Christianity 201

March 14, 2017

After Suffering for 12 Years, A Woman Encounters Jesus

Kelsey Lewis is currently a full time seminary student working on her MDiv at Emory University in Atlanta. She wrote what follows to be part of an oral presentation, but after reading it on her blog Faith(,) in Words I asked her for permission to share it here. Many of us are familiar with the first scripture portion, but it takes the second one to put it in context. Click the title below to read at source.

Within Reach

The following is a manuscript from a short sermon I preached in my Preaching class on February 23, 2017.

 24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”

32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Mark 5: 24-34

I would like to read one more passage for you. From the book of Leviticus:

19 “ ‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. 20 “ ‘Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. 21 Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening. … 25 “ ‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. … 29 On the eighth day she must take two doves or two young pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 30 The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge. 31 “ ‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.’ ”

Leviticus 15:19-31

This is not a passage that you or I have likely heard read aloud in church. However, I wanted to lead with it as I introduced you all to our subject today because these laws followed her everywhere she went. In fact, the words in Mark used to describe her condition, “spring of her blood” were a direct reference to this Levitical passage. She—along with every woman of sexual maturity—but especially she, would have been very familiar with such laws. It was this passage that added insult to the injury of her suffering, keeping her in a perpetual state of uncleanness, unable to touch without contaminating.

All three synoptic gospels give an account of this woman’s story but Mark, usually the most succinct, gives us the most details into her background. The passage characterizes her as one who has suffered. And her suffering is threefold:

  1. She suffers bodily from what is a likely a painful condition, which persists for twelve years of her life. Despite having seen countless doctors, her condition continues to worsen.
  2. She suffers financially, having spent everything she has on failed medical treatment.
  3. She suffers socially.

As alluded to in the passage and as was customary, such a condition would have required her to live outside of the city wall, on the literal margins of society and everyone who came into contact with her would have had to go there too to offer a sacrifice in a purifying ritual, and wait until evening to be ritually clean again. The gospel writer would have us know this about her so that we understand the scandal and the audacity of what happens next.

In an act of desperation, she reaches out for Jesus, touching his robe. . . and it works! She feels herself healed inside. As Christ says, it is her faith that has healed her.

More amazing still is Jesus’ reaction to her touch. I can imagine her fear as Jesus looks around for her and she realizes she has been caught and cannot go unnoticed. But he shows no concern for her impurity. In fact, just after this passage—presumably within the same day in the narrative—he goes to Jairus’ home and grasps the hand of a dead Gentile girl, an act which may have set a record for most purity laws broken at once.

In a stunning reinterpretation of the law, Christ not only liberates her from her bodily physical suffering, he liberates the community around her from fear of her impurity. He shows us this: It is not her impurity which goes forth onto Jesus, but his power that goes out upon her touch. It is not her impurity that is the contagion, but Christ’s power which cannot be contained. Impurity which kept her ostracized for 12 years has no power in the presence of God’s holiness.

No matter how far on the margins you are, no matter how unclean or unfit you or others perceive you to be, Jesus is not beyond your reach. In fact he may be closer than you can imagine. You see, a study of this word “suffering” which in this passage is associated with the pain this woman has endured for twelve years reveals that every other use in the book of Mark and 11 times out of 12 in the entirety of the gospels reveals that suffering is connected with Jesus Christ as the sufferer. The Biblical author would have us associate suffering with the suffering Servant himself.

As the author of Hebrews writes in chapter 13, verse 12:  “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.”

You see, not only does Christ situate himself so that we may reach him in the city among the “pure” folk, but he comes to us, and inhabits that outside, marginal space with the suffering. That is the power of God’s contagious love over our suffering. God has come down, not to contain Godself to the holy of holies, but as an uncontained, unbridled force, extending far beyond the limits of our social constructs, lighting up the darkest corners of unmentionable pain, even out beyond the city gates where the “impure” and “unholy” reside. In Jesus, God climbs down into our suffering with us and redeems it with God’s holy presence, so that as we reach out, we can be assured that God’s power goes out to meet us.

 

December 24, 2016

Jesus Was No Stranger to Our World

CEV John1:1 In the beginning was the one
    who is called the Word.
The Word was with God
    and was truly God.
From the very beginning
    the Word was with God.

And with this Word,
    God created all things.
Nothing was made
    without the Word.
Everything that was created
    received its life from him,
and his life gave light
    to everyone.

ESV Col 1:16 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

The incarnation of God the son; the one whom Mary is told to name Jesus; the one whom we call the Christ, the anointed one; this is not the first time that his world intersects with ours. One songwriter re-framed John 1:1 as, “Before the world was created there was Christ with God.”

Rather, this represents the first time he inhabits a human body. John 1 tells us,

NLT John 1:14a So the Word became human and made his home among us.

Paul writes,

Phillips Philippians 2:6-7a For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself.

christophanies-article

But earlier, we have examples which theologians and scholars call Christophanies, where what the writers termed “…an angel of the Lord appeared…” actually represents a visitation of the pre-incarnate Christ. Remember, since these are Old Testament narratives, the writers of those accounts had no context in which to frame what they were seeing in those terms. In a world where surrounding nations had many gods, our Trinitarian concept of the Godhead would have been confusing or even counter-productive to the idea that God is one. (However, it should be noted that they had an understanding of the Spirit, but not the same as a New Testament believer would frame it.)

If you look the word up on Wikipedia you will read this:

A Christophany is an appearance or non-physical manifestation of Christ.

So far so good, but then it emphasizes post-ascension appearances, such as happened to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’

‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.

‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’

But others would point you closer to what GodQuestions.org has to say. Here is the final paragraph of their answer:

Some Bible commentators believe that whenever someone received a visit from “the angel of the Lord,” this was in fact the pre-incarnate Christ. These appearances can be seen in Genesis 16:7-14; Genesis 22:11-18; Judges 5:23; 2 Kings 19:35; and other passages. Other commentators believe these were in fact angelophanies, or appearances of angels. While there are no indisputable Christophanies in the Old Testament, every theophany wherein God takes on human form foreshadows the incarnation, where God took the form of a man to live among us as Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

Having shown that, this is the part of their article which precedes it:

A theophany is a manifestation of God in the Bible that is tangible to the human senses. In its most restrictive sense, it is a visible appearance of God in the Old Testament period, often, but not always, in human form. Some of the theophanies are found in these passages:

1. Genesis 12:7-9 – The Lord appeared to Abraham on his arrival in the land God had promised to him and his descendants.

2. Genesis 18:1-33 – One day, Abraham had some visitors: two angels and God Himself. He invited them to come to his home, and he and Sarah entertained them. Many commentators believe this could also be a Christophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.

3. Genesis 32:22-30 – Jacob wrestled with what appeared to be a man, but was actually God (vv. 28-30). This may also have been a Christophany.

4. Exodus 3:2 – 4:17 – God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush, telling him exactly what He wanted him to do.

5. Exodus 24:9-11 – God appeared to Moses with Aaron and his sons and the seventy elders.

6. Deuteronomy 31:14-15 – God appeared to Moses and Joshua in the transfer of leadership to Joshua.

7. Job 38–42 – God answered Job out of the tempest and spoke at great length in answer to Job’s questions.

Frequently, the term “glory of the Lord” reflects a theophany, as in Exodus 24:16-18; the “pillar of cloud” has a similar function in Exodus 33:9. A frequent introduction for theophanies may be seen in the words “the Lord came down,” as in Genesis 11:5; Exodus 34:5; Numbers 11:25; and 12:5.

In a much longer article at Icthys.com the writer offers an even earlier visitation of Jesus to earth:

In my view (and not only in my view) it was our indeed Lord Jesus Christ who appeared to Adam and Eve in the garden (in Christophany, see the previous link), for He has always been the Father’s representative on earth, appearing for Him and as Him.

This is a long and complex topic, but one it may be helpful to be aware of. In general, if we refer to the verse in Colossians at the top of this article, we see that Paul holds a view of Jesus as creator (or if you wish, co-creator) of the world “by whom all things hold together.”

In the incarnation; the Christmas narrative; we see Jesus entering our world in flesh. Did the baby in the manger have full knowledge of the things which Christ “holds together” today? If not, when did come into the authority and power that could heal the sick, calm the storm and raise the dead?

That’s the subject for great speculation.

Today we’re thankful that God chose this plan, and that through his birth, his death and his resurrection we find salvation.

May you experience the blessing of God on your life this season.


Related: April, 2014 — The Divine One Became Human

 

 

 

 

December 23, 2016

God With Us: A Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This was part of the service we attended Sunday morning and I asked if we could have a copy of it to share here. Pray along as you read.


God of every nation and people,
You have made known your love
Through the gift of your Son
Who bears the name Emmanuel, “God with Us.”

In the fullness of time the Christ-child came
To be the Good News to all humankind.
Emmanuel, God lives with us as one of us;
Christ, the Word made flesh
Has come to us as a vulnerable,
Weak and dependent babe;

A God who hungered and thirsted,
And longed for human touch and affection;
A God who chose to be born
In obscurity and shame, with
a borrowed manger as a bed,
In a tiny, insignificant town called Bethlehem.

Oh, Mighty God, of humble origins,
Christ, the Messiah, whom the prophets foretold,
You were born at a time, and in a place
Where few welcomed you or even recognized you.

Have we, too, lost a sense of joy and anticipation
In what the Christ-child may bring?
Have we been preoccupied with endless activities,
Distracted by the tinsel, decorations, and gifts
Busy preparing for the birthday of Christ;
So busy that there’s no room in our cluttered lives
To welcome Him when he comes?

God, grant us the grace to be patient and vigilant
In watching, waiting, and listening attentively.
So that we won’t miss Christ …
Remove whatever hinders us from receiving
The gifts which the Savior brings
Joy, peace, justice, mercy, love …
let these be the gifts we share.

Christ, you are our hope,our wonderful Counselor
who encourages and consoles,
The Prince of Peace who calms our troubled minds

Christ, you who are the radiant dawn,
Shine on those who live in darkness and in shadows,

Christ, You who are the Light of the World,
Help us to radiate the warmth of your presence.

As we wait for the dawn
Of the coming of the Christ-child,
We do so with anticipation
Of new and unexpected challenges.
Like Mary, we sense the birth pangs of a new era,
A new kingdom waiting to be born.

May we, like Mary, be filled with courage,
Openness, and receptivity
To be the bearers of the Christ-child
In receiving and bringing forth the Good News

In the words of Isaiah
“Arise, shine, for your light has come.
The glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

Even though darkness shall cover the earth
And over its people,
Yet the LORD will be your everlasting light.”
Amen.

December 11, 2016

The Incarnation of Christ…For Atonement and More

by Russell Young

The Christmas season is upon us and with it the celebration of God’s gift to humankind–the incarnation of the Son of God– the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, the fullness of God’s gift is seldom recognized.  God became flesh and dwelt among us. The great gift that the Father gave the world was not merely an appropriate propitiation for sin, but a means of destroying “the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) in all his practices and with all of his effect.

