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December 2023

Nudgings #53 - Dec. 24 "Why?"



For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NLT)

I will never forget the advice I received from a wise mentor about handling tough situations and navigating challenging interactions in life. He said, “Don’t get hung up on what is said, but instead, look a little deeper and consider: why is it being said?”

That thought, “why is it being said?” came to mind as I considered the Christmas story this year. In the account of Jesus’ birth, there were wise men from the east that travelled to Bethlehem to find the newborn king of the Jews, and when they found Him, “They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11, NLT)

Academic circles abound with controversy, debate, and skepticism concerning the specifics of the wise men in the Christmas story (were there really three?). In the Gospel of Matthew, it says that magi from the east saw a star and discerned the coming of a great king. They sought out the mystery, interacted with the infamous King Herod, and eventually found the child. The Scriptures say that the magi brought the newborn king gifts. There is a wealth of jokes and puns surrounding the tale of the wise men and their offerings, but beyond all the debates and jest, I found myself looking a little deeper and asking, “Why did God tell us about the wise men and their gifts?”

The gifts the magi brought to Jesus were unique, glorious and mysterious—full of foreshadowing and promise. The first gift mentioned was gold. Gold was the most costly and precious metal of the day and was equated with royalty. It was an extravagant gift—steeped in sacrifice. The gold of the magi tells the world that the baby Jesus is a royal king—the King, to Whom every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2:10, NLT). 

The second gift from the magi was frankincense, an aromatic resin made from tree bark. In the Old Testament, dried frankincense was a part of the temple candles that were used in the Holy of Holies. The sweet fragrance of incense, rising up from those candles, symbolized prayer and the Spirit within that Holy Place. The gift of frankincense, given to the baby Jesus, highlights his role as our great high Priest—interceding for us all at the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16, ESV). 

The magi's final gift, myrrh, must have left Mary and Joseph scratching their heads, because the ancients used myrrh to embalm dead bodies. The birth of Jesus was about life, not death, … wasn’t it? The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11, ESV). God sent baby Jesus into the world to save us, and this is where the symbolism of myrrh becomes apparent—Jesus saved us through his suffering and death on a cruel Roman cross. He came as a baby to die for you and me.

So, as you reflect on the Christmas story this year, be sure to look closely. Don’t get hung up on the words, but instead ask about the “why.” Consider the baby Jesus as royal King, great high Priest, and our sacrificial Savior, and then look even deeper . . . into the depths of God's love for you (John 3:16).

Merry Christmas!



Nudgings #52 - Dec. 17 "The Light"


The Light

The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined. (Matthew 4:16, NLT)

I was only five years old, but I still remember the light.

It was Christmas Eve, 1971. After my dad got off work, our family—my mom, dad, baby sister, and I—all loaded into our family car, a 1969 Volkswagen Bug, and headed for my grandparents' home in Jerome, Idaho to celebrate Christmas with a house full of aunts, uncles, cousins, loving family, and fun. It was snowing and blowing when we left Boise. What was supposed to be a two-hour journey turned into a long, slow drive into a dark and snowy night.

The wind blew, and the snow swirled the entire trip, blanketing everything in white. We finally turned off the main road onto the quarter-mile long lane that led to my grandparents’ farmhouse and were surprised to find that drifting snow had formed a barrier across our path. My dad, hoping to break through the drifts, accelerated the car and I was thrilled. I remember the roar of the VW engine, the unsettling sound of snow scraping on the floorboards beneath our feet, and the car slowly coming to a dead stop. Our headlights were buried under snow, and with the engine running we sat there in total darkness—completely stuck.

Still a long way from the house, all we could do was trek the remaining distance on foot. It wasn’t going to be easy for my parents—trudging through the deep snow with a baby, a five-year-old, and all of our belongings. However, a glimmer of hope appeared in the dark night. Down the lane, a flashlight flickered and slowly moved toward us. It was my granddad on his tractor, making his way through the snow to our rescue.

I was captivated by that light. It was just a flashlight, but it pierced the darkness. As it approached, the outline of the tractor chugging through the snow emerged, and then, finally, I could see the smile on my granddad’s face. He leaped off the tractor, gave us all hugs, hooked a chain to the front of the car, and pulled us home through the swirling snow. Within minutes we were enveloped in the radiant glow of love, family, and a joyous Christmas celebration.

Where do you find yourself this Christmas? Feeling stuck? Trapped? Lost in the darkness? Here's some good news—a glimmer of hope. “The angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” There it is, the real meaning of Christmas. A light has dawned and the rescuer has come to bring us home—it is Jesus.

Over fifty years later, I still remember that Christmas Eve—the long trip, the dark night, getting stuck in the snow, my grandfather’s smile, and the joyous fun.

But most of all . . . I remember the light.

Merry Christmas.

Nudgings #51 - Dec. 3 "I’m Thankful"

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I’m Thankful

Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God. (Psalm 50:14, NLT)

The other day at work, I passed a colleague in the hall who greeted me with, “How are you?” and I replied, “I’m thankful.” He paused and asked, “What are you thankful about?” and I answered, “Oh wow, lots of things …. I’m thankful for the gift of today, my health, this job, my family, my students, God’s love in my life, and … I’m thankful for you and the opportunity to work with you.” My coworker paused thoughtfully and said, “Hmmm … there is a lot to be thankful for,” and we went about our day.

When I responded to my colleague with, “I’m thankful,” I meant it. I wasn’t trying to be original or funny; I was being real. I know the customary response to the greeting, “How are you?” is “good,” but a while back, I came to the realization that I couldn't honestly respond with “good” every time to that question, because things aren’t always “good." We all have bad days (even bad years). At times, life brings moments and situations that stink. However, “good” isn’t the defining factor in my life—Jesus is—and because He is good, I can be thankful.

It’s been said that the Apostle Paul wrote about giving thanks and being thankful at least 46 times in his New Testament letters. It’s crazy, but the guy who tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18) and “give thanks always … and for everything” (Eph. 5:20) is the same guy whose story is filled with persecution, imprisonment, physical suffering, opposition, hostility, shipwrecks, peril, abandonment and betrayal. How can he be thankful, let alone implore us to be thankful?

It’s because thankfulness to God isn’t a feeling; it’s a choice. Asaph, the author of Psalm 50, equates thankfulness to the uncomfortable idea of sacrifice—giving up something valuable for something even more important or worthy. A life of gratitude doesn’t come naturally, or easily; it requires effort and practice. It’s a discipline. This is reflected in the tradition of praying before meals. We all need to eat, and when we do, mealtime can serve as a regular and tangible reminder to reflect upon God, showing appreciation and gratitude for His presence and care in our lives.

The thankfulness that Asaph refers to, that Paul calls us to, and that I mentioned to my colleague the other day, is based in and upon Jesus. Jesus is God. He is the author of life, the giver of hope and the source of every good thing. He is the Creator of the universe, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. His very nature is one of compassion, mercy, love and grace.

Even while we were all dead in our ingratitude, rebellion and sin, Jesus took on flesh and blood and came to earth to save us. He died upon the cross, paid the price for the forgiveness of our sins, and rose from the grave. He is our help today and our hope for eternity. Jesus is “good,” and a friend who is always with us—even when life stinks. In Him is found joy, peace, hope and abundant life.

So, if you ask me, “How are you?” I am going to say, “thankful,” because of Jesus.

In Him, “… there is a lot to be thankful for.”