30 December 2016

This 'n' That

Well, the new year is almost here; 2016 is nearly over. For some, the end cannot come soon enough because this year was characterized by illness, injury, loss, or strife. For others, 2016 brought sweet, joyful memories, positive change, or long-awaited closure. Regardless of where your year falls on this spectrum, 2016 is still ending. You cannot stop it.

The hours, days, months, and years seem to pass by so quickly, don't they? It doesn't seem that long ago that we rejoiced to see summer and now, here we are in the middle of winter, though in many places in the US "winter" seems to be redefining itself. And though God has perfectly designed each day's 24-hour cycle, there never seems to be enough hours in the day or enough days in the week to accomplish all that we think we need to. Then, before we even realize it, before we barely blink, a year has passed, then two, then ten, then a lifetime.
Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow. (Psalm 144:4)
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (James 4:14)
These sobering verses remind us that we have a specific purpose for our time on this earth. We are to serve and glorify the Living God. The world keeps us busy with its distractions, but we are to be about our Father's business. In this we serve and emulate our Lord Jesus Christ. May we purpose to seek Christ and keep our eyes fixed on Him in the coming year and always.

With that, I present you with your final 2016 week in review (kind of):

25 December 2016

From First to Second Advent

The twinkling lights, the joyful music, the seasonal scents. The clich├ęd, but inevitable and very real hustle and bustle of the season. The gatherings, the shopping, the wrapping. The menus, the lists, the crowds. Amid these things, we still find our way to the manger; but, mankind being an easily distracted creature, it is there that we stop. We take a snapshot of this familiar scene—Mary, Joseph, the Christ child, the angels, the shepherds, and a few well-placed animals—and we place it on our mantle as if it tells the totality of the tale, but for all of its miraculous glory, it is not the full story.

Man, though curious by nature, seems content to leave this Christmas story half-finished. Perhaps it is because the next few chapters do not easily harmonize with the gaiety that man has manufactured for the season. Yet, though our Savior first became man as a seemingly helpless infant, and though, if the story had stopped there, we would have reason to praise our great God, in truth and in spite of our undeserving state, there is far more to this story than a star and a stable.

Christmas Day Praise

Come, Let Us Adore Him

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.
(Luke 2:1-14)

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Angels We Have Heard on High

Angels From the Realms of Glory

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:15-18)

O Come, All Ye Faithful

24 December 2016

Silent, Holy Night

The Birth of a King

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

For Unto Us a Child Is Born

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

Silent Night

23 December 2016

This 'n' That

Well, Christmas is nearly upon us. For many, this is a time of joy and celebration, family gatherings, and fond memories. For others it is a time of sorrow filled with memories of loss and grieving. Is this what matters, our emotions? Our feelings? No, we who are Christians must remember one very important thing: Christmas is not about us.

Of course, Christ came to save His people from their sins. Hallelujah! Praise God! Yet even in the reality of this mission, Christmas is not about us. Christmas is about the God-man who condescended to earth and was obedient to God the Father, even unto death (Philippians 2:8). The baby in the manger who had come to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) could only accomplish those purposes through His atoning, sacrificial death (Hebrews 10:10-14), and because Christ was raised on the third day, those who are His shall also live forever (John 3:16).

Christmas is about Christ. It is not about presents or music or cookies. Nor is it about a divine "naughty or nice" list that requires you to check the boxes of your good deeds in order to find favor with God. Christmas is about Christ. It sounds obvious, but is it obvious in our lives? With our gaze fixed upon the person of Jesus Christ, as we seek to know Him—not just His teachings, but Jesus Christ Himself—through His Word, our pursuits, desires, and deeds will be continually sanctified as  we grow in His likeness. Then, one day, we will be with Him forever. Now that is a lovely Christmas present, indeed.

From manger to cross to empty tomb to Second Coming, all of history is ultimately about Christ.

With that, and with only a couple of days left to clean your house and bake (or eat!) your cookies, I hope you still find a few quiet moments to enjoy your week in review (kind of):

20 December 2016

What's In a Name? Prince of Peace

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

In these turbulent times, the idea of peace seems almost idyllic. Yet, Isaiah prophesies that the coming Messiah, who is Jesus Christ, would be the Prince of Peace.

In the history of the world since the Fall there has not ever been true peace among sinful men. From Cain and Abel, to whatever conflict is raging in the world today, men have been at war with one another for millennia.

Only One can bring true, lasting peace to the earth—Jesus Christ. Isaiah 9:7 continues,
There will be no end to the increase of His government or peace…”
One day, after Christ has judged the world, He will renew the Heavens and the Earth, and peace will reign for eternity.
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:22-27)
As glorious as peace among men may be, however, there is a greater, more ultimate peace that is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ.

