In Those Days

The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth as Mary and Joseph travel to the town of Bethlehem for the census. Luke begins his story with “in those days.” Luke then sets those days in a historical context. Caesar Augustus rules over Rome, and Quirinius is the governor of Syria. Luke had already written at the beginning of his gospel that he wanted to give an orderly account of Jesus’s life. For Luke, those days are real-time days. Luke doesn’t begin with “once upon a time,” as we might expect in a fairytale, but Luke is grounding the story of Jesus in the real world. 

However, the story of Jesus’ birth and the rest of his life is not stuck in those days. Instead, the story of Jesus intersects our own lives today. The Bethlehem manger transcends times and speaks to us just as it did to shepherds on a hillside. The good news of Jesus’ birth moves beyond its historical point in history and enters our stories today. As a result, we are more than the audience watching it on a stage, but we participate in the story. Like the shepherds, we are invited to travel to see this thing that has taken place.

The story of Jesus is also a story that transforms us. Ordinary days become extraordinary ones as Jesus remakes our stories into something new. Jesus now defines the days of our lives and the stories we live in. Immanuel, God with us, now shapes our stories, our past, present, and future. Indeed, when God is part of our stories, then our stories take on an entirely new life. Those days now become the days of our Lord.

Because of Jesus, we are now able to proclaim with the Psalmist, This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24) The joy of the Lord now finds a home in our everyday living. It doesn’t mean we will not have bad or tough days; that is simply the reality of living in a broken world. But now, “the joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) The joy of our Lord now guides us through these days with the promise of a future day where life will completely be transformed into an eternity of endless days.

The Christmas story is not trapped in the pages of history, but His story now becomes our story. We live now with meaning and purpose. These days are now part of God’s great plan for all of creation. It is a Gospel story for yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Every day is now the day of our Lord.

Leap for Joy

When’s the last time you got excited about something? So excited that you can barely contain your enthusiasm. We all have those experiences where the excitement of the moment makes us feel as though a volcano of joy is about to erupt from within. It’s more than a good feeling; it is a great feeling. Whatever has occurred, joy is stirring within you.

After Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit, this soon to be mother went to visit another soon to be mother, her cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, were much older than Mary. Elizabeth was beyond childbearing age. Yet, she was pregnant now with another promised child. Her baby boy would grow up to be the forerunner of Jesus. He would be known as John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke tells us that when Mary and Elizabeth met; the sound of Mary’s voice caused Elizabeth’s baby to leap for joy. Like any pregnant woman can tell you, she felt her baby move.

Indeed, joy should be our response to the good news of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. As the old carol reminds us, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” With the arrival of Jesus, God’s heavenly joy is poured out upon the world and into the hearts of all those who receive Him. This joy should stir our lives to praise. Our lives should bear witness to this inner joy that can only come from Jesus. While many things in the world can bring us happiness, Jesus is the only one who can bring us joy.

The joy of the Lord cannot be contained. Instead, joy should radiate from the believer’s life as a light into the darkness of a sometimes joyless world. The psalmist would proclaim, Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:11) The psalmist calls us to shout for joy. But why shout? We shout with joy because the world is deaf to the joy that comes from God alone. Many people live never realizing the deep joy that comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. As a people of faith, like John in the womb of his mother, we must leap for joy. 

Christmas is a natural opportunity to leap out in joy. Christmas brings a message of love and hope that combined create an inner joy that cannot be contained but must be shared with the larger world. The birth of Jesus creates the ultimate joy. So, during the season of the year, let us take a leap in joy with this good news, so that the world around us might experience the joy of the Lord. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” May this message stir within each of us a deeper joy.

Christmas Time

During the Christmas season, it seems that we become more conscious of time. We have to pay attention to time, especially when it comes to not running out of time to do everything to get ready for Christmas day. How much time do we have left to shop? What is the latest time you can have something shipped to arrive by Christmas? When do I need to get my Christmas cards into the mail to arrive on time? What time are the different religious services at church and the like? It’s Christmas time.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes, But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Galatians 4: 4-5) According to Paul, God sent His Son into the world to save us at the right time. God decided that there was a specific time in which He would act. We might call it the most decisive moment in all of history. In the birth of Jesus, God entered human time as one of us, altering time forever. 

