Christmas in Light of the Cross, Day 25 (The Father’s Sacrifice)

I am writing today from  cold and freezing, beautiful Tulsa.

I am writing today from cold and freezing, beautiful Tulsa.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 NKJV

For years I always pictured Jesus as the one making all the sacrifices when He came to earth, and lived and died for us, while the Father just stayed up in heaven and watched. I never realized that it was the Father who was making the greatest sacrifice. That is until one night many years ago, when I got a call from my mother. A young man in his 30’s who was very dear to our family, had just died from a heart disease. He was waiting on a heart transplant, which did not arrive in time. As my mother was telling me all this, she started crying and telling me how she wished she could have just given him her own heart. She said as she sobbed, “I have already lived me life, and he had a young family, why couldn’t I have just given him my heart!” I sat stunned on the other end of the line, thinking, “because you are my mother! That’s why! No way would we let you do that!” 

When I hung up the phone, that is when I realized for the first time, that our heavenly Father was not just simply watching His Son make all the sacrifices. It was actually the Father who was making the greatest sacrifice in allowing all this to happen to His Son. Many of us would rather suffer than to see our family suffer. While the angels longed to rescue Jesus from this cruel world, I imagine the Father would rather have traded place with Him, but that was not the plan.

I see adds where a family is having to move to another city and can’t take their dog for whatever reason.  They have to leave the dog behind.The adds read that they want to make sure their dog goes to a good home. They want it to be well taken care of. If people want their dogs to be well taken care of, then don’t you imagine the Father wanted His Son to be well taken care of? Yet there are dogs who have been treated better than the way Jesus was treated. How this must have hurt the Father, yet He did it because of His love for you! He gave His precious Son to ransom you from the power of sin and the grave. How much He must love us!

 

The heart of God yearns over His earthly children with a love stronger than death. In giving up His Son, He has poured out to us all heaven in one gift.
Through that gift there comes to us day by day the unfailing flow of Jehovah’s goodness. Every flower, with its delicate tints and sweet fragrance, is given for our enjoyment through that one Gift. The sun and moon were made by Him; there is not a star that beautifies the heavens which He did not make. There is not an article of food upon our tables that He has not provided for our sustenance. The superscription of Christ is upon it all. Everything is supplied to man through the one unspeakable Gift, the only-begotten Son of God. He was nailed to the cross that all these bounties might flow to God’s workmanship.
In taking our nature, the Saviour has bound Himself to humanity by a tie that is never to be broken. Through the eternal ages He is linked with us. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” He gave Him not only to bear our sins, and to die as our sacrifice; He gave Him to the fallen race. To assure us of His immutable counsel of peace, God gave His only-begotten Son to become one of the human family, forever to retain His human nature. This is the pledge that God will fulfill His word. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder.” Isaiah 9:6. God has adopted human nature in the person of His Son, and has carried the same into the highest heaven. . . . Heaven is enshrined in humanity, and humanity is enfolded in the bosom of Infinite Love.
Christ bowed down in unparalleled humility, that in His exaltation to the throne of God, He might also exalt those who believe in Him, to a seat with Him upon His throne. –Ellen White, The Faith I Live by, Page 45.

Christmas in Light of the Cross, Day 24 (Beyond the Manger, the Passover Visit)

I am writing tonight from  beautiful, icy cold Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I am writing tonight from beautiful, icy cold Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Luke 2:41-50 Tells about  Mary and Joesph taking Jesus to the Passover, when He was 12 years old. On the way home Mary and Joseph assumed Jesus was in their company, however He was not with them. He was back at the temple,  or what we would call the church of the day.  Do we sometimes assume today, that so long as we are with “church” people that Jesus must be with us? The story of the Passover visit, the Jews demanding Pilate to crucify Jesus, and even the whole Israeli nation and its leaders worshiping Baal back in the days of Elijah, show us that we can’t afford to make the same mistake Jesus’ parents made, in thinking that so long as we are with a church that we must be with Jesus. Mary and Joseph were with “church” people traveling back home from the temple, but they weren’t with Jesus.

So how do we make sure we don’t make the same mistake?

