The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: December 2014

Advent Flesh

In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God . . .
All things were made through him,
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life,
and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it . . .
The true light, which gives light to everyone,
was coming into the world.
He was in the world, yet the world did not know him.
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God,
who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man,
but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth . . .
For from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace . . .
No one has ever seen God;
the only God, who is at the Father’s side,
he has made him known (John 1:1-5,9-14,16,18).

 “The Word”—who was with God in the beginning, through whom everything was created, and who was God—became flesh and lived among us.  Ponder that Scripture above.  Think deeply about the statement I made to briefly summarize that Scripture.  Remember the newborns you’ve seen—or even held—in a happy hospital room.  Consider:  the Word who was with God, through whom God created all things, who was God, came to us like THAT.

No one captures the mystery and meaning of that wonder better than Max Lucado in “Mary’s Prayer” (from his book God Came Near.)Read it reflectively with me.  Stand in awe of the wonder.  Bow your knee at the manger.  And have a Christmas filled with joy and peace and hope and grace and truth and love . . .

God.  O infant-God. Heaven’s fairest child.  Conceived by the union of divine grace with our disgrace.  Sleep well.  Sleep well.  Bask in the coolness of this night bright with diamonds.  Sleep well, for the heat of anger simmers nearby.  Enjoy the silence of the crib, for the noise of confusion rumbles in your future.  Savor the sweet safety of my arms, for a day is soon coming when I cannot protect you.

Rest well, tiny hands.  For though you belong to a king, you will touch no satin, own no gold.  You will grasp no pen, guide no brush.  No, your tiny hands are reserved for works more precious:  to touch a leper’s open wound, to wipe a widow’s weary tear, to claw the ground of Gethsemane.

Your hands, so tiny, so tender, so white—clutched tonight in an infant’s fist.  They aren’t destined to hold a scepter nor wave from a palace balcony.  They are reserved instead for a Roman spike that will staple them to a Roman cross.

Sleep deeply, tiny eyes.  Sleep while you can.  For soon the blurriness will clear and you will see the mess we have made of your world.  You will see our nakedness, for we cannot hide.  You will see our selfishness, for we cannot give.  You will see our pain, for we cannot heal.  O eyes that will see hell’s darkest pit and witness her ugly prince . . . sleep, please sleep; sleep while you can.

Lay still, tiny mouth.  Lay still mouth from which eternity will speak.  Tiny tongue that will soon summon the dead, that will define grace, that will silence our foolishness.  Rosebud lips—upon which ride a starborn kiss of forgiveness to those who believe you, and of death to those who deny you—lay still.

And tiny feet cupped in the palm of my hand, rest.  For many difficult steps lie ahead for you.  Do you taste the dust of the trails you will travel?  Do you feel the cold sea water upon which you will walk?  Do you wrench at the invasion of the nail you will bear?   Do you fear the steep descent down the spiral staircase into Satan’s domain?  Rest, tiny feet.  Rest today so that tomorrow you might walk with power.  Rest.  For millions will follow in your steps.

And little heart . . . holy heart . . . pumping the blood of life through the universe:  How many times will we break you?  You’ll be torn by the thorns of our accusations.  You’ll be ravaged by the cancer of our sin.  You’ll be crushed under the weight of your own sorrow.  And you’ll be pierced by the spear of our rejection.

Yet in that piercing, in that ultimate ripping of muscle and membrane, in that final rush of blood and water, you will find rest.  Your hands will be freed, your eyes will see justice, your lips will smile, and your feet will carry you home.

And there you’ll rest again—this time in the embrace of your Father.

“AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US, AND WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY . . . FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH . . . “

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Advent Servant Song

P.AllanLast Saturday in Brooklyn a 28 year-old loser-in-life murdered two New York City police officers as they sat defenseless in their patrol car.  Then, Sunday a parolee shot and killed a 45 year-old Tarpon Springs, Florida veteran police officer and father of six.  Now today a white policeman in Missouri shot and killed an 18 year-old black man who had pulled a gun on him. This violence comes in the wake of police officers elsewhere killing several African-Americans who apparently had committed crimes.  We might well observe with the prophet in  7th century B.C. Israel . . .