From the moment that Mary birthed this holy baby in Bethlehem, our world has never been the same. We now see time in a new way. Time is now understood in light of the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us what time it truly is. As Paul suggests, we have been redeemed in Jesus from our sinfulness and born anew into the family of God. As God’s children, our time is now marked by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This fullness of time tells us who we are at the present time.

Jesus also brings us into a timeless eternity. The time now has no end for those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. We can now live with the assurance that we will be with God for all time. The fullness of time in the Bethlehem manger has spilled over into eternity and brought us with it. We now understand the present time in light of eternity. Christmas time makes a difference for all time. The good news of Jesus’ birth is where time took on new meaning, new purpose, and new hope. Christmas time is now our time, for we are now children of the eternal living God. 

Photo by Any Lane on Pexels.com

Great Expectations

Sometimes we enter into an experience with great expectations. We may be on our way to a new vacation spot, and our expectations are high for what it will be like. We can have great expectations about books and movies, events and activities, and even people. Leading up to the experience, we are hopeful that it will live up to our expectations.

We also know what it is like to be disappointed—disappointed because something or someone did not live up to our expectations. We had expected a lot, but we were let down when all was said and done. Unfortunately, life is filled with disappointments. Our hopes and dreams do not often work out the way that we wanted. We find ourselves saddened by expectations that did not live up to all we had hoped for.

The people of Israel in the Bible had great expectations of a King who would rule them and restore them to greatness. Yet, time and time again, Israel’s kings fell short. While some may have shown promise, no king ever met their expectations. They lived in ongoing disappointment. They had grown tired and weary in having their expectations crumble again and again. When would there be a true King?

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Israel’s King and our world’s Savior. In Jesus, we discover the realization of everything that God had promised; a king of righteousness and justice, mercy and love, strength, and might. Jesus fulfilled every expectation. In the classic Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, we sing, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Jesus comes to us as the one true King and one who does not disappoint. In reality, Jesus exceeds our expectations. In Jesus, God gave us His best because He gave us himself. 

As we celebrate the Christmas season, there will always be disappointments along the way. Not everything this season will be the way we had hoped. But by the time we come to Bethlehem’s manger, we receive the good news: “the hope and fears of all the years are met in Jesus.” Jesus will never disappoint.  

Christmas Sleep

Most people at one time or another know what it is like to toss and turn in bed at night and unable to sleep. For whatever reason, you cannot get comfortable and relax. Often this sleeplessness occurs because something is weighing heavy on our minds. While our body tries to enter sleep, the mind will not give up its frantic thinking, worrying, or anxiety. We may take a sleep aid, count sheep, read a little, or watch television trying to make ourselves sleepy. It’s not that we are not tired, because we are. We just can’t fall to sleep.

In the classic Christmas carol, Silent Night, we sing the refrain in verse 1: “Sleep in heavenly peace.” But what does this mean? What is heavenly peace? As a people of faith, heavenly peace is found when we trust God with the stresses of our lives. In faith, we let go of all that causes us anxiety, which leads to sleeplessness, and give our problems to God. This is not always easy as we tend to want to manage life on our own. We often try to figure out everything on our own. Yet, this leads to frustration and fears, which can keep us awake at night. 

Heavenly peace is about allowing heaven to enter our hearts. It is a heaven where God is on His throne and in control of everything, even that which will not let us sleep. When we make room for a heavenly perspective in our lives, then we can experience God’s peace. It is a peace that passes all understanding and allows us to face the difficulties in our lives with a calm assurance that God is in control and that we can trust in God’s care. With this heavenly peace, we can sleep.

Jesus once said,Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) God wants us to rest in Him and trust Him with our lives. Regardless of how stressful life can sometimes be, in Jesus, we can share in God’s peace, an anchor in the storms of life that reassures us that God is always with us. When we live with an awareness of God’s presence, we can live in God’s peace, both day and night. And even when our eyes close, we can sleep knowing that God is still awake, watching and working on the very things that sometimes keep us awake. Sleep in heavenly peace. What a promise! What a gift!

Wrapped in Love

It happens more often than I would like. I cut wrapping paper for a Christmas gift, but I didn’t cut enough when I go to wrap the gift. The paper will not fully cover the gift. The gifts are bigger than the amount of paper. So, I either have to patchwork the wrap or cut another piece of paper to use. Knowing the size of the gift and measuring the right amount of paper is an important skill when it comes to wrapping gifts.

