Good Friday: Jesus' Labor of Love

I am expecting a baby, and she could come any day now! This will be my first time experiencing childbirth, and as expected, I have some anxiety as I anticipate the event. My husband and I have taken child-birthing classes, and our desire is to have the baby without any interventions if possible. One of the things that we learned in our classes is that in order to cope with the pain, you must focus on the reward at the end. There was an acronym that I found helpful- P.A.I.N.

The "P" stands for purposeful. You are going through pain in order to accomplish an incredible task- birthing a new human being into the world!

"A" is for anticipated. You know that the pain is coming before it happens. You may not know the exact hour, but you know that this pain (which everyone claims is the most excruciating that a human can bear) WILL have to happen in order to bring your baby into the world.

"I" is for Intermittent. The pain will come and go, and there will be breaks in between so that you can bear it.

Finally, "N" is for normal. Could you imagine a baby squeezing out without there being pain? Not possible. Pain is a part of life, beginning with bringing that life into the world.

As I think about Good Friday and the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, I am struck by the similarities. In the past I have always marveled at the sacrifice that God made to give up His only Son for us, as I have repeated so many times in John 3:16, but today I think about Good Friday from Jesus' perspective. He was human just like I am. He knew His mission in leaving heaven and coming to earth was to save us. But that didn't make His task easy. There was only one way for Him to finish the job ahead of Him, and that was to focus on the reward.

Jesus knew that His pain was purposeful. His pain would bring about the redemption of all mankind from sin.

It was also anticipated. He knew in advance the kind of pain, both physical and emotional, that He would have to endure in order to complete His task. In fact, the thought of the pain filled Him with so much anxiety that He even prayed to God that there would be another way, any other way, to take away the pain and still finish the job, but it was not possible. He was so distressed that His sweat came out as blood!

His pain was intermittent- he would go through several beatings, trials, and betrayals with periods of time in between before the final crucifixion.

And finally, his pain was normal. Even though He was God, He still experienced the full pain of any regular human being throughout the process. He didn't have any super-human strength or supernatural pain management. He experienced it the same way you or I would.

You see, as a pregnant woman, I am not looking forward to the pain of labor. I have plenty of doubts about my ability to accomplish the task before me. I have prayed for an easy delivery! I have asked if there is another way to bring our little girl into the world without the pain. Unfortunately, I know that there will be pain, that it will be almost more than I can bear. However, one thought will help me push through to the end- the anticipation of meeting our daughter, of holding her in my arms, of gazing into the eyes of that precious face and beginning a relationship with her in her new life! That reward will make all of the pain pale in comparison.

In the same way, when Jesus went through His excruciatingly painful death, He could have called it off at any time! He could have called in legions of angels to save Him and stop what was happening. Instead, He had one thought on His mind that allowed Him to complete His task. And that thought was ME! It was YOU! He so desired a personal relationship with us and the opportunity to bring about new life that He literally faced Hell in order to give us that chance. He was thinking of us in the moment where He reached the end of Himself and love was all that could sustain Him- love for a sinful, undeserving people. I don't know why Jesus' death had to be so painful, but the parallel as I face labor is overwhelming and incredibly humbling for me. I feel so loved! SO cherished! And so undeserving... We truly are His children, He has birthed us in His blood! And at the end of it all, He considered us a reward that made the pain pale in comparison.

12 Days of Anticipation: Day 12 God's Unstoppable Plan

Day 12- God's Unstoppable plan

Everything that happens next in history is Satan's attempt to stop God's plan from unfolding, and God outwitting him at every step! Herod tried to kill Jesus by murdering all of the baby boys, but God sends the family safely to Egypt. Satan uses Jesus' own disciple, Judas, to betray Him to His death, but that death was His very plan all along. The guards try to keep the body from being stolen, but Jesus rises from the dead! The chief priests try to cover it up with a lie, but Jesus appears to many people before ascending to heaven. The chief priests arrest, torture, and kill many of the disciples to keep them from preaching, but the church grows every with day. The story continues throughout thousands of years of history- Satan attempting to stop this spread of the truth that life and hope can be found in Jesus, and truth prevailing all the same.

This is why we celebrate Christmas! This is why we live our lives for Christ every day. This is why we believe so many things that are contrary to this world- that to die is gain, that those who mourn are blessed, that persecution brings joy, that we should love our enemies. You are a part of God's continuing plan. Each generation has its own challenges to face in spreading the good news that the angels announced that Christmas night, but this is our time. Right now we are on the front lines. Some days it may seem that the world is too dark, that hope is too far away, that there is not enough strength to fight it, but that is exactly what the enemy wants you to think. The story continues...

