I am primarily an evangelist and teacher who travels around the world in apostolic ministry as God leads and enables me. In addition to preaching and teaching the Bible, I mentor our key partners to be more strategic and impactful for the Gospel in their countries and cultures, just as they continue to mentor me. I am relationally focused rather than program or project focused in ministry relationships and partnerships.
JL and Patt with their Grandchildren
“Children’s children are a crown to the aged” (Prov. 17:6)
Joseph & Susannah Williams Family
Jonathan & Julie Williams Family
Mark & April Atkins Family
(Joe & Trish Glover family not pictured)
The Mothers & Grandmother
“Pop” cooking marsh mellows with the grandchildren
“From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him and His righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts” (Ps. 103:17-18)
Thanks for your love, prayers and support of Patt and me during this past year. Your partnership has been a blessing to us, our children and grandchildren!
In His Faithful Love,
PS: Another entry will follow this one entitled: “2010…A New Decade…A New Direction.” It will update you on some crucial “new directions” in our lives and ministry and how you can be a part of it. Be watching for it…
A very Happy New Year to all of you who have been our faithful prayer partners and supporters in the Gospel.
There were no problems this year, no injuries and no fights! All the teams did well and we praise the Lord for that. The village of South Horr was at a stand still for the whole week as people came from all walks of life to watch the players play. It was a busy time. We shared the Gospel to more than 2000 people. The seeds were planted and we know God was and is working in people’s hearts. We had many more people to feed besides the players. In all, we fed 600 people each day. We thanked God that we had food from NDI and FEED MY STARVING CHILDREN.
I knew that many in America had plenty of food during the festive Christmas season, but many of the people we are reaching will not have even a plate on their tables. We cooked meals for those who could not afford to have anything on Christmas Day. I hope we will all remember to pray for others as we celebrate our special occasions throughout the year. Our joy is that God has placed us here so that we can be a channel of blessing to these needy people.
Thank you for your partnership with me, my family and my co-workers, as we work together for the Gospel. May the good Lord bless you all.
In His love,
Stakwell, Francesca, Wendy and Meribell
“And Jesus grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom and the grace of god was upon Him…And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” - (Luke 2:40, 52)
In the last several devotionals, we have looked at giving and gifts from several different perspectives. Since Christmas is primarily about “gift giving” in most people’s minds, let’s pause in our Christmas shopping frenzy and look at some of the unique and timely gifts that Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus. And if the earthly parents of the Messiah gave these gifts to their Son, perhaps we should consider giving the same kinds of gifts as parents to our children.
As I study that very first Christmas and the months and years that followed, I see at least 7 gifts that Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus. First, there was the gift of…
Obviously I am not speaking of a financial or material inheritance here. Unfortunately, that is usually how we narrowly define inheritance today in our hyper-materialistic society. After a patriarch or parent dies, we often ask: “What size of inheritance did they leave? How much did the children get?”
I am certainly not belittling the importance of a financial inheritance that a parent may leave to his or her children or grandchildren. I am just saying that a financial inheritance is not the most important kind of inheritance from a Biblical perspective. From God’s vantage point, a spiritual inheritance is far more important than a financial inheritance. While a financial inheritance can bring blessings in this life, a spiritual inheritance can bring blessing in this life and in the next. A spiritual inheritance blesses for both time and eternity. While a financial inheritance may result in riches, a spiritual inheritance results in righteousness.
How many times all of us have seen or read about how some wealthy parent or business entrepreneur left a great financial inheritance to their children – which only led to their downfall. The financial blessing proved to be a curse! So remember this principle: “Riches without righteousness results in ruin.” On the other hand: “Riches with righteousness results in responsible living.”
So God defines riches in terms of relationships. The person who is “rich in relationships” is truly a wealthy person. That’s the kind of inheritance that Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus. As a “blue collar worker” who was a life-long carpenter, Joseph did not have a large financial estate to pass along to his first-born Son. Neither did Mary from her humble up-bringing. But because of the strong Jewish emphasis on family as the center of religious education and worship, they blessed Jesus with rich relationships.
When you go back to the Book of Genesis and God’s sovereign call of Abraham, you clearly see God’s emphasis on the priority of spiritual inheritance. In fact, that was the primary reason that God called Abraham. Even though God blessed Abraham with great financial and material wealth (Gen. 13:1-2), He wanted Abraham to pass along a spiritual inheritance to his heirs. Read again this familiar verses…
“Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him” (Gen. 18:18-19).
