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Your greatest need is not your financial situation. It’s not your health situation. It’s not your marriage situation. Our greatest need is not to be delivered from our circumstances as the Jews were hoping to be delivered from the Romans.

Our greatest need is to be delivered from our sin, from spiritual captivity. It strikes me that if we have been eternally redeemed from our sin, then we will have the resources of God at our disposal to deal with any circumstance that comes into our life. Because any circumstance that you could describe that would trouble or concern or unsettle you today is, at most, temporal.

God says our greatest need is for eternal redemption. Having that through the blood of Christ shed on our behalf, having been eternally redeemed—we can, with the indwelling Christ, with the power of His Spirit and the power of His grace, face any circumstance.

~Nancy Leigh DeMoss in “The Payment

Photo: OBMonkey

Merry Christmas, Friends!

May the Lord bless your hearts and homes
with the nearness of His presence this Christmas!

I would greatly appreciate your prayers as Joseph and I travel to Ethiopia this week to meet our little Evangelle. I hope to post updates about our trip on Precious Adornment when I have the opportunity and reliable Internet access, so be sure to visit again soon.

Merry Christmas!

Spreading Christmas Cheer

 

Someone wise once said that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loudly for all to hear. ;) The following video illustrates this point well. If you haven’t seen it yet, get ready to smile.

It was so good to see a group of people spreading true CHRISTmas cheer in such a creative way. Make sure you watch until the end for the best part… 

Image: Billy Alexander

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As the Christmas season was approaching one year, I talked with a woman whose husband was in bondage to some destructive, sinful behavior. I’d been meditating on the message delivered by the angel Gabriel to Mary. He said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

I encouraged this wife, “Remember that Jesus came to save your husband from his sin.” The story of Christmas brings hope to real-world situations. “Joy to the world” is more than just a Christmas cliché. It’s the real message of a real Savior born to solve real problems.

Are you facing problems this season that threaten to outweigh your joy? Don’t forget that the ultimate solution to these problems is the Savior who came to rescue us from sin and lead us into a right relationship with God. So turn to the only one who can provide true peace.

~Nancy Leigh DeMoss in “The Real Message

Photo: OBMonkey

Christmas Hope for the Barren (Part 2)

This post first appeared on Precious Adornment in December 2010. 
Read Part 1 HERE.

“There was a priest named Zechariah…And he had a wife
from the daughters of Aaron, and her name
was Elizabeth…But they had no child”

Luke 1:5,6,7

Gifts Are Not a Given

I wonder how many times Zechariah and Elizabeth asked the question “Why?” during their bleak years of childlessness.

Why, God? Why haven’t you given us a child?

Lord, why haven’t we found favor in your eyes?

Why have you blessed them with a son when they don’t even keep your commandments?

Oh, Father, why have you given them another child when they already have
so many?

As years stretched into decades, Zechariah and Elizabeth undoubtedly faced the temptation to grow bitter and resentful as they watched God bless friends, family, and strangers with the gift they desperately desired and perhaps even felt at times they deserved. They were blameless after all. Surely if any two people deserved the blessing of children, Zechariah and Elizabeth would be those people. 

The lesson that Zechariah and Elizabeth had to learn through their suffering is the same one that childless couples must grasp today. Children are not a given; they are a gift. Just as God causes rain to fall on both the just and the unjust, so too, does He bless both the righteous and the unrighteous with the gift of children.

Why? Oftentimes the answer to that question belongs in the category of “secret things” that belong to the Lord and not to us (Deut. 29:29). When the wisdom of God’s plan remains unclear to us, we must cling to the truths He has revealed:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
~Isaiah 55:8-9

Gabriel’s message to Zechariah contained an important command—the baby was not to be given a family name, but one God had chosen for him. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13).

The meaning of this name would forever remind Zechariah and Elizabeth of the undeserved gift God had given them in their son: John—“Jehovah has shown grace.” Children are not given because of our goodness, but only because of God’s grace.

The Impossible Made Possible

Psalm 113:9 had probably worn a deep groove in Elizabeth’s heart: “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” As a young wife awaiting her first child, that verse surely provided Elizabeth with hope that her barrenness would not last forever. That little glimmer of light grew gradually dimmer with each passing year.

