December 2010

Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you.

For I am the Lord your God.

Isaiah 43: 1-3

Many people around the world have experienced first hand the fear, devastation, and loss of flood or fire; these events are happening regularly, some on a smaller scale and some are massive in their scope and breadth of impact. Even if you are among the fortunate majority who have not had to experience these disasters personally, even if you live on a mountain top hundreds of miles from the nearest source of above ground water and there are no trees or grasses there and your home is made of cement, you are still not immune from the raging waters and the searing flames of life.

What does a flood look like? Obviously, it can be made of all-filling, brackish fluid; also, it can be words, emotions, job insecurities and loss of or lack of finances, children and parents, spouses and partners; a flood is really anything that covers us with its weight and soaks us to the heart with its burden. Floods come on us in an instant like the wall of a building that has suddenly collapsed, or they can trickle into our lives slowly, like the leaky water pipe that is ignored for so long that the basement is full of water. They can be the result of our own actions through misstep, wrong decisions, or willful disobedience to God’s direction for life, and they can be caused by forces totally beyond our control. Sometimes we need to deliberately walk into the river in order to save a friend from its grasp or to cross through it in order to get to the place where we are called to go. At other times, these same relationships and situations can seem to consume us like fire; searing hot, frighteningly bright and unpredictable. The heat and the smoke destroy our ability to reason and we become disoriented; thus, we head the wrong way, often going further into the flames and frequently trying to put them out by throwing flammable liquids onto them.

The Lord promises to give us leadership, direction, and resources; and He promises to accompany us into the water and through the fire. He doesn’t promise us that there will be no floods, rivers to cross, or dangerous fires; they will come, and sometimes He will actually lead us into them. God does tell us that He has already claimed our hearts and our souls for Himself and that He will protect us. Our part in claiming this protection and the related victory is to accept the truth of the last line of Isaiah’s writing; for, we need to accept that God is Lord, that He is my source for courage, wisdom, resolution, strength, and direction through all aspects of life. He has the answers, and He is totally committed to take me through all that life throws at me; so, all that He needs is my willingness to trust His way through it.

Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 2: 5

God created the light; as, it was essential for the new world that His hands had made. It brought warmth, it brought the growth/rest cycles that every living thing needs, and it provided the primary source of energy. Yet the sun was by far the lesser light in the world, for God’s presence brought light to the souls of people.

The ability to respond to the illumination of the Spirit that leads people to seek truth is what sets humans apart from all the rest of creation. God implanted into people a desire to love and to be loved, to live at a level that is above that of the rest of the animals, and to have an intimate relationship with our Creator. The Lord has continually remained among us; as, He has always stayed connected to us here while we walk through this life. God designed the world to be a place where peace, justice, compassion, understanding, and graciousness were the rule of living, and He gave us the truth of His love to guide us in our interactions. If we desire to follow the Lord and to live inside of His will, these are the qualities that we need to seek. Also, these are the characteristics that we need to show to the people around us.

God gave light of the sun to this world so that we could find our way through it, and He gave us the light of His Spirit to make right living the bright and the desirable path to follow. This new life in Christ is the gift that is wrapped with the shinny ribbon and the beautiful paper; we need to open our hearts to see it clearly. As we open this gift from God and live in His light, the qualities that grow in us will bring life changing warmth to our world.

And Simeon came in the spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God and said, “Now Lord, You do let Your bond-servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people to Israel.
Luke 2: 27- 32
 There is a form of anticipation that runs deep in all of Creation. Even nature seems to desire a return to its original design where God’s perfection was normal. This same need is found in people; in some of us it is buried far below the surface, and in some God’s Spirit reaches in and awakens a need that takes over life. Simeon had been looking for an answer to a need that he couldn’t truly understand; yet, he continued to wait, hope, and believe. Now, on an ordinary day, in the company of simple people, and in the form of a helpless child was God’s answer to generations of longing, separation, and death.
Simeon was in the presence of the Savior, and he could now stop his vigil, announce the arrival of the king to His earthly palace, and leave this life for the eternal next one. The Lord had revealed to Simeon truths that were far greater than his own understanding, for he knew that Christ was here for Gentiles and for Jews. The child had been born to bring all people back into relationship with their God and to make real the potential for restoration of all of humanity to the state of unity as one spiritual family that God had intended originally. Through this man, Jesus, the Spirit of God could come to dwell in people, and our true humanity was returned.
 In the singular event of the birth of Jesus to a young woman who lived in the middle of nowhere, God reached out to my heart, and He reaches out into the lives of everyone on this earth with His desire to have us come to Him in acceptance of His love gift of grace. The light of Christ can penetrate even the darkest places in the most hardened of hearts, and the glory of His presence transforms the the desperation of a life lost into the joyous realization of potential brought to life. Christ is the end and the beginning of all of our life quests for meaning, worth, and value. Christ is the resolution and the compelling force in the story of life that we each are called to live.  

Where is He who is born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.