It is true that Christ came to reveal God to humankind, and that he came as a propitiation for sin, but he also came to return those who would accept his ministry back to the image in which humans had been created…into the likeness of God. (Gen 1:27; Rom 8:29)

Satan’s evil work is not brought to completion by a person’s redemption from his or her past sins, but will be destroyed when he is no longer able to exercise his power or influence in the lives of those who are believing. Redemption from sins committed while under the jurisdiction of the first covenant (Heb 9:15) did not accomplish a person’s deliverance into the kingdom of God; it did not destroy the work of the devil.  Paul wrote, “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Gal 3:14 NIV) The incarnation of our Lord allowed for his perfect sacrifice, redeemed believers from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13), and provided them with the Spirit so that they might gain victory over the practice of sin through his enlightenment, leading and power. The Spirit is the presence of the Lord in the believer (2Cor 3:17, 18; Col 1:27) and it is the Spirit who provides for the believer’s eternal salvation.  “[F]rom the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13 NIV; Titus 3: 5─6)

The Lord had to be incarnated so that he might truly know the human condition.  Knowing the temptations that afflict humankind allows him to mediate for them and to make them acceptable for the kingdom of God. (Rom 15:16)  “[H]e had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a faithful high priest…because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. (Heb 2:17…18 NIV) He not only knew the human condition through experience, he also suffered through it and became victorious over it.  Now as Spirit he can use this understanding to provide victory for those who are undergoing suffering through temptations. This understanding should provide encouragement that each believer can overcome ungodly attractions but it also needs to cause the person undergoing temptation to be sober of thought and of heart knowing that his or her judge will be the very one who had already won victory over the temptations that plague them and he is in them. It is through the knowledge gained as the Lord walked this earth in the flesh that he is able to defeat the devil’s work in the believer. “Christ in you the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27 NIV)

A limited perspective of the need of Christ’s incarnation will result in failure to give him the glory, honour, and love that he deserves. Christ came into the world to end the first covenant and to allow access to the New Covenant (Heb 9:15), the covenant of the Spirit, so that God’s righteous, eternal kingdom could be established through his life in the believer.

The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:40 NIV) The knowledge that the Lord gained through his incarnated life is available to enable believers to refrain from causing sin and from doing evil by succumbing to temptation in their time of need. The Lord will hand over the righteous kingdom—the completed creation–to the Father when Satan’s influence has been removed.

The baby in the manger was not just a baby, but God come in the flesh to redeem a lost world and a helpless people for himself.  In the Christmas child lies all hope for humankind, and all hope for the completion of God’s creation plan.  In him is the source of righteousness, the end of strife and pain and death.  Through him a holy people will be found, made suitable for God’s presence. Through Christ the devil and his lies and deceit will be brought to nought for those who are in him and who are obedient to his calls upon their lives.

The believer should not be content to relish the thought of what Christ did for him or her, but should humbly kneel before him and glorify him for what he is doing each day that he or she draws breath.  Christ is not only the atonement for sin, he is the life that provides eternal hope. The trinkets of Christmas should not be allowed to displace the wonder of God’s mercy and of his priceless gift of the babe whose birth is the hope of the world and should be the true cause of celebration and the true celebration.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


December 1, 2016

Creation. Where the Christmas Story Begins . . .

o-come-o-come-emmanuel
by Clarke Dixon

If someone asked you to tell them the story of Christmas, where would you start? With the angels announcing to Mary and Joseph that a baby is on the way? Or perhaps with the prophets of the Old Testament announcing that the Messiah would someday be on His way? That is still not going far enough back for the Christmas story goes right back to Creation. How so?

Imagine you are attending a synagogue service sometime before Jesus is born. The rabbi has read from the scroll of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. You wonder what it must have been like for Adam and Eve in the Garden before the Fall. You ask yourself “What did Adam and Eve enjoy during that time that we are missing out on now?”

Perhaps some of you will think of being naked and unashamed! Perhaps not. Some of you may think of the wonderful non-violence of that time and place. Even in the animal kingdom there was a sense of peace and non-violence:

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. Genesis 1:30 (NRSV)

How things have changed, with violence marking both the animal kingdom, and so called civilization.

However, the biggest change of all, and the thing you should miss the most, is the full-blown presence of God. God is spoken of as walking in the garden as any person might, and only after the “apple debacle” do Adam and Eve feel that His presence is a scary thing.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:8 (NRSV)

We get a sense that before the eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve could spend time with God as easily as we might spend time with a family member or good friend.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would miss the presence of God without someone pointing to the Temple. The Temple was a symbol of God’s love; “I want to dwell with you.” But it was also a symbol of separation; “Because I am holy and you are not, I must dwell separated from you, in a holy place.” The Temple was a constant reminder that we are not in the Garden of Eden anymore. Adam and Eve enjoyed the full presence of God without the need for a Temple.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without the need for a priesthood. The priesthood was again a symbol of God’s love; “I want a relationship with you.” But it was also a reminder of separation; “I am holy, and you are not, therefore we cannot have a relationship. You need people who are holy, separated out from you, to stand between you and me.” Adam and Eve could speak freely with God with no need for priests.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without all the rigmarole of religion. The ritual purity code again is another reminder of separation from God. By setting up the religious code, God was revealing proper morality, yes, but was also in effect saying; “There are a lot of things you need to change about yourself before you can even approach me.” Adam and Eve did not need to get all religious when in the Garden.

So does Christmas change anything? There are signs that Christmas is part of everything changing! If you were God and you chose to be incarnate, where would you choose to be born? Perhaps in the Temple to remind the people of the separation that exists between yourself and humanity? God chose a different emphasis. Could you get any less temple-like than being laid in a manger? This is an “unclean” place.

