Feeling Insignificant Like a Guy From Nazareth

Roots matter. They help to define us… sometimes in a good way and sometimes not. Jesus had earthly roots in His childhood home that caused those who surrounded Him to look down on Him. These roots were insignificant and didn’t carry with them any sense of importance. He was a Nazarene…

So what, right? I mean… who really cares where you are from or what kind of difficulty that you had to face early on? 

Well, our early days have a lot to do in defining who we become or what kind of adversity that we have to fight along the way. Our roots carry a stigma that can wrap around our feet and hold us solidly in place or push us forward to achieve more and more. Jesus’ roots were ones that would traditionally stifle and hold back any growth. He was from Nazareth.

Now, let me make it clear that I am not implying that Jesus was a member of the band who brought us the great hits of “Love Hurts” or “Hair of the Dog”.

Nazareth Band

No… I am talking about the city that sits in Israel. Today, it is known as the ‘Arab Capital of Israel’ (with over 60% being Muslim) and the largest city in the Northern district of Israel. During Jesus’ time, this city was very Jewish and very small. In fact, there was a belief about the people who came from Nazareth that is reflected in Nathaniel’s words to Philip in John 1:46 …

“Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

It’s understandable. Nazareth was not known for much. It sat surrounded by soft, porous limestone hills and was filled with people who made their living farming. They were spread out as they needed room for plants and livestock to roam. They were very Jewish and very communal in how they lived, but nothing good was expected to come out of such humble places. Nothing significant… nothing noticeable. 

But someone did. In fact, it was in one of the dreams of Joseph that Jesus’ parents were directed to go to this humble city. (Check out this blog post for more on the dreams of Joseph). God wanted Jesus to be in Nazareth. Jesus begins his life with no place for a bed… born in a barn. Then, after spending some time in Egypt, they come to Nazareth to plant their tent posts and begin life as a family.

There was a Stigma that came from Nazareth.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Stigmas have a way of following us. People don’t forget who we were or what we did or where we came from. People have a hard time seeing us outside of the stigma. Nathaniel had a hard time with it and so will people in your life. They will only look at you through the lens of where you were and not where you are going.

This stigma on Jesus followed Him to His very death.

Fast forward His story to His death on a cross at a place called Golgotha… “Place of the Skull”. A sign was placed above his head on that old rugged cross. A sign that had the first words point back to this stigma… to this place of origin. The sign said…

“Jesus of Nazareth. King of the Jews.”

It is as if Pilate was giving the Jews one final twist of the knife into their gut of disdain towards Jesus. Not only was Pilate calling Him the King of the Jews… but he was calling out the reality that this “supposed” King was from this “Podunk” town of Nazareth.

Little did Pilate know what would happen three days later. Little did He know that this insignificant man from an insignificant town would literally rise to life from death and change the entire trajectory of the world. Little did he know that this Nazarite’s name would be known by every man on earth before it’s all said and done. (Phil. 2:9-11)

Little did he know…

And I want you to know today that God loves to make the insignificant significant. He loves to take that which the world would poke fun at and use for His glory on earth. He loves to be seen as the One working through those who would stand no chance in the eyes of the world… and do something great through them.

That is probably you.

That may be the reason you stumbled on this post and read these words and God is using them to speak into you. Yes, there have been plenty of Nathaniels and Pilates in your life who have been quick to write you off or tell you why you can’t do this or that, however you can do all things THROUGH CHRIST who gives you strength. Stay connected to Him. Stay close to Him. Stay surrendered to Him and watch what He can… and will… do in and through you.

Say this simple prayer of surrender.

“God, help me focus on You instead of my past. Help me look to my position with You when I’m tempted to look at where I come from. I surrender my life to You and ask You to use my remaining days for Your glory here on earth. I commit to serve You with everything I have until the day You call me home. I love You and thank You for today.”

GP

 

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God Speaks While Joseph Sleeps

It is amazing to me that God can often work in such profound ways while people are doing simple things… like sleeping. I look at the life of Joseph and see that God was working in a BIG way while he was snoring away. I know it doesn’t ALWAYS work out like this, but I imagine that there were a few years when Joseph (Jesus’ ‘adoptive dad’), would have been excited and scared when he crawled into bed. It seemed like God told Joseph some very BIG news while he was sleeping.

