For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 (NIV)
This familiar marriage scripture has double purpose: first to define marriage, then to describe God’s love for us, the bride of Christ.
The marriage piece begins in the Biblical creation story when God creates the woman by removing a rib from Adam’s side. Adam declares her bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Gen 2:23). God establishes this model:
When two people marry they prioritize their relationship over other family bonds.
They become one flesh as if they were made of one flesh like Adam and Eve.
In this personally intimate, intensely connected relationship the couple shares the joy of exclusive love. Our imperfect marriages pale in comparison with God’s perfection, but our experience of this deeply personal relationship helps us grasp the intensity of God’s personal love.
Using this scripture, the Apostle Paul (Eph 5:28-32) says the marriage relationship describes Christ’s love for the church. Jesus loves us as a husband loves his wife. We, as individuals and as a church, are members of His body, like Adam and Eve are one flesh. Christ left the Father to live on earth with us. He describes himself as the bridegroom (Lk 5) and He will come again for His bride (Rev 19:7).
Our response to this personal relationship is to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind because He demands exclusive ‘marital’ devotion. Adultery in our marriage to Jesus equals idolatry.
Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Ex 34:14)
May [the Lord] give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests. Psalm 20:4-5 (NIV)
Are you making New Year’s resolutions?
It’s that time of year when we reflect on the past and look to the future. Turning the calendar to a new year presents a fresh start that inspires us to push reset and seize the opportunity for change.
How do you make New Year’s goals?
A Google search yields a variety of step-by-step instructions, one of which begins “just start”. We can dream big, make them attainable and measurable, or set goals we’ll enjoy. There’s another list for help keeping our resolutions which advises us to start small, involve friends and build in rewards.
The lists all miss a key component – prayer.
Whether we bring our intentions for the New Year to God or we allow God to inspire our goals, praying about them dailyincreases our chance for success. In our prayers, let’s:
ask God to direct our goals so they align with His will
[Jesus said] Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NIV)
I chuckle at this perfectly timed verse. Couldn’t we all use some rest after the Christmas festivities? But Jesus is offering much more than unscheduled time to sleep late or relax with a good book. His invitation continues:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (v29-30)
This isn’t a carefree life but life with a different perspective that comes by accepting Jesus’ yoke. So what is a yoke and what does farm equipment mean for us?
There’s no getting around it—a yoke is an instrument of submission. It binds a person or animal to another. An oppressive iron yoke causes pain, but the shape of a carved wooden yoke eases the workload to minimize discomfort.
In addition, when two oxen are bound together, one is older, seasoned, and well trained in the work routine. The second is young and inexperienced. By sharing the same yoke, the veteran leads the way and trains the younger. Gentle, humble Jesus invites us to yoke ourselves to Him.
But why yoke ourselves to anything? Can’t we live unbound? In truth, we are bound to something – a relationship, buying happiness, achieving success, or something else.
Jesus says come to me if you’re weary. Work alongside me. Learn from me. I am loving and good. My way of life gives rest for your soul. (tweet this)
Couldn’t we all use some rest? How does following Jesus give your soul rest?
Do you know someone who needs to hear these words? Would you share with them?
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:8-10 (NIV)
Who were the first to see baby Jesus?
Who would you tell first? It’s the most amazing event in your whole life, in the entire universe! Would you tell your spouse or best friend first or would you post it on social media? Would you celebrate with a random person nearby or the most important person in your life? With whom would you share the good news?
God chose the shepherds (after Mary and Joseph, of course). Only society’s bottom tier heard directly from God’s angel. Shepherds were the youngest or weakest of the family, the crippled, those incapable of other jobs. They lived in the field, perhaps in community with other shepherds. The field was their home which reminds me of those sleeping on the streets, those discarded by society.
Why did Godchoose these men of low statusas the first to see baby Jesus? Why were they his special, most honored ones? They certainly welcomed and spread the good news, but did the town’s people believe? Would we believe?
