It’s December, readers! Advent has already begun, so the Christmas season is upon us. That season that could be seen as dark and dreary if we were not looking forward with hope for the light of the world to come among us. As John puts it:
“In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
It’s not the hope of getting more gifts, enjoying more parties or even attending a beautiful worship service: it’s the hope that through the life and death of Jesus, our own lives are redeemed and made worthy. Jesus, true God, did not become man to amaze us — He became man so that He could save us. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Without His birth, we would have no rebirth, no reconciliation with God.
So this month, let’s give thanks for that birth. Any other gifts we receive are just poor reflections of the one that really matters. He loves you and so do !
Trust in God is a quality I need to continually develop in my life. I’m an anxious person, and I like to be prepared, to know what’s going to happen next, and to quickly resolve uncertainties. However, as Christians we’re often called to live in an in-between state, waiting for God’s Will to be revealed. Here’s how author Brennan Manning once put it:
“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some pre-determined clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of discernment of God acting in … the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered his presence and his promise.”
Here are some of those promises:
“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
“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
““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
He will always be with us; He is working everything out for our benefit; we will live with Him forever. Do you trust Him?
I mentioned in my previous post that I recently attended a Via de Cristo retreat weekend. At the beginning of each weekend, participants are told, “don’t judge the weekend until it is finished.” Things that seem uncomfortable or maybe confusing become clear as time passes. In other words, WAIT, get the full picture before you make a decision.
I realized that this is good advice about many things in life. When we prejudge a person, or an event, we often get it wrong. I can think of people who didn’t impress me at our first meeting, who became friends with much to appreciate. I have had work environments that started out feeling uncomfortable but became nurturing with time and attention. In the book of John, we read:
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment. “John 7:24
In other words, don’t make a determination when the information you have is superficial. Be patient. Sit with it a while. See how things play out. Pray for God to open your eyes so that you can see His will. Keep your heart open, too! Our Lord is full of surprises! Don’t miss out on a blessing because you didn’t wait.
“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. “Psalm 27:14
I’ve been reading and studying about our union with Christ this month. Somewhere, in that process I came across the idea that obedience is God’s love language. If you don’t know what a “love language” is, the idea originated in a book for couples written by Gary Chapman. According to Mr. Chapman, we all have a preference for a particular method of having love expressed to us by our spouse. It could be words, or acts of service, or gifts …. you get the idea. A relationship works best when we know and use the “love language” that our spouse enjoys most.
Well, in God’s case, that language is obedience. The Bible makes it pretty clear. Jesus tells his disciples:
““Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” John 14:23-24
Jesus Himself is our model for obedience. In the garden of Gethsemane, before His arrest, He prays to be spared, but also for God’s will to be done. In the end,
“... he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:8
If we are people “in Christ” we will also be obedient by submitting to God’s will. In Andrew Murray’s devotional, Like Christ, he says:
“… if it ever appears too hard to live only for God’s will, let us remember wherein Christ found His strength: it was because it was the Father’s will that the Son rejoiced to do it…. Our union to Jesus, our calling to live like Him, constantly point us to His Sonshipas the secret of His life and strength.”
Remember that you are God’s beloved son, or daughter. It will make obeying His will a joy.
In the third chapter of John, some of the disciples of John the Baptist are concerned because suddenly Jesus is attracting more followers. John, of course, understands exactly what is going on. Jesus is the bridegroom, the Messiah, the one for whom everyone has been waiting. In consequence of this, John says:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30
John knows he is only the servant, the messenger. It is Jesus who is the real thing.
If we are united with Christ, the same thing is true of us. We must become more and more like Christ. Our sins and our worldly desires should decrease. Our goal in life will be to show others what Christ is like. When we live with the mind and heart of Christ, we will draw others to Him. We will be the face of Christ in the world.
Lent is a good time to think about this. For some it’s a time to emphasize their piety by giving something up — usually fasting from a food or drink they normally indulge in like coffee, meat or desserts. There’s nothing wrong with this if it serves to remind us of Christ. However, as one poet put it, why not fast from “your sin, not your bin.” For the next few weeks try fasting from anger, or envy, or greed. Add generosity and kindness to your plate. Allow Christ to increase in you. If you do this for forty days, you will have created a habit of holiness that will last the rest of your life.
I came across this amongst some old church newsletters I was sorting through and thought it worth sharing. There was no author attached, so I don’t know who originally wrote it.
Does walking by faith mean that one walks blindly?
No more than the pilot of a 747 flies blind when he is being talked into a landing by the control tower.
No more than the pilot who believes his instruments rather than the “seat of his pants.”
One of the hard lessons any pilot learns is to trust his instruments when they disagree with his “feel.” He is in much greater danger if he depends upon his feelings instead of his instruments. Ceiling zero–visibility zero–very poor conditions to fly by sight…. but the aircraft still lands safely when the pilot listens to the words of the control tower and obeys them.
