25 Devotions – Day Fifteen

The Native: From Here To Eternity

Luke 2:3-4
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

We make an assumption about Joseph, in fact we make a lot of assumptions about Joseph. One is that his path was somehow less important than Mary’s was. We look at him as if he just was drafted into this. However God had plans for Joseph, just as He had for Mary.

Prior to the birth in a manger, somewhere a little baby was born. His birth wasn’t heralded by Angels, but it was celebrated by God. The very God who would one day wrap Himself in flesh attended the birth of Joseph.

God attends every birth, He rejoices at the potential of every soul. To Him, there isn’t such a thing as an unimportant person. Joseph was integral to the adventure that was about to happen.

Yes, Mary was of the house of David, but that wasn’t enough. To transport them from Nazareth to Bethlehem in time for the birth, Joseph had to be a son of David. “All went to be taxed, every one into his own city.” If you had ask Joseph before this, “what city are you from?”, he would have said Nazareth. After this, his answer was, “my city is Bethlehem.”

When you’re life comes in contact with Jesus, it will change more than just your location, it will reveal your destiny. Like Joseph, you always were meant to come in contact with The Savior from the day of your birth. Your entire existence pointed to the day you meet Jesus.

Nazareth means the guarded one, maybe that’s you today. When Joseph first heard Mary’s news, he was guarded, and he had doubts, but then he met the Angel in a dream. That dream of a better hope changed his life, and it can yours.

Maybe you think salvation sounds to good to be true, like a dream or something. You’ve heard the message and the angel. In Revelation, God called His Pastors the Angels of the Church. You’re guarded, but you know what you’ve felt is real.

That feeling isn’t manufactured, it’s ordained. Just as Joseph’s lineage came from David, your life is no accident. You were born for this moment. God wants to translate you from Nazareth to Bethlehem. He wants you to experience the manger, not as a bystander, but as a participant.

Joseph’s pathway took him from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to Egypt and back, but he was never the same. Yes, there will be hard times on your journey, but Jesus will be with you. There will be precious things along the way, like gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God’s glory, His anointing, and His mission will transcend any obstacle you face.

Today, you may not feel important. You may look at your past as if it’s a dead ancestry of failures, but it isn’t. It just brought you where you are, it doesn’t dictate where you’re going. Let this meeting with Jesus take place in your life, isn’t it worth the trip?

Angels, Shepherds, and Wisemen awaited Joseph, but most of all, he cradled eternity in his arms. God will guide you, He has been waiting for you since you were born. He will Shepherd you through the hard times, and make you wiser for it. Most of all, you’ll see Jesus, as he cradles you from here to eternity.

25 Devotions – Day Fourteen

The Native: Augustus Doctrine

Luke 2:1
​ 1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

The Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, the word doctrine is not a foreign word in the halls of politics. We are more familiar with it from a Biblical perspective, but it’s not always a matter of faith. Ironically, it is, in a political fashion, found in The Book Of Faith.

The word decree in Luke 2 translates dogma and doctrine. A census was very much part of Augustus’ political doctrine. The reason for this goes back some years before the events of Luke 2. When we read of Augustus, we imagine that he became emperor at a specific time. His powers were actually consolidated over time. One of these periods included a compromise with the Roman Senate called the second settlement.

It was in this settlement, that he was granted powers normally reserved for only the Roman Censor. These included the right to supervise public morals and scrutinize laws to ensure they were in the public interest, as well as the ability to hold a census and determine the membership of the Senate.A Censor also, even in the days of the republic, would occassionally take a Census outside of Rome in the provinces.

One of the reasons for this compromise had been Augustus’ illness. The Senate realized that their entire government now was pinned to the health of one man. Ironically, the most powerful man in the known world, suffered with illness throughout his life. When we first read Luke 2, we imagine mighty Caesar and an infant Christ. While that is true, Caesar was not so mighty, and while Our Lord was a baby, He was more powerful in His infancy, than Augustus was in his strength.

The doctrine of Caesar demanded every man to give account of himself and his family. The purpose was for the pleasure of Rome. Make no mistake, one day, all men both small and great will stand before a Throne far greater than Caesar’s. We will all give an account, but that wasn’t the way that Christ began.