“So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous:
so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4)

Indeed!  Where is justice for crime victims?  For the guilty?  For the innocent?  For the police? Since the Brooklyn murders, I’ve heard “experts” opine a solution:  we  need to “come together” as a community.   They remind me of Isaiah’s biting words about the false gods of the nations . . .

“Behold they are all a delusion,
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind” (Isaiah 41:29). 

Coming together for conversation would be good.  But if we presume to find the solution in ourselves we have become our own false gods.  What will it take to stop supposing we can solve sinful violence if we just sit and talk it out?  When will we admit our helplessness and turn to God?  How like “empty wind” we are to infer that by law we can erase injustice from our hearts!

Old Testament Israel faced the same false-god foolishness.  But the Lord graciously responded through the prophet Isaiah by introducing his servant . . .

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or li
ft up his voice
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not
break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law” (Isaiah 42:1-4).

Three times the prophet proclaims the servant’s justice.  ” . . . he will bring forth justice to the nations . . . he will faithfully bring forth justice . . . He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth.”  Does justice not now go forth?  Is it forever perverted?  The prophet answers with this word from the Lord:  “Behold my servant . . . he will bring forth justice to the nations.”

The Hebrew word translated “justice” refers to establishing, maintaining or giving others what is right.  It implies what the Lord makes explicit—over against all the false gods of the nations, there is one true God who will ultimately allow no counterfeits . . .

“I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 49:9).

“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6b).

We’ll never get true justice right until we get it right that there is one God—the God from whom Isaiah spoke.

“Justice” also implies the one God has sovereignly settled what is truth.  “My truth” and “your truth”?  What he witnessed and what she witnessed?  No!  There is only God’s truth.  Without “true truth” there can be no true justice. 

Finally, “justice” implies what the word means:   the righting of wrongs.  I’m thankful that I live in a nation whose legal system seeks justice, unlike that of, say, North Korea or Iran or China.  But even America’s justice system falls short of righting wrongs.

Take the Eric Garner case, for instance.  Even if police were guilty of Garner’s death, “justice” couldn’t bring him back to his wife.  Or the killing of the Tarpon Springs officer.  “Justice” won’t return that father to his children.  But the Lord will ” . . . create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Who is this servant of the Lord?  Sometimes in Isaiah, “the Lord’s servant” refers to Cyrus, the king of Persia who would order the exiled Hebrews returned to their homeland (Isaiah 45:1).  Other times, the Lord’s servant refers to the nation of Israel as a whole (Isaiah 44:1).  But in the four “servant songs” of Isaiah (42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12), “the Lord’s servant” is an individual man.  Which man?  Matthew the Gospel writer tells us.

“Jesus, aware [that the Pharisees were conspiring to destroy him] withdrew from there.  And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known.  This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope'” (Matthew 12:15-21).

Which man is the Lord’s servant who will bring justice to our prejudiced, violent world?  Jesus. 

Street protestors won’t bring justice.  Community conversations won’t bring it.  Re-trained police won’t bring it.  New laws won’t bring it.  Only Jesus.  He inaugurated justice in his First Advent.  He spreads it now through his followers.  And he will consummate it when he comes again as Sovereign Lord in his Second Advent.

If we’re to seek greater justice in this unjust world, we must go back to Christmas and pray the Servant of the Lord to change our hearts that we might ” . . . do justice, and . . . love kindness, and . . . walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8b).

 

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Advent Provision

P.AllanA beautiful lady in our church family sent me this reading this morning.  It’s an Advent reading from author Ann  Voskamp.  May the Lord speak to your heart through it, as he did mine.

