Wednesday, December 24, 2014

At Just the Right Time

The story is so familiar: Jesus, God with us, born to a young girl, who had her first baby in an animal stall, because the local inns were all full.

He grew up in Nazareth, of Galilee, a backwater town with a less than lofty reputation.

He lived in a time where the locals were occupied by powerful Rome, under a ruler who was know for being power-hungry, and paranoid.

He entered into his active ministry of proclaiming the gospel at age 30, without the communications advantages we have today: mass media, public relations people, the Internet – to spread his life-giving message. Instead, he walked from town to town, and spoke to those who chose to listen (and to many who didn’t).

I’ve often marveled that God would choose that time and that way to send His Son. Would it have seemed like the right time to you?

But God makes it clear that His timing for Jesus’ birth and life is perfect: when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

What about the timing of his death? After a mere three years of earthly ministry, He is sentenced to death. What might He have done with, say, 10 years on earth? Or 20?! His closest disciples certainly didn’t seem to have grasped the heart of his teaching; they appear weak-willed, lacking the fortitude to persevere once He is arrested.

And the particulars of His death: grotesque, shameful, excruciating, casting aspersion on everything He’d ever taught or done. How could God die? And such a cursed death?

But God makes it clear that His timing and manner for Jesus’ death is perfect:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13)

For when we were still without strength, at just the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6, 8)

When we measure these events – or the events in our own lives – using our own perspective as a measuring stick, we miss vital information and insight. We can’t see what God sees. We don’t know what He knows. We imagine His kingdom coming in ways that are sensible, measurable, comprehensible; what He does looks crazy. The timing, the setting, the plotline: we would surely write the story differently.

But isn’t that the point? We aren’t writing the story. God is. His timing is intentional; His methods are flawless; His purposes are perfect, to reveal who He is and accomplish what He intends.

His kingdom is coming; His loving purposes in the lives of His people are being fulfilled. Even when we don’t understand the setting, the timing, the events. Even when the rising action confuses us, when the conflict appears too great and without resolution; when the conclusion evades our common sense reasoning.

God sent His Son into the world at just the right time! And, in God’s perfect timing, Jesus died for us, the ungodly, in order to redeem us from under the law, that we would be reborn as God’s very own children.

Trust the Lord with all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways, recognize Him
and He will direct your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Sunday, December 21, 2014

His Coming

The true light, who gives light to everyone, [has come] into the world. . . The Word of God became human flesh and took up residence in our midst. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.   
John 1:9 & 14

This morning wasn’t the first time we’ve invited Sherry and her girls to church with us. She has seemed nervous yet eager to join us. Always, at the last minute, she has wriggled out, fretting about her children’s shoes not being nice enough (she says) -- more likely fretting about being out of place, different, not-good-enough (she probably feels).

It’s hard to enter a new place, an unfamiliar context. You feel exposed. Uncertain. On guard. Even in a church where many will welcome you. Where the grace of God for needy people is preached. Where we sing to celebrate God’s goodness and mercy to us in Christ.

At Christmastime, more than ever, we are praying that she will come. Because we know that Jesus has already come. For her.

He has come to us, so that we may come to Him.    

God has held out His flesh-and-bones hand through Jesus, that we might place our hand in His.

. . .

We smile at the mental image of shepherds lifting tattered robes from ankles, coming quickly to the barn, wide-eyed, after a skyfull of angelic beings rocked their world.

We marvel that learned men travelled for months, maybe years, in search of the King that they discovered in the stars.

We love hearing people tell their stories of coming to Christ in faith.

But first, He came to us: an unassuming invitation wrapped in Jewish flesh, a glimpse of God that made Him real to us. The distance He travelled boggles the mind, making Dr Who’s adventures in the TARDIS look like a brief stroll in an itty-bitty park. Across the universe that Christ Himself created, all the way into the womb of a young girl in Galilee, He took his first human breath in a stable, beneath the night sky that He had formed.

