Friday, November 28, 2008


I'm not much for ushering in the holidays. They seem to manage to come all on their own. But I've been asked to speak a couple of times during the coming Christmas season, and it occurred to me some insight into the gifts of the Magi might be appropriate.
What you are about to read is the talk I've put together. Just pretend I am talking to you, which I am, of course, except that I can't see you and am not always sure who you are...
Regardless, I hope you enjoy it, and if you think of it, you might offer up a quick prayer that this will provide new indights with practical application to those whom I have the delightful privilege of speaking. May it do the same for you.

Most of the time when the subject of the “wise men” or “Magi” comes up the attention is on the composition and phenomenon of the magnificent star they saw or speculation about who they were and where they came from.
But I want to focus on the practical and spiritual significance of the gifts they brought. Interestingly, the Bible doesn’t actually tell us how many of these kings from distant lands came to honor the greatest King of all, but because our nativity scenes and Christmas carols all speak of three kings, most of us have been conditioned to think of that number! This is probably because, regardless of how many there actually were, we are told of three specific gifts they came bearing.
Most of us also assume that the gifts came in little boxes, but again, there is no record of the quantities of the offerings they brought.
Now if we correctly assume that not a single detail in the Bible is there by accident or without meaning, we won’t waste time on the details that don’t matter and can shift our attention to the ones that matter enough for God to have been very specific about them. He wasn’t specific about where the kings came from, who they were, how many there were or the quantities of the gifts. But He was very specific about what the gifts were so lets think for a moment about what they might represent and whether they might have any significance for us today.
On the most basic level, they brought items from their homelands which were of the greatest worth. All of the items were rare, precious and expensive.
Whatever else we might learn from this story, we know they came to honor the One they believed to be the King, the Messiah, and they gave the very best of what they had.
The Queen of Sheba was another visitor to Israel, who came to meet with Solomon as we read in 1 Kings 10:2, “So she came to Jerusalem with a very large retinue, with camels carrying spices and very much gold…” The Magi did the same, being spiritually aware, as it says in Matthew 10:42, “One greater than Solomon is here.”
They gave items which were found and valued in the region they lived in. Likewise, the Lord invites us to give Him what is available to us.
They offered the gifts as an act of worship. When the Messiah was still just a helpless baby, before He could speak a single word or perform a single miracle, “they fell down and worshipped Him.” (Matthew 2:11)
In both the Old Testament tabernacle and later the temple, gold was used extensively throughout showing both its value and its use in worship. The fact that Gentile kings would offer such worship had prophetic significance. We read in Psalm 72:10, “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles will bring presents; The kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts. Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; All nations shall serve Him.” And again in Isaiah 60:6 we read, “All those from Sheba shall come; The shall bring gold and incense; And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.”
Together they represent the three roles of the Messiah. Gold is representative of His Kingship. Frankincense represents His divinity and myrrh His manhood--being in a human body and subject to suffering and death.
We can also clearly see God’s providential and practical provision for Joseph, Mary and Jesus as the gifts provided the means to sustain them during a long and expensive journey into Egypt where they would remain for quite some time.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the gifts.
Gold has been a precious metal holding extremely high value from as long ago as 2,500 B.C. It has always been, and still is, especially prized as a medium of exchange.
It is scarce, and most things that are difficult to come by or are labor intensive, from pearls to raspberries, are expensive.
It is universally thought of as beautiful and is the preferred setting for gems on all spectrums of the price scale.
Gold is enduring. It can withstand all natural acids and even fire. In a wedding ceremony it becomes the symbol of a marriage that will hopefully endure the test of time, difficulties, disagreements, disappointments, illness, and bereavement.
It also speaks of God Himself who tells us in various Scriptures that His love, mercy, righteousness and Word endure forever.
Gold is adaptable for shaping and easily alloys with other metals. It’s soft enough to be molded but can be combined with other metals to provide even greater strength.
It is interesting that even gold, with all its beauty and qualities, becomes a better product when it works with others.
Wouldn’t it be better for us to want to be more like gold, rather than to want more gold? Think of humility, compassion, adaptability, selflessness, a servant’s heart and other admirable qualities. To be sure, a person who possesses and is increasing in these qualities is rare and beautiful indeed!
When the Magi presented gold to the Christ child, they were honoring Him with the very best they had and were recognizing that Jesus was King.
For me the most intriguing aspect of this first gift is that it is able to survive fire!
The Apostle Paul uses this analogy in 1 Corinthians 3:11-13 regarding Christian works. “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the Day will show it; because it will be revealed with fire and the fire itself (God’s discerning judgment) will test the quality of each man’s work."
In chapter 1:6-7 of Peter’s first epistle, he takes a bit of a different slant when he points out that there is something which, like gold, is refined by fire, but unlike gold, never perishes. “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
In other words, just like gold is proven to be gold by enduring fire without losing anything of its nature, weight, color or other properties, so also our faith is proven genuine by the adversities and trials we endure through faith.
“Yet even gold, in process of time, will wear away by continual use; and the earth and all its works, will be burned up by the supernatural fire whose action nothing can resist. But on that day the faith of Christ’s followers will be found brighter and more glorious. The earth, and universal nature, shall be dissolved; but he who does the will of God shall abide forever, and his faith shall then be found to the praise of God’s grace, the honor of Christ, and the glory and glorification of his own soul throughout eternity. God Himself will praise such faith, angels and men will hold it in honor, and Christ will crown it with glory.” Wow! That’s good stuff, isn’t it?! I wish I knew who said it...
Peter points out that there is something more valuable than gold and that is the process of our faith being tested and strengthened through the trials, adversities, and hardships of life which test and strengthen our faith which will hold us through eternity.
This is exactly why James can boldly and confidently tell us to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
If we truly understood God’s purposes, we would rejoice in our trials rather than simply enduring them or trying to pray our way out of them! Notice that faith grow and bears fruit, unlike gold, which as enduring as it is, will someday perish.

