a blog about my little corner of the world

An Empty Manger – Day 10

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16

This one for me is tricky, because false testimony and gossip and retelling a good story and sharing concerns about a friend can all look about the same.

But I found several verses that can help remind me to think before I speak.

Proverbs 19:5 “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.”  Is the story you’re retelling the whole truth, do you know the other side of the story, or is this your own speculation, your spin. And does the story even need to be retold? Is this a story that should go no further?

Proverbs 11:13 “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”  Was this information shared with you because you were thought to be trustworthy?

Luke 6:37 “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned.”  Is your reaction to the story to judge or condemn? Do you think ‘that would never happen in my family’?

Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths but only what is helpful for building others up according to their need.”  Are you sharing a story to build up others, or is it just unwholesome talk coming out of your mouth? Have you considered the other person’s needs before you speak?

Matthew 18:15 “If you brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” Is everyone in the middle of your argument? Do you love to recount the story of the transgression?

Luther writes the meaning as, “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him and explain everything in the kindest way.”

Is my manger full of past conversations that have hurt reputations or betrayed neighbors? Do I need to get rid of attitudes of judgement and condemnation when I think of stories I’ve heard? When I speak of certain people, am I thinking of their best interests and putting their situation in the kindest light possible? Is there someone I know in my circle of acquaintances that could use a defender?

Father, God, you have created man in your own image and we should not lie, slander or betray your precious creation. Give us strength to defend a neighbor, not put them down. Give us courage to stand up to gossip and be the trustworthy friend. Give us a heart worthy of Your Name. In Jesus’ name, amen.


An Empty Manger – Day 9

“You shall not steal.” Exodus 20:15

This one might be another one that, on the surface, seems easy to keep. I’ve never broken into someone’s house or store to steal money or possessions. I’ve never held up a bank at gunpoint. But is that all there is to the idea of stealing?

Leviticus 19:35 says, “Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity.” Where might this apply in our lives today? When you measure the length of a work day, do you give your employer a full day? When you download a song and share it with friends or family, have you paid for the quantity you are using? When “working the system” do I weigh the needs of the system above my own, or do I take advantage of it?

Saint Paul writes to the Ephesians, “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”  Again, we see here a higher standard. Not only that we would not steal, but that we would work to be able to give to those who are unable to provide for themselves.

Is there clutter in your manger today? Are there people or places you’ve been taking from, not even realizing your are stealing. Maybe it’s your family, maybe you’ve been taking without giving back. Maybe it’s your neighbor as you dine richly while they go without. Maybe it’s God as you enjoy the world and forget to give back to Him.

Father, search my heart that I may be pure and blameless before you. You have given me everything I need, let me not take with wrong motives. I have the ability to do something useful with my own hands, let me do and share the bounty. In Jesus’ name, amen.

An Empty Manger – Day 8

Exodus 20:14 says, “You shall not commit adultery.” This might be another commandment that we think we’ve got no problem with, after all if you’ve never had an affair, you’re fine, right?  But then you read Matthew 5:27-30 “…I tell you, anyone who looks at a a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” What is Jesus saying here? And why?

I think this one also goes back to our discussion on being a people set apart for God. Jesus is telling us the physical act of adultery is the final culmination of a thought process that started with the lusting. That by simply thinking these kinds of thoughts we have already moved away from God and his intention of who we ought to be as His people. The kind of people who love their spouse, and only desire their spouse.

Luther writes “We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do and husband and wife love and honor each other.”

Some thoughts to ponder, do I lead a sexually pure and decent life? Do I watch TV, movies, read books, look at things on the internet, that lead me to have an impure sexual thought life? Do I make comments or look at others in ways that are inappropriate? Do I love and honor my spouse so that a fleeting impure thought that enters my mind is quickly taken captive and dismissed?

Is your manger cluttered with any type of sexual sin? Pray for the Holy Spirit to remove it from your heart.

