December 2014


Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.

Romans 15: 5

 

When I consider things which are nearly impossible for us humans and situations that are almost never going to happen; thinking like others, you know, having a synchronized view of the world and acting in consistent harmony of heart and mind with other people, gets a spot near the top of the list of the improbable, unlikely, and impossible. Just try driving in moderately heavy traffic for a while and see how hard it is for the drivers of all of those cars to stay in harmonious agreement about where they are going and the rules of the road that they need to follow. People just don’t want to be conformed, and we certainly don’t want to yield our own perspective to another person’s.

 

The idea that people can share a common understanding and think in a unified and harmonious manner seems to be important to God. Yet, He made us with this strong, independent and continually inquisitive nature; therefore, He must have a plan for accomplishing the desired unity of thinking without crushing the strength of our individuality out of us. This is a part of why God gave us His Spirit to live with and in us in an active and intimately interactive relationship. He also granted us His revealed truth and a clear picture of who He is through His Word. In addition to all of this, God speaks to and with each of us and with His body as we engage with Him in prayer and meditation.

 

It is through the Spirit, the Word, and in prayer that we gain an understanding of God’s true desires. It is through the acceptance of this total knowledge of God that we are given the strength of character that is required to truly understand another person’s perspective and the courage to yield our own viewpoint to that person’s. Engaging in relationships to the depth and with the commitment that is required to make them strong and to continue them over time requires the ability to stick with the other person regardless of the way things are going from moment to moment. This is perseverance, and it comes from God. Generally, we also need to be encouraged to stick with other people when there doesn’t appear to be anything to gain from doing that. It is the Spirit of Christ that continually brings that sort of encouragement into my heart. In Christ we do have the ability to believe, think, and live together in unity. We can possess the peace and the joy of honest yet harmonious relationships, and when this happens, Christ’s body is unified for His purposes.

 

Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1: 15

 

So many of us in the world of the Christian faith get very energized by the promise of an end to all of the evil and the corruption of this world, and we look with a sense of great anticipation for the moment when this changed existence will become our own reality. This human and earthly transformation is an absolute promise that God has made, and I have total confidence and faith that He will fulfill it. Yet, Jesus said from the very beginning of His own time with us on earth that the time was now and that restoration was ours for the taking.

 

As I consider the glory, wonder, and majesty of Christ, and I pause to reflect on how far He traveled, what He gave up, and the degree to which He suffered for me, the only words that come to mind in response are, “Thank you.” That may be a fine starting point, but that is not what Christ actually wants from us. He wants us to accept the fact that He has already given us the opportunity to live in the presence of our Creator every moment of each day, that we are newly reformed into the God-image bearing people that we were designed to be, and that we are charged with the purpose of carrying the message of our hope that has been found in God’s grace to the unredeemed people of our own world.

 

Believing in the gospel means that we buy into the total truth that God has laid out before us. That requires openness to the fact that none of us are perfect. So, there will be crises and struggles of faith that will cause the journey to have its rough and challenging times. Still, the Lord promises that He has an answer for every one of these hard aspects of life, and He calls to each of us to keep our eyes focused outwardly and upward toward Him. Then, we will see and understand His very real presence with us through it all. Jesus is asking us to gather around Him and to follow Him through every day of this life, for the promised kingdom of God is our home here and now.

 

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4: 18, 19

 

Ancient words from God that were delivered by the prophet Isaiah to ears that refused to truly hear; then, lifted from the shelf, unrolled and spoken by the only person who not only understood them in their totality but who was, indeed, their original author. Jesus spoke to audiences in His homeland that were stunned by the living truth of ideas and thoughts that had seemed to be more distant hope than present reality.

 

Jesus comes to our world and brings the same refreshing perspective to these texts that God spoke through people who are long dead. Christ now brings their truth to us in our present reality. Just as there were multitudes of poor, needy, and desperate people in the times of Isaiah and those of Jesus, our modern and progressive world has gained nothing in its riches and empowerment of the individual. Regardless of where, how or to whom we are born, we all come into this life with nothing. We are all enslaved and blinded. Everyone exists under the oppressive authority of evil that leads to nothing other than death.

 

God intended for everyone to live, to see, and to have absolute freedom. He mourns for what has become of the beautiful children that He created, and He was determined from the very start of it all to do something about the pervasive sadness of sin that holds people in bondage. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, our Savior brings to vitality the truth of God’s desires for each of us He provides the answer to all that is broken and diseased in our lives. For in and through Christ we are set free, given the ability to see the deep truths of God, and we are healed from the debilitating ravages of sin that hold us down and defeat our hearts.

 

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.

Luke 2: 7

 

Generally we make a very big deal out of the birth of a baby. This is the right thing to do. The entire process of producing new human life carries in and with it a real element of the miraculous. Also, God cares greatly about life, and each and every one of them is a gift granted from the Lord’s hand of creation. So, we tell our world about the birth, and we make careful note of all of the details surrounding it. The single fact that we take the most care with is the date of the baby’s birth. This is the one specific day that we affix to each person and celebrate throughout that person’s life.

 

Yet, with the most significant birth ever, and the most widely remembered baby in history, we do not actually know the date of His birth. Over time people have ascribed various dates to the birth of Jesus. Now most of us have settled on December 25th for the day of our celebrations. Still, through the work of science, especially astronomy and historical anthropology, it is thought that this date in late December is off by several months. You see the date doesn’t matter. The birthday celebration for Jesus really doesn’t either. Certainly the gift giving and hosting of elaborate meals are equally inconsequential. God does not tell us to worship His Son by these sorts of activities and events in and of themselves.