Matthew 2: 2

The maji came looking; they were seekers following the natural arts that were their craft. They were in search of a baby who was so important that they had been diligently watching for a specific sign; perhaps, they had become utterly consumed by their search, for they had left behind everything else in their lives, gathered valuable gifts, and had traveled a great distance across some dangerous lands to get to the kingdom of the Jews. They believed that this event was of such significance that Herod, himself, would be aware of it and would be the best source of information and direction to the baby king.

They were totally right, and they were completely wrong. Their study of astrology and of the ancient texts had informed them well, but their assumption that the same understanding would come to all people in Judea was quite wrong. God had reached out into His creation and set in place a star to guide those who were seeking to know Him. The Lord of Creation was using the elements of His universe as guide posts in the journey that leads from the darkness of sin and the desolation of separation to the simple place where salvation lay wrapped in strips of cloth, surrounded by the most humble of people, and held by a mother who had received the intimate touch of the Most High.

Just as all of creation calls out for the restorative and healing touch of Christ, it also points toward Him. The Lord places the illumination of His star before each of our eyes, and He speaks the truth of Christ to our hearts. Some people are like the maji, and they are seeking after the answer to a riddle that has only one solution; and some are more like Herod, who knew of the prophesy and heard the words of the redemptive message but rejected the Savior. Christ continues to wait for each of us, and the Lord continues to place the star that radiates His light of grace before all people. For everyone there are the same choices that faced Herod and the maji. We can chose to reject Christ and be destroyed, or we can follow the maji along the path of truth that is found in God’s word and come into the presence of the Eternal King.

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Luke 2: 13, 14

There are times when the darkness and the silence seem to cover my world like a heavy blanket; then, little light gets through to my eyes and no matter what music may be playing or what programming might be on television I tend to feel alone and there are no joyous songs in my heart. The world had reached a point where this was its general state of affairs when this special night of deliverance came. The shepherds who were witness to this angelic chorus had been waiting, watching, and wondering through many long, dark nights about when God would step into their lives in a way that would relieve the oppression of foreign rule and bring purification to their tainted national religion. By this time, they certainly doubted that they would ever see the long promised redeemer king; yet, they continued to hope.

However, God was not truly silent, and He was not absent from the world. He was waiting with the patience of One who has a perfect plan for the exact moment to set in motion the scene where He would step into the world to bring the divine back into humanity and to raise us humans up to His presence. Now, there in a little village beyond the care or the concern of the world came the Mighty King, and His first royal edict was expressed as the cry of a new born; yet, the heavens responded with a chorus of praise and thanksgiving.

Just as it happened on that long ago night; so, the Lord responds to our own dark nights of the spirit with His universal answer to all of the need, want, and concern that we may experience. Christ still speaks so that His words of strength, encouragement, and truth can bring about a change in the spirit that is transformative, for He is present even in the heaviest of my nights; as, Christ brings hope and the peace of His dawn to my heart. The Lord surrounds me with His angels, their voices continually raise a chorus of praise to my King, and they invite me to join them in singing their continual song of worship.

And the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2: 10, 11

It’s another night on the job. There is a fire to tend, some sheep to chase, jokes are told, and time moves at the usual slow pace; there hasn’t even been a rumor of any marauding wolves in the area for months, and life has settled into a sameness that promises to never end until death interrupts its flow. So, God sends a messenger to deliver the news that will truly change the game; in fact, this is the news that will change each of their lives and that has the potential to change the eternal futures of all of their descendants, too. There is great joy in the air, and this is joy so wonderful, so magical, that it fills the fabric of creation with its presence.

For the Lord of that creation has reached out His hand to touch the lives of these lowest of people, and He has come into their world to live in the closest proximity possible. The angels reveal to the shepherds that the Christ, the saving one, has been born, but the story that they tell is strange, for He who is to be king has come into the world in a tiny dot on the map of a town, with a mother who is of no consequence, and the birth announcement has gone out to a group of people who have less than nothing to offer to the royal child. Yet, they listen, they are amazed, they go to see, and they go to worship. Here, on this dark night, the Savior has been born for them, and the fact that Christ has come for people such as they is perhaps the greatest wonder of it all.

Now, on this dark night, in a time when the souls of people everywhere are tortured by the pain of guilt and loss and when the air is filled with sounds of mourning comes the same word of confident assurance. For to each of us has been born a Savior, and He brings God’s eternal message of hope, peace, and reconciliation. Jesus Christ came for you and for me, and our lives will never be the same. The shepherds left their encounter with Christ with a purpose and with a mission to tell the good news on their hearts. We have a story to tell that is still just as great and just as important today as it was then; for, unto each of us Christ has been born, and the news of that joy is too great to ignore and too wonderful to keep quiet.

And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desires to put her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.”

Luke 1: 19-21

 As a righteous man, Joseph was faced with a very large problem. His bride to be was pregnant, he had done what he was required to do and had guarded her purity, and he didn’t believe that it would be right to turn her out to public shame, humiliation, and even to the prospect of death by stoning. Joseph was righteous in a way that seems to have lead him to seek out God’s loving nature rather than in the manner that strives to prove strength and to assert superiority. Joseph is influenced at a deep level by God’s love, grace, and compassion.

