Archive for December, 2015
“Hate evil, you who love the Lord, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97:10).
For no particular reason, today’s text brought to mind the often heard cliche, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Sadly, it is too often utilized in condemning someone else’s particular sin or lifestyle while ignoring your own. The psalmist has rightly made our sinful predisposition more personal. Thus, to avoid any appearance of stone-throwing, or making someone the object of derision, perhaps we should more accurately and confessionally profess, “I hate my sin, but love my Savior.”
“Now darkness fell upon the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken me.’ …Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week…” (Matthew 27:45-46; 28:1).
From the cross, even Jesus experienced the despairing sense that he was alone and abandoned by God. Such dark moments seem an inevitable part of the faith journey. Our abiding hope, however, is that every night gives way to the dawn; every cross will have its resurrection; the darkness of any circumstance will be redeemed by the Light of the World.
“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
At the heart of the gospel is God’s love, mercy, and grace. What makes salvation Good News is that it has been accomplished by everything God has done and has nothing to do with what we have done. Even so, self-loathing has driven many to an addiction of the idea that they must work their way into God’s favor. Thus, they never fully experience the joy and freedom of being the beneficiary of God’s favor. The key to deliverance is seeing yourself not with the eyes of your own low self-esteem but, rather, the eyes of God’s extravagant love.
“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).
God’s extravagant love stands in stark contrast to the extremes of fear, hate, anger, and hostility that dominate the world stage. The nature of such vitriol seeks to divide both nations and neighborhoods for the sake of preserving personal kingdoms and self-interests. The nature of God’s love, however, transcends such pejorative divisions. God’s love is comprehensive, inviting, and inclusive of all people and not just some.
“From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Christ” (Galatians 6:17).
A dog bite, a swing-set accident, multiple suturing of the brow, athletic injuries — my body bears physical marks from incidences having occurred over the course of life. There are other scars as well, invisible, left by painful life experiences. Scars are part of our identification; they tell a story of who we are.
Paul’s brand-marks were battle scars. He received countless beatings — five times the thirty-nine lashes of the Jews, three times beaten with rods, and once stoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-25) — the direct result of his service and commitment to Jesus. These marks declare whose he is and whom he serves.
Beyond your baptism is there anything, by the way you live and the choices you make, that marks you as a servant of Christ?
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36).
The graveyard of history is littered with the tombstones of doomsayers and prognosticators. To avoid being fooled by those who continue in their attempts to “decode” what Jesus himself confessed to not knowing, we would do well to keep before us the intent of sacred scripture – heralding the preeminence of Christ and His exalted role in the redemptive purposes of God. This is the goal of the Law and the prophets in the Old Testament (“For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John” Matthew 11:13). Continued efforts to make the ancient text into some kind of predictor of global disasters, Arab-Israeli relations, or any event dominating a 24-hour news cycle dishonors the sufficiency of our Lord and all that was fulfilled in his death, burial, and resurrection. The words spoken by the prophets of old were but pointers to the One who would be the Word Incarnate. The greatest testimony of our confidence in Him isn’t to pass the day with calculators and charts in hand; that we might, to the day, predict his return but, rather, to live obediently each day with the anticipation that this is the day.
I would not begin to guess the day but I know the day is imminent. Live accordingly.
“Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1).
While the prophesying proclamation of Isaiah carries a futuristic tone regarding the One who will someday come, there is a word of hope for the present moment of any generation reading this decree. For an exiled people facing the most unstable and frightening of times, their deliverance was nonetheless fulfilled. Their Deliverer came not in glorious fanfare and triumphal pageantry as one would expect from a King but, rather, he emerged as a shoot from a stem, from what seemed lifeless and without hope; from humility and brokenness; from Nazareth not Rome. As you look upon the green of your Christmas tree today, let it be a reminder of the Sprig of Hope that is forever among us.
“And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God” (Luke 1:64).
Though struck dumb by an angel, Zacharias has had nine months to reflect upon the pronouncement that he and Elizabeth would have a child. Even this priest, with the responsibility of proclamation, had to learn the value of silence; that he should be listening as well as teaching; that the things of God are worthy of contemplation and not just explanation. Do you require explanation and understanding before you praise God, or is reflection upon his goodness enough to bring it forth?
“And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time” (Luke 1:20).
Zacharias’s disbelief emerges from a common malady of God’s people — a lack of imagination. He had fallen into a pattern of pessimism; a habit of hopelessness; a disposition of despair. He could not envision an existence any different than the one to which he awakened each day. Advent and the birth of Christ is ever before us as a reminder of God’s intrusion into our world and lives. As unlikely as even this seems, it beckons us to imagine unimaginable possibilities as we faithfully pursue the One making all things new.
“Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years’” (Luke 1:18).
While his wife may have had a barren womb (v.7), there seems to be a barrenness to the faith of Zacharias. The pronouncement of the angel regarding the birth of a son, John the Baptist, should have elicited a response of praise and thanksgiving. Instead, Zacharias’s disbelief produced only questions. A barren faith can lead us to being preoccupied with mysterious questions instead of pondering known answers. Reflection and acting upon what we do know is superior to the inaction of speculating upon what we do not.