 

What the Lord does desire is that we recognize Jesus as God and accept Him as Lord over out lives. God is delighted when we celebrate the birth of Jesus by turning our hearts to Him and by following Christ into a life of grace, love, justice, and reconciliation. This is the sort of party that can and should take place on any day and on every day of our lives. As with Jesus and His birthday celebration, the setting and the decorations are of far lesser value than is the splendor of the glory of God that fills the lives of followers of Christ. Here is where we find the true birthday party for the Risen King. Yet, as we gather with our family and friends, hold our festive meals, and exchange gifts, this is the perfect time and the joyous place to make clear to all the great gift of new life that the baby whose birth we are celebrating has given to us.

Merry Christmas!

It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about things you have been taught.

Luke 1: 3, 4 (NAS)

 

Does it ever seem to you that exact truth is hard to find? Also, in a world covered by the chocking fog of delusion it is equally difficult to discern. Satan’s specific intent is to create doubt in our minds and distrust in our hearts. There is victory in his camp when people decide that God is not real, not for them, or not something that they need concern themselves with today. Those victory celebrations become raucous parties when professed followers of Christ turn against His will by oppressing others, spouting out hatred, and judging people and their practices in ways that are reserved for God alone.

 

Truth is a demanding master. It leaves little room for deviation or for compromise. Yet truth is also filled with grace and understanding. Truth brings mercy with it when it comes to visit, and it provides comfort as its parting gift. Exact truth has a narrow and a specific definition. It’s meaning is not found in dictionaries or by Internet searches. Exact truth exists in only in the person of Christ. It is the logos, the living word that permeates the very core of our beings. It is the expression of the new life that followers of Christ receive by way of grace. This exact truth is. It forms the center of the universe and is the foundation of all creation.

 

Truth is set out in God’s written word. It runs as the pulse of every sentence and each chapter of that narrative. It is breathed into God’s people by and through the Holy Spirit. It is discerned in prayer and heard in times of meditation. God’s truth never fails to satisfy our needs, and it always provides sufficient food for our souls. Exact truth walked the dusty roads of Palestine, and He walks the troubled paths of our lives. Truth is present for our taking. It is with us in Christ’s body, word, and Spirit. Exact truth brings peace on earth even in the midst of the storm of chaos with which Satan attempts to surround us.

 

 

And one called to another and said;

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

Isaiah 6: 3

 

The seraphim have a very special view and perspective on our world. These angelic beings exist in that mystical realm that we call heaven where God resides with all of His own people and created beings. Although they do not possess God’s ability to see and to understand everything in that absolute and timeless way that God does, the seraphim do view creation with eyes that are not clouded by sin and are outside of the influences of our broken world. What they see and proclaim is wondrous, magical and reflects God’s intent for His creation.

 

The words of their advent chorus state an interesting paradox. They sing of God’s holiness. This is that perfect purity that defines God and that, due to our sinful lack of that same quality, separates Him from our world and us. Yet this quality that places God above and apart from us also causes His glory to fill our world. The words that are used here make it clear that this essence of God that pervades all of creation is substantial. It is not a mere vapor or a fuzzy sense of right and good. This glory is the tangible and very real love, peace, justice, grace, and mercy that God brings to humanity through and by Christ. This is what the essential nature of God pours out upon our world.

 

Isaiah’s vision looks forward to a time of restoration. God commissions him to call the people of Israel into repentance and a return to being committed disciples of the Lord. Although there is an end of times aspect to all of this, I do not believe that God is indicating that He wants us to remain focused on the time of Christ’s return. God desires for us to open our eyes and to see as the seraphim did. Even with its anger, war, violence, and pain, this world is filled with the essence of God that we can call His glory. It is present in Christ. It is communicated by God’s word and by His Spirit. It is given tangible presence by the actions and the words of God’s people. We all are to be today’s repentant disciples who bring the glory of our Lord into the darkness of our world.

 

 

This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet. “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Matthew 2: 14, 15

 

As Matthew wrote down these words from Hosea 11, he was quoting a passage that was very dear to the Jewish people. The full text speaks to the love that God had for His people, Israel. It reminded them that God had rescued them from their captivity and that He had given them a dwelling place of their own. It also evokes the reality of the presence of God in their midst. It was a place to dwell; that is land to subdue and till, and the presence of God in that place that defined God’s chosen people. However, as he relates this passage Matthew’s eyes had been opened to understand the true meaning behind the prophet’s words.

 

Although at the time of their original writing Hosea was speaking about the nation of Israel, God meant much more than just that. He was also indicating the way that all people could be brought out of that place of exile where we had been taken as captives to sin. I think that a part of this entire narrative of the flight of Jesus’ family from the threat of death at Herod’s hands is related to the way that Jesus does, in fact, know from experience all that we do encounter in living in this world. Although He was just a child, I would imagine that Jesus did recall this time of exile and separation, and this understanding influences His ability to connect with each of us as we live apart from our true home.

 

Without Christ we are living in a form of what Hosea was calling Egypt. This is a place of utter separation from God. It is outside of His kingdom. It is a place where we can be as good as we can possibly be, work diligently and hard, and seek to do great good; yet, we will not truly accomplish anything of eternal worth or possess a place of dwelling in God’s presence. Christ understands that evil has taken our hearts and minds captive and that Satan is attempting to hold people as hostages for his own selfish purposes. Jesus, the Christ, leads us out of that kingdom of death. He brings us into the kingdom of God; then, Christ grants calling, mission and purpose to each of His people as we engage the work of bringing glory to God’s name.

 

 

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