Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Merry Christmas friends!

Christmas Day is a great day for kids of all ages. This is the day that seems to take forever to get here and doesn’t last as long as we think it should. There will be times of reflection, food to be eaten, presents to unwrap, stories to share, prayers to be prayed, carols to be sung, and much, much more.

This year my kids have decided that they will show up in our room to make sure we’re awake at 7 AM. They’ll jump on our bed, with stockings in tow, and make their way through the fun little treasures within. Before we head downstairs for a special Jesus Birthday breakfast, unwrap some presents, and play, we’ll read the final chapter of Jotham’s Journey, by Arnold Ytreeide, the book we’ve been enjoying throughout the season of Advent. We can’t wait to see how it ends!

The funny thing to me about Christmas this year is that as much as it can seem like it’s the culmination of what we’ve all been waiting for, it’s really a lookout along the way where we pause, remember, and celebrate each year. The waiting and longing continue for the promise of God to be fulfilled in Messiah Jesus. As you wait, keep your hope alive as you walk in love, jump for joy, and pursue peace.

So at the lookout this year let’s celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Here’s a song to help you do that. Hit play, turn it up, and sing and dance with your family! If you’re looking to know more, click here to discover the story behind the song.


The Peaceable Kingdom

Today is the final day of the advent season, and that means tomorrow is Christmas Day. As we wrap up our journey through the themes of hope, love, joy, and peace I’d like to take one last look at what this peaceable kingdom might be like that Jesus Messiah, the Prince of Peace, will establish upon his return.

The book of Isaiah found in the Hebrew Scriptures is full of imagery. The first ten verses of chapter 11 invite us to imagine the peaceable kingdom, the worldwide government of peace that Jesus Messiah will usher in. In the NET Bible these verses have a caption that says, An Ideal King Establishes a Kingdom of Peace. I love that phrase! What a powerful statement about the purpose of the role of the king. To be honest, I don’t think you’ll see that statement on any job descriptions for kings in the kingdom of the world…just sayin’.

Below you’l not only find those ten verses to encourage you and give you hope, but below that is a painting by artist John August Swanson entitled The Peaceable Kingdom. As you read, I encourage you to allow yourself to be drawn into the painting to discover the peaceable kingdom for yourself.

One last thing, if you click on the link in the above paragraph regarding the painting, The Peaceable Kingdom, you’ll find yourself at a site specific to these verses in Isaiah. It’s a great read and gives you a chance to see more artwork specific to the imagery surrounding the peaceable kingdom.

“A shoot will grow out of Jesse’s root stock,
a bud will sprout from his roots.
The Lord’s spirit will rest on him—
a spirit that gives extraordinary wisdom,
a spirit that provides the ability to execute plans,
a spirit that produces absolute loyalty to the Lord.
He will take delight in obeying the Lord.
He will not judge by mere appearances,
or make decisions on the basis of hearsay.
He will treat the poor fairly,
and make right decisions for the downtrodden of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and order the wicked to be executed.
Justice will be like a belt around his waist,
integrity will be like a belt around his hips.
A wolf will reside with a lamb,
and a leopard will lie down with a young goat;
an ox and a young lion will graze together,
as a small child leads them along.
A cow and a bear will graze together,
their young will lie down together.
A lion, like an ox, will eat straw.
A baby will play
over the hole of a snake;
over the nest of a serpent
an infant will put his hand.
They will no longer injure or destroy
on my entire royal mountain.
For there will be universal submission to the Lord’s sovereignty,
just as the waters completely cover the sea.
10 At that time a root from Jesse will stand like a signal flag for the nations. Nations will look to him for guidance, and his residence will be majestic.” – Isaiah 11:1-10 (NET)


Prince of Peace

prince-of-peace-640x400I have to admit, I never gave the title Prince of Peace too much thought before this week. Sure, I’ve used that phrase many times in conversation with others, singing songs, or even in my times of prayer, but I really didn’t take the time to understand the significance of it until now. Because of this, I would like to make a few comments to help us gain a little bit of a handle on its importance for us today.

The term Prince of Peace is familiar to many of us because it is listed among other titles attributed to the Messiah found in Isaiah 9:6 & 7 n the Scriptures. This passage is typically highlighted at some point during the advent and Christmas seasons as a reminder to us of how God promised deliverance to His people, Israel. You may also recognize it because it’s been popularized in a small part of a most famous oratorio written by George Frideric Handel entitled The Messiah.

“For to us [Israel] a child is born, a son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulders. His title will be ‘Wonderful,’ ‘Counselor,’ ‘Divine Hero,’ ‘Father of the Coming Messianic Age’, ‘Prince of Peace.’ There will be no end to the increase of his government and peace. From the throne of David he will reign and order his Kingdom, establishing it with judgment and justice from that time onwards forever…The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will see that this is carried out.” – Isaiah 9:6-7

There is a lot that we could go into regarding these two verses. Quite frankly, it’s hard to find any more hopeful verses in all the Scriptures then what is communicated here. No matter how bad things got for Israel, God continued to remind them of their hope that is found in the promised Messiah and their future inheritance.

