The Christmas Promise

1 John 4:9

The Christmas season is always hard on people for one reason or another. It may be because we are suffering in poverty. Or perhaps there’s someone you love who longs to see you but isn’t able to for any number of reasons. Or maybe there is someone that loved you, but is no longer of this world. Sometimes plans are made to see one another but circumstances prevent this from happening. Maybe it was a card, or gift that you expected that never came. Maybe someone gave their word to you that this Christmas they wouldn’t let you down… and then did.

 But consider this: what if THE gift had never come? What if THE biggest gift of all was expected and never came? In 1 John 4:9 the Word of God talks of the reason we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate it because of a promise God made in Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin would bear a child and name him Immanuel. But that was years before the birth of Jesus. What would have happened if Gods promise of the coming Immanuel had never come to be? Or put another way: what if the promises of God were no more reliable than those of mortal man? 1 John speaks to me by saying that the promises of God are the only ones I can expect to happen.

But is the promise of God fulfilled because we deserve it? 

Every Christmas we enter the holiday with visions of sugarplums dancing in our childish heads and hopes that a jolly fat guy will drop down our chimney with gifts we deserve because we were good this year. How do we know he’s coming? Because the commercial told me my deservedness should allow me to expect him to come. But if I really examine myself, I know I deserve nothing less than Gods judgement because every day I sin a little. It may be as simple as having negative thoughts of my neighbor who chose not to say good morning or as egregious as stealing supplies from my overseers stores. I may think in the natural I deserve a break today, but I don’t deserve anything of the sort; especially at Christmas.

But God made me…and God made you…and God made our neighbor. God is our Father and because I am His son he loves me too much to treat me like a stranger. 1 John says that I can expect the only son of God to come not because I deserve life, but because my sin deserved death. Oh, but His love… His love was manifest in the person of his son wrapped in human flesh and given as a living sacrifice so that I would not die but live through his grace. Honestly I cannot think of a better gift that I know I can expect. I expect man to make promises all the time. On his whim, circumstance, or choice he may decide to reprioritize and deny his promise to me. But not God and that is why Christmas matters to me. I urge you to think of the promises that God has kept. The promise made that He is there with us in the joy and the pain. He is there in the valley and on the hill. The promise he would never again destroy the world and signed it with a rainbow. The promise that if we choose Him, and reject walking alone, God will walk with us all the days of our life. This is Christmas.

I ask you to remember that no matter whom you meet or what you read that tells you otherwise, you are worth it. You are a child of the living God and deserve his judgement but instead you have been given a Christmas gift called grace. You are loved even when you don’t think you deserve it and even when you don’t feel it. If you weren’t loved, Jesus would never have come. He never would’ve been born and he never would’ve fulfilled his father’s promise. My brothers and sisters, I wish you a very blessed, expectant, and promised Christmas.


What shall I live for?

Hebrews 9:27-28

It is no surprise or mystery why Jesus came to dwell among us. He came to die so that when we reach our appointed time, we may have eternal life in him. 

But why are we to die? What purpose is there in our dying? This passage seems to offer a glimpse into the answer which I feel is less why we die but more why we are to live. 

Jesus died once for our sins and we are promised to see him again. He has conquered death and sin and will await us in the eternal with all power in his hands. So when we get there,  what shall be our testimony? What should he know about us when we see him again? Again…. when did you last see Jesus? Was it in a selfless act of kindness? A babies laugh? A miracle in the hospital? In the helping hand of a friend? Did you see Jesus? If you haven’t yet seen him, I encourage you to seek him out. Jesus is there if you have eyes to see and a heart that is open to his love. 

So when you see him again, what will be your report? This is the time of judgement (vs. 27) but this is not the end. While we yet live, this passage suggests that Jesus died bearing the sins of the world and will be seen again without that sin. Another passage teaches that the sins of the world are cast into the sea of forgetfulness. So what sins will we have? Only those we carry with us. It seems to me that means that it is not prescribed that we, born into sin, need be burdened by it as we transition into the eternal. If we repent and present ourselves to Jesus knowing we were in a sin sick world but not of that sin sick world, I believe that he will receive us as faithful stewards and will bid us enter in and join him in the place with many rooms which he prepared for us. 

Reject sin, embrace love, seek him, and when the THE of judgement comes, the only one who was ever wholly without sin may yet receive you into his bosom. 

