Thursday, December 19, 2019

Advent 13

Psalm 77
Ezekiel 34:11-16

     Just as David longs for a sense of God's presence, so too do we.  Oftentimes we fail to realize His presence in our midst.  We walk along the street oblivious to what is happening around us until we run smack dab into a friend who has been waving and calling our name as we approached.  We apologize by saying we were lost in thought or some other excuse.

     God is like that, calling our name, waving hands and arms to attract our attention, even as we focus on praying, and doing the right thing, lost in worry that He is not present, perhaps that He doesn't hear us.  He may be warning us to some danger, or bidding us to turn aside, yet we go on with our prayers and our work wondering why he doesn't act on our behalf.  Instead of stopping and listening and looking, we carry on with the same repetitious activity.  It may not be until we stumble and fall into His arms in some tragedy of our own making that we recognize Him.  It may not be until a quirk of circumstance, which could easily have been avoided, befalls us, that we realize how far we have gone astray.  And even then we may not recognize it is His own arms into which we have fallen.

     Ezekiel talks of a day when we will be shepherded on the mountain heights of Israel, when He has gathered in His own people, to be their shepherd.  The birth of Christ is a sign of God's gracious goodness, an indication of the depth of His love, and attempt to get our attention.  The Day is coming when we shall be gathered from the countries to which we have been scattered.  We will be fed on good pasture.  We shall lie down in good grazing land.  He will bind up those of us who are injured and He will strengthen the weak.

     We are reminded yet again that the world's idea of justice is not that of the Lord.  That the day is coming when justice, true justice, shall rain down.

     So if we find ourselves wandering this Advent/Christmas season, looking for Jesus, wondering what all these lights and decorations, all the busyness and financial expenditures have to do with the true heart of Christmas, we need to stop!  We need to be still and rest in the confidence that even now He is near, whether or not we recognize Him, AND that the Day is coming when we shall be drawn into His presence and His care in an even more concrete way.

Psalm 46 reminds us:

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    He lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations He has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”
 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Advent 12

Psalm 77
Isaiah 40:1-11; 28-31

     As David's psalm denotes a shift from the despair of a soul which "refuses to be comforted" to a consideration of "the days of old" and a spirit which would make a "deliberate search," so too must we shift our attention from any problem at hand to the  One who has delivered us in the past and who alone is able to deliver us from any current circumstance.

     In a similar vein of thought, Isaiah is directed to speak a word of hope, a promise of deliverance:
  • in the wilderness;
  • in the desert;
  • in the valley;
  • through the mountains;
  • on uneven ground; and
  • in the rough places.
A highway - a broad and smooth, a fast moving, even pathway is to be made for our God.  We are to prepare...    

     Isaiah makes it clear that even though we are but grass or the flowers of the field which, as the breath of the Lord blows on us, will wither and fade, the Word, the very Breath of God, will endure forever. The Lord is the everlasting God who neither faints nor grows weary. And -

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
     In this season of Advent, of beginnings, of preparation to celebrate His birth and His coming again, let us hold fast to His promises.  In the words of Psalm 32:24 -

Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait on the Lord!


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Advent 11

Psalm 77
Matthew 1:18-25

     Christmas can be a depressing time for some.  Reflections on those who have passed, relationships lost or broken, friends and family absent from the festivities for any number of reasons, regrets, even misunderstandings as to what our Christmas "celebrations" should entail can create anxiety and depression. 

     In this morning's psalm, David cries out to the Lord, confident that he will hear. He recalls happier days, when he remembers the Lord's favor being upon him. And he asks "Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?"

     Even Joseph seems to lament his situation with Mary.  They are engaged and she is pregnant.  They had not been intimate and he decides to break off the engagement...until the Lord intervenes.

     A wealthy, heroic man names Charles de Foucauld, Viscount of Foucauld, born in 1858, descended from nobility, a calvary officer by training, eventually rejected his faith and lived a life of debauchery, made possible by an inheritance from his grandfather who had raised him.  An exceptionally bright young man, he took to exploration and writing, becoming one of the great culture explorers of northern Africa. Although he was well-respected by the scientific community, his life was empty and at the age 28 he returned to Paris to live with his family.  On January 15 1890, he took a decisive step of faith and joined  the Trappists, eventually becoming one of the great, but perhaps lesser known Hermits. 

