Monday, December 29, 2014

The Reckoning

The new year is coming fast. As I was thinking about leaving behind the old year and entering into the new one, I was reminded of a poem I posted a couple of years ago about leaving behind the old and entering into the new me in Christ. It's a good reminder, while we're thinking about all those goals we want to achieve in the New Year, of what is truly important and what we all really need to focus our energies and efforts on most in the coming year--a deeper devotion to Christ. Enjoy!

So wrong and sinful am I
that I could not hide
my shame from the light 
of Your glory.
I had no excuses,
no defense to submit,
no hope of acquittal
from the long list of sins
I’d chosen to commit.
Whatever Your judgment
I deserved it full well 
and hopeless I waited
for a pronouncement of hell – 
away from Your glory,
Your presence,
Your light.
Then arose from the depths
of my spirit-dead soul
a desolate cry,
“Mercy, my God” 
and tears of repentance
streamed from my eyes.
You heard my confession,
saw the regret of my heart,
then took me up in Your arms
and tenderly spoke,
“My dear little child
for your sake I died
and rose from the grave
so that on this day
I could joyfully declare
Your debt has been paid.
Now receive My forgiveness
My love and My grace
and be with Me always.
Stand firm in My ways.
I’ll teach you to love
and to lay down your life,
to know the difference
between what is wrong 
and what’s right.
Follow My voice.
My Spirit will lead
as you travel the path
marked out by Me.
There’s no need to fear
nor hide your face 
from My gaze
for My love and My grace
has brought us together.
From this day forward
I proclaim us to be
Heavenly Father – 
beloved child,
now and forever
together in Me.”

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Day Before the Night Before Christmas

It’s the day before the night before Christmas and that reminds me of one of my favorite childhood Christmas songs. And of course now the song is running through my head.

It’s the day before the night before Christmas
and I’m busy, busy, busy being good.
On the day before the night before Christmas
gonna do everything a good boy should.
I’m making up a list about ten pages long.
I’m on page ten now and still going strong.
It’s the day before the night before Christmas
And I’m busy, busy, busy being good.
It’s the day before the night before Christmas.
But to do everything I ought to do:
cleaning up and brushing up and washing my ears…
Hey a day isn’t long enough—it will take years!

The song starts off with this idea that Christmas is approaching fast and this little boy is hoping that all his extra special effort to behave will ensure his place on Santa’s “Nice” list. In preparation for this, he’s making the customary multi-page wish list because he wants to make sure that Santa knows exactly what he wants. Too many American Christians today approach faith like this little boy does Christmas. They approach God like he’s Santa in the off-season…an old man with a white beard in his bathrobe who has a naughty and nice list. If they are good enough to make it on the nice list, then God will look over their massive wish list and reward them for their good behavior with something from their list. If they are really, really good, then maybe God will give them the whole wish list.

God is not Santa in disguise. Jesus confronted this same kind of misperception in his life on earth with the religious leaders of his day. The Sadducees and Pharisees thought that people who were prosperous and healthy were the good people God was blessing and that the poor and sick were sinners God was punishing. God knows if we are naughty or nice and when we’re sleeping or awake, but he’s not “up there” making a list and checking it twice or handing out gifts to good boys and girls and coal to the naughty children of the earth. God is the one who created us to be in relationship with him and he is the one who willingly paid our death penalty for us on the cross when we severed that relationship with sin.
And even though Jesus busted this myth in his teachings and by his life example, we still haven’t made much progress in getting away from this erroneous expectation.

Back to the song lyrics:

You can’t fool St. Nick. He’s too slick
to fall for all the falderal and all of your tricks.
On the day before the night before Christmas
it’s no good being good for a day.
I’ve learned something—be good for nothing.
Just be good and he’ll be good to you.
Be good, I mean the whole year through.

Now here is where St. Nick and God have something in common—you really can’t fool either of them. While St. Nick somehow knows what we are doing, God knows what we are doing and sees our heart. He knows what we are thinking and feeling, our weaknesses and strengths and God knows our hopes and dreams. We are not pets to God—he’s not standing by with treats to reward us when we obey his commands. God wants to bless every single one of us with the greatest gift we can ever receive—a relationship with him. We can’t earn that blessing. He died as a human being on a cross to redeem and renew that broken relationship (not when we were being good but when we were still all messy with dirty ears) and he rose from the dead by his own power to secure an eternity with him for us. Now that’s a Christmas gift!!!