If Joseph and Mary had stayed their minds upon God by meditation and prayer, they would have realized the sacredness of their trust, and would not have lost sight of Jesus. By one day’s neglect they lost the Saviour; but it cost them three days of anxious search to find Him. So with us; by idle talk, evilspeaking, or neglect of prayer, we may in one day lose the Saviour’s presence, and it may take many days of sorrowful search to find Him, and regain the peace that we have lost.
In our association with one another, we should take heed lest we forget Jesus, and pass along unmindful that He is not with us. When we become absorbed in worldly things so that we have no thought for Him in whom our hope of eternal life is centered, we separate ourselves from Jesus and from the heavenly angels. These holy beings cannot remain where the Saviour’s presence is not desired, and His absence is not marked. This is why discouragement so often exists among the professed followers of Christ.
Many attend religious services, and are refreshed and comforted by the word of God; but through neglect of meditation, watchfulness, and prayer, they lose the blessing, and find themselves more destitute than before they received it. Often they feel that God has dealt hardly with them. They do not see that the fault is their own. By separating themselves from Jesus, they have shut away the light of His presence.
It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross.
As we associate together, we may be a blessing to one another. If we are Christ’s, our sweetest thoughts will be of Him. We shall love to talk of Him; and as we speak to one another of His love, our hearts will be softened by divine influences. Beholding the beauty of His character, we shall be “changed into the same image from glory to glory.” 2 Corinthians 3:18. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 83

Christmas in Light of the Cross, Day 23 (Beyond the Manger,Loneliness)

I am writing today from my parent's beautiful icy home near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I am writing today from my parent’s beautiful icy home near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:5 NKJV

I love being with my family and friends. I love people. But you know what? I also enjoy being a lone. When I moved to Texas, 20 years ago, there was no texting or -email (that I knew of at least) and it took time to make friends. So, I would go to restaurants by myself, and bring a notepad and write hand written letters home, the kind that you mail with a stamp, to family and friends while I enjoyed my meal. However, soon I started making lots of friends in Texas, and so I had people to go dine with, and so the letter writing stopped.

Fast forward to just a few years ago, living in Tampa Florida now.  I was sitting at a stop light, looking at a nice restaurant on the corner, which for some reason reminded my of my letter writing days long ago. I decided, even though I have lots of friends I enjoy dining with here in Florida, that I kind of miss the days when I would go into a restaurant alone and write old fashioned hand written letters, so I did so!

I don’t feel lonely when I am eating by myself. I don’t feel lonely when I take a solo bike ride down the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. I don’t feel lonely when I enjoy a good book on a park bench near the beach. I know I have friends even if they are not right with me at the moment. I know they are just a call or text away. So what does make me feel lonely? When people misunderstand me. When people misjudge my motives and intentions. When that happens it does not matter how many people are around. If they don’t understand me, that makes me feel alone. Thankfully I have good friends who are very understanding. Still, I think there are moments in our lives when we at least “feel” like no one understands. That can be a very lonely feeling.

Jesus knows how that feels.

 Yet through childhood, youth, and manhood, Jesus walked alone. In His purity and His faithfulness, He trod the wine press alone, and of the people there was none with Him. He carried the awful weight of responsibility for the salvation of men. He knew that unless there was a decided change in the principles and purposes of the human race, all would be lost. This was the burden of His soul, and none could appreciate the weight that rested upon Him. Filled with intense purpose, He carried out the design of His life that He Himself should be the light of men.  -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 92 

We can ease that loneliness by joining Jesus in His cause. When we lay aside our own ambitions and join Jesus in His ambitions,  we have fellowship with Him.  In Gethsemane, Jesus longed for someone to pray with Him. Everyone was too sleepy and tired to appreciate what was going on at the moment. Jesus freely excused their weakness and human flesh, while in His humanity He longed for fellowship and someone to pray with. Some one to understand and join in His sufferings. It is not too late. We can have fellowship with Jesus today, by appreciating His sacrifice and praying with Him for the salvation of others, so that His sacrifice will not be in vain.

Just a few days before Jesus’ death, a woman anointed him with perfume. This was not just any perfume. This perfume was very expensive and potent. Back in those days, people did not shower every day, and so the perfume was made to last for days to make up for that. This perfume was especially rich and potent. Just a few days later, Jesus was hanging on the cross. When the people jeered and mocked Him, and Jesus in His humanity was tempted to think that He was alone, He pushed his feet into the cruel spikes, the heave Himself up, so He could take a breath. As He inhaled He took in the aroma of the perfume poured all over Him just a few days earlier. The aroma reminded Him, there is someone who cares and understands! It eased His  human loneliness.

