The Characters of Christmas: The Bethlehem Shepherds

“‘This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger'” (Luke 2:12, NIV).

I find it ironic that a few lowly shepherds were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth. Shepherds were hardly included in the upper crust of society. In fact, they were despised by most people. But, perhaps, it is for this very reason that God chose them to be the first to encounter the living Christ.

The shepherds in the surrounding fields of Bethlehem had the special task of breeding the lambs that were selected for Temple sacrifice in nearby Jerusalem. Only the choicest of lambs was offered. Therefore, once a lamb was born, the shepherd would wrap it tightly in cloths to keep it from injuring itself. It’s quite possible that the very stable that became the birthing suite of Jesus was also the birthplace of countless lambs before him.

When the angel told the shepherds of the sign given to them, that they would find the newborn Christ wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, these shepherds would likely have known where to find Jesus. The Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world, lay in a stable where multitudes of sacrificial lambs had been born before him. Unlike the temporary atonement they offered, however, Jesus’ one day, once-for-all sacrifice would change the world. 

How Big is My God?

“How big is my God?” I often have pondered.

In childlike faith with childhood wonder.

As high as the mountains and dense as the trees,

As broad as the heavens, as deep as the seas.

All-knowing, all-present, almighty he reigns.

No beginning nor end, God always has been.

Yet, something seems missing in all of this truth.

For God seems impersonal and so far removed.

His grandeur, his power, his greatness, and all

Seems so overwhelming, and I feel so small.

I need something more relevant, more intimate, more true

Than a God who is distant and hasn’t a clue.

And then I’m reminded of a baby in cloths

Wrapped up like a gift and placed in a trough.

When shepherds stood speechless and Joseph the same,

Messiah the King, born in Bethlehem!

A city so humble and lacking of worth

Became the hometown of the Messiah’s birth.

Angels proclaimed to the world great peace,

And all of creation fell to her knees

And worshiped an infant so fragile and small,

Perfection incarnate to save us all.

Great joy and glad tidings to everyone tell.

Of God in the flesh, Immanuel.

The question once pondered now brought to the light,

The answer revealed in that first Christmas night.

“How big is my God?” A few pounds, a few ounces

As Heaven rejoices and my heart dances.

No longer afraid of eternal danger,

My soul lies safe, like a babe in a manger.

And to this child I owe my soul’s rest

The God of Creation is God in the flesh.

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Risen

Today’s post is the final devotion in my series on the symbolism found in my children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. I am so grateful for the work of artist Terri Melia Hamlin on this project. Terri’s illustrations compliment the story and visually depict deeper theological truths. In today’s devotion, I share the final scene in the book, which shows Jesus sleeping and dreaming.

So much of “Finished” is a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus. In fact, the book’s title, “Finished” reminds us that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross completed the work of forgiveness and restored the sin-broken relationship between God and man. It’s no coincidence that Jesus is sleeping as the story comes to a close. Sleep, after all, is a metaphor for death in the Bible. Make no doubt about it. Jesus lost his life to save people from their sins.

Still, the story is not ultimately over, and death never gets the final word. The illustration shows Jesus dreaming while he sleeps. Jesus’ dream is of a better day, the Resurrection Day, when Jesus would rise from the dead. The lesson here is that brighter days are always ahead for the Christian. The empty tomb of Jesus assures it.

I’d like to close this devotion by thanking you, the reader, for your investment in this project. I believe “Finished” has the potential to ignite conversations between young and old. My prayer is that both the reader and listener would grow in wisdom and in their relationship with the Savior, Jesus. May you and yours always be blessed.

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: It is Finished

In today’s devotion, I continue my discussion of the symbolism found in my book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. In the story, Jesus has constructed a small wooden cross, which he holds in the light of Joseph’s workshop window. Jesus speaks of the project he and Joseph have constructed by saying, “It is finished.” These words of Jesus are meant to remind us of much more than the completion of a project. Indeed, they tell of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus will one day perform on the cross of Calvary.

According to the Gospel writer John, one of Jesus’ real-life statements from the cross was “…’It is finished’…” (John 19:30, NIV). With this simple, yet powerful, phrase, Jesus was announcing that the work of forgiveness was complete. Everything that had once separated sinful people from a just and holy God had been forgiven.

Notice again the window in the illustration. This time the clouds are gone, and the sun is shining. The hope of a new day has come. Darkness has been dispelled by the light of Jesus’ accomplishment.