God hand-selected the shepherds to receive the angelic birth announcement. How does this affect our view of those at the low end of society? (tweet this)
But perhaps there’s a second reason God chose the shepherds. The lambs used for Temple sacrifices were born and raised outside of Bethlehem. Let’s connect the dots. These shepherds were the first to see nearly every lamb sacrificed in the Temple. How appropriate that they would be the first to see God’s sacrificial lamb!
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. Matthew 1:18-19 (NLT)
Ah, the sweet Christmas story.
Since we know it by heart, let’s take a different view. Let’s consider Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, a good man.
By merging several Bible translations we learn that Joseph was righteous, noble, just, and followed Jewish law. Indeed, he was a good man. Before Mary’s big announcement, Joseph dreamed of their happy life together in a cozy home with many children under foot. Joseph would succeed as a carpenter and support his family well.
Then Mary became pregnant and Joseph’s dream imploded.
Can you imagine? Joseph was probably angry and confused and grieving the loss of what could have been. This wasn’t supposed to happen to him! His solution was to erase the problem. Even though he loved Mary, surely he could find another wife and fulfill his dreams for a family – a normal life on the traditional path.
We know that in a dream that night, an angel told Joseph to marry Mary and name her son Jesus. The message was undeniably from God, so he obeyed. Joseph, the righteous and noble Jew, watched his dream die as he accepted the shame and disgrace of Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. He sacrificed his reputation along with Mary. Can you imagine the village rumors?
Joseph sacrificed his dream and trusted God’s difficult plan.
Has your life gone according to plan? If not, can you let go of the dream and trust that God has a better plan?
Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Luke 1:39-45
Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, is barren and beyond childbearing age. In fulfillment of the angel Gabriel’s pronouncement, Elizabeth is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. She must be ecstatic! Certainly her husband Zechariah communicated the role their son will play in preparing the way for the Messiah. God is doing a great work.
As soon as Mary learns of her pregnancy, she travels 8 days to visit her cousin. Elizabeth doesn’t yet know that Mary is pregnant so it would be natural for her to greet Mary with her own excitement. But Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, recognizes the mother of the Lord, and puts all the attention on Mary. Her joy is completely for Mary and Mary’s baby. What an intimate moment between two women and two boys! I imagine hugs, dancing, tears, laughter, and praise. Yes, lots of praise.
Elizabeth’s response is remarkable. She humbly passes the spotlight to Mary even though God is doing a great work in her as well. She validates the identity of Mary’s baby which certainly reassures Mary. Finally, Elizabeth encourages the “work” Mary is doing for God.
Excitement. Joy. Affirmation. Encouragement. May our response be the same when we see what God is doing in other people’s lives.
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” Matt 3:1-3 (NIV)
The Christmas story begins with John the Baptist.
The traditional version starts when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, then to Joseph, but the real story begins earlier. Six months before Gabriel visits Mary, he tells the priest Zechariah that his old, barren wife will bear a son named John. The child is more than an answer to prayer. Gabriel says John will bring the people back to God and make them ready for Jesus (Luke 1:11-17).
In the ancient world, a king sent messengers ahead to announce, “The king is coming! The king is coming!” This gave people time to prepare gifts, spruce up the city, set the banquet table, and get ready for royalty. Preparations often involved making a processional highway for the king’s arrival, smoothing rough places, and removing obstacles.
The King is coming! The King is coming! Prepare the way for Jesus. (tweet this)
John the Baptist is the messenger reminding us to prepare for Christ the King.
– Let’s create a buzz about the coming King instead of Santa.
– Let’s show kindness to others as gifts to Jesus.
– Let’s display God’s kingdom by sharing with those less fortunate and advocating for justice.
– Let’s listen as John says “Repent, the kingdom is near” by straightening out our priorities and the intentions of our hearts.
We’re not preparing for an infant. We’re preparing for the second coming of Jesus. Are we ready? (tweet this)
Let’s inspire each other: How will you prepare for the coming King?
And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the Truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7 (NLT)
I never noticed it before. Continue. Do you see it?
