Understanding


“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.  

Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your pegs.

Isaiah 54: 2

This may be a time of serious trouble, concern, or personal crisis. There is certainly much going on in our world to cause considerable anxiety, and I know that my life is influenced mightily by the tension that is in the air all around me. So, this would seem like a good time to focus on protection, self-preservation, and on holding onto what I already have. As is often the case with my perspective and the Lord’s, He sees things differently.

God tells me to keep looking outwardly, for He sees the opportunity in the hard times. The Lord wants me to open up the curtains of my heart and let others inside so that they can get a closer look at the miracle that is found in living life in a relationship with Christ, and He tells me to keep claiming more of the territory around me for His glory. In other words, God fears no one and nothing, there are no circumstances that are greater than His will, and He will not place me in a situation that is beyond His capabilities. The only limits that exist in my life are the ones that I create.

My role today is to be a builder, a seeker, and a giver of Christ’s love. I need to look at the ways that I am closing up the curtains of my heart in an attempt to protect myself and let God’s Spirit open me to His possibilities. Thus I can step out of my established boundaries and touch others with God’s grace and mercy, and as I take these seemingly risky actions, I am granted the opportunity to continually strengthen my foundation through prayer, reading of God’s Word, and connection to my family of faith.  

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.   

Jesus said, “The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22: 34 

What does Jesus really mean when He quotes this Old Testament passage? He had just responded to a question that was intended to trick Him, and the first half of the answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” makes sense. It may be a very challenging thing to do, for it is an impossibility without Christ. Without His ongoing presence in my life, I don’t even come close to living out this command. Still, this second command that Jesus gives to us is in some ways even more challenging. 

If love my neighbor is expressed in kind acts such as clearing snow from their walks or picking up trash from their front yards, that is no real problem. If it looks like greeting them when I see them, this is fairly easy, too. If my neighbor is defined as the people who live close to me, this is also relatively easy. They are mostly just like me; therefore, they are rather safe people to engage with, at least at this outward level. I am absolutely certain that this was not Jesus’ definition of neighbor, for none of this applied to Him. He had no permanent house, He didn’t stay on the same well known street of the same town, and He interacted with a wide range of people, none of them exactly like Him. 

What Jesus is commanding us to do is a lot bigger and contains a lot more risk than any of this casual neighborhood interaction. He is telling us to redefine our concept of neighborhood to include the entire world around us. Christ came to love all of the people of this world in a manner that would bring them back to an intimate and a personal relationship with God. Jesus loved people by engaging with them in their lives, by hearing their sorrows, and by healing their wounds and soothing their greatest fears. He met the soul-deep needs of dying people. That is what He commands us to do. So, as Christ is in us, we are called upon to give away His love to the people that live in our neighborhood. This is not an optional part of our lives as Christians, and it is not something that others who are called to be evangelists or missionaries are to do for us. This is the second great commandment from God to each of us. Loving others is the actual expression of the first commandment. This is how the Lord wants us to demonstrate our love for Him. Today is the day to ask someone about their life, to be interested in the pain in their heart. This is the perfect time to join a new friend in the journey of life, and today is the day to tell that person about the real, the tangible answer to your own needs that you have received through Jesus.  

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

1 John 3: 18

The language of love is a complex and a very interesting thing. Most of us go through our lives trying to learn how to speak it while also trying to learn how to understand the words that others are saying to us. It can be a bit like trying to learn two complex foreign languages at the same time, for the meaning of the words can get confused and the messages can be confusing or at least perplexing. Still, we have such a strong drive to learn how to communicate at this deep level that we are willing to put an enormous amount of work into making this strange tongue our own.

God has made the acquisition of His love language a lot simpler; however, there is a catch. That catch is the nature of the acquisition of this new vocabulary, for it is best learned and has to be applied as we go about living our lives. It seems that the Lord is true inventor of the immersion concept of learning, for He wants us to go into our world and engage with the lives of others with our goal being to bring a living picture of Christ’s love to them. God also makes it very clear that we are to show our growing mastery of His speech by demonstrating genuine love for each other within the family of God. Christ leaves us with no legitimate means to express superiority, exclusion, separating differences, and inequality. So, when we do or say anything that leads to these sorts of divisive words or actions, we are using a vocabulary that comes to us from our former, fallen flesh.

Christ calls us and He leads us to live in a higher place where His righteousness demands that we take the risks and perform the sacrifices of self that allow us to embrace all people with ready openness and with willing acceptance. However, there is one more aspect to this form of love expression, and that is truth. When we love others completely and when we are able to extend the grace of God to them, we are also required to be honest with them. Yet, as Christ demonstrated, God’s truth is a compelling part of the vocabulary of His love, and giving His love to others requires us to share His truth as well. Thus mastery of this complex language of eternal love is gained as we live life in the presence of Christ, and it is granted full expression as we love others without hesitation, reservation, or exclusion.

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, 2

Many people set out in life with the intent to shake things up. They want to be mighty forces in their world, and their goal is to become powerful, influential, and to make the important decisions. Almost no one actually gets there. Frustration and discouragement become the mile stones along the way. The map that was viewed from that high perspective of youth actually contains roads that twist and turn and that have large dips and many detours to negotiate. Travel along this path, from the inception of the journey until we get there, always takes too long, and arrival at “there” is never certain or ever all that fulfilling. Yet, it may be that in this frustrating process that most of us are missing the most vital element of orientation when we start planning this trip. Our map just might be lacking its true North.

Unfortunately, youth with its zeal and its physical strength tends to look at itself as the primary source for all wisdom, guidance, and understanding when life’s journey is mapped out. Although the young person has probably seen people that have started out strong and then crashed along the way, they tend to discount the experience of others as being caused by that person’s lack of skill, fortitude, or good luck. Yet, there is another reality to consider. For there is one and only one true and valid source of wisdom in the universe, and there is a singular place to go to look for what is needed for planning life and in its execution. God designed this world, and in the process He created us humans as the final summation of all of that design work. God poured His nature and character into the world that He fabricated. Now He remains engaged with His creation and in our lives in a manner that makes all of His wisdom, understanding, justice, and righteousness available for us to engage as we plan life and carry it out.

There is no situation or circumstance that we will encounter in life in which God does not have the resources that are truly necessary to guide us through. We can never go so far into the world’s darkness that Christ’s radiant light cannot penetrate, and even the running of time and our deliberate efforts to separate ourselves from God will never take us too far away from Him for His love, grace, and mercy to reach us. The God that is the sovereign king of the universe knows me and the most intimate and personal aspects of my life in a manner that makes Him the perfect counselor and guide for me in all of the small and great situations and events in my life. So, if you are young and starting to plan out the course of the days and the years to come, Christ is here ready to help you design the plan that is best for you to follow throughout each of those days to come. On the other hand, if you have already traversed most of the days that will be allotted to your life, there is still time and opportunity to turn to Christ for that same guidance, counsel, and support in all that you have left to do. There is a King, and He is sovereign in each of our lives. His love is there to be poured out over us, and His wisdom will lead us to place our feet upon the eternal certainty of God’s unfailing word as we venture forth into life.  

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