Somewhere along the way for Zechariah and Elizabeth, the chances of having children moved in their minds from being improbable to impossible. Elizabeth’s biological clock had stopped ticking, and the barrenness she’d hoped was only a temporary obstacle became a permanent condition.

At least that’s how the situation appeared until Gabriel arrived with the good news that God doesn’t work according to human timetables. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers had been heard. They would have a son, and he would bring them joy and gladness.

The hope of Psalm 113:9 would at last become a living reality. Why? Because nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

If you are facing the pain of childlessness this Christmas, let the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth fill your heart with hope in the goodness of God. The entire Christmas account revolves around God’s sovereignty over the womb, His love for His children, and His power over the impossible.

As you follow the Lord in righteousness, you can rest quietly in the knowledge that your prayers are not being ignored, but are being filed away in the faithfulness of God. Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, one day you will see; one day you’ll understand the wisdom behind His plans for your life. Until that time, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14)

Photo: Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

Christmas Hope for the Barren (Part 1)

This post first appeared on Precious Adornment in December 2010.

“There was a priest named Zechariah…And he had a wife
from the daughters of Aaron, and her name
was Elizabeth…But they had no child”

Luke 1:5,6,7

They say Christmas is the happiest season of all, but for many, the joy of this special day remains tainted by a lingering sadness. The celebration of Christmas in our culture emphasizes families, tradition, and togetherness. But for those still awaiting the blessing of children, holiday celebrations often draw attention to the emptiness filling the space where little ones ought to be. While others eagerly anticipate Christmas mornings accompanied by laughter, smiles, and childlike joy, those facing the pain of childlessness often struggle to look forward to the day at all.

I imagine that Zechariah and Elizabeth knew all about the pain of spending special days as a couple instead of as a family. For decades they would have observed holy days and religious ceremonies with children all around them, none of which were their own. Zechariah and Elizabeth had no doubt cried more tears and prayed more prayers together over her barrenness than anyone around them would ever have guessed. Yet year after year, their tears and prayers went seemingly unnoticed…until one day when everything changed, and the Lord transformed years of sorrow into tears of rejoicing.

In the familiar story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1, there is fresh hope for those in the midst of childlessness—hope, not only for Christmas, but for every day of the year.

Blameless, yet Barren

The pain of childlessness is often compounded by the pain of being misunderstood by others. Although infertility is one of the most sensitive trials a couple may ever face, complete strangers often feel no qualms about turning the topic into small talk. The absence of children is often wrongly equated with a lack of desire for them and frequently sparks thoughtless comments.

So, how many years have you been married now?

Isn’t it about time you get started on a family?

Planning to try for kids any time soon?

Although people rarely ask questions like these with ill intent, such conversations tear sharply into the already tender wounds of those who simply can’t conceive. Zechariah and Elizabeth were undoubtedly well-acquainted with this pain.

Because barrenness was considered to be a sign of divine disfavor in their culture, gossip and misconceptions regarding the couple’s sinfulness or inferior spirituality would have been commonplace. Even though others may have automatically assumed that Zechariah and Elizabeth stood guilty in God’s sight, the Scriptures actually record them as being righteous before Him. In fact, Luke says that they walked “blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). They were blameless, yet still Elizabeth remained barren.

Childless couples often agonize over the thought that infertility may be evidence of God’s judgment upon their lives. In the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, we find that childlessness was not a curse, but a vital component of God’s divine plan for their good and His glory.

No Unheard Prayer

After praying and asking God to answer the same request over and over again, many believers feel tempted to abandon both prayer and service to the Lord altogether. When prayers seem to go unanswered, a deficient understanding of God’s sovereignty and the purpose of prayer can easily allow a believer’s heart to become infected with sinful doubts about the character and nature of God. Zechariah and Elizabeth, however, continued faithfully trusting the Lord and believing His Word even though they’d never seen evidence that He was listening to their prayers for a child.

It wasn’t until the couple was “advanced in years” and Zechariah was fulfilling his duty as a priest in the temple that God sent Gabriel with the message they could only dream of receiving, “Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…” (Luke 1:13). Although they had long since given up hope that a child’s laughter would ever ring within the walls of their home, Zechariah and Elizabeth discovered that there are no expiration dates on God’s plans.