The finished work of Jesus means that we are no longer considered enemies of God. Neither are we condemned. Jesus did everything to restore our broken relationship with God. Salvation was a price we couldn’t pay, but it was paid in full by our Savior. We are forgiven! Heaven awaits!

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Responsibility

In my current series of devotions, I’m discussing the symbolism found in the illustrations of my Christian children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. The beautiful images found in the book were created by artist Terri Melia Hamlin. Terri’s artwork masterfully tells the story’s narrative in a way that is appropriate for children, while, at the same time, shares deeper spiritual truths with the adult reader. The book is meant to encourage dialogue between the two concerning the significance of Jesus’ life and death.

Today’s illustration shows Joseph assisting Jesus with a project. Jesus has fashioned two boards in the form of a cross. Because he is so little, and the hammer is heavy, Joseph must pound the nails into place. The image is meant to remind us of Jesus’ complete innocence and how each of us, like Joseph, plays a part in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Notice once again, Joseph’s workshop window, where we see storm clouds. The clouds are meant to symbolize the darkness of the events of the crucifixion.

The good news, again, is that Jesus lived and died for us. And, although it was our sin that placed Jesus upon the cross, he died there to remove it from us. Moreover, his Resurrection three short days later gives us newness of life. We are forgiven, and we are free! Praise God!

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Nails

Today, I’m continuing my series on the symbolism found in the illustrations of my children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. I’ve had the privilege of partnering with artist Terri Melia Hamlin, and together we’ve put together a story that is both appropriate and entertaining for the youngest of readers, yet contains deep theological truths for adults.

In the illustration above, we see the hands of Jesus holding nails as he continues work on a project. The picture is meant to remind us of the nails that would pierce Jesus’ hands and feet as an adult. Jesus’ childhood hands are open as he submissively accepts the fate he must one day endure.

Think about it. The same hands of God, that formed man from the dust of the ground, would be punctured by nails as he died to forgive man of his sins. The hands that healed adults and held children would be held in place by such cruel and rudimentary instruments. The very hands that spread wide to embrace the most wayward of sinners, were extended fully in love and sacrifice on the wooden frame of the cross.

Our hands, by contrast, abuse our fellow man, bruising his body and shedding his blood. They are far too often clenched in fists. Our hands steal and destroy and point accusing fingers at others.

The amazing news of God’s grace, however, is that Jesus solved the problem of our sin. He took our spiritual dilemma into his own forgiving hands along with the nails that pierced his flesh. He died to free us from our inability to keep and shear defiance of his perfect commands and rose again to offer us a new way of living, forgiven and free and held in his resurrected and nail-scarred hands. We are his people, both created and forgiven by him.

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Submission

In my last post, I discussed some of the symbolism found in the cover illustration of my first Christian children’s book, “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth”. Today, I’m continuing the task of looking at some of the nuances and spiritual truths found throughout the images of the book.

Before I begin, I want to express my sincere appreciation to artist Terri Melia Hamlin for her work. Terri brought the pages of “Finished” to life with her passion and artistry. The book we created together would not be the same without Terri’s skill and devotion.

In the illustration above, we see Joseph constructing a pen for the family’s animals. Jesus is working, too, just a few feet away, on a very different sort of project. In the dust of Joseph’s workshop, Jesus has fashioned two small boards in the shape of a cross. Notice Jesus’ submissive posture as he kneels before the cross. The symbolism here reminds us of Jesus’ willingness to one day suffer and die for the sins of the world.

Notice also the stormy skies seen through the window of Joseph’s workshop. We’re reminded here of the darkness that “…came over the whole land…” (Luke 23:44, NIV) as Jesus suffered his ultimate fate on the cross.

The book “Finished” is a fictional story of Jesus’ childhood innocence. Still, the real-life story of Jesus is one that is hardly fit for the pages of a children’s book. The intense suffering and gruesome crucifixion of the Savior demonstrates all that Jesus must go through for people. The words of this event, as they are found in Scripture, do not seem to offer any hope of a happy, storybook ending. But, then comes the Resurrection and the entire narrative changes!

The Heavenly Truth of “Finished”: Relationship

Recently, I completed my first Christian children’s book. “Finished: A Fictional Story With Heavenly Truth” is the story of four-year-old Jesus and his earthly parents, Joseph and Mary. In the story, Joseph must construct a pen to hold the family’s animals. As Joseph works, Jesus is also building something. At the end of the story, Joseph ponders Jesus’ words that his project is “finished”.

