The Christmas Story Not Found in Matthew or Luke

At this time of the year we turn to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke to read the Christmas story. Each Gospel gives us a different aspect of the birth of Jesus.

Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the King. He starts his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus showing his descent from Abraham, the founder of the Jewish people, and David, their great king. It is the story of Joseph we read. Matthew tells us of the wise men who came from a distance bearing gifts and seeking for the newborn king of the Jews.

Our nativity sets showing the wise men at the manger are not correct. Exactly how many wise men there were we do not know – only that there were three gifts. Their arrival happened sometime after the birth of Jesus as Matthew tells us that they found Jesus in a house and calls him at that time a child. When Herod realizes the wise men are not coming back to tell him where this child is, he orders all boys in the area who are two years old and under to be killed.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi

While they asked for the king of the Jews, they clearly recognized that Jesus was God as Matthew tell us:

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. 

Matthew shows us that his birth is for all people. These wise men were Gentiles, yet they were one of the first to worship him.

On the other hand, Luke emphasizes the humanity of Jesus. He traces the line of Jesus all the way back to the first man, Adam. It is not of the wealthy, educated Magi that Luke writes, but the lowly shepherds in the fields, the lowly widow Anna who has been awaiting the arrival of Messiah.

While these two portions of Scripture are the ones we look to as we read of the birth of Jesus, I think there is a passage in the book of Philippians that gives a greater understanding of the meaning, the purpose of the birth of Jesus.

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

As we celebrate the birth of this little child, let us not forget the very reason He came was to save us. And just as the shepherds and the wise men worshiped Him, let us bow down in gratitude and love to our Lord and King.

He Knows My Name

One of my favorite parts of the resurrection story is when Mary Magdalene was standing outside the empty tomb, heartbroken because the tomb was empty, and she did not know where the body of Jesus had been taken.

When Jesus appeared to her, she did not recognize him and thought he was the gardener. “Sir, if you have carried him away, please tell me where you laid him.” At that moment, Jesus spoke her name. “Mary,”

At the sound of Jesus speaking her name, she realized it was Him!

Something is very special to us – the sound of our name in the voice of a loved one.

Jesus spoke of knowing His voice in John 10

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

In Psalm 139 the writer reflects on how well God knows us.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!

To me, in times of difficulty – it is so good to know that Jesus knows my name.

The Morning After

This beautiful painting is by my husband Paul W Lane

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

(Keith Getty and Stuart Townend)

My Miracle Man and His Art

About this time two years ago my husband fell in his art studio in the basement of our condo. It was a Thursday and because Covid had just started, we were not sure about going to the doctor. He felt fine so we went on with our daily routine as normal.

Until Sunday. After church on Sunday he complained of a severe headache and being nauseated. I drove him to the emergency room where I was told to go home and wait. They would call me after examining him.

When he went in to the ER he looked and acted fine to me. The only thing I was going on was his comment of the terrible headache he had.

About an hour later the ER called and told me a CAT scan revealed bleeding in his brain. They had called the main hospital in Lansing, the capital of our state, and an ambulance was getting ready to take him there for further evaluation.

I jumped in the car and raced to our local ER. Although at first they said I could not go in, I turned on the tears and pleaded to let me say goodbye to him. Realizing the seriousness of a brain bleed, I was afraid I might not see him alive again. My tears I guess were good enough because they let me go back to the room and say goodbye before the ambulance took him away.

I could not believe the change in him in just a little over an hour. He was very confused and very incoherent.

After they took him to Lansing, I returned home anxious to know what would happen next. About an hour later I got a call from the surgeon’s assistant who told him they were taking him in for emergency surgery. He asked me if he had been having trouble talking. He said that he was talking to them, but they could not understand what he said and it made no sense. Without the surgery I was told, he would not survive.

The assistant promised to call me after the surgery to let me know how it went. I got no call. They took him into surgery about 4:30 that afternoon and at 10:00 that evening I still had not heard a word. A call to the hospital revealed that the surgeon had completed the surgery and had gone home. All they could tell me was that my husband was out of surgery and in ICU. They promised to have the doctor on duty that night give me a call. Finally, around midnight the doctor on duty called. He said he was not involved in the surgery and all he could tell me was that my husband’s chart said the surgery went well and he was in ICU on a ventilator.

To make a long story short the next week and a half was very stressful as they worked for a few days to get him off the ventilator. Until he was off the equipment they would not be able to tell how much damage had been done to his brain. They warned me he might have difficulty speaking or understanding others, might have trouble swallowing, might have trouble walking. The day he got off the ventilator, they were looking for a rehab place to take him and indicated it might be weeks before he could come home.

But God had other plans.

Within days he was taking rehab there in the hospital – and he came home to me in just ten days. The first weeks at home he had to use a walker to get around and while he could clearly understand and communicate he did have moments when he would struggle for a particular word.