In 1 Peter 4:8, we read, “love covers a multitude of sins.” There is no doubt that the sins in our lives can be many. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t fall into sin in one form or another. Our thoughts, our words, and our actions can often be labeled as sinful. Sin is choosing other than God’s way to live our lives. We are all guilty of falling short of God’s intention for our lives. Saint Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan, a theologian, and one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. Ambrose once wrote, “Many a sin has sullied me in body and in soul because I did not restrain my thoughts nor guard my lips: nevertheless, it is to Thee, O God of majesty and love, that I turn in my extremity, for Thou art the fount of mercy; to Thee, as quickly as I may, I speed: for Thou alone canst heal me; I take refuge under Thy protection.”

The good news of God’s love is that it covers a multitude of sins. Regardless of how great or large our sin may seem; God’s love will always be greater. We have received, as the Apostle Paul would suggest, “grace upon grace.” (John 1:16) God can wrap our sin in His love. And when sin is wrapped in God’s love, then it is completely forgiven. Not in part, but entirely. 

God demonstrates His love for us most clearly in the cross of Jesus. On the cross, Jesus took our sin upon himself and bore our iniquity. The cross of Jesus is sufficient to forgive us of all our sins. God doesn’t need to come back and rewrap our sin because our Lord’s blood covers a multitude of sins. (James 5:20) God’s love in Jesus Christ is enough.

Hence, we do not have to live our lives burdened by sin and guilt because it has all been forgiven. We only need to receive this most remarkable gift. We don’t have to get our lives all put together to receive God’s love, but God loves us even in our sin. Yet, God’s love will not leave us in our sin, but God’s love will heal us and make us whole. God is an expert wrapper because God is love.

Gift Receipt

Most times, when you purchase an item at a store for someone at Christmas, the salesperson will ask if you would like a gift receipt. A gift receipt is a purchase record that you can give to the person to know where they can return or exchange the present if they need to. It is a good idea since the gift may not be what you need or want, the right size if a clothing item, or you already have the same item. The gift receipt allows you to make your return. It is a good thing. Gift giving can be a difficult task. 

Some people are excellent gift-givers. That is, they know how to shop for a person. They find or create gifts that match the person’s personality. When you open their gifts, you know immediately that they have put much thought and time into selecting your gift. On the other hand, some people don’t like shopping for others or gift-giving. They want to get the entire experience over as quickly as possible. These may be your late shoppers who have to settle with what they can find. Most people are somewhere between the two.

In the Gospel of Matthew, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks about God as the perfect gift giver. Jesus is teaching about prayer and how God invites us to ask of God. In Matthew 7: 7-11, we read: 

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children good gifts, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Jesus teaches that God gives his children good things. Even if evil people can give good gifts to their children, how much more so will God, who is infinitely good, do so much greater. God knows exactly what we need, and out of his great love lavishes His goodness all over us. God gives out hos His abundance, blessings upon blessings. When it comes to the gifts of God, no receipts are required.

Tangled Up

I’m not sure what happens between one Christmas and the next, but it always seems that my Christmas lights are tangled up into knots when I unpack them. I’ve never seen a gremlin jump out of the storage boxes, so I have to assume that it is my fault. Most likely, at the end of the previous Christmas season, I was so eager to get everything packed up that I didn’t take the time to pack the lights up in an organized way. So, each year I open the storage boxes to find a tangled mess.

Sin has a way of creating a tangled mess in our lives. Our sins are simply those things that we think, say, or do that are not pleasing to God. A day doesn’t go by that we do not sin. Since the beginning of time, humanity has been creating a mess with our sinfulness. Not only are our individual lives tangled up in our sin, so too is the world itself. We only have to read the daily news headlines to realize how much sin has impacted all of creation. We are all tangled up in knots with our sin. In Romans 3:23, we read, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

To not live in such a tangled up mess, we must daily repent of our sinfulness and seek God’s forgiveness. When we daily confess and repent of our sins, we can keep our lives from becoming a tangled mess. When we fail to seek forgiveness, sin over time and unchecked creates quite a knot of sin, shame, and guilt. Before we know it, we are knotted up in our sin, hardened in our hearts, and lifeless in our spirits. This is why the writer of Hebrews would remind us: “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. (Hebrews 12:1) 

The good news is that God offers us his grace so that we can throw off our sinfulness. God’s grace enables us to experience forgiveness for our sin, even when we are knotted up and entangled with it. By simply asking, God can take our most sinful entangled lives and untangled them into something new. We do not have to live our lives entangled up in our sin. God’s grace sets us free, unravels our sin, and allows us to truly shine. So never let us think that our sin-knotted lives are too much for God to unravel.  God’s grace will always be greater than our sin.