To walk by faith is to heed the Word of God…. to read it, to know it, to obey it. It isn’t those who walk by faith who mess up their lives …. it is those who walk by sight!
“I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12
“Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for a friend.” John 15:13
How many of us would follow through with the above Bible verse? Would you give up your life for another person?
Someone once said, “It is a good thing to be rich, and a good thing to be strong: but it is a better thing to be loved by many friends.” Did you ever want someone to be your best friend? You tried everything, but they did not want to have you for their friend. And that hurts. But, wait a minute, don’t we all have one very best friend that we sometimes forget about? Someone who will stick closer to you than a brother? That someone is Jesus.
There are “fair-weather” friends. Maybe someone in school who knows you are a good student. They may want you to be their “friend” if you give them your homework paper. But later it turns out that they will have nothing to do with you. They are like the honey bees sipping the nectar of your generosity only to leave you high and dry. They associate with you only for a while as long as you give them what they want. But as soon as something happens to you and you need their help, they can’t be bothered.
Do you remember the song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”? (Story Behind the Song: What a friend we have in Jesus!). Look it up in the Lutheran Worship hymnal, it’s #516. What comforting words are in those three verses. Whatever we need, that need will be supplied by our friend, Jesus. But we must trust in Him always.
Although you may live in a very small house or in the finest of mansions, you can be wealthy with friends. You can know the friend of all people. You can tell others about Him.
A certain farming practice of 40-50 years ago provides the backdrop for this particular story. During the summer months, green corn was chopped and blown into cement silos to be used as winter food for the cattle. At certain intervals a malt or dextrose based substance was added to the chopped corn. The combination of sugars, moisture from the corn and summer heat created a wonderful substance (to the cows anyway) called silage. This process of turning the corn into proper silage often resulted in a good deal of liquid that would seep out of the silo at ground level and seep into the surrounding ground, creating a very smelly quagmire. Small children were warned to “STAY AWAY!!!” for obvious reasons. And it is here that our story begins.
The little girl was very intent on finding the batch of kittens the mother cat had hidden in the barn. Daddy said their eyes were open and the little girl couldn’t wait to gather the little balls of fur into her arms and watch the antics of the kittens as they stalked imaginary mice. So intent on her mission was she, that she accidentally stepped into the silage quagmire. And stepped again. Within minutes she was stuck fast in the mud, unable to pull her foot and shoes free.
“Mommy!! Mommy!” After what seemed an eternity with no response, the little girl called again. She tried to pull her feet free with little success. Tears began to flow down her cheeks as she again called “Mommy!” Suddenly big hands lifter her up and out of the mud and the rather gruff voice of her grandfather said, “Looks like you got yourself into a bit of a mess. Mommy isn’t going to like this.’ Despite the smelly, messy mud dripping from the her feet, the grandfather hugged her close, pulled out his red bandana handkerchief, wiped her nose and tears, and said “Let’s get you cleaned up before we go and find Mommy.” With that he reached his bare hands into the mud and pulled out the shoe that had remained stuck in the muck.
At the well, the grandfather again used his handkerchief to wash the smelly mud from her feet and legs and rinsed the shoes as best he could. Although a large and normally gruff man, his actions were kind and gentle and the little girl’s sobs soon subsided. No words passed between them, but when the mud has been washed away in the clear, cool water, the grandfather took her small hand in his big round one and together they walked to the house in search of Mommy and clean socks.
We, like the little girl, often walk into the quagmire of sin, and find ourselves unable to get out of the mess in which we find ourselves. Oh, we may struggle and fight and even appear to be making progress, but alas, it is all in vain. We cannot get free on our own. But when we call out to our heavenly Father, the freedom that we seek is there. Given to us willingly and freely through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting live.” John 3:16
“…I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6
“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, which is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to him. ” C. S. Lewis
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” Hebrews 1:1-2
In this book, author Steven Furtick examines the seven last statements (or “words’) of Jesus from the cross in light of the spiritual journey of every believer. He boils each one down to its’ essential meaning:
*Forgiveness –“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
*Salvation–“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
*Relationship–“Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27
*Abandonment–“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
*Distress–“I am thirsty.” John 19:28
*Triumph–“It is finished.” John 19:30
*Reunion–“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46
Each section includes questions for journaling or group discussion. At the end there is a forty-day reading guide with Scripture selections on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This was an easy read would be a good pick to use as a spiritual exercise during the season of Lent. Since the author is not Lutheran, there were some theological statements I disagreed with, mainly around the issue of “making a decision” to choose Christ. As Lutherans, we believe Christ chooses us.
VERDICT: 3 Stars due to the theological issues.
For more about the death and resurrection of Christ see: