Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem

Micah 5:2,5b is the prophesy regarding the place of Christ’s birth, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting…and this One shall be peace.”

How truly amazing is the birth of Jesus in so many respects.  Micah prophesied long ago of the exact town in which Jesus would be born.  Jesus doesn’t come as we would think in grandeur and born in a major city…He comes in insignificance and littleness.   It’s so fitting for God to do this…no human can claim any glory, so that God receives all the glory.  Jesus was placed in an animal trough, so that no craftsman would say “He chose my well-crafted bed.”

Though God chose that Jesus be born in the insignificant and not very populated town of Bethlehem; He chose a town where princes of Judah had been born…King David.  This is where Bethlehem would receive it’s honor, not in the multitude of it’s people, but in the magnificence of the princes born there.

God chose that Jesus, the true manna from heaven, who was given for the life of the world (John 6:51) to be born in Bethlehem, which means the “house of bread”!   In Hebrew Beth-lehem is two words and means “house” (Beth as in Beth-el, “house of God”) and “bread” (lehem). The Hebrew Language is read from right to left, and so Bethlehem is written like this:

  bread           house

Jesus said we are to feed on Him, “by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” the living bread.  Yes, His words reaching deep into your heart and soul become your very life.  His Word is Life, Truth, and Freedom for all who will take, eat and believe. Jesus was born in the House of Bread.

Note also that God makes His announcement of Jesus’ birth not only to the Jews through the scriptures written so long ago, but also to the Gentiles in their day,  by the star.  The Gentiles know the time of His birth by the star and the Jews know the place of His birth by the scriptures.

So, what about Ephrathah?  Ephrathah, or Ephrath, is the ancient name for the town of Bethlehem, in Judah, in the southern part of the land of Israel.  It is referenced all the way back in Genesis 35.   The name “Bethlehem Ephrathah,” prophesied by Micah was used to distinguish it from another town named Bethlehem in the northern part of Israel. Ephrathah means, “fruitfulness” or “abundance.”  Jesus was born in the House of Fruitfulness.

Jesus, the true manna from heaven, came down from heaven.  His life which is given for the life of the world was born in the House of Bread.  The One who IS the embodiment of the fruits of the Spirit, provides and enables my fruitfulness to God was born in the House of Fruitfulness.

Only God could have planned and orchestrated this.

Glory to God in the Highest!

He Came for This Day!

cross of christ Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5

He bore our sorrows and infirmities (sins) and cast no blame on us.  Who can even imagine his mental anguish.  He was scourged (not under the more merciful Jewish law, which allowed no more than 40 lashes to be given to the worst of offenders) under the Roman law. His scourging was even more severe as Pilate intended it as equivalent to his crucifixion. Not a bone was broken, as ordered, however, there was hardly any part of his body, from the crown of his head, which was crowned with thorns to the soles of his feet, which were nailed to the cross, that was not covered with wounds and bruises.  Because of their hate for him, they thought that God did as well (that he was his enemy and actually was fighting against him); so, they became enraged against him, saying: “God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him.” Psalm 71:11 The cross, resurrection and exaltation portray both suffering and healing, rejection and triumph, humiliation and glory.

May this day of reflection on the sacrifice of the beautiful and innocent Lamb of God and the incomparable mercies and riches of God on those who formerly were His enemies fill your heart with awe and thankfulness.  “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” Romans 5:10

Thankful and amazed that He would come and die to save a wretch like me.

He Turned the Tables…Forever!

Jacquelyn Woolard:

As Easter approaches and Spring is in full bloom in the hill country, I am reminded of the Lord’s sacrifice to bring me to God. God’s gift is for anyone who will receive it. His love for us is undeniable. His sacrifice for me is personal.

Originally posted on To Live is Christ:

It’s Friday of Jesus’ final week.  Jesus is being crucified at Golgotha, The Place of the Skull.  Jesus was nailed to the cross at approximately nine in the morning.  It’s now three o’clock in the afternoon, it has been dark since noon, to fulfill the scripture in Amos 8:9  I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day ; and in Jeremiah 15:9, Her sun is gone down while it is yet day .  The darkness to signify that the Sun of righteousness was leaving this world and the Jewish nation would be in darkness; a sign from heaven that their eyes would be blinded.  At three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”   Matthew 27:46b.  The darkness further signifying the dark cloud of Jesus’…

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Is This Popular Saying Biblical?