Before He ever asked us to give an account of our birth, of our parents, or of our heritage, He shared His own. He shared His lineage of faith from Abraham to David. As well as to all those who were faithful even though not famous.

We know that Christ’s Mother was just like us, flawed but unflinching. Joseph, while not His Father, loved Him as much as any son. Most of all, because Jesus shared, we can become the sons of God!

God wrapped in flesh, born to die, buried to rise, and alive to resurrect men’s souls! That is the doctrine of Christ. Augustus’ doctrine was birthed out of human frailty, they say he suffered ailments all his life. Our Lord’s doctrine was established to take away our diseases, to overcome our weaknesses, and to share His strength with us.

Thank God that the doctrine of God brings life in every arena. Whether your background is religious, non religious, political, or anything else, The Lord will meet you there. So this Christmas, spend some time getting to know a King who crossed worlds to reach you.

Matthew 11:29-30
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

25 Devotions – Day Thirteeen

The Native: He Keeps His Promises

Luke 2:2
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

Can I ask you a question, contextually why does it matter who was governor of Syria? I ask this, not out of disrespect, but out of joy. If you say to give the setting a date, I would argue that Augustus’ decree in verse one could accomplish that. No, the reason for this, is intended, inspired, and inviting.

He recognized his own sins, his own mistakes, and he had received mercy.

Some argue about the date of Cyrenius rule as Governor of Syria.  Some scholars suggest that when should be translated before.  Others indicate that Cyrenius’ first responsibility in the region was the taxing, and that he would rise to governor.

No matter which opinion you are of, doesn’t lessen the importance of this verse.  Frankly, the important meaning of it is not who was governor of Syria, or when he was the governor.  The important part of this was that it reads governor and not king.

Isaiah 7: 1-2,13-16

1 And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, [that] Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel,
went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it.

2 And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart
was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.

13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; [Is it] a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?

14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.

16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.

To understand what I mean by this, we must go back many years.  To another king, one attacked and surrounded by a confederacy of kings. He was scared, he was not where he should be with The Lord, and he knew that he deserved to die.  Then the Prophet came to see him.

Isaiah could have brought news of judgement to the young king.  He could have told him that God was going to allow his destruction, he didn’t.  Isaiah one chapter before, had laid on his face before God.  He recognized his own sins, his own mistakes, and he had received mercy.

Uzziah was Ahaz’ grandfather, so these chapters were not chronologically organized, they were inely placed.  One would serve as a backdrop against another, you see Uzziah wasn’t perfect either.  However, God sent Isaiah with a message of mercy.  This was the same Prophet that The Lord spoke through saying, “Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow.”

So Ahaz, fearful of destruction, was given a sign.  He would not die by the hand of these kings, instead, those kings would be defeated.  This was to take place before Immanuel would be born.  Prior to the coming of The Merciful King, the merciless ones would be dust and ashes.

What is it that is bombarding your life today?  Who, or what addiction reigns over you?  Sin whispers that you’ve failed before, why try, you’ll just fail again.  I submit to you, that is a lie.  Your past mistakes do not dictate your future.  Christ has come to make all things new.  He dethroned and discarded a nation that threatened a very flawed king.

He can dethrone everything in your life that binds you, no matter your mistakes.  His promise to Ahaz holds true to you and I today.  He has come to give you life, and life more abundantly.  If you are a believer, and your sins are behind you, do not spend your life regretting past mistakes.  He has forgiven them, you must forgive yourself.

That’s why it’s called a New Testament, a new beginning.

If you desire a new life, don’t worry about all the things in your life that are wrong.  First, come to Him, and let Him dethrone them.  He knows how to overcome everything that you are facing.  It all starts with a conversation with Jesus, it doesn’t end there, but that is your beginning.

Isaiah chapter seven goes on to say that Immanuel knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  He knows how to separate you from your issues, even when you can’t yourself.  I’ve seen the drug addict freed from his addictions.  I’ve seen so many souls made new at the feet of The Master.  That’s why it’s called a New Testament, a new beginning. This is the promise of freedom, and I can promise you from personal experience, He Keeps His Promises!

25 Devotions – Day Twelve

The Native: Silencing Our Doubts

We’ve talked about him before, but I would like to revisit the scene.  Zacharias, a Priest of God, a child of Abraham, is having a conversation with an Angel. He had his doubts, as a result, the Angel told him that he would not be able to speak until the prophecy was fulfilled. On the surface, we humans, might be puzzled at this, until you examine more closely.