But he quickly recovered. Two things that helped I believe was our love of scrabble and his love of painting. We are very competitive and love the game. I worried that he would not be able to really compete with me again. He was a little slow the first couple of games we played but in no time he was beating my butt again.

The second week he was home he asked our son-in-love to bring his easel and paints from his art studio in the basement as he was still too weak to go up and down the stairs. He sat at our dining room table and painted this beautiful scene of the seashore.

In no time at all he was free of the walker, beating me in scrabble and back down stairs in his art studio painting away.

Recently a local business in our community held a Arts Explosion. From November through the month of February local artists were invited to display their work. The business is involved with educating the public about agriculture and has a lot of public events at its facility. During this time people were asked to look at the paintings and vote for their favorite artist.

Last night they held a “Meet and Greet’ for the community to come out, take a final look at the art and vote for their favorite.

It was a fun day – food and entertinment by the local high school’s dance team.

At the end of the festivities, they announced the winners of the People’s Choice. Out of 44 artists they had a winner and a runner up. To my great happiness my husband with his sea shore painting came in second as the People’s Choice.

The painting is back home now – and we are both rejoicing – not only for his award, but for the miracle this painting truly is.

To God be the glory – great things he hath done!

Why I Go To Church

This Sunday I had to miss church. It is the second Sunday I have missed because I have been sick. Recovering now, but I so hate to miss church. Somehow the week is just not the same when I have not been able to meet with my church family and join in praise of God and hear His word.

Many times I have heard the statement “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” And the one I love is “Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”

While I agree with those statements and sadly realize that many people think going to church makes them a Christian without any real commitment to the Lord or any attempt to follow His word, I question why we would say that.

Of course, there are many who cannot go to church because of health issues or work issues. With the Covid-19 this past year many of us could not go to church because our churches were closed. But I have to wonder why anyone who calls themself Christian and can go to church would choose not to.

Oh I know. There are many stories of people who have been hurt by the church. Members who were judgmental, personal rejection, people who acted one way in church on Sunday and lived differently the rest of the week and the list goes on and on.

I have been hurt – badly hurt – more than once by church people.

So why do I still go to church?

  • First, because I believe the church was God’s plan for spreading the Good News.

In Matthew’s gospel we are told that Jesus declared “you are Peter (which means rock) and upon this rock I will build my church.” I know different denominations disagree on exactly what that meant for Peter, but putting our differences aside, I think we can see that Jesus had plans to use men to build the church. Notice that He did not say “build the church” but rather “build my church.

However, in today’s world the definition of “church” has lost its original meaning.

Look in a dictionary and you will find “church” explained this way:

  •  A building for public Christian worship.
  • The public worship of God or a religious service in such a building
  • The whole body of Christian believers; Christendom.
  • Any division of this body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority; a Christian denomination.

But the word “church” is not actually in the original manuscripts of the Bible. The word that was used (and was translated into church) was “Ekklesia.” In the time of the Greek Empire the word was used to describe the assembly of free citizens to discuss, debate and express their thoughts on the community, the government. Many say it was the beginning of a democratic society.

This word is a compound word. “Ek” means “out of.” “Kaleo” mean “to call.” So the church is supposed to be people who have received the call of God and the outcome of their answer to that call.

Simply put, ekklesia means community.

Just before He went to the cross, Jesus prayed to the Father for this community. In that prayer He said,

I ask not only on behalf of these (that’s the disciples), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word (that’s us), that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

  • Most of the New Testament is addressed not to an individual, but to a community of believers. Many of the Psalms talk about praising “in the congregation” or “in the sanctuary” indicating there was a place for worshipping God with others. The Revelation given to John was for the seven churches. When Jesus left His disciples His instruction was to gather together in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. The book of Acts shows that they were in a group praying together – in unity – when the Holy Spirit came. Later as Peter preached a powerful sermon we are told that “the Lord added daily to the church such as should be saved”. As people came to faith in Jesus Christ it followed that they were to be a part of this community of believers.
  • In the Apostle Paul’s writing he referred to the church as a body. He talked about we all are a part of that body. The body is made up of many different parts – but if we remove a part from the body, that part will die. And although the body may go on living, it will not be as good as it had been before. From that illustration I understand that to remove myself from my church family has a great danger that I will spiritually begin to die. And even if I am so strong, so spiritual, have such a great knowledge of the Word of God that I would be fine without being a part of a community of believers, that is all the more reason for me to attend. The church needs me just as I need the church.
  • The example of Jesus when He was on earth. Luke’s Gospel tells us that “And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”
  • To set an example for my children and grandchildren. In our society today our youth are being hit with false ideas and dangerous teachings. While the church is not supposed to be the only place our children learn of God (in fact the Bible is clear that main responsibility belongs in the home with the parents), faithful attendance sends a message to our children. It tells them belonging to a community of believers is important.