“Sometime later God tested Abraham.  He said to him, ‘Abraham!’  ‘Here I am,’ he replied.  Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’ . . . Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife.  As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’  ‘Yes,, my son!?’  Abraham replied,  ”The fire and the wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’  Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’  And the two of them went on together.  When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.  He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then he reached out his had and took the knife to slay his son.  But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham!  Abraham!’  ‘Here I am,’ he replied.  ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said.  ‘Do not do anything to him.  Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’  Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. (Genesis 22:1,2,6-14).

It is a thing to call a place “The Lord Will Provide.”

It is a thing to name where you live “Provision”, to name the place you call home, “The Lord Will Provide.”

To take your tired hand and turn the knob of that front door marked “Provide” and step right into the widening vista of Advent and find that the literal translation of “to provide” means “to see.”

God always sees—and He will always see to it.

That is all that ever matters:  God always sees, and He will always see to the matter.

Your legs may be weary and your heart may be heavy and your questions may be many; but whatever you are facing, it is always named Mount Moriah:  The Lord Will Appear.  The Lord sees.  And He will see to it.  And He will be seen.

The act of God’s seeing means God acts.  God’s observing means He always serves.  This is the thing:  your God’s constant vision is your constant provision.

You don’t need to climb mountains named “I Will Perform.”

You don’t need to climb mountains named “I Will Produce.”

Every mountain that every Christian ever faces, the Lord levels with sufficient grace:  The Lord Will Provide.

This is what Abraham knows.  You can see it in the way he obeys unafraid and unquestioningly, the way he walks unhurried and unworried, the way he lives.

Worry is belief gone wrong—because you don’t believe that God will get it right.

Peace is belief that exhales—because you believe that God’s provision is everywhere, like air.

In the thin air of Advent (Jesus’ coming), you may not even know to say it out loud: “I thought it would be easier.”  And your God comes near:  I will provide the way.  You may not even know who to tell:  “I thought it would be different.”  And your God draws close:  I will provide grace for the gaps.  You may not even know how to find words for it:  “I thought I would be . . . more.”  And your God reaches out:  I will provide Me.

God gives God.  That is the gift God always ultimately gives.  Because nothing is greater and we have no greater need.  God gives God.  God gives God, and we only need to slow long enough to unwrap the greatest Gift with our time:  time in His Word, time in His presence, time at His feet.

In this moment, in this middle of midwinter, in the dark of your very thickest thicket, there’s the rough bark of the Tree.  And there—you can feel it—the whitened wool of your willing Lamb.  You can feel the willing pulse of His warm heart. Advent is the time to see the Tree in your thicket and whisper the echoing words of your God:  Now I know.  Now I know.  Since You did not spare Your only Son, how will You not also graciously give us–even me–all things You know I need?  (Romans 8:32).

Now I know.  Now I know, because You have not withheld from me Your only Son.  Now I know You love me.

How He always has a ram in the thicket.

How He always provides—this bleating love calling you home.

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Advent Confession

Advent is here—the season of celebrating the coming (“advent”) of the long-promised Christ!

But I haven’t started celebrating yet.  I’ve been depressed.

A shameful confession for an old pastor!  Where’s my faith?  Don’t I believe what I preached?  Why doesn’t the counsel I gave others work for me?  I don’t know.  I just know I’ve been depressed.

Two reasons for confession.  One:  to be honest.  If I wrote a “Christmas cheer” post, I’d feel like a hypocrite.  So I’ll tell it like it is.  Two:  to help others who read this.  At least they’ll know they’re not alone in their darkness.  (Yes, real Christians do get depressed.)

I’ve been depressed over my health.  Numbness and weakness are creeping from my feet to my neck.  I have to use a walker.  Going across a room is like a marathon.  (Okay, that’s an exaggeration.)  With this “creeping” comes pain and ache and fouled-up digestion and other body parts breaking down.  Doctors can’t diagnose it.  It’s progressive.  I pray and have been prayed for, but God stays silent  I feel 91 instead of 71.  I haven’t even been able to write a blog post for over a week.