     In "Meditations of a Hermit" de Foucauld writes:

Let us thank God a thousand times if in the sadness which invades us it seems as we are rejected by the world.  The depression and suffering, the bitterness with which we seem sometimes to be soaked, were the lot of Our Lord on earth.  Are we not fortunate to share them?  We should pity the happy people. Pity those whose happiness, even though it be quite legitimate and innocent, keeps them attached to the world. God is good that he has so despoiled us of everything, that we can draw breath only by turning our heads towards him.  How great is his mercy, how divine his goodness, for he has torn everything from us in order that we may be more completely his.  So the sufferers are the happy ones though the goodness of God.  In suffering I give thanks.  May these days of Christmas festival bring you, in your suffering, I do not say consolation, but the blessing God intends for you.  The Child Jesus will perhaps not give you any sweetness, - reserves that for the weak ones, - but his hands will none the less be spread to bless you in these days of Christmastide, and whether you feel it or no, he will pour abundant grace into your soul.

    This  Christ child whose birth we celebrate would make the following statement which flow down through the years reminded us again of the value of true faith:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

     If in this season of Advent and Christmastide you find yourself feeling low, depressed, forsaken, neglected, and or forgotten, challenge yourself to remember the words of the saints who have gone before us, even those in Holy Scripture.  We are blessed.  The greatest gift ever was given to us and will be fufilled when He comes again in the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Advent 10: What's in a name?

Psalm 77
Isaiah 7:10-17
Ukashov's "Emanuel" 
   The sign of Immanuel (God with us) is given to King Ahaz. As the kings of Israel and Syria are conspiring to attack Judah, Isaiah ("God is salvation") and his son, Shear-jashub ("a remnant shall return") are called to go to King Ahaz in Jerusalem (Is. 7:3).

     A country is divided and has been for some time - Israel and Judah, one faithful (Judah) and one apostate (Israel).  Israel has aligned itself against the remnant of God's people and the man named God is salvatioin is sent with his son named "a remnant shall return" to ensure that the next sign of God's favor "God with us" is received. Ahaz has refused to seek a sign from God, but in comes in spite of his refusal.  "Emmanuel" - God's promise of hope, of assurance, of steadfast presence with His people, in spite of the circumstances.

     Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Israel, Syria...each in their own time and way serve to threaten God's remnant people...a constant source of conflict for God's children, those who hold out faithfulness, who stand firm...And Judah, a part of what was once a great and united kingdom, will eventually be taken into captivity.

     This prophecy, which to our great disservice, we seem to only lift up at Christmas, is timeless.  It is once and forever true, the definitive sign of God's presence with us.  Though the enemies of God may have their way, for a time and a season, God is always with His people. He will never be without a remnant.

     In this, and any trying time, as the enemies of God conspire, approach, attack, and even seem victorious, we need to remember and to reflect on this prophecy, so that we might have the confidence of God's promise of Immanuel.  That is the eternal gift of Christmas, not a season, not a day, but an eternal gift of hope.  God IS with us. Amen!


Sunday, December 15, 2019

Advent 9

2 Timothy 4:1-5

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. 
Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them 
a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

     When we have access to the very Word of God, definitive, decisive, clear, and consistent, why is it that  our ears itch for something else, our eyes look to other gods, our hearts long for self affirmation?

     What better affirmation is there than that God Himself loved us so much that He died for us?  And yet the truth is, that with technological advancement, economic prosperity, and religious freedom we have become lazy, complacent, entitled individuals.  We "have traded the truth of God for a lie, and and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator."  We love the world we have created for ourselves.  It easy to navigate and asks little in the way of adjustment.It gives us what we want.

     The illustration I like to use is a reflection on what often takes place on Christmas morning.  There is a rush to the Christmas tree, cluttered with gifts.  Emotions run high and expectations even higher.  The packages are opened and expressions of gratitude are exchanged, but deep within, there is sometimes a great love for the gift that seem to surmount the love for the giver. Mom and dad may be thanked, while the gift is embraced. And we are left longing for the receiver to run to our open arms and embrace us and be embraced by us.  So too, conversely, there is sometimes, a deep disappointment in both the gift and the giver for not coming through on something someone REALLY wanted.  (I'm sure this never happens in your household!)  A half-hearted "thank you for the socks", which may have been needed more than desired, or the funny looking tie we may never be able to bring ourselves to wear, irrespective of the love in which it was given.

