Monday, December 23, 2013


Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-16

     This Advent season, I seem to see this image superimposed over every manger scene, every sweet and soft newborn baby Jesus. I am not sure why, but this year more than others, my thoughts are filled with the yet future Advent of my Lord and Savior; that glorious Day where He will come as a victorious King to reclaim His own. I love this picture of my Lord. It reminds me of His majesty and His sovereignty. It reminds me that, while He came once before in a lowly state to save, He will come again clothed in glorious power to conquer and overthrow. It reminds me not to take lightly the gift of salvation, not to trifle with the mercy of God. It reminds me that, while He is patient and compassionate, He is still the just and righteous Judge and it is only through His undeserved grace that I may approach His throne at all. 

     So this Christmas, let us take a moment to ponder this Jesus:  He was before all things and through Him all things were created. He is Life and Love and all that is right and good. His is one with the Father and yet, in some inexplicable way, also the Son surrendered to the will of the Father--a mystery that is profound and unknowable precisely because it is the creation's attempt to understand the Creator, a finite mind grasping feebly for the Infinite. He laid aside all glory and power to be born, not to a royal family, but to a poor carpenter and his young bride. He who created speech and physical ability learned to walk and talk and feed Himself. He grew and He endured all temptation, and yet He did not fall into sin but kept Himself unstained and pure; a perfect reflection of the Father in human flesh. 

     He went to school and surprised His teachers at the depth and intricacy of His knowledge and wisdom in the Scripture. He was baptized by John who recognized Him and would soon be sought after by multitudes who did not. He was tempted directly by Satan alone in the wilderness yet still remained without sin and blemish. He became a Rabbi and made a distinct breech with tradition by choosing His own followers. He preached, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand," and He healed the sick, the lame, the leprous, and cast out demons. He raised the dead. Everywhere He went, lives were changed and lines were drawn, for some hated and despised Him while others loved Him and followed Him. He forgave sin and in doing so enraged further the religious leaders of the day. He was not a rebel, however, for He obeyed the authorities and observed all the Law as given to Moses. In fact, He fulfilled it to the uttermost. He taught His 12 disciples diligently. He was accused of blaspheming, but He was not a blasphemer for He was, indeed, the Son of God. He was Emmanuel--God With Us. 

     At the proper time, according to the Scriptures, He submitted to arrest, torture, and even the shame of crucifixion. As the spotless Lamb of God, He refused to take up the authority that was His to wield and instead submitted to death as a ransom for our sins, as the once and forever perfect Passover sacrifice. He rose again on the third day. He appeared to many, and then He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. He sent His Holy Spirit--the Comforter--to be with His followers and to guide, to convict, to instruct, and to teach the people of God. Centuries later, He has followers, though many claim to love Him and yet do not seek His face or His will for their lives. Many more reject Him, and the times and the seasons grow darker and darker as the father of sin seems to have an unrelenting grip on this world. 

      And yet, the story is not over. One day, no one but the Father knows when, the Messiah will come again. By His death, He paid the price of the title deed to Earth and He will come to lay His claim once more. For now, the prince of the powers of the air freely wreaks havoc, but he is feverish in his attempts to destroy for he knows his time is limited. When the rightful King comes again, that will be the beginning of the end for the evil one. And He will come! He will come to the heralding trumpets and in authority, and the story will end in joy and victory for God and for all those who love His appointed King!

      This Christmas, I rejoice that my Lord and Savior is worthy of my worship, and that He has not left or forsaken His own but has given us His Spirit to keep us humble and steadfast and to help us remain faithful until the end. I see Him and I am ashamed and humbled, for I deserve not even a glimpse of his feet as He passes by while I lie with my face in the dust.  I see Him and I am filled with joy because He does not despise a broken and contrite heart and has lifted my head. Even now, He is sanctifying and preparing me and my brothers and sisters to meet Him on that Day. He is my Redeemer and He is my Ruler. He came as a babe but He is mighty beyond compare or imagining. This Christmas, I eagerly anticipate the future coming of the King!

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.. . " 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever... 
 He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. 
Revelation 17:14, 22:1-5, 20-21

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Looking for the King

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord") and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons." 
Luke 2:21-24

     This month in my little 2-year-old Sunday school class, we are looking at Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus into the temple to fulfill the requirements of the Law as given to Moses for Mary's purification. As I read and retold the story to my little people, there are two facets that stood out to me strongly. The first comes in the above passage: "...a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons."

     I don't know why it stood out to me this time over others, but I realized that not only was my King born in a stable with a bed of scratchy straw surrounded by the less-than-pleasing aromas of sheep and goats, but His earthly parents fulfilled the sacrifice of Mary's purification with the only thing they could afford: a couple of pigeons. If you look back into the Levitical law (found in Leviticus 12:6-8), you will find that the sacrifice of two birds is a provision for those who could not afford both a lamb and a bird. Joseph and Mary, then, were not well-off, for they could not even afford a lamb for her purification after the birth of the Lamb of God. Humble beginnings for the King of kings and the One through whom all things were created.