So God chose and appointed Abraham for the specific purpose of “…directing his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.” That is a spiritual inheritance.
We see this same emphasis in the wisdom of Proverbs where a wise father “…leaves an inheritance for his children’s children” (Prov. 13:22). So the spiritual inheritance was to be intergenerational. It was to go from one generation to the next – to a father and mother’s “children’s children.”
As Parents then, we either pass along a Godly or an ungodly inheritance to our children. Note again these sobering words from the very lips of the Lord:
“…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me…” (Ex. 20:5-6).
So I trust that you will commit yourself as a parent to give the gift of spiritual inheritance to your children this Christmas. Regardless of your past lack of giving in this area, it is never too late to begin to building a spiritual inheritance to pass along to your children. And with the current recession and financial melt-down in the American economy, this may be a better time than ever to shift your emphasis from physical gifts to spiritual gifts!
But there was a second important gift that Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus. They gave Him the gift of…
Basically, the word integrity has to do with consistency. And who of us as spouses or parents who does not have struggles in this area? I know that I certainly do!
Integrity is a much-needed character trait that is needed in our world at every level – beginning in the home. Unfortunately, most Americans have bought into the moral lie that says we can separate “public performance” from “private behavior.” Nothing could be further from the truth. It matters not where it is a parent or a president, you just cannot separate your beliefs from your behavior. The space then, between how we behave “behind closed doors” and what we say publicly we believe – is called the integrity gap.
We parents often manifest this integrity gap when we say to our children: “Do what I say – not what I do! That just doesn’t wash with either children or teenagers. They see through that kind of moral hypocrisy. When that is our real MO as people and parents, we will not pass on real spiritual inheritance to our children. At the end of the day, they copy our behavior more than our beliefs. How we live and act impacts their character development far more than what we say we believe. So there must be consistency between our lips and life if we are going to be parents of integrity and raise children of integrity.
As we ponder this spiritual “gift of integrity,” let me share some relevant verses about this characterlogical trait from the Bible.
• David made this commitment to God: “I will be careful to lead a blameless life…I will walk in my house with blameless heart [Integrity]. I will set before my eyes no vile thing [Talk about a verse that challenges much of our TV watching and movie going!]. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me” (Ps. 101:2-3).
• King David’s reign was summarized this way: “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Ps. 78:72).
• The wise man of Proverbs observed: “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Prov. 10:9).
• Even Jesus’ enemies said this about Him: “They sent their disciples to Him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know You are a man of integrity and that You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by man, because You pay no attention to who they are.’” (Matt. 22:16).
So nothing could be more important from the perspective of a Holy and Righteous God than that His people reflect His moral character. That because He is a God of integrity – as Jesus demonstrated as the Messiah, that we are to be people and parents of integrity. Not perfect parents – that’s impossible. But parents who are striving through the power of the Holy Spirit to live lives of integrity – beginning in our marriage and in our family.
From what we can in the lines and “in between the lines,” of the Christmas narratives, Joseph and Mary were people of integrity. They had parental character. And the word character means to “engrave” or “imprint.” So while Joseph and Mary were sinners just like all of the rest of us as parents, they had spiritual character. They had a religious and moral framework for their marriage and family – which they “engraved” on the human nature of Jesus as He was growing up. So character rather than convention or convenience was the goal of their home.
But there was a wonderful third gift that Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus as His earthly parents. They gave Him the gift of…
As Patt and I have often pointed our in parenting seminars, everything in the Jewish Religion was a “visual aid” to help the father and mother pass on a spiritual inheritance to their children. All of the Feasts and Festivals were created by God as very practical ways of giving spiritual instruction to their children.
God revealed to the Jews that the home was to be the primary place of spiritual instruction – not the Tabernacle, Temple or Synagogue. Any instruction that took place in those “houses of worship” was to be secondary, not primary. God knew well that the locus of all lasting spiritual instruction is the home. That’s because we spend far more of our lives there than we do in “religious buildings.”
It is important to remember then, that God designed the home to be the first “Shabbat School” or “Sunday School” – not the Temple, Synagogue or Church. And Christmas reminds us of this crucial principle. It was in the home that all of the “7 Feasts of Judaism” were celebrated – with the father and mother being the priest and priestess of the home. Since each of these Feasts and Festivals are agriculturally based, the home and family was the logical locus for the commemoration and celebration of them. In this way, God used the natural realm to teach about the supernatural realm.
So within Judaism, the parents were in charge of the primary spiritual instruction of the children – not the temple priests or rabbis.
