Still the Best Gift Ever

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6

Two Christmases ago I preached a message titled “The Best Gift Ever”, comparing the gift that we are all celebrating today (and really everyday) to the gift I didn’t exactly get when I was a little girl with big dreams and an even bigger imagination.  At some point in the future I may post the entire text of that sermon, but for now, bear with me on this mini trip down memory lane….

Long ago, my parents took me to Sears Roebuck in the Winwood Mall in my home town, to meet the man, the myth, the legend – Santa Claus.  We waited in that never-ending line until it was my turn to tell him, “Yes, I’ve been good” –at least I thought was.  And I left that store excited for what I just knew he was gonna bring me: a Malibu Barbie.

Malibu Barbie

Christmas Eve, my night-owl habit kicked in overdrive as I laid out the cookies, milk, and posted up on the couch to see if I could get a glimpse, just a small one of Santa.  I do remember wondering just how he was going to get in our house, because we didn’t have a fireplace; we had that good old, tall wall heater.  But hey, if Santa could squeeze down chimneys of all shapes and sizes, he could figure out a workaround for me.  And so, confident in this, I stayed up, watched “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” God knows how many times, and waited.  And waited.  I must have dozed off at some point because the next thing I knew, dawn had arrived, and Santa was MIA.  But hey, I was good all year and I knew he left Malibu Barbie under the tree just for me.

Y’all, I tore through the gifts as fast as I could to find her, and when I reached her box, savoring the moment of the great reveal, this next picture was what I got:

Not Malibu Barbie.  Good old Saint Nick left me a Superstar Barbie.

Superstar Barbie

Many questions went through my mind, while disappointment swirled in my little heart.  I was hurt, y’all.  I had believed in Santa to be and provide what I wanted, and it didn’t happen.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t throw little miss Superstar away—I wasn’t that crazy.  That doll and I went on many an adventure, as super-secret agents rappelling off armchairs –her—and doing flying scissor kicks off steps – me– to save the world.  And even when ‘she’ accidentally broke part of her neck, I put her back together with some duct tape and kept on truckin’.  Yeah, I was MacGyver before there was a MacGyver!

But after that year, the perspective on Christmas became something of a roller coaster: the anticipation and excitement ebbed and flowed, at times more of the former.  There were peaks and valleys, mind dizzying turns, and abrupt stops.  Sometimes I received what I wanted, sometimes I didn’t, and sometimes I received what I didn’t even ask for (or want).

Still, as a friend from back home used to say during Sunday School, “God is a smart fella.”  He knows and teaches His children that it’s not the gifts – the tangible, material—we want that matter.  It’s the one gift He gave that to this very day, matters the most, and nobody can top that.

And that, folks, is Jesus Christ who is still the best gift ever, even in a year like 2020.  But in case there is someone who’s struggling with what they see instead of what the prophet Isaiah said, let’s examine just three of an infinite number of facts:

FACT #1: He’s “Wonderful”.  Something that makes our Heavenly gift wonderful is that Jesus is everything and anyone we need, at any time, all the time.  Whereas that old Barbie had one purpose, which was to keep me occupied and essentially out of trouble, and because it was constrained by Mattel’s design and my imagination and attention, with Jesus there are no constraints whatsoever.  He’s not limited to a quota of meeting one need per person, per day.  He’s meeting and exceeding the needs of countless believers across the globe.  He’s encouraging and keeping all of our sisters and brothers by blood and by bond through a year-long season of turmoil and uncertainty. 

There is no ageing out with Jesus Christ as the best gift ever, either, meaning we don’t get too big or grown when it comes to Him, even though we sometimes act like it.  This means our problems, situations, or issues will never be too big for Him to resolve.  Therefore, we can trust Him with our everything and not be worried or fearful of disappointment.  We can trust 100% that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.   We can commune and communicate with the Lord through prayer about our situation, say “Amen” and mean it, and let the situation go.  I can certainly say that I am a living witness to this!

FACT #2: He’s our “Counselor”, and He’s our “Counselor”.  The official definitions of this word, according to Webster are:

  1. A person who gives advice or counseling
  2. One that gives advice in law and manages cases for clients in court

In the spirit of keeping things real, we all need some counseling.  We all need the Lord’s advice on a multitude of things because as “smarty art” as we may think we are or have been complimented, we don’t know everything.  And thank God that we don’t!

