Hope


“And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

   are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

   who will shepherd my people Israel.”

Matthew 2: 6

To the best of my understanding, Jesus was never formally tended sheep; yet, he shepherds a flock that numbers in the millions. As Matthew refers to the prophet Micah’s comment about the birthplace of the coming Messiah, he also mentions a distinctive that stood out in the first century and that remains remarkable today. In Jesus we have a king, a person with great authority and holding the power to exercise that authority to its fullest extent. However, this king chooses to tend to the needs of His people and to guide them to the safety of righteousness. He could have made things much easier if He had simply taken control of this world and utilized His remarkable might and control over all of the forces of nature and of humanity to accomplish His wishes. Instead, Jesus lived a humble existence and experienced the death of a criminal so that people for all time hence would have direct and immediate access to God.

Jesus leads us into the presence of all that is holy, righteous, and loving as He operates as the shepherd of the human flock. There are many of us sheep that choose to follow Jesus as our ruler and king, but there are also many more that reject Him. Despite the rejection of so many, Jesus continues to seek after each and every person on this earth. He is that shepherd who never stops searching and seeking after all that are lost. His heart breaks at the thought of not sharing this life and the eternity to follow with each of the people that walk upon the earth. Frankly, this love and devotion is impossible for me to fully grasp or to understand. I do not care for or about people to this degree. Yet, God does, and He determined to do something about our rebellion and rejection. Thus, Jesus was sent into this world, lived as He did, and was crucified as the perfect sacrifice for all of our sinfulness. In His death we have the payment for our forgiveness, and in His resurrection we have rebirth into true and everlasting life.

This is the life that Jesus shepherds us into. He provides us with the wisdom and the understanding that is required to live well and to love greatly. Christ grants gifts of the Spirit to each of His people, and He guides us into using those gifts in a place and a manner that demonstrate the presence of God to others and that bring honor and glory to Christ’s name. Jesus is a shepherd for our hearts, minds, and souls, and His care and provision are with us through all of the journeys that we take in life. There is no valley too deep or mountain too steep for Christ to travel there with us. We will encounter nothing in this life that is beyond Christ’s capability or capacity to overcome. The victory may not look like what we would design or describe it to be from our perspective; yet, it will be the one that accomplishes God’s objectives and that fits into His plan for eternity. We can truly rest in the comfort of our shepherd’s care as we also seek to live with bold confidence by proclaiming Christ as our Lord, King, and Good Shepherd.  

Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech.

2 Corinthians 3: 12

My relationship with God that is formed in and through my acceptance of Jesus has changed the way that I can view the entire world. Now I am able to see beyond the moment to the much bigger reality of God’s loving grace, His desire for total communion with me, and the miraculous way that Christ’s Spirit continually works to move me ever closer to the transformation that is realized in becoming the total image-of-Christ being that is my eternal promise.

There is both comfort and challenge in this realization. The comfort comes from the sure knowledge that Christ is alive in my life, for me in every aspect of living, and throughout all of my days. The comfort also comes from God’s promise that He will continue to reveal more and more of Himself to me as I walk through life with Him. Additionally, the more I open my heart and mind to Him, the more He shows me the image of myself as viewed through the Lord’s eyes, and God’s view of me is like a picture of a beloved child that a committed father keeps on his desk. That picture frame holds the likeness of the Son, Jesus. The challenge comes from the continual realization that I am not there. I fall far short of living in the grace filled, love inspired, and truth imparting manner that is Christ’s calling to me; so, I am always being called upon by the Spirit to look deeply into God’s Word and to seek Him more of the time. 

One of the ways that I can seek God is through the nature of my speech, for there is a powerful connection between our language and our hearts. The Lord wants me to be bold, fearless and confident, in the way that I talk about Him with everyone that I encounter. This includes family, friend, neighbor, coworker, and total stranger. He wants me to talk as if Christ truly is my identity. Thus, as I speak of God, I am speaking from my own heart and mind. God also is telling me that I can always speak to Him with complete openness and honesty. He will never dismiss my thoughts as unimportant or lame, He is never too busy or preoccupied to hear me, and God always understands the true needs that are beneath the surface of my words. Also, God tells me to be honest and real with myself; yet, He reminds me that a truthful perspective of who and what I am needs to be formed from His vantage point. Being bold with myself means that I stay focused on my new identity and image that comes from Christ.   

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1: 1-5

As we have just entered into the season of Advent, this time of waiting and of anticipation, I want to look at its inception. I admit that when I have considered this idea in the past that I have usually started the thread of this part of the story with the coming of the angel to Mary. This is then traced backward in time to Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah which are founded in God’s words about the crushing of the serpent’s head in Genesis 3. All of this would seem to ground the narrative of God’s plan and design for our salvation and restoration into the earliest days of humanity’s earthly existence. Yet, it occurs to me that there is a quality to this that is somewhat like crisis management. By the third chapter of Genesis our ancestors have already defied God and are being set out on their long and wandering journey through life.

Although God is the ever-present and only true answer to all of the crisis that come in life, the God that I know is not surprised or caught short by anything that we do or by what happens in the world. He knows and sees and is prepared to respond to all of it. Even in His power, knowledge, and absolute capacity and capability the Lord God is always the Father. Everything in His dealings with people is framed and motivated by His unending desire for us to have a deeply intimate relationship with Him. God yearns for the time when each of us will surrender our stubborn, isolationist ways and turn to Christ in humility and submission to His righteousness. God knew from a time when the concept that we consider as time had not been created that there would be a fatal break in our relationship with Him. Yet, He proceeded with the creation of humanity, but God did so with our restoration to a relationship with Him in full view.