So today, our prayers and gifts for the cause of Jesus are an aroma that Jesus loves to breathe, knowing His sacrifice was not in vain. He is not alone. We have fellowship in His sufferings and in His glory, and He has fellowship with us!

Christmas in Light of the Cross, Day 22 (Beyond the Manger, Words of Encouragement)

 

I am writing tonight near the beautiful campus of Southern Adventist University

I am writing tonight near the beautiful campus of Southern Adventist University

Have you ever heard somebody that you thought really had a gift for words? You know I don’t remember every gift everyone has ever given me, but I always remember how people’s words made me feel.

I remember working at the Campus Kitchen, a fast food restaurant, on the campus of Southern Adventist University back in the 1980’s. I was delivering people’s food to their tables. One day we were swamped and I was running way behind. People were complaining and rightfully so. However, when I finally got a lady in her 30’s or 40s her lunch, I apologized for her wait. She told me she could tell we were busy and that I was working very hard, running all over the place, as best I could. She did something nobody had ever done at the CK before or since. Tipping was not customary at the CK, but instead of complaining, she gave me a $5.00 tip, which at that time would have been about a 100% tip! She told me she wished she had more to give me. She told me she knew it was hard working your way through college and that I was doing a great job. You know, thirty years later, the $5.00 is long gone and has been for quite a while. But what is lodged into my mind forever are her kind words. Her kind words encouraged me long after Abe was gone. Let’s take a look at how Jesus used words as a gift even in His growing up years.

He passed by no human being as worthless, but sought to apply the saving remedy to every soul. In whatever company He found Himself, He presented a lesson that was appropriate to the time and the circumstances. He sought to inspire with hope the most rough and unpromising, setting before them the assurance that they might become blameless and harmless, attaining such a character as would make them manifest as the children of God. Often He met those who had drifted under Satan’s control, and who had no power to break from his snare. To such a one, discouraged, sick, tempted, and fallen, Jesus would speak words of tenderest pity, words that were needed and could be understood. Others He met who were fighting a hand-to-hand battle with the adversary of souls. These He encouraged to persevere, assuring them that they would win; for angels of God were on their side, and would give them the victory. Those whom He thus helped were convinced that here was One in whom they could trust with perfect confidence. He would not betray the secrets they poured into His sympathizing ear. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Pages 91-92

Let’s remember during this season of family get togethers, and always, that words will be remembered long after the things we gave as gifts are gone.

Christmas in Light of the Cross, Day 21 (Beyond the Manger, Jesus’ Giving)

I am writing tonight from beautiful Panama City Beach, Florida.

I am writing tonight from beautiful Panama City Beach, Florida.

When I was in the 3rd and 4th grades at Tulsa Adventist Academy, we had our classes in the church building as the school was being remodeled, including the cafeteria. For those two years we had to bring our own lunch to school each day as there were no warm lunches. Occasionally, one of my classmates would forget their lunch. When this happened, the rest of us would share a portion of our lunch, maybe an apple or two, and part of a sandwich and some chips, so that with our combined offerings, they would have a complete lunch. However, I don’t remember any of us giving all of our lunch away, but look at what Jesus did, as a child growing up with his step brothers, when he found someone without a lunch.

Jesus sought out these very ones, and spoke to them words of encouragement. To those who were in need He would give a cup of cold water, and would quietly place His own meal in their hands. As He relieved their sufferings, the truths He taught were associated with His acts of mercy, and were thus riveted in the memory. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 87

Jesus gave all, and because of His acts of mercy people listened to what He taught. His acts of mercy gave to merit to what He taught. Later in His life it was said of Jesus,

“No man ever spoke like this Man!” John 7:46 NKJV 

The reason that Christ spoke as no other man spoke was that He lived as no other man lived. If He had not lived as He did, He could not have spoken as He did. His words bore with them convincing power, because they came from a heart pure and holy, burdened with love and sympathy, beneficence and truth. . . .Ellen White, Heavenly Places, Page 237

Are your teachings accompanied  by acts of mercy and sympathy?