Empty Spaces

Once the Christmas tree is up and decorated at our house, we then check for empty spaces. When we stand back and look at the tree, are there noticeable places that need to have an ornament? We then go back and fill these empty places with ornaments so that the tree looks full. Not until all the open spaces are filled are we satisfied with this year’s tree.

At times in our lives, there are empty spaces. That is, we go through those experiences in which we feel as though something is missing. For whatever reason, something has led us to examine our lives, and when we do, we realize something is missing. While life, in general, may still be good, we are still not content with our lives. Life seems incomplete.

Now we sometimes will try many things to fill these empty places. We may try to fill our emptiness with material things, people, pleasures, experiences, and the like, but things still do not feel right. While these things may give us momentary satisfaction, they soon wear off, and we find ourselves with the same empty feelings. Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch impressionist painter, once said, “I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me; now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in my head.

In the book of Psalms, we read an account of how God delivered his people from a time of emptiness and fill them anew with His goodness. In Psalm 107: 4-9, we read, 

Some wandered in desert wastes,
   finding no way to an inhabited town; 
hungry and thirsty,
   their soul fainted within them. 
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
   and he delivered them from their distress; 
he led them by a straight way,
   until they reached an inhabited town. 
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
   for his wonderful works to humankind. 
For he satisfies the thirsty,
   and the hungry he fills with good things. 

The Psalmist writes that God satisfies the thirsty and hungry and He fills us with good things. That is, God knows our empty spaces, and God is the only one who can truly fill them. Jesus would speak the same truth when he says, “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) Jesus is God’s answer to the empty places in our lives. And when Jesus fills these empty places, then we discover the sense of peace, purpose, and contentment that we all desire. We can spend a lot of time trying to fill our emptiness with something other than Jesus. Jesus, however, is the only thing that makes us whole. 

Rearranging the Furniture

For most people, when they put up their Christmas tree for the holiday season, they have to decide how to rearrange the furniture in the room where the tree will be located. With the addition of a tree, then something usually has to change. There is not enough room. A Christmas tree can take up considerable space. At least once a year, you have to rearrange the furniture.

The season of Advent, the days leading up to Christmas day, is a time of preparation. With the birth of our Lord on the horizon, we have to make ourselves ready for his arrival. In the 40th chapter of the book of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah call the people to prepare for the arrival of their God. Isaiah proclaimed:

A voice cries out:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain. 
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. 

Isaiah’s words call for a time of preparation. In dramatic language, Isaiah speaks about valleys being lifted up, mountains being made low, the uneven ground becoming level, and rough places a plain. With the arrival of God, the very landscape of the land will be changed and transformed. The greatness of God must be made ready to receive.

As we countdown the days till Christmas, we are given an opportunity to consider the arrangement of our lives, our values, and our priorities. With the birth of Jesus, we realize that our lives cannot remain the same. Jesus’ entrance into our lives causes us to reexamine the landscape of our lives, rid ourselves of those things that get in the way of his coming, and change those parts of our lives that might not honor him. This is the biblical language of repentance. Repentance means to turn around or turn back. Just as we prepare our homes for Christmas, we must prepare our hearts for Christmas by repenting and turning back to God. We must rearrange the furniture of our lives to make room for the Bethlehem babe.

Yet, unlike our Christmas tree, which will eventually be taken down and the room restored to its prior state, in Jesus, we change not for a season but for a lifetime. The birth of Jesus at Christmas is more than a season; but it represents an entirely new way of living. Jesus must now take the most prominent place in our hearts and lives every day. Let us get ready and do what we need to do, to welcome him into our world and our lives.

Photo by Any Lane on Pexels.com

The Best Deals

Each year on Good Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the Christmas shopping season officially begins. Stores across the nation open early and entice shoppers by offering incredible deals on their merchandise. It is not uncommon to see shoppers lined up outside early to be first in the stores as there is often a limited supply. If you want the best deal, you must get there early and even be willing to push and shove a little to get your perfect gift. If you wait around, then you might miss out. 

