Advent 19: Light

5  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. – 1 John 1:5-10 (ESV)

The eye is one of the most complex organs in the human body.  It’s function is to convert light into pulses that travel to our brains and enable us to “see”.  But, in actuality, we never truly see an object.  The only thing our eyes can detect is reflected light.  Take away the light and we see nothing at all.  A little light and our vision is dim, insufficient for fully recognizing anything that isn’t right in our face.  But in full, bright light, all becomes clear, defined, discernible.

The message is simple: God is light.  If you want to see the Truth, you let the Light illuminate your life.  If you want to walk with the Lord, you walk in the light.  The dark is no place to be.  Bad things happen there.

And it is no coincidence that we are called by Jesus to be salt and light – a beacon on a hill. We are to be imitators of Christ (Ephesians 5:1).  So follow Christ – walk the path illuminated by His Truth – and be a light for others as well, that they may follow Christ.

When we walk in God’s Light, we see the truth about our sinful situations.  And, if we are following God in humility, His grace shines through and we are able to make the adjustments necessary to follow His light more clearly.

Love others.

Walk in faith in God.

14  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, sothat they may see your good works andgive glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16 (ESV)

Advent 18: Amazingly Amazing Grace

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 (ESV)

Grace is one of those subjects we tend to twist around and misconstrue and misapply and just generally mess up.  Why?  It is antithetical to our way of thinking.  For humans, most everything is based in what we deserve.  If we haven’t earned forgiveness, we don’t receive it.  The legalism we humans tend to apply to all things God saps the love right out, and turns us into legalistic, hypocritical Pharisees.

And, yes, I said us.  Me included.  So put down your torches and pitch forks.  We are all guilty of it – me too.

Which makes God’s grace all the more necessary and amazing.

In his classic book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer approaches the subject in terms of both “cheap grace” and “costly grace”.  And while I agree that grace without repentance is nothing more than an attempt to claim a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, I fear that – in some Christian circles – “cheap grace” is used as a club against other believers who do not worship in quite the same manner as they.  So I believe it is better to simply approach grace for what it is: a gift of favor from a loving Father God through His Son Jesus Christ.

Grace – charis in Greek – is a reflection on the Giver, and should cause a response of deep gratitude from the heart of the recipient of said grace.  Grace is a gift.  You cannot earn it.  There are no strings attached.  It is freely given to all who will accept the gift.

God’s grace is the great enabler of our ability to approach Him.  It is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).  In other words, I am not saved because I am more holy or more deserving or more loved than anyone else.  It is by the loving grace of God that Jesus died for my sins.

Not only that… God’s grace is all I need to see me through life.  It is the unmerited favor of God working for me, in line with God’s will.  But grace requires humility on our part. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, ESV). We cannot let our faith go to our heads, thinking we are more special than anyone else, or any of us has all the answers.  Let me assure you, I do not.  But don’t get smug.  You don’t either.

Grace is the strength that buffets our weakness.  When Paul was in danger of becoming proud as a result of his amazing encounter with Christ, Jesus – in an act of grace – gave Paul…

…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

Confession time.  Most of us have a pet peeve or two.  Or twenty.  For me, my particular rub is rudeness.  And, with Christmas shopping season upon us and all the folks cramming into department stores and discount stores and shopping malls and shops of styles and sizes, pushing and shoveling, jostling for position in line, fighting for parking spots, mindlessly zoned in on their smartphones and electronic devices like all the world around them doesn’t exist… Argh!!!  I get so worked up over it that I barely notice that I have been sitting in my car, parked in a plum spot with the engine running while I check my e-mails and FB pages (“I sure hope somebody “liked” my spectacular post today!”), totally oblivious to the line of cars that has formed and now reaches halfway to South Dakota, waiting for my parking spot.  My distraction is broken and my awareness raised when some guy waives at me with one finger (and, no, he wasn’t telling me I’m number one) and shouts some vulgarities that make me glad my mother lives three states away from here.  I am tempted to return his gestures in kind, denying him the number one position as well.  However, I won’t drag his mom into this as I am sure she is a perfectly nice lady and an innocent party to boot.  (Although, judging from the mouth on this guy – and one I hope he doesn’t kiss mom with – I gauge that she could have done a better job raising this punk.)

So, by God’s grace  I can now feel superior to this profane individual who expressed himself so rudely, and feel good that, since I am a Christian, I now possess the self control to not be rude toward this obvious heathen.  I will simply give him the disapproving long stare and move on.


Well… not exactly.  God’s grace may well give me the strength not to respond to rudeness with rudeness.  But, moreover, the grace of God is what convicts me of my own rudeness.  You see, by God’s grace, He gives me repeated opportunities to face my peeves and gripes – and fears, doubts, challenges, worries, troubles, etc. – and recognize that, by His grace, I have the strength to face anything in my path.  Including / especially the roadblocks I put up myself through sin and doubt.  I have that strength not because I am so great or righteous or anything special.  It is by the grace of God alone that I have any strength.

It is by the grace of God alone that I would ever manage to anything good, or right.

It is by the grace of God alone that I would ever repent of – let alone give two thoughts to – my sin, or His righteousness.

It is by the grace of God alone that I would ever seek Him first, above my own selfish desires and perceived needs (not the same as actual needs, mind you).

It is by the grace of God that I am moved to recognize that I am a sinner saved by grace – and grace alone – deserving of nothing good from God and yet blessed beyond comprehension by my Heavenly Father, Who is Love Himself; His Son, Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace; and the Holy Spirit, Wonderful Indwelling Comforter and Counselor.

On my own I am nothing but a damned fool (and I mean that literally, not profanely).  I am grateful for the grace of God poured on me anew everyday, at just the right time.  Thank you for enabling me to pursue You, Lord.  For giving me the right desires of my heart.  And I pray for your grace when those desires take a wrong turn, or I am distracted and do not seek You first.  For it is by Your grace alone, through faith, that I am saved.

Advent 17: 95 Reasons We All Need a Mighty Fortress (and a Handful of Nails)

By Neptuul (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Neptuul (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6  The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah – Psalms 46:1-7 (ESV)

It is amazing the amount of trouble one can cause himself with a pen, some ink, a piece of paper, a hammer and a handful of nails.  Oh, and 95 well thought out ideas that stand in the face of the ecumenical powers-that-be.  One can make himself an enemy of the church pretty quick when they stand against the leadership.

What Luther did on Halloween 1517 was more than just pound a series of beliefs onto a wooden church door.  He called the church out for it’s unbiblical practice of indulgences, whereby people could perform good acts on the behalf of themselves and others to free them from purgatory.  Hence Luther’s antagonist, Dominican friar Johann Tetzel, who went about spreading the heresy of selling indulgences with his famous line, ““When a penny in the coffer rings, a soul from Purgatory springs.”

Nor did Luther do himself any favors when he claimed that the only authority for believers came through Scripture, a point that neutered and displeased the Pope considerably.  (Leo X would excommunicate Luther in January 1521 for refusing to recant of his writings.)

In a time when the Papacy wielded great power, Luther’s stance put his life in danger.  He knew what it meant to need a place of refuge.  And Luther also knew where to turn.

He wrote the famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” based on Psalm 46.  Tradition holds that he sang the hymn as he walked in to meet his accusers at the Diet of Worms in 1521.  Here he was deemed a heretic and ordered arrested by Emperor Charles V.  An edict was issued declaring open season on Martin Luther.  Kill him if you see him, but do not aid him in any way.

Luther was already on his way home to Wittenberg when he was absconded by Prince Frederick III and taken to Wartburg Castle. Here he spent several months safely locked away from the Emperor’s men.  But Luther’s true refuge was not made up of stone walls and battlements.  It was God Who protected Luther, and gave him safe shelter.

Martin Luther stood up for what was right.  He took a stand for the Lord, and God honored that.  He saw him safely (not necessarily comfortably) through the ordeal – the pressure to back down, the threat (and later reality) of excommunication from the Pope, the accusations and menacing threats of powerful men, and the fate the emperor had meant for Luther.  God provided safe passage, a powerful ally in Prince Frederick III, and a place of refuge at Wartburg where Luther completed the first ever translation of the New Testament into German, and wrote prodigiously, never letting down on his attacks against the wrongs of the church and their skewed teachings.

Just as Martin Luther discovered that God was most literally and truthfully his refuge, the Lord is our refuge as well.  We have no reason to fear standing up for what is right, for the cause of Christ, because God is with us.  And even if our physical well being is threatened or worse, we still get the far better end of the deal: eternal salvation and life with Christ.

As Jesus promised: “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 (ESV)


by Martin Luther

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Advent 16: God of Wonder

By NASA and the European Space Agency. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By NASA and the European Space Agency. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. – John 21:25 (ESV)

Go outside on any starlit night.  Look up.  Notice the stars and the planets.  Consider that what you are seeing is light first emitted hundreds – if not thousands – of years ago, finally making it far as earth.

Now consider that we see above us is only a tiny representation of the vastness of space. The photo above is a deep space picture taken by the Hubble Telescope.  It is a photo of a small portion of space, an exposure over a year in the making.  This, too, only represents a very small area of space.  Look at the variety of celestial bodies – galaxies, stars, nebulae… And that is just what we can see in this photo.  Never mind the comets, planets, asteroids, etc… that are beyond our ability to see, even with a tool as powerful as Hubbell.

We cannot comprehend the size of the heavens.  Yet God created it.  And He is far superior in every way to His creation.  It is God Who hung the stars and designed the layout of the entire universe.  He set our earth at just the right solar system sweet spot, with just the right angle and right speed, to support the right atmosphere for life to exist.

He created the heavens and the earth.  He made snowflakes beautifully individual and leaves carefully intricate.  The variety of plants and fruits and vegetables and animals… earth, water, sky, all created simply by His utterance – God spoke, and it was.

He is the very essence of Life Itself, forming man from the dirt (dirt that He spoke into existence) and breathing life – His life – into our nostrils.

He exists outside of space, time and matter, and yet lives within us.  His ways beyond our grasp, yet He makes Himself known to us.  He is the reason for everything, and we cannot reason it all.  He is the perfectly holy and righteous Great I AM, and I am a sinner undeserving of anything short of hell.  And yet, He loves me anyway.  He makes a way where none existed before.  He guides me, waits patiently when I stumble, and continues to pursue me until I am back with the flock.

A sense of wonder is important to maintain when we are seeking God.  When the Lord becomes so familiar in our minds that we think we know what He will do at any given time, we are treading in dangerous territory.  Familiarity breeds contempt.  And if we truly seek God first in our lives, we will find new miracles daily, new wonders to gaze upon in awe.  He reveals Himself to us whenever we ask, seek and knock.

So, the next time your faith is looking a little dog-eared, your passion a little dry, your wonder a little ordinary, go outside.  Look up.  Notice the vastness of the heavens God created.  And give Him great praise, in awe and wonder of His great might, wisdom, mercy and love.

God Moves in Mysterious Ways

by William Cowper

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

Advent 15: Absolute Jealousy (or Accept No Substitute)

“…you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” – Exodus 34:14 (ESV)

The absoluteness of God makes some people uncomfortable.  It is far easier to box Him up, limit Him in a way that fits our own desires and bents and present the Lord as a somewhat watered-down substitute of Who He is in His fullness. To do so is to make our own god (little “g”) that we can easily digest, who meets our whims and lives within the boundaries we set.

The problem is, in creating our own “god”, we make not a deity but an idol.  And what a slap in the face of the Almighty!  The problem with worshipping a boxed-up god is that we will be let down.  There are times we get upset or angry with God because He didn’t answer a prayer the way we expected or wanted Him to.  When things are tough and we’re hurting or reeling or confused and punch-drunk from all the blows we’ve been dealt, it can be very easy to blame God.

