Supreme Sacrifice

by Marti Pieper

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

One of my favorite souvenirs from our family’s more than 50 short-term mission trips is a growing collection of international nativities. It began when, a number of years ago, I told my five children I had enough keychains and other throwaway gifts.

My nativity collection now totals more than thirty of these thoughtful replicas of Jesus’s birth, made from materials as diverse as pewter, olive wood, baked clay, glazed porcelain, corn husks, and more. I display them throughout the year and have also used them as centerpieces at church functions such as missions fundraising dinners.  And on the occasions when I speak about serving on the mission field, some or all of the nativities come along as a part of my display.

I especially love the way each nativity reflects the culture that created it. The Guna set shows authentic clothing and headdresses, replicated in clay, from the jungles of Panama. The Brazilian nativity rests inside a gourd found in that country, and the woven clothing of the Guatemalan figures features the broad stripes and bright colors characteristic of those worn by the Mayan people. In the Ecuadorian grouping, even baby Jesus wears a pointed Quechua hat.

When Jesus came to dwell among us, of course He did not come as a Guna, a Brazilian, a Mayan, or a Quechua any more than He came as the Caucasian infant so much of our North American art reflects. But this all-God and all-man identifies with us in much more significant ways than even our race.

Christ knows our pain, our sorrow, and our temptation, yet he loved us enough to die on our behalf. He understands, even weeps over, the hurt and pain we experience. Although he did not for one moment cease being God, he willingly gave up his place in heaven and, the Bible says, “emptied himself” to become a servant, born as a human infant.

Jesus was equal in every way to God the Father, but he did not grasp or cling to this identity. He had every right to call angels to his defense or shatter his enemies with a single word, but he did not choose to do so. Instead, he came to earth as a helpless infant, knowing full well he would ultimately suffer the shame and indignity of a blood-soaked cross.

I’m grateful Jesus came in the likeness of men, as a tiny, wailing infant born to die. And I’m even more grateful that after that cruel death, he was raised to life on our behalf. Because of his supreme sacrifice, we will one day experience the glories of the heaven he left behind for a short but significant season. As we celebrate Christmas, let us celebrate all his birth, his life, and his death mean to us—every day.

Out of the Dust: Story of an Unlikely Missionary by [Avis Goodhart, Marti Pieper, Moira Brown]

About the author: Marti Pieper’s eclectic publishing career includes writing two award-winning missionary memoirs including Out of the Dust along with five other nonfiction books. Find her at www.martipieper.com, where her “Snapshots of Dementia” blog offers transparent glimpses of life with her husband, who suffers from an early-onset dementia.

Join the conversation: What comes to mind when you look at your nativity set?

Powerful Love

by Rhonda J. Dragomir

A tiny hand clasped my index finger, and tears of joy coursed down my cheeks as I held my first grandchild. Samuel arrived this past July during the Covid-19 crisis, so I’d not been permitted to attend his birth or visit him in the hospital. When I held him in my arms at last, I’ll never forget the elation and wonder as I marveled over his miniature perfection.

Mary embraced her infant son in Bethlehem on that starry night when Jesus was born. She heard Jesus take his first breath and wail his first cry as it echoed through the stable. She looked down into eyes that searched hers, and she counted his fingers and toes like every new mother does.

But Jesus was not like every other infant. Before he joined us on our earthly timeline, he lived as an eternal being, one of the three members of the Holy Trinity. Jesus was one with the Father (John 10:30), and by his hand all things were created (Colossians 1:16, John 1:1-3). In his human incarnation he would fulfill God’s promise that through the offspring of a woman, Satan would be crushed (Genesis 3:15). One day Jesus would rout all the forces of hell, yet he chose to empty himself of his limitless power and arrive on earth in the form of a human infant.

At the beginning of time, Jesus flung the stars into space, but on that first Christmas he could not feed himself. Thousands of years before Bethlehem, Jesus spoke a word and the mountains emerged from the seas. But baby Jesus couldn’t tell his mother when he was in pain or tired. When Jesus was made in our likeness, he endured a transformation. Instead of existing as the most powerful being in the universe, he chose to become one of the most defenseless.

Why would Jesus make such a sacrifice? Philippians 2:1-11 answers that question. Jesus’ exalted position in heaven was not more precious to him than his role in restoring humankind to fellowship with God. To become our living sacrifice for sin, he was willing not only to become obedient to death on the cross, but to live among us clothed in human flesh with all its flaws, temptations, and vulnerabilities.

This Christmas, my family will celebrate Samuel’s addition to our circle of love. Covid-19 restrictions to parties and events will give me more time—like Mary (Luke 2:19)—to treasure ponder in my heart the meaning of the season. When I do, I don’t want to forget the most wondrous miracle of Christmas—the almighty, omnipotent Christ Child laying in Mary’s arms as a helpless infant.

That’s powerful love.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8 NIV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: An avid reader and writer, Rhonda Dragomir lives in the heart of idyllic horse country in central Kentucky. Her degree in Social Work from Asbury University prepared her for more than forty years of ministry as a pastor’s wife.

Rhonda writes both fiction and nonfiction, and she was named 2019 Writer of the Year by Serious Writer, Inc. Learn more about Rhonda on her website: www.rhondadragomir.com.

Join the conversation: What aspect of the Christmas story impresses you the most?

Yellow Rose Surprise

by Ginger Sanders @GingerSanders

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…  Philippians 2:14-16 NASB

This afternoon I had pleasant surprise when I went out to water my roses. I had planted them two years ago in a different spot, but they had failed to thrive. We had recently transplanted them in hopes that a sunnier location would give them a second chance.  

