Poetry Saturday—Joy In The Presence Of Jesus

How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus no longer I see!
Sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers,
Have all lost their sweetness to me;

The midsummer sun shines but dim,
The fields strive in vain to look gay;
But when I am happy in Him,
December’s as pleasant as May.

His Name yields the richest perfume,
And sweeter than music His voice;
His presence disburses my gloom,
And makes all within me rejoice;
I should, were He always thus nigh,
Have nothing to wish or to fear;
No mortal so happy as I,
My summer would last all the year.

Content with beholding His face,
My all to His pleasure resign’d,
No changes of season err place
Would make any change in my mind:
While blest with a sense of His love,
A palace a toy would appear;
And prisons would palaces prove,
If Jesus would dwell with me there. 

My Lord, if indeed I am Thine,
If Thou art my sun and my song,
Say, why do I languish and pine?
And why are my winters so long?
O drive these dark clouds from my sky;
Thy soul-cheering presence restore;
Or take me to Thee up on high,
Where winter and clouds are no more. —John Newton

Four Kings Of Kings

When C.S. Lewis first introduces us to the land of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, we discover that the White Witch has Narnia seemingly under her iron fist, and has made it so that it’s always winter but never Christmas. 

“Come on!” cried Mr. Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. “Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling. … Didn’t I tell you, that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!” 

And then they were all at the top and did see.

It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge set a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. … Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” 

I think the Israelites waiting for their Messiah must have felt a little like the Narnians: always winter, but never Christmas; trapped under the iron-fisted rule of Babylon, and Persia, and Rome. 

But as they approached what we now call the year 1 AD, winter is about to end and the Advent of CHRISTmas is about to occur at long last! 

You might think that the birth of Jesus brought us the King of Kings. But actually, there were three other “king of kings” that preceded Jesus, who all helped to fulfill God’s ultimate plan. 

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon. God called him “My servant” and also gave him the title king of kings (Jeremiah 27:6; Ezekiel 26:7). It was he who defeated Judah and took captives with him to Babylon. Among those captives was a young man named Daniel. 

God gave Daniel the ability to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which foretold of three other kingdoms which would follow Babylon, with the fourth kingdom being called a kingdom of iron. History shows us that Babylon was defeated by the Medes, who were in turn defeated by the Persians, who were themselves defeated by the Greco-Romans. 

Artaxerxes was king of the Persians, and he called himself king of kings (Ezra 7:12). He helps to facilitate the Jews’ return back to Jerusalem, and even helped fund their efforts to rebuild the temple of Solomon and reestablish worship there. 

In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Eventually, Octavius quelled a 20-year-long civil war and established himself as the unquestioned ruler of the Roman Empire. He changed his name to Caesar Augustus, which means the exalted one. But all throughout the Mediterranean world archeologists have discovered numerous other titles for Caesar Augustus—Divine, Son of God, God Incarnate, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, Savior of the World, and King of Kings. 

Historian Luke records these words, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree” (Luke 2:1). This decree called everyone to return to his hometown to be registered in Rome’s census. This decree meant that Joseph was obligated to return to Bethlehem. He took his pregnant wife with him to arrive just in time for Jesus to be born. 

JesusTHE eternal and ultimate King of Kings—was born in Bethlehem just as had been prophesied 700 years earlier in the winter of Israel’s captivity: 

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, you are little to be among the clans of Judah; yet out of you shall One come forth for Me Who is to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from ancient days (eternity). (Micah 5:2) 

The coming of THE King of Kings is proof that God sees you too. God brought the king of kings named Nebuchadnezzar, and Artaxerxes, and Caesar Augustus to power just to move two “average Joes” 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem so that THE King of Kings could be born there to fulfill the prophesy. 

God has a plan for your life. His plan for you was in place before you were even conceived in your mother’s womb. And—even this very moment—He is watching over world events to make sure that every detail of His plan is fulfilled (see Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 1:12)! 

If you ever feel like you are in a “winter” season of your life—always winter and never Christmas—just remember that God sees you, He has a plan for you, and He will bring an end to your winter just in time to bring you CHRISTmas!

Living Between The Advents

We live in an amazing time—the First Advent of Jesus has already happened in Bethlehem, and yet we are eagerly anticipating Christ’s Second Advent at any moment! 

