Love


And Simeon came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him into his arms, and blessed God and said,

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, 

   according to your word; 

for 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: 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 one to follow. 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 originally intended. 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 desperation of a life lost into the joyous realization of potential brought to new 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.  

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How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

   The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36: 7

Our world is filled with children who need to find shelter. Some are displaced from their homes due to the strife and the violence that is running wildly through the streets of their places of birth. Others have been made orphans by various kinds of human caused or natural disasters, and many of us are left out and exposed to the elements of life’s turbulent storms simply because of the persistent nature of the brokenness of this world during the age of man. When the full scope and extent of this vulnerable population is considered, not many of the earth’s inhabitants are left out of the group of people who would benefit from the form of shelter that the Lord provides for anyone who comes to Him. For all who are weary and all who are weak are granted a place of comfort, rest, and safety under God’s great wings of protection.

Yet, many people do not seek out this place of refuge. Instead, they seek to take control of their lives in a manner that leads them away from God’s presence and into the arms of the worldly figures that are causing the strife and the destruction that has formed up their state of homeless wandering. Others hold onto the idea that they possess all that they will ever need to solve any issues and concerns that are causing trouble or that are bringing about distress in their lives. So, reliance is placed upon personal strength or skill rather than looking toward God and yielding to His far superior capacity to provide for the real needs that they have in life. Many people in our world have turned to false gods of various types and descriptions in order to seek out their systems of worldly truth, and thus they rely upon the capability of those distorted images of the eternal for protection and comfort during the various seasons of trial and struggle that come their way.

None of these earth-bound and worldly sources of refuge and provision can truly shelter the heart and the mind from the forces of evil that run rampant in our world, and they are completely powerless to save any souls from the pain of an eternity apart from the love of God. Among all of the religions, gods, belief systems, and moral concepts that people look to and rely upon in this world, none other than Christ provides everything that He grants to His followers out of a love that is so deep and lasting that God, Himself, suffered, bled, and was sacrificed so that each of us would be made free from the necessity of doing the same thing in our flesh. It is this great love that provides anyone who chooses to accept the gift of salvation with the means for that gift of grace to be granted to us. God has given each and every person on the earth the opportunity to find the sheltering refuge that we need under the covering of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us. Thus, we can find a home in this life and an eternal dwelling place in the unceasing love that surrounds us in the Christ’s arms.   

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5: 12

This is a simple and direct statement. There are two states of being, and one of those is fully and eternally alive, and the other is not. It is up to each of us to decide on which side of this equation we land when our days on this earth end. Essentially, this all revolves around who and what we believe to be true, and the outcome hinges upon willingness to take a singular action that is based upon that belief. God presents the evidence for His perspective in many ways. It comes to us in the form of the testimony of people who have believed in God and who have accepted Christ as the Son of God and as our own Savior and Lord of our lives. God also speaks to us through His word, the Bible, and He reaches out to all of the world through the wordless witness of creation. God is not silent about His presence, and He is never reticent to bring forth His presentation of Jesus the Christ as His Son and the path to redemption for all people.

Yet, God still allows us the right to choose. He does not want to compel us into a relationship with Him, for any relationship that is founded and formed up out of compulsion is not truly a relationship. God desires for each of us to willingly submit ourselves to His will so that we can live out our lives in committed service to His gospel of love. This is a form of service that provides the servant with meaning and with purpose in life that is far greater and more significant that anything else that we may have considered before we knew Christ. By submitting our lives to Christ, we are entering into dwelling outside of the temporary and futile nature of this world as we then begin to live in the fullest sense of what the bigger than life construct of eternal life describes. Living as a follower of Christ means that all aspects of life are framed in and formed up out of material that can be drawn from beyond that which is found in this world.

These resources are infinite in their abundance, and they are readily available to God’s people. Although we do not leave this world, we can operate in a manner that is supported and empowered by Christ so that His great love for all people can overcome our fears and our reluctance to engage with some people. In fact, Christ compels us to become ever more involved with our world as we grow closer to Him. The more we know of our Lord and the better that we understand Him, the more His heart of love, care, and compassion for the people of this world will shape our own hearts to be like His. This is one of the most significant ways that followers of Christ should be distinct from the rest of the world, for we should demonstrate God’s heart of redemptive care and relentless pursuit of the lost in all of our words and actions. So, this is what being alive in Christ truly means. The life that Christ grants to us is one in which we love others in the faith without reservation, and we love all people with a zeal for the Gospel of Christ that is fueled by the desire to see all people from every corner of our world given the opportunity to choose this same form of life for themselves. 

