Tag Archives: Jesus

Going from How? to Wow!

“Greatly troubled” probably doesn’t even come close to describing Mary’s reaction when Gabriel popped out of the closet.  And then he said, “Don’t be scared, I just came to tell you God wants you to have His Baby.  If Mary was hyperventilating before, I’m guessing she notched it up a bit, thinking, “What?  God wants His Son to come and live in me???”  Imagine.

As preposterous a request as that was, God sends a similar one to you.  He wants His Son to be born in you and live in your soul forever.  On one level, that is more of a privileged invitation than a mere request.  But it is not unusual, when people hear that amazing invitation for the first time to respond as Mary did.  First, “greatly troubled” (read: frightened down deep). 

But then, confused.  Mary said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” ( Luke 1:34b)  She knew she was unqualified, in a sense, not good enough to have a baby.  Our question is similar: “Me?  God wants Jesus to live in me???  Doesn’t He know how I have been living, what I have been thinking?  There’s no way I could be qualified!  How could that possibly happen?”

The answer is the same as Gabriel gave Mary:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.   – (Luke 1:35b)

And who gets to have that new birth?  Everyone who, like Mary, believes and says, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”  –  (Luke 1:38b)

Rule Number One

Most people would agree it is wrong to steal.  Or murder.  In fact, most people  would agree the Ten Commandments are good laws to live by.  That is, unless they have actually read them.  I doubt most in this country would agree with the commandment that says,

“You shall have no other gods before me.  –  (Deuteronomy 5:7 NIV)

And yet, that is the first commandment of the ten.  Rule number one!  But it sounds so intolerant of other belief systems.  And it sounds petty, as though God is insecure or paranoid, afraid of sharing with any rivals the attention He wants for Himself.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  God gave the Ten Commandments to a people who had lived for 400 years as slaves and who were now wandering across a desert.  He gave them because they needed them so badly.  Slaves only need one commandment: Do what you are told.  Imagine how important it would be for hundreds of thousands of former slaves, experiencing freedom for the first time, to have a reliable ethical system to live by.  (There is a reason why college students, away from Mommy and Daddy for the first time, go wild in their first experience of freedom.)  The Ten Commandments were essential for their survival.  He gave the commandments to bless them.

And number one, before they got to the ones about stealing and lying, was this: don’t you dare consider following any other god.  If you trace the history of Israel, their times of prosperity and peace coincide with their obedience to that command.  And when they forgot that command, they experienced times of ruin, exile and defeat.  As inappropriate as it may sound to our ears, Israel discovered it was important.  There is only one God; worship and obey Him alone.  Such a command is only inappropriate if it is not true.  If it is true, it is the foundation of well being.  That’s why, when Jesus was asked the most important commandment,

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  –  (Mark 12:29–30  NIV84)

Most important for whom?  Not for God but for our own well being.  The most important rule to remember in our conduct of life is to love, honor, trust and obey the real God – exclusively.  If we go chasing after false gods. as interesting as they may seem to be, ultimately we do so to our own ruin.

Nothing I’ve written here would have surprised or offended the founders of this nation.  They knew it was important for the government not to establish an official religion.  But they were not confused about Who God is, not tempted away by different deities.  But today,politically correct wisdom says we must accept all gods and goddesses alike.  Perhaps it is no coincidence the United States is in decline in many ways.  As offensive as it may sound to our modern ears, I wonder if we might do better to pay attention to rule number one.  Maybe God was telling the truth when He said it was most important for our well being.

To Lie Down in Peace

Next year I’m going to be selling a line of Black Friday helmets and protective gear, along with a self-test concussion assessment. Good idea? I think so and I hope your BF bruises are beginning to heal. Ah, yes: each year our anticipation of Christmas gets more and more exciting!

Before the birth of Christ, there was also great anticipation of His coming but for slightly different reasons. One of them was they knew this promise from God, written by the prophet, Ezekiel:

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. – (Ezekiel 34:15-16)

Perhaps you can relate to the sheep. When sheep lie down, it is because they are at peace – no threats, real or imagined to stir them up. No pacing about with anxious bleating. How would you like to find peace like that this Christmas? Maybe you understand what it feels like to be lost. Or to have strayed and not know how to find your way back. Perhaps you’ve been injured in life, or feel weak or oppressed. The promise of God was to be a shepherd for His people. He said “I myself will make them lie down…” No wonder there was such a yearning for His coming, such anticipation for the One Whose Name would be “God with Us.”

