God’s Odd Leading in Your Life

Almost 2,000 years ago Joseph and Mary journeyed to Bethlehem. But approximately 2,040 years before they did, Jacob and Rachel, another expectant couple, traveled south along the same road.

Rachel gave birth to Benjamin, but died soon after delivery, and Jacob buried her near Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19).

God's Unusual Leading in Your Life

(Photo: Anton Raphael Mengs. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Rachel’s death foreshadowed the devastation that the territory of Benjamin would suffer in Jeremiah’s time:

Rachel is weeping for her children . . . Because they are no more. —Jeremiah 31:15

Yet the prophecy found its final fulfillment in Jesus’ day, when Herod the Great slaughtered all baby boys in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:17-18). So, at God’s direction, Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to live until Herod’s death.

Each movement of Jesus’ family finds its cause in God’s revelation to Joseph:

  • Fleeing Bethlehem to Egypt
  • Returning from Egypt to Israel
  • Avoiding Judea to settle in Galilee

God’s purposes for these moves lay first in the protection of His Son, but Matthew notes that each directive also fulfilled Scripture. I doubt anyone but God saw beforehand the murky prophecies fulfilled by these geographic moves. But in hindsight, they become clear.

God’s Odd Leading

God’s leading and timing in our lives often don’t make sense either.  At least at first.

The Power of Providence in Your Life

The first Christmas looked like a coincidence. From a human perspective, politics set the agenda: Caesar took a census of his people. Period. End of story.

The Power of Providence in Your Life

(Picture by Danka Peter)

But from the divine viewpoint? God orchestrated ordinary events for extraordinary outcomes.

Think about this past year in your life. Many ordinary events occurred. Most you don’t remember. But God has been working.

It isn’t just the Christmas story. It’s your story too. God uses the power of providence in your life as well.

Twas the Night AFTER Christmas Poem

I’ve decided that during the holiday season we should change the mall’s name to “maul.”

I’ve never seen such mayhem—kids running, parents screaming, angry people in long lines—all to the music of “Joy to the World” in the background. Good grief!

Twas the Night AFTER Christmas

(Photo by Stephane Bidouze, via Vivozoom)

If you decide to head to the “maul” the night after Christmas, you’ll see more of the same chaos—a rush of returns in exchange for . . . even more . . . stuff.

So in honor of these days after Christmas, I’ve decided to try my hand at rewriting Clement Clarke Moore’s Christmas classic.

Here she goes. (Ahem.)

Those Sorry Gifts from Three Wise Men

Growing up, I often felt ripped-off at Christmas. Because my birthday is December 15, I often heard: “Wayne, this is your birthday-Christmas gift.”

I thought, Hey, gee, thanks.

Those Sorry Three Gifts from Wise Men

(Photo by Patrick-br CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

I wanted to tell the person whose birthday was in August, “Yeah, and here’s your birthday-Christmas gift too.” (Those of you with December birthdays understand.)

As a kid, I also hated getting clothes for Christmas (particularly underwear). Some people just don’t know how to give age-appropriate gifts to kids.

When I read the Christmas story, it seems the three Wise Men didn’t have much experience shopping for children either.

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Jesus’ Birth in a Barn Had You in Mind

It must have seemed really strange. Honestly, it still does. Two thousand years of waiting for the Messiah, and He is born in a barn and laid in a feed trough.

Jesus' Birth in a Barn Had You in Mind

(Shepherd in modern Israel, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

If it had been up to us, we would have given God’s Son a room in the finest five-star hotel in Bethlehem. But Jesus got only a one-star motel—and God had to provide the star!

When the shepherds hurried into Bethlehem to find the baby of whom the angels spoke, the wonder of God’s power must have seemed a strange contradiction to the conditions they found.

  • No halos hovered over Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
  • Instead, they saw a poor couple surrounded by animals and the smell of manure.

Actually, the crudity of Jesus’ birth story offers really good news.

Because it had you in mind.

The Holy Spirit of Christmas Past [Podcast]

Luke 1:26-38

When God wants to impact our lives today, He uses His Holy Spirit.

Just as occurred that first Christmas, with the Holy Spirit “coming upon” Mary, so the Spirit of God has come upon believers today,  empowering them to respond as Mary did– with obedience and faith.

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Your Epiphany of a Surprising Jesus

The little-known holiday, “Epiphany,” reminds us that the Wise Men came to Jesus after Christmastime.

Rather than coming two weeks later, it was at least two years. How do we know? The Bible gives the clear implication in Matthew 2:1-2, 7, 16.

Visit of the Wise Men

(Photo: from thebiblerevival.com. Public domain.)

Jesus was a toddler when the Magi showed up. How surprised they must have been to come to Joseph and Mary’s humble house in Bethlehem instead of a posh palace in Jerusalem ( it was a “house,” not a stable; check out Matthew 2:11).

Jesus wasn’t the king they expected.

Our Expectations of Jesus

Honestly, to those who knew Him, Jesus didn’t fit most expectations of a king. Each one had an epiphany of sorts:

  • Jesus’ own family thought He was crazy.
  • The religious leaders blamed Satan for Jesus’ miracles.
  • And the wise magi? They didn’t come first to Bethlehem to look for Jesus. They headed to Jerusalem, to the place where kings were supposed to live.

