December 2013


O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name,

   for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

Isaiah 25: 1

 

The Prophet is talking to me. He is providing my fickle heart with an example of how it could respond to life. Instead, I am too often caught up in the issues at hand or with the problem that I am facing; so, I lose sight of what really matters. When I get into solution mode, I readily access those resources that are close at hand. Then my arm just reaches out for what is on the shelf near by, and I start to operate out of my own wisdom, experience, strength, and understanding. These are all problem solving aids that have been with me for many years. However, on their own, they seldom create truly lasting solutions, their use can be exhausting, and they can quickly become a form of idol that demands ever greater sums in tribute.

 

Isaiah was doing a great work, and he was engaged in this work because God had called him into it. He was a man who possessed all of the intelligence, strength of character, and determination that this task required. Yet, he seems to have realized that nothing that he had or was would be useful in completing God’s assignment on its own. He placed his total focus on the Lord and sought God’s leading, wisdom, and strength for every decision and action. It was not that Isaiah was indecisive or slow to engage with the situations that he encountered; instead, he was always ready to follow God for the Prophet continually kept the face of God before him.

 

He seems to have lived a life of contemplation and prayer. Even in the most trying of circumstances, Isaiah knew this one simple fact; that is, “You are my God”, and these words were always being spoken by his heart. Like Isaiah, we can have lives that are defined by contemplation, even meditation on the same reality-shaping truth, “You are my God”. This focus leads me to understand that God has plans for me and for my life that are far older than any of my thinking. Also, His performance is perfect. God does not fail, and He always leads His people into the wonderful rest and peace of His salvation.

 

It will be said on that day,

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.

This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Isaiah 25: 9  

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

Romans 8: 19

 

It is hard to wait for Christmas. There are so many joys and pleasures to anticipate that time can seem to stop in place as the days of December roll past on the calendar. We look forward to family gathering, greetings exchanged, and comfortable good meals prepared and eaten in an environment that invites taking our time and a schedule set aside for a day. We shop for special gifts that hand the receiver the blessing of a picture of the heart of the giver, and we anticipate opening gifts that are wrapped in love. The December air crackles with the sort of magic that C. S. Lewis spoke about in his Tales of Narnia. This real magic is found in the presence of Christ in the land as He grants perspective to the season and brings all into clear focus.

 

Although we humans may think that we have the market on Christmas anticipation cornered, that we own it in its entirety; that is simply not true. Our entire world has undergone the pain and the loss that is the negative blessing, the curse, of sin. Evil is more real than even the most aware of us can consider. It rages in the storm, and its icy flow seeps into the minute cracks of our hearts in order to erode our spirits from within. God’s original creation had no storm and knew no destruction and loss. So, it is this state of deep and unremitting peace that even the rocks and the seas desire. All of Creation is waiting for Christ to return and to put it all right again with a sort of tingle of anticipation that is like a groom at the altar or a child on Christmas morning.

 

At this time we all continue to wait for Christmas. We live in the presence of the unresolved tension that uncertainty brings; yet, we also dwell in the presence of God’s promised and delivered certainty. Christ is the answer to every question that we and the rest of creation utter. Although we await the total healing that His return will bring about, we are, in fact, healed by His presence in our lives. So, as Christ transforms every person who calls upon Him from being sons of the world into being true and fully vested sons of God, we are called by Christ to serve His Kingdom by bringing healing to our world. Where there is destruction, we can bring repair. As there is loss, we can comfort. In a land that is filled with sorrow and pain, we can bring the hope that is Christmas.

 

Wait for the Lord;

be strong, and let your heart take courage;

wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27: 14

 

We live in a time of waiting. Much of it can be irritating or even infuriating. Most people today don’t have much tolerance for marking time or taking a number in order to be allowed to spend our money, and we really dislike sitting in a line of cars while a dumb light controls our schedule. Time is valuable and redeeming it is a goal that is high on the lists in our day planners. Strangely, God would agree with both of those ideas.

 

For Him every second counts. There are none that should be wasted; yet, none of them are without value in the Lord’s view of redemption. People have been called upon by God to wait since our earliest days. Our hearts are anxious, restless, and easily drawn toward whatever seems to promise joy or satisfaction. In the face of this God tells us to be still and know that He is God. Our allegiance is readily drawn away from all that is holy and eternal toward such earthly things as nation and cause, and God says to wait for the Kingdom of God is at hand. We live in a time and a place in history where proclaiming Christ is ridiculed or persecuted, and in the face of the same personal assault Christ said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

 