Yes, Zacharias was human, yes, it was an extraordinary promise, but it was not an unprecedented one. Since David, the promise of Christ from the family of Bethlehem was well known. Also famous, was the birth of Isaac, to two elderly parents named Abraham and Sarah. If anyone knew the history of God’s people, it should have been Zacharias.

What we must be careful, not to misunderstand, was the reason for the silencing.Set aside for a moment, the fact that this was a Priest Of God, and that he was talking to an Angelic messenger.  Instead, look at where they were standing, at an Altar inside a building that had been destroyed once before.

At the time of the exile, many probably doubted that God would return His people to their land.  Perhaps, some thought they would never again see a Temple on that mountain, but they did.  God had prophesied, before the first Temple’s destruction, that He would return His people to their land.

Zacharias was standing in a place of miracles, talking to the Messenger of a Miraculous God, about God’s plan for our future.This son of Abraham, had a heritage of hope, and yet, fear attempted to drown out his faith.

Please understand, I’m not judging Zacharias, just identifying with him.  It would be easy to say, he should have known better, but then again, shouldn’t we? Every Sunday, we stand in a place of miracles while the Messenger Of a miraculous God reveals to us God’s plan for our future.  How often do I, do we, give more voice to our doubts than we do our faith?

Doubt is a form of fear, and it can be very deceptive.  In our minds we think, “It’s not that I doubt God’s ability, but the circumstances are so great.”  Or, “I know He can do it, and has for others, but will He do it for me?”  Fear comes to us disguised as doubt, it’s less aggressive, it is less blatant, but it is still fear.  It will take many forms before it is defeated.

I’m sure that the enemy tried to fill Zacharias’ head with doubts even after that day.  The thoughts of, “All that could go wrong …”, even after Elizabeth was going to have the baby. I admit, I would struggle with all the ‘what if’s’ just as he probably did.  We are human, and we are going to grapple with fear.  It’s a battle however, that we cannot afford to lose.

The difference between Zacharias and us, he couldn’t give voice to his doubts. He had no choice, but we must choose not too.  In the middle of the night, when whispers filled his brain, he only had to remember one thing. His vocal chords refused to communicate them, they refused to give fear a voice.

God did this for our example.  No, He doesn’t make a habit of stilling voices, but He was trying to teach us something.  If we will silence our doubts, and give voice to our Faith, then we will always be victorious.  Yes we will have fear, but no, we do not have to communicate it.  We must choose to speak our faith instead of our fear.

That isn’t to say we won’t have fear.  I’m not saying that we pretend that we’re not scared of, insert mental image here, but I am saying that we mustn’t focus on it.  I can choose to speak what God promised.

I can grab hold of the hope that is before us like the horns of an Altar.  Incense fills a room, the smell attaches itself to clothing.  Zacharias was surrounded by a cloud of faith, and fear still was successful in hindering him.  Why?  Because, while the room was filled with faith, his vision was filled with fear.

One of the greatest things that God did for Zacharias was silencing his fear.  It had spoken so loudly that it had drowned out his faith.  It took over nine months, but he watched as faith grew, and fear dwindled.  Zacharias was given his opportunity to speak again. He said first, “His name is John, (Grace), and then he praised God.

In verse 63, he spoke his son’s name, and in verse 64 he praised God. Last time he spoke fear, this time he spoke faith. As a result, in verse 67, he was filled with The Holy Ghost, and God spoke through him. When we refuse to verbalize our fears, and we speak faith, we become the mouthpiece of God.

Luke 1:70
70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:

The Bible says that God prophesied through Zacharias. It’s no surprise that he uses the word spake in verse 70, and called in verse 76.  He went from doubter to Disciple long before Thomas was given the nickname.

God gave us an example in Zacharias, but today, God wants us to silence our doubts. He will cause the miracle, but we must do the practical. We must still them, not by the absence of doubt, but the purposeful rejection of it.

The Lord was essentially saying, “Not here, not now, and never again!” We must actively do the same to our doubts. When we do, like the child in Zacharias’ arms, something new will be born in our spirit. It will grow, and produce an even greater future in us, that points only to Jesus!