What role do you play in God's unstoppable plan?
In what ways have you allowed Satan to keep you from spreading the truth about the significance of Jesus?
Have you been distracted by the world and kept from doing your task?
How can you be more intentional in the new year about sharing life and truth with others?

I hope you have a merry Christmas, celebrating and rejoicing in the amazing and miraculous birth that we stop to recognize. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests!

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12 Days of Anticipation: Day 11 Giving Gifts

Day 11- Giving Gifts

And now we come to the one part of the Christmas story that society has taken hold of- presents! The idea of giving gifts came from the three gifts that the wise men gave to Jesus as a young child- gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were not the typical gifts given to a child, but each one represents who Jesus is. The gold is the gift for a King, and Jesus is the King of Kings. Frankincense was an incense burned at the temple as a sacrifice to God, showing that Jesus is God. And myrrh was an oil used in embalming dead bodies- it foreshadowed the death that Jesus would undergo to forgive our sins. While it may seem that the wise men were the ones giving the gifts, it turns out that their gifts only reflected the true gift that was given- Jesus coming to earth.

Society has turned Christmas into a consumer holiday marked by all time highs for shopping with an emphasis on giving that perfect gift to everyone on your list, and not forgetting to buy for yourself along the way. But really, Christmas was always meant to be about giving, not buying. God gave us the greatest gift, and we can share what we have with others because of that gift. We can give gifts of time, attention, compassion, joy, patience, resources, energy, talents, and so much more. We should give all of ourselves to those around us every day of the year because God gave us his only son, and Jesus gave us His life so that we could have life in Him. WHat do we have that doesn't come from him? Could we ever outgive what God has blessed us with? Do we really have a right to anything that we consider ours? We are only stewards, charged with the task of taking what we are given and passing it out. If we take what we are given to only give to ourselves, we miss out on the purpose that God has for us.

What are some things that you can give this year?
In what ways do you find yourself believing that what God has given you is for you?
Take some time to thank God the gift of His Son for us.

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12 Days of Anticipation: Day 10 Wise Men Seek Him

Day 10- Wise Men Seek Him

The "wise men" were exactly that- a group of academics who studied the stars, an ancient group of scholars constantly searching their scrolls and expanding their knowledge. They had read the prophesies and they knew the signs. When a new star appeared in the sky, they didn't waste time hypothesizing or making attempts to find a scientific explanation or seeing what other sources had to say- they knew that it announced the birth of the new king of the Jews. They followed the star in faith that it would lead them to the site of the birth of this important new king.

On a modern-day list of sought after character traits, wisdom seems to be losing ground. Our society affirms and rewards those who cultivate self-esteem, assertiveness, and independence. The wisdom of the Bible seems to contradict a lot of the motivation behind today's leaders. The book of Proverbs is filled with tips for acting with wisdom rather than foolishness, but sometimes we tend to encourage acting the exact opposite!

Here are a few examples:

Proverbs 1:7
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline."- We pride ourselves in hiding and getting away with sin, while the wise fear the Lord.
Proverbs 29:11
"A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control."- We find it important to stand up for ourselves, putting the defense of our own pride ahead of self-control.
Proverbs 14:16
"One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless."
- YOLO- need I say more?

Proverbs 29:7
"A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge."
- Any human injustice, racism, classism, gender bias, etc. all stem from a lack of wisdom.

Proverbs 21:20
"Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man's dwelling, but a foolish man devours it."
- We live by credit, borrowing what we don't have to buy what we don't need.

The wise men used their knowledge to continue their life-long quest for what mattered most to them- wisdom. It is not surprising that the end of their search brought them to Jesus, the source of all true wisdom. We have thousands of voices speaking into our lives everyday- ads, social media, coworkers, music, movies, tv, family, friends, etc. We need to make an effort to balance out these messages with truth by seeking the source of wisdom everyday- Jesus Christ.

Would you say that wisdom is a character trait that you value and foster in your life?
How does the Bible's wisdom contradict with the trends in our society?
In what ways have you believed and acted on the world's wisdom rather than God's?
How can you seek and develop a personal relationship with Jesus on a daily basis to be in touch with His wisdom?