You’ve heard it…I know you have. Some, not truly knowing, have thought it’s a verse in the Bible. But I promise you won’t find this phrase in the Bible because it doesn’t exist. What is that phrase?

God helps those who help themselves.

This phrase more recently has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who, by the way, was a Deist. A Deist is one who believes that while a supreme being did create the universe, that supreme being does not involve itself in human affairs. Therefore, miracles and special revelation (such as healing, the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, and the inspiration of the Scriptures) don’t actually happen. The phrase, however; actually originated in ancient Greece as the moral to one of Aesop’s Fables, Hercules and the Waggoner.

Maybe, like me, you at one time believed or still believe this phrase. I mean, it sounds good on the outset…doesn’t it? It also seems to attest to our western culture work ethic. You know…”pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

This phrase, however, is as far removed from the heart of God as is the enemy of our soul. It actually smacks in the face of God and says to Him “I don’t need You, I want to do it myself” and “I’ve got this, I don’t need your assistance God.” If anything, these statements confess a heart that is full of self-dependence and self-reliance.

This is exactly what our first parents were thinking when they sinned in the Garden of Eden. They, in essence, said to God, “The snake (enemy of our soul) told me and I believed him, that you were holding out on me. That I actually should have received and deserve more than you gave me. That I should be just like you, God, having the same knowledge of good and evil and in control of my own life.   So, because I want to be independent of you and be my own god; I disobeyed you and bit into the fruit.” That, beloved, is the heart of fallen man that Jesus came to redeem. A desire deep down inside to be independent…to be the god of our own life…to shake our fist at God and tell Him “I don’t need you, I can do it myself.” It is the BIG lie. In reality, we are so dependent on God that we can’t even take a breath without Him. He supplies the very air we breathe. God created us to live wholly for Him…that is His plan.

Beloved, God works through our choices and the exercise of our will. He doesn’t push Himself on us, however, he does pursue us. It is the nature of our faith walk to ask in prayer. As a child, dependent on the love and trust of his or her parents, asks. God is eager…eager to give us what we need when we ask. Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11)

Why does God require that we ask Him? Because asking reveals evidence of our faith and dependence on Him; entrusting Him to provide for our every need. “And without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6) Faith is pleasing to Him and the action of faith is on-going day-in and day-out trust in Him. It creates a bond of oneness which the Father desires. This oneness which was first exhibited between the Son and the Father is expressed in Jesus’ prayer in John, in which Jesus prays for His disciples and those who would come to know Him through them. Jesus prays for this same oneness with those the Father gives to Him. “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:11b, 21, 22-23)

Jesus was so dependent on the Father that every word He said was coming directly from the heart of the Father. Jesus said “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (John 6:26b) Jesus also said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 15:9)

What are some ways we exhibit our independence from God? One way is when we attempt to prove God’s priorities. We say to ourselves, “God is too busy. Why should I bother him with my little daily nuisances when he’s busy helping people with big problems and those who are very ill? Surely, He expects me to deal with these things on my own.” We may also think, “I have gotten so far away from God, what’s the point? With all the sin in my life, why would God listen to me?” Here’s the misconception in that thinking. You have minimized your own pain to your own peril. You miss a perfect opportunity to humbly come to Him and say “Please help me, have mercy!” It can also develop into the beginning of a habit of creating your own world apart from God…independently and defiantly going your own way.

God won’t help those who help themselves because those who do are too busy doing to receive His power and His help. Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) However, so often we continue to prod along on our own and then wonder why we don’t experience His power in our life.

How is His power perfected in us? His power is made perfect in our weakness. The Apostle Paul was given a taste of heaven and to keep him from becoming conceited regarding this revelation from God, a thorn in the flesh (we are not told what it was) was given to him. He asked that it be taken away, but Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (Paul continues) Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10) Paul delighted in difficulties and other hardships, so that he would remain weak and therefore, Christ’s power would be strong in him.