As I read this passage I get a sense that the overall theme that God is trying to communicate is that He has a dream for His people and the reality of that dream will be when He establishes His Messiah as king of the first and only successful world government, the kingdom of God. Wow! What a God-sized dream!

This government of peace will never end because its ruler will be “‘Wonderful,’ ‘Counselor,’ ‘Divine Hero,’ ‘Father of the Coming Messianic Age’, ‘Prince of Peace.’” As promised, I won’t go into the meaning and importance of each of these titles, with the exception of Prince of Peace. (But let me encourage you to dive in on your own to see what you can discover. I’m hopeful to do the same sometime soon.)

If you think about it, the majority of kings and rulers throughout the world would rather be known for being a conqueror than a peacemaker. But not God’s Messiah. He’s going to do things differently. He’s going to lead this world in a kingdom that will be marked by everlasting peace. We have a foretaste of this peaceable kingdom during the three or so ministry years of Jesus. He showed us how to pursue peace in our relationships with each other in the here and now. Consider how Jesus offered his peace to his disciples:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

Every time I read these words I find them refreshing, because I’m reminded just how upside down Jesus’ kingdom principles are from the ways of the world. The way that Jesus offers his peace is far different then the how the world offers it. The world typically attains peace through violence and destruction. The peace that Jesus offers is given through relationship. He offers himself to us. And that’s how we’re to operate with each other. Our pursuit of peace has everything to do with our willingness to share faith and life with each other. As we embrace peace with one another we will find ourselves experiencing joy like never before.

Allow me to share one more passage that is a great reflection of what we read earlier in Isaiah about the type of kingdom that the Messiah will rule. Jesus is speaking with his disciples about leadership and attempts to help them see that the way things work in the kingdom of God are different from that of the world.

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling down she asked him for a favor. 21 He said to her, “What do you want?” She replied, “Permit these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He told them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and at my left is not mine to give. Rather, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

24 Now when the other ten heard this, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 26 It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:20-28 (NET)

I love what Jesus says in verse 26, “It must not be this way among you!” He’s telling them that leading and interacting with people isn’t a top/down kind of thing, but rather bottom/up. This peaceful approach of serving others is a mark of the kingdom of God.

Tomorrow we’ll engage with Isaiah 11:6-10 in a unique way to help us understand how universal peace is a result of the Messiah’s successful global government.

Peace is Here!

I love listening to Christmas music, do you? From Thanksgiving Day until Christmas Day it’s pretty much the only music I listen to. That’s about 30 days or so out of 365. By the time Christmas Day arrives, I’m definitely ready to start listening to my other playlists.

The thing that’s fun for me about Christmas music these days is the variety there is to choose from. I’m a fan of instrumental albums, classics, like Bing Crosby, fun songs like Rudolph and Frosty (with the exception of I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas), and all the great Christmas carols I grew up singing in our church gatherings and throughout the nearby neighborhoods with family and friends.

The other great thing about Christmas songs today is the new albums that are released by our favorite artists. Whether you’re into country, big band, piano solos, or rock ‘n roll, there’s plenty of new music to choose from.

By far, one of my favorite Christmas albums of all time is the Jars of Clay Christmas Songs album released on October of 2007. The main reason why this album ranks among the best for me is because the sound is far different then what we’re used to when it comes to Christmas music. Typically, Christmas music is bright and cheerful and filled with lots of joyful sounds. Jars of Clay created a Christmas album that defies the norm. From start to finish I find myself drawn in to deep, dark sounds that create an atmosphere of mystery and contemplation. Most people that I share this album with aren’t as impressed by the more somber sounds as I am, but that’s okay…I’m still a fan.

i find all the songs on the album enjoyable, but I certainly have my favorites. Among them includes the song, Peace is Here (below are the lyrics and the song on youtube).At first glance it may appear as if there’s not much to the song, but as I allow the music to surround me, I find myself impressed by how they are able to tell such a profound story with minimal lyrics.

As the song unfolds I’m reminded of Isaiah 9:2-7. Despite the darkness that is all around us, and at times seems to be closer then our skin, “Love has come and peace is here.” The birth of Jesus Messiah changes everything. Hope, justice, and mercy will have their day as God continues to work His plan of salvation through His faithful son, Jesus, the promised Prince of Peace.

Little children born to chaos
Sojourn by the stars appear
Though your fears wrap all around you
Love has come and peace is here

Men to men in violent rapture
Wars lay sons in fields unknown
Hope to quell the disappointment
Justice born and mercy shown

Gloria, gloria, peace is here
Gloria, gloria, peace is here

Angels sing in righteous envy
Kings of earth kneel by the throne
Born to push against the Fall
Far as the curse is found

Gloria, gloria, peace is here
Gloria, gloria, peace is here

How do you promote peace?

advent_peace-641x320Yesterday’s post was a great lead-in to the topic of this post today. Peacemakers are not typically the ones who capture the headlines and become front page news. Those places are unfortunately reserved for the unrest and terror that is all too common around the world.