Since then, they have perked up, reaching upward as the sunrise catches them each morning, rising to the noonday sky. Then they cool for a bit in the shade of the trees until the setting sun again peaks through and bathes them in its golden light. 

Today, as I walked around the house lugging the hose pipe (water hose for those of you in the north!) to spray them with the cool water, I almost tripped over what awaited me. There among the little red rose buds and some weeds bloomed a beautiful yellow rose! Now how in the world did that yellow rose come up from those transplanted red roses? I was so excited!! For you see, the yellow rose is my very favorite rose of all!! 

The yellow rose stands tall and proud…any rose can be a red rose, but it takes something special to stand out from the rest. My daddy only gave me one rose in his lifetime. I was riding around with him one day and he had to stop at Roper’s Florist, because he had been doing some work for Mr. Roper. He told me to stay in his truck and he would be right back out. He came out with a tissue paper and handed it to me. I unwrapped it to find a long stem yellow rose. It was a moment I will never forget. 

As I stood there today, enjoying this beauty among the ordinary, I thought about how we as Christians live among the thorns and weeds in this world. There were other roses there, ordinary red roses, budding and blooming as they do. But then, there among them was one that was different, standing out with its glow and grace.

Paul told the Philippians to “do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation among whom  you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…” (Philippians 2:14-16 NASB). The Philippians were living in a pagan society, where the true God was not recognized. They regarded Caesar as deity, and found those who did not troublesome.

But rather than advising the Philippians to withdraw from this antagonistic population, he wanted them to live among them, holding fast to the truth of the gospel. They were to conduct themselves “in a manner worthy of the gospel; standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 NASB). They had something to offer to those living in darkness. And as they followed the example of Jesus’ humility and love (2:5-8), they would stand out from the crowd like lights in an otherwise dark sky.

We should be like that rose; we should bloom right where we are planted. When we live out our salvation, following Jesus’ example, we will stand out by reflecting the light that shines on us. Like an unexpected yellow rose blooming among the ordinary.

TWEETABLE
Yellow Rose Surprise – encouragement & insight from  @GingerSanders on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Ginger Sanders

About the author: Ginger Sanders has been a Chaplain Coordinator with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team since 2008. Ginger and her husband, Denny, have responded to many disasters such as tornadoes, floods, and storms, as well as the Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings.

Ginger’s book, He Goes Before Us, features chaplains’ stories of God at work in disaster. She’s also written, and two children’s booksRound Eyes: An Adopted Child’s View of Love, and the award-winning Fireflies, which explains death to children with hope and love. Ginger also co-hosts a Christian television show and has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows. She and her husband of 50 years have four children and eleven beautiful grandchildren.

Persona Non Au Gratin

by Rhonda Rhea

Do you know how glorious it is to speak at an event that’s directed by a thoughtful and gracious event coordinator? Those are the trips that are somewhere near heaven. Ah, to be chauffeured about, fed the best meals from the finest restaurants, then transported to a posh hotel, only to find a gorgeous gift basket already delivered to the room. Bubble bath waiting. Bed turned down. Mint on the pillow. It’s good to be queen.

Okay, no one knows as well as I do that I don’t deserve to be treated like a queen. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it, does it?

You know when I truly realize I’ve been unduly treated like royalty? When I get home. It’s like a whiplash back into reality. One second I’m signing books and greeting the complimentary crowds, the next I’m walking in the door to kids who barely manage a deadpan, “Oh Mom, it’s you. I’m glad you’re home–‘cuz we’re out of bread. And somebody must’ve spilled a bunch of milk inside the fridge ‘cuz it smells really nasty in there.”

It’s then I’m suddenly “persona non au gratin”—no longer the big cheese. It’s so funny that I can go straight from the applause of a gracious audience to cleaning the cat box.

While I admit I love my short reigns as queen, I have to tell you that there’s something quite comfortable about coming home to bread-fetching, milk-mopping and cat-box-cleaning servitude. Living with an entire brigade of pride police really isn’t a bad thing.

Humility can be so tricky. Once you realize you have it, it’s probably a point of pride—and then it’s gone! The best way to stay humble is to stay focused on Christ, our example. We’re told in Philippians 2:5-8 to have His attitude. “Let this same attitude and purpose band humble mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus:  Let Him be your example in humility. Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God, possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God, did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, but stripped Himself of all privileges and rightful dignity, so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself still further and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!” (AMP)

Jesus was true royalty, not the temporary, speaking-event kind. He is rightly called the King of all kings. Yet this passage tells us that He didn’t hang on to those rights as royalty. He pushed them aside on our behalf and took on servant status. Imagine leaving the splendor of Heaven (beyond any five-star hotel we can picture) to serve and unselfishly give His life.

I really do want to be like Him. I want to humbly serve before any crowd. And I want to humbly serve as I load my shopping cart with four gallons of milk. The Message phrases Proverbs 15:33b this way: “First you learn humility, then you experience glory.” By His grace, there’s glory before the crowds. I truly believe that in humble surrender, by His grace, there’s glory in the cat box too.

“. . .Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3

rhonda rheaAbout the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and a humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLife, Leading Hearts, The Pathway and many more. She is the author of 12 books, including Fix-Her-Upperco-authored with Beth Duewel, and a hilarious novel, Turtles in the Roadco-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea. Rhonda and Kaley are also excited to be teaming up with Bridges TV host, Monica Schmelter, for a new book and TV series titled, Messy to Meaningful—Lessons from the Junk Drawer. Rhonda enjoys speaking at conferences and events from coast to coast and serves as a consultant for Bold Vision Books. She lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

Join the conversation: What keeps you humble?

Photo by Annie Theby on Unsplash