Posted on Apr 5, 2010 1 Comment
This week is the last week in the church calendar year of Lent that culminates with Easter. The entire Bible hinges on what God planned for the world through the redemption of his Son, Jesus. God so loved us that he allowed our ancestors to kill his only Son so that through his death and resurrection we could become his children.
That kind of logic doesn’t make sense. When Abraham was commanded to take his child, Isaac, to kill his son as God had commanded him, he didn’t get the logic behind it (Genesis 22). He obeyed the orders he was given and would have given up his only child to follow his Lord’s wishes.
Yet, his God and ours is so much more than we could have asked for or imagined. Abraham was given an object lesson from God that never left his memory, and we have the benefit of learning from his trial. At just the right time, our Lord stopped short of demanding the life of Isaac.
The famous chapter 11 of the book to the Hebrews commends Abraham for his faith. God gave that faith to him and called him out of the land of Canaan to become the father of many nations. Paul calls those who have faith in the same Lord children of the promise, children of Abraham (Romans 4).
Now take that object lesson to heart. Imagine that you were asked to sacrifice your son, daughter, mother, or brother for the Lord. Could you do it? I don’t know that I could. God wouldn’t expect that from us. That’s not the point.
The point is that whether we understand, whether we feel that God loves us, does not matter. God provided for us assurance in simple terms: “It is finished” (John 19:30). With these words, God sacrificed his only Son, Jesus. On the cross, God viewed Jesus as the carrier of each and every human sin ever committed since the creation of time through the end of the world. We have peace with God, despite our struggles and misguided feelings that we harbor in our hearts. Through faith, God gives us more grace than we could ever need because our salvation, in his eyes, is truly “finished.”
Posted on Apr 5, 2010 Leave a Comment
The last time that I wrote in this blog was the day that I found out that my grandfather died. It feels like a whirlwind of time has past since the funeral this past weekend, but it has only been a few days. Time has a funny way of never staying still, of speeding up, stopping, slowing down, and of generally not asking anyone’s opinion.
This past weekend I enjoyed time with a part of my family that I do not get to see very much. I learned a bit about myself through a better understanding of who they are. Although it could never be a completely clear picture of the component members of my maternal-side family for two primary reasons: 1) because families have a tendency to act altogether and different when they get together, and 2) because of the nature of our visit. I sufficed to learn from them as much as I could. I also had the chance to learn about some of the things that my grandfather did in this life. I believe that he was a good man, and we have been blessed to have loved him.
The funny thing about that statement is that he KNEW he was a sinner. I remember him telling me a story a number of years ago about some of the horrible things that he did in World War II. He fought in the Pacific Theater as a medic and struggled in the battle of Guadalcanal. He said that he would never forgive himself for the things that he did. He was acutely aware of his sins, his sinfulness, even after decades of time had passed. Time’s vacillating tendencies were not powerful enough to erase his guilt.
I have that same Achilles heel. I suppose that you, dear reader, may be troubled when you ask yourself the same type of question: “how good am I at getting over my shortfalls, iniquities, or sins.” You probably would answer much like my grandfather. We can’t. We don’t. We typically find something to fill that questioning in our hearts, and we end up with a short dose of alleviated conscience. Nothing seems to fit well, or for more than a shot of morphine’s length.
So, we, terrible sinners, full of guilt and iniquity, peer into our own very grave by looking at the man in the casket. Ominous things come into our minds. Some stay longer than others, if we are not able to cloud them out with something. Nothing relaxes our souls. We are restless. The grave itself testifies to our short stay here, and the failures that lead each of us to her earthen home. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekial 18:20a).
If you have read up to this point, then I have to make an admonition. That is uncomfortable to me. I want nothing more than to avoid what I sense within me. Still, I’ve noticed in my short life that the grave makes us look inside of ourselves more than any other thing in life. What we find is not refreshing. It’s depressing. What is inside of us looks more like the grave than something alive.