Christmas In Triage

It was Christmas time again, Cliff was alone as usual. That’s not to say that he was lonely, he had a big family, and they always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. That’s because Cliff wanted all the people who worked with him to have Christmas.

Cliff was a Security Guard for the largest hospital in the city , and someone had to work on Christmas. For the last fifteen years, Cliff had volunteered. He had seen some peaceful nights, and some crazy ones. He never really knew what to suspect.

This one had been quiet, so far. Then about nine, they wheeled Jim into the ER. He had been hit on the head, and was a little woozy. It was nothing serious. There was no mystery as to how it had happened, his wife Ellie had hit him.

No, she wasn’t mad at him, she just thought he had been a burglar. For some reason, he wasn’t in his recliner when she came down to wake him to go to bed. That’s because he was in the kitchen eating the cake his diabetic doctor said he couldn’t have.

Ellie thought she had heard someone sneaking around. She just didn’t know it was Jim. When he crept out of the kitchen with the lights off, she clobbered him. Then she saw Jim, panicked, and insisted they go to check and see if the candlestick was as deadly as she had always heard it was.

Jim wasn’t too argumentative, he was just trying to hide the smell of chocolate on his breath. The problem started because Jim and Ellie were klutzes, and always had been. She fell on the ice in the parking lot and sprained her ankle.

Cliff saw all this when making his rounds and offered to help Jim get her inside. The nurses got them into triage, but all the doctors were busy. Cliff had made his rounds, so he didn’t have anything to do for at least an hour.

So he decided to keep the couple company. He asked them about their Christmas. “Oh it was good. We talked to John and Cindy on the iPad, that’s our son and his wife. They couldn’t make it this year. Alvin our youngest is away at college.”Jim explained.

Ellie elaborated. “He was coming home, but his car broke down in Phoenix. Jim told him to just stay till he could get it fixed, and come in for New Years. It was a quiet Christmas this year, but it was peaceful.”

Cliff did his best to act like he believed them, but he knew better. He didn’t believe remembering seeing any two people wish they had some holiday hustle and bustle to complain about. He thought about how often his brother Mike fussed at putting up the Christmas lights, until Harriet bought that LED projector thing for the house.

Mike was miserable not having something to get ready for Christmas. So miserable, Cliff still believed his running over it out of the garage was no accident. The next year, Mike never complained. He never did ask Harriet if that was her plan all along.

Cliff excused himself, and tried to think of someway to salvage the old couple’s Christmas. This wasn’t a tv special, he couldn’t get John, Cindy, or Alvin a plane ticket. What could he do? Then, he thought of Mike, and of his rounds.”

Cliff remembered the kids in the pediatric ward, and Mr Anderson in traction. Then there was Marie at the nurses station. She hated the overnight shift. It dawned on him that Jim and Ellie weren’t the only ones miserable at Christmas.

Cliff had a crazy idea. He wasn’t sure if it would work, but there was only a few hours of Christmas left, so what could he lose. He made his way back to Jim and Ellie. Then he went into his story.

“Look, I know this is asking a lot, but there are a lot of miserable, lonely people in this hospital. Everyone is too busy to do anything about it, and I’ve got a little time on my hands, but I can’t do it by myself.”

“Now I sing a little, if we could just entertain them, even a few minutes, it would give them a better Christmas. Now what do you say? The doctors are swamped, you may be waiting hours, why not spend it spreading a little Christmas.”

Jim looked at Ellie. “We’d love too, but what about her foot?” Cliff pointed to a wheelchair. “We’ve got the Christmas express right here.” Ellie smiled, and that was all it took.

Jim asked. “Can you get me some paper cups and cotton? Maybe some tongue depressors?” Cliff didn’t ask why, he just did. That started a beautiful, special, multi hour journey.

Jim put on a makeshift magic show up and down the halls. Cliff and Ellie did duets, and took turns soloing a list of Christmas songs. Jim played the harmonica Alvin had mailed ahead in the Christmas presents.

Then he told jokes that even made Marie and Mr. Anderson stop arguing with each other for a while. The tongue depressors made great juggling utensils, Jim was pretty talented. Cliff told a Christmas story his Dad used to tell him, and Ellie read Luke Two as the finale of each performance, as softly and as beautifully as Cliff had ever heard.

