26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible. 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; 40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. 46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. 56 And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house.67 And (John the Baptist’s) father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, 69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; 70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. 80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. – Luke 1:26, 56; 1:67-80; 2:1-20 (KJV)
Seeking God – The Advent Series
Advent 24: Great Expectations
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then,who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)
Ahhhh… to be eight years old again.
I look forward to Christmas Eve night. This is the night Mom and I get to play Santa. (Hey, if any of you still believe in the jolly old elf, my apologies for just outing him.) We set up the gifts, eat the cookies, drink the milk, and take a bit out of the carrots – always careful to leave a remnant as evidence that Santa and a reindeer (probably Blitzen) have been here. We write “thank you” on the note our son left with the snack, reminding him to stay on the nice list until next year.
But the best part is watching my son. His excitement reaches fever pitch about bedtime on Christmas Eve. His sense of expectancy is such that going to sleep takes a while.
It seems most fitting that, on the night before Christ’s birth, that we should all be filled with great expectations and eagerness. Not for the presents under the tree, but for the arrival of God Himself. We should be buoyed up by knowing He is coming back and, until then, He resides inside of each of us. We should continue to seek God, vigorously and joyfully, with great and hopeful expectation.
“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up” (Psalms 5:3, KJV). If we believe in God, truly trusting Him with our lives and taking Him at His Word, then we have to expect that He will do whatever He says He will do.
But, more than that, we should not just expect God to shower gifts on us. He is our Heavenly Father, not our spiritual sugar daddy. Rather, our expectation in seeking God should be God. Period. Without limitations or denominational boxes. Just as He reveals Himself in His Word. Looking up, knowing He is there. Knowing Jesus is returning.
1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. – Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV)
Expectation is indeed a mark of great faith. Be ready always. Keep looking up. And expect God.
Advent 23: Worst Case Scenario Faith (or Life + Fan = ?)
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. – 1 John 4:13-18 (ESV)
Life can be quite distracting. Life is messy, filled with ups and downs and busyness and stuff to do and people to see and places to go and schedules to keep and work to do and commitments to honor and overtime to work and… and… and… and…
And somehow God gets lost in the shuffle. And when we lose sight of God, when we no longer seek Him first or fervently – or even regularly… It isn’t that more bad things happen in our lives. It’s the fact that we are now left of center (Christ being the center of our lives, remember?) And if our faith is skewed or weak, we are more vulnerable to fear and worry and doubt.
Especially when life hits the fan.
Everybody has faith. The problem is that, for some people, that faith is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of losing control. Fear of flying. Fear of dying. Fear of spiders and/or snakes. Fear of loss. You name it. If you can imagine it, there’s a phobia for it. (In fact, the Greek word translated “fear” in Scripture is phobos.)
You see, fear is worst case scenario faith. It is the assurance of bad things unseen, and results unwanted. And, if we are not staying rooted in our faith in God – our Steadfast Heavenly Father, Love Himself, the Almighty Creator of all, the Great I AM – then we are vulnerable to fear.
The greatest danger of fear isn’t the consequences we dread, but the fact that fear blocks faith. It leads to worry and doubt and anxiety. Fear is faith against God.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-9 (ESV)
Notice that rejoicing in the Lord is “reasonableness”. This is because, when we fear, we are choosing to believe in a negative we cannot be certain of, because we do not know what the future brings. However, when we walk in faith in God, we can trust in and rest on God’s unchanging character, His unwavering promises, His steadfast love, His mercy and grace and peace…
Peace – the peace of God guards our hearts. Protects us from the irrational thoughts birthed in fear. Protects us from the lies we choose to accept instead of the glory we should be seeking.
Regardless of circumstances, seek God first. Trust in Him. Love Him. Rest in Him. Believe in Him. Keep your faith intact and your spirit in tune. Don’t ponder the painful possibilities. Dwell on God and His Word and His Truth.
Advent 22: Steadfast God
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)
Some things never change. Actually, it is more accurate to say that a few – very few – things never change. One thing that never changes is the fact that change itself is inevitable. Another thing that never changes: the fear some people exhibit toward change. We tend to like the steady course, to experience the familiar and comfortable.
When we become Christians, we change. And perhaps that more than anything is why some people resist fully following Jesus Christ. He gets into your heart and changes your perspectives, your desires, your focus. Some of your friends may change. Your entertainments will probably change. Habits? Them too.
But don’t get hung up on the changes that happen when you begin seeking God. The farther down the path you go, the more you begin to crave the wonderful changes the Lord makes within you. You see with new eyes, feel with a new heart.
“God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:6-7, ESV). How can one not change when God Himself has taken up residence within one’s self?
Not only that, but we are adopted children of God! Talk about change. My wife and I adopted our son from China in 2008. Before that time, he had a Chinese name. His mother and I were nothing more to him than a couple of strange Americans with round eyes who talked funny and smelled of cologne, beef and sweat. Strange indeed.
But that all changed for our son (and us as well) once we adopted him. As soon as the papers were signed and the money distributed, he was our child. I was no longer some big fat American stranger. I was now Daddy. His name changed. His diet changed. The language he heard changed. When he came to America, everything he knew – sights, sounds, smells – changed. His nationality changed.
He is still the child God created him to be. In essence our boy is who he always was. But everything changed for him. For the better. He is no longer an orphan. Having parents is no longer an abstraction to him. It is a reality. He is our child legally, physically, emotionally…
When God adopts us, it is the same thing. Without the home study, the nerve-wracking waiting and the tens of thousands of dollars and yuan. He are changed. We remain who He created us to be, but our identities change. We are His. Having a Lord and Savior is no longer an abstraction to us. We now have a heavenly Father – Abba – with whom we have a real relationship.
That sounds like a pretty good set of changes, right? Well, if you’re one of those people who resist change, you’re going to love this. God never changes. He is rock steady. He is Who He is, and Who He is is Who He had always been and always will be. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, ESV).
God is steadfast – never wavering, always true to His Word:
God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19 (ESV)
God is all He says He is. He always has been. He always will be. He is Love. He is Truth. He is filled with Majesty and Grace. He is the righteous judge. He is our heavenly anger. He is the Great I AM.
Ok, so maybe only one thing never truly changes: God. You can put your trust in Him. You can rest in Him.
“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”
by Edward Mote (1797-1874)
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Advent 21: Calminian Penguinism
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 (ESV)
I am currently living with the foremost expert on penguins at our local elementary school. My second grade son has read about them, studied them, and watched Happy Feet about 2,945 times (2,944 of those viewings with his dad). There isn’t a penguin fact he can’t recite from memory – whether you ask him to or not. We can be discussing pizza and he will blurt out, “Daddy, do you know why penguins are white on their tummies and black on their backs?”
Penguins live in communities, called rookeries. They come together with a simple purpose: survival. However, they are designed to serve a greater purpose for all Antarctic life as both predator (of small fish) and prey (of bigger seals and whales). Even if their larger purpose is merely their place in the food chain, they still play an important role as part of God’s grand design for His creation.
God created the simple penguin with a purpose. How much purpose do you suppose people – His most beloved creation – are called to possess? And what is our purpose?
Our purpose is simple: love one another. If we follow the lead of Christ’s love, all else will follow. If we are seeking God, love must propel our journey. This is how we propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ: by loving others, and doing all to the glory of God (for that is our original created purpose, to bring glory to the Lord), praising the Lord and giving Him thanks continually.
As Christians, we are called by love another, serve one another, and support one another. Penguin rookeries are sometimes inhabited by more than one species of penguin, living together harmoniously. Why is that so hard for believers? We have the perfect designed example of the Triune God – Father, Son, Holy Spirit, each singular in personage yet united in purpose literally One Substance.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and you will discover that the church is the body – a community, a unified whole. And the first church was not divided by denominational notions and theosophical beliefs. There were no Catholics or Baptists or Methodists or Charismatics or Evangelicals (although a dear brother of mine once pointed out that Jesus was a Nazarene). When we stand so proudly and firmly on our own theological precepts that Christians who hold different interpretations become our enemies, something is profoundly wrong.
“…if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25, ESV). And, let’s face it, God’s house is definitely one divided. We cling so tightly to our theological beliefs that we wring love right out of the picture. We – and I am saying “we” as the larger whole of Christianity and no one group or individual specifically – seem to have forgotten our calling, our purpose, our reason for being here: to love. Regardless of religious affiliation. Regardless of political leanings. Regardless of sins, past or present. Regardless of nationalities or borders or philosophies or influences or whatever it is that serves to divide us.
We are all sinners saved only by the grace of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
We are all hopeless without the love and grace of the Lord.
In these things we are all equal.
We all need to focus on less on what we think is wrong with everyone else, and focus on the one unifying factor we need to bring us all together: God.