Note a few very clear Biblical words of instruction about this…
• Concerning the annual telling of the Exodus story through the Feast of Passover, God instructed the parents that they should “…tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 10:2).
• God emphasized this same principle of parental instruction through Moses: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (Deut. 4:9).
• The closest thing to a “religious creed” for the Jews is the Shema. It is the Hebrew word for “hear” or “listen” or “pay attention.” Every faithful Jew recites it daily – and often multiple times a day. Note how it is centered around spiritual instruction in the home rather than in the Tabernacle or Temple: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deut. 6:4-9).
• The Psalmist reflected this Jewish instruction in the home when he wrote: “Yet You brought me out of the womb; You made me trust in You even at my mother’s breast” (Ps. 22:9).
• The wise man of Proverbs emphasized this spiritual teaching in the home from the mother and father: “My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life” (Prov. 6:20-23).
• It was because of this consistent spiritual teaching in the home that the Psalmist could recount: “…what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done” (Ps. 78:3-4).
So as parents this Christmas Season, let’s do as Joseph and Mary did and give the gift of instruction to our children and grandchildren. But let’s not stop there. Like them, let’s also give the gift of…
Here I am not meaning that we should be imitations – but that we would give our children something spiritual to imitate in our lives. We can clearly see from the Christmas Narratives that Joseph and Mary were deeply religious parents. And by this I do not mean that they were just caught up in religiosity – or the external commemoration of religious ritual, rules and regulations. The word religion means “to bind back.” So through parental teaching the child is “bound back” to the laws of God.
Therefore, while Joseph and Mary did indeed keep the very “letter of the law” when it came to their practice of Judaism, their hearts were also intent on keeping the “spirit of the law.” For them, their religion revolved around a relationship with the Jehovah God of the Scriptures.
How do we know that? First we are told that Joseph and Mary “…did everything the law of Moses required” (Lk. 2:39). Secondly, we can see that they “engraved” this spiritual character in Jesus because we read that in His adult life and ministry He did three things “…according to His custom.” We are specifically told that He…
• “…went to the synagogue according to His custom” (Lk. 4:16)
• “…prayed according to His custom” (Lk. 22:39)
• “…taught according to His custom” (Mk. 10:1)
Where did He develop these “customs? Where did He acquire these spiritual disciplines? Who engraved this character on His nature as a young child? The answer is obvious. Joseph and Mary did.
As I noted in an earlier point, children are imitators. They learn by example. God created them to learn by watching and imitating the behavior of their parents. This was the first stage of non-verbal learning long before a child could talk or walk. Gradually this visual learning was enhanced through verbal learning. So Jewish parents were to teach by both precept and example. As good observant Jews, Joseph and Mary obviously did both.
While there is certainly a great spiritual mystery here as to why and how the very incarnation of divine omniscience could be “taught,” His perfect human nature would not have been real without this need and ability. If He could not have grown, developed and matured in both “…wisdom and stature,” than the Incarnation was a hoax. He was not fully human – but rather God masquerading in humanity. But that was not the case. The Incarnation was no “divine charade.” This was the Messiah who was both fully divine and yet fully human. As we saw in an earlier study, Jesus was the unique God-Man of history. One perfect Person with two perfect natures – one human and one divine. And the wonder of this “divine humility” was that God voluntarily chose to live with all of the limitations of our full humanity. The only thing He did not have like us was sin.
So just as the infant Jesus grew physically, He also grew in wisdom and knowledge. And Joseph and Mary were a vital part of that spiritual, mental and emotional growth through their spiritual instruction and moral example as His earthly parents. Just like every Jewish boy, Jesus grew up imitating His parents.
Later, the Apostle Paul – another Jewish leader who became a follower of Christ, made this same emphasis to the young Christians in Corinth. Since they were spiritually “babes in Christ” (I Cor. 3:1), he wrote and instructed them as their spiritual parent: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1).
Using the same words of parental instruction, Paul wrote to the more mature Christians in Ephesus: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1). This shows us that when we do a good job of either physical parenting or spiritual parenting, our children will grow more and more independent of us and more dependent upon God. That’s when you know that spiritual integrity and moral character has moved from the external to the internal. From external observance to internal obedience – whether in private or public! That’s why it has often been said: “True character is who you are when no one is looking!” That’s why the goal of parenting is to get our children to “behave their beliefs” – regardless of where they are. That’s true character development.
