Monday, December 23, 2013

Unique, One and All

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well.  (Ps. 139:14)

We are all unique, every single one of us.  Even identical twins are not completely identical.  If you searched through the approximately seven billion on the Earth today and all of the people who have ever lived, you would not find another person just like you.  It is in this uniqueness we can find something special.

Our uniqueness is a testament to our God who created us.  Using Himself as a template He created man in such a way that in the fullness of time, each individual who ever walks the Earth will be a completely and totally unique.  Because each of us is unique, His love for each of us is also unique.  Sure there are commonalities in how His love is expressed in the world, but it is in the differences, our uniqueness that our relationship with Him becomes something bigger and better.

Does this surprise you?  If so, why?  Are all of your relationships exactly the same?  I’m going step out on a limb and say that they aren’t.  Regardless of whom the other person is, co-worker, friend, family member, etc., we experience each of the relationships differently.  If that is true in the relationships we have with others, why would God be any different? (Remember, created in His image.)

Ready for the next one?  Because you are unique, no one who has ever lived can worship God like you can.  No one!  This is more than going to church and singing a few songs on Sunday.  This is living life in such a way that you become the best version of who God created you to be. Finding your purpose in life, pursuing it with all your heart and bring God glory through your actions.

We also have a unique name.  This name is mentioned in Revelations 2:17b, “And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”  We can only speculate as to what this name could be but God knows the true you, the person you were created to become.  In this He has a unique name for each of us that will be special and will encompass all of who we are and were created to be. And though we don’t know it now, we will immediately recognize it when we hear it for the first time.

Our uniqueness is one way in which we are fearfully and wonderfully made, embrace it as the gift from God that it is and open yourself up to all God wants to do in you and through you.  He has a purpose for all of us that is as unique as we are.  Seek out that purpose and thank God for your uniqueness.  Praise Him in thought and deed as only you can.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wise Men from the East

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”  (Mt 2: 1-2)

Christmas is just around the corner.  It is a time of stores full of shoppers, festive lights, snow, tasty treats, and Christmas music on the radio.  One of those songs most of us are familiar with is We Three Kings.  This Christmas Carol tells us of travelling kings bearing gifts for the baby Jesus.  This is based on the story in Matthew chapter 2, but who were these men? 

Besides being mentioned in song, a Nativity Scene would be incomplete without the three kings with their gift boxes.  Traditionally they are given the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar and they are bearing the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Most of us are familiar with the tradition surrounding these men but let’s take a look at parts of the story that maybe you have not heard or thought of before.

These men were not actually kings; scripture tells us they were wise men (Mt 2:1).  It is commonly held that these men were Magi, magicians and astrologers, and most bible scholars believe they were from Persia.  But why would Magi from Persia be looking for Jesus, and how would they know?

I touched on this in my previous post, LIVE by Example, and it relates to the time of Daniel and his presence in Babylon approximately 500 years prior.  Daniel, along with three others, was taken into the king’s service because of the wisdom and knowledge he displayed.  In his time there Daniel repeatedly demonstrated the use of this wisdom and knowledge, along with an unwavering faith in God. (Dan 1-6)  This would have provided persuasive evidence of the authenticity of Daniel’s faith so it is not surprising that his peers took notice of the prophecies Daniel wrote, especially concerning the timing of the arrival of the Messiah (Dan 9:25).

Since Daniel enjoyed credibility with his peers in Babylon, it is easy to see him taking the opportunity to share at least some stories and prophecies from Hebrew Scripture.  One such story may have been one concerning another Babylonian seer named Balaam. (Num. 22-24)  Though he had been instructed to pronounce a curse on Israel, Balaam pronounced a blessing instead.  This included a prophecy concerning both a king and a star rising out of Israel (Num. 24:17).  Combine this with Daniel’s timetable and they would have known when to look and the sign to look for regarding the arrival of the Jewish king.

Tradition holds that there were three wise men but their number is not listed in scripture other than to say there was more than one.  Tradition also shows three men travelling on three camels, showing up at the stable where Christ was born.  In all reality there would have been an entire caravan of people travelling with the Magi.  The caravan would have consisted of the Magi themselves, however many there actually were; servants of the Magi and other “staff” (entourage, students, assistants, what have you); possibly merchants and other travelers headed in the same direction; and most likely some type of security or soldiers (travel would have been very dangerous and a caravan would be seen as a source of supplies needed for survival). 

They also arrived much later than the night Jesus was born.  It would have taken time to gather supplies, put the caravan together, and travel the several hundred miles from Babylon to Bethlehem.  Matthew 2:11 tells us they arrived at a house to find a “young Child with His mother Mary.”  This is also supported by Herod's response in Mt 2:16.  I would imagine this large caravan arriving in the small town of Bethlehem would cause a bit of a stir among the locals as well.

