The Light That Never Goes Out

“And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations.” – Isaiah 42:6b (NASB)

In the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah commemorates a miracle witnessed during the reign and oppression of Antiochus IV. He placed Hellenistic priests in the temple and further desecrated the temple by requiring pigs to be sacrificed. He also massacred Jews and placed restrictions on the practice of their religion. 

The Jews revolted and successfully overthrew Antiochus IV. Afterward, they wanted to rededicate the temple but only had enough undefiled oil to burn for a single night. (The law required that the menorah burn throughout the night, every night.) The oil, however, held out for eight days, during which time the priests were able to produce a new, clean supply of oil. 

The gift of oil and light is miraculous, but it resounds with something much more profound. It suggests the God who never wearies, the God who accompanied the Israelites as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. This God cannot be snuffed out; he is the great Light to whom darkness is nothing at all (Psalm 139:11-2). He is the Light the darkness can never overcome (John 1:5), the Light that gives our hearts unfailing hope (Romans 5:1-5).

The Favored One

“And coming in, he said to her, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’” Luke 1:28 (NASB)

Mary’s response to the angel is delightful. She doesn’t question the statement about being the Lord’s favored one; instead, she finds herself “very perplexed” (Luke 1:29). She wonders at the salutation. Perhaps her brow wrinkles, or she tilts her head as she tries to decipher the angel’s strange words.

She also listens, without interrupting, even as the angel tells her another perplexity: She will bear a son. Mary only then asks, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34). The question doesn’t come across as a refusal or doubt-ridden teenage angst; rather, she seems to be trying to put the pieces together. She wants to understand what the angel’s message means and how it will be accomplished.

Mary receives an answer to her question, albeit a somewhat vague one: “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” (Luke 1:35). Mary asks no further questions. She simply replies, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary humbles herself to God’s words, and she does so knowing full well the consequences that will come. God may view her as his favored one, but her neighbors won’t. Joseph may break the betrothal. She could be cast out of society at best, stoned at worst. She doesn’t receive wealth, fame, or comfort for obeying God’s words. 

No, Mary receives condemnation from society and ultimately experiences the sorrow of seeing her Son die on a cross. She suffers. But even in her suffering, her beauty—a beauty that only comes from surrendering to God and following his instructions—shines. She becomes a quiet, brilliant light for the world to see and follow back to its source: God, the one who called her by her name and bestowed upon her the title “favored one.”

Impossible Odds

“For nothing will be impossible with God.” – Luke 1:37 (NASB)

The Bible contains many stories of God accomplishing impossible things with impossible odds. For example, God uses Abraham, a man Paul describes as being “as good as dead” in Romans 4, to birth the blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). And, while being almost dead might not be a black mark, Abraham possesses plenty of them: He’s a liar. Abraham tries to accomplish God’s promise through human efforts, creating friction between Sarah and Hagar. He gets into trouble with kings. All in all, Abraham is no saint. God still chooses Abraham, though, and Abraham eventually becomes known as a man of faith. 

Then there’s Gideon (Judges 6-8). He might be a swell fellow, but no one expects him to lead an army against Israel’s oppressors. In fact, he seems downright timid and unsure of himself. He requires multiple “proofs” before he agrees to do anything. God uses him despite his hesitance and dragging feet.

Jeremiah presents a similar case (Jeremiah 1). We know him as a great prophet, but at the beginning he wasn’t much to look at. He tells God he lacks words. When that produces no effect, Jeremiah says he’s too young. God basically waves off his concerns, telling Jeremiah he will speak for God because God will speak through him.God uses all sorts of people to accomplish his aims, and all of them are messed up and broken. They struggle with doubt and fear. They question. Some start well and falter midway (David). Others start well and end terribly (Solomon). Some people start terribly and finish well (Saul/Paul). But God works through them and us because, when it comes down to it, God is God. He loves us because of who he is (Deuteronomy 7:7-8), not because of who we are or what we can do.