Father, I ask you to purge me of evil report and make me more like your image. Make me into a disciple that is a light unto the world. This I pray. Amen. 

Lead me through temptation 

James 1:2-3

Our father, which art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Forever. And ever. Amen. 

For all my life I’ve never looked at this model prayer and considered the importance of discerning and comparing it to James 1 and psalms 23:4. 

I know of no one who wants to actually walk into evil. I know of no one who actually desires to be led into the tempters snare. But the fact is God never promised to guide evil away from our path or that by entering into relationship with God would be a “get out of jail free card” from bad things happening. In fact it’s been written that trouble will come, but joy cometh in the morning. But to get to that morning, you must first get through the night.  James 1 is teaching me that I should not be bitter and callous towards God when I am tempted. In fact I should rejoice. But how is that possible? 

Think of of it like this: 

God knows his child and what we can handle with his help.  There is no temptation that is greater than us so long as we know that greater is he that is within us. We must be open to the fact that when we are tempted by strange fruit we can be confident in knowing that we won’t fly over it unscathed, or be wended around it unaffected. But instead we will know the love and power of God as he hardens us into hammered iron by his presence as we pass through it. We are to know that when dark nights come, and temptations come to steer us into troubled times, God will be with us. He hasn’t abandoned us or left us to our own devices. He is with us and by going through it with him we will learn his presence and his peace and patience. 

In these troubled times, I know I could stand to learn a little more patience. So God, I ask you today to allow temptation to come my way. In that temptation I will count it joy for I know you are not the God of temptation but will be with me as I pass through it. In Jesus name. Amen. 

I don’t know…

Ecclesiastes 11:5
Today, we are more connected than ever before when you consider the ready availability of the internet, wifi enabled equipment, social media platforms, 24 hour news cycle, town gossips, and online news sources. Very little occurs now that doesn’t get noticed by a camera, cellphone, videographer, or newsman. Privacy is not even available in any public places or private. The mysteries of the depths of the ocean are fast becoming known and considered old-hat. The lenses which we fit on Hubble and SETI have effectively removed so much of the unknown from our visions of the eternal beyond the moon, it’s actually a shock when we see or hear something that is new. So little is considered new and a first it will often become the headline on the six o’clock news and then immediately be relegated to the back page as a casual interest. 
Nothing is new under the sun and you can’t tell me anything is new because it’s all been said before. Conceptually and perhaps even medically I am fully aware of how the bones in the human body knit and expand in density. Books exist that explain just how the child forms in the womb and how the movie was made by seeing the behind the scenes featurette. 
But then I read Ecclesiastes 11 and all of that goes out of the window. 
The writer of this passage is not trying to get us to understand that even if we look hard under a microscope we should disbelieve what our eyes tell us. The writer of this passage is not saying that with a well attuned ultrasound the millions of changes that occur to a fetus will not be plain to all. It is not simply DNA deciding to twist this direction and that, or the blood flowing through that arterie or another. It’s more dazzlingly glorious than witnessing the upturned thumb being thrust into an open mouth or twins who embrace in the womb before they can even see. What is the incredible and inexplicable source of creation to the glory of God is the true mystery. Why would God form us in his image? Why would he look at us and say that is it’s good? What the writer is saying that the powerful gift and breath of life from God is what truly makes the bones coalesce into a complex dance of sinu, marrow, and cartelange forming a whole system of structural support for a human body. But that the reasons behind all of that are a mystery to us. 
The motivation of God to create is not for us to understand. It’s not for us to “get” why He would be so interested in seeing us enter into relationship with each other and Him. It is not for us to know what designs the creator of all has in his mystical trestle-board, upon which the designs of all that ever was, is, and will be is drawn. 
I know it’s disappointing but there really are some things we aren’t supposed to know. It flies in the face of our own perceived greatness. Perhaps it’s because we assume we are to be in dominance over the earth rather than in dominion. Maybe we should read Genesis again….
In due season and as God knows our young minds can absorb, I am sure of one thing: God will reveal. He is not a god of confusion or disorder. He gives us the wisdom and foresight to make choices and love and grow. He gives us so much, how dare we be so arrogant to suggest that we deserve to know more than he already has shown us about his plans and designs for us? I am sure that if we could handle the truth, as someone once said, it would be shown to us. But who’s to say it hasn’t already been shown us? Perhaps we were shown the truth and we misused it. Abused it. Refused to be held account for it. Perhaps even refused it. Maybe God wants us to learn more about ourselves before he gives us even more to absorb. God knows we’ve found spectacular ways to waste good knowledge after bad. Imagine if we knew how He thinks too? I’m reminded of the line in the sand at the base of mount Sinai that God told the Israelites not to cross or die. And when they wanted to see God only saw a small portion of him hidden by meteorological fury. That was enough to tell me that some people can handle the face of God and most others can not. I think I’m in the latter camp. 
God, I ask that you make me content in you. That you grow me to understand nothing and trust in none but you. I ask that you limit my vision to you and that anything else that whorl compete for attention that should be yours alone, gets away and finds parts unknown. I ask that how you think be your understanding alone. That you remove arrogance from me and that your children on this world find contentment and peace in your vision, love, omnipotence and omniscience. Amen 