Because many suffer far worse, I’m ashamed to confess.  Look at the news—somebody’s son gets beheaded. somebody’s teenage daughter gets burned alive, bystanders are maimed by a terrorist’s bomb, wounded warriors with artificial limbs fight to live again while some are so depressed they take their own lives.  I see and think, “What’s my suffering compared to theirs?”  But logic doesn’t cure depression.

Advent, however,  is the season of hope, of  expecting the fulfillment of what the prophets promised, of looking forward to the wonder of Jesus Messiah coming.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone . . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be on his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end . . . (Isaiah 9:2,6,7a).

The day is coming, Isaiah promised (in the past tense to emphasize certainty), when a great light will shine into the darkness of a violent, corrupt, war-torn world.  A child will be born who will take over this world.  He will be known as the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, whose reign of shalom will never end.  This is his First Advent.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers . . . that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep, for the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command. with the voice of the archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore, encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

There is no reason to grieve your dead as those who are without hope beyond death, wrote Paul.  For Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the first of many resurrections.  He will come again commanding his people to rise as God’s trumpet sounds the call.   The bodies of dead believers will be raised.  The bodies of living believers will soar upwards.  Death, and all the suffering that precedes it, will be swallowed up in victory!  We’ll meet the Lord in the air and be with him forever.  This is his Second Advent.

As I read those Scriptures I see a Jewish baby boy asleep in a manger; I see people from every tribe, language, people and nation meeting Jesus Messiah in the air.  I feel a slight soul-stirring.  I hear a whisper:  “This is your hope!  Jesus, who is coming, has already come to begin the end, which is actually the Beginning.  Through him God will do more than all you can ask or even imagine!”

Depression—POOF!—gone?  No.  But there’s light in the darkness.  If I keep looking at that light, if I fix my gaze on the Scriptures, I’ll have grace to fight the darkness.  The light will reveal the breathtaking wonder of Jesus the Messiah.  It will bring me back to the wonder of his First Advent.  It will point me toward the wonder of his Second Advent.  And it will brighten the banner that flies over this entire Advent season:  “HERE IS YOUR HOPE, YOU WHO LIVE IN DARKNESS.  HIS NAME IS JESUS!”

 

 

 

 

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Kiev, Ferguson, & Christmas Grace

O PreacherI have great respect for Ravi Zacharias.  The apologetic ministry God gave this man from India, who tried to commit suicide as a teenager, is something only God could do.  Week after week he speaks the Gospel to leaders of nations and students in universities around the world.  Following is a letter from him I didn’t want any of us to miss.

Dear Friend,

Just a few hours ago I stood at the square in Kiev where one year ago over a million people gathered to protest Russia’s ruthless attempt at breaking Ukraine.  The pictures, the flowers, the memory of the many dead scream in silence. Ukrainian youth and others paid with their lives, and the pictures reveal the savagery of the oppressors.  It was a biting cold sixteen degrees as I recorded a message there while passersby stopped to listen.  As I now fly back, I see another scene:  a burning building and the threatening destruction in Ferguson, MO, the aftermath of the tragic death of a young man there.  There are huge differences between these stories but the cries are similar.  Sadly, speech makers often exploit such scenarios, provoking our baser instincts.  When the jury in Missouri spoke, the words of supposed comfort were predictable:  “We are a nation of laws.”  That generally means, “We do not want this outcome.”  Going back across the Scriptures, we see the same search for laws that would help people live with each other.  That’s the key, isn’t it?  To live and not die.  To the mindset of that day they sought laws that reflected order and communal relationships.  They often ran afoul of the disparate hungers within themselves.  So the legal system moved toward social ethics and their enforcement.  But much of it made no inner corrective.  They became a nation of laws that ended up breeding lawlessness.  For living together in harmony, Moses gave 613 laws to help build their community.  About half a millennium later, David in the 15th Psalm, reduced them to 11.  Isaiah, in his opening chapter, reduced them further to six.  Micah, in his sixth chapter, narrowed them down to three:  “To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly before your God.”  How much further could one go to find the essence of the law?  Jesus, in the 22nd chapter of Matthew,was asked which was the greatest commandment.  The point was to see if he would earn the wrath of the political or religious leaders who dictated social or religious practice with scores of laws.  Jesus, knowing their intent, surprised them.  He did not reduce the laws to one.  He could have done that.  Instead, he reduced them down to two:  “To love the Lord your God with all your hearth, strength, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two,” he said, “hang all of the laws and the prophets.”  That caught them off guard.  You see they could easily mystify or silence the first but they would still be left with having to live out the second.  They could have exalted the second but they would have rendered it without foundation by losing the first.