But that is not the last word with God. In Jesus, we have a hero and someone who fills perfectly that something that we desire filled. Jesus doesn’t let us avoid our sinfulness, but he embraced it on the cross in our place. There is no doubt that the Son of God suffered death and hell to save us from ourselves (John 3:16). The following passage imputes to sinners how strong God’s promises are to us regarding his payment for sin and our certain eternal life with him through faith.
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:13-20)
The writer to the Hebrews explained in the sentence preceding this paragraph the means whereby we receive the gift of salvation. He said that we obtain these things, not by our own merits, but through “faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12b). We inherit them through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and have proof of his forgiveness to us through his resurrection.
But, the author wrote that salvation comes through “patience,” too. After viewing the funeral this past weekend, I have a better understanding about why he included “patience.”
We see the ravages of sin everywhere in this world. We feel the burden of our sins within our own hearts. We have so many pressures, as human beings, as Christians, that it becomes possible to lose hope when we look at a grave. We become impatient. The grave of our human heart overcomes our minds and unquiets our spirits.
The point that I want to impress upon myself, and you few readers, is that God has given us these gifts of faith and salvation and will not take them back. Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Now, re-read the second part of the passage listed above for a moment:
Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
God swore to promise us salvation through faith. He swore it and “confirmed it with an oath.” Those who die with faith have eternal life because God promises it. So, if God is the one who creates faith, as the passage from Ephesians points out, the one who promises salvation to each and everyone who believes, and the one who cannot lie and has sworn on oath to uphold salvation in this manner, then the matter is settled. God has decided that his grace and love for sinners super abounds our own internal graves and their external manifestation. Always. Through faith and patience, which come from him.
That is why the Apostle Paul calls us “more than conquerors” in Romans 8. Through faith, we have been forgiven, redeemed, bought back and remade into even more “patient” servants of Christ. Through life, even through death, we have the promises of God that we are reconciled to him through Jesus. That is why when we see a sinner who has died with faith, we can confidently say that he will be welcomed into heaven. God did it, promised, and swore it. It begins to feel like there is no matter more important to him than our salvation.
My grandfather may be gone. There will likely be others who I may have to endure watching die before I am taken. I may still cringe a little at the thought of death. Your life may be similar to mine. But in our hearts, let Jesus, the giver and fulfiller of promises who promised it all to you and me, give us peace that surpasses all human understanding. Peace in faith. Let your heart rejoice in God your Savior!
Posted on Apr 5, 2010 Leave a Comment
Today my grandfather died. I had a strange dream last night that my boss was mad at me for some odd reason, which I can base on nothing in reality; then, I arrive at work to find out that my coworker needed me to catch up on some work that I had not done. It was not anything to note, except that the dream happened, and, with it, something that correlated directly while awake.
I got the call around noon from my mother. I was at lunch with a friend, and she asked me if I was busy. I said no, but asked if it was urgent. She said yes. Apparently, my grandfather, who had been suffering for some time with Alzheimer’s had passed away early this morning. Immediately, my priorities became blurry.
I drove along later that afternoon and remarked about the sky. This was somewhat different for me, since I rarely take the time to look at the natural beauty that I am blessed with each day. My daily routine and constant schedule require the full tank of my attention. Lately, I’ve noticed in the mornings that I do take some time to remark with the Psalmist that “His mercies are new every morning”. Then, I hit the ground and the grind and don’t take the time to take note again throughout the entire day about my environment, beyond adapting to my immediate surroundings passively to get whatever I’m working on done. Another interesting thing occurred to me while looking around: God didn’t change the sky to suit my grief. In all immediate accounts, it was just another day.
I also noticed another phenomenon in my life. Whenever someone offers condolences for the death of a loved one they do so as acomponent of their day, week, or month. They do not, nor can they, offer true sympathy. The moment(s) that they offer can sometimes be more heartfelt, full of grace, and occasionally better focused on the truth of salvation, but it is still just a moment. Life goes on. I’ve been the person who offers condolences before, and I do not chastise them in the least. I submit this to show how another individual cannot truly feel what another human being goes through in this life. Paraphrasing the Old Testament writer, “naked we enter this world, naked we leave”… we also leave alone.