Beloved, the truth is God doesn’t help those who help themselves; God helps the helpless and His power is perfected in our weakness.

Boasting in Weaknesses

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ‘s power may rest on me. 2 Cor. 12:9

Paul boasts in weaknesses (not sinful weaknesses) but in limitations, illnesses, distresses, or circumstantial adversities. Why does Paul boast in these afflictions? Paul knew that it is not human achievements that showcase the grace of God…it is human helplessness. This is the Christian paradox. When we are weak in ourselves, we then reach out to Christ and are provided His strength and divine grace. God has given us our weaknesses for our joy. What do I mean? Because the more aware I am of God’s grace, the more humble, prayerful, thankful, patient, gracious, content, and joyful I will be. That’s exactly where I desire to be.

Weaknesses are there to display most clearly the grace and strength of God.

The King Invites You to Feast

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived. 2 Kings 25:27-30

Jerusalem has been ravaged by the Chaldean’s and is in captivity.  The glory has departed from the royal city, for the King of Judah is taken prisoner and the principal officers have been put to death.  All hope appears lost for the “thrones of the house of David,” Salomon’s temple was burnt to the ground, and the sacred vessels are carried away to Babylon.

After thirty-seven years while the King is imprisoned, a glimmer of light appears. Hope is restored to the captive people. The King of Jerusalem is invited by the King to dine daily at his table.  He is also given minimum security prison conditions. 

In the midst of a storm or tribulation…Jesus speaks tenderly to us through His Word, gives us new clothes…robes of righteousness, and positions us at a seat of honor at His table. He invites us to come and eat with Him and feast at His table of abundance.  He provides life…abundant life!  Jesus brings release from bondage and bestows instead foretastes of the infinite pleasures at His right hand. Are you troubled?  Are you weary?  The temptation can be to seek TV, a hobby, work, or anything else that can provide a distraction or what we think can soothe us.  Seek Him!   Seek the source of life…Christ.  He is our bread.  He is our fountain of life.

“They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.” Psalm 36:8

“My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”  Psalm 63:5

Does X-MAS Take Christ Out of Christmas?

We see the X as we would see it in the English language, such as in an equation representing an unknown quantity or as in x-rated, representing an obscene movie rating.

On the surface, it may appear that Christ is being taken out of Christmas, but is this what is really going on?

Symbols from the early church

The early Christians used the symbol of a fish when persecution was great by the Romans.  This symbol was an acronym for the Greek word for fish, ichthus.   Early Christians wrote this symbol on the ground when they met someone they didn’t know to discover if the person was Christian.  Now the ichthus is the universal symbol for Christendom.

When we see the X we think of the English letter, but in actuality it is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Christos.  Which is transliterated into our English alphabet as X. So, the X has come through the history of the church to be a shorthand symbol for the name of Christ.

The intention of the X

There is a long history of Christians using the symbol X for Christ.  Just as the early Christians used the fish symbol to distinguish other Christians, so there is no disrespect intended in using the X in Xmas.  X = Christos (Greek word for Christ)

Made for Him

We were made for Jesus and our hearts are forsaken until they find their love in Him.

We were made for Jesus and our hearts are downcast until they find their joy in Him.

We were made for Jesus and our hearts are warring until they find their peace in Him.

We were made for Jesus and our hearts are anxious until they find their patience in Him.

We were made for Jesus and our hearts are hard until they find their kindness in Him.

We were made for Jesus and our hearts are selfish until they find their goodness in Him.

We were made for Jesus and our hearts are inconstant until they find their faithfulness in Him.

We were made for Jesus and our hearts are harsh until they find their gentleness in Him.

We were made for Jesus and our hearts are indulgent until they find their temperance in Him.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” NLT Ephesians 2:10

God sees us in our pitiful state…”O LORD, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.” Psalm 144:3-4

God’s love for us compels Him to act…”God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God.”  2 Corinthians 5:21

Our response to God…”I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.” Psalm 86:12

His Glory Aside…Our Flesh Denied

Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:6-7

I go back to these verses frequently and ponder the wonder of them. To think that God himself would take on the nature of a servant and be made in human likeness in order to reconcile ME to the Father…well, it’s just overwhelming.  How about you, does it fill you with awe?  I pray that the reality of what Jesus gave up and gave you overwhelms you.