Likewise, if you were God, who would you invite to be the first to come and see your infant Son? Perhaps it should be the priests, the people most focused on holiness? Nope, the Lord sends an invitation to shepherds, whose ritual holiness would be impossible to keep given their work with animals. And they come straightaway. No need to stop for purity focused observances. They come to Jesus without getting all religious about it.

The point is clear. God’s focus at Christmas is to be with us, right here in our mess, even though we are not worthy of Him. In place of our worth, is His grace. Where the temple, the priesthood, and even religion stood as symbols of separation, Christmas stands as a symbol of Presence.

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

I don’t recall where I first heard this, but Christmas is God with us, while Easter is God for us, and Pentecost is God within us. We can point to “the end,” to Christ’s return as our being with God as Adam and Eve were with God in the beginning.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; Revelation 21:1-3

Just as there was no temple in the Garden of Eden, that symbol of our separation from God is not found in the future:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

Christmas, with its emphasis on “God with us,” points back to Creation when God was with Adam and Eve, to the present time as we enjoy God’s presence through the Holy Spirit, and forward to the great re-Creation when God will be with His people in the profound way He had in mind from the beginning.

What is your greatest delight at Christmas? Perhaps family? Or turkeys? (Hopefully you know the difference!) Perhaps time off work? Time away? Gifts? Or eggnog? God’s great delight and desire, which Christmas points to, is the realization of His original purpose in Creation; a loving relationship with people. While you may be into the eggnog, He is into you. He has prepared a wonderful Christmas gift, His presence, now, and for all eternity. Have you received that gift yet?

 All scripture references are from the NRSV

For those reading this the first week of December, 2016, click this link for a puppet script which was also part of the service containing this teaching.

October 16, 2016

The God-Man, Jesus Christ

by Russell Young

The mutuality of Christ, being very God and very man, with the implications attached can be very confusing.  The Word reveals that he is God. (Jn 1:1─5, 14, 3:13, 31; Col 1:15─20; Hebrews 1) He was also man.  He was born of Mary and the witness of his living presence among humankind reveals his humanity.

Jesus was made in the flesh just like everyone who walks this earth. The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:17 NIV) Jesus cannot be seen as having any characteristics or abilities beyond those of created humankind.  He did not have the power to escape his enemies, or to create objects that would better his life.  He could not heal or avoid injury or sickness.  He could not supernaturally avoid sinning.  He was made like humans in every way.  This is the Jesus who was raised by Mary and Joseph.

The thought should not be entertained that the Lord possessed any special power that would grant him victory over sin.  The Word tells us that he suffered with temptations.  “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb 2:18 NIV) The Lord understands the trials we face and the issues of the flesh.  He knows! To be knowledgeable of the issues of humanity is part of the reason that he was incarnated in the flesh.  Because he understands, the excuses that will be offered at his judgment seat will be dealt with according to his understanding and all that has been provided.

How is it that he was without sin while the rest of humankind submit to its call?  First, he is the Son of his heavenly Father. The soul of Christ was of his Father, as were his interests and his disposition. Unlike those who have been born of their father, Adam, his interests and heart were in tune with those of his Father. The descendants of Adam have the heart of Adam.  The heart of humans has become afflicted with self-interest and all that such interest entails. It was the heart and soul of Jesus as his Father’s Son that made him unique and encouraged his fight for victory.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) He was not sinless because he possessed a supernatural ability to defeat sin; he was sinless because he sought to honor his Father and because he earnestly and reverently prayed for victory. Had his heart not been fully committed to loving his Father, he might also have sinned and his death would have resulted. The Lord’s commitment for victory over sin needs to be acknowledged. It was the application of his will toward obedience to the Father he loved, rather than to self, that provided victory. His heart and soul gained him victory over the flesh that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary.

Although Jesus was God, his godly power was not made available until his baptism.  “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:11 NIV) His Father had been “well pleased” because his obedience was complete and his heart fully set on his Father and upon loving and honouring him.  According to Luke, following his baptism he was filled with the Spirit and went into the wilderness for testing.  When he returned to Galilee it was by the power of the Spirit. (Lk 4:14)

Prior to the gifting of the Holy Spirit Jesus was godlike in soul only; following that gifting, he became godlike in Spirit as well.  He had all of the power of God available to him, in addition to the soul and heart of the Father.  At his resurrection the flesh that made him the Son of Man was left behind.

The redeemed should never excuse themselves for sinning.  They have all of the power for victory that Jesus had as he walked this earth and more than he had in the years before his baptism.  It is the darkness of a person’s soul and lack of love for the Father and for his Son, their lord and savior, that prevents a righteous walk. Peter said that “His divine power [his Spirit] has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) The same Spirit that Christ had is the Spirit that indwells all who would call Christ lord and who desire to be transformed into his likeness.

Jesus came to do the will of the Father. (Jn 4:34, 8:28─29) He loved his Father and it was for this reason that he was fully obedient, even unto death on the cross.  As he entered Jerusalem before his crucifixion, he knew what lay before him, but he also knew what lay on the other side.  He would be gloriously united with his Father.  It was because of his great love that he would say while on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46 NIV) He was anguished in soul because of the pain, the load of sin that he bore, and the horrible separation from his Father that it had caused.

Adoration and wonder should overwhelm humankind knowing that the Lord has walked the walk that the rest of humankind has been unable to achieve.  As man his accomplishments in the flesh should cause all people to look to him in awe and with gratitude. Our sin that he bore and which separated him from the Father whom he loved so dearly should cause us grief.  His resurrected life which bears the power of God for victory over sin for those who obey him should cause rejoicing.

He is the God-Man Jesus Christ!

December 18, 2015

He Came to Save

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Today’s reading is from Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement. This is my go-to devotional in the morning and we break the six-month rule with them, using their material more frequently here. They are in their eleventh year of faithfully doing this on top of an active chaplaincy ministry in Pennsylvania. Click the title below to read this at source.

