December 2017


Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Joshua 21: 45

 

This is a bold statement; in fact, it is a very strong expression of the way that God had entered in to a complex series of events. Yet, it captures and encapsulates the experience that the Israelites had lived out under Moses and Joshua’s leadership as they left a state of slavery, journeyed across a hostile land, and fought to take possession of their given homeland. God had taken them out of their captive state, He had gone before them and provided provisions for their survival through those hard days in the harsh wilderness, and then the Lord had engaged in battle with their enemies and had provided the Israelites with guidance for their fights as well. Nothing that was good, needful, or redemptive came from a source outside of God’s hand. This was their reality; yet, unfortunately, it was a fragile one.

 

The Israelites, like many people across the course of history, lost sight of the character and the nature of God and of His wise counsel. They headed off in their own directions and sought after other, worldly forms of counsel and guidance. They entered into the worship of illicit gods and even began to offer up sacrifices of all types to these demanding concepts of what the divine should be; so, in the end, most of what God had granted to the Israelites was lost. Yet, God never turned away from them. He has continued to work out His redemption in and for them just as He has done the same for all people on this earth without regard to race, tribe, or other human attachment or affiliation. Jesus is the final and the ultimate answer to the good promise that God made to the Israelites and that He also made to all of creation. Jesus the Christ responds to each and every need that our bodies and our souls have in this life, and He comes into our lives with the full implementation of God’s love, grace, and redemption from sin and its death.

 

In Christ, we can all enter into the fulfillment of God’s promises of peace, joy, and meaning in this life. We also are granted His promise of eternity in full relationship with our Creator. This is a form of hope that is greater than all of the trials, struggles, and hardship that can come our way in life. The presence of Christ overcomes the oppressive powers of this world and all of their ill intent for us. Although we will encounter difficult times and even brutally harsh periods over the course of life, our feet are granted the solid foundation of God’s Word to stand firmly upon, and our hearts are surrounded by the presence of the Holy Spirit to shield and to guide us through these days of turmoil. The land that God has given to us as our place of dwelling may not have defined boundaries and borders as did the one that the Lord granted to the Israelites, but it is still very real and our possession of it is in every sense God’s love gift to us. As this new day dawns upon each of us, there is hope to be found in God’s promises of His goodness, there is peace and joy to be gained by and through the presence of Christ, and meaning and purpose are ours in following God’s will as our path of travel.

Take my yoke upon you. And learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 11: 29

 

This world seems like a complicated place to dwell. There are many rules to be followed and also many paths or directions that one can seemingly travel along in order to find truth and validity in life. With so many differing views on what it means to live in a right manner, it is difficult to sort through it all and to come to conclusions regarding which voices to listen to and what guidance to seek out for the journey. Yet, Jesus seems to be saying that it is all much simpler than that. What He is really stating here is that there are actually only two paths to take for the entirety of travel through life in this world. We either accept the path that Jesus is offering or we take its alternative.

 

Although there may seem to be numerous trailheads set out for us to consider as there are an almost uncountable number of approaches to spirituality and to faith out there in our day, these trails do ultimately converge into just the two of them. One starts with diversity and its trail map is devised and set out by people in order to establish a route that is pleasing to its creators and that frequently benefits them in various personal ways. The other begins with Jesus the Christ and leads directly into the redemptive grace, love, and righteous truth of God the Creator. This is a path that was set out by God at great cost with Christ’s humble sacrifice as its point of entry so that those who journey along it would gain everything that actually matters both in this life and into eternity.

 

Thus, the necessary burden of the travel through life is carried by Christ and the strength that we require to withstand the trials of the road is also provided by Him. Christ does ask us to accept Him and to allow His gospel of truth to be our guidance in all aspects of life. However, Christ also promises that His way is simple, direct, and gracious. It will not be easy in that it runs in opposition to the powerful current of the world’s stream of thought. Yet, as in all things, Christ is with us in the hardship and the trials, and God’s Word provides encouragement and direction for each and every aspect of our journey. Christ calls to each of us to put down our striving after the burdensome and diversionary ways of this world, to set aside the many other yoks that we tend to hitch ourselves up to, and accept His yolk of love, truth, and redemption as we set out on the journey that God is calling us to take today.