Their prayers had not been ignored; they had been heard and answered! As commentator Matthew Henry says, “Prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten, though the thing prayed for is not presently given.”

Zechariah had probably wondered time and again about the meaning of his name—“Jehovah has remembered.” Did God really remember him? After hearing Gabriel’s shocking message that day, Zechariah would better understand not only his own name, but also countless other aspects of his life which had never before seemed to make sense. 

God had never forgotten Zechariah and Elizabeth. He was only waiting—waiting to act on their behalf in a way which would clearly illustrate how marvelous and mighty He truly is. And Zechariah and Elizabeth would see, as we all do when we wait faithfully upon the Lord, that His plan was truly worth the wait. 

More to come…

Photo: Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

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When God puts tough circumstances in our lives, we either worship or we whine. I’ll admit that way too often I find myself whining. I guess that’s why I love Mary of Nazareth.

Her world was disrupted when an angel came and told her she was going to bear God’s Son. She could have argued, complained, or whined. But instead, she responded in worship. She said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

That began one of the greatest hymns of praise of all time as she worshiped God for His wonderful acts and His mercy and thanked Him for choosing her to be a part of His plan.

You may be facing a difficult circumstance today. Have you been responding with worship or with whining? Why not take a moment right now to say, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”?

~Nancy Leigh DeMoss in “Mary Was a Praising Woman

Photo: OBMonkey

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The gospel of Luke tells us that Anna was a prophetess and very old-84, in fact. Not only that, she was a widow. But not just any old widow. Scripture says that Anna never left the temple, but worshiped day and night, fasting and praying…Luke’s account tells how Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus in the temple, just eight days after his birth. He was there to be consecrated to the Lord, and it was an exciting day for the little family. But when they entered the temple, they had no idea what was about to happen. 

The Bible says that Anna came right up to them, gave thanks to God, and spoke about the Child to everybody who was there. She told everyone, “Here’s the redemption of Jerusalem.” I love to picture it! This saintly old woman wrapped her wrinkled old hands around the infant Jesus, coddled him in her arms, and then pronounced a beautiful blessing upon him. Anna had a chance to celebrate the birthday of Jesus the way it ought to be celebrated

This Christmas season, we can learn how to celebrate the season from observing Anna. Let’s pattern our celebration and worship after what she did in the temple when she saw Jesus. Christmas is a time for pronouncing blessings and praise upon the Lord. It’s time for giving thanks, and for speaking about the Christ-child to all who will listen. It’s time to talk about redemption

~Joni Eareckson Tada in “Anna Leads the Way” December 19 Daily Devotional

Photo: OBMonkey

Be Born in Me

I tried to get the word out on Facebook and Twitter, and I hope some of you were able to watch the live-streamed version of The Story Tour online Saturday night. Even though my husband and I had the chance to see the concert in person two weeks ago during its stop in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I still enjoyed watching it for a second time online!

From Genesis through Revelation, The Story retells a number of the well-known stories of Scripture, showing how God’s theme of redemption is woven throughout them all. Nichole Nordeman penned the album’s 18 songs, and I was deeply moved by her powerful lyrics as well as by the vocal talents of Francesca Battistelli, Steven Curtis Chapman, Natalie Grant and the other artists involved in the tour.

You can get a taste of both the album and the concert tour with the following video featuring Francesca Battistelli’s beautiful performance of the story of Mary, “Be Born in Me.” 

Be Born in Me
Everything inside me cries for order
Everything inside me wants to hide
Is this shadow an angel or a warrior?
If God is pleased with me, why I am I so terrified?
Someone tell me I am only dreaming
Somehow help me see with Heaven’s eyes
And before my head agrees, my heart is on its knees
Holy is He. Blessed am I.

Be born in me, be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe that You chose me
I’ll hold you in the beginning, You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle, make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me

All this time we’ve waited for the promise
All this time You’ve waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?