For some, the impact of my grandfather’s death will be felt more deeply and for a longer duration. For those of you who have lost someone close to you, you may have dealt with a longer sentence of grief or deeper, more robust pain. No one grieves the same. Yet, humanly speaking, I have witnessed a great helper to those who grieve: time.
Time heals even the worst wound of grief or pain. For the Christian, we have the God-given capability to use time as a tool, as long as God gives it, to afford us repose and rest to bind up what has been broken.
When our own time has evaporated, and the times in which God has ordained our life are over, then we will face what my grandfather has recently faced. Death. The End. Judgement. A man who has died speaks to those who live about the truth of the law of God that we have shattered. The very fact that the grave consumes us is a reminder that we are slaves to sin. “The soul that sins shall die,” the Apostle Paul wrote to explain the terminal condition. Louder, death offers this advice: our time is not our own. Death brings a reminder that our lives are swiftly passing away into obscurity no matter how hard we work or what we achieve. Even though I credit my grandfather for passing down to his family a love of country and fellow man, he is still gone from this earth now. If I’m honest with myself, this inheritance is a prize to me, but I would wish him back to life now, here on earth – and healthy.
You may know someone in your life to whom you can attribute receiving blessings. If you are like me, you do not have enough fingers and toes to number the people who have impacted your life with God’s joys. They are sand on the seashore. If your experience has been similar to my own, they far outnumber those who have harmed you.
When Jesus died, the curtain in the temple tore in two. This was athick curtain, and the recording of this event spelled out a miracle because the fabric was too durable to have been shredded by a natural event. The curtain separated the Jewish temple from the “Holy of Holies” – an area that was normally off-limits to all except the high priest on one day a year.
Jesus didn’t see that temple curtain shred because he had already died, but he did accomplish in his death what the curtain signified – our reconciliation with a God that would rather see his only Son suffer excruciating hell than let sinners perish.
Like my dream this morning, I awoke to have a real life version of what I had imagined while asleep. Jesus was raised to life to show that the new reality for God’s children is permanent salvation through faith in him. My grandfather’s death tore the curtain of his life wide open to usher in the brilliance of Jesus and his holy angels arriving to take him to eternal glory because of God’s love for sinners made manifest on the cross. My grandfather believed in the Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Through that faith, he will never again see death or pain. He will live and reign forever with his Savior.
This present situation remains: my grandfather will never again see us on this earth. For some time, his mind and memory were so assailed with his illness, that he did not recognize his family well. Yet, we will see him again because we share faith in the One who has atoned for the sins of the whole world. And, he will see and recognize those who follow him into eternity through faith in Jesus; like my grandfather, we, who are still alive on earth, have the promises of a God who cannot lie and does not change his mind.
During this dream of life, focus on what is behind the curtain, where our High Priest Jesus can offer full and free forgiveness of all of your sins because He has paid for them by his death and resurrection. Break through the curtain in your life that separates you from the truth and comfort of Jesus by opening the pages of the Bible. When life gets fuzzy, focus on the one thing that is important – your God – and be still. Learn from, and follow, your soul’s good Shepherd Jesus. When you cannot bear losing your grandfather, brother, husband, or father, when the pain of death is overwhelming, look to the cross where you will find a Savior, now alive, who can sympathize with your every pain and struggle. You will find your eternal Friend beyond the curtain. You will find your God, Jesus.
Posted on Apr 5, 2010 Leave a Comment
I’ve been thinking a lot about this post. Mostly because I am on the brink of making a decision that will definitely impact my time. I have wanted to read through the Bible in its entirety for a long time. I’m embarrassed to say that I have not yet read through the whole thing, and I am in my 19th year of being a Christian. Through the grace that God affords me, I plan to remedy that.