Here is the truth: God is God, and we are not.  God is going to do what God is going to do.  And while we have His Word and His promises, we must remember that God works perfectly – in timing and substance.  Consider the words of the psalmist:

1  Praise the Lord! Praise the name of the Lord, give praise, O servants of the Lord, 2 who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God! 3 Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant! 4 For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession. 5 For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. 6  Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. 7  He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,who makes lightnings for the rainand brings forth the wind from his storehouses. – Psalms 135:1-7 (ESV)

God is the Great I AM.  And, despite what some want to believe, there is only one way to God:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:6-7 (ESV)

When we are seeking God, there is a sense that we are seeking enlightenment and truth.  But notice that Jesus tells us there is only one way to God.  Jesus is not one way, one truth and one life.  His statement is absolute: Jesus is The Way, The Truth, The Life.

The Truth of God is not so simple.  Hence the requirement of faith.  If we reason all there was to know about God and figure Him out with mere human logic and fact, faith would be useless.  What God wants is for us to seek Him first and foremost.  Not an idol that represents our favorite parts of God.  Not the parts that make sense.  While God doesn’t expect us to abandon our intelligence (He gave us a brain for a reason!), He does expect us to lean on Him and seek Him – all of Him – in faith and trust.  Because when we build a box in which to contain God, we are creating an idol, a pale substitute for Who He truly is.

Ephesians 5:22-23 points out that Christ is the Bridegroom and we are His bride.  Now, when one gets married, we accept our spouse warts and all.  Even the parts we don’t like.  I am not saying there are any warts on God’s side of the relationship, but I will say that we humans are practically toads for all our warts.  Still, the Lord meets us where we are – despite our sin and shame, He loves us warts and all.  Who are we to accept a substitute god who is any less that the One True God, Who has given all for us?

Advent 14: Peace and the Steadfastness of God

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:33 (KJV)

Peace.  Stop for a moment and savor that word.  Let it simmer a while in your soul.  Peace is a wonderful gift from God, and the clearer we understand it, the more we appreciate the gift.

Peace is not merely the absence of conflict.  It isn’t limited to the laying down of arms, signed armistices or a hippie ideal of ending all war.  These are outward signs of a cessation of aggression.

But peace – true, lasting peace – is something far deeper than signatures on a piece of paper or John and Yoko singing “Give Peace a Chance”.  Peace is unity: unity of spirit, unity of purpose.  It is finding a oneness with others, and with God.  Peace is the product of laying down self for the sake of unity in love.

Peace is the prosperity of the soul.  A soul at peace is one that is calm, focused, filled with faith and joy.  It is the polar opposite of chaos.  Take a moment to look at God’s creation.  Everything works together in harmony, in peace.    Right now it’s winter.  The earth is at rest.  But spring will come, bring the warmth and the rains that cause the fields to spring to life.  Summer brings the sun and heat needed to mature the fruit of the trees and plants and, come autumn, the harvest.

Look at the perfect positioning of the earth.  Angled at just the right axis, revolving around the sun at just the right distance and speed, turning at just the right speed… day, night, tides, atmosphere, gravity… all working together in perfect harmony.  All God’s creation at peace, working as one.

God Himself is the perfect example of peace, of oneness.  The Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – in harmony as One.  United in purpose.  Bound by love.  No confusion.

Let’s take a moment and look at this passage:

23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28  You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. – John 14:23-31 (ESV)

Here we have a beautiful example of peace.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – unified as One God, working together, each in His distinct personage and role but All in harmony with One Another.  And, if we love the Lord, we are at peace with God as well.  And if we are unified in purpose and love with God, we have no reason to worry.  No need for doubt.  We have the peace Christ has given us.

That peace – the stillness that enables rest – comes from faithful unity with God’s purposes.  Seeking first the kingdom of God and not worrying about all the things that draw our attention away from Him.