Everyday Advent

“But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” – Romans 8:25 (NASB)

Many of us know of or follow the Advent tradition every December. To us, it heralds the coming of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. We wonder again at the gift given to us by God, and our hearts fill with anticipation and joy.

However, we rob ourselves if we experience such wondrous joy only four weeks out of the year. Advent is a thing to be experienced every day for it means the “arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” But “every day” isn’t quite accurate, either. Advent is to be felt throughout the day. As believers in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ coming inhabits the seconds, minutes, and hours of our lives. In him, we live, move, breathe, and have our being (Acts 17:22-31).

Also, Advent can refer to another coming, the second coming of Jesus. We know it will occur one day, the same as the Jewish people expected the coming of the Messiah. He fulfilled his first promise to us. Because he did, we wait and hope with perseverance for the second promise. We know Jesus will come again (John 14:1-4); he is God and does not lie (Numbers 23:19). That assurance gives us confidence. It frees us to experience the joy of everyday Advent even as we celebrate the baby Jesus who came to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37) and to set us free (Luke 4:16-21).

Prepare the Way

“He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”Luke 1:16–17 (ESV)

What John the Baptist did for Israel, Advent can do for us. Don’t let Christmas find you unprepared. I mean spiritually unprepared. Its joy and impact will be so much greater if you are ready!

That you might be prepared…

First, meditate on the fact that we need a Savior. Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight. It will not have its intended effect until we feel desperately the need for a Savior. Let these short Advent meditations help awaken in you a bittersweet sense of need for the Savior.

Second, engage in sober self-examination. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24). Let every heart prepare him room… by cleaning house. Third, build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, how will the children get a thirst for God? Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children.

Fourth, be much in the Scriptures, and memorize the great passages! “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord!” (Jeremiah 23:29). Gather ‘round that fre this Advent season. It is warm. It is sparkling with colors of grace. It is healing for a thousand hurts. It is light for dark nights.

Today’s devotional is found in Good News of Great Joy by John Piper. Find the full free download at desiringgod.com.

Thankful for Heaven

“For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.”Titus 2:11-14 (NLT)

This Thanksgiving week, our daily devo will only be produced Monday through Wednesday. Over these three days, we will continue to look at this passage from Titus that will give us some great prompts for being thankful.

So far from this passage we have been encouraged to be thankful for God’s GRACE and God’s power to CHANGE us from what we are to what we can be. One more thing we can be thankful for found in this passage is HEAVEN.

We are challenged in Titus to look forward with hope to the day that Jesus comes back. Thus far, Christians today have never seen Jesus yet we believe in Him. But one day we will see Him and all that we have believed and hoped for will become a reality:

  • We will see Him come in glory in the clouds
  • We will see Him judge sin and destroy it forever
  • We will see Him establish righteousness and holiness eternally

We tend to spend a lot of time praying about the here and now, but when is the last time you spent time praying and thanking God for that which is to come. God doesn’t want us to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good, but the active thoughts of heaven in our hearts will create in us the same desire Jesus prayed when He prayed: “…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”Matthew 6:10 (NIV)

Have a great and thankful Thanksgiving as you thank God for GRACE, CHANGE and HEAVEN.

Thankful for Change

“For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.”Titus 2:11-14 (NLT)

This Thanksgiving week, our daily devo will only be produced Monday through Wednesday. Over these three days, we will continue to look at this passage from Titus that will give us some great prompts for being thankful.

Yesterday we looked at the prompt to be thankful for GRACE. Being thankful for grace is a dangerous thing if you are not also thankful for the power of Christ working in you to CHANGE you. Some folks want forgiveness for sin but they don’t want to stop sinning. Real Christianity is a desperate desire for both grace and change. 

Today’s passage reminds us that as believers in Jesus Christ, we are to turn from Godless living and sinful pleasures. Without Christ these things are what we desire. But when we become believers in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us. He not only teaches us to live holy and pleasing lives for God, He also gives us the power to make living a holy life possible. This is the change that God wants to see happening in our lives.