Be born in me, be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe that You chose me
I’ll hold you in the beginning, You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle, make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me

I am not brave
I’ll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I’m just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing, I am Yours

Be born in me, be born in me
I’ll hold you in the beginning, You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle, make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me

Lyrics: Nichole Nordeman
Video: Creative Media Group 

Christmas Isn’t for Snobs

“God chose what is low and despised in the world…”

1 Corinthians 1:28

Through his insightful perspective on the Christmas narrative, Tim Keller provides a convicting reminder that salvation comes to the humble, rather than the haughty… 

Have you ever noticed how women-centric the incarnation and resurrection narratives are? Do you realize that women, not men, are at the very center of these stories?

For example, in the story of the resurrection, who was the only person in the world who knew that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead? Mary Magdelene, a former mental patient, is the one Jesus tells to take this news to the world. Everyone else in the whole world learns it from her. Women are the first people to see Jesus risen from the dead.

In the incarnation, the annunciation comes to a woman. God penetrates the world through the womb of a poor, unwed, Jewish, teenage girl. The first theological reflection group trying to wrap their minds around this to figure out what this means and what is going on is Mary and Elizabeth.

We know that in those days women had a very, very low status. They were marginalized and oppressed. For example, we know that a woman’s testimony was not admissible in court. Why? Because of prejudice against women.

We say to ourselves, aren’t we glad we’re past all that? Yes, but here’s what we have to realize: God is deliberately working with people the world despises. The very first witnesses to his nativity and resurrection are people whom the world says you can’t trust, people the world looks down on.

Because we don’t look down on women today, we don’t look at this part of the story and realize what we’re being told. But here’s what we’re being told: Christmas is the end of snobbishness. Christmas is the end of thinking, Oh, that kind of person.

You don’t despise women, but you despise somebody. (Oh, yes you do!) You may not be a racist, but you certainly despise racists. You may not be a bigot, but you have certain people about which you think, They’re the reason for the problems in the world…

Christmas is the end of thinking you are better than someone else, because Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you. It is telling you that people who are saved are not those who have arisen through their own ability to be what God wants them to be. Salvation comes to those who are willing to admit how weak they are.

[“The Gifts of Christmas,” in Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus]

This Christmas, may we become more like our Savior who never believed He was too good to reach out to the greatest of sinners.

Image: Henry Ossawa Tanner

What Would Christmas Be without Love?

“Love never ends.”

1 Corinthians 13:8a

Does the stress of trying to plan perfect holidays transform you into the Grinch? 

If so, then you’ll probably benefit from Sharon Jayne’s creative reminder about the most important thing we can do this Christmas…

If I decorate my house perfectly with lovely plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny glass balls, but do not show love to my family—I’m just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family—I’m just another cook. 

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family—it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love doesn’t envy another home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of your way.

Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Love never fails.  Video games will break; pearl necklaces will be lost; golf clubs will rust.  But giving the gift of love will endure.

1 Corinthians 13 Christmas Style

With all that’s on our to-do lists this Christmas, let’s not forget—we always have time enough to love.

Image: Martine Lemmens

Star of Wonder by JJ Heller

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?
For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:2

JJ Heller singing her completely charming version of “Star of Wonder” live
for K-LOVE…

Star of Wonder

There were kings of the orient
Bringing gifts to the child
Through the fields and deserts they came 
Messiah was worth every mile

Star of wonder, star of light
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy perfect light

Gold and frankincense, myrrh the perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom
Sorrow, sighing, bleeding and dying
Sealed in the stone cold tomb

Star of wonder, star of light
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy perfect light

Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and sacrifice
Allelujah, Allelu
Sounds through the earth and the skies

Photo: ChristArt

 

Celebrating Christmas—Can It Possibly Be Wrong?

“My soul glorifies the Lord 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”

Luke 1:46-47

Should Christians celebrate Christmas?

To most of us, the very question sounds ridiculous. “What could possibly be wrong with celebrating the birth of our Savior?” we wonder.

Yet there are some who see Christmas as a pagan holiday which originally had nothing to do with Christ’s birth and should, therefore, be avoided by His followers.

If you’ve ever heard such arguments and felt confused over them, the following thoughts from John MacArthur and Grace to You should provide you with a little clarity about why the celebration of Christmas is a worthy endeavor…

Scripture doesn’t specifically command believers to celebrate Christmas—there are no prescribed “Holy Days” the church must observe. In fact, Christmas was not observed as a holiday until well after the biblical era. It wasn’t until the mid-fifth century that Christmas received any official recognition.