I find that one of the most impactful elements of “Finished” is the artwork done by Terri Melia Hamlin. Terri’s illustrations capture the essence of the story while illuminating more subtle themes found throughout the book. Although “Finished” is a fictional tale, it contains deep spiritual truth, foreshadowing the cross that Jesus must one day endure and the victory of the empty tomb of the Resurrection.

In this series of writings, we’ll explore together some of the illustrations found in “Finished” and the Biblical truths they convey. To begin, I’ll use the cover illustration found at the beginning of today’s post, the image of Jesus hugging and riding piggy-back on Joseph.

This picture, to me, is all about the love shared between father and son. Each of us were made for relationship, and Jesus exemplified a loving relationship with his earthly parents. We see this most intimately in the Gospel writings of John, specifically Chapter 19, where Jesus, from the cross, tends to the needs of Mary and arranges an informal adoption between Mary and John.

While little is mentioned in Scripture concerning Joseph’s interactions with Jesus, we can infer the unconditional love and incredible respect between Jesus and his earthly father. Imagine the hours Jesus undoubtedly spent by Joseph’s side learning the family trade of carpentry. Think about the many conversations and lessons learned in the shadows of Joseph’s work bench.

Yes, Jesus loved his parents, Joseph and Mary. He understood and fully embraced the instruction of his Heavenly Father to ” ‘…honor (both) father and mother’ ” (Genesis 20:12, NIV). Even more importantly, Jesus loves all people and desires a relationship with them. His unconditional and sacrificial love is evident in the remaining pages of “Finished”.

I want to thank again artist Terri Melia Hamlin for her amazing work with this book. Further, I want to thank you the reader for your support of this project. May you be blessed!

The Word

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NIV).

I’ve always found the words of this first verse in the Gospel of John to be interesting. As a kid, it was one of the easier passages of Scripture to memorize for my church’s Wednesday night Catechism class. The verse had a certain rhythm to it. It didn’t have any big words, and it was relatively short. I could recite John 1:1 in short order to my teacher and receive my sticker on the memorization chart. I suppose, at the time, I didn’t realize the significance of the words I was articulating.

One of the things to notice about John 1:1 is that the “Word” is capitalized. John comments that this “Word” was present in the beginning, that it was with God, and actually was God. The “Word”, you may know by now, is none other than Jesus himself.

Yes, Jesus, was present at the dawning of all Creation. We don’t always think about the Jesus of the Old Testament, but he was there. In the New Testament, of course, Jesus would take on human flesh and live among people. Still, Jesus made his first appearance at Creation.

John says that the Word was with God and was God. If you’re like me, you find the concept of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – difficult to understand to say the least. Jesus was, at the same time, God, but he also had his own identity as one-third of the Trinity. Again, such understanding is challenging and doesn’t ultimately save us from our sins. It just makes us look smarter than we probably are.

Perhaps you find additional difficulty in referring to Jesus as the “Word”. I, too, have struggled with this concept, intellectually wrestling with it, and have come to the following conclusion. I think John calls Jesus the “Word”, because Jesus is the ultimate message, the word, of God to mankind. Jesus is the Gospel message of God’s goodness and grace personified. In fact, if we want to truly understand the character of God, his justice and mercy, his love, and his kindness, we need not look any further than the “Word” that is Jesus.

Yes, Jesus is God’s Word to mankind. He has freed us from our sins and has given us the promise of life, both here on earth and eternally in Heaven. God is for you, not against you. He loves you. He forgives you. He sets you free.

The Fall (Part 3)

flowers orange

Adam chose carefully his answer to God’s “Where are you?” question.  “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  Making no mention of his bite of forbidden fruit, Adam focused instead on the result of his sin, his nakedness.  Adam’s answer was one-step removed from a complete and honest confession to God.

God further questioned Adam concerning his newfound awareness of his nudity.  So, Adam offered his confession, albeit one laced with excuse.  First blaming God for placing Eve in his life, then blaming Eve for offering him the forbidden fruit, Adam’s admission of sin was tainted.

Still, God loved Adam.  God loved Eve as well.  They were God’s children after all.  Although the sinful couple would be banished from the Garden of Eden, God would still care for each of them.

God tailored new clothing for Adam and Eve as their fig leaf outfits were no longer adequate.  In creating their attire, however, death came to the Garden.  An animal became the necessary sacrifice to cover the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve, a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that would one day be made by another of God’s children, Jesus.

Paradise, once lost, would return one day to another garden, this one with an empty tomb and a cross in the background.  Satan would deal a death blow to Jesus, but Jesus would have the ultimate victory over Satan and sin.