18 December 2016

Sunday Morning Christmas Praise

God With Us

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

O Holy Night

16 December 2016

This 'n' That

It's no secret that I love this time of year. The colors, the smell of cookies baking, the music, finally having the opportunity to take my vacation days—all of it brings a smile to my face, even in the midst of uncertainty, sorrow, or adversity.

And even though it's cumbersome, dusty, and, well, kind of a pain, I'm always happy to put up the Christmas tree. My family has always decorated simply for the season, but over the years the decorations on our tree have evolved with our focus. We now decorate our tree with simple garland and, as ornaments, the names of Christ. I've found this to be a beautifully simple way to turn our focus toward the Savior. I'm not sure I'll ever break out the old Hallmark ornaments again!

One of my favorite names for our Lord that is especially brilliant this time of year is "Light of the World." Jesus said,
I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life. (John 8:12)
The blackness of sin permeates this world. If the Holy Spirit does not cause a regenerating work within us, we remain enslaved to this darkness.

Yet, it is through Jesus Christ that we come to know the truth about God and His holiness, as well as the truth about man and his wretchedness. When the Light of the world shines His light into man's wicked soul, He reveals man's need for a Savior. When we trust in Christ for salvation, we are freed from sin's chains. We are released from the dark prison in which we formerly lived.

Christmas is a time when lights sparkle and shine in the darkness of night. May this be a reminder to us of that one shining star that shone through the night sky of Bethlehem, guiding men to the One who was and is the true Light of the world.
After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. (Matthew 2:9-10)
Do you rejoice with great joy that this Child has saved your soul?

Now, I also hope you rejoice, on a far, far, far lesser scale, of course, that it is time for your week in review (kind of):

15 December 2016

What's In a Name? Eternal Father

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

This title of Christ’s is fascinating and intriguing. Remember that this verse is describing the infant of Isaiah 7:14:
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
The titles provided by Isaiah in 9:6 are introduced as belong to the child who will be born, the son who will be given, the One who shall be called Immanuel, whose name shall be Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

Yet this child, the reader now learns, is also a father. More than that, He is the Eternal Father. This verse is not to say that within the Trinity, Jesus the Son is God the Father. No, for indeed the Trinity is comprised of the three distinct persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Literally, this phrase means “Father of Eternity”1. Jesus has said, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13).

13 December 2016

What's In a Name? Mighty God

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

His name shall be called Mighty God. Mighty. God. El Gibor. God, the mighty One.

This name of the blessed Messiah very clearly highlights His divine nature while also emphasizing His power.

Just how great is His strength? Well, even the wind and the waves obey Him.
When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:23-27)

12 December 2016

Equipping Eve: The Wisdom and Witness of Anna

She was an elderly widow who had served God her entire life, and she was one of the few people chosen by God to be a witness of the infant Christ. Open your Bible to Luke 2:36-38 and let’s learn a bit more about the woman named Anna.

Click here to listen to this latest episode of Equipping Eve.

Click here for a list of related resources.

Further Listening
Equipping Eve: Simeon's Psalm
Equipping Eve: The Cross of Christ
Equipping Eve: The Word Made Flesh

11 December 2016

Sunday Morning Christmas Praise

God My Savior

Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

Joy to the World

And Mary said:
“My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
“For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.
“He has done mighty deeds with His arm;
He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
And sent away the rich empty-handed.
“He has given help to Israel His servant,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

(Luke 1:39-56)

Mary, Did You Know?

09 December 2016

This 'n' That

Headphones. They are everywhere. People can't seem to function without them. I see them as people ride bikes, run, or simply walk across the street. I see folks plugged in from their car to the office, and inside the office as well. At their desk, at the printer, in the bathroom. Yes, you read that correctly.

Why are we so conditioned to be constantly surrounded by noise? For my part, I cannot understand how my coworkers accomplish anything with another voice speaking into their ears, whether it is singing or talking. Me? I can't even work with classical music playing. My brain simply cannot process that much at once. And you know what? That's okay.

It seems to me that my generation and younger may end up with hearing aids at a much younger age than previous generations. Sure, I listen to music (usually classical or Christmas music, if the season's right) or podcasts in the car or while exercising, but other than that, I'm okay with the silence. Surely the constant noise plugged directly into our aural cavity cannot be a good thing!

I learned a lesson in the fragility and sensitivity of our eardrums this weekend when I unintentionally, but thankfully only temporarily, impaired my hearing. When bombarded by more unexpected and excessive noise within the next 12 hours, there was more pain. There was pressure. It wasn't terrible, but it was enough to make me nervous.