However, if you look closely and tune your ears to hear something different, you may begin to catch a glimpse of the peacemakers at work around you taking a stand to see that harmony is restored wherever their lives are stationed.

The wisdom of God found in the Scriptures when it comes to peace is quite simple. Consider what King Solomon wrote thousands of years ago:

Deceit is in the heart of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy. – Proverbs 12:20 (NET)

Throughout the Bible, we find God intent on drawing lines like this to ensure that those who read it cannot be mistaken regarding how the godly are to live their lives. I love how these nuggets of wisdom not only give us direction regarding how we are to navigate relationships with each other and with God, but they also, at times, offer us promises. Some may see joy as a byproduct of promoting peace in the Scripture above, but I choose to see joy as a promise to those who wholeheartedly embrace peace as a way of life.

As we turn to the New Testament, the letters that were written by the Apostle Paul, we come across his encouragement to pursue peace. Paul was a peacemaker, and you’ll often see him “passing the peace” of God and the Lord Jesus Christ in the introductions to his letters.

Paul, messenger of Jesus Christ by God’s choice, to all faithful Christians at Ephesus (and other places where this letter is read): grace and peace be to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 1:1-2 (PHILLIPS)

Not always, but now more than ever before, I find myself completely encouraged when I read this part of Paul’s letters. The offer of peace is a simple way to remind us that God offers us peace and we should offer it to one another as well. Passing the peace brings unity and the promise of joy.

Writing, “Peace be with you” is one thing, but passing the peace in person has, unfortunately, become a thing of the past. It’s very rare to come across someone who offers peace as part of their greeting. You may see it being done as an element in a worship gathering, and that is still a foreign concept for most people. But no matter how awkward it may be, I’d like to challenge us to become a people of peace who pass the peace to one another as we shake hands and say, “hello.” I’d be curious to know how adding this to how we greet one another would alter the way we connect and relate.

At least twice in his letter to the Romans, Paul encourages his readers to be a people who pursue peace. Not only is it specific to being at peace with others who follow Jesus, but also pursuing peace with everyone.

So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another. – Romans 14:19 (NET)

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. – Romans 12:18 (NET)

So, how do we pursue peace? What does it look like in the midst of the mundane? How do we maintain peace on the mountaintops of life as well as the valleys we all walk through?

I’m not going to pretend to have the answers to these powerful and necessary questions apart from the encouragement to keep your eyes fixed on the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospel accounts. Paying attention to the way that he related to people and promoted peace is like no other. His example of putting off all of the attitudes that prevent peace from reigning and ruling in our hearts and then putting on faith, hope and love is always worth imitating.

I’m not a great peacemaker…especially when it comes to being a Dad. I have good intentions to establish my home and the relationships therein as peaceful, but that’s not always how it happens. However, when i take my own advice, as mentioned in the above paragraph, I find that peace is far more present then at any other time.

Jesus is quoted as saying,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. – Matthew 5:9 (NET)

It’s obvious that peacemaking is to be a mark of those who are following Jesus and who long for their promised inheritance, his establishment of the kingdom of God when he returns to reign on earth as king.

In the next few days we’ll take a look at Jesus and what his title, Prince of Peace, means for him and for us.

P.S. – If you’re interested in reading a short article about a current day peacemaker, click here and be blown away by how one person crosses religious boundaries to extend peace.

Gathering for Peace

Because of all of the hatred and violence throughout the world, it’s hard for me to imagine a world at peace. I know that all of creation will be made new when Jesus returns to establish his kingdom and that there will be world peace at that time, but is it something that can become reality in the here and now, even just a little bit?

I believe so…

I came across an article a week or so ago that encouraged me as I was thinking about peace. On December 4th over 500 Muslim and Jewish women gathered together for peace. Click here to read more about this amazing conference that gives us all a glimpse of the Kingdom of God here and now.

The pursuit of peace in our world is real. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at what it means for us to be peacemakers.

Peace: Comfort, Comfort Now My People

Yesterday I had the great privilege of singing my new favorite advent hymn with my second oldest daughter, Zoie. This was a first for us, and I was so very proud of her. The song we shared is called Comfort, Comfort Now My People by Pages CXVI.  I have placed the original lyric video at the end of this post so that you can enjoy listening to the song.

I chose this song specifically because it matched so well with our focus around the theme of peace on the fourth Sunday of advent. The song was inspired by an old hymn written by Johann Olearius, in 1671, which is a creative expression of the first five verses of Isaiah chapter 40.

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 40:1-5 (NIV)

These few verses, like the entire Biblical story, reveal a God who is constantly pursuing peace with His people. Isaiah is one of many prophets that God spoke through to remind the Israelites that His offer of peace still stands and its fruition is on the horizon. This offer of comfort and peace is simply a reflection of God’s promise to make all things, His entire creation, new.

Ultimately, this message that the prophet Isaiah spoke was intended to stir up hope in the people of God so that they wouldn’t give up on believing that God was still intent on keeping His promises. They were encouraged to put off fear and doubt, and rather embrace the peace of God as they awaited the advent of God’s Messiah, through whom the people of God could say, “the Kingdom of our God is now here!”