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12 Days of Anticipation: Day 9 Angels and Shepherds

Day 9- Angels and Shepherds

Think about the delivery room- who was present at your birth? Mom, obviously. The doctor? Dad? Possibly some extended family? A baby's birth seems like a private moment, shared between mother and child, and in some cases the father as well. Jesus' birth was a slightly different scenario. Mom and adopted dad were there, along with some farm animals, and no doctor or midwife. What began as an intimate beginning quickly grew to a crowded stable. Even though Jesus had humble beginnings, the angels couldn't help but throw a big party to celebrate God manifested on earth as a human to save the world from sin. However, the angels invited an unlikely group.

There were some shepherds watching their flocks nearby, and suddenly they were overwhelmed by the awesome appearance of a shining angel telling them not to be afraid. The angel delivered the unbelievable news and then was joined by an army of angels all singing praises to God! Can you imagine being able to see such a sight? Needless to say, the shepherd didn't question their invitation but hurried into town to see the Savior and worship HIm. After that, they couldn't keep the news to themselves but went throughout the town of Bethlehem rejoicing and telling everyone the good news. I would imagine that many others would come to see the baby after hearing the shepherds story, but the Bible doesn't mention any. Maybe they didn't believe the shepherds. Maybe they were busy with their own plans. Maybe they just didn't understand the significance of the moment. Whatever the reason, this group of lowly shepherds were the only ones to celebrate the birth of God's Son that night.

Why did the angels choose to invite a group of lowly shepherds? They could have announced their news to anyone. Did the angels choose them because they were in a remote area and the angels could really belt out their song without waking up the whole town? Did the shepherds have more faith? Had they been waiting for the Savior or did the news come as a complete surprise? Maybe they were simply available and receptive to the message from the Lord.

Are you available to hear a message from the Lord?
In what ways do you ignore opportunities to hear from God?
How can you be more willing to listen and become involved in what God is doing around you?

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12 Days of Anticipation: Day 8 God With Us

Day 8- God with us

Emmanuel. God with us. This is the moment we have all been waiting for! Jesus is born.

Mary gives birth. Pain and anguish are followed by relief and overwhelming joy as she sees her son for the first time. The pain of childbirth, the very curse given to Eve at the first sin, produces the One who will save mankind from it. So much hope, so much anticipation, so many dreams for the future are wrapped in this tiny bundle. Every child is a miracle, but this one is the Son of God. The long awaited Savior with ten perfect little fingers and ten little toes has finally come. The King of Kings with such alert eyes for a newborn. The Wonderful Counselor with an adorable nose. The Prince of Peace with that precious tongue just barely poking out as he yawns. And Mary treasures all of these things in her heart. And what a treasure it is!

And the new father! The pride that Joseph felt when first holding his son, the protective flood of love for this tiny child, was only a small reflection of the deeper expression of our Father's love for us, poured out in this gift of his only Son. What we receive with joy was God's sacrificial gift given in love. How amazing to know that our Father loves us so much!

Mary holds this baby, so tiny, yet an enormous burden. She will love this child born in a barn, raise Him moving from country to country to avoid death threats, lose Him to ministry (who are my mother and brothers?), and even watch Him die a horrific death on a cross. The path will tear at her very soul, but for tonight, she holds in her arms the very One who will be her salvation. As this baby reaches out his arms with a first cry, he enters the world the same way He will leave it, arms stretched out with a final cry. But even that last moment, as far ahead in the story as it is, is not the end!

Have you experienced that flood of love for another human that is only a taste of the Father's love for us?
Have you also experienced the pain of raising children? Losing them in some way?
In what ways have you expressed your gratitude for God's gift of his Son this Christmas?

We wonder why Christmas time always seems so bitter sweet, and I think it is because even the first Christmas started out that way. All great acts of love come at a cost. But true acts of selfless love are always worth the price.

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12 Days of Anticipation: Day 7 No Entitlement for a King

Day 7- No Entitlement for a King

Jesus could have been born into any circumstances that God chose. Being the Son of God, Jesus is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Everlasting Savior. A setting fitting for who he is does not even exist on earth, but Jesus

Philippians 2:5-8 explains it this way, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Jesus was a true picture of humility rather than entitlement- he took on human form, left His home in heaven to be born on earth, he grew up in a poor family, he worked as a carpenter, he did not collect possessions, he accepted abuse from his enemies and loved those who persecuted him, allowed himself to be killed a humiliating and painful death, all so that he could offer us new life- a selfless act. He did not hold out a list of 'rights' as God's Son, but truly experienced the struggles of human life. Why do we think we deserve to be immune from them?

We are sometimes tricked into thinking that life with Christ should be easier- that we will be blessed all the time or that we deserve what God has given us in our lives. The truth is that God tells us that in this life we will have trouble, that we will be persecuted for His name, and that everyday we must take up our cross to follow Him. Jesus did not claim any entitlement or take the easier road as the Son of God. Why do we think we should deserve better than God's own Son?