Mighty To Save

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save” (Zephaniah 3:17).

“But when he (Joseph) had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matthew 21:20-22).

“Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25 Amplified)

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
Dwelt among men, my example is He!

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming—oh, glorious day! *

At this season, along with Easter, it’s predictable that national news magazines will do a feature story about Jesus Christ. However so often these articles are slanted away from the Biblical and historical teachings about Jesus Christ and espouse the faddish views of various “scholars” that the writer selectively cites.

Critics have often tried to distinguish between what they perceive as the harsh, judgmental God of the Old Testament with the kind, loving God of the New Testament.  Of course God is God and He does not change. In Malachi 3:6 He declares “I the LORD do not change”. The feeble attempts by critics to “package” God merely reveals that we are finite humans. We are called to belief and obedience. Understanding comes as we “trust and obey”.

Zephaniah 3:17 Today’s first verse is a reminder to us of a powerful, loving God who is ever present. “The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save.” You may have present circumstances in your life that make this verse hard to grasp. But consider the great truth that God is with you and He is mighty to save! I would sure take this to primarily mean in regard to our greatest need of salvation from sin, but I also believe He is “mighty to save” in regard to a specific situation we are dealing with as well.

Matthew 1:20-22 contains the angel’s announcement to Joseph concerning Mary. The message of the angel in verse 21 is an assurance to Joseph that Mary’s baby would be a “Son” whose name would be “Jesus.” The Greek name “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew name Joshua which literally means “Jehovah saves,” or “God is salvation.” Even before Christ was born the angel revealed to Joseph the unique nature of His reason for coming, “He will save His people from their sins”. The Gospels and Apostolic teaching reveal this was accomplished by His sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection from the dead. The term “His people” should be understood to include both believing Jews and Gentiles (see Gal. 3:13,14; Romans 3:21-25; Titus 2:13,14; 1 Peter 2:4-10) whom Christ would save “from their sins” by means of His perfect life and substitutionary sacrifice. (from “Explore the Bible”)

Two thousand years after His first coming and mission accomplished we are among those who experience the wonder of His love. “Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him.”

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, the wonder of Your love is that You sent Your beloved Son, Jesus, the Holy Child of Bethlehem, in answer to our need for salvation. And in answer to our prayer You cast out our sin and entered in to be born in us, making all things new in our spiritual transformation. Because we come to You through Christ we are saved completely to the uttermost: perfectly, finally, for all time and for all eternity. All we have need of You provide through Christ Jesus our Lord. And we are forever grateful! Amen.



* “Glorious Day (Living He loved me)”  Video  Casting Crowns

May 2, 2013

God Among The Maggots

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Yes you read the title correctly.  A few days ago at Daily Encouragement, Stephen Weber shared memories of driving the garbage truck on his Bible College campus. This is the second half of the article, you can read the whole piece at their site where it appeared at Stephen and Brooksyne’s site under the title For Such A Worm As I.

“How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in His eyes, how much less a mortal, who is but a maggot—a human being, who is only a worm!” (Job 25:4-6). “But I am a worm and not a man” (Psalm 22:6). “What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:24a).

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

…I specifically recall emptying the dumpsters behind the cafeteria. As I can still vividly recall, especially during hotter weather, the dumpsters would have a lot of crawling maggots; tiny white worms that fed on the decaying food. It was a very unpleasant sight to say the least!

At that time I was pondering God’s love for the fallen race and considered what it would be like to send my precious child to live among the “maggots”. Well, like most illustrations, this one has some deficiencies but it sure has caused me to marvel in God’s far-reaching love. Some may find this particular illustration distasteful or offensive. But actually the Scripture uses this same imagery in our daily texts.

Bildad, one of Job’s friends, asks a question that is theologically sound in light of the rest of Scripture that teaches about our innermost need for God due to our sin nature: “How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less a mortal, who is but a maggot—a human being, who is only a worm!”

Isaac Watts likely had this verse in mind along with our second text when he wrote the personalized phrase, “such a worm as I”. In using this image he was illustrating a theological concept known as total depravity. This doctrine runs so contrary to the self-esteem emphasis of our generation but we do well to recognize the awful extent of sin and our only hope exists in God’s redemption through Christ.

Paul, in what many see as a description regarding his state without Christ, declares, “What a wretched man I am!” (Surely he’d be required to attend a class for positive self-imagery today.) But immediately following this he asks and answers his own question, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24b,25)

Matthew Henry commenting on Psalm 22, which is considered a Messianic Psalm writes, “What little reason has man to be proud, and what great reason to be humble! So weak and impotent, and so easily crushed, and therefore a very unequal match for Almighty God. Shall man be such a fool as to contend with his Maker, who can tread him to pieces more easily than we can a worm? … Let us therefore wonder at God’s condescension in taking such worms as we are into covenant and communion with Himself, especially at the condescension of the Son of God, in emptying Himself so far as to say, ‘I am a worm, and no man’.”

Although Isaac Watts ends the first stanza of his hymn with this question, “Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” the hymn goes on to declare that we have victory due to Christ’s reconciliation. In a refrain written nearly 200 years later, by Ralph E. Hudson in 1885, we exultantly sing the chorus:

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

March 8, 2013

What if God Were One of Us?

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Hebrews 4:15

AMP 15 For we do not have a High Priest Who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One Who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning.

MSG 15  We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin.

NLT 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.

Today we revisit the blog of Murray Wittke where this appeared February 14 under the title God Was One of Us.  If you enjoy this type of good devotional reading, click through and then visit other articles on Murray’s blog.