After a trip to the doctor, I was comforted to "hear" that there was no permanent damage. She talked to me about the danger of seemingly instant hearing loss, though, and explained that, in severe instances, when hearing is suddenly completely lost, a person has only 24 to 48 hours to address the issue (i.e., to be placed on steroids to reduce the inflammation). After this time, the hearing loss is irreversible and permanent.

Wow. What an intricate, fragile body God has designed! Why do we not care for it more? Is our playlist really more important than being able to hear the birds singing for the duration of our time here on earth? I would rather hear creation praising God than to hear man singing his ridiculous "Top Ten" hit any day. That is why you'll probably never see me wandering the halls of my office with headphones in my ears and my phone in my pocket. Instead, you might see me wearing ear plugs when confronted with loud noises, wherever that may be. It may not be the most glamorous look, but I'd rather preserve the precious hearing that my God was so good to give me!

With that, why not turn on some soft, instrumental Christmas carols and then sit back to enjoy your week in review (kind of):

08 December 2016

What's In a Name? Wonderful Counselor

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

A child will be born, a son will be given, and this One shall have upon His shoulders the government of all. Indeed, He alone is God’s perfect ruler.

This reality is emphasized by the four-fold name given to Him in Isaiah 9:6. Isaiah packs more names for Christ into this one verse than is seen in any other single verse in Scripture. At the time of the Old Testament especially, a name was far more than a mere identifier, it defined the character of the person. The name was the person. This is why the names of Christ are so significant; they offer great insight into the person and nature of our Lord.

06 December 2016

What's In a Name? A Child Born, A Son Given

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Isaiah 9:6 contains more names of Messiah in a single verse than any other in the Bible. The names of Messiah presented in this verse cannot be fully appreciated, however, without an understanding of the broader context of the passage.

As Isaiah prophesies, chapter 8 ends on a note of judgment:
When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. They will pass through the land hard-pressed and famished, and it will turn out that when they are hungry, they will be enraged and curse their king and their God as they face upward. Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be driven away into darkness. (Isaiah 8:19-22)
Indeed, in short order, as history demonstrates, Assyria came and took Israel into captivity. Judgment had come.

04 December 2016

Sunday Morning Christmas Praise

What Child Is This?

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)

What Child Is this?

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

02 December 2016

This 'n' That

Well, it is officially December. How did that happen?

Chicago's Michigan Avenue; Flickr user Daniel X. O'Neil
I drove into the city last week for the first time since I moved here several years ago.  I wanted to see how this place "does Christmas," if you will. While the ice rink may have been open, the carriage-pulling horses were dressed in holiday garb, and the streets were twinkling with lights, it was mildly disappointing. I decided that whoever is in charge of Christmas-izing the city needs to go spend a weekend in Chicago. There wasn't much I liked about the Windy City (except the Cubs), but that city certainly knows how to dress itself up for the holiday season. From the ice rink in Millennium Park to the Christkindlmarkt, to brightly lit Michigan Avenue, Chicago can certainly help even the most miserly of Scrooges muster up a little worldly-based Christmas cheer. Yet, in spite of my affinity for most things Christmas, I'd much rather be on a quiet farm in the country, with the stars lighting the sky, shimmering down on a layer of freshly fallen snow than in a bustling city.

Of course, neither of these are realities for this blogger. Instead, I call the suburbs home, with its mostly-quiet neighborhoods and sometimes too-festive neighbors. That's okay, too, though, because in the end, "Christmas spirit" has nothing to do with silver bells or Christmas lights.

It is officially December, friends. Are we fretting over the long list of presents we still need to buy? Or are we focused on the celebration of the advent of our Lord?

Ponder that, then come back here and enjoy your week in review (kind of):

01 December 2016

What's In a Name?

Most tend to think of a name as merely an identifier. My name is Erin. Your name might be Susan, Joshua, Abigail, or something else. Names prevent us from having to refer to one another as “Hey, You."

Perhaps you named your child Julie simply because you liked the sound of the name and it blended well with your surname. You likely gave little if any consideration to the actual meaning of the name Julie, which in its French origin, means “downy.”

Today, our names act as a label; a name is rarely chosen as a means of defining our individual character. In days long ago, however, names carried far more significance. In the Bible especially, one can see that names were far more than mere labels. According to S. Lewis Johnson, in the Bible, the concept of a name held the following importance:
  • The name was the person,
  • The name was the person revealed, and
  • The name was the person actively present.1
We see the noteworthiness of names emphasized throughout Scripture. In Genesis 17, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, even as He established an everlasting covenant with His servant:
Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying,
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,
And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
“No longer shall your name be called Abram,
But your name shall be Abraham;
For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:3-8)
God changed Abraham’s name because he was promised to become the “father of a multitude,” or of many nations. This new name reflected God’s promise to Abraham.