Tag Archives: Christmas

The Divine Gift Exchange

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. Romans 5:18 (KJV)

The tradition of exchanging gifts did not originate with man.  It was God who first gave the very best of Himself in exchange for man’s sinful soul.  Upon acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior, the new believer is gifted with a new heart and a new mind to follow God (Ezek. 36:26); he becomes part of the Body of Christ (The Church) with spiritual gifts for evangelizing, equipping, and edifying others.  The Apostle James states that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above who never changes (James 1:17).   God’s divine gift exchange exceeds anything that man can ever imagine.

In our study text, the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Rome of the perfect and free gift they have received in Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:15-18).  As a result of the first Adam’s sin, man was condemned and separated from God.  In contrast, with the arrival of the second Adam (Jesus Christ), God offered to mankind the free gift of grace—the gift that would last throughout eternity.   What is the unique nature of that gift exchange?

The “incarnate life”—deity for humanity.  The arrival of Christ into history represented a holy God putting on flesh and dwelling with us (Matt. 1:23).  It was necessary that a lamb be provided for the atonement of sin (Lev. 4:32-35).  So God prepared for Himself a human body that would later become the “perfect lamb” for the sins of man (Heb. 9:13-14).  Jesus’ incarnation would mean that “whomsoever would call upon the name of the Lord would be saved” (Acts 2:21).

The “exchanged life”—righteousness for sin.  The Christ child was more than a sweet babe in swaddling clothing.  He was the long awaited “Consolation of Israel” and “redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25, 38).  Just as the prophets had foretold, Jesus provided the bridge whereby man could be reconciled to God (Mat. 1:21; Titus 3:4-7).  Being justified by faith in God, redeemed man would receive Christ’s imputed righteousness as if it were his own and thereby become acceptable to God (Rom. 5:1).

The “empowered life”—strength for weakness.  The arrival of the Holy Spirit after the ascension of Christ  would provide the power needed to accomplish the work that Christ had commissioned for not only His Disciples in the 1st century but also for the disciples in the 21st century (Matt. 28:19-20).  Prayer is the connection by which faith is energized.  There is an old Christian axiom that says, “Little prayer, little power; Much prayer, much power.”  Prayer and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit provide the strength needed to meet the challenges of living and ministering in this fallen world.

The “resurrected life”—life for death.  Eternal life with God.  This is the greatest of God’s gifts.  Death’s sting has been removed; the fear of death is no more.  Through spiritual regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17) and continuous renewal by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:2), Jesus pours out His life abundantly on us.  We now stand as heirs of God patiently wait for the redemption of our human souls for eternal life (Ep. 1:14).  “As we have born the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly; putting on the incorruption for corruption and immortality for this mortal” (1 Cor. 15: 49, 53).

We often misdirect our attention on Christmas shopping, holiday events and special parties.  While there is nothing wrong with these activities, we may often fail to acknowledge the Divine Gift and the Divine Gift Giver.  God has given us The Perfect Gift (Jesus Christ) through the ultimate gift exchange.  God has given us The Gift that will keep giving for all times and through eternity. “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people,  And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of His servant David.” Luke 1:68-69

Participate in the greatest gift exchange in your life by giving Jesus Christ YOUR LIFE.  St. Augustine said it this way, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”  If you have not given your life to Him, do it today.

After Christmas

“He is Our Peace.” Ephesians 2:14 (KJV)

For many, Christmas is the most favorite time of the year.  With Christmas comes the hope of “peace on earth, good will toward men.”  We exchange cards that reflect our feelings about this special time of the year. Some send cards that speak of the love, joy, and peace of Christmas; others choose cards that extend season’s greetings and happy holidays.  With the winding down of Christmas season 2017, I’d like to ask this question?  After Christmas, when the tree and trimmings come down, when the gift giving ceases, and the caroling ends, what will you do with Christmas?

What happens to the …

  • Unmerited forgiveness and grace extended to irritable neighbors and estranged relationships?
  • Abundant care and concern seen in special collections, gifts and other acts of human philanthropy?
  • Indiscriminate displays of kindness and brotherly love for others?

Why can’t we keep the spirit of Christmas throughout the year?

First, we must examine “what spirit” we are talking about.  Sadly, the spirit of Christmas, we experience, is tied to commercialism, materialism, and greed.  It is the result of the “lusts of the eye” (1 John 2:16).  However, we who are “in Christ” have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts (Gal 5:24).  We are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) extending love and grace throughout the year.

Second, we need to understand the “source” of the spirit of Christmas.  For the spirit of Christmas to be lasting, it must be connected to the reason for Christmas—Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life (John 3:16).  Christ came that our joy might be full (John 15:11).  It is Jesus Christ who is our peace (Eph. 2:14).