In his letter to Rome’s church, the apostle Paul did not want his readers to miss out on the best gift. This gift would not be found on a shelf on an aisle but could be attained by only receiving it from the one who gave it. In Jesus, God offered to the entire world the free gift of salvation. With human sin running rampant in the world, Jesus came to offer humanity a change of direction. The path of sin leading to death could be reversed. Death no longer had to be a done deal, but now life was being offered as a gift of God’s grace. In Romans 5: 15-17, we read:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one mans trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one mans sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one mans trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

For Paul, there is not a limited supply of God’s grace. Instead, God’s grace is sufficient to forgive us of all our sins. In Jesus, we no longer stand under condemnation but are now justified, made right before God. Through an abundance of grace, the free gift of Jesus Christ brings life to all. In Jesus, we are no longer defined by sin and death but by grace and life. This truth changes everything and offers hope to all humankind.

Yet, like any gift, it must be received. God will not force His gift upon us. Instead, God offers it to us out of God’s great love. God then leaves it up to us that we will do next. It is God’s best deal because it comes from the heart of God. This is good news for all of us, and the offer is available every day, not just on Black Friday.

Every Time I Remember

Our lives are full of memories. Early in life, we begin collecting our memories. Our memories are a mixture of both the good and bad experiences of life. Some memories we cherish like rare gifts, while other memories we wish we could erase. As someone once said, Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.  Yet, regardless of the source of our memories, they become a part of our stories.  

While we have many unforgettable memories about places and things, perhaps our most significant memories are of the people in our lives who have made life special. Our lives are not lived in isolation, but our lives daily intersect the lives of others. Some of these intersections only last for a moment, where others not only cross but join together. As we consider our family and friends, we realize how blessed we are by the people in our lives.

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, he affectionally begins, I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3) As Paul thought about the Christians at Philippi, he could not help but to stop and give thanks for their special place in his life. Although he could not be present with them, his heart was filled with the memories of times already shared. Memories that caused him to long for future meetings.

We also carry a wonderful treasury of memories of those individuals who are no longer with us. Death removes the physical presence of those whom we love, but death cannot erase the memories of the one lost. These memories are the gifts of our beloved friends and family that remain with us. Such memories can be a source of great comfort, encouragement, and hopefully, joy. Thus, whenever one of these memories rises to the surface of our hearts, we can confess like Paul, “I thank God every time I remember you.” 

So, let us each remember well the gifts of family and friends that make our lives special, both those living and those now living in eternity. Each day we should spend some time giving thanks for the people in our lives. These memories are unique gifts. Cherish and honor them, and in doing so, we keep them forever in our hearts and lives.

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Word Choices

We said it. Now we wish we could take it back. Perhaps we didn’t think before we spoke. Maybe we spoke out of a moment of emotion like anger. Sometimes we knowingly choose our words realizing the impact they will have on those who hear them. Indeed, words have a way of wounding. We know what it is like to be wounded by words and what it means to injure others with our own words.

In the letter of James in the New Testament, the author writes about the dangers of the human tongue. Tongues which form the words we use. In James 3: 5-6, we read, the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. James encouraged these early Christians to watch their tongues. Even as followers of Jesus, James knew the power of words to heal and wound. In many ways, James cried out the warning of “fire” when it came to our words.

As followers of Jesus, our goal is to have our words guided by the Holy Spirit. When we live under the Holy Spirit’s influence, then our choice of words will be one that not only builds others up but also brings glory to God. Every word we speak is a testimony to our relationship with God. Jesus reminds us, For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34) The sure way to know about a person’s heart is by the words they choose. Hearts filled in God’s Spirit will not talk bad about others, call people derogatory names, spread gossip, utter hate, or seek to tear others down. These word choices never glorify God.

So, wherever we find ourselves in conversation, may we choose words that honor God and build others up. May we choose words that are crafted in love, grace, and kindness. These are the words that matter and the words that make a difference in the lives of others. 

You’ll Ruin Your Dinner

Many a mother and father have told their children to stop snacking so close to dinner time because they will ruin their dinner. Now the dinner itself will be fine. However, the child’s appetite will be satisfied with snack food rather than a full and more complete dinner meal. When it comes time to eat, they will not be hungry. At the same time, they will miss out on a good dinner made with love.

In some ways, God is like a mother or a father preparing a meal for their children. God desires to fill our lives with the richness of his love and grace, which will bring purpose to our living. God seeks to offer every person a relationship with God to satisfy our deepest desire in life; a life with purpose. The problem is that we attempt to find that meaning and purpose by snacking on the poor substitutes that the world offers.  