In 1995 the top 40 hit “What if God was one of us” asked listeners what they’d do if God got up close and personal with them. Have you ever wondered how you’d respond?

The Christmas story declares God did become one of us during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Ancient Israel longed for God to rescue them but never actually expected God to show up personally. And definitely no one expected God to arrive the way the gospel writers say he did.

Matthew says God became one of us in the womb of a young woman named Mary. There within her God -infinite, omnipotent, and eternal- was united with a human ovum and became Jesus Christ, a person with both a divine and human nature. Nine months later he experienced a real birth and entered our world weak and dependent just like one of us. Just imagine… God with a belly button, here with us, one of us.

For thirty plus years he made himself at home with us. He felt hunger, thirst, and weariness. He experienced our joys and sorrows, our grief and pain, and our frustrations and disappointments. He learned what it’s like to live in poverty; to work at hard manual labour; and to live with political corruption and the threat of violence all around. He endured misunderstanding, hatred, and rejection from those he loved. And then publicly and painfully he died. His heart stopped, he breathed his last, and was buried just like one of us. God was one of us and with us all the way from conception to grave.

We show compassion and support for sick or bereaved loved ones by visiting and spending time with them. So does God. He could have felt sorry for us and remained at a distance but instead he joined us within the human predicament. As one of us Jesus Christ knows and understands all we’re going through. You’re not alone. God became one of us and He is near, Immanuel-God with us forever.

The song’s long gone but its questions remain… “What if God was one of us?”

~Murray Wittke


Blog Flashback:

Considering starting a self-directed Bible study? Here are some suggestions we introduced here two years ago, in a piece simply title Study. Perhaps your ideas might result in a submission to C201!

December 14, 2012

Why The Incarnation

While I know a large number of readers here probably use BibleGateway.com for their online searches of Bible passages, I often recommend BlueLetterBible.org when your knowledge of particular Bible phrase is close, but not close enough. This particular search tool will tell you of cases where, for example, you’ve got five out of the six words you typed located in selected verses.

Blue Letter Bible also has a daily Bible study blog and yesterday kicked off a Christmas series with part one of Why Did God Become a Man? And yes, I know it’s rather strange to be giving them the green letter treatment we give scripture verses here, so I saved you leaving that comment!

by Dave Jenkins

The doctrine of the Incarnation is important to Christianity. It reminds us that Jesus is both God and man. And this is important because it’s impossible to talk meaningfully about who Jesus is without talking about who He was and what He did. Around the turn of the century, James Denney, a professor at the United Free Church College in Glasgow, Scotland, discussed this matter:

Christ is the only person who can do this work for us. This is the deepest and most decisive thing we can know about him, and in answering the questions which it prompts we are starting from a basis in experience. There is a sense in which Christ confronts us as the reconciler. He is doing the will of God on our behalf, and we can only look on. We see him in judgment and the mercy of God in relation to our sins. His presence and work on earth are a divine gift, a divine visitation. He is the gift of God to men, not the offering of men to God, and God gives himself to us in and with him. We owe to him all that we call divine life. On the other hand, this divine visitation si made, and this divine life is imparted, through a life and work which are truly human. The presence and work of Jesus in the world, even the work of bearing sin, does not prompt us to define human and divine by contrast with each other: there is no suggestion of incongruity between them. Nevertheless, they are both there, ad the fact that they are both there justifies us in raising the question as to Jesus’ relation to god on the one hand, and to men on the other. 1

The Reason for the Incarnation
What is the function of the Incarnation in Christianity? A classic statement on why Jesus became man and its answer is found in Anslem of Canterbury (died 1109). Anslem’s theological masterpiece, Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Man?”) deals with the question of the Incarnation. Anslem answered this question that God became man in Christ because only one who was both God and man could achieve our salvation. The Incarnation—coming in the midst of a history of human sin—indicates that God has not abandoned us but rather loves and values us even in our fallen state.
Why Did God Put on Flesh?
The atonement is the reason God came as man. Consider these verses:

“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book..”
(Hebrews 10:4-7)

“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
(Hebrews 10:10)

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:21)

Jesus spoke of his coming suffering.

“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
(Mark 8:31)

“for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”
(Mark 9:31)

He linked the success of his mission to the crucifixion:

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
(John 12:32)

Also, at several places in John’s Gospel the crucifixion is spoken of as that vital “hour” for which Christ came (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1).

The death of Jesus is also a major theme throughout the Old Testament: first, in regard to the meaning of the sacrifices (the meaning at the heart of the law); then in regard to the prophecies, which focused increasingly on the promise of a Coming Redeemer.

Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament texts speak of the suffering of the deliverer to come. Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament passages speak of the suffering of the deliver to come. In Galatians the apostle Paul teaches that even Abraham, who lived before both the law and prophets was saved by faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:8, 16). Furthermore, Jesus told the downcast disciples on the Emmaus Road that the Old Testament foretold His death and resurrection. Luke 24:25-27, “And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” In light of these texts and many others we can say that the atonement of Christ is a primary reason for the Incarnation. It is the explanation of the twofold nature and the focal point of the world and biblical history.

(In the next post, we will look further into the Incarnation-Atonement connection. Stay tuned!)

——-

Footnotes:

1 Denney, James, The Death of Christ, ed. R.V.G. Tasker (Chicago: Intervarsity Press, 1964).

September 16, 2012

Basic Concepts Reminder: Fullness of Deity

NIV Col 2: 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…

MSG Col 2: 9-10 … Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.

It’s All There!

This term is used only here in the Bible, although Paul and other writers use similar phrases and ideas elsewhere (John 1:16; Colossians 1:19).