From the beginning, His plan, with the Father and the Spirit, was to come to us, for us. To meet us in a way that would make sense to us. To speak our language and paint word pictures that we could understand. To touch us, and be touched by us. To live in “our” world for a brief while, to share our earthly everyday experiences. To be fully human, even as He has always been and always will be God.

This is how far He has come.

This is how close He has come.

To you. For you.

. . .

If Christmastime is a bittersweet time for you, shadowed in sadness or grief or regret, I bring you good news of great joy:

Jesus, “God with us,” has come! He has come to you and for you. He is as near to you as your breath, your next thought, your hand reaching for His open, outstretched hand.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.…
And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.   
Isaiah 60:1 & 3

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Flight Check


Her name means: flight.

Her story is told in two brief vignettes in Genesis.

Scene 1:  When Sarah loses hope and patience that she will ever conceive the child that God had promised Abraham, she cooks up her own plan involving her personal servant Hagar. Of course, Hagar complies (did she have a choice?!) and ends up pregnant. Relational fallout is no big surprise: Sarah’s scheme births not only a son apart from the promise, but jealousy and hatred to boot. And Sarah, wielding the upper hand, takes it out on Hagar.

So Hagar flees the conflict.

She runs into the desert, stopping near a spring.

And God comes to Hagar.

An angel of God gives her a glimpse into her son Ishmael’s future. Ishmael means: God hears.

God hears Hagar.

“You are the God who sees me!” Hagar exclaims, and she follows His direction to return to her home and her destiny – still rife with jealousy, conflict, drama.

God sees Hagar.

Scene 2: Some 14 years later, the promised child Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah. The palpable enmity between the two mothers has not been lost on Ishmael; he mocks Isaac. Sarah turns on Hagar yet again, insisting that Abraham get rid of her and her outcast son.

Abraham reluctantly exiles his son and Hagar from the family. The last swallows of water gone, Hagar loses all hope of surviving in this barren place. And the thought of seeing her son die before her eyes is too much to bear.

So Hagar flees the grief.

She hides her son beneath a bush and turns her eyes and ears away from his whimpers.

And God comes to Hagar.

He has heard Ishmael’s cries, as well as the silent cries of Hagar’s despairing heart.

God hears Hagar.

Parched by the desert air, blinded by her own hopeless tears, God opens Hagar’s eyes to a well of water before her, which refreshes both her and her son.

God sees Hagar. And He helps her to see His refreshing provision for her, too.

How tempting it is to run from conflict and from grief! Whether we literally flee the scene, or immerse ourselves in our comfort of choice (watching TV, shopping, eating, etc.), we imagine that our refuge will be found in escaping the pain of our reality.

But as daughters of God, we discover something about our flight instinct: any false refuge is an isolated, barren desert that cannot supply our need for hope, refreshment and companionship. We are parched for God, and nothing else will meet our need.

We also discover something beautiful about our God:

He comes to us, no matter how far we’ve fled.

He hears us and understands, even the deepest griefs that we can’t voice.

He sees us more clearly than we see ourselves and our circumstances.

He refreshes us, lifts us gently onto our feet, directs us back toward the conflict (!), rebuilds our hope. He walks with us and sustains us as we persevere in even the hardest reality that He has called us to.

And what if the pressure of reality mounts, and we flee yet again? Then God meets us yet again in the desert, and reveals who He is once more.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139: 7-10

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Leah's Legacy

(If you are not familiar with the account of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, read Genesis 28-29.)


Poor Leah.

If you’ve read her story, you can’t help but feel for her. A conniving father sneaks her into a wedding night that was meant for her prettier sister, and the husband is none too pleased. After all, he’d worked – gladly! – for seven years so he could have Rachel (lamb).  Not Leah (cow). So he works seven more years for Rachel, each day a virtual slap to the face of this unwanted woman.

So what’s a neglected wife to do to win the love of her husband? Give him sons! Fulfill that promise God made to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob:
I will make you extremely fruitful and will make nations and kings come from you.  I will keep My covenant between Me and you, and your future offspring throughout their generations, as an everlasting covenant to be your God and the God of your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:6-7).