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Matthew 11: 25, 26

 

During the Christmas season people can develop a mistaken understanding of Jesus. We get caught up in the images of Him as a baby and even ascribe to that infant some sort of otherworldly perfection, calm, and ease of care that are without question unrelated to what actually occurred. Jesus was a baby who did what babies do in all ways and senses. Even if that sweetness and easy-going spirit had been fully true when He was small, they did not define the totality of the man. Jesus was bold in ways that no one else has ever been bold, and He was direct with a truth that penetrated to the heart of all matters. Jesus also spoke to the reality of true need in ways that were intended to be redemptive and restorative both in the moment and for all of time to come. Jesus brought the offer of life from God, the Father, and many people refused to listen to the message and to hear its call to repentance and life anew.

 

In this instance, the wise and the learned people in the cities of His day had been among those who turned away from Jesus and refused to hear His plea for them to turn toward God with hearts submitted to the will of the Father. They had responded, or more accurately failed to respond, to the last of the prophets in John the Baptist, and this was much the same disinterested dismissal as they had given to all of the prophets from before. Now Jesus was confronting the same hardness of heart that had been formed up in an atmosphere of self-confidence, arrogant independence, and loyalty to this world’s order and rule. God’s message of repentance and return to righteousness was being heard and accepted by the humble, the downtrodden, and the poor of body and spirit in the countryside far more readily than it was by those in positions of strength, power, and leadership.

 

The stern words that the living Christ had to say to those people in His days on earth apply to us and to our times. We tend to be focused on what we believe to be best, true, and wise in the light of our own interests and desires. Yet, these understandings are too often formed up in the absence of God’s word of truth and revelation, for our thinking is frequently developed out of a combination of fear of loss of power or entitlement and out of a desire to rule over others in a manner that exploits our strength and increases their weakness. This is very much like the worldly view of successful living that Jesus was so dismayed by. Rather, when we live like the “little children” that Jesus recognized as the ones who had actually entered into the Father’s will, we submit our lives in humility and with repentant hearts to Christ seeking to love others as He does, to embrace the weak and the world-weary with caring actions, and to bring the peace and the reconciliation of Christ to the center of all forms of engagement with our world. Then we have entered into living out God’s gracious will.

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

1 Peter 2: 9

 

This is a true statement about everyone who knows God; for a relationship with the Creator involves a total change in all of our core forms of identity and expands our connections and affinities by an unimaginably large factor. As we are in Christ, we are also included in this very select but substantial family that occupies God’s household; thus, we are among a group of people that God has committed to love and to protect despite our lack of worth or our unloveliness.

 

When the Lord possesses a person, He doesn’t just grab us and hold us captive. Rather, He wins us over by showing us that He has a love for us that penetrates to the depths of our need and that His love is the only truly unconditional and unchanging one that exists. As we allow the Lord to possess our hearts and our minds, His Spirit works on them to transform us into people who also understand God’s will and who act out of righteous love. It is a part of our human nature to fight back against God’s possession, to hold on to parts of our old ways of viewing life and of living it, but darkness tends to fill these areas where we hold back.

 

One of the best things that we can do to eliminate these dark corners from our hearts is to express our praise for the Lord. This praiseful practice can to become a daily part of how we live until it is an important part of who we are. Just consider the goodness that Christ brings into your life, read of God’s mercy and grace in His Word, thank Him for the ways that He has touched the lives of those around you, and develop your own thoughts of the ways that God’s presence infuses your world. Then, start to talk with Him about it. As you let God know how much you notice and value who and what He is to you, He will speak these same truths back to your heart in ways that will make them even clearer and more understandable. The best way to fill your day with light is to continually speak praise for God from your heart. As you do this, He will shine the warming light of peace, joy, and freedom onto every step of your path.

