Wednesday, March 15, 2017

True Opposites: Light and Darkness

John declares in his letter:  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

Yet we are also told: The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:21)

Is He light with no darkness or can He also be in darkness?  The answer is yes.  His character is that of absolute purity, never stained by even a tinge of the darkness of sin or moral corruption.  His light shines in the darkness and the darkness of this world cannot overcome it or extinguish it. (John 1:5)

Yet He also is in the dark places.  Moses walked into the dark cloud of His fiery presence on top of the mountain. He walked into darkness while the people remained distant.  Other saints have walked into the darkest of times or places of obedience with fear and trembling only to find that God was there.  He does not avoid the darkness but shines in the midst of it.  He is the disperser of darkness. But we will never know that unless we walk into the thick darkness where He is.

As new believers we crave the joy, the peace, the energy-giving nature of light.  Burdens are lifted and lightness has come.  It is like watching the newborn devouring a bottle.  There is an abandonment to it.  And we experience the abandonment of absolute love for Jesus.

And then He leads us into a place of darkness, where another remnant of sin needs dispersed in us, or a hard lesson of obedience needs learned, or He has need of a servant to bring light to a dark place.  Suddenly we don't feel light, or we doubt the light.  It seems like the darkness is thick.  Where is He? Once I viewed His gleaming face.  Now I wonder if I know much about Him.  That is the moment for us to walk into the thick darkness, take up our cross and follow.  And we will find He is there.

And on the far side, we will walk in greater light than ever before.

Friday, December 25, 2015

He Is Born!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS.  It has been so warm here in Buffalo that we thought we were doing Christmas down south somewhere.  People were out in their yards in shorts the past few days.

So we express our love for the Lord with a beach scene in honor of that.

The good news for us today is reflected in the oft-sung, much beloved Christmas hymn:

JOY TO THE WORLD THE LORD IS COME
LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING
LET EVERY HEART, PREPARE THEM ROOM
AND HEAVEN AND NATURE SING,
AND HEAVEN AND NATURE SING
AND HEAVEN, AND HEAVEN AND NATURE SING!

May you experience the joy and peace of Christ, God's gift to all, today.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Significance

Entering the Grotto, Church of the Nativity
   Looking at what seemed to me to be a fairly ancient map, I found it.  Located just a couple miles out the road from my home, I was very familiar with what the map was showing me.  The map was not so ancient (less than 100 years), but the memory of this place was stored in the minds of very few.  So why was I so interested in finding it?  Because my Grandmother was born there.  The spot?  Beautiful, PA.  That is a noun, not an adjective.  There is nothing but a couple houses, three churches, a farm and an orchard within 300 yards of the dot on the map today.  There may have been less than that present on August 25, 1900 when my Grandmother was born.  Though small, the place held significance because she was significant to me.

The Christmas story contains a town like Beautiful, PA.  On the night Jesus was born, it was a very small village.  But hundreds of years earlier a prophet by the name of Micah said this about Bethlehem:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”  Matthew 2:6 quoting Micah 5:2,4

Bethlehem was small.  There were far greater towns in the land of Judah.  The thing that made Bethlehem significant was the Someone who was born there. People still flock there today because of Him.  If it weren't for the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem would be just another small, West Bank, Arab town.  

The good news for us today is that it doesn't matter where we are, Jesus in us can make any place a place of significance.  It becomes important because He is important.  Its because Him in you is important.  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, anywhere you go Jesus is there.  Just as He was born in Bethlehem, we join in the prayer of the Christmas hymn,

"Oh holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today."

And when He is born in us, that makes us significant.

So rejoice.  You may not seem significant on the map of life.  In fact, you may sometimes feel like a little forgotten or erased dot.  But not to Him.  And if you never have received Him, do so today, and though you are least among others, in you will be born the One who loves you, created you, redeemed you and enables you to live life to the full, Jesus Christ.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Gifts

Pam has a unique ability to give just the right gift for every person. Her insight into each person and her pursuit of finding the gift that matches them are astounding to me.  Her desire is to treat each one as special and the gifts reflect it.  Sometimes when I open a gift I think, "She knows me better than I know myself."  And her gifts always have a very practical application to them.

It seems our tradition of giving gifts traces back to the fact that the Magi brought gifts for Jesus.  It was custom back then when you presented yourself to a King that you offered gifts in homage to Him.  And so they did.  The gifts were out of their treasures it says in Matthew 2.  And they were very unique to Jesus.

Gold, in honor of a King.  It is meaningful to me that this was the first gift mentioned.  He was first and foremost a King.  And from a practical standpoint this was the means by which the family financed their trip to Egypt when they escaped Herod.

Incense was a gift for a priest.  It was used at times of intercession before God on behalf of the people.  Mary and Joseph may have used this in family worship to teach Jesus as a boy.

Myrrh was the spice used for burials.  It was a foreshadowing of the purpose for His life, to die on our behalf.  It took most poor people a lifetime of saving up little by little to have enough myrrh by the time they died.  This would have begun the collection for Jesus, like receiving a savings bond at birth that matures later.

As we close in on Christmas day, the question I have is not what gifts we are bringing to Him, but whether or not we are recognizing what the Magi did?  Do we humble ourselves before the King of Kings and honor Him as such?  Do we rejoice over and praise Him as the one mediator between God and man?  Do we remember that He sits at the right hand of God the Father interceding for us as a priest right now, today?  Do we, as admonished in Romans 12:1,2,  offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to the One who died in our place?  In doing so, we die with Him so we also may be raised with Him to life.