The second gift of the Magi was frankincense which is a very expensive and fragrant gum distilled from a tree that is found in Persia, India, Arabia and the East Indies. It’s actually a white resin, or gum, that you get by slitting the bark of an “Arbor Thurisfrom” tree which allows the gum to flow out. The word actually means “whiteness” because that’s the color of the juice which flows out of the wound in the tree. The gum is allowed to harden for three months and is scraped off at the end of the summer and sold in clumps or “tears” of the hardened resin.
It is intensely fragrant when it is burned and was used in worship where it was burned as a pleasant offering to God as we read in various verses in Exodus and Leviticus.
It was also used as a medicine and as perfume, but the lesson we can take from frankincense is that our worship should be pleasing to the Lord.
I find it very analogous that this sweet smelling resin comes as a result of a wound to the tree. When we can worship God in the midst of our sorrow and suffering, then our worship becomes a fragrant aroma before the Lord.
While joyful worship is also pleasing to God, our tears, like frankincense resin, oozing out of our hurts and broken hearts, and especially our tears of repentance, are a sweet-smelling sacrifice to the Lord.
Anyone can dance and sing when they are happy and everything is going their way, but true worship takes place when we must overcome feelings of disappointment, doubt, fear and self-pity.
I find it interesting that God wants a “sweet-smelling sacrifice.” Do you really think He cares what it smells like? As with everything else, God is interested in the condition of our hearts when we pray and worship Him. And it is when we come to Him with a sweetness in our spirit, rather than a sense of duty, or bitterness because things haven’t turned out like we thought they would, that He is most pleased.

