Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Rescue

I wonder what the shepherds said to the people in Bethlehem that astonished them.

“A girl who just got to town gave birth to a baby boy in a stable and is using a manger for his bed.”

Ho hum. How many babies have been born in Bethlehem this year? And everyone knows people are sleeping wherever they can find some space.

“An angel just appeared to us and told us that a baby had been born in a stable. He said the baby is the Promised One.”

Right. An angel appeared to shepherds, not the king. And told them a baby is the Promised One. When the Promised One comes He will save us from the Romans, not lie helpless in his mother’s arms.

But what if their message was the one that all of Israel had been waiting for since the time of King David? Maybe their message came right from the ninth chapter of the book of Isaiah.

“Hey everyone, the baby promised by Isaiah has been born. The one who will break our yoke of slavery is here, the child on whom the government will rest. We’ve seen him, the wonderful counselor, the Prince of Peace. Our rescue has begun right here in Bethlehem.”

Now that is a message that would amaze the people.

I sometimes cringe when I read Christmas cards or hear songs about the peace of Christmas. Many of them imply that the “peace on earth” the angels proclaimed was the end of all wars. But of course, that’s not why Jesus came, although when He returns, He will end all wars. Jesus was born in the midst of a war and His birth was a strategic attack. He invaded enemy territory to rescue His people from their captivity. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, "Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in His great campaign of sabotage."

Christmas can be such a sentimental time, with a baby and lights and presents and family. I love the way those beautiful things touch me with joy. I also love the carols that proclaim the birth of the King of Kings. I want to kneel before the manger and worship God Incarnate. But I think it’s good to be reminded that Christmas is about more than a beautiful sentiment or even a miraculous event. The little baby Jesus was born to grow up and die horribly. And that death was God’s victory over the sin that held me captive. Christmas is about God doing whatever it took to rescue me. 

When I look for it, I see this message throughout the Christmas story. It’s in the angel’s message and Zechariah’s prophecy when they call Him the Savior. It’s also in the carols that I love. So I’ll close with a verse from one that proclaims it, Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Risen with healing in His wings,
Light and life to all He brings,
Hail, the Son of Righteousness!
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

God is Generous

One of the most amazing things about Christmas is that, just like the Bible and God Himself, the story is dynamic. There are so many aspects to it that every year I see a different facet of God’s amazing love. This year our pastor has been preaching about the back story, including the birth of John the Baptist. He showed us how God used the meanings of names to make a deeper point. 

What struck me is the name of John. I already knew that it means “God is gracious” but Pastor Tim used a less popular meaning. He said it means “God is generous.” So I looked them up and found these meanings on Gracious means merciful or compassionate. Generous means liberal in giving or sharing. On his website, Arie Uittenbogaard says that “HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament states that this verb 'depicts a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.'”

God’s grace sent His Son Jesus to earth to be born as a baby in response to the world’s need for a savior. And He prepared the way for both Jesus’ birth and later for His ministry through a man named  "God is generous" - John. 

In other words, God’s generosity prepared the way for our salvation.

That puts my gift giving into perspective. As I was wrapping gifts today and putting them under the Christmas tree, I asked Wayne how it looked. He laughed and said it looked commercial. In a way he’s right, since the gifts are bought – not homemade – and I used commercial paper and bows. But, in light of how God prepared for Jesus’ birth, giving gifts is the appropriate way for us to do so too. He was generous and so should we be.

The question I had to ask myself this year, though, was whether I am truly being generous. I love buying gifts for the people closest to me and I probably spent more money than I should have. But am I aware of other opportunities for giving God has given me?  There are a lot if I look for them. We went to a benefit concert for a homeless shelter last week. There was a special offering for missions the week before that. Another program at church is requesting food donations for Christmas baskets for needy families. In fact, I know several needy families that could use an anonymous donation. And then there’s the Salvation Army bucket outside Walmart . . .

Generosity is God’s way of preparing for Christmas. I want to get ready for Christmas by being generous too. I want to give liberally to those in need.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thankful for Sight

I’ve always been a bookworm. I remember the day when I realized I could read my name. I was probably four years old. From then on, I always had a book with me. I kept one under my pillow so I could read the minute I woke up; I carried one everywhere so I could snatch a quick look at recess and lunch; I read instead of doing homework or playing; I read in bed until lights out when I slipped the book back under my pillow.