I imagine the first time was pretty stressful. Joseph had recently found out that his wife was pregnant… even though they had never been together sexually. He cared for her, but knew that he had to do something, so he decided to divorce her quietly. (I talked a little about this situation in this blog post).

So, he curls up in his footie pajamas and nods off into dreamland… knowing that he was about to quietly ‘divorce’ this woman that he loves. And, in between counting sheep and the rooster crowing, an angel shows up.

Angel Shows up to Joseph - Matthew.png

This was a pretty big moment for him. This would change everything. There were only two answers to Mary’s premature pregnancy. Either (1), the baby was Joseph’s and they had slept with one another before their official marriage was official. [This was a pretty grievous sin during this time and would carry with it much shame brought upon the family]. Or, (2) she had been with another man and the baby Mary was carrying was the product of infidelity. This, also, would bring incredible shame on both Mary and Joseph… but mostly on Joseph’s family which would be an incredible dishonor in a culture where integrity and honor were tantamount.

But, God spoke and Joseph was obedient. This is always my favorite part. He could have just ignored the dream and blamed it on some bad tamales that he bought at the local Quickie Mart. He could have come up with some excuse on why it didn’t make sense and followed his own will… but, he didn’t. The Bible tells us that he takes Mary to be his wife.

I wonder if God was proud of Joseph. I wonder if He smiled at His obedience. One thing is for sure… God used the ‘angel in the dream’ thing a few more times. I imagine He thought to Himself… ‘that Joseph sure listened to me when I sent the angel. We have a few more messages for Him. Keep that angel on speed dial. We are going to be needing him again’.

And God did… three more times recorded in Scripture.

There was the time that the death squad was coming to kill the babies in Bethlehem. The angel shows up and the angel tells Joseph to get the heck out of Dodge…

Matthew 2

Then, after a time in Egypt, Joseph is curling up in bed after reading the final chapter of Arabian Nights and, as he is drifting away, an angel comes and tells them that it is safe to head back to the homeland of Israel…

Matthew 2(2)

But, that wasn’t enough. Yes… Joseph was headed back to Israel, but God wanted to be a little more specific about where they were going to go. So, in the final recorded dream of Joseph, an angel shows back up and tells him what neighborhood and subdivision that He was supposed to move in to.

Matthew 2(3)

And, he did.

I am encouraged by this. I am encouraged by Joseph’s obedience, but I am also encouraged by God’s love and grace in His communication. I love how He knew to reach into Joseph. I love how He knew how to get His attention. I love how He knew what would work.

I know that this same BIG God, knows me as well as He knew Joseph. I know that He created Joseph and He created me with purpose. And, I know that He knows what to do in order to get my attention and to speak and guide and direct my life too. I trust Him and trust that He is actively working in my life today. And… as He works… He will be pointing some things out along the journey of life.

Feel free to say this prayer and spend some time listening to God today:

“God, show up in my life. Help me pay attention and see your fingerprints all over my life. Help me live a life of obedience to You and Your Word. When I see You moving in my life, help me to focus and pay attention with a humble and obedient heart. Thank You for all that You have done in my life and all that You will do. I am grateful.” 

GP

 

A King, a Priest and a Dead Man Walk Into A Barn

A gift is a blessing… but a perfectly timed gift is a miracle. 

I can imagine how humbled Mary and Joseph were when the ‘wise men’ astrologers followed a star to their front door. I can imagine their joy to see these learned men who had traveled (maybe 1,000 miles) to bow before their son. But when they opened the treasure boxes… I am sure their hearts melted.

Some gifts may seem strange to us today and some we would welcome gladly.

GOLD. For sure, no problem with this. If you want to bring a bucket full of gold to my kid’s birthday party… I will not complain. With a current value of $1,272 per ounce, you can fill every bucket in the house with it! Of course, it was also a gift fit for a king. And then there was the incense.