We believe celebrating Christmas is not a question of right or wrong since Romans 14:5-6 provides us with the liberty to decide whether or not to observe special days:

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks (Rom. 14: 5-6).

According to these verses, a Christian can rightfully set aside any day—including Christmas—as a day for the Lord. We believe Christmas affords believers with a great opportunity to exalt Jesus Christ.

First, the Christmas season reminds us of the great truths of the Incarnation. Remembering important truths about Christ and the gospel is a prevalent New Testament theme (1 Corinthians 11:252 Peter 1:12-152 Thessalonians 2:5). Truth needs repetition because we so easily forget it. So we should celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of Christ and to marvel over the mystery of the Incarnation.

Christmas can also be a time for reverent worship. The shepherds glorified and praised God for the birth of Jesus the Messiah. They rejoiced when the angels proclaimed that in Bethlehem was born a Savior, Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). The babe laid in the manger that day is our Savior, the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (Matthew 1:21Revelation 17:14).

Finally, people tend to be more open to the gospel during the Christmas holidays. We should take advantage of that openness to witness to them of the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. Christmas is chiefly about the promised Messiah who came to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The holiday provides us with a wonderful opportunity to share this truth.

Although our society has muddied the message of Christmas through consumerism, myths and empty traditions, we should not let these distract us from appreciating the real meaning of Christmas. Let us take advantage of this opportunity to remember Him, worship Him and faithfully witness of Him.

[“Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?” Hear John MacArthur explain more in response to the question in this audio clip.]

And now to jump-start your worship this season, Dr. MacArthur teaches from the Scriptures on the true spirit of Christmas…

Image: Billy Alexander

Rejoice! You Always Have a Reason

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace
among those with whom he is pleased!”

Luke 2:14

For sufferers, Christmas can be an especially challenging time of year. Words like joy, peace, and other common themes of the season feel entirely out of place to hearts weighed down with sorrow over earthly circumstances.

On the night of Christ’s birth, the angels proclaimed they were bringing good news of great joy, but we can easily lose sight of how good that news is when we consider the great suffering that still exists in this world. At times, we can easily relate to Longfellow’s sentiments:

“And in despair I bowed my head:
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'”

Pastor Ray Ortlund reminds us that our reason for rejoicing is only found when we shift our focus from earthly pain to heavenly purposes… 

God will make sure that he is supremely glorified. “Glory to God in the highest” is the chorus of the angels broadcast into this world of enslavement to drugs and cynical lies and broken dreams and national disgrace. “Glory to God in the highest” proclaims that there is something higher than the height of our sin. God reigns supreme over all, and God will not allow evil to succeed here in his world. He will get himself glory out of this world. And so he should.

If God’s heart is attuned to love only what is best, then God loves his own glory above all else. He will share his glory with no one, and that is the most wonderful thing of all about God. He will not unGod himself. What if he did? Where would we be then? He steadily, faithfully guides history and our lives toward a God-glorifying conclusion.

Isn’t it interesting how in Christmas cards on public displays we often see the words, “Peace on earth, good will toward men”? But how seldom we see the prior words, “Glory to God in the highest”! But there is no peace, there is no good will, unless there is glory to God in the highest first. We forget to put God’s glory first. Fortunately, he does not. God will be glorified.

Would you or I have begun this announcement the way the angels did, with glory to God first? Obviously, the angels did not understand the importance of relevance and contextualization and meeting felt needs. They started with God, not with peace on earth! Why? Because the most relevant message to this sin-ruined world was, is, and always will be, “Glory to God in the highest.”

Our whole problem is our God-neglect. But the best news for sinners like you and me is that, whatever we might do, God is still God, God is glorious, and God’s glory is supreme over all other realities. And when his glorious kingdom is finally consummated, then there will be perfect peace on earth, good will toward men…

God has come to us in Christ to bring glory to himself in the highest as he grants us peace here in our lives. What can we do but rejoice? 

[Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, pp. 101-102]

Christmas reminds us that perfect peace is coming. What a promise!

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.'”

Photo: Billy Alexander