Father God, thank you for your gift of marriage and sexuality. Help me to always use this gift in God-honoring ways, as one set apart, as a child of God.

An Empty Manger – Day 7

The Fifth Commandment, when taken at face value, seems so easy to keep. You shall not murder. Got it! I’ve never killed anyone, so I’m good here. But Jesus takes this commandment to a whole new level in Matthew 5:21-22. “You have heard it said, ‘Do not murder’…But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will  will be subject to judgement…anyone who says ‘You fool’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

And the apostle John writes in 1 John 3:15, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”

So why did Jesus come and make this commandment so hard to keep?  Could this, too, be because of God’s desire for His people to be different from everyone else? It’s so easy to get angry, and stay angry, with those around us. So often other feelings lead to anger. Disappointment, embarrassment, insecurity, and many others can become anger towards a brother or sister if not dealt with. But God wants us to be in relationship with Him and to work through these feelings with Him so that we are able to have good relationships with the people He places in our lives.

If we think about Jesus’ summation of the Commandments we might see something. “Love the Lord your God…and love your neighbor as yourself.” [1] Our relationship with God is our priority, but our relationship to our neighbors is a close second! Something not to be taken lightly by any means. Are there attitudes and behaviors in your manger that need to be dealt with? mended? removed?

Luther writes the meaning for this commandment “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” He points out that not only should we not harm our neighbor, but actually help and support him. A couple of verses come to mind that reinforce this. Proverbs 3:27 “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act.” And Galatians 6:10 “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.”

So examine your manger. With whom are you angry? Is there anyone you would say you hate? What is at the root of these feelings? Can you turn them over to God and let Him heal you so you can restore a relationship? Do you answer the call to help when God places a need in front of you? What in your manger stops you from doing all God asks of you?

Lord of all creation, you have created man in your image and you have placed us together to be in relationship with one another. Guide me as I examine my heart for your people, especially the ones I find so difficult to get along with. Lead me to right relationships with those who have angered me…and those I have angered. Let all of this begin with a strong relationship with You. In the name of Jesus, amen.

[1] Luke 10:27

An Empty Manger – Day 6

The Fourth Commandment carries with it a promise.  Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

I’ve spent some time recently looking at “honor” and what it means. My Bible’s study notes says it means to “prize highly, care for, show respect for, and obey.”

Luther’s Small Catechism puts it this way, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.”

So what does this look like? As small children, top priority might be given to “show respect for” and “serve and obey”, but as we mature our parents spend less time giving orders for us to obey and we move to a point where “love and cherish” and “care for” take a more prominent role.

But what if there are some hurts from the past that get in the way of loving or cherishing our parents? What if caring for (directly) is more than you can do at this point in your life? Can you still Honor Your Father and Mother?

Absolutely! But often it will take some work on your part to let God heal your wounds, or help you find a way for your parents to be cared for in their final years. And I think you need to check your manger to see if there is some clutter that is getting in the way.

You may have been hurt and you hold on to the pain and unforgiveness, that is clutter. You may feel guilt for the choices you’ve made, bring them to God and let Him shine His light on the subject.  You may find you were justified and should not feel guilty…not everything our parents may ask us to do is God-pleasing. Or you may find that you were being selfish or dis-honoring and you need to rectify the situation before the guilty feelings will go away. Let God’s Spirit speak to you.

Are there some things in your manger regarding your parents or other authority figures in your life that you need to remove? To make room for Jesus, do you need to de-clutter past hurts, guilty feelings, unkind or unfair thoughts.  Remember to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in this process.

Abba, Father, at times it is hard to love and cherish or care for our parents. Guide us in our actions that all that we do in regards to our parents is honoring to them. Do not let us rebel against the authorities you have put in our lives, but respect and obey when it is God-honoring. In the loving name of Jesus, amen.