This point in absolute pre-history would seem to be the true inception of Advent. God always knew that He would come to dwell among humanity. He was actively preparing for that time from before the moment that he first touched the soil of the new born earth in order to form the man whose descendant we all are. God imparted the life that came from His breath, that is His Spirit, into us, and He determined that we would be brought back to life from the self-imposed grave that we entered through disobedience. In our time, God has already come. Christ entered into our world, and the way to salvation and the means to transformation is present with us. Now we wait in anticipation of even more. The advent to come is the one in which all that is broken and diseased in all of Creation will be destroyed and heaven and the new earth will become one. Today we can live in the hope of the light that is Christ in us and the promise of His glory which truly overcomes all that is darkness in our world. 

Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5: 5 

There are forces all around us in this life that not only can harm us but that are actively seeking to overcome us. I am not thinking about situations and circumstances that are overwhelmingly difficult; although, they are quite real, I mean that there are spirits and powers that have evil as their core intent. They are set on a coarse of assault, entrapment, and disablement that is placed into every one’s daily path of travel. 

However, everything that is in opposition to God has already been defeated by Jesus; so, every human failing, each flawed thought, and all of our unloved and unloving images have become traps with their springs removed by the power of Christ’s love for each of us. We need to accept this reality and believe from the center of our hearts that it is true and that it is my own, personal and absolute truth. 

Jesus is the victor in my life and over all that seeks to harm me and to lessen my ability to demonstrate the life changing and transformational love of God in a lost world. Belief leads to faith, which takes us to a place of trust; then, trust allows us to walk with bold confidence through the mine field that is this world while knowing that we are safe in every way that matters. Since I believe in Christ, who has given me the promise of His victory, I can face all of the situations, people, and decisions that will come to me today with the strength and the boldness of the knowledge that the Lord will use it all for His glory.   

Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6: 4 

This is one of those times when I feel the need to share one of my secrets, reveal a truth about the way that my mind works that is not one that I let out very often. You see, there are far too many ways that I forget the basic and vital fact that I am not the same as I was. In some ways this is the inevitable result of time and age; for, I have less hair, more wrinkles, and my knees creak more than before. Still, in many other ways the changes are much more important and are absolutely progressive and gloriously positive. 

When I start thinking about the negative and the impossible in my life, when these become my mind’s focal point, I have forgotten who I am. On the days when I doubt that God could possibly have anything useful for me to do, I have stopped listening to His voice. When I stop forgiving and start dwelling on the wrong that I think has been done to me, I have closed my heart to Christ’s love. Sadly, the list can keep going, for I do waste far too much of my life living in the past. In addition to this tendency to reside in the dusty halls of history, I also act and react to situations and to people in ways that are triggered and inspired by my old heart and mind.  

The old, earth bound, sin buried person was placed in a lead-lined box and stuck six feet under when I allowed Jesus into my life. A new, Spirit-filled me was reborn and freed to soar. There are still hard aspects to this life, bad decisions by me and evil intent by others will come my way, but I am free to react to it all from the perspective of God’s grand view and with His strength. As aspects of my dead and buried old being surface, and they will, I need to stop and look upon the face of glory that is the Spirit of Christ living in me. I need to speak my fears and confess my weakness to God; then, He always refocuses my eyes and redirects my mind onto the image of Christ that I am now becoming.   

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise.

Give thanks to Him; bless His name;

For the Lord is good

Psalm 100: 4, 5a

Thanks to God for:

Love and compassion

Peace and consideration

Joy set deeply;

Hands that help

A hand to hold

Christ holding me up;

Grace and restoration

Salvation and eternity

The Lord forever;

An unfailing Father

Infinite family

Belonging;

Lifelong purpose

Clarity of vision

Mission;

His view of me

My worthiness

For He made me;

My comprehension of you

For He made you

The greatest love

poured over me

So that I

Can love all in

Purity and truth;

A world to love for Christ

So they can know Him

and join

This chorus of thanksgiving and praise.

Originally published 11/24/2010

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

   my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

   because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13: 5, 6

When David begins this Psalm, he is done and done-in, too. Something is happening in his life that has pushed him over the edge so that his extraordinary strength and endurance are used up. He doubts that he will be able to continue on for another hour, and he does not see how he will escape from the aggressive assaults of the enemy that is close at hand. In some form or other, most of us have been in this same place. We have looked out of our window and seen only adversaries, or we have attempted to face the challenges of the day and found that all of the strength is gone from our legs and that there is no oxygen left in our lungs. It feels as if the fight is over when, in fact, the round one bell has not yet rung.

David reminds us that the Lord is the one that we can turn to in these difficult times. When all of our usual resources are exhausted and the friends and allies that we have counted upon to support us in the fight have left us behind for lost or hopeless, Christ is still present with us. He walks into our trials and becomes the source of strength when there is no other. The Lord loves and cares about each of His people in ways that both transcend the situation that we are in and that work for us to redeem it for the sake of His glory. There is no loss when we turn to Christ and fully trust in Him to speak truth into our minds and to grant us grace and mercy to overcome any pain and fear.

We too can lean into Christ and trust in His unfailing and unending love to provide us with answers and resources that will sustain us during all of the days of our lives. These answers may not always be the ones that we desire, and they are not always obvious. But that is the point behind trust. Trust does not require that the conclusion of the situation be obvious or tangible. Instead, it is founded upon faith and is grounded upon the firm foundation of God’s long-standing history of granting salvation to everyone that comes to Him and accepts His offer of redemption by and through Christ. When David penned the words above, I imagine that he could still look out of his window and see the presence of an angry enemy. But with his eyes more fully opened, he also was looking out and witnessing the presence of the Lord’s angelic host as they were led by Him and mobilized to fight to protect David on that day.   

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