In Philippians 2:7, it states, “made himself nothing.” That portion of scripture means, He laid aside His glory.  This is key to grasping the reality of the incarnation.  John 1:14 says, “And the Word (Logos) became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Jesus was not two separate personalities, he was one person possessing two natures…divine and human.  He did not empty himself of His deity.  In His incarnation, Jesus did not at any time, for any reason, to any degree or for any season lay aside His deity.  Colossians 2:9 states, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”  This scripture confirms and attests that Christ was complete in His deity in his human body.

John 17:5, Jesus prayed to His Father, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”  Jesus lived in glory with the Father and He laid it aside to take on the nature of a man.  His glory is in perfect union with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  His glory is witnessed in having legions upon legions of angels praising, worshiping and attending Him at all times.

Understanding Jesus as the God-man is something that we cannot fully comprehend.  We won’t be able, in this life, to understand how it transpired, but it is important; however, to grasp the fundamentals of this reality.  Jesus was fully God and fully man in His human body.  There were infrequent times when the Holy Spirit directed Jesus to access the superhuman capacities which are a part of His divine attributes.  Other than those infrequent occurrences, Jesus lived out His life under real limitations fundamental to unfallen humanity.  During the period between His physical birth and His ascension to the Father, Jesus voluntarily surrendered the independent exercise of His divine attributes.

Sometimes I believe I am so slow to learn.  I have within the last couple of years come into a experiential learning of what it is to die to self in my flesh to a deeper level than I’ve ever experienced.  In exchange, I experienced a test of waiting on God and experiencing His glorious will and purpose coming to pass.   It was not easy, but necessary and an enriching experience for me if I was to further my walk with the Lord.  In the midst, I spent days and days that turned into months and months on my knees in prayer.

Of course, at first, my flesh fought me.  In fact, the battle really began when I set my face like a flint.  Then in one particular situation, fear gripped me because I had never trusted God to that particular level.  It took days of struggling, but the desire to be obedient to God finally held sway.  During those days of struggle, the thought came to me of praying and asking the Lord to give me a joy in the expectancy of waiting through the Holy Spirit.  That is what the Bible means by “hoping in the Lord.” Hoping is associated with waiting on Him.  Hoping is expectantly waiting to see what God is going to do.  This is where, for me, Jeremiah 29:11 came to life, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  After those days of struggle, instead of the intensity of what I wanted, in my flesh, getting stronger…the intensity of my flesh began to weaken. The desire to wait on God became stronger.  The scripture verse that I clung to changed as well.  Instead of Jeremiah 29:11, I started quoting “And God works all things together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.  And the joy of waiting and watching for Him became glorious.  I prayed.  I watched.  I waited.

This is where the pedal meets the metal.  Isn’t this where the war is waged?  This is where it’s possible to win the battle or lose ground because we cease waiting on Him.  We give up and cease waiting on the Lord because the circumstances may start to look worse and we become fearful.  In fact, the circumstances may begin to look, in our thinking, catastrophic, but God is in the midst of those circumstances.  He is working in those circumstances.  Beloved, God requires, first and foremost, faith and trust, then and only then, does he open our eyes to see.  Faith always precedes sight.  So our circumstances can look dire and that’s why we can’t depend on what we see.  We must trust Him whom we don’t see.  If you will hold sway to Him and wait on Him, He will reveal to you His will and His beauty and your joy will be full.

Everything around us tells us to trust what our eyes see. The challenge of our faith walk intensifies because of the culture we live in.  A culture of instant gratification.  Instant access to knowledge. Instant access to just about anything we want.  But Paul admonishes us in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I’m so thankful that our God is not coerced by our desires, by our culture, or by anything outside of Himself.  So, we must fight against our inclination and our culture that tells us to trust what we see.  We must trust Him whom we can’t see.

He is the truth.  He is the life.  He is the way.  Trust Him.  Trust the Son of God who loved us enough to lay aside His glory and become a man so that we, as man, would become sons of God.

He Turned the Tables…Forever!