Something else we don’t think much about is the gifts the Magi brought Jesus.  Each was valuable in its own right (each worthy for a king), but each also had a symbolic significance as well.  Gold, aside from its obvious value, represents Christ’s kingship.  Frankincense is an aromatic resin praised for its fragrance and is often burned as incense, this represents His priesthood.  Myrrh is also an aromatic resin, commonly used in embalming, represents Christ’s substitutionary death.

It should also be noted that aside from the gifts, the Magi, “fell down and worshipped Him.” (Mt 2:11)  There is significance in the fact that they were from a pagan culture and they are listed as some of the first people to worship Jesus.  And this is years before Jesus started His ministry and at this time very few people knew who He was.

I hope this gives you something to think about when you read the story of Christmas, and even a new way of looking at the stories in the bible. Look beyond what we normally think the story says and find some nugget you have not seen before.  Look at what happened and not just what has become tradition surrounding the story.

I pray you and your families have a very merry and blessed Christmas.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

LIVE by Example

Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm.  (Dan 6:3)

In my previous post I talked about the impact Jesus has had on the world.  How He lived that example.  There are a number of other people in the bible we can learn from, here are a few:
·         Joseph didn’t give up despite being sold into slavery by his bothers, being sent to prison after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and being forgotten by the butler until Pharaoh had a dream. (Gen 37-41)
·         Peter, James, John and the other apostles sat at the feet of Jesus before being instrumental in the growth of the early church. (The 4 Gospels and the Book of Acts)
·         Paul, even with all the difficulties he faced, shared the gospel with the gentiles of his day. (Book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles)
·         Gideon led a small army. (Judges 6-8)
·         Noah built a boat. (Gen 6-8)
·         Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, for 40 years in the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. (Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)
·         Nehemiah went home to rebuild a wall. (Book of Nehemiah) 

We know more about some of them than others, some had humble beginnings, and others had positions of influence before they heard God’s call.  All of them displayed faith in what they accomplished for God and gave us examples of how to live our lives.  They also made an impact on those around them and even an impact on the world.

There is one person in particular I would like to highlight as an example and the power a good example can have on the world.  That is the prophet Daniel.

After taking over the nation of Israel, King Nebuchadnezzar had several young men taken to serve in his palace.  Daniel was among these men.  These men were to be indoctrinated and trained in Babylonian affairs of state.

Daniel stood out early on when he made the decision not to defile himself and requested a different diet than was supplied by the king for himself and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who we know by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach and, Abed-Nego. (Dan 1:8-12)

Daniel is later able to not only interpret a dream of Nebuchadnezzar; he is able to tell the king what the dream was, which none of the kings other astrologers, magicians, or sorcerers were able to figure out, even under the threat of death for failing to do so.  After Daniel did this, Nebuchadnezzar told him, “Truly Your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and the revealer of secrets, since you could reveal the secret.” (Dan 2:47)

Nebuchadnezzar again praises God after Shadrach, Meshach and, Abed-Nego are saved from the fiery furnace. (Dan 3:28-29)  How’s that for influence?  When the king (a pagan king at that) of a country that took over your own, and took you to serve in his court, is praising your God.

Daniel served under several leaders over his lifetime.  First Nebuchadnezzar, then his son Belshazzar mentioned in Daniel 5.  Daniel then served under Darius the Mede when he took over Babylon.  Throughout this time Daniel was blessed by God and continually distinguished himself amongst the other governors and satraps. (Dan 6: 3)

Jealousy from his peers led them to plot against Daniel by manipulating the king which resulted in Daniel being thrown into the lion’s den. (Dan 6:1-17)  After seeing that Daniel survived the night in the lion’s den, Darius had those that had accused Daniel, and their families, thrown into the lion’s den and then honored God (Dan 6:24-27) even decreeing that “men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.” (vs. 26)

We can see how Daniel had an impact on those around him and set a great example for us by not compromising himself and serving God.  Now, are you ready to take it to another level?

Do you know where the wise men who delivered gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus in Matthew 2 came from?  It is commonly held that they came from Persia and their knowledge of Hebrew scripture talking of a coming King can be traced back to the time of Daniel in Babylon.

I had heard about the wise men coming because of knowledge they had gained due to Daniel being in Babylon.  But it wasn’t until I received the following text from a friend talking about the wise men that really got me thinking.

“Imagine this… Live your life in such a way that 500 years after you die the weight of your vision motivates the descendants of your peers to travel hundreds of miles to see… THE KING OF KINGS.”

Talk about having an impact!  Living such a strong example that it leads others to act, several generations removed. That will blow your mind when you really think about it.

As we serve God, we will impact people’s lives.  In some cases we will witness the affect our actions have, in others we won’t.  But it really doesn’t matter if we see the results or not.  Allowing God to use us is more important than keeping score.  Let God take care of those details because you never know how and where He is going to use what you do to impact others.