And when it came to Christ, His character was perfect. There was never a time when He spoke or acted contrary to His beliefs. It mattered not whether “any one was looking” or whether “everyone was looking,” Jesus lived a consistent life of spiritual and moral integrity – thanks in part to the instruction of Joseph and Mary!
But there was a fifth gift that Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus. It was the gift of…
When children are born, they are born mentally, emotionally and sexually innocent and pure. This does not mean that they are sinless. The Bible teaches just the opposite. As David acknowledged: “In sin my mother conceived me” or “I was sinful from birth” (Ps. 51:5). And contrary to what some believe, the sin being talked about here has nothing to do with sex or conception! This was a graphic Hebrew idiom meaning that he was “sinful from his mother’s womb.” He had an innate sin nature that he was born with. In other words, David was not a sinner because he sinned; he sinned because he was a sinner. The sinful character was the cause of his sinful conduct. When he sinned – as with Bathsheba, he was only “doing what was natural.” Not to sin would have been “doing what was supernatural.”
Therefore, every child is born with that innate sin nature dominant in their spiritual DNA. Every one of these “little darlings” are still members of Adam’s fallen race! As such, they have an incurable sin nature that they can never master or control. That’s why Patt and I never had to teach any of our four children to sin or be selfish. That was as natural for them as it was for us as their parents.
So while every child is born with a sinful DNA, the type of parenting and exposure they receive will either check and control that nature through law and discipline, or it will allow it to rule and reign in their lives and in the home. So part of our parental instruction is to do all we can to protect the spiritual, mental, emotional and sexual innocence of our children and not prematurely expose them to the world and inflame their passions by foolish and fleshly example of our own carnality – much less that of Hollywood!
Obviously, Jesus was “virgin conceived” as we saw in an earlier study. That’s the only reason He was born with a sinless human nature. The Holy Father supernaturally conceived Him in he womb of the virgin Mary. That’s why the angel Gabriel told her: “The Holy spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35).
But because Joseph and Mary were people who showed sexual restraint in their marriage until Jesus was born, that example had to have impacted Jesus in some way growing up. I can’t help but believe that Joseph would have shared his story with Jesus, and his other sons somewhere along the way growing up. Why would I think that? Because he obviously shared it with other trusted friends to the degree that Matthew wrote it down for us (Matt. 1:25). No doubt Mary would have also explained to Him the fact of her virgin conception – even though she did not fully understand it. Jesus then, would have been positively impacted by the moral model of purity demonstrated by both of His earthly parents – but especially by His father, Joseph.
Studies show that sexual restraint and discipline in parents tends to produce the same moral character and commitment in their children. But parents who can’t and don’t control their own passions – usually produce children who act the same way!
That’s why one of my favorite verses to teach to teenagers about the rewards of sexual innocence and moral purity is Paul’s exhortation to the Roman Christians. And I don’t need to remind you that Rome was not a very easy city to live a pure life in!
“Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Rom. 16:19).
So when we are experientially “wise in good” and “innocent in evil,” then we have a great advantage in living a pure life – both before and after marriage. Tragically, the world has reversed the moral price tags. They incite young people to be experientially “wise in evil” and “innocent in good.” The world’s mottos sound like this: “You are only young once…Grab for all the gusto you can…Let it all hang out…If it feels good, do it!” Etc, etc., etc…
But Jesus gave a stern warning to anyone who would tempt and entice the young this way. He sternly said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” (Mark 9:42).
So my dear friend, please start where you are and do all you can this Christmas to give your children and grandchildren gifts that will enhance their spiritual and moral innocence. Don’t give them any gifts that will inflame their passions and open their vulnerable spirits to the enticements of the world! They will have enough struggles with the “dark side” without you feeding it with worldly gifts.
But there is another wonderful gift that I believe Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus. Even though we have hinted at it before, I want to emphasize it more. It was the gift of…
You see, God created all of us with wonderful imaginations. And children are such exciting and refreshing examples of that innocent, creative, adventuresome, unbounded, ever-changing imagination! In a childish second their imaginations can take them into any and every situation imaginable – and many we parents and grandparents can’t imagine!
And in their childish innocence, their imaginations are mostly good and wonderful. The fantasies they create in their minds are beautiful and idyllic. And if those imaginations are fed with wonderful spiritual fantasies like the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, their fantasies will incline their heart toward the things of God and the nobler things of life.
But if their childish innocence is dashed by verbal, physical and sexual abuse, their minds and emotions will be poisoned and polluted. Or if they are exposed to the perverted passions of the world, their imaginations will become a cesspool of the world’s filth.
