Archive for December, 2020
“And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22).
Christmas was no sentimental experience for Mary and Joseph, but a sacrificial journey committed to the spiritual formation of their new child. Traveling from the place of Jesus’ birth, Bethlehem, to Jerusalem, that they might fulfill the expectations of their faith, followed by the return to their own city, Nazareth, this young couple trekked more than 90 miles in the first 40 days of Jesus’ life. We can only imagine their emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion; but they esteemed highly the customs of their faith and the gathering together of God’s people at the appointed times, and would not allow fatigue to steal away or circumvent their priorities as parents. Now…tell me again why you can go everywhere else, but not church on Sunday.
“But My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you” (1 Samuel 7:15).
With one unique conjunction, but, there is a shift in the theological comprehension of God’s covenant with his people. Instead of it being understood as a conditional relationship, Saul being exhibit A of one who failed to live up to expectations, God’s unceasing lovingkindness becomes the unexpected hinge upon which the covenant will forever (v.16) turn. The world understands conditional love, a love based upon “if” and “when” certain expectations are met. What’s unexpected, however, is an unconditional love. Since God did not withhold it from us while we were yet in the world, we must not withhold it from the world we each day encounter.
“Go and say to My servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in’’” (2 Samuel 7:5)?
It’s as if God is asking, “David, are you really going to take what was intended to be a faith of dynamic character, with sweeping eternal implications for all nations, and turn it into a static, localized, and institutionalized religion; relegated to man-made buildings and protocols of decorum? The place of our assembling together must never become a substitute for the place of our mission. While staying behind stained glass offers an easier and more pristine religious expression, it stands in stark contrast to a missional faith that requires getting our hands dirtied by the brokenness of human suffering and despair.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
In his reflection on Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope, Miroslav Volf reminds us of the difference between optimism and hope. Volf writes, “Optimism is based on the possibilities of things as they have come to be; hope is based upon the possibilities of God irrespective of how things are.” As the body of Christ, we are to be a breath of hope in a world that has come to think there is none.
“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
Long before emerging revelations of government surveillance, U.S. intelligence operations in the post-9/11 world, and information gathering programs of federal agencies such as the National Security Agency, there was the all-seeing eye of God. Instead of fretting over the invasiveness of Big Brother, all the more we should be mindful of and thankful for the watchfulness of our Heavenly Father.
“Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1).
The foundational truths of our faith are of absolute necessity; offering us a sense of rootedness. That the author of Hebrews states we must leave behind these basic tenets doesn’t mean they are to be abandoned or forsaken. A skyscraper has a foundation but it must leave the foundation to become a superstructure. A tree must have roots but it must leave its roots to become a great shade tree. As believers we can’t be just foundations and roots; we must leave out from themif we are to grow up into the greater thing that the foundation has been designed to support.
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Before levying judgment against corporate America with accusations of having taken Christ out of Christmas, we would do well to examine our own lives and practices. It seems somewhat disingenuous to claim being offended by banners and greetings of “Happy Holiday” at your favorite retail establishment, while handing over your credit card and incurring greater and greater consumer debt. Jesus, of course, is the very first Christmas present, given by God the Father himself. His intention was never the introduction of a holiday in the hopes that it might break you financially but, rather, that it would offer to you the certainty of an eternal hope; one that cannot be bought with cash, but will be paid for on a cross. We cannot allow sentiment to become a substitute for a sacrificial life dedicated to His service.
“Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel, which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar’” (2 Samuel 7:7)?
While building a temple seems a noble gesture, God recognizes David’s ulterior motive. Because David is at a place of settling down in his own life (v.1), he wants God to settle down with him. It was never God’s intention to be domesticated and “provincialized” into a god that accommodates a given regional culture. It’s but the human tendency to reduce the idea of God into something that can be controlled and compartmentalized within one’s self-determined lifestyle. A religion that seeks to confine God to a building; that can be visited once a week, twice a year, or when there are no other plans for the weekend, is far easier than the pursuit of a faith that informs every facet of daily life.
“Cry aloud and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:6).
The birth of the Christ child is the ultimate declaration of God’s presence in the world; a nearness that becomes the catalyst of joy in any given circumstance. I find no biblical basis for the notion that faith somehow exempts us from the trials of life; nor is faith the silver bullet that makes hardships disappear. Rather, such things become the very crucible through which the character of our faith is forged. My only desire is the assurance of God’s presence; that somehow, all of this serves some greater purpose that my finite mind cannot now comprehend. If you believe this to be so, your joy will not be lacking, but made full.
“Praise the Lord in song, for He has done excellent things; let this be known throughout the earth” (Isaiah 12:5).
Throughout their history, God’s people have been a singing community. Song has been a venue of not just worship, praise, and adoration but, also a means of admonition and instruction (Colossians 3:16). For a despairing world, filled with so many things gone wrong, our collective voices as the body of Christ, singing of God’s excellent things, offer an overture of hope throughout the earth. Do not withhold your voice from the kingdom choir to which we are called.