Our world is a between place. It is battered and distorted by forces that are contending for its control. People seem hell-bent on using violence as a means to gain power and dominion while they utterly destroy the lands that they seek to rule. Others use all manner of weapons in an attempt to achieve even a moment’s feeling of superiority or prominence. Yet, regardless of whether they are using words, emotion, or guns to seek their ends, the result is chaos and defeat for all involved. All of this marks out the trajectory of the ever-tightening spiral of a world that is in need of redemption. So, God tells us to wait for Him. We are to be strong in our faith, and we can stand courageous in the face of anything for Christ is with us now. We can also trust in the future for Christ is coming to redeem it all. This is the truth that frees us from the pressures of time, for this is the assurance of the God of all Creation

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5: 1

Consider, why is freedom such a big deal to most people? What is there about freedom that is so incredibly attractive, and how is it that most of us don’t perceive that we have as much of it as we would desire? Most of us are free to decide what we are going to do with our time, our resources, and our lives. We are free to go where we want to go, to do the kind of work that we want to do, and to be with the people that we want to be around. There are very few rules or regulations that tell us what we must do or be. We have made and continue to make choices for ourselves. Still, we feel bound, constrained, and powerless. Many of us feel like we have been swept away by a powerful current so that life is sustained only as long as I can keep my head above the water and off of the rocks.

Living like this is not what God intends for us. He wants us to have a clear understanding of what freedom means to Him and for us. From the moment that our ancestors surrendered their free access to God’s presence to the empty appeal of evil, God has had a plan in place for the return of freedom to everyone who accepts it. God gave us the gift of freedom in the sacrifice of Jesus; yet, it is up to each of us to fully accept the gift, to open the package, to live in it’s grace and embrace it’s empowerment.

Freedom is the ability to love others without concern for their response. Freedom is focusing our concern on the needs of other people and not worrying about what we will get in return. Freedom is openness, honesty, compassion, vulnerability. Freedom is taking comfort and finding peace and satisfaction in Christ’s new way of living while refusing to live as we have in the past. The portrait of freedom for us is found in Jesus, and the image of freedom for those around us can be found through Christ in us.

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 a practical life demonstration of living in the center of the will of God.

 

The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; He has put on strength as His belt.

Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting.

Psalm 93: 1-3

 

Life gets crazy. There is too much to get done and no time; too many obligations and no resources. The things that we think that we need the most at that moment break or hide themselves from us. The frustrations of daily living are more than we can bear. So we ask the questions, “Why can’t things just work like they are supposed to, and why can’t people simply be reliable?”

 

I think that perhaps God’s answer to these questions, His response to these frustrations is that we are not looking high enough. God tells us that we need to lift our eyes from the floor and look out at His creation. This world is flawed, these things that I have surrounded myself with are fallible, and we people are unreliable at best. So, perhaps the answers to some of the challenges of daily life are found in the orientation of the eyes of my heart. For, instead of focusing on what is broken and flawed, I could be looking at the face of God. Rather than whining and complaining about how hard life is, I need to be expressing praise to my Creator. For the Lord is the same, has never changed, and will never fail me. He is King over all of his Creation, and He is the mighty King.

 

God’s kingdom has nothing to do with cars or houses or with our monetary wealth. His kingdom is built in our hearts, and it is built up out of relationships and through loving others as Christ does. We share in His majesty and we live continually in the presence of the King of Glory. As we open our eyes to see Him and allow His Spirit to orient our hearts to the Lord’s perspective, the great wealth that surrounds us becomes real and tangible, and everything else in life becomes functional. As we dwell in the presence of Christ living with peace and joy becomes possible, and everyone becomes important.

 

And Mary said, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1: 38

 

Here she is; the young woman, really a girl still, who has encountered a form of being that has been nothing more than a fantastical image that exists only in the stories that her grandmothers tell. Now an angelic figure has told her that her life will never be the same; for, she will become a central figure in the singular world changing event of all time. Whatever dreams, hopes, and plans she had formed would need to be set aside, and events that she could not begin to comprehend were to become her reality. This is the definition of a life turned upside down.

 

Mary’s response is what is so amazing. She hears the sort of news that would send most of us running for cover or at least to the safety of family or friends, and she opens her heart and her mind to the will of the Lord. This is faith, and this faith requires that Mary trust God to a degree that can not be solely taught. Mary has heard the voice of the Lord speaking to her heart, and she has surrendered her life to His loving will, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord.” She is ready and willing to lay it all on the line for her God.

 

How is it that this young, teen-aged woman who is the product of such a humble, small town upbringing would be so well prepared to surrender herself in the most absolute way possible to do what God was calling her to do? That same question rings loudly in my ears as I think about Mary and consider the fact that her faith stands as a crucial aspect in establishing the way for me to exist in intimate relationship with Christ. Mary did what she did because she trusted God and had an unshakable faith in Him. Christ speaks to me, and He asks me to respond to His much simpler request to love others, to share Him, and to live righteously with the same total surrender and joy that Mary had. O, Lord let me answer, “Be it done to me according to your word.”

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