Apparently this had happened in the early history of mankind to an almost unimaginable degree. Do you remember these words of judgment that came before God sent the flood to wipe out mankind:
“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth…for I am grieved that I have made them” (Gen. 6:5-7).
So the unbridled and unrestrained wicked imaginations led to the destruction of mankind by the flood! What a timely warning to us today! Sadly, much of Christmas activities and many Christmas gifts do not feed and fuel Godly thinking and behavior. It does not create holy imaginations in our children and grandchildren – but worldly, fleshly, carnal ones.
As we saw earlier in this particular study, all of the Feasts and Festivals of Judaism were designed to create positive images and imaginations in the minds and fantasies of their children. They were spiritual dramas designed to capture the child’s imagination and focus it on the wonder of their God who had created them, called them and delivered them as a people. Note this wonderful example found in the Book of Exodus about their annual celebration and commemoration of the Passover:
“And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, Who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians’” (Ex. 12:26-27).
Everything in the Passover Meal was designed to capture the imaginations of the children through a dramatic telling of the Exodus Story. And observant Jews to this day continue to tell this story to their children and grandchildren – as they remind themselves.
Obviously Joseph and Mary had done this with Jesus. We are specifically told that: “Every year His parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover” (Lk. 2:41). And it was on one of these annual trips when “…they went up to the Feast, according to the custom” (v. 42) that Jesus amazed the Jewish scholars with His Biblical knowledge and spiritual insight – when he was twelve years old. No doubt this was the occasion of His Bar Mitzvah, or coming of age as a “son of the Law.” And you remember how His parents had traveled a long way toward home before they realized that Jesus was not with them.
While this seems strange to us, it would not be strange at all when you realize that this annual “going up to Jerusalem” and “returning home” was with a rather large crowd of family and friends – all neighbors and fellow Jewish worshipers. And adolescent boys are the same in any century. They love to be together…play together…run off on their own…begin some adventure – and totally forget their parents! That’s why it is so hard to call them in from play! They don’t want to have to stop their adventure…reign in their fantasies…come back to reality!
And the men would also tend to walk together – just as the women would. Each caught up in their own little world of discussion. So it would have been easy for both Joseph and Mary to assume that Jesus was with the other.
And what was Jesus doing when they found Him after three days of searching in Jerusalem? He was in the Temple “blowing the minds” of the religious scholars who were “…amazed at His understanding and His answers” (v. 47). When His parents asked Him for an explanation for this seeming insensitive behavior, He said: “didn’t you know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” (v. 49). You see, Jesus’ imagination had been totally captivated with His Father’s business. And whether or not they realized it through the years, their faithful commemoration of these annual Passovers captivated Jesus’ imagination. More and more He would come to realize that He was the fulfillment of everything that the Passover pointed to! He had come to be that “spotless Passover Lamb” who would die to liberate mankind.
One of the primary reasons we know that Jesus’ earthly ministry was approximately 3 years long was because we read of His celebration of 3 Passovers in the Gospels. And it is also important to remember that the night before He was crucified, He celebrated the Passover with His disciples. As you know, He transformed that Passover into what we now call Communion or the “Lord’s Table.”
You see, just like the Passover used physical symbols to capture the attention and imagination of Jewish children and focus them on the Exodus, Jesus related those same symbols to Himself. The unleavened bread was His body and the wine was His blood. That’s why He said they should regularly “Do this in remembrance of Me” (I Cor. 11:25). These basic physical symbols of bread and wine were to re-capture the hearts and minds of His disciples and focus them on Him. And we disciples today so need to regularly partake of those symbols because our minds, imaginations and affections so quickly and easily wander from Him! As the song writer said: “Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
So like Joseph and Mary, give some spiritual gifts this Christmas that will capture the minds and imaginations of your children and grandchildren for the Lord Jesus! That’s the role and responsibility of good spiritual parents and grandparents. Remember: If you don’t capture the imagination of your children and grandchildren – the world will! Christmas is a wonderful time to excite their imaginations for the Christ of Christmas and His forever Kingom!
Now, one final wonderful Christmas gift that Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus. The gift of…
We can clearly see in the Christmas Narratives that both Joseph and Mary were people of prayer. When we first meet Joseph in Matthew’s Gospel, we find Joseph praying and pondering what his response should be to the angel’s message to him. And it was while he was prayerfully pondering what to do, the angel Gabriel, appeared to him (Matt. 1:20-24).