Finally, we need to examine the “true gifts” of Christmas.  As a result of Christ’s birth, we have eternal life.  Eternal life is not only a “time indication” it defines the “quality of

life” for the Christian believer.  Eternal life includes His “love”, from which we can never be separated (Rom. 8: 35-39), His unspeakable “joy” (1 Peter 1:8), and His “peace,” that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7).  And if that isn’t enough, He has given us His presence through the Holy Spirit (John 16:5-15) while He advocates for us before God the Father (1 John 2:1).

The spirit of Christmas is not found in cards, or trees or gifts but in The Gift, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ, The Gift that keeps on giving after Christmas—even throughout eternity.

SELAH:   Now that Christmas 2017 is past, how will you extend the spirit of Christ into 2018?

The Great Access: Practicing the Presence of God

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 139:7 (NKJ)

“For through Him (Jesus) we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:18

With the explosion of social media, one of the greatest assistances has been the development of technology that facilitates networking and contact with people who, under normal circumstances, would be inaccessible.   Facebook and LinkedIn, for example, have made it possible for individuals to make connections with people anywhere in the world who might assist individuals with their personal and business aspirations.  These are the benefits of the technology age.  However, one of the most phenomenal opportunities is not the result of the technology age we live in but the “grace age” Jesus provided believers via “supernatural entrée” to the Creator of the Universe.  This access can be realized through practicing the presence of God.

God is “everywhere present” (Ps. 139ff) and we live our life daily “in His presence.”  Although sin once separated us from God, our position in Christ (Rom. 5:1-2) re-established our direct access to Him. This access does not require that we travel to the temple in Jerusalem as was once the tradition of the Jews prior to Christ’s first advent (Deut. 16:16) nor can entrée to God only be found in the modern church sanctuary.  We live continually in the presence of God with potential for ongoing fellowship with Him anywhere and anytime.

Fellowshipping reminds us that God is “relational” (versus religion) and desires time with His children—those whom He loves and sent His Son to die for (John 3:16).   These are the blessings of those in Christ, which even the angels in heaven covet (1 Pet. 1:11-12).  Believers have the extraordinary opportunity to spend time with God not “doing”—presenting petitions or offering prayers of intersession but simply “being” with Him.   Practicing the presence of God is the intentional discipline whereby we pause during the busyness of our life and abide with God.

What exactly is meant by the phrase, “practicing the presence of God”?  In pursuit of an answer to that question, I found the best definitions from two renowned practitioners of this spiritual habit.  Following are their responses for your consideration.

“…to acknowledge the Presence of God who is really there is actually a form of prayer, a way of praying always as the Scriptures exhort us to do.  When we do this, the eyes and ears of our hearts are open to receive the word He is always speaking.  We enter into a path of obedience perhaps unknown to us before where we joyfully acknowledge, ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Leanne Payne, The Healing Presence

“…continual conversation with Him, with freedom and in simplicity.  That we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him every moment, that we may beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have done.”

Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God

Practicing the presence of God is built on several foundational truths about God and His relationship with believers.

  • God lives within us. “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” 1 Cor. 3:16.  Before returning to His Father, Jesus promised to send “another Comforter” that would abide with them forever (John 14:16).  That Comforter was the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  He guides believers in all truth—truth that He hears from the Father (John 16:13).
  • God desires to communicate with us.  “Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.” Genesis 35:13.  God is not some distant deity disinterested in His children’s daily affairs.  We cry “Abba Father” (Gal. 4:6) knowing He hears our every word; in response we are to listen intently as He directs us:  “this is the way walk in it” (Isa. 30:21).  Communication between the Father and His children result in unity of thought and agreement in purpose.
  • God wishes to be in relationship with us. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8a.  It has always been God’s desire to be in unbroken fellowship with man.  By instituting His plan of salvation, He created the means by which that which was lost in the Garden of Eden could be restored.  Now reconciled to God (Col. 1:20-21), man is once again free to fellowship with his Creator.

Jesus Christ was the greatest practitioner of living in the presence of God.  Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus synchronized His every move based on what He heard from His Father (John 5:30).  Living in continual communion with God, Jesus modeled the power of practicing the presence.

With these definitions and truths in hand, the spiritual reality of practicing the presence of God releases His fullness into the believer’s life.  There is peace, joy and love in abundance.   In unhindered communion with God, believers are able to live life more victoriously.