Now about spiritual counseling, Jesus gives some really good counsel, the kind that has outlived hundreds of generations:

  1. The counsel of the two greatest commandments – Love God, love your neighbor as yourself
  2. The counsel of ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened
  3. The counsel of not worrying about what tomorrow will bring
  4. And when we read His council/advice, and we put it in practice…life gets better.  Our perspective on it gets better.

For the other type of counseling (from the legal perspective), Jesus Christ is still the best gift ever because He’s never lost a case.  And every day, every poor, selfish decision we make, every lie we speak, every hurt we dish out– the Accuser, who goes by many names – Lucifer, Beelzebub, Satan, the Devil – builds a solid case against us where the wages of sin are death.  Spiritual fingerprints are all over the scene, and the case is open shut.

But for our defense, there is something which the Accuser just can’t beat.  This something that still works, that reaches to the highest mountain and flows to the lowest valley, that gives us strength from day to day…this something that covers a multitude of sins and that has never lost its power: it’s the blood of Jesus that washes away the spiritual evidence and makes us bright as snow.  And without the evidence, the Devil can’t beat it no matter how hard he tries (and he will keep trying, no doubt!).  Jesus reminds His foe what happened at Calvary and causes him to lose yet again.  “Case dismissed!”

FACT #3:  Jesus Christ, the best gift, is the Mighty God.  Going back to Webster again, this means “powerful”.  While exiled on the island of Patmos, John called Him the “Omnipotent God”, meaning “One who has unlimited power or authority.”  We already know that Jesus has power over life and death, sickness and health.  His 3 ½ year ministry attests to that.  Just look at the lepers, the lame, deaf, mute, physically deformed, demonically possessed, and the dead He restored.  Look at the 5000 men, and thousands more women and children that He fed with plenty left over.  Look at the storm that terrified His disciples, to which He spoke “Peace, be still!” and it did instantly.  Look at the sinners He forgave which the religious leaders wanted to condemn.  Look at the forces seen and unseen that tried their best to tear us down this year and keep us there, and how He provided paths to victory over them.

See how He reached into the bottom of our spirits where the last bit of light was flickering, and PULLED out the best of us, the potential He placed there from the beginning.  Only a might God can do this, just as only He can bring forth the spiritual gifts that the Devil wants us to forget and never use.  No one but a mighty God can nurture, develop, and grow the fruits of the Spirit that the Devil wants us to ignore and let die, despite the chaos that swirls around us every day.

Jesus Christ did all this and so much more: not any version of Barbie—Jesus.

Not anything from a tabletop Ms. Pac-Man to a PS5—Jesus.

He is still the best gift ever, one that never gets old, never disappoints, never breaks, and is always there for everyone.

Merry Christmas to you, fam.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your good and perfect gift found only in Your Son.  Thank You for loving us through all of life’s seasons.  Thank You, thank You, thank You!  Amen.

His Name

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:9-11

Question: Have you ever considered the power that is in the name of Jesus?  I’m not talking about the titles and honorifics we ascribe Him, though He is worthy of every single one of them.  No, I’m talking about His name, five letters which combined exudes a level of authority that nothing earthly, man-made can attain.  His name is infinitely greater than the title of president, prime minister, king, or queen.  His name commands a response out of all who hear it, both mortal and spiritual, and that response is the acknowledgement and confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.

It is at Jesus’ name that demons tremble and flee:

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;” – Mark 16:17

“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” – Luke 10:17

It is in His name that infirmities and disease are healed:

“By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong.  It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” – Acts 3:16

It is by His name that salvation and restoration to a right relationship with God is possible:

…for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:13

It is by His name that we can receive joy, love, and peace, to help live this life to its fullness.  It is when we call on His name that things change, both our circumstances and our perspective.

The name of Jesus is powerful.  It connects us to God and His power and authority, and that’s what the Enemy wants us to forget.

It’s important to remember and live this truth because as the days of our “new normal” go on, we must call on Jesus’ name to access that power which can transform anything.  Returning to what was familiar is not an option, especially if it was harmful to us in mind, body, and spirit.  Moving forward on our own knowledge and strength is not an option, either, for if life thus far has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know everything.  But the truth of Jesus’ name is the one thing we can count on so that we do more than survive: we thrive.