 

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to preserve you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jude 24, 25

 

There is real wonder and magic in the air as we tell the story of Jesus’ humble birth to the specially and specifically chosen young virgin woman. The enormity of God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the rest of creation to himself is written all over the way that these events transpired, and God’s heart for that redemptive work continues to be on full view throughout the life and especially in the death that Jesus was to encounter. So, it is of little wonder to me that God’s real intent in all of this is found in Jude’s few simple words of praise, for there is only one being who can do what is stated here. Jesus is the answer to all people’s need to become blameless before God just as He is the singular source of the wisdom, strength, and grace that are required daily to make it through life while living out those days righteously.

 

This redeemed life that Jude is praising is the point behind all that God did by and through Jesus. God did not need to demonstrate Himself to the world for any other purpose. He certainly did not need to undergo the pain and the suffering of living out a short lifespan in human flesh in order to be able to relate to us or to understand us, for these are things that God has been capable of doing in ways that are deep and profound from the dawn of our inception at His hand. Jesus was with us and journeyed along our pathways so that we would be more fully able to grasp the enormity of what has been lost to sin’s death and decay. In Christ, we are also provided with a tangible means of return to a now and an eternal place of right standing before our Lord as it is through faith in Jesus the Christ that all sin is forgiven and that our lives are transformed into ones that follow God’s design for living in the full appreciation of the Lord’s intent for us.

 

As I know this Jesus whose birth is celebrated in the festivities of Christmas, the true importance of Jude’s words of praise take on greater meaning for me. These are not just some spiritually right sounding words and phrases to recite in rote liturgical fashion; they are the essence of the calling that Christ has placed upon my life. Christ is shown most fully in His glory, majesty, dominion, and authority as I and other people of faith live out the love, grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness that the Lord has pour over and into us. The point of Christmas is that the lives of people in this world would be changed. The focus of that long-ago birth is the salvation of the people of this world from our separation from our Creator and thus from a death that starts at birth and that knows no end. We are each and all called upon to live out the salvation that God has gifted to us through Jesus. We do this by making Jude’s words of praise the on-going descriptor of the manner that we conduct our lives.

 

Blessings in Christ, and Merry Christmas.

My eyes have seen your salvation

that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.

Luke 2: 30-32

 

Simeon was waiting and hoping. He had God’s word that his life would not end until he had seen the Savior with his own eyes, but those eyes were aged and weak. His pace had surly slowed and become unsteady so that even the journey to the temple was a bit precarious. Still, Simeon hoped and prayed and remained true to a faith that was rooted in a place inside his heart that was even deeper than the aches and pains of old age. So, one day as he was at the temple praying and continuing to watch for the arrival of the one who would set the world right again, he saw another of the many couples who brought their sons there to be dedicated to the Lord. But this time it was different.  On this day, this baby came with a certain presence that was revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit. Now he knew that God’s consolation had come, and His redemption for all of Creation was at hand. Now Simeon could depart this world in peace.

 

Here, in the temple in Jerusalem and in human infant form was the answer to all that is wrong in our world. Simeon saw the arrival of God’s promised Savior, and the Spirit revealed to him that this was a much bigger event than even he might have previously considered, for Jesus, the Messiah, had come not only for the chosen people of Israel but He has come into this world to bring about the restoration of relationship with God and with each other for all people regardless of tribe, nation, race, or circumstances. This same Jesus that the aged man held so long ago holds the power and the strength to overcome all of the forces of anger, strife, violence, difference, and dispute that work their havoc in our world. He is the singular effective point of coming together for people as it is through relationship with Him that we are brought into commonality of mind, heart, and purpose.