If anyone serves me, he must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

John 12: 26

In many respects the easiest part of following Jesus is found in saying yes to Him. Yes, I will follow You, and yes, I will serve Your kingdom. The hardest aspect of all of this comes about when Christ shows us where it is that He actually wants for us to go in fulfillment of that promise to follow Him anywhere. Jesus made the same sort of commitment to the Father and to all of creation, and the following that ensued for Him took our blameless Lord to a cross that would normally have been reserved for people whose lives were ruled by the darkness of sin. Yet, in obedience and out of necessity for the sakes of all of us, Jesus suffered and died at the hands of people who were unwittingly tasked with service to God as priests as they offered up and executed that ultimate sacrifice for all sins for the entire scope and span of time.

Now, we do not need to die in spirit, and even these wounded bodies are granted a form of reprieve that leads us to living out our days as instruments of God’s redemptive work in our world. However, we do not escape that cross that Jesus suffered and bled upon. We are called by Him to follow, and the path that He takes us along does inevitably require each of us to go to that place of surrender of will and submission of self to the holy and righteous One, Jesus Christ. This experience is usually not easy or pleasant to consider, and it can be torturous to endure. Yet, the result of such complete and absolute surrender to Christ is a form of freedom that cannot be found in any other way or from a different source. The cross of Christ is the initial point for a life that is lived out in the fullest expression of the wonder and the glory of God’s creative touch upon each and every person that walks upon the earth.

On the other side of the cross was resurrection and life. Jesus departed the tomb of His momentary burial and walked among His people, and He continues to dwell among and within us in the form of His Spirit to this hour. Christ continues to lead us into a type of surrender that sets us free from the earthly forms of servitude that continue to enslave our hearts, minds, and bodies, and in that process of divestiture of those remaining aspects of our old selves, the Lord guides us into the blessings of service to the Father’s kingdom come upon this earth. Christ does this as He grants to us our particular place and purpose in God’s plan for redemption of that which is lost. That cross of obedient surrender to which Christ leads each of us was intended by the world to be an implement of defeat and shame, but God’s redemptive will has transformed it into a place where victory over death is proclaimed and whereby we each gain that place of honor that God bestows upon His faithful servants. 

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne,

   steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Psalm 89: 14

What a strange way to crown a king. The party atmosphere that preceded the coronation itself has been replaced by the angry shouts of a lynch mob. The joyous gathering of family and friends that culminates in the Passover meal has turned somber with the foreboding shadow of betrayal hanging in the room. The night itself is filled with prayer, but these are not the hopeful expressions of a dream of a future of freedom and peace, but instead, they are the anguished cries of the teacher as He faces the torture ahead with absent friends and the sure knowledge of that necessary abandonment by the Father, too. In this ridiculous and scandalous ceremony, Jesus stands singularly suitable to obtain this crown and to sit upon the only righteous and just throne that has or will ever exist in this world.

If these fundamental characteristics that are the expression of the rule of a true king are to be found among us, then they must come from their source, and this is God, Himself. Outside of God’s touch and the provision of His grace, there exist only shadows of what is right and just in our world. There are times when people may attempt to act in such a way, and these moments of peace tend to last for short periods of time, but in the end, the powers of evil that attempt to control all of this place will gain some portion of control, and their chaos will return to cause those peaceful systems of rule to topple over. As people attempt to grasp onto those crumbling icons of goodness and mercy, we are usually left with nothing other than shards of broken stones held tenuously in our fingers. Yet, when we hold onto the mystically tangible presence of Christ in our lives, we find that our hands are being held in the sure grip of the Eternal King.

This is a King who loves each of us with a passion so intense and a love so lasting that He was willing to endure all of the agony and the anguish of that awful coronation in order to establish and perfect God’s plan for redemption for any of us who will accept Him and for the entirety of creation as well. Here we have King Jesus upon His rightful throne of grace, mercy, peace, righteousness, and unfailing love where He pours out God’s true and eternal justice upon this needy world. That bloody crown that was provided by humanity three days prior has been replaced by an unperishable one formed out of the glory of heaven. The wounds in the flesh are still visible, but now rather than bringing about a reminder of pain and death, they provide a soothing touch of healing to anyone who turns to Christ, even to those of us who have participated in placing those painful thorns on His sinless head. Today Christ sits upon His victor’s throne, the blazing light of righteousness surrounds His presence while His voice calls out to all people to come to Him and be healed of all that is hurt, damaged, and broken in our bodies, hearts and minds.  