No matter how many times we must do so, we must call on the name of Jesus: not just for ourselves, but also our families, friends, churches, and the world.  At all times let us remember and lean on the power in His name to renew minds, cleanse hearts, and revitalize our spirits.  Let us draw from the authority in His name to speak life into dead situations, and protection for the defenseless.  Let us invoke the name of Jesus Christ for increase in strength, confidence, and faith.

When we do this, live the truth of the power and authority in His name without backing down, we get to experience another truth about Jesus Christ:

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” – John 14:13-14

When the Son of God says He will do it, best believe that He will.

Prayer: Lord, we thank You for the matchless name of Jesus Christ, which by itself is full of Your power and authority.  Help us not only to remember but also to live this truth every day without fear or uncertainty.  Regardless of what we see before us, we know that You see it all, and will hear and answer our call.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A Great Love

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17

For the past two weeks our church has been fasting, praying, and meditating on the book of John, going all the way to the last chapter on Easter Sunday.  Through technology we have shared and discussed some of the prevalent themes in this gospel, particularly the arrival of the Messiah and the personal relationship that God desires with His creation.  Today’s focus was on chapter 14, but since the devotional on chapter three my imagination has been painting the picture of the One who was both 100% human and 100% divine at the same time.  I’ve wondered, “What was Jesus feeling in these moments?  What was He thinking?” more times than I can count.  Why I’m wondering this now, I honestly cannot say.  What has become clear through this devotional is just how much God loved –and still loves—this world. 

John 3:16 is hitting me differently, causing tears to well up even as I write this.  For the Lord to develop His plan of salvation that would require the ultimate sacrifice so that many may be saved, that they would be passed over, is seriously blowing my mind.  Because let’s be honest, fam: we aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea.  If there is a nerve to get on, we have that uncanny ability to find and park on it.  If there is a foul attitude to catch, or cross words to sling at someone, or foul thoughts that would smell if they could, we can be about all that.  We can grieve the Holy Spirit with our “…bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:29). 

We human beings demonstrate far too easily how much we don’t deserve the grace, mercy, and love of an all-powerful God, our heavenly Father.

And yet despite all this, despite us, God loves us anywayHe loves us so much that He did what none of us would do, if we’re completely honest with ourselves.  He gave His Son so that everyone who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior, will have eternal life.  He gave His one and only Son so that the world could be saved from eternal damnation, so that we could be part of God’s family.  Of the countless ways to demonstrate His love the Lord’s plan involved this one-time supreme, ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sins of every single person through the whole of human history.  By believing in His Son, by accepting Him as THE way, THE truth, and THE life, the effects of our sins no longer separate us from God. 

That personal relationship that the Lord has always wanted with you, me, and everyone is real and active.

…And then this amazing sacrifice rose from the dead after three days, with all power in His hands.  Death, hell, and the grave were conquered by Jesus Christ.  The Accuser who’s working even now against us is being thwarted and overruled in the heavenly places, because the Son is there saying, “No, my blood covered that” with every charge he can lobby against us.  The blood of Jesus covers a multitude of faults.  The power in His blood protects us during this season of pandemic and global uncertainty and reminds us that there is nothing too hard for the Lord to handle.  That includes COVID-19.

This is why I tear up, why my heart feels so awed and humbled right now.  I know I have been loved and am loved now by family and friends.  But to experience a great love like this, to really process it and what it means…fam, there really aren’t any words to adequately describe it. 

I am so humbled.

I am so grateful.

All I can say is, “I love You, Lord.  Thank You so much for loving me, for seeing the best in me, for saving me, for blessing me.  Thank You for staying by my side, for healing me when I was sick, for comforting me when I was feeling broken.  Thank You for teaching me to be better, and for being patient with me when I wasn’t.  Thank You for the joy and hope that You bring to my life every moment.  Just…wow, thank You, thank You, thank You.”

Prayer of thanksgiving: Lord God, I just want to thank You and tell You how much Your love means to me.  I love You, Lord.  I truly, truly do.  Amen.