As an adult, I still love to read, although I’ve learned to balance it with my responsibilities. So when my vision became blurry in the mornings this last year, I worried a little. I could manage a quick peek at Facebook or the weather report, but concentrated reading became hard. I was eventually diagnosed with a genetic disease that required a partial corneal transplant. As scary as that sounds, I looked forward to it so I could read clearly again. It went well, but I also received an intraocular lens because I had cataracts. The end result is that I can see distance very well but can’t see words on a page at all. I’m wearing magnifying glasses as I write this, but it still takes concentration to see the words clearly.

When the disease was diagnosed, I asked my pastor to pray for my healing. Although it wasn’t instantaneous, God answered that prayer. He healed me through one of the foremost specialists in corneal transplants. The disease will not return, my overall vision is better than it was and will continue to get better. 

But when the shield came off my eye and the world was blurry, I wasn’t thankful. I whined.

I wanted to be able to read. I was tired of lying on my back. Putting drops in my eye every two hours was a nuisance. I wanted to be able to read. I wanted to sleep on my side. I hated putting glasses on and taking them off and putting them on and taking them off. I wanted to read.

The real problem wasn’t my eyesight. It was that I let my problem close my spiritual eyes for a little while. When things began to be blurry in the mornings, it was hard to read my Bible, so I put off having my devotions until later in the day when I could see better. Only, I usually didn’t get around to them. So I started going days without spending time with my Lord. Soon all kinds of attitudes became skewed. I started to worry. I stopped praying for people. I ignored promptings from the Holy Spirit. And I whined.

Now, though, I’m thankful again. I’m thankful for all the days that God has called me into His presence and I have answered. I’m thankful that through His Word and His love, my roots have grown deeply into Him and that my life is built on Him. I’m thankful that He has reminded me of His love and has gently opened my eyes to Him again.

And I’m thankful for reading glasses (even though I have to take them on and off) and that I can read the Bible on my computer in a nice BIG font.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Greatest Prophet

No one is greater than John the Baptist. Except everyone in the Kingdom of God.

John was a prophet. He wasn’t weak or easily swayed; he wasn’t rich or dressed in expensive clothes. He was like the Old Testament prophets who stood up to kings and told them the truth about their sin.

Samuel made King David face his adultery and murder and gave him the bad news that his baby was going to die for David’s sin.

Elijah faced a murderous King Ahab and 450 priests of Baal. In front of all the people, He dared openly asked God for a miracle and trusted Him to rain fire from heaven. 

Obadiah hid 100 prophets of the Lord in caves because Queen Jezebel wanted to kill them. They lived in the desert and depended on him to bring them food and water.

John lived in the desert too, while God was preparing him to bring the message about Jesus. He was God’s messenger sent to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. The difference between him and the other prophets is that he was the door opener. All the other prophets were pointing to the door, but he was sent to open it so we could enter. 

That’s why those of us in the Kingdom are greater than John; it’s because we’re inside.

 So what does it mean to be greater than John the Baptist? Because I’m in the Kingdom, I should do more than he did. 

He prepared the way for Jesus. I should follow Him.
He preached a message of repentance. I should repent.
He told people Jesus was coming. I should tell people Jesus has come and spread the good news about what He has done.

I should live with more passion and commitment than John the Baptist did. I should live as if I’ve not only heard the voice of God, but experienced the miracles of God’s love and presence.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Grace in the Fire

God wants His people to fear and obey Him.

To many people that doesn’t sound like the God they know. We’ve all heard the argument that the God of the Old Testament is harsh and judgmental, while the God of the New Testament is loving and gracious.

Here God says that fear and obedience to His commands will result in prosperity and long lives. It sounds like works. They could earn their reward by strictly following the laws God had just given them.

Does that mean grace was something God came up with thousands of years later? Did God change?

No. God’s grace is present in this passage. His grace put His people in a position to fear and obey Him. The Israelites needed an intermediary to tell them God’s commands. When He spoke directly to them from the heart of the fire, they should have died. God’s glory and greatness is more than any human can survive unless God Himself intervenes. They knew if it happened again, they would risk death. So they asked Moses to go stand between them and God.

That was right and necessary.

God’s awesome presence is so powerful, I die when I come into it. His fire consumes me; and only the intervention of His Son gives me life. Jesus is my intermediary. He brings me God’s message from the heart of the fire.

He brings me into a state of grace so that I can fear God and obey His commands. Without Jesus I would just wander in the wilderness of my own self-centered stubbornness and do what seems good to me, without questioning whether it is right or wrong.

Because of Jesus, I can survive the fire of God’s presence. I can fear and obey God and prosper.