Although the story doesn’t say this, it is likely that Joseph turned to the Lord in prayer at this time of decision and that this was probably the most intense and deeply moving time of talking with God that he had ever experienced. His long planned and anticipated time of establishing his own family and of moving into an independent state of living in his community was at hand, and the central person in his plan had failed in the most humiliatingly devastating way possible. He was disgraced, and at his advancing age, his plans for the future were set back greatly.

Joseph didn’t know the answer, and he was not aware of what was about to happen; for, all that he knew was that he was in need of God’s wisdom and of peace for his troubled heart; so, he must have cried out to the Lord from deep within his hurt and his confusion. Then God answers him with mysterious and marvelous words, with words that Joseph’s heart understands even as his mind was struggling to grasp what he was being told. Joseph is the first of a very long string of people to come to the feet of Jesus and to call Him Savior and to come to know Him as Lord. In the restoration of Joseph’s hopes and dreams, the Lord brought salvation to all of us, and the answer to his impassioned prayer is God’s response to all of ours.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Hail favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Luke 1: 26-28

Now I do not claim to have ever encountered anything like what Mary did or like what her cousin Zacharias had a few months earlier. They had face to face meetings with the angel Gabriel who, by his own words, “stands in the presence of God”. This must have been overwhelming to the degree that I could see myself truly questioning whether I was awake or sleeping or even being concerned about my sanity. These were very special situations that happened in the most exceptional of times to people who were chosen by God to do His will and to fulfill His plan.

Yet, they really weren’t all that special, and the times that they lived in were not so much different from today, and their situations were rather like those that most of us find ourselves living in. These were simple, everyday people who God chose to place in positions where they needed to trust His loving will and to rely upon His direction without question. This was a time in history when oppression was common, when false religion was flourishing, and when making it through the day was often the highest calling that people followed. Mary, Zacharias, Elizabeth, and Mary were living their lives in the best way that they knew how; still, the Lord had so much more for them in His plan, and He would not remain still or quiet about the ways that He intended to bless them.

It seems to me that the same things are true in my life. Most days are lived out in a manner that is intended to serve Christ and where I am seeking to do what is right and to be who the Lord wants me to be. However, I know that the Lord has much more in His plan than I realize, and i know that He is never silent or secretive about how He wants His children to live or about what He wants us to do to serve His will. The voice that speaks to me today will probably not come from the body of Gabriel or from the mouth of any other literal angel, but the voice of God is still with me. Christ has given us His Spirit as a constant aspect of our being; so, the voice of God is continually with me, and like Zacharias and Mary, I need to listen, to trust, and to obey His words of truth, and the Lord will bless my days in ways that are beyond my imagining.

Turn away from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34: 14

Evil is almost the most relentless force in our world; it never sleeps, it never stops. The news from all corners of the world is saturated with its impact; there is death and pain, torture and hatred, control and slavery. Sadly, most of these acts are done with some form of noble stated purpose. The same kind of destructive force is at work in our own neighborhood, and sometimes it is even in our own homes. Consider the impact of angry words and of superior attitudes; consider how much harm is done by looking at other people with our own self-focused eyes rather than looking through the eyes of God. At these times we think that we are being strong and in control; instead, we are being incredibly weak, and we are dangerously in Satan’s control.

You see, the peace that God seeks to have with us is not characterized by weakness; rather, it is marked by strength. The Lord wants us to engage a dialogue with Him and with our world. He wants us to operate every day from a perspective that is established on a solid foundation of wisdom and understanding; for, this is the state of living that we embrace when we look closely at Christ, when we listen to His truth as he speaks to our hearts. The Lord desires for us to live in peace with Him and with others.

We need to look at the situations and the relationships that make up our lives and seek peace in all of them. We won’t always be able to accomplish this all of the time, for there will be people who will not go along with God’s will. Our responsibility in all of this is to follow Christ’s example and to be peace makers. For the most relentless force in the entire world is God’s love. He calls upon each of us who know Him to follow Christ’s example, we need to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in our hearts to replace the evil that we are by nature inclined to do with good. We are to use every ounce of our energy in a continuous drive to bring true and lasting peace to others through touching them with the love that comes from only one source.

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

James 3: 13

Too often wisdom is presented with an assertiveness and an air of superiority that does very little to encourage those who are on its receiving end. People who are wise in this manner often seem to have a greater interest in how good they look rather than a desire to build up and to strengthen the understanding of those around them. There is simply too much self in this worldly form of wisdom, too much emphasis on personal gain and on winning a contest of achieved superiority. The way that a person would answer the question above, that is if a person who is self-important can also be self-aware, is very telling concerning the type and source of that person’s wisdom.

God’s wisdom is strong but never overbearing; it is all encompassing but not smothering; it is absolute but not authoritarian. As God demonstrates to us through his interaction with people and as Jesus has shown us through his life among us, wisdom and understanding are connected attributes. They exist in a form of natural balance that only God and His perfected creation can achieve completely.

However, the Lord does wish for us to live wisely and to apply wisdom with the type of understanding that marks his children as Godly. Christ calls upon us to be wise lovers of people; showing Him to others through our gentle and understanding handling of them. This is what behaving well in the fullness of the Lord’s wisdom looks like; this is living in the center of the will of God.

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