The fourth stanza of Charles Wesley’s classic Christmas carol Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is a wonderful between-the-Advents look at what happened at the First Advent, and what we have to look forward to in the Second Advent. The key thing to note in this stanza is the verbs: come, fix, rise, bruise, efface, stamp, and reinstate. 

COME, Desire of nations—What is the “desire of nations”? It’s the restoration of God’s glory on earth, so it’s not really a what but a Who. The prophet Haggai informs us that our Desire is realized in the Advent of Jesus (2:1-9).  

FIX in us Thy humble home—At His First Advent, Jesus came and humbly made His home among us, even dying to pay the penalty for our sins (Hebrews 2:14, 17; Philippians 2:7-8). 

RISE, the woman’s conquering seed—Although Jesus was obedient to death—even death on a Cross, He didn’t stay dead but was resurrected (Philippians 2:8-9; Revelation 1:18)! 

BRUISE in us the serpent’s head—With His death and resurrection, Jesus took away the sting of death from satan, fulfilling one of God’s first prophesies (Genesis 3:15; 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, 54-57).  

Adam’s likeness now EFFACE—That means to wipe out, do away with, expunge. That’s exactly what God does with our forgiven sins (Psalm 103:1-4, 10-12)! 

STAMP Thine image in its place—Although our sin has been effaced, God doesn’t leave us as blank slates, but instead He allows the image of His Son Jesus to be stamped onto our lives (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 3:18). 

REINSTATE us in Thy love—The relationship we longed for is now reborn in us (1 Corinthians 15:49)! 

The Desire of Nations HAS come, and yet He WILL come again! We’re living between the Advents now, so a good question for Christians to ask is: “How are we to live?” I think there are three key things—

    1. In celebration that Jesus came at His First Advent to be our Savior 
    1. In anticipation of the Second Advent 
    1. In obedience to God’s Word (Revelation 22:7) 

Thursdays With Oswald—Getting The Order Right

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Getting The Order Right

     Beware of walking in the spiritual life according to your natural affinities. We all have natural affinities—some people we like and others we do not; some people we get on well with and others we do not. Never let those likes and dislikes be the rule of your Christian life. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” [1 John 1:7], i.e., God gives us fellowship with people for whom we have no natural affinity. …  

     Our example is not a good man, not even a Christian man, but God Himself. We do not allow the big surprise of this to lay hold of us sufficiently. Jesus nowhere says, “Follow your Father which is in heaven—that you may be good men? that you may be lovable to all men?” No, “that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 5:44-45], and that implies a strong family likeness to Jesus Christ. …  

     It takes a long time to get the full force of our Lord’s statements. “I say unto you, love your enemies”—an easy thing to do when you have no enemies; an impossible thing when you have. “Bless them that curse you”—easy when no one is cursing you, but impossible when someone is. “Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.” It seems easy to do all this when we have no enemies, when no one is cursing or persecuting us; but if we have an enemy who slanders and annoys and systematically vexes us, and we read Jesus Christ’s statement “I say to you, Love your enemies”—how are we going to do it? Unless Jesus Christ can remake us within, His teaching is the biggest mockery human ears ever listened to. …

     “I say unto you, love your enemies.” Jesus does not say, “Love every one.” The Bible never speaks vaguely, it always speaks definitely. People speak about loving “mankind,” and loving “the heathen”; Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Our Lord does not say, “Bless your enemies,” He says, “Love your enemies.” He does not say, “Love them that curse you”; He says, “Bless them that curse you.” “Do good to them that hate you”—not bless them. He does not say, “Do good to them that despitefully use you”; He says, “Pray for them that despitefully use you.” Each one of these commands is stamped with sheer impossibility to the natural man. If we reverse the order Jesus has given it can be done with strain, but in His order I defy any man on earth to be able to do it unless he has been regenerated by God the Holy Ghost. When a man does love his enemies, he knows that God has done a tremendous work in him, and everyone else knows it too. 

From Studies In The Sermon On The Mount

It’s impossible to do what Jesus commands if we’re trying to do it solely in our own strength. But when we allow the Holy Spirit to remake us from within, we can do what Jesus says:

  • If someone is your enemy—love them.
  • If someone persecutes you—pray for them. 
  • If someone curses you—bless them.
  • If someone hates you—do good to them. 