As Advent 2016 closes and 2017 begins be intentional in practicing the presence of God.  Live moment to moment in awareness and acknowledgement of God’s presence.  Awareness of God’s presence means that in our heart, we proclaim Christ is Lord.  In Him “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).   Acknowledgement of God’s presence means that we live our life attentively listening to His voice.  We live in unbroken communication with Him—“He in us and we in Him” (John 17:23).

Good to the Last Byte…

Want to learn more about practicing the presence of God?  Kevin Martinez of Christian Living and More offers six (6) ways to practice the presence of God throughout your day.  Click here to begin.

Preparing the Way

How will you celebrate Advent 2016?  What will you intentionally do differently to usher in the most phenomenal event to enter into the history of mankind—the incarnation of God?   Advent should be more than participating in special Bible studies or in the lighting of Advent candles.  I’m afraid to say that I was guilty of both.  While thinking I was really doing something “spiritual” to usher in the true meaning of Christmas, I had allowed this sacred season to become “ritualistic routine”.  Advent, celebration of Christ’s explosion into human history, should be a time of excitement and spiritual awakening.  Just as Simeon and Anna faithfully awaited the long prophesized Messiah (Luke 2:34-38), we too should be faithful and watchful as we hopefully prepare the way for the arrival of our Lord and Savior during this season of advent.

In our text, the first word for “prepare” (kataskeuazo) is a Greek word that means to construct or create as well as to furnish or equip. It often has the sense of making a building, vessel, or object ready for use in the preparation of household goods, containers, and other kinds of commonplace items.  Mark uses the second Greek word for “prepare” (hetoimazo) which means to make the necessary preparations for an event that will happen later.   Throughout the Gospels, it describes the imminence of a great wedding or banquet feast, or even what will happen at the second coming of Jesus (Matthew 22:4,25;34,41).  Matthew, Mark, and Luke commonly used that word to describe Jesus’ and the Disciples’ preparations for the Passover and the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16 Luke 22:7-13).  So Mark by using the two difference aspects of the word “prepare”, calls his audience to:   1) make themselves ready vessels or homes to receive Jesus and 2) participate in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.[1]

Living between Jesus’ First and Second Advent is a place of tension for believers.  Although we know that Jesus’ first advent has occurred, how can we “prepare the way” to celebrate Advent with renewed focus and excitement? For this year and beyond, even until Christ’s second return?

Joyful Anticipation.  Anticipation is the act of looking forward or visualization of a future state.  We need to rekindle this emotion that generates joy and pleasure as we remember what Christ’s presence has meant to us in the past as well as allow our imagination to create new scenarios of possibilities as we think about “what is to come”.  Sadly, we have diminished those moments of richness and fullness that only come with anticipation.  What will Christ’s presence in your life mean in the upcoming year?

Attentive Waiting.  This is not mankind’s strongest attribute as attested by our impatience with people, places and things.  Frustration and tempers must be guarded as people wait in grocery lines.  We feel we are exempt from waiting too long for anything.  We even complain that time moves too slowly.  Our busyness and overscheduled calendars have pushed us into believing that waiting is an indication of either a problem with “the system” or flaw in others.  Our obsession with self and the need for instant gratification has stolen from people the virtue of being “long-suffering and forbearing” with one another (Col. 3:12-13).  We have become blinded to the fact that some things are worth waiting for—Jesus is worth waiting for.

Faithful Preparation.  How do we faithfully prepare for Christ’s return?  First, we must make ourselves “ready vessels” to receive the presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit.  This requires period of solitude in which we can be alone with God, meditating on His Word, and praying with “listening ears”.  These periods of preparation may result in confession of sins or exposure of behaviors and thought patterns that are hindering our spiritual growth.  Secondly, we must make ourselves “living sacrifices” to God—in humble submission to what is His “good, acceptable, and perfect” will for our life, including service to others.  Finally, we must faithfully prepare by aligning our thinking with “things above” (Col. 3:2).  It is our future hope of glory that will motivate us to be conformed to the image of Christ.  We should remember to focus on things of eternal value versus those things that are “temporary and fading” away (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

Advent, the coming of Jesus Christ, brings something the world alone can never provide—unconditional love to those who trust in Jesus as their Savior, unwavering faith that trusts in the sufficiency of God to meet every human need, and unquenchable hope that guarantees an inheritance in eternity future.  Love, faith, and hope—these are key benefits that come with the advent of Christ.  Joy and peace then follow as we abide faithfully in His presence.  All this and more is ours as we prepare the way for Christ.

Prayer of Advent

Eternal God, we are seeking signs of your presence in our lives. Open our eyes, open our ears, open our hearts to receive some word of hope as we anticipate the coming of the One whom you are sending.

[1]  Awaiting the Already, Magrey R. deVega