When the same angel appeared to Mary with the announcement that she was to bear the Messiah, her natural response was one of prayer and praise. We have already looked at her prayer in some detail, known as the Magnificant (Luke 1:46-55).
It is also interesting that when Joseph and Mary took Jesus with them back to Jerusalem for Mary’s “…purification according to the Law of Moses” (Lk. 2:22), they encountered some other elderly praying saints – Simeon and Anna (2:25-38). It’s amazing how praying people always seem to find each other! It seems that the Holy Spirit just draws them together through their common band of intercession. Both of these “senior saints” had been told by the Spirit that they would not die until they saw the Messiah. What a great challenge this kind of prayer life and persevering intercession is to me personally as I grow older!
Simeon and Anna remind us that as our physical strength wanes, our spiritual strength should increase. During our “sunset years” when our physical activity decreases – our spiritual activity through prayer should increase. I am sure that the prayers and blessings of Simeon and Anna were a great encouragement and example to the young couple, Joseph and Mary, who had been entrusted with the Christ Child.
So Jesus was literally conceived, birthed and reared in an atmosphere of prayer and intercession. Is it any wonder then, that we find Him praying so often during His public ministry (Matt. 14:23; Mk. 1:35; 6:46; Lk. 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 11:1; 22:39-45, etc)? And while the “Disciple’s Prayer” or “Lord’s Prayer,” is recorded in Matthew 6:9-13, His greatest time of intercession was His “High Priestly Prayer” recorded in John 17.
To me it is also interesting to read about how Jesus “…took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:16). Where did He learn this kind of prayerful interaction with young children? Where did He learn the importance of “taking children in His arms” and “laying His hands on them” for the purpose of “blessing them” in the Father’s Name? I believe He often experienced this very prayerful blessing from His own earthly father, Joseph, as He was growing up – which is totally consistent with what we know of the role of a father in Jewish homes.
That’s why we too as parents and grandparents should often take our children and grandchildren in our arms…lay our hands on them…and bless them in His Name! You can’t give better Christmas presents than that.
So Jesus grew up with praying parents. That’s where He learned by example the importance of prayer and intercession for every area of life. For a Jew, there is absolutely nothing that is outside the pale of prayer. That’s why they pray many times a day – which is why the Apostle Paul exhorts us to “…pray without ceasing” or “pray continually” (I Thess. 5:17).
And Jesus continues to do just that for you and me as our High Priest. That’s why He is able to “…save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb. 7:25). What a Christmas present! And one that never ceases!
But Christ’s gift of prayer and intercession in our behalf does not stop there. Listen to these wonderful words of assurance about the Holy Spirit’s intercession for us:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27).
What greater Christmas gift could you get this Christmas than that assurance?! Open it…apply it…revel in it…rest in it…rejoice in it – or rather in Him!
So if we want our children and grandchildren to model the Lord Jesus and “…grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” then as parents and grand parents we must give the kinds of gifts that Joseph and Mary gave. We must give them the gifts of…
• Godly Inheritance
• Parental Integrity
• Biblical Instruction
• Spiritual Imitation
• Emotional Innocence
• Sanctified Imagination
• Prayerful Intercession
But you can’t buy any of those gifts in local stores – not even the priciest ones. These gifts of parental love can only be found in God’s Word through His Spirit. So I hope you will go spiritually shopping often at His “Divine Department Store.” It has everything you need to give the same gifts to your children that Joseph and Mary gave to Jesus. And wonder of wonders, they are all free! Jesus has already paid the full purchase price for every one of His heavenly gifts (Eph. 1:3)! Happy shopping! And Have a blessed Christmas!
In His Extravagant Love,
PS: Thanks to those of you who have gone through this special in depth Christmas Devotional Study. It has been far longer than just the “Twelve Days of Christmas” that the popular song recounts! And I have one more on “Lessons From The Wise Men” that I will send after Christmas and before the New Year – just in time for Epiphany. Be watching for it…
During this special time of year, we see many beautifully wrapped presents displayed in store windows and under Christmas trees. Soon we will be buying and wrapping gifts for our family members and friends. As we have seen over and over again in this special Christmas Devotional Study, God is the greatest giver of all because of His extravagant love! He gave the greatest gift to the world when He gave His only begotten Son.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only
begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
Consider the unique wrapping surrounding God’s Gift. And as you do, please remember that God’s great Messianic Gift to the world came as the direct fulfillment of over 2,500 prophecies! The precise fulfillment of these prophecies in precise detail is one of the greatest proofs for the supernatural origin of the Bible. No other religious book in history can make this claim. In His First Advent, Jesus fulfilled some 2,000 of these prophecies. The other 500 are being fulfilled in this very “End of the Age” that you and I are living in.