Dawson McAlister used to say, “No change, no Jesus… no Jesus, no change.” How has Jesus changed your life? Think of all the ways and be thankful. Ask the Lord for His life-changing work in you to continue, so that you will continue to change from what you were into all He created you to be.

Thankful for Grace

“For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.”Titus 2:11-14 (NLT)

This Thanksgiving week, our daily devo will only be produced Monday through Wednesday. Over these next three days, let’s take a look at this passage from Titus that will give us some great prompts for being thankful.

Today let’s start by being thankful for GRACE. Grace is defined as an underserved gift… in other words; it’s something you get not because you deserve it but only because the giver chooses to give it. Today’s verse reminds us that God’s gracious gift of salvation has come for anybody. Jesus gave up his life on the cross so that we could be cleansed from every sin, and we could have an eternal relationship with God.

Why would a perfect holy God go to such an extreme for sinful, rebellious humans like you and me? He loves us. Just as His holiness is great, so too is His love for us. He sees what we can be and works to provide what we need to make it happen. He loves us, and His great love produces great grace.

Though God offers the greatest gift of grace, He does not force us to take it. He offers it and we must reach out and receive it. We receive the gracious gift of sin forgiven and an eternal relationship with God by believing that God is real, that Jesus’ death on the cross to forgive sin is real, and we ask God to save us from our sin and to take over the ownership of our lives. 

If you are a believer in God and have received his gracious gift of salvation you have something to be thankful about. If you know about the gift but have never reached out to take the gift, why not do it today. This gift is so expensive you could never earn it, so quit thinking that if you are good enough God will accept you. Call on God today and experience the greatest and most gracious gift ever offered… the gift of eternally being in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Getting Ready for Church

Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.”Psalms 100:4 (NLT)

What will you bring to church with you this weekend? In getting ready to go to church, we might think about what we will wear, what the kids will wear, and what special snack we can bring to enjoy during class fellowship time. We will prepare our hair and our faces. We do all these things so that we will be “ready for church.”

Today’s passage challenges us to be ready in a totally different dimension on our lives. We can ready our hearts and create a great receptivity for God’s work in our lives at church if we enter the process with a thankful heart. Entering with thanksgiving and praise is entering with the understanding and appreciation that God is at work in your life. It is gratitude for the countless ways that we know God is with us and for us.

Thankfulness is not a feeling; it is action and it is expression. We express thankfulness by the silent prayer of appreciation for just being at church… by the giving of our tithes and offerings… by noticing and acknowledging the folks who teach us and lead us… by singing songs… by seeing someone with a burden and finding a way to help.

Talk to God today about ways you can ready yourself for church through the expressions of a thankful heart. Think through what you will do at church to express your thanks to God, and do it.

Your Thanksgiving List

“But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.”Psalms 50:23 (NLT)

What can you give the God who has everything?

Almighty, All-knowing, All-powerful, All-wisdom… our God is great and is above all because no matter how great something might be it is beneath God’s ability to be controlled by it.

Yet because God is passionately in pursuit of us, there are things we can do that will get his attention and cause Him to look and smile upon us. One of those things is giving thanks.

When we truly take time to express a grateful and thankful heart to God, today’s verse says He is truly honored. This is more than a rote prayer at a meal or a quick prayer because you are happy you got that parking place right next to the door of the shopping center. What are you really thankful for? What people, events, and things has God brought into your life that really matter and have moved you forward spiritually, relationally, physically, emotionally? Making a list like that and expressing your thanks to God for these things honors Him, and reminds us that apart from Him we truly are nothing.

We’re a week away from Thanksgiving. Take time before next Thursday to make your thanksgiving list to God. Don’t be surprised if at the end of your time of thanks you are much smaller than you were when you began, and God seems much bigger.