Accepting Jesus is not a single event. Faith requires following—continuous following. To continue, we simultaneously grow roots and build lives. This continuing develops strong faith and results in overflowing thankfulness.
A healthy tree has a root system that provides stability, gathers water and nutrients, and stores food. We can’t see its roots but we know from a tree’s appearance if the roots are strong. So it is with our life in Christ.
Growing roots in Him and building a life on Him are equally important. His Truth is the nutrition our roots gather, process, store, and distribute as needed. These roots stabilize our lives. With this Truth-packed sustenance we build healthy, flourishing lives on Him.
From a practical viewpoint, this looks like Bible reading, prayer, and application. Jesus said anyone who hears His words and puts them into practice is wisely building on firm ground (Mt 7:24).
Then… Then you will grow strong faith and you will overflow with thankfulness.
Faith grows strong through continual growth and practice. (tweet this)
We must continue to follow because when we apply Jesus’ teachings, we experience positive outcomes—restored relationships, compassion for all God’s children, freedom from anxiety and shame, and joy in being fully human.
Thankfulness overflows as we experience God’s Truth in action. (tweet this)
Let’s give thanks in the comments:
When have you seen God’s Truth in action?
As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands. Your laws are always right; help me to understand them so I may live. Psalm 119:143-144 (NLT)
Frustration escaped my lips and landed a blow. My ill-timed words bruised her heart and her face couldn’t hide the sting.
Oh, how our true character bursts forth under pressure! Our involuntary stress response exposes our inner being.
So how is restraint (and even joy) possible when pressure bears down? Are the psalmist’s words irrelevant for our 21st century lives? Can God’s commands speak to the kind of stress we face? I believe so, but it’s a multi-step process.
We may not always understand the reasoning behind God’s commands, but we can trust that God knows more than we do. Knowing God’s Word gives us a firm stance for decision making. The better choice becomes clear even when we’re pressed on all sides.
Practicing God’s wisdom leads to behaving like Christ. (tweet this)
As we consciously apply His wisdom, we learn that His commands yield positive results. Over time our behavior changes. We stop thinking about God’s commands and begin embodying them as part of our character – a character that bursts forth under pressure. God is transforming our hearts.
Progressively, we find joy because our words encourage more than they sting. Our stresses don’t cause us to strike out blindly. We bruise each other less often. We learn to forgive and apologize. We find joy by relying on wisdom greater than our own.
What pressures are you facing?
Which of God’s commands do you rely on most?
How is God transforming your heart to be more Christ-like?
Open our eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions. Your Word is a lamp to guide our feet and a light to guide our path. Psalm 119:18,105
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. 2 Corinthians 13:14 (NLT)
It’s an odd blessing. Why would the Apostle Paul separate the three parts of the Trinity and offer grace from Jesus, love from God and fellowship from the Holy Spirit? They must have unique elements to offer.
May the grace of Jesus be with you.
Grace is God’s undeserved favor toward man, but Paul prays the grace of Jesus over the Corinthians. I can only guess that this specific grace flows from the cross. Jesus sacrificed His life on our behalf, even though we did nothing to deserve any man’s life. And Jesus gave His own life. He never sinned, but was beaten and killed to erase our sin. That’s remarkable grace.
May God’s love be with you.
God always acts out of love. This beautiful and intricate world is His generous gift. With patience and persistence He seeks a relationship with us and loves us despite our flaws. Out of this love, He sent His Son to die—a distinctive expression of love.
May the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.
To be loved so deeply that we’re worth dying for is beyond comprehension, but we are also blessed with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Fellowship isn’t a modern word; It means partnership or doing life together. The Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit with us, always walking alongside. Our partner guides, comforts, and encourages. We are never alone. It’s a unique partnership.
Remarkable, distinct, unique, and incomprehensible doesn’t begin to capture the enormity of this blessing.
Do you know you’re worth dying for?
Do you know God’s abundant love?
Do you feel the Spirit’s presence doing life with you? (tweet this)