Even those who walked in the footsteps of Jesus up and down the Holy Land—those He chose as His disciples—even these apostles stumbled over their expectations of who He should be.

We all do, in fact. (Talk about an epiphany!) Jesus never seems to be what we expect when we come to Him.

He is far greater.

Question: How was Jesus different than what you expected? Please leave a comment.

A Little Town—Bethlehem

When we listen to Christmas carols and look at Christmas cards, we often find them filled with sentimental terms such as “tidings,” “goodwill,” “noel,” “cheer” and “Merry Christmas.”

Scenes on the cards typically depict a newborn (who looks about two years old) with radiant beams from His holy face, oxen and donkeys bowing, with halos hovering above Jesus, Joseph and Mary.

A Little Town—Bethlehem

(Painting by Mattia Preti. Public domain.)

We call the baby’s bed a “manger,” not a feed trough. We label the scene a “nativity,” not a birth. We’ve even built a church over the cave where Christ was born!

We do all we can to take away the ignobility the Bible explicitly portrays. And what’s that? Christ’s birth represented humility in the truest sense of the word.

Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, Micah prophesied that One coming from eternity would bring the Jews back to their land and rule Israel with worldwide fame in the strength of the Lord (Micah 5:2-5). This mighty Messiah would come from the ignoble, little town of Ruth and David: Bethlehem (see Ruth 4:11, 22).

Why such unadorned humility? Because Jesus came the first time to live the life we should have lived and to die the death we should have died for our sins. The second coming of Christ is the one everyone wanted first. While Micah blended both advents into one prophesy, we understand the necessity of their separation (see Heb. 9:28).

We needed a Savior before we needed a King.

The words Phillips Brooks penned in 1868 after a Christmas Eve visit to Bethlehem remain so appropriate:

In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light: the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Adapted from Wayne Stiles, Going Places with God: A Devotional Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2006), p. 24. Used by permission.

Summer is Here . . . So was Jesus

The first “official” day of summer was June 21. But it’s been hot in Texas for years.

I grew up in San Antonio, a city with the same latitude as Timna Park, Israel, which is just north of Eilat and the Red Sea. Hundred-degree Texas days bullied me like the kid across the street, but the Arabah Valley of Israel throws a harder punch. Especially from the Dead Sea south to the Red Sea, this valley burns hotter than any Texas summer I remember.

As I gulped water from my CamelBak in Timna Park, drinking seemed as useful as pouring water on the ground. What a place. Scrubby acacia trees scattered around offered no shade; they reminded me of the thorny, leafless mesquite trees of Texas. Large, steep sandstone formations interrupted the otherwise flat desert, jutting up red and dark as if burnt from exposure above ground. And did I mention the forecast? Hot.

A Baptist organization had constructed a scale model of the Tabernacle that Moses carried around in this same wilderness for 40 years. Once in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I saw another scale model of the Tabernacle, but that fiberglass structure looked more like a piece of modern art. The one in Timna Park looked like the real thing.

Skeptics have come to inspect the dimensions of the Tabernacle model at Timna only to find that it faithfully reproduces the proportions given in Exodus 35–40. But reading the description in Exodus can’t compare to standing outside what looked like the Tabernacle itself—and in the same wilderness! I felt as if I had walked through a doorway of history.

Even though this Tent of Meeting offered a great glimpse of biblical history and could potentially attract a greater number of tourists, Israeli park information and most tour books mysteriously omit the Tabernacle’s presence in the park. Why? Probably because the Baptists are quick to point out to Christian tourists how the Tabernacle foreshadowed Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews does the same (see Heb. 9:8-12).

A soft-voiced college student walked our group to the front of the model. Dressed in period costume with Velcro sandals, he explained the history of the Exodus in such slow detail that some of us grew concerned for the elderly who stood in the heat. Beads of sweat formed on foreheads, water bottles opened and emptied, and people clustered in bits of shade as if sharing an umbrella during a downpour.

As I watched the white curtains billowing around the perimeter of this Tabernacle, the ropes stretching out, staked to the unspoiled desert where the original tent stood—one event dominated my thinking.

Christmas.

Matthew and Luke record the stories we read each December, but John’s account states the event so succinctly that no Christmas play could use it as its text: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory” (John 1:14). The three-part crescendo begins with the inconceivable miracle of the virgin birth (really, the virgin conception): God became man.

The term John uses for “dwelt” stems from a word meaning “tabernacle.” In other words, God became a man “and tabernacled among us.” The beloved apostle clearly compares the wilderness Tabernacle with Jesus’ life in the flesh. John climaxes his statement by saying that the same glory that filled the Tabernacle in the wilderness, the same presence of the Lord, also dwelt among men in the Man, Jesus Christ—still fully God but now also fully man.

Jesus camped with us. And I stood in front of the perfect metaphor.

Adapted from Wayne Stiles, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Devotional Journey Through the Lands and Lessons of Christ (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), p. 20-22. Used by permission.
Tabernacle photos courtesy of BiblePlaces.com.

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