FRANKINCENSE to be specific. This was used in priestly functions as incense was burned before God as a picture of prayers going up before the Lord. Some today, however, believe that the wise men’s gift of frankincense was practical for the medicinal nature. Either way, it was also a gift for a priest. And then there was the myrrh.

MYRRH was an embalming agent. Yes, it was valuable, but it also carried with it a very ominous picture into the future of Jesus and the core reason on why He was on earth. He was there on purpose… and that purpose was death. It was a good gift for a dead man.

These gifts were normal gifts to give a king. In fact, these same three items were apparently among the gifts, recorded in ancient inscriptions, that King Seleucus II Callinicus offered to the god Apollo at the temple in Miletus in 243 B.C.E.

There is also a prophetic word from the prophet Isaiah about the response of people to God in the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah:

Isaiah 60-6.png

For us today, there is a lot to see about these incredible gifts given to this young child. It is a testimony of God’s care and provision for the future that was unknown by Joseph and Mary at this time. Because… in the next few verses we are going to find a raging king Herod, a death squad march into Bethlehem and an all expense paid trip to Egypt. Paid for through a miracle.

A miracle that involved a star that defied the laws of nature and a group that traveled over 1,000 miles with a message of honor.

God knew the future of Joseph and Mary… and He provided for them. He made a way. He opened a door. He cared for their needs. He worked a miracle and did that which ONLY He could have done. 

The same is true in your life.

The same God who worked a miracle in Bethlehem can work a miracle in your life today. The same God who provided for Mary and Joseph can provide for you. The same God who created the universe has a perfect plan for your life. 

Our role is to humbly trust and respond to His grace and love with open hands and a grateful heart. To thank Him for His provision today and trust that He knows ALL the difficulties we will face tomorrow and trust that He is providing for those tomorrows today.

Say this simple prayer:

“God, help me trust you more. Help me to believe that You do care and You do provide for ALL of my needs. Help me turn to You when things don’t make sense and to look for your fingerprints all over my life. I want to give all of my ‘todays’ to you and trust that you are actively at work in all of my ‘tomorrows’. Help me live out that trust. Amen.”

GP

A Star Defies Nature For Jesus

In the Bible there is a story about ‘wise men’ who were traveling to see a newborn King. They were following a star along their journey and this star made some incredibly unnatural moves along it’s journey.

It started in ‘the East’ with a group of people known as ‘magi’. Magi actually first entered the scene around the 7th century BC in the Median empire, but at the time of Jesus they were a priestly caste dwelling within the Parthian empire (a large area to the east of the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire). They were known for interpreting dreams and practiced a hybrid of astronomy and astrology. They were ‘star people’.

So, they see ‘the‘ star. This is not just any star, but the star that was a big deal because it was the star that marked a king being born. If they were in Persia when they saw the star (although the Bible is silent on the exact point of origin), they would have traveled 1,000 miles to Bethlehem as they followed that star! (Their feet must’ve been like stone after walking all that way… all calloused and blistered by the time they made it into Jerusalem. Either that or some sore butts from the camels. Either way, they were feeling it. )

Now, this is where it gets strange.

They start getting close to this baby named Jesus and we read:

“…the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.” Matthew 2:9b

Now stars travel in a certain trajectory. If you were to sit and watch the stars through a telescope, you would occasionally have to move the telescope. Because… these stars are not static… they move. They move from the east to the west. But Bethlehem in 5 miles south of Jerusalem.

Did you hear that? The star moved south.

In order for this star to lead these ‘wise guys’ from Jerusalem to Bethlehem it would have taken them on a five mile southward journey. It would have done the impossible to bear witness to the King of all kings… Jesus. 

This is just another one of those facts that I quickly read over and don’t pay any attention to. However, I can imagine the awe of these ‘astronomers’ who spent their entire lives with their eyes to the sky. They knew how stars were supposed to react. They knew what was ‘supposed’ to happen. But, when nature moved to bow before the child named Jesus… they noticed… and so should we. 

We should read God’s Word with fresh eyes to see the miracles in the simple moments. To watch the impossible become possible as the fingerprints of God show up all over the situations relating to Jesus. Because, those fingerprints don’t simply stop around the life of Jesus and the first disciples, but they can be found all around you… also.