Christmas In Light of the Cross, Day 20 ( Jesus’ Childhood Beyond the Manger )

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.  Luke 2:40 

We talk about the birth of Jesus a lot but what about His childhood? Have you ever thought about the fact that God was a kid at one time? When Jesus came to live among men He had to grow up just like everyone else. Obeying was not necessarily any easier for Jesus than it was for any other kid. Paul shares with us that,

Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;  Hebrews 5:8

In Hebrews, Paul spends a lot of time writing about the humanity of Jesus, and in this passage shows us that as Jesus constantly overcame His human flesh through the Spirit, that His humanity suffered when it did not get its own way. Jesus knows what it is like to deny the desires of the flesh and to have continual victory through the Spirit. He can help us do the same.

Below is a passage from the classic book on the life of Jesus called Desire of Ages.  It comes from pages 70-72 on Jesus’ life as a child. You will find as you read, Six keys that helped Jesus maintain a righteous character, and these six keys will help us too. Let’s take a look. They keys are highlighted in red.

Every child may gain knowledge as Jesus did. As we try to become acquainted with our heavenly Father through His word, angels will draw near, our minds will be strengthened, our characters will be elevated and refined. We shall become more like our Saviour. And as we behold the beautiful and grand in nature, our affections go out after God. While the spirit is awed, the soul is invigorated by coming in contact with the Infinite through His works. Communion with God through prayer develops the mental and moral faculties, and the spiritual powers strengthen as we cultivate thoughts upon spiritual things  The life of Jesus was a life in harmony with God. While He was a child, He thought and spoke as a child; but no trace of sin marred the image of God within Him. Yet He was not exempt from temptation. The inhabitants of Nazareth were proverbial for their wickedness. The low estimate in which they were generally held is shown by Nathanael’s question, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46. Jesus was placed where His character would be tested. It was necessary for Him to be constantly on guard in order to preserve His purity. He was subject to all the conflicts which we have to meet, that He might be an example to us in childhood, youth, and manhood

Satan was unwearied in his efforts to overcome the Child of Nazareth. From His earliest years Jesus was guarded by heavenly angels, yet His life was one long struggle against the powers of darkness. That there should be upon the earth one life free from the defilement of evil was an offense and a perplexity to the prince of darkness. He left no means untried to ensnare Jesus. No child of humanity will ever be called to live a holy life amid so fierce a conflict with temptation as was our Saviour

The parents of Jesus were poor, and dependent upon their daily toil. He was familiar with poverty, self-denial, and privation. This experience was a safeguard to Him. In His industrious life there were no idle moments to invite temptation. No aimless hours opened the way for corrupting associations. So far as possible, He closed the door to the tempter. Neither gain nor pleasure, applause nor censure, could induce Him to consent to a wrong act. He was wise to discern evil, and strong to resist it.” -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, pages 70-72

Christmas in Light of the Cross, Day 19 (Christmas Trees at Church)

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

When I was 17, I was attending Oklahoma Adventist Academy, a very conservative, self supporting school. While there, during my own Bible study time I ran across Jeremiah 10, which seemed to me, it was talking about how pagan Christmas trees are.  I asked my English teacher, Mrs. Stienkrause about it. Even though she and the school were very conservative, and even strict, she explained to me that Jeremiah 10 was not talking about Christmas trees, and that Jeremiah was talking about something much more sinister than simply placing a tree inside a house for decoration. After all, it would stand to reason that if we should not have a tree in our house or church for decoration, then we should have no plants at all! This simply is not the case.

You can click here and read and listen to Doug Bachelor, a very conservative Adventist evangelist with Amazing Facts explain the truth about Jeremiah 10 and what it is really talking about.

Below is a quote from Ellen White, on how we can use the Christmas tree to promote the spirit of giving, which is the Spirit of Jesus.

We are now nearing the close of another year, and shall we not make these festal days opportunities in which to bring to God our offerings? I cannot say sacrifices, for we shall only be rendering to God that which is his already, and which he has only intrusted to us till he shall call for it. God would be well pleased if on Christmas, each church would have a Christmas tree on which shall be hung offerings, great and small, for these houses of worship. Letters of inquiry have come to us asking, Shall we have a Christmas tree? will it not be like the world? We answer, You can make it like the world if you have a disposition to do so, or you can make it as unlike the world as possible. There is no particular sin in selecting a fragrant evergreen, and placing it in our churches; but the sin lies in the motive which prompts to action, and the use which is made of the gifts placed upon the tree.  -Ellen White, Review and Herald,  December 11, 1879 par. 15