It’s Friday of Jesus’ final week.  Jesus is being crucified at Golgotha, The Place of the Skull.  Jesus was nailed to the cross at approximately nine in the morning.  It’s now three o’clock in the afternoon, it has been dark since noon, to fulfill the scripture in Amos 8:9  I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day; and in Jeremiah 15:9, Her sun is gone down while it is yet day.  The darkness to signify that the Sun of righteousness was leaving this world and the Jewish nation would be in darkness; a sign from heaven that their eyes would be blinded.  At three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Matthew 27:46b.  The darkness further signifying the dark cloud of Jesus’ soul as he himself was the offering for sin, the sacrificial lamb.  It also signified the withdrawing of the light of God’s countenance as Jesus took on the sins of the world.

After Jesus cried out and breathed his last breath, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The splitting of the curtain signifies the destruction of the nation and church of Israel and the entering in of the new and living way into the Holy of Holies by the blood of Christ.  No longer will the High Priest, from the Levitical priesthood, come into the Holy of Holies once a year to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people with blood that is not his own but with the blood of animals.  Christ is now our High Priest, in the order of Melchizedek, who’s own blood was shed as the only eternal, acceptable sacrifice and sprinkled on the Holy of Holies in heaven and therefore he is able to continually intercede for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. Hallelujah!

In the temple area in Jerusalem, the Court of the Gentiles is several acres on the outer most part of the temple area.  This is the designated area for gentiles from all nations to come worship and pray.  Just a few days before, Jesus had come into the temple area in Jerusalem and overturned the tables of the money changers.  These passages of scripture are given the most prominence in regard to the anger of Jesus to the greed and dishonesty of the money changers and people selling animals for sacrifice that filled the Court of the Gentiles.  Furthermore, any gentile who wanted to come into the Court of the Gentiles to pray had a difficult time doing so because they were crowded out by all the vendors selling animals and the money changers that were making exorbitant fees.  Jesus comes into the Court of the Gentiles and literally “turns the tables.”  The Jewish leadership had allowed the sanctity of God’s temple to be robbed.  Allowing the merchants and money changers into the temple area showed the Jewish leadership’s lack of dedication to God and the true purpose of the temple.  Further, it also showed Israel’s lack of respect for people of every nation to come worship and pray.  What Jesus did by turning the tables, in a sense, displays what was getting ready to happen in a few short days.  Similarly, in the book of Esther, God “turned the tables” for the Jewish people displaying the greatest turnaround on the grandest of scales.  Christ will, likewise, be turning the tables for all peoples from every tribe and nation.

So often, when Jesus spoke, He would speak of future realities in the present tense.  One example is when Jesus spoke of the signs of the end of the age.  In Matthew 24:15 “So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation, spoken of through the prophet Daniel”  Surely, the disciples must have marveled at what Jesus was saying and wondered when this event would happen in their life time.

As finite beings that think sequentially because of our restriction to time and space, we exist in past, present and future tenses.  However, this is not true for God.  God is eternal, transcendent and above time and space.  God is the eternal present tense.  He is the eternal present tense in our past, present and future.  So, when Jesus tells the disciples of these events,  He is speaking of our future reality in His eternal present tense.

In the present, Jesus shows his anger toward the money changers crowding in the Court of the Gentiles and preventing the gentiles from worship and prayer.  In the future, Jesus displays through this act that the former way of temple worship will be no more.  The promise of that future reality was signed and sealed when Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross and the curtain was torn in two from top to bottom.  The gentiles from the outer court of the temple area will, in a sense, be able to run right into the temple, past the The Holy Place and into the The Most Holy Place to the alter of God.  This is reason for praise and worship.

How am I to respond to this wondrous news?  Don’t stand around and dawdle in the Court of the Gentiles, run…don’t walk…run through the temple to the Holy of Holies to the alter of God.  Jesus has secured our future.  He was forsaken by the Father so that we wouldn’t be forsaken.

Have you been lukewarm in your relationship with the Lord?  Have you been half-hearted in your approach to the things of God?  Today is the day to turn it all around.  Jesus has already turned the tables for you.  All you have to do is turn to Him.

Further consideration:  If you would like information on what your next step should be in seeking God, please leave a comment or send a question on my comment page.