This year, starting soon, I will be reading through the Bible in one year. I plan to post the sections of Scripture on a different blog:One Year Bible Challenge. On the right hand side of that website, there is a sign up form where you can enter your email address.
I plan on plugging my own email address into it because it will send me an email whenever the blog has been posted. It will essentially, remind me, or, if you have a smart phone (Blackberry or iPhone), send it directly to you. There may be some kinks at first, but I’m hoping to generate some support by finding others who may want to join with me in this endeavor. If you are interested in giving this a try, please comment here, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The motivation for doing this is found (for me) in the words that my niece recited this past Christmas:
“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31)
May God’s grace continue to be sufficient; may it continue to superabound us all.
Posted on Apr 5, 2010 Leave a Comment
This past Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday, where we heard about Jesus taking his three Apostles (Peter, James, and John) up to the top of a mountain with him. I won’t do the story justice by paraphrasing. Here’s the passage to which I refer:
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. (Luke 9:28-36)
I never understood how Peter could say that he wanted to build a tent for the Lord and Moses and Elijiah, until our Pastor explained it. I don’t recall exactly what he said last Sunday, but the idea that stuck in my head is “wouldn’t you have wanted that glory to stick around, too?” The answer in my head was, and is, yes.
Like Peter, I want to have the Lord’s glory now, yesterday, even. I don’t want to wait in this sinful body any longer, but want to be with him now. Rather, if I’m really honest with myself, I want the Lord to come to my “mountain” and share his glory with me on my terms. Peter thought he had the opportunity of a lifetime – to be with Jesus, Moses and Elijiah in glory now. We want his rule and glory, but we think about it in terms of our own.
Thinking more about this, I began to look at all of the challenges that we face in this world. Sometimes, we are broken down even by those who are our Christian brothers and sisters. They don’t know what they are doing, sometimes; yet, we want our Jesus to come down in “glory” and envelope us in smoke attesting to our own righteousness. But, no sooner had Peter said he’d build the “tents” than the Lord refocused his attention and took his sight away with a cloud: “This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
I take a look at myself and my interaction with the Lord and confess that I want his glory impatiently and without thinking about what I am saying. If I was God, however, and someone challenged me to share my glory with them in such a way, I doubt that I would have mercy on them saying such a thing as Peter said. Yet, our Lord did. He blinded the three disciples so that they could see Jesus with their hearts, not eyes. They were blind before, but now they could see the truth.
This truth brings us to another high point: the cross. Looking at Jesus on the cross after having seen him with his Old Testament leader and prophet must have been anti-climactic. But, the grace and wisdom of God makes us fools in our own understanding so that we can see the point – Jesus. He is the Savior about whom God was so certain would prevail in saving the world from sin, that he allowed three men the opportunity to watch him discuss it with those who had already gone to heaven on the basis of it being accomplished.
Elijiah and Moses were in heaven long before Jesus came, but their faith in his salvation was so sure that it prevailed because of God’s power. It was not something in them, it was Holy Spirit inspired faith that led them to see this, even though they did so after their time on earth had ended. This is a miracle of God’s glory. We hold on to that through faith just like the men on that mountain. Through any cloud, we can see Jesus. If you’re like me, you can attest that it’s better that way. Far better.
Though we may not have seen those sights on the day Jesus transformed, we attest with the angels that marked his birth “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14) because we have seen the latter hill where Jesus was crucified and the empty tomb of his resurrection with the eyes of our soul through faith.
Posted on Apr 5, 2010 Leave a Comment
The most enigmatic person in the whole Bible to me is probably John the Baptist. Jesus remarked about the man: “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). There are a number of passages that address John, but most of them seem to be in the peripheral, at least in my mind.