An Empty Manger – Day 5

Let’s begin today by reading Exodus 20:8-11. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”


It might help here to define some of these words. According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word shabbat which means “to cease” or “desist”; in this case to cease from all labor.  “Holy” has to do primarily with “God’s separating from the world that which He chooses to devote to Himself.” So God is calling for a day of rest, a time set apart for those who belong to Him.  Just as God Himself spent a day resting after His work, so we should as well.  Do you find it easy or difficult to take a day off from ordinary work to rest?

Listen to how serious God is about this. In Exodus 35:2 it says, “For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.”


Why would this commandment be so important to God?  Remember back at the beginning of our study I mentioned that one reason for the commandments was to teach us about relationship, in this case with God. He knew that it would be all too easy to make every day like another with no time to stop and commune with Him.  So He modeled it, then commanded it.


But listen to this promise He gives us in Isaiah 56:6-7—

“…all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it

and who hold fast to my covenant—

these I will bring to my holy mountain

and give them joy in my house of prayer.”


And again in Isaiah 58:13-14–


“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath

and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight

and the LORD’s holy day honorable,

and if you honor it by not going your own way

and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

then you will find your joy in the LORD,

and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land

and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

Luther’s meaning of the Third Commandment says this, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”  Do you find it a chore to spend a few hours at church on a Sunday morning? Would you rather sleep in, watch the game or take care of some chores around the house? If so, when do you “gladly hear and learn [the Word of God]?

In today’s 24/7 world, it’s tough to think of one whole day of doing nothing. But in fact even Jesus reminded the religious leaders that the Sabbath belongs to the Lord.  So perhaps a better view of this day is not “doing nothing”, but rather dedicating the day to the Lord. Make everything you do on the Sabbath, be about building relationships – with God and family and serving those people God has given us.

So what kinds of things take up your Sabbath rest day? What can come out of your manger?


Creator God, you worked for six days, and what wonderful work it was! You called it good. And then you took a break from working. Help me to make Your Sabbath rest a priority in my life.  Help me find ways to spend a day away from work to build relationships and to serve others. In Jesus’ name, amen.

An Empty Manger – Day 4

Today we look at the Second Commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.  In Exodus 20:7 it continues by saying, “for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”  This is probably why in various cultures at different times throughout history people have refused to even speak or write “God” for fear of misusing it.


But what does it mean to misuse the name of the Lord? Luther defines it like this, “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, lie, use satanic arts or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks.”


Oh, my! There might be some “stuff” in our mangers here! Have you ever invoked a curse on someone or something? Whether you used “God” in the statement or not, it is implied.  Have you ever said, “I swear to God…”? Unless you are making an oath (on the witness stand, etc) swearing by His name would be a misuse of the holy name of God[1].


And obviously any time we lie, but bring up the name of God to bring credence to our lie, we are misusing it.  Any time satanic arts are used (think Ouija boards, horoscopes[2] and séances[3]) God’s name is being misused since only God knows the future[4]. And any time we put on a “spiritual face” (think of implying a solid prayer life, or a daily Bible reading habit) but don’t have the spiritual disciplines to back it up, we are deceiving by His name[5].


Take a minute here to think about what might need to be removed from your manger. Are words coming out of your mouth that are dishonoring to the One who made you or the object you are cursing? Or maybe you use the name of God so casually that no one would know if you are actually calling on the Lord or not. Examine how you use the name of the Lord.  Are there some habits that need to be “taken out of the manger” so that Jesus can reside there?


The beauty of Luther’s meaning to the Third Commandment, is he gives up suggestions for when we are to use the name of the Lord. We are invited to call upon the name of the Lord our God when we are in times of trouble, when we pray to Him, when we praise Him, and when we give thanks for His blessings in our lives.  So let us pray to Him now.  Lord, I praise your name! You are mighty! You have loved me with an everlasting love! Your creation, including me, is marvelous!  Thank you for all that I am and all that I have been given. You, O Lord, are gracious to forgive me for the stuff that I have accumulated in my manger. May it all be removed so there is room for Jesus. In His name I pray, amen.