This community of believers is far from perfect. Why? Because it is made of people just like me – and I am certainly not perfect. I fear that we view church like a consumer. “The church doesn’t meet my needs.” Sorry, but the point of being a part of a community of believers is more than having your needs met. It is to also help meet the needs of others. The New Testament is full of calls for us to minister to others. While we can do that outside of church – and we should – I think it again speaks to the idea that Jesus had when He prayed to the Father that we would be one. Here are some of those “one anothers.”

“…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50)

“…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)

“…Love one another…” (John 13:34)

“…Love one another…” (John 13:34)

“…Love one another…” (John 13:35)

“…Love one another…” (John 15:12)

“…Love one another” (John 15:17)

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)

“…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)

“Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)

“…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)

“…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)

“…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)

“Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)

“…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)

“…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25)

“…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20)

“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12)

“…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

“If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)

“Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)

“Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)

“…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

“Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)

“…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19)

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

“…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians

“Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9)

“Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13)

“…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13)

“Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16)

“Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)

“…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12)

“…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9)

“…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18)

“…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11)

“…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11)

“Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13)

“…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)

“…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)

“…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11)

“Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9)

“Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16)

“…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16)

“…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8)

“…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8)

“…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8)

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9)

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10)

“…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5)

“Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14)

“…Love one another.” (I John 3:11)

“…Love one another.” (I John 3:23)

“…Love one another.” (I John 4:7)

“…Love one another.” (I John 4:11)

“…Love one another.” (I John 4:12)

“…Love one another.” (II John 5)

Final point is this verse in Ephesians:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

If you have been hurt by the church, do not give up on it. Find another church. We have doctors/hairdressers/restaurants that we have difficulty with. We do not stop going to a doctor, getting our hair cut, or eating out. We just move on to find another one. I am not advocating moving around from church to church like a consumer. But if you have been hurt, the answer is not to ignore the plan of Jesus as we are told that Jesus not only loved the church – but gave Himself for it.

Ephesians 3:19 – “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”

I Asked for Two Years – I Now Have Nine Years

When I was 54 years old I was diagnosed with a very aggressive and advanced stage of breast cancer. My doctor said I had only a small chance of still being alive in ten years.

Ten years – that would put me into retirement age. At that time I planned to retire at age 62. So I figured if I could last ten years and retire at 62 that would give me two years to enjoy retirement with my husband.

For years I had worked a secular job which kept me busy with work Monday through Friday. My job was a very demanding job and often required overtime. When the weekend came I was really not free to enjoy time with my husband because he was a pastor. That meant that much of his weekend was involved with the church.

So I thought if I could just make it to those ten years, that would give me two years of retirement to enjoy more time with my husband.

That is what I asked for – “Lord, let me live to retire and give me two years to enjoy some quality and quantity time with my husband.”

As the time grew near for my 62nd birthday, I was thankful that I had made it eight years – but finances dictated that I needed to work until I was 65.

“Lord, let me live until I am 65 and give me two years of retirement with my husband.”

Well, obviously I made to 65. What is so wonderful is today I celebrate nine years of retirement. Nine years ago today I walked out of MidAmerican Energy Company for the last time. Still praying for those two years of retirement with my husband.

God has given me now nine years of retirement – and I am still going strong looking forward to many more years.

What I have been able to enjoy in those nine years.

Seeing my oldest daughter get her Master’s degree
Seeing my youngest daughter become an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church
Being able to just “hang out” with my grandsons
Enjoying my “crazy” grandchildren – and seeing two of them happily married
Meeting my first great grandson – and looking forward to seeing the second one.
Getting to watch this youngest granddaughter grow up.

And all the trips we have been able to make:

All across the south loving the old oak trees and the Spanish moss.

Enjoying the beach and the carriage rides.

And out west to Wyoming and Montana following the Pony Express/Mormon Trail.

Being a history nut I have been able to visit many former presidents’ homes and I loved walking the grounds of Fort Laramie.

Seeing the names carved into the rock at Register Cliff.

But most of all, I am so grateful for all the quality and quantity time I have had with my husband, my bff, these past nine years.

Still my bff after nine years of “real” togetherness!

Thank you Lord for your blessings on me!

Entrance of Praise

Studying the Tabernacle in the Old Testament the past few months has been such an encouragement to me in my walk with God.

Earlier I posted why a Tabernacle and in the elaborate plans that God gave Moses for the Tabernacle – and in the Israelites response – we see how much God desires a relationship with us.

What really stood out to me was that there was only one gate – one way into the Tabernacle. I know it is not a popular thought today but it reminds me that Jesus said He was “the Way.”