God is still at work and He is moving around your life. Sometimes, like when we read the Bible, we skip over those ‘small verses’ that don’t stick out. We just look at the ‘big things’ that are going on around us. But, it is in those small details that the real miracles are taking place. 

If you are frustrated or wondering where God is, I want to reassure you that He IS here and He IS active and He DOES care so much about you. Maybe start by saying a simple prayer like this to Him today:

“God, help me see your fingerprints in my life. Help me see that you are here in the little details of my life. Help me see that You do care and that You are actively at work all around me. Help me see that You will never leave me and that You are fighting on my behalf. Open my eyes to your work today.”

GP

 

 

 

 

Julius Caesar was on Herod’s Christmas Card List

Every Christmas in church I hear about a guy who gets super grumpy that a baby was born. The baby was Jesus and the grump was a king named Herod. 

Understanding a little bit more about this cantankerous king can be good for our understanding of scripture. You see, Herod was the ‘king’, but he shouldn’t have been king because he wasn’t in the ‘line of David’. In fact, his reign came because of a guy named Julius Caesar. Here’s how it came to be…

  • Herod was born in Southern Palestine
  • Herod’s dad, Antipater, was an Edomite (a Semitic people who historians believe to be arab that converted to Judaism in the 2nd century)
  • Herod was of Arab origin and a practicing Jew
  • Herod’s dad was rich and supported Pompey’s invasion of Palestine which brought many political connections to the family (63BCE)
  • Herod becomes life long friends with Mark Antony
  • Julius Caesar befriends Antipater and his son Herod. (That’s right! Julius Caesar was on Herod’s family’s Christmas card list!)
  • Julius Caesar makes Antipater procurator or Judaea in 47BCE and makes him a Roman citizen (an honor that gets passed to his kids. So, Herod becomes a Roman)
  • That same year, Antipater appoints his son Herod as governor of Galilee
  • Six years later, Mark Antony made him tetrarch of Galilee
  • In 40BC a civil war broke out and Herod was forced to flee to Rome (Herod was seen as unable to control his region and had to run to Rome for support.)
  • The Senate in Rome nominated him king of Judaea, equipped him with an army and sent him back to regain order and rule in 37BC (Herod goes back with an entire army… cocked, locked and ready to rock. He wasn’t going to let anything threaten his leadership again.)

We pick up the story around 4BC when Herod had now held on to this position by military force for over 30 years.  A position that was given to him by people. First his dad, then his friend, then the senate. Humans had made him the king of Judaea, and he held it tight through military  force and had done so for the last three decades until he heard the words…

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:2

Do you see the difference here?

There was one who had attained a position through favors and people and relationships and military force, but now there was one who was born into this position. And, not just a King over a small province of land, but a King over a people which is beyond boundaries or limits. 

I think of Herod’s reaction here and it tells a lot about where he is at:

“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled…” Matthew 2:3a

The word means “stirred up, troubled or in despair”

You see, in that moment there was a plan far greater than Herod’s plans and he was in a position where his initial reaction was to stop this threat completely. He was ready to do anything to stop the will of God because God’s will would threaten his own will for his life. 

You know, we can be the same way today.

We don’t take it to the same level as Herod of issuing death contracts on babies (Mt. 2:16), but we can find ourselves kicking and screaming and fighting for ‘our plans’ coming to pass. But, God has a bigger plan for your life than you do. His plan is better and our job is to humbly submit to the will of God in our lives. 

God’s will is going to be done. He is in control of this whole thing. But, I wonder how much more peaceful and enjoyable life could be for us if we simply learned to trust Him in the process of life. I wonder how our lives would change if we would reflect the prayer of Jesus, “Not my will be done, but yours Father”. (Luke 22:42)

Does that sound good? Why not begin to live like that?

The next time things don’t go exactly as you had planned, try this simple prayer…

“God, I humbly submit to your plans for my life. I ask that Your will is done today and every day IN me and THROUGH me. Teach me through these circumstances and situations to live a life of surrender every single day. Amen.”

I hope this post helps. Live a life of surrender, it’s the best way to live.

GP