“Not as the world gives do I give,” Jesus promised.  In the world there are always strings attached.  Even “love” is conditional.  Everything here is temporary and subject to change. But God is steadfast. “For I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6, ESV).  Only God has the authority and strength and ability to never change.  God is always right, always just, always true.  He is always Who He says He is and will always do what He says He will do.  It is His very character.  God possesses a perfect absoluteness that we sinful being cannot.  He is our Solid Rock, our Foundation.  In Him, and Him alone, we find perfect peace – stillness of spirit, rest for our souls, the calming of the chaos around us, the right unity of purpose for our lives.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. – 2 Thessalonians 3:16 (ESV)

Advent 13: The Lord is my Shepherd

Note:  My apologies for the lateness of getting today’s post out.  I had some technical difficulties.  Which means I goofed something up.  Which means my lack of 21st century technological prowess got me again.  But, if any of you have an eight-track tape player in need of repair, I may be able to help you.


1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. – Psalm 23 (ESV)

Jehovah-Raah. Literally the One True God Who is my Shepherd.

The 23rd Psalm is perhaps the best known of all the Psalms. Unfortunately some see it as a mere funeral fall back reading. But, despite our familiarity with this passage -or rather, because of it – I think it would be a good idea to slow down a bit and absorb these words.

Jehovah is my Shepherd. When I stray (as sheep sometimes do), the Shepherd pursues me. He fills my every need. He brings me peace and comfort from the hardness and storms of live. He leads me back to His will, guiding down the right path and rescuing me from sin, because that is His will.

The path I have to walk may be treacherous, my enemies waiting to attack. But God is on my side. What can man do to me? It is the very presence of God the Almighty that brings me strength and comfort, fortifying and guiding me through my journey.

I am blessed beyond measure simply because of The Lord, my Shepherd. I am blessed by His goodness, and that goodness will follow me throughout this life as I move toward a glorious eternity with YHWH.

Throughout this passage, we are led by God. We follow Him because we are His sheep.

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” – John 10:3b-5 (ESV)

We know the Shepherd’s voice, and that is what we His sheep follow. And we can rest assured that, whether we understand where He is leading us – whether the road ahead seems rocky or dangerous or uncertain or frightening – as long as we are following the Good Shepherd, we can go in peace, faithfully knowing that His will is right and pure and purposeful and good.

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this.” – John 10:11-16 (ESV)

Jesus – God Incarnate – came to earth, lived among us and willingly died an unjust, humiliating death, gloriously rising on the third day in fulfillment of His promise. This He did strictly for us. What did God have to gain through His incredible selfless humbling act? Not a thing. He did it – and all He does – out of love.

Surely He is a Good Shepherd we can follow faithfully.

Advent 12: Inutterable Holiness

11  “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? 12 You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them. 13 “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.” – Exodus 15:11-13 (ESV)

Imagine a name so awesome in holiness, so great and reverent, that you dare not speak it for fear of accidentally taking the Lord’s name in vain.  The name for God is spelled out in four Hebrew consonants:  יהוה, or YHWH (known as the Tetragrammaton, meaning “the four letters”).  Today we pronounce it Yahweh, or Jehovah.  But the true pronunciation of the word is lost since people basically stopped verbalizing it long ago.

In the King James Bible, we honor the holiness of the name by using all capital letters for the translated YHWH: LORD.  Personally I am quite fond of the habit of capitalizing references to our One True God, even using all caps for LORD.  I have even seen people who use no caps at all for their own names to further emphasize our relationship between God and us, humbling ourselves in fearful reverence to the LORD.

I believe we take God too lightly.  We fail to recognize Who God is, and who we are.  YHWH is the Jewish personal name for God.  It literally refers to The Self-Existent Eternal One.  Often, it appears with the word Elohim, the generic term for God.  Put them together (LORD God) and you get the message that God, the One and Only God, is our God.  Our God is holy – perfect in all His ways, powerful and reigning over all creation, pure in His every intention.

To be holy is to be worthy of all praise and glory and honor and devotion.  To be holy is to be righteous. And when we are talking about God, these terms are absolute.  God isn’t just righteous, He is righteousness.  He is truth.  He defines morality.

God isn’t just pure, He is purity.  He is absolutely without sin, which is why only the perfect sacrifice (Jesus Christ) would do.