This is why I (half-jokingly, but only half) refer to my beliefs are firmly “Calminian”. I have experienced Christianity from many different religious / theological perspectives over the years. I’ve been Methodist. I’ve been Charismatic. I’ve been Baptist. I’ve been Disciple of Christ. I’ve been independent. I’ve been part of a franchise church. I’ve been evangelical (whatever “evangelical” means). I’ve been mainline and mainstream.
Through it all, I have been blessed to know many God-loving people of all Christian stripes who I am honored to call my brothers and sisters in Christ. Some speak in tongues. Some are vehemently against it. Some read the ESV or NIV or NLT Bibles. Some believe the KJV is the only Bible. Some go to church on Sunday morning, some on Saturday night. Some attend at beautiful cathedrals, some in modest country churches, some in converted warehouses, some in school gyms and auditoriums. Some meet in homes as small house churches.
None of that matters to me. And it shouldn’t matter to you. Whether you view communion as consubstantial, transsubstantial or substitutionary doesn’t change the fact that God loves you. Who you are – who I am – is defined not by what we do or what brand of Christianity we prefer. I really enjoy Coke Zero. I don’t hold it against Diet Pepsi drinkers.
Who I am – who you are – is defined by God, our Creator. All of us, each of us, individually and collectively… we are sinners saved by the grace of a loving God Who humbled Himself, became flesh and died as the perfect sacrifice for our sin, then ascended gloriously into heaven, overcoming death and thus nullifying the wages of sin. In other words, the only things that truly divide us as Christians are the walls and fences we ourselves build.
We are all called to follow Christ, to be imitators of Jesus. In other words, we are called to love. Unconditionally. As Christ loves us. We all have biases to overcome. Love runs counter to sin, so it simply is not natural for our sinful selves to lead with love. I mean, truth be told there is something about those Diet Pepsi drinkers that bugs me deep down. (Just joking… Diet Pepsi is a fine product and I mean no malice against it or any other soft drink.)
But, every day, we need to take up our cross and follow Christ We must love others. For that is our purpose. To honor and glorify God in all we do by loving others, being the light on a hill, shining the message of Christ to the world around us, wherever God places us.
Advent 20: Theological Revelation From a Second Grader
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. – Psalm 147:5 (ESV)
I started to write this post about God’s omniscience. The next would be His omnipotence, followed by a post on – you guessed it – His omnipresence. How predictable.
I had it all figured (the three planned articles, not God Himself). The piece on God’s omniscience would start on the island of Patmos, where the apostle John received God’s revelation of the end times. I was ready to tie it all together by showing that God must know everything if He tells us how it all ends, in details too “detailed” for John’s first century AD mind to comprehend.
Then, as I sat down to begin writing… I couldn’t do it. Something wasn’t right. Something just felt off about it..
Last night I was talking with my seven year old when it dawned on me. I asked my son, “Do you believe God knows everything?”
“Yes”, he answered.
“Why do you believe that?”
My little boy looked at me for a brief moment and stated, quite assuredly, “Because He made the world and all the plants and animals. He has to know everything!”
And there it was. Right in front of me.
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:1-4 (ESV)
Just as John had no literal point of reference for all God revealed to him about heaven and the future (how does one go about describing the indescribable?), none of us is intelligent enough to intellectually grasp the Great I AM in all His fullness. We try. We try very hard. But, in the end, we mess it up with our thinking. We end up with theological approaches like Open Theism which mixes Biblical studies with philosophical reasoning to conclude that God cannot know the future because it hasn’t happened yet. (That is a huge oversimplification of Open Theism, but that isn’t really the point I’m making.)
Open Theists drive mainline evangelicals batty. And vice versa. Each side is so deeply entrenched in the defending their theological and philosophical points-of-view that the Truth gets lost in the scuffle, (Personally, I feel sorry for Greg Boyd. This is a man who, I am quite sure, loves God. But there have been times aplenty when he had to feel like a piñata swung over a tree branch, being swarmed by a mob of stick-waving evangelicals.). When it gets hard to see the reality of the forest for the theological trees, something is wrong.
Unless we have the faith of a child – accept, believe, not mere reason but heart – we’re not going to get there. God is so complex and complicated, but His accessibility is so simple. We cannot understand His love, we have to just believe in it. Our thoughts are not His thoughts, so we need to rely on faith. Of course God created it all! It’s as plain as the nose on your face. Now, just accept it and believe. My seven year old said so.
My son also informed me I needed to blog about penguins. I’ll have to work that into the next piece.
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.
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)
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)
A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD
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
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.