All the platitudes of double-speak remind us that if we hope in politics and laws, we will make the suicidal blunder of thinking that laws change hearts.  They do not.  Societal laws are always at the mercy of power brokers, as language without integrity of heart lends itself to the machinations of demagogues.  Oftentimes those machinations will dress up their own violations with noble purposes.  Few evils rise to the insidious level as those that mask reality with purportedly benign intentions, cosmetically hiding a cancerous, self-serving motive.

We see again and again in the ebb and flow of history how laws have the power of letters, but they never win the soul of a person.  Courts, agencies, police, military, EPA, FAA, FTC, IRS, the politically correct enforcers . . . my goodness, we have enough laws to make Rome look like a toy shop.  All over the world we hear more talk about brotherhood and yet in reality we see more hoods than brothers.

But thank God, there is a law above our laws.  There must be a law above our laws that gets to the innermost being of a person and breaks the pursuit of autocracy within.  That happens when we admit the heart must humble itself before God, and this brings change.  That surrender of the heart to God disarms the individual and engenders a love from God and for His will.

We look around today at the environment and mourn the abuse.  Fair enough.  But here is the greatest mystery of all.  Why do we never think of the “invironment”?  What stalks us within?  Is there nothing sacred about this body?  Is it only the trees that need protection?  Is there nothing sacred about my relationships so long as I can pop something into the mouth to negate the behavior of the night before?  Is there nothing sacred about work so long as the government will pay my bills?  Is success all in the power to enforce and not in the power to change for eternal truths?  Has the family no place in the building blocks of society?  Is politics purely left and right without any up and down?  Ah!  There’s the question.

Having left that question unanswered, we are producing a generation of young people that are ready to cry “justice” when wronged, but seldom think of what is right in personal responsibility.  They know everything about outer space and very little about inner space.  They know how to hate; they simply don’t know how or why to love.

As Ferguson is being torn apart, what is the answer?

Picture two scenarios.  Here’s one:  the police officer who stands at the center of the story walks into the crowd to speak to them.  What do you think will happen?  In any crowd that feels victimized, there will be some who want to take the law into their own hands and their “justice” will not look pretty.  The ends to them would justify the means, the very thing of which they accused the police officer.

Few would want to witness such a scene.  When love is dead, glimpses of hell rise as unforgiveness wafts from the burning pyre.  That is the end of a so-called nation of laws that has left the inner self unchanged.  Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome all had their laws.  Their stones speak.

Here’s the other:  Michael Brown’s parents ask to speak to the officer.  They visit him, give him a picture of their son, look him in the eye, speak of their irreparable loss, weep with anguish for what happened, reach out their arms and say, “Because of Jesus, we forgive you, we hold no ill will.”  I realize we are talking about the almost impossible.  But just think with me.  What if that were to happen?  It will be so riveting that if the eyes close, it will be to picture heaven.  When love lives, grace abounds and life rises.

The first scenario is easier to give in to and satisfies the search for revenge, but leaves a pall of death . . . Michael Brown, the police officer and, yes, more catastrophically the future.  It will change nothing except build more hate and distrust.  The power for inflicting pain would have won the day.  The victory would be pyrrhic.

The second is almost unimaginable but will spell life.  The embrace of the parent for the one accused will put a light in a dark city that will shine around the world and give the shining possibility of hope.  It is only unimaginable without God.  With God it is possible.  When Jacob met Esau his brother, he said, “I see in your face the face of God.”  He said it because he found grace and forgiveness when he could have, by law, expected death.  Esau didn’t say, “We are a family of laws.”