It has been computed by scientist and statistician Dr. Peter Stoner that the possibility that all of these prophecies being fulfilled by chance are 1 in 10 to the 2,000th power! That’s a lot of coincidences. Not a chance! It takes more “blind faith” to believe that these prophecies were randomly fulfilled by Jesus than it does to believe that He was indeed God’s Messiah who had come in the exact “…fullness of time” to fulfill every one of God’s promises!
With that in mind, let’s turn to God’s special gift-wrapping for this Messianic Gift He gave to the world. First of all…
1. Jesus was wrapped in Hope:
Through prophecy God had been pointing to the coming of His Messiah. These hundreds of prophecies given over thousands of years all pointed to Jesus. They were the hope of the Old Testament saints who were called “prisoners of hope”.
Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you. (Zechariah 9:12)
The fact that Jesus perfectly fulfilled these prophecies proves that He was the long-awaited and hoped-for Messiah of God!
2. Jesus was wrapped in History:
As we have seen in detail in earlier studies, God’s gift was given at exactly the perfect time in human history. As Paul said: “In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son…” (Gal. 4:4). Doctor Luke, as an accurate historian, recorded that Jesus was born “…in the days of Caesar Augustus…while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Lk. 2:1-2). Unlike other religions that are partly or wholly based in mythology, God’s gift is securely wrapped in history! The Christian faith is firmly anchored in fact – indisputable historic facts.
3. Jesus was wrapped in Humanity:
As John records: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). Jesus was neither God masquerading as man nor man feigning to be God. He was the unique God-Man of history. “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). Belief in Him as the One Mediator between God and Man (I Tim. 2:5) is essential for our salvation. And, the unique confession that “…Jesus Christ has come in the fleshfrom God” (I Jn. 4:2) is the dividing point between religions and the point of discernment between the “spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (I Jn. 4:6).
But the Incarnation did not end with Jesus. God wants to continue to clothe Him in our humanity. Through His indwelling Holy Spirit, God’s intention is to continue to incarnate Himself in the lives of people like you and me! There is a wonderful example from the famous “Passion Play” that takes place every decade in Oberammergau, Germany. This portrayal of the life, death and resurrection of Christ has been going on since 1633. The most interesting thing about this play is that there are no professional actors. The local people of the town play all of the parts – including Jesus. Every day Jesus and all of the participants of the Advent can be seen in the local stores and shops of this little German town. And that’s the way it should be! God wants to continue the Incarnational Story of Christ in your life…your family…your business…your job. That’s what Christmas is really all about.
4. Jesus was wrapped in Humility:
Even though prior to His incarnation Jesus “…existed in the form of God” because He was and is God, He did not hold onto His glory and majesty as God. He laid aside heaven’s splendor and “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and…humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of…death on a cross” (Phil. 1:5-8). And in the spirit of Christmas, the Bible exhorts us to imitate Jesus and “…put on humility” (Col. 3:12). If we want to really celebrate Christmas and be Christ-like – we too must be wrapped in humility.
Jesus Christ, therefore, was distinctively and uniquely wrapped in hope… history…humanity…and humility. By this all men could know that He was indeed “Immanuel, God with us” (Matt. 1:28). And just like God was wrapped in the humanity of Jesus, so Jesus wants to be wrapped in your humanity! Or, to quote the Apostle Paul: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” That happens when “…your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 1:28; 3:3).
Just as God wrapped Jesus up and gave Him to the world, let Him also wrap you in Christ and present you to the world as an on-going incarnation of His love and compassion! That’s how to make Christmas a 365 day a year experience – 24/7!
Have a blessed Christmas filled with His Presence…
“EVERY GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT IS FROM ABOVE,
COMING DOWN FROM THE FATHER…”
“What shall I give this Christmas?” That’s a question we all think about this time of year—especially as December 25th draws closer! We all have a list of family members and friends we want to give special gifts to during the holidays. True love always prompts a spirit of giving. That’s why Jesus could summarize the Gospel through His own life with these very familiar words to Nicodemus:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16-17).
What was our need that prompted so great a Gift? We were perishing – living under the just condemnation of a holy God. Enslaved by sin…imprisoned by fear…dominated by the flesh…doomed by the law – in other words, eternally lost. There has never been a single person born of the human race that did not fully deserve hell – eternal separation from the presence of a holy God.