God is to be feared.  For some reason, we seem to have a problem with that particular idea, as if the idea of fearing a loving God is too paradoxical.  The love of God is to be emphasized, for God is love.  But, in doing so, we must take care to not soften God in our eyes.  Through Jesus we have access to the LORD.  And Christ is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep.  But our Father is mighty in power, awesome in His very being.  This is the God to Whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess Him as Lord and Savior of all (Philippians 2:10-11).  You cannot tell me no man will fail to tremble in fear of the awesome holiness of God when we see Him.

Consider Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 33.  We are told “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11, ESV).  Not many people can honestly make that claim.

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” – Exodus 33:17-23 (ESV)

We cannot look God in the face and live.  His holiness is such that we cannot handle it.  But, in God’s great love, He makes a way that we can see Him and live, so that we may proclaim Him as YHWH, LORD.  And notice that God moved Moses and covered Him.  Moses didn’t do anything but ask to see YHWH’s glory.  God’s tender love and awesome holiness fearfully and wonderfully coexist.

This is why it is so important that we give God His due.  Because He asks so little, yet deserves so much.  Because He is God and we are not, and we possess no good thing without the grace of God.  Because we get so caught up in our little lives that eternally trivialities drive our days and pull our attention away from the reality of the LORD, the Great I AM, the One True God Who reigns over all creation with astounding power and might, the Righteous Judge Who chose to redeem His children because He – YHWH – loves us.

1  Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. 2 Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. 3  Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. 4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. 5 He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. 6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. 7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; 8 they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. 9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! 10  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!  – Psalms 111:1-10 (ESV)

Advent 11: Three in One

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” – Matthew 28:19

There are a lot of things I do not understand.  Quantum physics is one.  Another is how Minnesota professional sports teams all seem to be cursed (except for the Lynx – those ladies play a great game of basketball!).  The biggest stumper for me is the Holy Trinity.

It isn’t the fact of the Trinity that confounds me.  I can fully accept in faith that God is Three in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is trying to figure out the how and why that twist me up.

The New Testament makes it very clear that God is three persons.  References abound throughout to all three (or any combination thereof) of the personages of the Lord.  It is also clear that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are, in essence, One and the Same (“I and the Father are one” [John 10:30]; “Now the Lord is the Spirit…” [2 Corinthians 3:17]).

Then I go back to the Old Testament.  In the very first reference we have to God, in the very first verse of all Scripture (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” [Genesis 1:1, ESV]), God isʾelōhîm – a generic term for gods.

Gods.  Plural.

The word ʾelōhîm appears around 2600 times to describe God in the Old Testament.  By using this generic word to describe Himself, He is establishing His power and might.  He is the Only True God.  Any other “gods” are not deities but man-made idols, devoid of any real power and useless in His sight.  He is the Great I AM – Existence Himself.

But the fact that ʾelōhîm is the plural form of the Hebrew word for “god”, along with what we have already read about Jesus being active in creation and the references to the Holy Spirit and His activity in the Old Testament, leads me to see God as Three in One – always has been, always will be.

And God is three personages, not three Gods.  The Almighty is not schizophrenic.  He is One God.  But that One God is made up of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Hence the expression of “God” (singular) with a plural term.

Early church father Tertullian is largely credited for being the first to describe God in Trinitarian terms.  He spent considerable time and effort in standing up against modalism, a belief that God is not three persons, but one who appears to His people in three different modes – and never more than one at any given time.  In his treatise Against Praxeas (written around 213 AD), Tertullian argues that God is One, three distinct yet inseparable personages:

…not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition and of one power inasmuch as He is one God from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned under the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

I do not mean this to be a cop out, but there are certain things we simply must take on faith.  We are not called to understand everything – especially not about God.  God reveals His attributes to us through His Word and in this way we can know Him.  But we have to accept that we are simply not smart enough to fully grasp the greatness of God.  His thoughts and ways are way out of our pay grade.

The Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries to man.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One.  They have a relationship with One Another and yet are all God.  It is a testament to the exceeding greatness of God that He exists as Three in One, outside as well as within time and space.  If you think you can figure out the Great I AM, good luck.  Better to be content with faithful knowing than mere human logic.  I don’t know about you, but I’m just not that smart.  Besides, faith is the medium God works in. And where God is, that’s where I want to be.