     The Lord God of the universe, Creator of all, comes to save us from our sin, from ourselves, not to affirm our sinfulness, not to stroke us and tell us we're fine just the way we are. Not to give us what we think we want and/or need but exactly what we need and therefore what we should be wanting.  He comes to change us, to redeem us from the mess we have made of our lives.  And that is disappointing to those who have fallen in love with themselves, who have so often been awarded and rewarded for their waywardness,who think they know best what they need and therefor what they have set their hearts on.

     The Truth of God is hard to hear for those who are content in our comfortableness precisely because it calls us to a "work."  It calls us to hard work - to do the good work which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10); to work out our salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).  The gift of salvation, when properly received, includes the decision to make Christ Lord of all aspects of our lives.

     Salvation is a difficult thing to deal with.  It is the greatest gift ever given, for the greatest work ever to be done.  But it is not for sissies or snowflakes.  With the gift of salvation (being saved) comes a tremendous burden (making Him Lord).  Enslaving ourselves to the Lordship of Christ our Redeemer is counter to our natural selves, to our sinful, selfish, comfortable lives.  But then again nothing easily accomplished produced anything of true value.

    May the Lord bless each of us this Advent season with renewed hope that we can let go of self and pick up the task of becoming perfect as He is perfect, of becoming Holy as He is Holy, of doing the hard work of really listening, of really looking, or really sacrificing all for the One through whom we can do all things.

     May our ears be unblocked and our eyes opened to hear the "truth that hurts than heals."

     Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Advent 8

Psalm 8
Mark 1:1-8

     Reading the introductory verses to Mark reminds me of both the amazing authenticity of scripture in general and the gospels in particular, and of the stunning nature of the divine inspiration of those writings.

     Matthew and John were both clearly written by the disciples themselves.  This is apparent by the internal witness of the respective gospels and the early and well-attested affirmation of many external commentators. 

     Clear evidence of John Mark's authorship of the second gospel is equally evident. A close follower of the disciples, though not an immediate part of the twelve, Mark brings an onlookers witness of the events.  And his writing so impressed Matthew and Luke that they both quote Mark's gospel, almost in in its fullness, in their own. 

     Finally, Luke, not even an eye witness to the events, but an obviously well-educated and well practiced researcher adds yet another aspect to the glorious witness of the gospels.

     Such a cloud of witnesses, and yet, even more importantly, men driven along by the Holy Spirit of God writing exactly what the Lord  wanted to have recorded. 

     "Theopneustos" the Greek word for God-breathed, has its only use in 2 Timothy 3:16 where we read "All Scripture is God-breathed."  And 2 Peter adds to this with:"For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." So while they were able to bring their own experiences and perspectives to the table, God, by the Holy Spirit, breathed into them, the words He intended for them to write.  What the good Lord Himself wanted us to know.  The essentials.

     Reformed theologians talk about perspicuity,  that is that God, by His Holy Spirit, has clearly communicate through scripture.  We do not need a Biblical scholar to explain it, though that scholar might add information that would lead us into a fuller appreciation of it.  God, the ultimate author of scripture, spoke through these men, His truth and, by His Holy Spirit, enables believers to comprehend it. The perspicuity of the Word of God.


     Oh that we would more fully appreciate what we have before us.  Oh that we would read it more intentionally, more consistently, and more searchingly.  All we need to know about the Lord Jesus Christ, about the Father and the Holy Spirit, about our salvation and our calling, is there.

     In this season of Advent, as we prepare for Jesus' coming again, let us renew our commitment to knowing Him as scripture alone can clearly, authoritatively, and factually make Him known. For scripture intentionally seeks to make Him known to all who truly seek Him.  

     How can you do what Jesus would do, if you don't know that which He did, if you don't know who He is. For Jesus cannot be known outside of the scriptural witness.

     Solus Christus (1 Timothy 2:5); Sola Scriptura (2 Timothy 3:16-17)



'Til March