Regardless of how you spent Black Friday and Cyber Monday, my prayer is that this season you will find the One Who called Himself the “Good Shepherd,” the One in Whom we can truly lie down in peace.

And if you want to get in on the helmet thing, let me know…

Happy + Thanks + Giving Part 3

Jesus talked about being “rich with respect to God.”  Intriguing phrase, but what did He mean?  This is the final segment of a Thanksgiving message.  If you missed them, you can find the first section posted HERE .  The second section is HERE.

Before I go fix a leftover turkey sandwich, I thought I’d let you know I’m thankful for YOU and all the others who regularly read this blog.  And I hope you had a great Thanksgiving Day.

Peace

Our hearts and tears go out for our sisters and brothers of Paris.  We are shocked, dismayed by the wanton brutality.  We pray for them, asking that they might find real peace in their hearts, healing from the terror, comfort in sorrow.  And safety.  I pray that many will hear and respond to these words of Jesus:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  –  (Matthew 11:28–30 NIV84)

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.   –  (Jn 14:23b ESV)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  –  (John 14:27  NIV84)

 

Mo Bettah

There wasn’t much my mother and I agreed on during my adolescence.  Especially music (Yeah, I know: big surprise…).  She was into lofty, classical refinements; I tended toward Four Strong Winds and Mr. Tambourine Man.  So when she announced that she had bought me a ticket to a performance at the local university, I groaned and protested.  With great reluctance I slumped down the dusty halls of academia, preparing to sleep my way through some tedious Elizabethan minstrels or something.  But it was legendary blues great, Josh White playing!  Far from being tedious, he held the audience captive with his plaintive, rich baritone voice.  His soulful guitar work, replete with amazing, raspy slide licks with his leathery thumb, put the whole experience over the top.  An experience I almost missed because I assumed I knew what to expect.  Score one for Mother. 

So frequently when I try to communicate the exhilaration and joy I’ve found in Jesus, I am met with the same indifference.  Usually, I am convinced, it is because they hear the name, Jesus, and immediately associate it with dusty, boring, irrelevant religion.  But I’m talking about lighting the afterburners on life and blasting into a whole different reality.  

Of course, this is nothing new; you can hear a bit of similar frustration in Paul’s words:

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.
  –  (Colossians 2:1)

He goes on to say that the purpose for his struggle is:

“… so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
  –  (Colossians 2:2b-3)

If you have kept yourself a safe distance from Jesus because of dull religious experiences (or worse), don’t let what you assume you know keep you from experiencing the “One in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge!”

Skinning Your Spiritual Knees

Learning to ride a bike involves skinning a few knees.  Most kids, after successfully riding a few feet without falling, look up and shout, “I can do it! I can do it!”  –  that , just before they dump the thing, trying to avoid the neighbor’s dog.  Dad runs along beside the bike, shouting encouragement, but he cannot actually teach a child how to ride.  He can describe what to do, but balance, the skill that makes bike riding work, has to naturally and gradually emerge from inside the life of the one who is learning.  Balance is built in to their system; they just need to learn how to use it.

Learning to follow Jesus is a lot like that.  Most of us skin our knees repeatedly in the process.  We default to our old habits, which don’t work, and we crash.  It can be discouraging.  So we say things like, “I should be better; I shouldn’t make the same mistake over and over again.”  And the biggie: “Maybe I’m not really a real Christian.”  But remember this:  Christlikeness, like balance, can be described but it cannot be taught.  It does not show up instantly.  It emerges gradually as a natural consequence of the Holy Spirit coming to live in the believer.  That’s why Paul said this:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy … being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.(Philippians 1:4–6 excerpts)

If you have followed Jesus by faith, God is going to make the changes in you. He is not going to be rushed in His work.  He also isn’t going to quit until you are finished.  God doesn’t give up.

So then, if God is going to do the work, what is our part?  Should we just passively wait until He makes us to be like Christ?  Nope.  That would be like waiting for balance to show up before we try to ride a bike.  Our part is to pay careful attention to what God is telling us, climb on this new life and try once again to take it for a spin.  See if we can get further down the road before the next crash.  And don’t sweat the skinned knees.  Paul said it like this:

“…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  –  (Philippians 2:12b–13).

Quotes: The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). . Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.