      The next point struck me even more so than the first. Let's continue to look at this Scripture:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, "Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." Luke 2:25-35
      Despite the lowly circumstances of His earthly parents and the complete lack of the trappings of royalty, this man, Simeon, recognized the King and praised God for Him. I wonder, do I recognize Him when He speaks subtly into my life? Do I hear His voice above all the clamor? Simeon was at the temple to worship, a point I can't help but note. It reminds me to be alert for the presence of God and not just caught up in good music or positive feelings. It reminds me to ask: Do I search for the King in His humility or am I wooed away from actual worship of Him by other distractions?  Particularly during the season of Advent, am I keeping my whole being in a state of eager anticipation of the arrival of the King as Simeon was? For at Advent, I am not only looking back to His first arrival on earth, but also forward to the great Day He will come and reclaim His own. May it be that He finds His Bride prepared and ready when He comes!

     As I ruminate on this, I fear sometimes that in our modern worship, we have allowed buildings or music or  programs or equipment or technology or a myriad other useful and even wonderful tools of modern worship to drown out the simple, unassuming message of our King. Even more so at Christmastime when we are celebrating His birth, we are often more caught up in presents, tinsel,  gift cards, and baking rather than caught up with love and adoration of the One we are supposed to be celebrating. Don't get me wrong--I love worship services and music, and I love Christmas. It's just that every year I have to ask myself if I am seeking the King in the midst of the festivities and activities.  I sincerely hope that I am not found sitting in a place of worship or celebrating His birth,  yet overlook Him in the midst of it! I hope that I, like Simeon, will recognize the Messiah in my days no matter how quietly and unassumingly He presents Himself.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Godly Grief

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 
2 Corinthians 7:9-11
     Oh, how much time I have wasted in my past with worldly grief! At one point in my life, a point before Christ, I was consumed by it. I felt an enormous weight of guilt and shame for things I had done, but rather than driving me away from the deeds that perpetuated such feelings, I felt too powerless and too stained to escape from them. I had grief, but it was a hideously twisted thing that poisoned my days and stunted my reason.

     There is another aspect of the worldly grief that I have seen (and probably exhibited at times)--the false grief that says, "I'm sorry," and yet does not cease the action that prompted the somewhat automatic, empty response. This is not true grief, not brokenness, but just an expected reaction meant to soothe the one wronged without any genuine concern or desire for reconciliation. This is a worldly grief that is a smokescreen; a facade to hide something mean and ignoble behind.

     Then there is the Godly grief--the grief I experienced when I first truly began to understand the weight of what Jesus did. This is the grief that was heavier even than my crushing burden of shame and guilt--weightier because I finally understood that my worldly shame was self-directed (shame because I had shamed myself) whereas my new, Godly grief was due to the excruciating fact that I would treat so heinously the One who forgave the unforgivable in me.

    The full realization of this is tremendous, for it is paradoxically as simple as "Jesus died in my stead," and yet infinitely more grave and far-reaching. It embodies an understanding of His holiness; the power and glory He willingly laid aside; the fact that it was not our recalcitrance that prompted His great act of rescue, but rather our stubborn, self-willed refusal to obey--the fact that we were hopelessly doomed to die without intervention, so steeped were we in sin. How many of us will not only forgive someone who has hurt us willingly, but will go out of our way to recompense the damages made to ourselves on their behalf--paying for their crime and exonerating them of all guilt even as they continue to cause us injury? It is incredibly humbling for me to realize that is precisely what Jesus did for me. But not just for me. It is what He calls me to do for others.

     Through meditation and reflection on His goodness, holiness, and reality, He has produced within me a Godly grief--a grief that I would ever have chosen to sin against One who epitomizes grace, forgiveness, and selfless sacrifice. As I walk through this process of sanctification with Him, He is constantly exposing to me deeper and more subtle areas where I am not completely surrendered to Him. Today, I find myself sorrowful over the many times I have stopped serving someone because I felt that I was taken advantage of by them. Even if I have been taken advantage of and my sense of being used is legitimate, so what? Have I not taken abundant advantage of the totally undeserved grace and mercy that God extended to me through Christ? Why, then, do I think myself so important that I should not be taken advantage of? This revelation does produce a sorrow in me--not a dragging burden of guilt nor a lip-service expression of apology but a keen and true grief; grief not that I have slighted another but that I have been guilty as the indebted servant in Matthew 18:22-35. I have gratefully accepted the mercy of my Master, yet I have been stingy in extending such mercy to others. I am grieved that I would treat the gifts of such an honorable and compassionate King in such a detestable way. The grief is truly Godly grief, for it is grief that I would dare to esteem so lightly the inconceivable affections of the Ever-Existent One.

     This is merely one area in which God is working on me--one of many, I assure you, for Godly grief has began t
o permeate my life. I have experienced those things which Paul wrote about: the indignation, zeal, eagerness to clear myself, and I have felt the sting of punishment from which I have, in actuality, been spared--the sting that comes of knowing that One undeserving  has borne the lash in my stead. It is a spur that will not allow me to rest in sin once I am aware of it; a goad to prompt me to continue to press forward, for allowing Him to change me is the least I can do in return for His astonishing sacrifice. I can never earn it, but I can feel forever the depth of my debt and a passionate depth of gratitude that prompts me to an ever-increasing desire to do His will. I can never repay, but I can certainly live my life in such a way to honor His gift.

     This repentance-producing grief  is a grief, piercing and poignant, yet it is not the type of sorrow that weighs down and destroys. It is the pain of necessary surgery that ushers in a more complete healing, the ache of strenuous exercise which leads to greater fitness, the pangs of labor which leads to the exhilaration of birth. It is not a sorrow leading to death, but to an overflow of life and gladness. It is the bitter night before the the joyous dawn.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:10-11