When Paul wrote to the Colossians, part of his purpose was to refute a teaching called Gnosticism that was influencing some of the Christians at Colossae.  According to this pagan belief, all matter was inherently evil, and only the soul and the mind were good.  This logically led to a denial of God’s creation of the world as well as a denial of Jesus’ incarnation or humanity.

Gnostics denied that Jesus was ever human and that Jesus died physically or was literally resurrected from the grave.  In this letter, Paul attacks these teachings and argues that Jesus, as God, created the universe (1:16), died on the cross (1:20), and had a human body (2:9).  But he adds more, declaring that during His time of humanity, Jesus also retained all the attributes and characteristics of God (see also Philippians 2:5-8).

All the powers and attributes that Jesus possessed in His deity were also present in his humanity.  All that God is in His divine essence is present also in Jesus Christ.  No inferiority or subordination exists within the Trinity or between God the Father and God the Son.  God’s loving, merciful and forgiving nature was manifested and demonstrated by the life and death of Jesus Christ. He was God incarnate, and that is why He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

In Colossians 2:9, Paul is doing more than simply teaching a technical or abstract point of theology.  He is reminding the Colossian Christians and all who would hear this letter that because Jesus is God and Christians have a unique relationship to Him, they too have received grace and enormous blessings (Colossians 2:10; Ephesians 1:3).  The Gnostics promoted a spiritual hierarchy and caste system that required secret knowledge for advancement.  They also taught that a person had to work through angels and many intermediaries to have access to God.  The Bible rejects these views.  The fullness of God is in Jesus Christ and the Christian is complete in Jesus Christ, who alone serves as a mediator and advocate for all who believe (1 Timothy 2:5).  No superiority or inferiority exists among Christians.  No one is lesser or greater than another.  All Christians are equal (Galatians 3:26-28).

Tim Demy in 101 Most Puzzling Bible Verses, Harvest House 2006, chapter 79

November 30, 2011

Advent: It Begins

It seems increasingly that Evangelicals are employing matches, cigarette lighters and fireplace starters on Sunday mornings to light candles in celebration of the season of Advent, a part of the Christian calendar more unfamiliar to some until recently.

While last Sunday was “the first Sunday of Advent,” the season of Advent begins for others with the first of December with the start of opening the little windows on the Advent calendar, another seasonal custom heretofore foreign to Evangelicals until recent years.

The blog St. Mark’s Lutheran Church kicks us off today:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…Isaiah 64:1

The Christian season of Advent begins with this plea from the prophet Isaiah. Sitting in exile in a strange country and feeling estranged from his God, the prophet prays: tear open the skies and make your presence felt, O God. Break the chains of your people and bring us peace and healing and freedom.

This prayer prepares us for the coming of the Christ-child. The heavens would be torn apart but not as the prophet had imagined. Instead of an eruption of heavenly wrath, complete with shaking mountains and nations trembling before the presence of God, there was an angel choir on Bethlehem’s hillside. Heaven had opened and a child had been born – just a child whose birth cries were lost amid the lowing cattle and the braying ass.

This Advent text reminds us of two wonderful promises of God. The first is that God does answer prayer. The deepest hopes and needs and dreams of our hearts move God.  At the heart of Christmas is the message that God’s heart is moved for us – not that our hearts are first moved for God. This is a wonderful mystery so remarkably demonstrated in the celebration of our Lord’s birth. That this should be true; how this can be true is inexplicable – but true.

The second promise is that when God comes, it is always in a way that is redemptive; God brings shalom – the healing peace for which the prophet prayed and for which our world yearns. This is the great surprise of God: God tears the heavens not just in judgment but in love… and a child is born who will rend the veil of death.

So, like the prophet, we pray and wait. Come Lord Jesus, come. Amen

An excerpt from a piece at Happy Catholic

… what continues to hit me, hard … was the picture of perfection that is painted for us by Isaiah.

A celebratory feast for all of us.

No more sadness or death for any nation because the veil is removed. That’s what we hope to find in prayer and at Mass, a time when that veil between God and us is lifted just a little. But Isaiah tells us that it will be permanently removed for all of us. Every person, every nation.

It will be as it should have been from the beginning.

During Advent we are to look for the two comings of Christ. We look for his Incarnation as a baby among us. We look for his second coming. For the first time, I really caught a sense of just what that second coming means. For all of us. For every person, every nation. I can look forward with great anticipation, thanks to that moment when the veil lifted for a second so I got the bigger picture from this reading.

Come, Lord Jesus.

From the blog, A Seat at the Table

Advent is always a new beginning. It is actually a beginning and an ending. We are beginning a new life with Christ at the center, a life that is full with Christ. We are leading and ending an old life. This must be so. There must be this movement…. We need to relinquish and empty ourselves, so that the newness Christ brings can enter and have a place to stay. We as Advent pilgrims on the way to the manger — to the great newness that the child brings — must allow ourselves to pass through the desert where John is preaching.

Paul H. Harkness, “Our Journey to the Cradle,” 4
in People’s Companion to the Breviary

This one is from a blog, Thinking Outloud (a similar but different name than my other blog)

…Advent marks the beginning of the church’s annual liturgical review of the great stories of the faith.

Traditionally it starts with the prophets, who warn that God is among us and will show her/his self even more clearly in the days to come. Get ready! they shout. I’m always puzzled at this exhortation. How can a human being get ready for God?

It’s this great human gift and problem of looking into the future. As far as we know, other mammals aren’t able to imagine the future in the same way we do. They live their lives much more in the “now” than in the “then.” But humans are so in love with the future, we think anything is possible there. The allure of a future we can imagine makes us all less attached to the present, I fear. We put off anything we can. The present? Well, we’re just passing through.