It all belongs to God

1 chronicles 29:13-15
One of the most difficult and yet liberating messages the Bible has to offer is that nothing we have is ours and ours alone. I hear all the time that glory belongs to God. That all praise is to God and God alone. All things that are above and on and below belong to God. But how do we internalize that fact? How do we embrace the truth that we are simply stewards here and nothing we have, not even our own breath is our own but is on loan to us by the almighty God? 

This passage explosive this by saying first and foremost “..thank you God.” But in the next breath is asking who am I to thank you for something that is yours anyway? How can we justifiably thank God for something when we are so low and he is so high? After all, all we have is his anyway so how dare we thank God for things that are not ours? The writer goes on to say we are but strangers and sojourner. That is we are alien to God and without even a place to call our own. We are homeless and unknown to God and in that light are not worthy to be thankful to God. Worse than that our lives are finite and little more than shadow. 

David offers this in vs. 16: he will build God a house. A house with great stores and his son, Solomon, would build it and fill it with provision to the glory of God. This is to be king Solomons temple. Bankrolled by David, built by Solomon and dedicated to God. 

When I realize that God owns everything and I am only a steward of the things of this world, giving back to God is not hard. My time. My skills. My heart. All belong to God and by giving to him it extends further to be a giver to my neighbor. Jesus said everyone I meet and everyone I don’t meet is my neighbor. No one is a stranger to God because we are all his children. What father doesn’t know his own son and mother her own daughter? When I see how much God has blesssed me with family, a career, a ministry, and more, how can I possibly hold onto any of it jealously? How can I choose to selfishly hide it and use it to my own gain? Was God so selfish with me? I’d say no. 

By so willingly giving to God, it is so much more liberatingly easy to give to my fellow countrymen and countrywomen. So I too, as David did, say thank you God. Thank you for all you’ve entrusted to my care. Thank you for allowing me to be of a mind to be a giver in your name.

So thisThanksgiving as we gather with others to break bread, be sure to know that while we are here as stewards of this world, thank God in the best way you can for His blessings.  Thank God for all he has given but better than that: Thank God by building your own house, as your be been provided, to his glory. Amen. 

Praise in the wilderness. 

Psalm 63:3-4

Have you ever been out in the woods camping? Have your ever been outside in hiking shoes, stumbling down a trail, surrounded on all sides with the prickly underbrush, tall freaking trees and the root and rock covered trail? In the distance you can hear the life of the woods all around you but not a single beast can you see. You can feel the breeze on your necklace and the occasional leaf may fall and touch the crown of your head. This is a wilderness to us in modern society. I’d venture to guess this is not the wilderness that king David was describing. He was more likely in a wilderness that lacked shade or water. Was void of comforting streams and small animals that would be fascinating but rather large ones with teeth.  A wilderness king David found himself in was more likely literally wild with unseen and seen dangers. Or mayhaps his wilderness was one of being nothing less than a stranger in a strange land. Wild because of the inability to communicate or seek help because the language and customs are alien to him. The dress and social expectations are wildly different from his own and he had nowhere assured to him he could turn for comfort. 

Perhaps your wilderness is similar. 

Maybe your wilderness is a lost job. A lost loved one. A bit of bad or completely unexpected news. Could your wilderness be a choice you made that was honest to your heart and near to God but no one around you understands why you chose that. Maybe your wilderness is feeling alone when in a crowd. Or you’re blessed with a new title and have few who share it so you’ve entered a very small circle of fellows who can relate to the stress you now know. 