Merry Blessed Christmas to you!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Focus on Jesus

It's probably one of the few bible verses that everyone in America has heard or at least seen on a sign held up at a football game:  "For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) And this is the season that we celebrate that incredible gift. As followers of Jesus, we celebrate this incredible act of mercy in which our Heavenly Father sent his perfect and holy Son to take the full weight of the judgment of sin and the consequences of death upon himself. It's not that God doesn't love his Son, it's just that he loves us way too much to give us up without a fight.

When we feel lost or hurt or rejected...when the darkness of this fallen world seems to be overwhelming, we often look to another well-known scripture verse in Jeremiah for comfort: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11) It reminds us that God hasn't left us to go it alone. He has a vision in mind of how he wants to bless each of us abundantly and if we just hang onto that hope, we will see God's plan unfold. He has a purpose for our lives planned out from the beginning. He tells us that in Ephesians 2:10—"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

God really loves each and every one of us and sent his Son to us as a human baby to live with us, be one of us, to teach us about living a holy and righteous life and to die for us so that we would have an opportunity at new life in relationship with him, if we want it. He won't force it on us.

Isn't that a wonderful message? And it's all true but something's still not quite right. I've been doing a lot of reading for this theology class I've been taking and stumbled across the most amazing and simple statement that makes everything you just read seem kind of flat. In an article entitled Beyond Loving the World adapted from Christ Is All! by David Bryant, he writes, "God loves His Son and has a wonderful plan for Him... and He loves you enough to give you a place in it." He based the first part of this revelation on John 3:35—"The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands."

All of a sudden, the focus shifted from me and us to Jesus! And isn't that where it should be anyway? When we look at our faith and our lives through the lens of "God love you and has a wonderful plan for your life" it's all about us and allows us to continue in our limited self-centered worldview but when we see who we are through the lens of Bryant's statement, we have no delusions about who is the center of the universe and how we figure into it. Bryant's statement doesn't diminish the grace and blessing God has in store for us. It just puts it into the focus of God's eternal reality. All of a sudden, the enormity of his grace just expanded beyond even my imagination. It actually enhances our understanding of the blessing God freely gives us in the person of Jesus...a babe born to a virgin and wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger greeted by angel songs and shepherds and you and me.

Monday, December 8, 2014

They Call Him Immanuel

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, 
and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 
Matthew 1:23

 They Call Him Immanuel
God is with us
not to condemn
but to save us
to teach and guide us
to protect and provide for us
to forgive and redeem us.
His grace is upon us
for he lives within us
nurturing holiness,
and righteousness
within our brokenness.
He's the light in our darkness.
His Spirit fills our emptiness
as we rejoice in his forgiveness
and faithfulness.
He is the strength in our weakness
and the heart of our witness.
He is Immanuel—
God with us!
The Lord has blessed us
freeing us from sin's oppression
even before our confession
while deep in our transgression
The Passion was his mission
to make the provision
for his boundless compassion
and intercession.
From the start this was his vision:
Immanuel—God with us!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Making a List

It’s the holiday season and the end of the year—so many things to do. Not counting the increase in work I’ll have over the next three weeks in my job, I have to finish my Christmas shopping and help mom finish hers. I have all our presents to wrap and possibly shipping the Ohio family’s gifts. I have two more lectures, three chapters and a final paper due before Christmas in the certificate course I’m taking. And let’s not forget all the normal things that need to be done in a routine week: grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry, to name a few. (Are you feeling overwhelmed with me yet?) Oh—and let’s not forget my all-time favorite thing to do—sleep! So what did I forget? I got work, sustenance, Christmas gifts, course work and sleep.

Last week on my blog I shared about how relationships are hard work and that my relationship with Jesus is my most precious relationship and yet I never listed that in my flurry of things to do. Where is bible study and prayer time on that list? Do I really think that unless I make that a priority and plan for those intimate moments with my Savior that they are just going to happen? That sounds a little like the woman I mentioned last week who expected the fairy tale marriage claiming it wasn’t love if you had to work at it.

Love is a choice. And to keep the bonds of love strong and healthy, each partner has to choose the other person over themselves every day. The question is, in all my busyness, am I going to choose Jesus over myself today?  Even though I don’t act like it too much of the time, he is more important to me all the things I listed in the first paragraph…and all the things I didn’t. I better add some me and Jesus time to that list. 

What about you?