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God invites the people of Israel to come to him for life. In Isaiah 55: 1-3, we read,

Listen, everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price. 
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
   and your labour for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
   and delight yourselves in rich food. 
Incline your ear, and come to me;
   listen, so that you may live.

God was offering a divine invitation to feast on life. At the same time, God challenged the people not to ruin their dinner by seeking meaning and purpose in life from that which ultimately cannot provide it. God knows that we will try to find fulfillment in life from other people, wealth, power, pleasure, popularity, and work. It is not that these things are not essential or cannot bring happiness, but when they become the sole source of our nourishment, we will never be fully satisfied.

Instead, God invites us to feast on the meal which he provides. In Jesus, God offers us the true bread of life. Jesus would say in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” In Jesus, we are invited to God’s great banquet, where we partake of the richness of God’s love, mercy, and grace. It is the only meal that can satisfy our hunger and bring meaning and purpose to our lives. We don’t have to settle for the world’s junk food or go through life snacking in attempting to find the purpose for our living. No, in Jesus, we receive the full course of God’s best supper, where we will never leave the table hungry.

May I Put You on Hold?

We’ve all made those phone calls to businesses when the person answering the phone asks, “may I put you on hold?” It usually means that they will be doing something that requires them to ask you to wait. With the click of a button on their end, you are on hold. Sometimes there is silence while you wait. Some hold calls will play music while you wait. Other hold services will remind you every minute or so how important you are to them and thank you for waiting. Unfortunately, there are also those times when the phone disconnects or the person never returns. As a caller, we might even hang up because we are tired of waiting. No one likes to being placed on hold.

Often in our praying to God, it may feel as though God has placed us on hold. We have offered a prayer to God about something important in our lives. Usually, it comes in the form of a request; we ask for something on our behalf or another person. Indeed, part of praying is asking. God invites us to ask in our prayers. Nor does God tire of our asking. Our asking reveals that we are dependent upon God. If we didn’t need God, then we wouldn’t ask. 

Yet, anyone who has offered a request to God in prayer can testify that seldom do you receive an immediate response. There are times in which God responds in an instance. We call these responses miracles. But most prayers are offered to God, and then we wait. We wait for God’s response. However, sometimes praying requires a lot of waiting. Some people wait lifetimes for a prayer to be answered. There are no quick schemes to get an answer out of God. We have to wait. The psalmist would confess, But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. (Psalm 38: 15)  

The difference between God and the phone calls we sometimes make is that God does not put us on hold. That is, while we wait, God is not absent. Instead, God is present with us in our waiting. We are not left to wait for God’s response all alone, but God’s presence is with us while we wait. In our longing prayers, God remains with us in the moments of uncertainty, worry, and fear that often occur waiting. God often uses the time of waiting to change us and prepare us for the answer God will give. We can trust that God will not leave us on hold. God’s silence does not mean God is not there. Instead, God is holding us while we wait.  As God would say through the prophet Isaiah, “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13)  Waiting is hard, but trusting that God is holding us makes all the difference.

See You Later

See you later. This is the way that we end many of our conversations with other people. It implies that even though we are separating at present, there will be a time to greet one another again. While we are departing from each other’s presence, we firmly believe that we will be together again at some point. Most of us don’t think that this will be the last time we will be together. We just assume that we will see each other later.

But then death steps into the picture. Someone we love and live in a relationship with dies. It may be an expected death after an illness or it can be an unexpected passing. Regardless the person is no longer with us. The life that we knew has left the only world we know. With their departure, it feels as though we have said our final goodbye. Death indeed, feels so final. We long to see and be with the person again.

As people of faith, the phrase “see you later” is indeed a statement of faith. As Christians, we believe that we, too, shall live again because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus told a grieving sister in the Gospel of John, “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” (John 11:25) In Jesus Christ, there are no final goodbyes. We are promised resurrection and life. In Jesus, a heavenly home awaits all those who die in faith. A home where we gather eternally with God and all the saints that have gone before us. Although death happens to all of us, we truly believe that we will see each other later.