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 1 John 5:7-8 (ESV)

Advent 10: The Holy Spirit

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14:15-17 (ESV)

He is one of the most mysterious, difficult to grasp aspects of God.  The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.  He can be tough to wrap around our heads around because so much about the Holy Spirit makes so little physical sense.  The Father is in heaven, and Jesus walked this earth with us.  We have some level of understanding, at least on a distant level.

But the Holy Spirit… He is the One Who brings it all home. (And, yes, the Holy Spirit is He, not “It”.  He is as much God as the Father and the Son.)  He makes faith very personal for each and every believer because He dwells inside us:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 2:38 (ESV)

This is not the place for a discussion about baptism and what it is and isn’t.  But, in essence what is being said here is that once we have turned away from our sin and embraced Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are cleansed and forgiven and we receive the Holy Spirit within us.  And I personally believe this all happens pretty instantaneously.

Why do we need the Holy Spirit?  He is the One Who brings us understanding of Who God is because He is God living within us.  Think about it: the twelve disciples walked with Jesus for probably about three years.  Day in, day out.  They heard Jesus speak.  They sat at His feet.  They witnessed – even participated in – a wide variety of miracles.  And yet, repeatedly, they didn’t get it.  Even in Jesus’ last moments leading up to His crucifixion, they didn’t get it.  They were confused.  They misunderstood what they saw.  Their faith was shaken.

They were human.  And they thought like humans.  Acted like humans.  Flawed, lacking understanding.

We are human.  We think like humans.  Act like humans.  Flawed, lacking understanding.

It is the Holy Spirit Who enables us, empowers us, guides us, teaches us, comforts us… helps us.

At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came like a rushing wind and filled the disciples, we see God’s indwelling power make the necessary change these men needed.  Peter, who had previously acted like a coward by thrice denying Christ to save his own skin, is now standing up boldly and proclaiming Jesus.  He gave them the words to speak – and in languages they didn’t know so that all in Jerusalem, no matter where they came from, could hear and understand the message of Jesus Christ and be saved!

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” – Romans 8:26 (ESV)

God realizes our weaknesses.  He knows we are merely flesh, and sinful to the core.  Jesus forgives us of our sin; the Holy Spirit keeps us on track, even going to the Father on our behalf (since we ourselves are incapable of even knowing what to pray for).

“…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

What God has done for us – the ultimate act of selfless love, humbling Himself by sending His Son to live with us, give us the example of God in the flesh, and die as the perfect sacrifice for our sin, then sending the Holy Spirit to live within us as our Helper – is amazing.

And as I type that word “amazing”, it just doesn’t seem to do justice to what the Lord has done.  He created everything and let man enjoy perfection, only to have Adam and Eve disobey the one thing God told them not to do.  He has gone so far as to not only provide a way back to Him, but to dwell not just among us, but within us.  To guide us.  To strengthen us.  To intercede on our behalf.  God is doing the work for us.  We cannot do it.  We don’t deserve it.  But God, in His infinite love, grace and mercy, has made a way for each and every one of us.  We would be fools to look around us with our limited capabilities and say “yes” in faith to the gift the Lord God has offered us.

“He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” – 2 Corinthians 5:5 (ESV)

God promised to never leave us, never abandon us.  That promise, with the Holy Spirit living inside us, becomes very literal.  God in flesh (Jesus) came, dwelt amongst men, and left to take His place at the right side of the Father.  But God in Spirit (The Holy Spirit) has come, and remains, to continue the sanctification process we could never do alone.

And how do we know the Holy Spirit is at work?  Well, we know a tree by it’s fruit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV).

Hmm… sounds an awful lot like Jesus, doesn’t it?  This is how we recognize the Holy Spirit, how He is “proven”. He isn’t found in religious rituals, or nonsensical utterances, or anything of the sort.  The evidence of the Holy Spirit is the change He makes in a believer.  Because we are no longer our own.  We are God’s. The Father laid out the terms of the deal.  Jesus sealed the deal.  The Holy Spirit helps us keep our end of the deal.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13 (ESV)