The answer for me is the spiritual skill of waiting. It’s some of the toughest emotional work we do, holding ourselves in the present while expecting something in the future. It’s not about gifts and presents, I think. It’s about waiting for God to be fully revealed to us and to a hurting world.

I will be thinking about Waiting this Advent. How hard it is, why it’s important to grow that emotional muscle, what living in the present while expecting the future feels like. I think it’s the central work of faith, managing the now and then. A belief that both the present and the future deeply matter. 

This one has appeared twice at Gerry Straub’s blog:

“Advent is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.” -Thomas Merton

Since the tenth century, Advent has marked the beginning of the Church year in the West. Today, Advent is hardly noticed, rarely observed, obliterated by a shopping tsunami. Advent is not four weeks of shopping for Christmas. The word “advent” literally means “arrival.” Advent is a time for being awake and aware, a time for longing and waiting, a time for preparing for the coming of Christ. Jesus tells us to light our lamps and wait for the Master. Our waiting should be an active not passive waiting. During Advent we get ready to become active participants in God’s incarnation by creating peace in our spiritual, social and personal relationships. In Advent we are asked to look at our lives, and if we see something amiss, we need to correct it. We need to turn our swords into plowshares. Our lives need to be transfigured into vessels of God’s love and compassion. Advent is a time to renounce our clinging to false securities so our eyes will not be so blinded that we cannot see the arrival of Christ in our midst. Jesus may come to you today in the form of a beggar.

We have become so familiar with the Nativity story that it is almost rendered impotent in its ability to speak to us. Advent invites us to look carefully at that cold night long ago, when there was no room at the Inn for Mary and Joseph, as we prepare to open the doors of our hearts to the coming of the Messiah.

Part of the power of the Christmas story is that it describes beautifully the spiritual birth of Christ in the heart of a mystic. In metaphorical language, Christ is born in the poor manger of our own empty hearts, the poor manger inside us, emptied of all ego, of all clinging neediness. Advent is the time of cleaning, of emptying ourselves of ourselves (and anything else) to make room for the birth of Christ. Swept clean and empty, it is the poorest, most humble place on earth and yet the perfect place for the birth of God. St. Francis and St. Clare understood this living story so well and embraced it so fully that they indeed became human vessels of the Christ child.

The best way to celebrate Christmas is to actually experience the birth of Christ within us in a deeper way than ever before. In order to do so, we need to make the inner crib ready for this new life by eliminating all the noise and inner clutter that would crowd Him out. The best way to do this is to set aside time for silence, prayer and intentional love and reverent kindness.

Jesus is coming and will soon knock on the door of your heart. Get ready–that is the message of Advent. And it is a message we need to repeatedly hear throughout the year. God’s coming transcends past and future, is more than a past event or a future expectation…God’s coming is now, this very moment. God is coming. Is my heart ready to become God’s dwelling place? I’m afraid to answer.

I wanted the last word to belong to Clark Bunch at The Master’s Table

…One aspect of studying prophesy is to realize that just as Jesus fulfilled all of the prophecies of his first coming he will someday fulfill the New Testament prophecies of his second coming.  The incarnation of the God’s Son is the greatest event in history… so far.

In the Parable of the Tenants Jesus relates the story of a land owner who leased out a vineyard to some wicked men.  They either brutalized or killed the messengers he sent to collect the rent.  Finally he sent his son, reasoning that he would be respected.  They killed the man’s own son, thinking if the heir were dead they would inherit the land.  The first century audience responded that those evil men would suffer horribly when the landlord returned.  Jesus told this parable against the leaders of the Jewish faith.  Just as their ancestors killed the prophets – God’s messengers – so they were about to kill God’s own Son.  Further, he said the Kingdom would be taken from them and given to others, namely the faithful believers among the Gentiles.

In the Old Testament, the coming of the Messiah was foretold.  Paul says that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son.”  God is not a man that he should lie.  He is faithful and just concerning his promises.  These are scriptural truths to consider as we honor the waiting for Christ’s first coming and eagerly await the second.

Persons wanting to discover more of the deeper implications of incarnation have no shortage of online material to spark their discovery.  Each day between now and December 25th, thousands of new pieces are added.  Just do a Google blog search (type “advent” as your search criteria) or a WordPress search, then prayerfully ask God to guide you to some articles that will enrich your appreciation of the season.

August 27, 2011

Being “In The Presence” Isn’t Sufficient

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Today we listened to a sermon by one Robert Bell. Yes, that Rob Bell. And it was a good sermon. In typical Bell fashion, the June 26th message was titled, “Helicopters, Alicia Keys and a Woman in an Art Museum.” You can find it here. The message was part of a series where Bell and associates have divided up the epistle First John. Bell spoke about the different meanings of ‘anointing,’ and how up to the coming of Christ, God was in the temple, God was with the priests, God was with David, and then with the coming of Christ, God was with Jesus.

But then, Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Spirit;” and suddenly, God was with everyone. As He is today. He compared it to the broadcasting industry, which once had a somewhat exclusive abilities to take a news story and disseminate it; whereas today, anyone with a cell phone — mobile phone for non-Americans — can take a picture and post it to a website within seconds. It’s really an interesting analogy that holds well all theological aspects considered.

The message could have stopped there, but then Bell pointed out that there’s a difference between being in the presence of God and having the presence of God within

I have to ask myself how my own life is characterized by having the Spirit, and people seeing that Spirit radiating within me. It’s easy to be around God’s presence and even to mirror what’s going on in the lives of others; but I need to be constantly aware of the need to cultivate God’s Spirit, uniquely given to me and working out His will and purpose in my life.

If someone looked at your life, would they say that you are a person who has obviously spent time in God’s presence, or is the overarching characteristic of your life that God ‘presences’ himself within you?