If there would have been a King on the throne of Israel in Jesus' day, He would have sat on that throne legally as the next one in line of the kingly dynasty.  And through His mother's blood line, He also had a tie to the priestly line.  He embodied all the symbolism of the gifts offered Him.  And He still embodies them today.  He is our King.  He is our Priest.  He is our Sacrifice.

That is good news.  So come let us worship and bow down before Him and offer ourselves before Him as is the suitable, appropriate response to Him.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Sacrifice of Christmas

Usually when we use the word sacrifice in regards to Christmas it has to do with Jesus.  He sacrificed His position in Heaven to come to earth.  He eventually sacrificed His life for us.  This is the great sacrifice of Christmas.  But there is another........

Hidden in the Christmas story is a little noticed account of sacrifice that sets a tone for all of us today.  It has to do with Joseph, the husband of Mary.  He was going to divorce her for infidelity before their wedding, and then the angel intercedes and confirms what she told him.  After the dream, here is what happened:

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.  Matthew 1:24,25

Notice verse 25.  For the sake of the birth of the Messiah, he did not push his marital rights during the whole time Mary was carrying Jesus.  He treated the whole process as holy.  For the sake of holiness and/or the potential of interfering with the pregnancy, Joseph sacrificed.  Obviously he had strong desires that he anticipated would be fulfilled.  Obviously he loved Mary deeply and wanted to share oneness with her.  But for the sake of Jesus, he sacrificed.

Someone has said that Jesus was God's gift to us and what we do for Him is our gift back to Jesus.  Joseph's actions raise the question for us, what are we sacrificing or willing to sacrifice for Jesus' sake?  We are told to follow Him, and the road He walks is absolute obedience in love for the Father.  It is a road of personal sacrifice.  He became "obedient to death, even death on a cross."  We often want our faith walk to be comfortable, painless, successful and positive.

The reality is that following Jesus will require us to sacrifice things we have strong desires for. But those things are nothing.  Here is what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:18:

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

The good news is that God will give us grace and honor every sacrifice.  Joseph and Mary were very fruitful after Jesus was born.  Jesus had a number of step brothers and sisters.  And because of Joseph's sacrifice Christ was born undefiled so He could be the great sacrifice for us.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Impossible - NOT

Can you remember a time?  Or perhaps it didn't happen to you or for you directly, but a family member or friend experienced it. If so, does the sense of awe still grip you?  (By now, you are probably thinking, "Did he forget a sentence in here or something?")

What I'm talking about is the impossible.  Have you ever had the impossible happen for you?  Its impossible to answer the questions above without a context.  Now that you know, you feel empowered to answer.  Until then, you were powerless and confused.  Its a dark time.

That is how life can be.  We can feel powerless and confused, at a loss as to how to face the giant (like David) or the lack of resources (like the widow at Zarephath) or the death of our only son (like the widow at Nain).  These times feel like they will destroy us.  There is no possible way to make it through.  But God.......

When we read the Christmas story we are reminded that it felt impossible to Zechariah and Elizabeth that they would ever have a child, let alone a son.  But God made it possible.  It was impossible for a virgin to conceive and bear a child.  But the power of the Most High overshadowing Mary made it possible.  It is seemingly impossible that a couple in Nazareth (northern Israel) would find themselves in Bethlehem (70-80 miles to the south) at the time their baby was due, but God made it possible. And thus the prophecy of where the Messiah would be born was fulfilled.   There are other story lines we could follow.  And the story continues to be told down through history.  It is exactly as Jesus told the disciples later when they felt the sting of impossibility:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
                                                                                                (Matthew 19:26)

Are you facing something "impossible" this Christmas?  Or perhaps you anticipate something impossible before you as you peer into the pages of 2016.  The good news for us today is there are no impossibilities when you rest in the hand of the God of the impossible.  For Him, ALL things are possible.  And that includes what feels impossible for you.

Are you ready to feel it?  Do you believe you will?  Never forget that what we can't do, He can.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Bad Place Isn't Always Bad

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Egypt.  When I hear the name I think of pyramids, pharaohs, King Tut and slavery.  I think of 10 plagues, the Nile, the Islamic Brotherhood, and the Sinai Peninsula.  From the Biblical narrative it was a place not to go.  The freed slaves wanted to return to their leeks and melons.  A few Israeli kings wanted to go there to get horses or help in times of war.  But God said not to go there.  It was a bad place.

But then I remember that God sent Joseph ahead of his brothers into Egypt, taught him tremendous lessons about trust, and used him to spare the lives of his family.  Egypt was a place of isolation for him, but a place that God used for good. And today we read in the Christmas story that God used this foreboding place once again.  Here is the account in Matthew 2:

   When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  (Matthew 2:13-14)

The "they" were the Magi.  Baby Jesus needed a hide out, a place of escape.  So the bad place became a good place, for Herod would never look for Him there.  And the words of the prophet Hosea were applied not only to God calling His son, Israel, out of Egypt, but also His Son, Jesus, out of Egypt.

The good news for us today, especially for those of us in a bad place, is that bad places can be good places.  What makes a bad place a good place?  When God is there and His purposes are being fulfilled.  When we go to the bad places with our own goals and ideas in mind, they are BAD places for us.  But when we get to a bad place and cry out to the Lord or trust Him in it, He uses it for good.  Joseph learned that.  Both Joseph the son of Jacob, the one who became a Prime Minister and was used to spare his family; and Joseph, the step-father of Jesus, the Son of God, who watched the Heavenly Father protect His Son from harm.

So if you are in a bad place today, call to Him.  You may find yourself discovering its not so bad after all.  He makes all the difference.