The last gift of the Magi was myrrh. Myrrh, like frankincense, is a gum resin that is produced from balsamodendrom myrrha tree that grows in Arabia and Ethiopia and is gotten, like frankincense, by wounding the tree. This tree can get up to ten feet high and is thorny.
When myrrh oozes from the slit in the tree is a pale yellow color, but as it hardens it changes to dark red, which represents, to me, the blood of Christ shed for my sins.
Myrrh is as bitter as frankincense is sweet. Its name was actually given to it because of its extreme bitterness. The Hebrew word is similar to the waters that were bitter when Moses and the people were coming out of Egypt in Exodus 15:23. “And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah.”
It is also what Naomi says to her daughter-in-law in Ruth 1:20. “Call me Mara, for the Lord has dealt very bitterly with me.”
Its primary use was for embalming the dead because it preserved the body from putrefaction. It was an ingredient of the holy ointment and was a favorite perfume in the ancient world. It is said to keep its fragrance for several hundred years if it is kept in an alabaster pot.
Myrrh also has medicinal qualities and was sometimes mixed with wine to make a antistatic like the drink offered to Jesus when He was being crucified.
Myrrh is brought as a gift to acknowledge the human suffering Jesus endured when He humbled Himself to enter His own creation and bore the sins of the world.
Why did He refuse the drink? Because He had already submitted to the will of His Father and drunk the bitter cup of His suffering.

Today, we can offer the spiritual equivalent of these same gifts to Jesus. We bring gold when we honor Him as King and yield to the purification process of fiery trials.
We bring frankincense when we worship Him in the midst of our brokenness.
We bring myrrh when we recognize that He identifies with us in our pain and sorrow.

“So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.” (Hosea 6:3a)

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I've had two opportunities to serve the Lord this week. Well, more than that, truth be told, but two that stand out in my mind.
Last Tuesday I had the privilege of speaking to "The Women of St. James." This is the women's ministry of a local church which is, presumably, like a hundred thousand others across the country. There were maybe thirty or so women in attendance but it really didn't matter to me if there were three or three thousand. On the one hand, truth be told, I'm always hoping for a crowd. But on the other, truth be told, I am just thankful for the opportunity. And really (and I believe this) it's not about the number who show up, but the number who God draws and whose hearts He touches through the words He puts in my mouth.
They had this big poster just inside the door with my picture on it announcing the event and the title of my message, which I had forgotten, so spoke about something completely different...
The poster was quite a lovely shock! They gave it to me to take home, which seemed a bit hilarious. I mean, who has a poster of themselves in their house? I told Jay I was going to hang it over our bed! He told me he was going to draw a mustache on it....
The trash men are picking it up tomorrow morning along with the eggs shells and banana peels and the rest of the garbage.
But man, it was so much fun to feel important! I always feel most "in my element" when I am standing in front of a group of women with a microphone in my hand and sharing with a passion that can only come from the heart of God.
I prayed numerous times over the event and for the women who would come. And I preached my little heart out! The good news is that God showed up and the women responded. There was tremendous positive feedback which I hope will translate into an altered and elevated view of God and suffering and take them to deeper reliance on Him.
Then today I had another opportunity to serve. I worked in the infant nursery in our church, as I do when there is a fifth Sunday in the month.
I'll just go ahead and tell you the truth: It's not my favorite thing. Unlike Jesus, I have never been one to call all the children unto me.
I am not involved with most of them or with their parents as Jay and I have, by the miracle of just staying alive, navigated our way out of that particular time in our lives. So I don't know the parents of these kids beyond going to the same church and am not invested in their lives outside of church.
Even more to the point, I don't like slimy green boogers, stinky poopy diapers, crying kids who can't explain why they are crying, reading alphabet books or the annoying noise of the latest Fisher Price toy.
But I started realizing that all that stuff delights God. And I was thinking that His word is true and that, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first," and "Whoever wants to be the greatest in the Kingdom must be the servant of all," and "As you have done to the least you have done to Me."
And I wondered if God wasn't more delighted with my nursery duty than He was with my "speaking engagement." I can certainly tell you which one I enjoyed more, and I can promise you it didn't have anything to do with changing stinky diapers!
Both are necessary, of course. And thankfully, He has me doing both. There is nothing wrong with, "Giving a word in season," and I love the opportunity to do so. But more often it is being kind to strangers, or the downtrodden, or the marginalized that God expects and honors and that will no doubt be the weighty jewels in our crowns of glory which we will lay at His feet one day.
That said, I hope we will all take advantage of every opportunity the Lord gives us to serve in whatever capacity it might be. And that we (read:I) can do so with an eye toward Kingdom values rather than earthly ones.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