Now, this truth does not take away the pain and grief that death brings to our lives when someone we love departs this world. Grief and sorrow are heavy burdens to bear whether you are a person of faith or not. Grief creates an emptiness within us that longs to be filled by the presence of the one who has died. Yet, our faith does give us hope and strength to face our loss with the hopeful assurance that we will be with them again later. The apostle Paul addressed this issue when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.” (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-14) Even in death, we will be together again with those whom we say goodbye to in this world at death. We shall dwell together for all eternity with our Lord and those whom he loves. “See you later” is a statement of hope. and promise for all who live in Christ Jesus. Not even death will be a final goodbye.

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

A Dangerous Prayer

It is one of the most familiar prayers for Christians, the Lord’s Prayer. Found in both the gospels of Matthew and Luke, it has become the standard prayer for Christians. And why not? It came from Jesus. Jesus told us to pray this way. It would only make sense that we heed his call and pray his words. Like many things that we often do, it can become very routine without much thought to what we are actually saying. We can pray for each part and not really consider what we are praying for.

As part of the prayer, we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) When we stop to think about this, is this really what we want for our lives and for our world? Are we sure what we want the world to run the way of God’s will? Do we really want it to be like heaven here and now? In many ways, this is a dangerous prayer for all who find themselves comfortable in the world.

If God’s kingdom was to fully come to earth and if God’s will was fully carried out, then our lives would be drastically disturbed. God’s Kingdom would make us have to reevaluate how we live our lives. Success would no be seen in the greatest wealth, the biggest house, the largest bank account, or the nicest things, but in those who give everything away to serve others. No longer would we strive to be first in everything, but we would desire to be last. Justice, fairness, and equality would not be an aspiration but a reality. Grace would permeate every relationship leading to forgiveness and reconciliation. We would put away our weapons of war and replace them with instruments of peace. Do we really want the earth to be like heaven?

Jesus came announcing the Kingdom of God. It was a message of hope for many who had been left behind and forgotten by the world. The one’s on the outside would finally have a seat a the table or on the front row. The problem was that those and the table and on the front row did not like what it meant for them. Others would be lifted up, and they would be brought low. This Kingdom was too much for them, so they did what most do when they are threatened by such a change, they killed the messenger. They nailed this radical new king and kingdom to a cross. They liked earth just the way it was.

As the old idiom suggests, “be careful what you ask for.” Praying for God’s Kingdom to come on earth might just disrupt our lives. We might have to give up that which we cling to so tightly now. Heaven on earth might, in fact, turn our lives upside down. The way of Jesus is not the way of the world. Jesus lived against the grain, and if God’s Kingdom is realized on earth, then we could expect things to be very different.

We can become quite comfortable in our world, especially for Christians living in America. We often associate the American Dream with the Kingdom of God as though they are one and the same. The radical nature of the Lord’s Prayer, however, causes us to rethink this. God’s dream for the world is a radically different way of being and relating. The greatest in the Kingdom are not those on the top but those who in humility serve their neighbor. The Kingdom challenges our beliefs of what really matters. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” can turn everything upside down.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done

Contagious

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been asked to do many things to help slow the spread of this very contagious virus. The two most important things suggested are that we wear a mask and practice social distancing. Indeed, these two practices have changed our society as well as our interactions with one another. The challenge has been trying to keep the virus from spreading.

In the beginning, the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was only known by a handful of people. The event did not occur with any news coverage, social media posts, or street reporting. The story of Jesus had only affected a few people, namely Jesus’ disciples. And even the disciples were unsure of what had happened. Outside of their small group, Jesus was not a well-known figure.

However, it did not take long for the news to get out. Overwhelmed with joy and good news, Jesus’ disciples began to tell the story of Jesus. The good news story of Jesus began to spread. People were hearing what God had done in Jesus and were drawn into a relationship with him. One by one, the Gospel message began to spread. And as it spread, this good news began to change people’s lives.

The apostle Paul is often credited as the individual who took the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles, everyone who was not a Jew. Paul, the once persecutor of Christians, now had a mission to spread the Gospel to all places and all people. Paul traveled extensively, telling others about Jesus and starting new churches. The story of Jesus was contagious, and more and more individuals accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

As recipients of the good news, Paul encouraged the new believers to continue it spread. In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul writes,“Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1) Paul desired that every person be exposed to the Gospel so that every person has the opportunity to become infected with the story of God’s love. This spread would occur when Jesus’ followers began to live out the Gospel in their lives.