But God’s love prompted an “indescribable gift” (II Cor. 9:15) – the Lord Jesus. Therefore, God gave to save! He did not give a seraphim…an angel…or even an archangel. A gift of a holy member of His heavenly host would not be sufficient. Heavenly love operates by the principle: “The greater the need, the greater the sacrifice.” The eternal gravity of our condition required nothing but heaven’s best…heaven’s highest…heaven’s holiest! A member of the triune Godhead would have to be sent to deal with man’s sinful, lost, rebellious condition. So, in the triune heart of holy love, Christmas was conceived!
And God conceived this gift of salvation, not spontaneously, nor at the last moment but “…before the foundations of the world” (Eph. 1:4, Rev. 13:8). As a result, “in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4).
The gift that God gave to the world on that first Christmas is still unthinkable… unfathomable…incomprehensible…indescribable – almost unbelievable! As members of the human family we can neither fully grasp the gravity of our need, nor the pricelessness of God’s gift. It will take the eons of eternity for us just to begin to grasp “…how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18)! And all that it takes for anyone to receive this “free gift of grace” is to believe…to have faith…to cease trying and start trusting. Then, as a result of our faith in God’s grace, we receive eternal life – a gift for both time and eternity!
Because of that eternal gift, we also have the assurance that we “will not be condemned” because we have “passed from death unto life” (Jn. 5:24). While we can be sure that “the wages of sin is death,” we can be equally sure that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
That’s the Good News of both Christmas and Easter! They can’t be separated. The Christmas Advent cannot be separated from the Easter Event! They are both one inter-connected spiritual drama. The cradle cannot be separated from the cross any more than the cross can be separated from the crown! They are all a part of God’s “great salvation” (Heb. 2:3) – His all-inclusive gift that expresses His all-encompassing love!
If God never gave us another gift, we would still be eternally grateful. However, God’s giving does not stop with the gift of His Son. The Father also continues to give the “gift of the Holy Spirit.”
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Lk. 11:13).
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive
the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
“The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out
even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:45).
Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as the “…gift My Father promised” (Acts 1:4). This gift of the Spirit was predicated on the resurrection and glorification of the Son. As Paul said: “When He ascended on high…He gave gifts to men.”
“When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8, Ps. 68:18).
“By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (Jn. 7:39).
This gift of the Holy Spirit is truly the Gift that keeps on giving! In a world of counterfeits, the Spirit continues to give us the gift of truth. As the “Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:17), He reveals the Lord Jesus, and gives ever deeper understandings of Him. As Jesus promised His disciples: “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (Jn. 16:15).
Tragically, most people’s understanding of Jesus is still a simple, infantile belief, the kind of immature faith that so many superficially celebrate at Christmas. With almost naïve sentimentality, millions celebrate the birthday of the “babe in a manger.” Most have never begun to comprehend the real spiritual truth of Bethlehem’s Baby – much less the Son of Man on the cross…the resurrected Jesus…the ascended Christ…the reigning Lord…the soon-coming King. Those are the gifts of revelation from the Holy Spirit. He is only able to give those deeper gifts of understandings to those who are serious disciples, whom He can lead into the truth of the Lord Jesus.
Finally, the Holy Spirit gives us His own supernatural gifts. Those are the spiritual charisma…divine endowment…supernatural inducement, that are from the Spirit of God. We can’t purchase them…coerce them…manipulate them. They are gifts that we can’t “work up” – we must “pray them down.” That’s why James reminds us that “…every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (Jas. 1:17).
These gifts, like all of God’s other gifts, are sovereignly “…distributed according to His will” (Heb. 2:4). And the Spirit’s gifts have a specific purpose. They are to meet needs, not greeds!
Most often, the gifts we receive from family and friends at Christmas are primarily for our own enjoyment. However, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are “…to serve others” (I Pet. 4:10). That’s why we are especially encouraged to “…excel in gifts that build up the church” (I Cor. 14:12).
Christmas, then, is not about us, it is about Him. The real Christmas gifts are to glorify Him – not to satisfy us. So while God can only give His gifts, let’s at least do some giving this Christmas that shares the love of the Lord Jesus – who is God’s greatest Gift to us!
Enjoying the Gift of His Son and the gifts of His Spirit…
PS: Tomorrow we will look at the special “Gift Wrapping” that God used for His Gifts to the world. I will see you then.