When we operate this way, we know that God has made this possible in us—and everyone else knows it too!

Jesus Is Immanuel

I am Immanuel—God with you—and I am enough! When things in your life are flowing smoothly, it is easy to trust in My sufficiency. However, when you encounter rough patches—one after another after another—you may sometimes feel that My provision is inadequate. This is when your mind tends to go into high gear: obsessing about ways to make things better. There is nothing wrong with seeking solutions, but problem-solving can turn into an addiction: your mind spinning with so many plans and possibilities that you become confused and exhausted.

“To protect yourself from this mental exhaustion, you need to remind yourself that I am with you always, taking care of you. It is possible to rejoice in Me—to proclaim My sufficiency—even during the most difficult times. This is a supernatural work, empowered by My Spirit who lives in you. It is also a decision that you make—day by day and moment by moment. Choose to be joyful in Me, your Savior, for I am indeed enough!” —Jesus Christ (in Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling For Christmas)

(You can check out some more quotes from Sarah Young’s book by clicking here.)

How Is Your Heart Hearing?

Therefore take heed how you hear… (Luke 8:18).

Therefore—when I see this word, I need to ask, “What came before?” Jesus has just shared the parable of the sower and given its fuller explanation to His disciples. Now Jesus is speaking privately to His disciples and telling them, “Be very attentive to how you are hearing My words.”  

Why would Jesus tell them that? He says that the way we pay attention to His words can either bring more blessing to our lives, or cause us to miss out on His blessings: “For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken away from him” (v. 18). 

In other words, every single one of us has the capacity to have hearts like all four types of soil Jesus talked about in His parable: hard, rocky, thorny, productive. 

I must be attentive to how I’m listening to Christ’s words…

  • …with a prepared (plowed) heart 
  • …not preoccupied with worldly things
  • …ready to obey what He says
  • …ready to share the blessings of what I hear with others

Lord, my heart is ready. Speak to me. I am ready to hear, ready to obey, and ready to share. Give me more insight into what You are saying to me.

The Powerful Name Of Jesus

As we approach Christmas Day and we think about the First Advent, many times our thoughts go to the scene of a lowly manger, tired parents, and a newborn baby wrapped in cloths. We tend to focus on the Baby. 

And rightly so! 

It is fascinating to think that before He was even born an angel appeared to both Joseph and Mary to tell them that this Baby should be named Jesus (Matthew 1:21 and Luke 1:31). But have you also noticed all of the other names and titles given to the Baby at His birth? 

    • a Savior who is Christ the Lord
    • Immanuel which means “God with us” 
    • Son of the Most High 
    • King of the Jews
    • Ruler of God’s people
    • Son of the Most High God
    • God Himself

What do we do with the name of the Lord? 

When I say “the name of the Lord” I’m not talking about the five letters that spell J-E-S-U-S or even C-H-R-I-S-T. The name of the Lord means all of God’s character, His majesty, His personality, His magnificence, everything that makes God God. 

The Bible clearly tells us how to use God’s name properly. We are to use the name of the Lord for

    • salvation
    • protection
    • batting the enemy
    • preaching
    • praying
    • casting out demons
    • healing the sick

The use of the name of the Lord should distinguish us. CHRISTians bear the name of Christ, so they should represent the character of God accurately, and in a way that causes others to glorify Him and want to approach Him. 

If there is a proper way of using the name of the Lord, that also means there are ways we can misuse the name of the Lord, something God expressly forbids in the third of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:7). 

We misuse the name of the Lord when we… 

    • …use His name as a throwaway phrase or as a curse word  
    • …make light of His majesty
    • …allow Jesus to be one of many options to salvation (see Acts 4:12) 
    • …use His name to make us look or sound religious (see Matthew 7:21-23) 
    • …perform parlor tricks (see Acts 19:13-16)

There is a holy balance—Jesus is both King of kings and a Friend of sinners. God paid an incredibly high price so that we could be reconciled to Him, but not so that you could treat Him ignorantly or carelessly. This calls for some serious searching by the Holy Spirit! Perhaps you could pray a prayer that David penned: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

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