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

1 Peter 2: 19, 20

If truth were to be told, most of us deserve more than we actually get by way of payment in terms of punishment for our sinfulness and by way of pain and suffering in response to that which we have inflicted upon others. Yet, where God is concerned, there is really no equity in these matters. He has taken on far more than He gives out, and in Christ, God accepted all of the deepest sorrow and the harshest pain as His own reward for sinlessness and for faithfulness. So, that which should be mine, was brutally beaten and pounded into Jesus’ flesh. The just judgement that my own evil ways deserves has been taken on by the only living being to be ever and steadfastly pure, perfect, and absolutely sinless in all regards. 

Now, we all do endure the outworking of the brokenness of our world. Each and every person that is born into life here will encounter illness, injury, loss, grief, and trials of many different types. This is the reality that surrounds us, and these are the circumstances that often haunt our days. It is also true that the more we seek to follow Christ in this world, the more likely it is that we will feel the sort of pain that is formed up out of caring for and about others. As we learn to love as Christ does, we enter into the lives of people at a deep and a substantive level where the real burdens of their days become the ones that inflict us with shared sorrow and with burdens accepted to help carry. In a very real sense, when we enter into supporting people in their days of need and times of trial, we are following Christ’s lead and answering God’s call to go into the world and make disciples of all people. Care and concern and burdens carried are verbs in a disciple of Christ’s vocabulary.

Sometimes the burdens that we take up will belong to people who are themselves unlovely, out of favor, or in many other ways disadvantaged or marginalized by our society. These are people that Jesus saw in the full light of heaven, for He viewed all people as lovely and every one of us as people for whom grace, mercy, and redemption were poured out on the cross. As Jesus took on the shame of sin for all people, so, too, are we to enter into carrying the burdens and sharing the sorrows of everyone. The dividing walls of culture, society, race, gender, life choices, nationality, and any other separating factors were broken down and eternally abolished by Jesus’ death and the resurrection from death that followed. If we are to suffer at the hands of injustice for the sake of entering into the sorrows and the burdens of those for whom justice is scarce, any pain of hardship that may befall us is for God’s glory and all that we might endure will be counted to our credit by Christ, the only true and righteous judge of people’s hearts. 

For Jesus has been counted as worthy of more glory than Moses — as much more glory as a builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.

Hebrews 3: 3

This concept of the relationship between builder and the house that was constructed is not a true statement in much of our world today, and this reality concerns me. When we look at a house, we seldom ask about the builder. We marvel at the finished product instead. We may be taken in by the craftmanship that is expressed in the many details or by the fine finishes that have been applied to the cabinetry, but we are not so concerned about the nature, character, and experience of the person whose hands made those objects that we are admiring. Likewise, people are often fully focused upon the importance of our own roles in our world so that we don’t have any attention left to give to others, and we get so engaged with gaining in stature and with growing our own reputations that we don’t grasp the need to spend even more time in deep contemplation of the One who made us and who supplies the creative intelligence and the skill that we use to achieve those personal goals.

No matter who I am or what it is that I have accomplished in my lifetime, I did not invent myself and I certainly didn’t develop my internal qualities out of thin air. There was a creative hand behind that existence. There is a master builder who has a plan that He is following that has led to the orderly nature of this universe and that has produced the wonderous creatures that all people turn out to be. We humans are truly remarkable. We are capable of intricate thoughts, complex calculations, creativity in many spheres of endeavor, and physical feats that excite and amaze. We also express a very broad range of emotions and are capable of demonstrating great compassion and far-reaching care for those in need in our world. All of these qualities are characteristics of the Creator who devised the shape and the form of the lives that we would live. Each good and positive thing that is entered into and accomplished by humanity traces its source back to the love that was imparted to us by the hand of God during His formative work at the beginning of existence.

Jesus was present in all of those creative endeavors. His workmanship is a part of the totality of creative masterwork that is expressed in all that exists in the universe. He pre-existed any and all of the angels, and He certainly came before all of the inhabitants of this world. Thus, even the most faithful and effective of all people who have followed God’s will and calling for their lives is but a pale reflection of the greatness and the glory that is found in Jesus. He is not mere creature, but Jesus is the Creator. He is much more than follower of the Father’s will, although He surely did that without exception, He was a party to the development of the plan that has been implemented as a reflection of that infinite and divine will. So, everything that is loving, good, caring, and truly beautiful in the universe is the product of the creative will that Jesus has poured out into the world. Additionally, the hope of redemption for the broken elements in our world that we can hold as a promise from heaven is made real and is empowered by Jesus as He works in and through people who surrender our lives to His use in the perfecting of that great builder’s mission.  

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