God was all for that: “When he saw that Leah was unloved, He opened her womb.” Then He proceeded to give her sons ‑ all within one paragraph of Old Testament narrative.

Because the Lord loved Leah, His eye was upon her in her loneliness. Leah named her first son Reuben, which sounds like the Hebrew word for seen. Because Leah declared “The Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.”  This is the way, she must have thought, that God will take care of me: He will make my husband see that he loves me!

But Jacob didn’t.

She named her second son Simeon, heard, because “The Lord has heard that I am unloved, so he has given me this son.”  Maybe two sons would inspire Jacob to love her!

But Jacob didn’t.

When she gave birth to her third son, she named him Levi, which sounds like attached: “Now that I have given him three sons, my husband will become attached to me!”

But Jacob didn’t.

Certainly, Leah called the names of those three sons often every day, whether correcting them, praising them, or calling them to supper:

“Reuben, don’t speak so harshly to your brother!”

“Come, Simeon, join us at the table.”

“Levi, you are so dear to me.”

And with every spoken name, she would remember her longing for her husband’s love:

Seen. . .   The Lord has seen me; perhaps now my husband will see me for who I am.

Heard . . .The Lord has heard my cries; surely my husband will hear my cry and comfort me.

Attached . . . My husband will attach himself to me; I will no longer be lonely!

But Jacob didn’t.

Those names did not ring true of Leah’s husband, but they were (and are) always true of God. Not just for Leah, but for every wife, whether neglected, cherished, forgotten, esteemed, mistreated or anything else.

The Lord sees you . . .

The Lord hears you . . .

The Lord is attached to you . . .

. . . whether or not a husband ever is.

Before closing her womb for a time, God gave Leah a fourth son. She named him Judah, which sounds like the Hebrew word for praise. Leah declared, “I will praise the Lord” ‑ and there is no mention of her husband this time. For this name was about God alone, not her relationship with her husband. Leah saw her Lord, heard His love for her in the midst of her sorrows, and attached herself to Him in worship and praise.

When Leah named her fourth son Praise, she couldn’t have known that centuries later, through Judah’s lineage, a great shepherd king would come, who would govern God’s people as a man after God’s own heart.

Nor could she have foreseen that a thousand years after David, the One True Shepherd King, the only One worthy of all praise in every age, would enter this world to fulfill God’s covenant promise.

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. 
That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
(2 Corinthians 1:20)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

David's One Thing

David was anticipating the throne of Israel, and fleeing jealous Saul. And when he cried out to God, what was the ONE THING he asked for? It was not physical protection, or leadership ability, or popularity within Israel, or even personal holiness.
“ONE THING I have asked of the Lord, and this is what I will seek:that I may dwell in God’s house all my days, to behold His delightful beauty,
and to worship in His presence.” (Ps 27:4)
David’s “one thing” was being close to God, no matter what. And how do we draw near to God, behold His presence, worship Him face to face? Through His written self-portrait, His self-revelation: the Bible. And through the Word-Become-Flesh, God-with-Us: Jesus.
In the Bible, God reveals His Being, His thoughts and desires, His intentions toward us, His character. And He reveals Himself most vividly in the person of Jesus Christ, whom we also get to know in God’s Word.
I’ve been told the Bible is “God’s Instruction Manual.” I’ve hunted for a “verse” just to make me feel better or give me specific direction in the moment. It can be tempting to read the Bible for the morality lessons, or to find “good examples” to follow. Or to read the Bible through the filter of our own soap box issues, to find proof texts for our theology of preference.
But when God speaks, it is not to give us a to-do list, or a band-aid for our hurts, or a human hero to emulate, or Three Steps to Successful Living. Instead, God gives us Himself.
The Pharisees missed this. They were so focused on the commands of Scripture that they missed the Messiah! Jesus confronted them: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:37-40)

Our “one thing,” what matters most in life, is essentially the same as David wrote 1000 years ago: 
to dwell with God through faith in Christ
to delight in who He is no matter our circumstances
to worship Him in all that we do, say and think.