[1] Matthew 5:33-37

[2] Ecclesiastes 7:14

[3] Deuteronomy 18:10-12

[4] Ecclesiastes 8:7

[5] Matthew 15:8


An Empty Manger – Day 3

Today we’re looking at Exodus 20:4-6 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”


In these verses we find some things that might become idols and clutter up our manger.


Have I made things in heaven above: angels, loved ones or famous saints in heaven, or even the Virgin Mary to be things I worship?


Are there things on the earth beneath: symbols of love or peace, people, animals or things in nature that have become more important to me than the God who created them?


Are there mysteries in the waters below that draw my attention to a point of worship?

Do you bow down (literally or figuratively) to any of these things? Do I worship them?  Do I consider them to have a divine nature?  The Holman Bible Dictionary defines worship as an act or action associated with attributing honor, reverence, or worth to that which is considered to be divine.


As I pondered this, I decided I needed to flip the question. I wanted to ask the question “Do I worship God?” Do I participate in any actions that would show how I honor Him, revere Him or His worth? Do I consider Him to be divine? Or do I treat God as a genie in a bottle? Do I take for granted His everlasting love[1], His mercies that are new every day[2], the gift of His son?


As I questioned my own true worship of God, I had to follow up with “what gets in the way of truly worshiping God?” Fear of not being in control or maybe pride? Maybe something from our past blocks our true worship. Maybe a mis-understanding of worship and what it looks like.


Is anything today striking a chord with you?  Did you discover anything that needs to be taken out of your manger to make room for Christ? Take time right now to mentally or symbolically cast out these things.


[1] Jeremiah 31:3

[2] Lamentations 3:21-22 (KJV)


An Empty Manger – Day 2

Commandment #1 – You shall have no other gods.

The New Living Translation says “you must not have any other god but me.” Other translations say “You shall have no other gods before or besides Me,[1]” one says “No other gods, only me[2],” still another says “Do not worship any god except me.[3]”  No matter how it’s translated the bottom line is there should be only one God in your life!

It’s easy to look at the Old Testament and see what their gods were – Baal, Molech, the golden calf, wooden idols. But it is maybe a little tougher to see what we make into little “g” gods in our day.  Some things that popped into my mind as I pondered this are technology, medical interventions, media, money, nature, excess.  What came to your mind?

My sweet little girl is in her second year of confirmation so we are in the thick of memorizing the Ten Commandments and their meanings. So I’m going to share with you what Martin Luther wrote about what this first commandment means. He said, “We are to fear, love and trust God above all things.”  Like the commandment itself, it’s pretty short and concise…”above all things” leaves little room for anything else!

Luther’s Small Catechism also lists several verses that help us to understand what can be made into gods.

Philippians 3:19 …their god is their stomach…

Proverbs 11:28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall.

Proverbs 3:5 ….lean not on your own understanding…

Matthew 10:37 Anyone who loves his father or mother…

Proverbs 29:25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare…

So let’s look at the little “g” gods we’ve accumulated in our mangers by asking these questions: What do I fear? Rejection, job loss, physical pain, death?

What or who do I love more than God?  Sports, hobbies, family, food, money?

What or who do I trust when the going gets tough? Doctors, bank accounts, friends and family?

Our Lord is gracious to give us jobs, family, good health care, hobbies and all the rest. But it’s all too easy to turn them into something that is more important to us than God. So begin emptying your manger of these little “g” gods. Let go of your fears, and place the things you love and trust in their proper spot in your heart.

Holy Father, What you ask, Lord, is really so little. To put you first in our lives. Seems so easy, but is so difficult at times. Thank you for the grace you extend to us when we repent of the idols we create. Send your Holy Spirit to help us fear, love and trust in You above all else.  In the power of your Holy Name, amen.

[1] Amplified

[2] The Message

[3] Contemporary English



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