My dear few but faithful readers. I apologize. I've been gone. I didn't mean to be gone so long. It wasn't premeditated. You didn't offend me. Only government workers can do that.
And no one knows better than me that if it's true the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I am well on my way. It seems that once I make a decision like, "I think I'll post on my blog consistently," it creates some sort of intense internal pressure and I end up sabotaging myself by doing the exact opposite.
I'm quite sure this is all part of the fall and I continue to blame Eve for most of the things that are inconsistent with life as God originally intended it.
The problem now is that I've been gone so long I'm not sure where to start recapping. Should I tell you about the nearly four week stay with my friends Gayle and Jimmie out in beautiful Manford, Oklahoma building health and enjoying time alone, time with God and time with them?
About the week I spent in Asheville, North Carolina, helping to care for my cousin's wife who was recovering from a hysterectomy due to a diagnosis of cervical cancer?
A brief discourse on the great book I am reading titled, "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard?
Or the one I just finished about heaven titled, who'd have guessed, "Heaven" by Randy Alcorn? It's supposed to be controversial, though I didn't know that before I read it and for the life of me, after having read it, I can't figure out why. It's nothing but Scripture...
And when you have one you love with all your heart in heaven, and knowing we who love the Lord will wind up there, it can be both exciting and a healing balm to read about it, think about it, meditate on it and imagine it.
Or shall I tell you what Jacob and Jessie are up to? Okay, I will. He is checking out seminaries and she is a junior at OU. Neither are dating and I keep thinking I am ready for that phase of my life and the addition to our family. They don't seem to take that into consideration...
The election and all the thoughts it generated before, during and after? Nah. Forget it. I'd be typing for a year and by that time, there would be more to type.
So maybe I'll just start again by copying part of a letter Jacob wrote to a friend listing all that he was thankful for. It seems marvelously appropriate given the time of year we have arrived at once again.
With his permission, we begin: Salvation through Jesus, being made human and not a bunny or a rock, or not at all; God's condescension to give us knowledge of Himself; weather; colors; food; music; friends; the church; God living inside us; the hope of heaven; the Lord's patience between my first sin and salvation; His patience with me now as I learn...slowly; flight benefits through my dad's job; enough money; having never gone hungry; laughter; the Bible; capacity to feel; redemption as a plan for man but not angels; technology; religious and other freedoms; love; imagination; memory; culture; language; ethnic diversity; spiritual gifts; God's love gift of Christ; Jesus' perfect moral example; the cross; joy; rest in God's wisdom and control; family; marriage; sex; children; intimacy with God; good books' movies; flowers; the ocean; space travel; a college education; physical and mental well-being; animals; prayer; pets; work; the Trinity; being used as an ambassador of the Gospel; salvation being apart from works; the rationality of Christianity; the seasons; stars; the five senses; the intricate complexity of the human body; dominion over earth; the expectation of future sinlessness; creativity; singing.
To that basic list I would add: God's incomprehensible greatness as expressed by the fact that He tells us twice in Scripture that He has named all the stars; every creative expression of mankind from ballet to rap to poetry to painting to theater to you name it that reflects an aspect of our Creator; atoms; quasars; jewels; the exquisite green mountainous bumps that rise out of the turquoise sea off Phi-Phi Island; my husband; my children; my country; my assurance that Jordan is with Him now and I will be with Him one day as well; fillet mignon; lobster and drawn butter; the fact that I have tasted both more than once; taste buds; the endless variety of flavors, food, colors, texture, pattern, faces, personalities, musical instruments and style; a sense of humor; that "eye has not seen, nor ear heard all that He has planned for those who love Him; being an American; driving a nice car; specific gifts and talents; crowns of glory to be laid at His feet; GRACE.
We could go on and on, couldn't we? Why don't you make your own list! Share it with me if you'd like. I'd love to read it.
So I'm back. Not consistently, of course, but I'm back.