Sunday, December 21, 2008

Egypt and the Christmas Story

Mathew 2:13 reads, “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.’”

As a part of the lesson, a Sunday school teacher asked each of her students to draw a picture of a story from the Bible. After collecting the drawings, she noticed that one little boy's drawing depicted an airplane with four people abroad. Curious the teacher asked what the picture was. The boy answered, “This is Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ flight to Egypt. The teacher then asked who the fourth person was in the picture. The boy replied, “That’s Pontius the pilot.”

The flight to Egypt is “a small incident in the Christmas story, usually overlooked and seldom portrayed in church pageants; [however, it] looms large in the salvation narrative. Occurring immediately after what often is presented as the climax of the story—the visit of the Magi—Joseph has another nighttime encounter with an angel. This time, God’s messenger tells him to flee with his family to Egypt. They had just entertained Eastern celebrities bearing fabulous gifts for their child-King. Now, abruptly, they are to run for their lives. And the destination—Egypt.

“The phrase ‘out of Egypt’ appears in nearly 150 biblical texts. This ancient enemy symbolized oppression and slavery, and often God’s people would recall that the Lord had freed them and delivered them from that place. Yet God says, ‘Go to Egypt.’ What is Joseph thinking and feeling? His first encounter with an angel announced a ‘virgin’ birth. Then, the baby, born in a stable, was visited by shepherds and kings. And now, this!

“We don’t know Joseph’s thoughts, but we do know his actions. He obeyed. And Jesus escaped Herod’s murderous wrath. And we celebrate Christmas. ‘But,’ we protest ‘we’d obey too if we knew God was talking!’ Really? He speaks to us daily, but do we listen? Unlike Joseph, we have God’s written Word, filled with direction and instruction. May we, with Joseph-like faith, obey and get moving.” (Dave Veerman)

Christmas is a wonderful time of giving and remembering all the wonderful gifts we receive from the Savior of the world. We give gifts to family and friends but what gift can we give to Jesus. All the possessions we have are actually things Christ has already given or loaned to us. While we should give of our possessions to build the Kingdom of God, is it really a gift if we are simply returning to Christ something that is already His? There is one thing we have to offer to the Lord that is not already His—our will. Our obedience is the gift we can truly give to Christ this Christmas. May we give Christ the Christmas gift of obedience and follow His example when he said, “Father . . . not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)

“The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. . . when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!” (Neal Maxwell)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Constantly Seek Improvement

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
-Ecclesiastes 9:10, New International Version

Satan tries to persuade us to be content with just getting by. The Lord rebukes those who are satisfied with their condition in life, who are content with the way things are, and who don’t seek change and improvement. We are always in need of improvement. If you say “I . . . have need of nothing” (Revelations 3:17, King James Version) and “do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked,” (Revelations 3:17, New International Version) the Lord will see you as being lukewarm (apathetic) and will cast you out as He said in the book of Revelations, “ . . . because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelations 3:16, English Standard Version) The Lord expects us to continually seek improvement.

The Parable of the Fig Tree
The Savior teaches this principle further in the miracle and parable of the fig tree found in Chapter 11 of Mark. Jesus, walking with His disciples, came to a fig tree that had no figs on it. When Jesus saw that there were no figs upon the fig tree, He cursed the fig tree, and the next day it was withered and dead. This miracle is different from all the other recorded miracles of Jesus that were performed for relief, blessing, and beneficent purposes. This appears to be an act of judgment and destructive execution. A key to understanding this miracle and parable is found in verse 13, which reads, “It was not the season for figs.” (Mark 11:13, New King James Version) The fig tree didn’t have figs on it because figs were not in season. None of the trees had figs on them—why did Jesus destroy this tree? On his tape entitled A Higher Standard of Excellence, Mark Gorman states that at 2 a.m. God told him the meaning of these passages. When the inspiration came, he sat straight up in bed and God spoke to him saying, “If all you are doing is what comes naturally to you, I am not impressed. If you are only producing when everyone else is producing, so what. If you are just keeping up with the crowd, big deal.” To impress the Lord, we must strive for excellence and do more than just what comes naturally. We must not just produce fruit when it is in season—we must produce fruit everyday. We must rise above mediocrity. We must rise above just getting by. We must excel.

“I say to you, Search the Scriptures! If ever you tire of them in seeking a rule of faith and a standard of morals, search them as records of history. The Bible contains the only authentic introduction to the history of the world. It is a book which neither the most ignorant and weakest, nor the most learned and intelligent mind can read without improvement.”
-John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States