When the Israelites would stop and camp, the 12 tribes of Israel each had their own assigned area to camp by the Tabernacle. Interesting the tribe of Judah was to be camped first next to the entrance to the Tabernacle.

The name “Judah” means “praised” or “let him be praised.” This reminded me of how important praise is in the life of a Christian.

Psalms 95:2 – Let us come to him with thanksgiving. Let us sing psalms of praise to him.

Psalm 100:4 – Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name.

Even in the New Testament we are admonished to praise God.

Hebrews 13:15 – Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.

What does it mean to offer a “sacrifice” of praise. To us the word “sacrifice” sounds like offering something that is difficult or costly for us. While it can mean that, in the Old Testament a sacrifice was an offering to God. So first of all, our praise is an offering, something we give to God.

However, I think the writer speaking of a sacrifice of praise might mean to tell us our praise is not dependent on our feelings or our circumstances. When all is going well, it is easy to praise God. But in those times when all is well, how much of our praise is really directed to the awesomeness of God and how much just grateful because all is going well in our world.

Of course we should be grateful – but our praise must be more than that. Praise is the recognition that God is faithful and good. That we trust Him no matter our circumstances.

Worship is choosing to respond Biblically and responsibly despite the environment or circumstances. Somehow, we have come to accept an emotion-oriented approach to worship that says, “If I do not feel like expressing worship to God, it is hypocritical to do it!” In no other area of life do we accept this philosophy. Because it is the responsible thing to do, we go to work, pay our bills, restrain ourselves from saying certain things at certain times to certain people – although we feel differently inside. We say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive.” Do we always feel like being nice? Or forgiving? No! God never said, “If you feel like it, forgive. Or, if you are having a good day, love your enemies! And in leap years, on nights when there is a full moon, bless them that persecute you, and do good to them that spitefully use you!”…P. Douglas Small

In my own life I have experienced what praise can do in times of distress. At 33 my husband was killed in an accident and I was left with two small daughters to raise. There were times when I felt overwhelmed and afraid.

I remember one day in particular when I looked out my kitchen widow at the meadow below our home. We had purchased this property because it was a perfect place to raise our daughters in the country. There was enough acreage to have a couple of beef cows, some chickens and my daughters wanted a horse. It was Fall when we bought the home and now it was Spring. Lonnie died before we could fulfill those dreams.

As I looked at all the wild flowers in the meadow, I thought how much my husband would have enjoyed the view and began to cry that he never lived to see it. Suddenly I realized that he was probably seeing things far more beautiful than that meadow. And seeing them with two good eyes instead of looking at it with his one handicapped eye.

As I praised the Lord, those chains of worry and despair fell from me. Yes, sometimes they came back, but when that happened, I just began to praise the Lord again.


Extravagant Worship

worship.jpg

My devotion today told the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with costly perfume as he sat at dinner with his disciples.  Her action was criticized by those who thought it was money that could have been better spent on the poor.

Jesus responded that she had done a beautiful thing and this act was in preparation for His death.  He also added that this wherever the Gospel was told this woman’s story would be included.

According to the Gospels, this was not a cheap jar of perfume purchased at the local storefront.

Matthew referred to it as “an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment.”  Mark called it “an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly.”  John says it was “an expensive ointment made from pure nard.”

Researching the fragrance “nard” it appears it would probably have been imported from India and according to the complaint of Judas, it would have cost at least a year’s wages.

Not only did this woman share this expensive perfume, which may have required all her savings to purchase, she took quite a brave step in coming in and kneeling at Jesus feet.  He was having a meal with his disciples.  Not a place for a women to enter except to serve the men.

This was extravagant worship!  She gave all she had both in her finances and in her courage to act.

Makes me wonder how much my worship is extravagant.  When in a worship service at church, do I just sing the words or do I really think about their meaning and sing to God from my heart?  Sadly I think how many times people wonder into worship minutes after it has started and greet others as they amble to their seats?  Is our worship authentic or do we just go through the motions?

Worship is more than just a service at church also.  The word is derived from the Old English weorþscipe, and simply put means to give worth to something.

I give worth to God by much more than the half hour or so of singing on Sundays.  I give (or don’t give) worth to God by the way I live, how I treat others, how I spend my time, my energy, my resources.

Thinking of this woman’s extravagant worship, I ask myself “Does my life reflect that kind of love and commitment to God?”

In line with that thought the story of David in 2 Samuel tells of worship that is extravagant.  David wanted to buy a field from Araunah the Jebusite to make an offering to God.  Araunah offered to give David the field, the wood for the fire and the animal for the sacrifice.  David insisted on paying for it all and said, “I will not make an offering to God that does not cost me something.”

Dear Lord, may all I say, all I do, all I think be an offering of extravagant worship and may I be willing to give all of me – talent, time, energy, finances – to honor you.