As we look at the Christmas season, we see the love of God at work.  He sends and gives His Son so that we might not have to live with mere laws.  We hear enough that we are a nation of laws.  Laws don’t change flaws.  They just reveal them.  How about becoming a nation of grace?  In Him, law and love converge.  He brings the work of grace within us to make us hunger after the true, the good and the beautiful.  That rises beyond mere laws.  It is not surprising that the Christian message first came to a simple woman who just wanted to build a home, and then to a carpenter, one working with his hands.  It was heralded to a band of shepherds, strangely blending their work both for the temple and the home.  They knew about lambs and sheep.  We were the sheep.  We awaited a lamb that could be the ultimate sacrifice to bring us to God.

Sudden happenings through ordinary people can change history with profound truths.

Who stood in Mary and Joseph’s way?  Religious and political authorities.  Why?  Because they lived by the power to enforce laws.  Someone who transcended those laws would spell danger to their power.  Herod felt threatened and wished to silence the message.  We still have Herods today.  “Silence the Christmas songs!”  Don’t let our children hear the message in our schools. Take away anything that tells the Christmas story.”  Why?  Because we have our laws.  Yes, Herod’s ghost looms large.  Is it any wonder our young feel helpless?

Caesar felt threatened because he wanted to be all-powerful.  Caesar knew how to make laws.  He knew nothing about grace.  His empire is gone and his crown rolled in the dust.  He was powerless to build an eternal city.  We still have the Caesars today.

The high priest felt threatened because he wanted to be the dispenser of salvation.  Why give it free?  Pilate felt threatened and so didn’t even wait for the answers.

We still have such interrogators today.  Our academics surely know how to ask questions, but never give a platform to hear the answers.  Standing in front of a microphone is easy.  Taming the heart is ever elusive.  Times may change, people don’t.

At the square in Kiev there is a section dedicated to the “Heavenly Hundred” memorializing the dead but with pointers to heaven.  They died so that others may live.  It is a reflection of a greater truth.  Gospel truths sneak upon us in strange ways.  It seems as though death is the loudest voice calling for life.

Several years ago, terrorists broke into two hotels in Mumbai and opened random fire.  So many were killed.  The carnage was bloody.  One Indian actor was found alive amidst the pile of bodies under a table where several had dived for cover.  In an interview he was asked, “Why didn’t they also shoot you when they walked by?”  He said, “I was so covered with someone else’s blood that they thought it was mine and left me for dead.”

He didn’t know it, but he hinted at the Gospel.  The blood of our Savior saves us.

Here’s the Christmas scene.  What a contrast:  a stable, a baby, talking about a throne and a king.  Where is the penultimate scene for that child?  On a hill.  On a hill called Calvary.  A place least expected.  A place where blood was shed and we were covered.  The Son cries out to the Father to forgive the murderers.  He cries out to those closest to Him to comfort and take care of His mother.  He tells all of us that the price has been paid for our isolated selves, isolated from God and from each other.  What a story!  May we hear the story afresh.  It is our only hope.

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

He opened the door to heaven.

When  I finished my brief talk at the square in Kiev, our guide—whom I had met just moments before—walked up to me and wiping away her tears, kissed me on both sides of my face and said,  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Hope is attached to love.  Love is the only root for peace.  But it starts with love for God as we receive His gift at Christmas.  All other gifts are wrapped in paper.  His gift was wrapped in grace.

“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”  A grace-filled Christmas season is my prayer for the streets of Ferguson, the square in Kiev, and, indeed, for our troubled world.
Ravi

And let it begin with me.  Amen! 

   
 
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Content with Christ (2)

P.AllanI confess.  It’s hard for me to be content when circumstances are discontenting.  But that’s the point of learning contentment, isn’t it.  I’m trusting that, from the cumulative impact of Burroughs’ book, Paul’s affirmation can be mine . . .

” . . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

So I move ahead, briefly summarizing and commenting on Jeremiah Burroughs’ 17th century book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.  Here are three more lessons Burroughs says Christ teaches.

The Burden of Prosperity.  I’m retired, so I don’t want to have more years than money.  Maybe I should play the lottery.  But the Bible butts in and shoots down my money-brings-contentment dream.  “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.  It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10).  Prosperity doesn’t spell contentment.  In God’s view, prosperity preachers hang a millstone around our necks.  The American Dream is spun by the devil in disguise.  Prosperity is an albatross, not a liberator.  A killer, not a life-saver.  A false god, not a satisfier.

Remember the man in the Gospels whose land produced a bumper crop?  As the story goes, he planned to build bigger barns and say to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”  God called him a fool.  In hours he’d be dead and get to enjoy none of it—nor the God he’d ignored all his life (Luke12:13-21).

Tempted to run after prosperity for contentment, I can pray the Proverbs’ prayer!  ” . . . give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:8,9).

The Evil of Getting What You Want.  Getting what my heart desires can be evil?  Three times Paul reports God’s horrible sentence on those who got what they wanted:  “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity . . . ” (1:24) . . .”For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions . . . ” (1:26) . . . “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (1:28).  Humans hearts lust for impurity, so God gives us over to it.  Human hearts beat with dishonorable passions, so God gives us over to them.  Human hearts think what God marks off-limits is good, so God gives us over to morally depraved minds.  Getting what our hearts naturally desire leads to evil, not contentment.  Contentment comes from getting what God wants.

The Providence of God.  J.I. Packer defines providence . . .

“God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11). If Creation was a unique exercise of divine energy causing the world to be, providence is a continued exercise of that same energy whereby the Creator, according to his own will, (a) keeps all creatures in being, (b) involves himself in all events, and (c) directs all things to their appointed end. The model is of purposive personal management with total “hands-on” control: God is completely in charge of his world. His hand may be hidden, but his rule is absolute.”

 God providentially rules all things, not just generally, but in every detail.  So Jesus taught, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29,30).  And Burroughs comments, ” . . . there is nothing that befalls you but there is a hand of God in it—this is from God, and is a great help to contentment.”

Furthermore, God works his providence interdependently.  Burroughs challenges me:  ” . . . when God has ordered a thing for the present to be thus . . . how do you know how many things depend on this thing?  God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out this day or this week.”  So, because he was providentially arrested in Jerusalem,  Paul testified to kings  (Acts 21:37-26:32) and because of his providential imprisonment in Rome “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:13).

Finally knowing God’s ways in providence help me learn contentment.  Burroughs identifies three . . .

  1. “God’s ordinary course is that his people in this world should be in an afflicted condition.”  ” . . . through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22b).  “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12,13).
  2. Usually when God intends the greatest mercy to any of his people he brings them into the lowest condition.  Before God mercifully saved the Hebrews to become his treasured-possession people, he allowed Pharaoh to cruelly abuse them as his slaves (Exodus 1-19).  Before God mercifully set David on Israel’s throne, he drove him into the mountains as a fugitive from King Saul (1 Samuel 26,27).  Before God raised his Son from the dead that he might lavish his mercy on lost sinners like me, he nailed him to a cross (Romans 4:24).
  3. It is the way of God to work by contraries, to turn the greatest evil into the greatest good.  Martin Luther wrote, “It is the way of God:  he humbles that he might exalt, he kills that he might make alive, he confounds that he might glorify.”  Sounds foolish, doesn’t it!  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God . . . Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:18,20b).  That’s the heart of the Gospel—and I have to learn it for myself to learn contentment.

It turns out, then, that prosperity that people naturally seek for contentment actually becomes a back-breaking burden . . . that getting what my heart naturally desires to be content actually produces evil
. . . and that knowing (and trusting!) God’s counter-intuitive providential ways teaches me contentment.  Help me, Father, not to love and think like the world, but to love and think like you!

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