that if God did come down here, then God would have more compassion for us. The good news is that God did become one of us at a time when there wasn’t even a bus for God to be a stranger like in that song.
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). This passage from Matthew 1:23 shows us who Jesus is. He is Immanuel or God with us. Jesus came as a human baby born in a stable among animals. He lived life here for 33 years and experienced many of the hardships that we do. God with us does not just mean that He experienced this life though. It means that He is literally with us. He is always with us everywhere we go. There is not a single second that He is not with us.
Jesus said something that gets my attention in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” Jesus is God with us and if we respond to Him and obey His teaching, He and the Father will make Their home with us. Home conveys the sense of belonging. Home is where we belong. It is where we ae loved and cared for no matter what happens in life. Jesus is saying we can have our home with Him and the Father.
It is not simple a matter of God becoming one of us. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, at all times. We can also have our home with Him. We can belong to Him and the Father. Jesus said “Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me” This Christmas Jesus is knocking at our door. The question is not if God was one of us. The question is will we open the door and let Immanuel in and have dinner with Him. Will we make room for Jesus and the Father to make their home with us?
Several years ago I was meeting with a woman who was pregnant and had come to America as a refugee. She was 8 months pregnant and needed help with some papers. I helped her with the papers for her family while her husband took care of their children. While we were working on the papers, a thunderstorm rolled into Lincoln and the thunder was very loud. She began to shake and cry because the sound of the thunder brought back memories of a war she survived. My thought was “It can’t be good that a pregnant woman’s hands are shaking while she cries.” The normal response to have when we see a pregnant woman is to want to offer any help we can give. Especially when she is close to her due date. That is why the short phrase in Luke 2:7, “because there was no room for them in the inn” catches my attention. That is the reason given for why Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger which was a feeding trough for animals.
I wonder what the innkeeper was thinking about when he told them they could go to the stable. What could the guests have been thinking? Why didn’t any of them offer their room to a pregnant woman about to give birth? Were they all indifferent or just selfish or both?
I wonder if the reason this part of the first Christmas was planned by God is to tell me something. No one made room for Jesus to be born other than a messy stable. I think this part of the first Christmas is there to make me wonder if I have made room for Jesus. Have I sacrificed and given my place for Him? Do I only make room for Jesus when there is a mess in my life and I want bailed out?
As I think about there being no room for Jesus in the inn, it motivates me to give Jesus the best part of my life and not just my mess when I need help. It makes me want to pray when things are going well and offer Him thanks. It also makes me want to serve Jesus with my talents to show His loves to others.
When I began comparing the events involved with the birth of Jesus, I did not think about one of the important aspects. I must admit that I have never been present at the birth of a baby, so perhaps that is why I did not think about the environment Mary was in while she gave birth to Jesus. Last Sunday while I was teaching my Sunday morning Bible class about the realities of the events involved in Jesus’ birth, an older woman who helps in the class brought up the conditions. We listen as she talked about how women can go to a hospital and have doctors and nurses around and how the environment is clean and sterile. Pat is a mother and grandmother, so she knows about giving birth which gave her full authority in our eyes on this subject.
She shared about how much of a miracle it was that Mary and Jesus did not have infections considering the fact that Jesus was born in a stable where the animals lived. The environment was not sterile. There were no doctors or nurses around. Instead there were cows, goats, sheep etc. There were no modern medical instruments to help with the birth. There was no Neo-Natal ward for babies. There was a manger used to feed animals. There would have been straw, animal hair, and other things not sterile. It was not a wonderful place to have a baby.
Jesus came at a time when life was very hard and born in a place with no comforts. Mary endured harsh conditions to give birth to Jesus. When we sing Silent Night, I think we may get a false romanticized notion of the Nativity Scene being peaceful and wonderful. I have been around farm animals and have noticed something. They smell, make noise, and attract flies. It makes me appreciate all the more the sacrifice Jesus made to leave His throne in heaven and come to earth and the hardship Mary endured to say yes to God’s plan even though it meant giving birth in a stable. Then it makes me question myself and whether I am willing to make sacrifices for God in my life.
I live in Lincoln Nebraska which is about 50 some miles from Omaha or more depending where I want to go in Omaha and where I am in Lincoln. I can drive from my home in South Lincoln to the Omaha airport which is about a 60 mile drive in about one hour. If there is no construction zones along the way and traffic is flowing smoothly, the drive is quick and easy. It helps to have an Interstate to drive on, a van with music to listen to on the way, and air-conditioning for warm or hot days. Many years ago I had the task of going to Kansas City and driving a Mercedes Benz back for a friend. I even got paid for it. The ride was so smooth that when I looked at the speedometer and saw I was going 90 miles an hour I was surprised. Of course I slowed down.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph traveled there from Nazareth, so they would have had about a 70 mile trip. There was no Interstate for them to use. No cars with music playing. One would think that the Mother of Jesus would be able to travel in style like celebrities who travel in luxury limousines. That was not the case for Mary. She was 9 months pregnant and her due date was coming. In her condition she had to ride on a donkey or horse or perhaps in the back or a crude wagon or cart. The trip would not have taken 1 hour in an air-conditioned vehicle. It was a 3 or 4 day journey or more. A rough journey on a donkey or in a simple cart. It was another hardship for Mary in her experience as the Mother of Jesus. Mary said yes to the plan of God even though it meant discomfort and hardship for her.
It makes me think about my own life and if I am willing to sacrifice my own comfort and time for God. It may be as simple as getting up a little earlier to pray. It might be to go on a mission trip which means a few weeks of sacrifice on my part. Perhaps it is to show Christ’s love to those who others overlook. It might be to give of my time or money and sacrifice in other areas of my life to be able to do so.
When Mary agreed with God’s plan to be the Mother of Jesus, she signed on for a life of sacrifice and at times hardship. She stayed faithful over those years even to the point of being one of the few people to stand at the cross of Jesus. This makes me wonder if I am fully committed to following God even if it means facing the worst scenarios in life, but again I come back to the little things. Am I willing to wake up a bit earlier to pray? Am I willing to sacrifice a fast food lunch and brown bag my lunch, so I can give to a ministry that shows the love of Jesus? The reason I write about the little things is because of something Jesus said. He taught about how those who are faithful with a few things will be given more; more opportunities to serve, more blessings from God, and more understanding about God.
When God wanted to announce the birth of Jesus, He first had one angel make the announcement to the shepherds. After the announcement was made, it was time for the musical celebration. I have been blessed to hear several choirs sing wonderful songs. My favorite is still the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah. I have heard many choirs sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Still to this day that song moves me. However wonderful a choir may sound, it cannot compare to that first choir celebrating the birth of Jesus.
The bible tells us in Luke Chapter 2 that after the angel made the announcement, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God.” They sang “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Imagine being there to witness the heavenly host appearing and singing. It would have been a stunning and breathtaking sight.
As glorious as that was, what is even more amazing to me is who God shared this with. He shared it with shepherds out in the field. It was not a formal event with a red carpet that was invitation only with the invitations going to the rich and famous. It was a spectacular event shared with the lowly of the culture to show that God’s love is for all people.