More to the point, the man Jesus called the “greatest” wore camel hair and lived in the desert alone. He ate bugs and honey. He was rugged, but never indulged in alcohol – he never cut his hair. I don’t know if he went to school, but he was wise and unafraid to directly chastise the “wise” and the religious leaders. He had a following, but did not get upset when some of his disciples left him and went to Jesus. He was humble, but he stood his ground and did what he was driven to do – what “had been prepared in advance for him to do” (Ephesians 2:10b). John knew his Savior – when Jesus came to him to be baptized, John proclaimed the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;” then he intimated to Jesus, perhaps in a whisper, how backwards this seemed to him – a man unworthy to touch the Savior’s sandals (Matthew 3:13).
Jesus grew in reputation. When someone came up to John and asked him if he was jealous that Jesus was getting more attention, John didn’t take his eye off the ball, as my father used to tell me in little league. Here’s the passage that specifically catches my attention:
To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:27-30)
The line, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven” is what I have focused so much of my mind on lately. I don’t know if you are like that or not, but I fixate on things – thoughts, ideas, concepts – until I feel like I’ve uncovered them sufficiently. This line from God’s word drew my attention.
It stood out for me so much because of the comparison and contrast between the man and the Savior God. John the Baptist was described as the “greatest” man ever born, but he was a man. He was a special man, though.
The nature-nurture argument came into my mind. Was it John’s parents who made him so special, or was he born with it? Did he have friends or leaders while growing up that influenced his disposition and tenacity? How did he learn to become a man? The “best” man?
It was neither nature, nor nurture, nor anything else in this world. John recognized that. When he was asked if he was jealous, he responded that “a man can only receive what is given him from heaven”. He didn’t tell them that he loved Jesus and was happy that he was getting credit for his hard work. He didn’t say that he wanted to partner with Jesus in his work. He didn’t even say that he was happy that his friend was getting the credit he deserved. He didn’t suggest nature. He didn’t refer to nurture.
He brought heaven up. He gave a godly perspective to sinful men. His mission was to make a straight path for the Savior, and, even when his time was ending, he continued to do his job. Heaven had destined John. God had planned every single aspect of his life and his death. God controlled “nature” and “nurture” to fulfill HIS work through John. The “greatest” man saw that in the question.
But his response is even more full. He not only showed how little man is, how his role as the forerunner fit into the gift of salvation from heaven, but he also shared his joy in response to his own faith in Jesus. He told the crowd that he is the “friend” of the “bridegroom” who is the “Christ”. He shared his happiness in the arrival of the Savior.
In comparison, becoming less is transitory, frivolous, and meaningless. John knew that; we learn that through more and more experiences. No. Not through experiences, from HEAVEN. God has a plan for us, just like he had a plan for John the desert preacher and baptizer. Our roles may be less, but God’s will be just as great as they were when he sent his Savior to this earth for us.
May Jesus become greater. May we become less so that our joy will become complete. Only through grace – only from heaven.
Posted on Apr 5, 2010 Leave a Comment
Grace is such an odd thing for me to understand. If you are like me, sometimes your compassion gets the best of you and you dwell on the problems and trials of others. Sometimes, the trials and problems are your own, and you can’t keep your mind off of them.
These days, it isn’t hard to find people struggling and suffering. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere; it borders and shares an island with the nation of the Dominican Republic, which is much more affluent. To the North, the United States of America is the richest country in the world. Recently, the nation of Haiti was struck by a terrible earthquake. Many people are shocked at the destruction of the Port Au Prince, the capital city; and the death toll is rising above 200,000 (at the time of this writing).
Earthquakes come into our lives spiritually, too. Sometimes they are below the surface, but create waves and bursting ripples of emotion when they reach the waters edge of our souls. Other times they are extremely drastic and there is apparent destruction. They leave damage that penetrates the mind, body and spirit. There are times when the damage can destroy souls – for a time, even eternally.
Are we safe? Can we ever be safe? What does the Christian do to effect a reconstruction of the damage when an earthquake strikes our mortal bodies? How do you watch chaos, knowing that what needs to be done is something that is either a mile or a minute outside of your capabilities.
The answer… nothing.
Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) ”or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:5-13)
I looked up the passage in Deuteronomy that the Apostle Paul quoted from in this part of God’s word from the book of Romans. Moses was giving his farewell sermon to the Israelite nation and he told them to follow God and reject turning away from him. Moses, in conclusion, essentially told them that in following God, the Lord isn’t asking them to do something impossible or beyond their ability. Moses wrote:
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).
So, dear Christian, do nothing. Do absolutely nothing. Turn back to your Lord, renew your mind in the knowledge of truth in Jesus. God is in control. He planned from time and eternity to save me and you and there is no earthquake that can shatter that. Again, Paul quote Isaiah the Old Testament prophet to bring the thought to completion, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame”.
If you are moved and able to help those in Haiti, fantastic. Bring them the message of peace through faith in Christ. If you are not, pray for their recovery. Be resourceful in the good that you can do to serve the Lord out of thankfulness. If you are in the middle of an earthquake in your life, or are troubled with the thorns in another’s flesh, focus and help them to concentrate on Jesus who even controlled the wind and the waves. And, when the dust settles and the debris clears in your own life, you will see Jesus standing their – clearly with your soul’s eyes – and you will find that all along he was carrying you through this worst of many trials in your life.
God’s word is in our hearts and minds through reading his Word. Pray. Give thanks. And know that our Savior-Friend-Brother-God, Jesus, has done it all for you and me.
Posted on Apr 5, 2010 Leave a Comment
Christmas is a very wonderful time of year. For the Christian, it is a celebration in remembrance of God coming in the flesh, our flesh – only without our fatal flaw of sin. His birth cannot be detached from his death. In fact, wisdom puts his birth in mind right next to his death. He is born; our Savior has come.
But this year didn’t feel like Christmas to me very much. I had too much on my mind and have been struggling with many things, both spiritual and physical. These times are different to me; the easy seems to have gone (if it ever really existed in the first place). Wherever I look, there is sin rampant. People have lost their jobs, their homes, there families, and some – their lives.
Has Christmas changed for you? Has Christmas changed in general? Ask yourself. Think about the time with your family. Was it filled with the same joy as you had when you were a child? Have the difficulties in your life circumstances choked out some of the joy that you customarily enjoyed in Christmases past? I don’t know what the answer is for you (1.2 verified readers of this blog), but for me, it was more difficult to focus on the simple joy that we Christians yearn for.
Then there it was. We celebrated Christmas with my family on New Year’s Day this year because we were in Michigan with my wife’s family on December 25th. The cloud was there. Then it was there: in the middle of the room on my mother’s lap, my niece began to recite in song the passage from John: “These words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God. Alleluia. Alleluia.”
These familiar words, which are often sung in the liturgy in my church, nearly brought me to tears. My niece’s parents are going through a difficult stretch and may not continue to be married much longer. She was deprived from oxygen when she was born and now has the physical effects of cerebral palsy. But, she didn’t care when she was sitting on “grammy’s” lap about anything but singing a song of praise to her heavenly Father on the “makeup” family birthday of our Savior.
I wonder if there were any children that visited our Lord on the night he was born. I imagine that there may have been sons and daughters of the shepherds that came and sang songs and gave thanks to our God for the wonder that he has done. It must have been a wonderful site. What I wouldn’t have given to have been a fly on the wall of the stable – or better, the manger bed.
2000 years later we still have a world of chaos and full of sin. Yet, that baby born on the cross who received with deep joy the praises of my niece still has control over the world. It isn’t how we would like it. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out as we planned. Even Christians “wrestle” with the Lord as Jacob did; but they are blessed. They are blessed because they have a baby that turned out to be a man who died on the cross so that he could buy us back. We were sold for nothing, but bought with blood. My niece reminded me that even during the difficult times in life, we have a Savior who was born. We have a Savior who died. We have a Savior who rose; and One that is alive now – close to us, close enough to hear the imperfect praises of the children and adults who can hear his voice through the faith that he gives to us.
It’s all out of our control. But, without a doubt it’s in his. What grace.