Have you ever asked God why you were given a certain set of circumstances or challenges?
Have you blamed Him for the situation or family that you were born into?
In what ways has God used those circumstance to shape you into the person that He can use to help others?

Jesus could have spent His time wondering why the challenges placed before Him were necessary, but instead He chose to use those circumstances to reach out to those around him. How could He truly say He loves us and connect with us in a way that we would trust in Him without meeting us on our level? Not only was he born into humble circumstances, it was a leap to choose to be born as a human at all...

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12 Days of Anticipation: Day 6 No Room

Day 6- No Room

When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem to be counted for the census, the town was filled with people who had been traveling for the same reason. When they found a place to stay, they were told that there was no room for them at the inn, and they were forced to take shelter in the barn for the night.

What was going through the innkeeper's head as he told them there was no room? Was he physically drained, exhausted from making as many people cram into his establishment as possible and had no corner to fit them into? Was he emotionally poor, looking at their situation without compassion or empathy? Was he financially strained, either unable or unwilling to give resources to help a couple in their time of need? Was he out of time, not having enough hours in the day to complete all that he already had on his plate? Was he spiritually empty, having heard of their story, an unwed couple expecting a child, and chose to judge instead of love? We don't know what made the inn keeper tell Mary and Joseph that there was no room at the inn that night. All we know is that Jesus was turned away.

While I have always been surprised by this turn of events- no room for a pregnant woman about to go into labor- I wonder how many times we have the same reaction as the inn keeper. It is difficult to have room for Jesus in today's world. We have time to check our social media but not to open our Bibles. We seem to have time to not miss an episode of our favorite shows, but frequently miss out on what God is doing around us. The truth is for us, and I suspect for the inn keeper as well, it isn't that we don't have room, but that we don't make room. And when we don't make room for a personal relationship with Jesus, we miss out on having room in our lives to be a part of what He is doing around us. Once you make room for Him, it is easier to make room for the people around us who are hurting and in need- people who WE are meant to reach out to.

What is keeping you from making room for Jesus in your life each day?
What limitations are keeping you from seeing the needs of others around you? Are you lacking physically, emotionally, financially or spiritually?
What is something that you can take out of your schedule so that you can have more freedom of time to help others?
How can you make room?

While Mary and Joseph being turned away seems like an unfortunate and unfair turn of events, God uses even this situation as a statement about who Jesus is...

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12 Days of Anticipation: Day 5 Unexpected News

Day 5- Unexpected News

Mary is just a teenager, living her life. She is betrothed to marry Joseph, a good man. I'm sure they had plans of building a house (one of the perks of marrying a carpenter), raising a family, and building a life together. It is every girl's dream-  a beautiful wedding to the perfect guy, and settling down into the cute house with the white picket fence, later adding two kids and a dog. I'm not sure what the Israelite version of this would have been, but I'm sure the anticipation and wistful excitement were the same. And then God, as He is known to do, took all of their plans and inserted His own.

An angel appears to Mary and gives her some incredible news- she will be the mother of the Savior whose kingdom will reign forever and she will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit even as a virgin. This news changed everything, and I'm sure it took a while for her to process all of the repercussions. She knew the Old Testament teachings and prophecies, she had been waiting for this day just like every other Jew. While she knew the coming of the Savior would change her life, I'm sure she hadn't ever considered being his mother!

While being the mother of the Savior was an honor, it obviously came with its challenges. I'm sure she weighed the costs in her mind. She would most likely lose Joseph- how could he believe such a tale? She would certainly lose her reputation- she could even be stoned as a prostitute for being pregnant out of wedlock. She could be kicked out of her family with no place to live. Suddenly all of the dreams for the future melted before her eyes at this unexpected news. While she could have blamed God for her loss or chosen to be a victim, her response is completely different. She sings a song!

"And Mary said:
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me-
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought them down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors."
  Luke 1:46-55

Mary response is one of faith. Instead of mourning the loss of her own plans, she realizes the importance of God's plan and trusts him to take care of the details. She not only knows that God's plan is better than her own, but her response models it. Maybe that is why she was the one chosen for the task.

Has God given you an assignment that was unexpected?
Have you taken this life-changing news with a song or have you grudgingly resented the change in plans?
In what ways have you not trusted God to provide for you when following His plan rather than your own?

How you react when God wants to use you in His plans makes all the difference in the world. At least, it did for Mary...

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