Although we are 2000 years past the time of Jesus, we too are called to further the spread of the Gospel. Through our words and deeds, we must live lives that demonstrate our Gospel exposure, how it has changed us, and how it can bring life to all people. We can never be content to contain the good news of Jesus within the confines of our lives. Instead, we must continue to further the spread until it infects all people with God’s grace and love. An infection that leads not to death but life, both abundant life, and eternal life.

Collectively as the church, we must be a super spreader. Through our words and actions, we bear witness to the Gospel. We share the old, old story of Jesus and his love and embody that love in our actions. It is love that is highly contagious. We help continue its spread by living infectious lives that have the possibility of passing on God’s love to those around us. God’s love is contagious.  We now must further its spread.

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

In Good Hands

Waiting on God can be difficult, especially when you are unsure what God is up to in our lives. God can be hard to figure out. The scriptures teach us that God’s ways are not our ways. The mind of God is beyond our grasp and understanding. Hence, at times, our relationship with God can leave us scratching our heads. 

In the Gospels, Jesus often left his disciples scratching their heads. Whether it was something Jesus said or something he did, the disciples could not usually make sense of what Jesus was doing. According to John’s Gospel, on the night before his death, Jesus took a towel and basin and washed the disciples’ feet. This behavior was shocking to them. Washing a person’s feet was the responsibility of a servant or a slave. It was not something that you would expect from a rabbi. It was not that which they could see Jesus doing. But here he was kneeling at their feet.

When he came to Peter, Peter questioned Jesus’ actions. It didn’t make sense to Peter that Jesus would wash his feet. Jesus responds to Peter, saying, You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:37) Peter would not understand what Jesus was doing, not then, at least. It would be much later before Peter would understand what Jesus had done. 

We don’t always know what God is doing in our lives. However, even in our lack of understanding, we can trust that God is working on our behalf. Even when life doesn’t make sense, God is still in control bringing his will to fruition. Our lives are not spinning wildly around as if there is no purpose for our living. While life can be chaotic, and we can question God’s action, we can still place our faith in God. Like Peter, what God is doing now might not make sense in the present, later we will all understand. The apostle Paul would echo this truth in his letter to the Corinthians where he writes, For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) God is faithful to his people. God kneels at the feet of each of our lives and says, “trust me.” We are in good hands.

Clothed in Grace

Every day one of the first questions that most people must answer is what am I going to wear today? A lot will depend on the season of the year, the weather, and what you will be doing during the day. Some people will give much thought and consideration into what they will choose to wear. Others will throw on anything to get themselves dressed. 

According to the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve did not have to make that decision in the very beginning. According to Genesis 2: 25, And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Sin had not yet entered the picture. Their nakedness symbolized their purity. There was no need for coverings. Yet, as the story unfolds, the first couple disobeys God, sin enters the picture, and immediately they realize their nakedness. Ashamed of what they had done, they now cover themselves with leaves to hide their nakedness.  

Hiding in the bushes, God confronts Adam and Eve. God questions them and asks if they have disobeyed him. After confessing their sin, God issues a judgment. The first couple will no longer be able to remain in their garden home. With this divine eviction in place, the writer of Genesis tells us, “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) Even though they would suffer sin’s consequences, God would not put them out in the cold.  Instead, God replaces their leafy wardrobe with garments of skin. Without his help, they would not survive in a sin broken world. God would clothe them in grace.

We are a long way from Eden, but we, too, have been clothed by God’s grace. Rather than leaving us alone in a world of sin, God offered his presence to remain with us, even in our sin. Yes, we have disobeyed God, but God refused to give up on us. Just as God’s presence would cover the sinful couple, God’s presence covers us even in our sin.

However, God still knew we needed more.  While clothed in his presence, we still suffer from our sinfulness.  As a result, God sent his only son into the world to wear and bear our sin upon the cross.  In Jesus’ death and resurrection on Calvary, God brought a new day out of Eden’s tragedy.  No longer would we be defined by our sin, but in Jesus, we are defined by God’s grace.  Paul, in his letter to the Galatia, would state it this way, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”(Galatians 3: 27).  And then to the Ephesians, Paul would write,“For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

What we experience in Jesus is the ultimate wardrobe change.  The old self, stained and broken by sin, is clothed anew in Jesus.  Jesus returns us to the way God intended it from the beginning.  Jesus is our new beginning.  We no longer need to carry the weight of our sin and shame, but we are now clothed in God’s grace.  In Jesus, God completes the wardrobe He started with Adam and Eve.  We now wear the finished product.