If you are there, as king David was , can you yet and still feel love and comfort? 

King David says that despite his being in the wilderness, he knows the love of God is far above his understanding of life. He knows that with the love of God, life pales because he knows that in god there is life and life more abundantly. And in that knowledge he wil praise God regardless of the wild things he sees. But recognizing that is insufficient without thanks for the blessing of God’s love. While he yet has breath in his lungs he will bless him and with his breath, he will lift up His hands in praise. 

You can do it, with Him

Ephesians 3:20-end. 

I cannot think of a time in my life where I was guaranteed success. I am not able to recall a time when I knew that nothing I was about to do could fail. Oh, to be sure, I was not lacking in confidence but I was never quite assured beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not fail at something. My mother did her level best to assure me. My friend did his best to reassure me. I had many choir directors and creature comforts all in my corner promising that I could make it through whatever may come so long as I was prepared. But the simple truth I arrive at now is that nothing I did was successful because of any of them. Nothing I succeeded in was a result of my work alone. All success and failure, attempts and misses, hits and triumphs were because God was within me. 

This letter Paul wrote to Ephesus was closed with that admonition that we recognize that when we consider our paths forward, first we must consider God. God is able to do not just all tings, but do them exceedingly. That is to say beyond our own limited expectations and abilities. His power is in us and that is such a concept that I’m afraid I cannot fully comprehend it. It seems that what Paul is saying is that God works his miracles and everyday actions though us. His power is infinite and beyond all measure. The same God who flung stars against the inky blackness of space and spun fire and dust into globes and upon those globes he placed life and life more abundantly. Now if God can do all that, what re can he do in our lives? He can do exceedingly in journal lives if we just allow his power to work in and through us. This is why Jesus said it is better that I leave you now so that I may be in you. Being in us is so much more powerful than him simply being with us. The Lord our God is all powerful and his word does not go out and return void. When he is at work within us, his will is sure to be done. 

But the last part is that once we recognize the power God has within us, we are to offer glory to his son Jesus the Christ. But what is the church (vs. 21) he speaks of? A building? A temple? A holy place? Yes, but more. Church is the people of God. This was the early church and not known as Christian yet but rather The Way. We are the church. For many, the only church a person will see is sour works here as we live our daily lives. Paul wanted the church of Ephesus to understand that God is infinitely powerful, he is at work within us as his believers, his work will be done in greater ways than we can possibly imagine, and the power within is not in a building of stone but of flesh. 

The office or the man?

There was a moment this week when the entire planet took a collective sharp intake of breath. The entirety of the connected human race listened to radios, read internet posts, and heard that a choice had been made in America that was wholly unexpected. Frankly, I too held my breath and struggled to see my path forward. Then I listened to people wiser than I, and was reminded of this:

Render unto Caesar what is Caesars. (Matthew 22:17-22, Mark 12:17, and Luke 20:25)
Let me be personal for just a moment. I’ve had a number of bosses that I didn’t like personally. They were thugs in neckties. Bullies in a suit. Biased in a skirt. I can now look back and say that I didn’t survive and thrive in those jobs or further my career because I honored the person but because I honored the position. You see God places into leadership who God wills to be in leadership. And the laws we have are there and should be honored. Without honor of either office or law we wil have anarchy. Imagine you don’t like the law against murder. Would you enjoy the result? Or the office of the Justice of the Peace. What would you do if they decided not to fulfill their duties when you claim to be in love? God doesn’t say to render anything unto Caesar except that which is his. In the end doesn’t God own it all anyway? 

So what to do? While we respect the office we are further to remember that we are to honor THE  law maker of us all and that is God himself. Honor his law above all else because honoring the leader he places is demonstrating that you honor God. To dishonor the leadership position is to dishonor God. But when you see a leader dishonor God I am reminded of Matthew 18:15-18 where we are admonished to speak with our brother if he has done wrong and offer wise council speaking to his fault. You do not disobey, you self advocate. More correctly stated, you obey by being a God advocate. 

Do I like every leader we have? No. Do I respect all of their stated policies or positions? No. But will I respect the office while offering wise God council? You bet I will. Because should I ever be in a position of leadership on such a grand stage, I’d want nothing less myself.