 

All reconciliation of peace starts in the same place as it did for Simeon. He trusted God to be good to His word in bringing into this world the means for salvation from sin’s death, and he believed in the presence of that Savior in the person of Jesus the Christ. The same is true for each and every person on this earth. As we trust God and believe in Christ as His Son, our Savior and Lord, we are granted the presence of eternity in our being and the wisdom and insight of the Spirit as our counselor for the hard journey into joy, peace, and reconciliation. For each of us the road to faith and obedience to God begins with Jesus; then, it goes forth into serving His will in our world. We are to be people who bring the blessing of Christ’s reconciliation to all of the people we encounter. We are also called upon by God to gather together in His name and to seek to include in our fellowship of faith the diverse individuals and groups of people who we meet along the way. For as our eyes see God’s salvation, let us also proclaim its presence in Christ to the world around us while we enter into seeking out the Lord’s reconciliation for our troubled lands.

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Jeremiah 33: 15

 

Those days and that time have come, and they are still on the horizon. The dawn of this new age when all injustice is abolished and wherein righteousness is the way of all life is still a promise. However, the One who brings about the realization of God’s promise has come so that His life is something that we can all enjoy. Jeremiah spoke with a view to a future that he believed in by virtue of faith. We live in a time when we can look back upon the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Christ and see the fulfillment of that which the prophet had to contemplate in trust and by that great faith. Now we live in a time between Christ’s advent and the ultimate and complete fulfillment of God’s plan for restoration of Creation.

 

Our days and these times are filled with the trouble and the anguish of a world that is still not cleansed of its sinfully rebellious ways. This creation where we dwell is torn apart by striving against its own Creator and Savior. It is fighting a lost battle with the Lord of the Universe over terrain that has already been consecrated by the sacrificial blood of the Messiah. So, for those of us who do know Christ, we are caught up in the middle of this war zone, and this place can bring with it challenges and hard times. However, the life that we are able to live because of the presence of Christ in us and with us is graced with that same hope that blessed Jeremiah’s journey. We have been granted the opportunity to see beyond faith to the reality of Christ’s redemption as we are taken deeply into the truth of God’s eternal wisdom while His unstoppable love is poured out upon us.

 

That righteous Branch, Jesus the Christ, provides for us a root that is unbreakable to hold onto through all of the days of this life. He grants to us His grace, mercy, peace, and strength so that we can dwell securely in the land where the Lord’s will has placed us. These are the days that God has given to each of us to fill with His presence. This is the time that He has ordained for us to follow Him and to proclaim Christ and His Gospel of life to the world around us. The Savior has come; this is no longer a future promise. Redemption is at hand for anyone who will turn away from the lost life of birth and embrace God’s promise of newness and rebirth as a beloved citizen of His Kingdom come. So, even in this world where struggle and chaos may seem to rule the day, we can be secure as we follow our Lord in doing His redemptive work, and we can hold onto Jeremiah’s hopeful vision of Christ’s final return and the renewal of all of Creation to God’s intended glory.

For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;

at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

Psalm 92: 4

 

God was working out His will in the ancient world of the psalmists, and He is still doing the same to this day. From the dawn of time the Lord has been engaged with His creation on all levels; so, it is not surprising to me to see His hand at work in the affairs of the world where I live. God cares about each of us, and He is very concerned about the way that we live out our lives. This concern and engagement were so great that God, Himself, lived among us to provide everyone with the way and the means to enter into on-going and eternal peace with Him. That baby, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate was the singular greatest work that God’s hand of mercy and grace has accomplished; yet, that work was intended to bring joy to the hearts of people such as myself.

 

My greatest joy is known through the presence of Christ in the world where I dwell, and it is made very real by His Spirit as He dwells within me. For God’s redemptive work is carried out on a grand, universal scale in our world, and it is also rendered on an intimately personal scale within the lives of individuals as we enter into relationship with Christ. It is in and through this relationship that gladness is brought to life, and it is in the companionship of the Spirit that life with its ups and downs, its trials and challenges, is perceived as a joyous event. God works in us to change our perspective on the events and the circumstances of life so that all of it can be understood as valuable and useful in our journey of faith. I know that without Christ in me, I would view my days very differently than I do in light of God’s wisdom, truth, and love.

 

When I consider God’s gift of Jesus, I am not taken immediately into a seasonal story and the festive activities that tend to surround its telling. Instead, I am made humble and also filled with peace and the joy that the writer of this psalm is expressing. In Christ, I have come to know that joy is internally generated by Christ’s Spirit, and so the true and lasting source of my joy is Christ in me. He works to transform my perspective on life to one that seeks to bring His love into all that I think and do. Although my efforts along these lines are weak and highly flawed, I know that Christ is at work to redeem even my poor attempts at spreading His joy in the world.

 

 

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10: 24, 25

 

It is easy to get distracted away from the things that really matter. These are busy days, and the times that we live in present a wide array of challenging and difficult decisions that demand attention throughout the day. No wonder that things of importance get pushed aside and are not granted the sort of contemplation and consideration that they should receive. This is particularly true when it comes to the way that we relate to one another in and around our family of faith, the church. This is a holy organism, a gathering of flesh and spirit that is formed up by Christ and that is bound together by His Spirit in ways that are timeless, mysterious, and that come straight out of the heart of God. So, giving real thought and attention to the way that we relate and interact in this environment and caring deeply about growing the relationships that we find here should be important to each of us who follow Christ.

 

The object of this prayerful thought, according to the author of Hebrews, is significant as well. We are told to be engaged in the process of encouragement and of support for others with a specific outcome in mind. The body of Christ is to be a gathering of people who stand apart from our world by virtue of the love that we share with each other and the love that we pour out into the world around us. It is also to be remarkable because of its seemingly relentless drive to do good in an environment where goodness is too often viewed as weakness. These redemptive attitudes of sacrifice and love do not happen on their own. They require us to surrender to Christ and to allow His Spirit full control over our hearts and minds and the decisions that we make about the conduct of life. This loving approach to the world is best engaged in within the context of other people who are likewise motivated and who will support this attitude and the actions that come out of it.

 

We need each other, and we thrive best when we are rooted and grounded in the company of other people who know Christ and who are willing to seek out His will and follow His lead in taking on the daily challenges that come to us because we live in a world that is rapidly traveling along a path toward its day of final judgement as Christ returns to reclaim all that seems lost and to renew Creation to its intended righteousness and glory. These are the times that we live in, and the body of Christ is the true family that can provide the support, encouragement, and guidance for each of us to live out Christ’s calling to love others, to do what is right and good in our world, and to bring the message of hope and salvation that is the great good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into regular and routine contact with those around us.

Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom my soul delights. I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.

Isaiah 42: 1

Here the prophet Isaiah is giving us a forward-looking picture of Jesus which states God’s perspective on the Savior. This is the Messiah that God was going to send into our defeated world. Yet, I think that Isaiah was also telling us considerably more than just how the Father would view the Son, Jesus the Christ, for I think that we can see some really great things about how our Lord views us, as well.

Jesus came into this world as a man in order to make God tangible and to connect us totally with our Creator. So, when we enter into a relationship with Christ, we gain much of these same blessings that God granted to Jesus. With Christ in us, we are viewed by God as His chosen ones, and the Lord will literally move heaven and earth in order to hold us up in and through everything that life brings our way. We become the delight of God’s eye. We also become workers in the Lord’s field and keepers of His kingdom come to earth.

However, there are responsibilities that come with our position as God’s chosen ones. We are called upon by the Lord to bring His grace, love, mercy, and justice into the world. Thus, most of us will be required to live differently than we have in the past in that we are being asked by God to care little for ourselves and to be totally involved in demonstrating His redemptive love by and in all of our lives. Standing up for justice, for peace, and for redemptive love in a world that values oppressive power and restrictive rules can be a very lonely and even a dangerous thing to do, but when we do that, we are accomplishing exactly what God wants us to do, and we are standing squarely in the center of His delight.

 

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