What was supposed to last until triage gave away to an exam, went on til about one am, an hour passed the end of Cliff’s shift. He text Rosita he’d be late. An after the last group had found the Christmas they had given up on this year, he returned Jim and Ellie to the ER.

The doctors patched them up quickly, as Jim and Ellie sat quietly, happily exhausted. They had went from a quiet, miserable night, to a hectic, wonderful, and complicated Christmas. It wasn’t lost on Cliff that Mary and Joseph must have felt the same way after Jesus was born on another unexpectedly eventful night. After all, that was supposed to be tax day, not Christmas.

Cliff saw them to their car, and then got in his truck. He passed not only the white, green, and red lights of Christmas, but several blue ones too. He remembered thinking, ‘What had happened, and how he hoped no one was hurt.’

Rosita barely let him get through the door before she hugged him, tears streaming down her face. “Rosita honey, what’s wrong? I text you I’d be late. Are you okay?”

“I’m better. Cliff honey, I don’t know what kept you at the hospital, but it had to be a miracle. There was an accident down the street, a bad one. Thankfully they said everyone’s going to be okay, but it was about the time you normally would be getting home. Mike called from the precinct to make sure you were okay. He said the way it had happened, you would have probably been hit head on. You could have died.”

Cliff just held her. All he thought he was doing was making an old couple happy on Christmas. He didn’t know in helping them, he’d live to see another year. Then he wondered, ‘Ellie thought she had heard a burglar. Jim had thought she had heard him. Now Cliff wondered if she had heard one of God’s Angels to take care of all three of them?’

He was glad they’d insisted on giving him their number. It was too late tonight, but he’d call them in the morning. The three of them thought they were bringing gifts to lonely people. Now they knew, like the wisemen before them, they received so much more than what what they had offered.

25 Devotions – Day Eleven

The Native: Before His Coming

(An excerpt from our new book The Native)

Matthew 1:22-23

22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by
the prophet, saying,

23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

We are a few months away from Christmas, a little over three months.  My mind went back to Mary, roughly a little over three months from seeing His face.  It’s been talked about before. We know that she was talked about. Mary was the subject of gossip, whispers flooded the neighborhood.

She had a few that believed her, Joseph, Elisabeth, and Zacharias.  We don’t know of many beyond that.  She knew she wasn’t crazy.  Mary knew that the gift that she carried was from God.  Jesus’ stirrings from the inside reassured her that this was very real.

I’m sure there had been hard times, unpleasant conversations, harsh rejection.  Yet, in the midst of it, Mary knew that she was fulfilling God’s purpose.  It wasn’t about the pain that she had, was feeling, or would endure.  It was about seeing His face.

Some might say that is was a lot to ask of Mary.  People might wonder why she was selected.  The greatest Bible Teachers I know will tell you the most important reason, she was willing.  God can work with willingness, He can do more with it than talent.

Willingness to take risk caused Him to create the world.  Willingness to spare man caused Him to give Noah the plans for an ark.  Willingness to suffer excruciating, temporary pain for an Eternal rescue mission, was the pathway to the Cross.

Mary’s son would spend thirty three and a half years preparing to rescue you and I.  At times, it was very hard.  He was the subject of much more than unpleasant conversations.  He was blasphemed, mocked, whispered, and shouted against. More rejected Him than accepted Him.  It was the most expensive price ever paid by anyone in history.

Still, He felt the stirrings on the inside of His soul.  The love, and the promise He had made to Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Isaac.  As cataclysmic as the price was, He had made a decision, He was willing to pay the cost.

Christ died for you and I, not because it was easy, but because He was willing.  He loved us enough to suffer untold pain, so we could experience unimagined joy.  I’m not sure how far we are from seeing His face, I believe it could be any moment.  I will tell you this, He knows that you’re facing battles until that day.

The Lord understands that you may be the subject of unpleasant conversation.  Perhaps you are gossiped, and whispered against.  He knows you’ve witnessed, and been rejected.  God knows how that feels.  The world will tell you the cost is too high, but don’t listen.

Listen instead to the stirrings in your soul, Christ is there.  One day soon, the pain will be behind us, the battles all ended.  Any moment, like Mary, we will hear Christ’s cry, and it will be worth a trillion times more than anything we’ve suffered.  On that day, The Native Of Bethlehem, will welcome the natives of Heaven to their brand new home!