Post-Christmas Musing: The Essentials of The Way-Faith, Hope & Love

My mind has been going back and forth over what to write in relation to the Christmas Holiday this year.  The celebration has come and gone.  Now I recognize that the Christmas season is definitely a mix. By tradition and works of Church we celebrate the Incarnation alongside the celebrations of the world.  Boundaries get blurred, things get mixed, and perspective can shift from God’s Holy work to that which is of self and our own desires.  In fact at times, the season can be about getting what we want. The reality is that the focus should be to grow more and more in alignment with walking in what God wants, living in surrender.

As previously stated, this Christmas season has been a strange one for me and my family. There is an ongoing mix of grief and hope.  My sister-in-law suffered the loss of her mother in the past year.  My step-mother is quickly slipping away while hope remains that God will bring restoration of her health.   My mother continues to cope with her loss of vision, which continues to fade. My wife hopes to receive word on Monday of being promoted to a Service Manager position at her employer but prepared for the potential disappointment. And for me, there is my ongoing care and love for all of the above as well as thoughts, plans, dreams to transition to a functioning private practice.  In all these circumstances God is bringing the three essential elements of the Way to mind: Faith, Hope, and Love. 

It is worth noting that these essential elements are NOT about having desires met. Rather, it is about growing in each aspect through God-centered surrender.  It is always all about God, yet we can easily make it all about self. In each of the essential elements there is a risk, much like this season, can be a mix. There can be self-focused or Christ-focused faith, hope, and love. The key difference is where is the attention drawn, the actions or acts or benefit to self or the ongoing pointing to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Now that being said, let us examine each element of The Way a little closer. 

Faith: It is a word quickly spoken and easy misused.  There are many who make proclamations that faith is some self-actuated behavior that if the right words or thoughts are engage in, then what want will happen.  However, such thoughts are more about self-assurance and gratification then about growing in dependence on God.  Rather, Godly faith is faith that remains when all seems darkest. Godly faith is such that  “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him:” Job 13:15a (KJV).  Faith is keeping focus on God and His ways knowing that “He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23b (ESV). Faith is always keeping focus on what God has laid forth at all costs and without any visible evidence. Recently on December 21st there was a solar eclipse on the longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere.) Now we know that the darkness will fade and morning comes but if we did not know that fact when the darkness comes and light is blocked, there would be much fear.  The struggle here is always to be focused on what God says even when things look worst, or things are very difficult.  Walking in faith is having full assurance in God, that no matter what the appearance, He will remain faithful.  And His faithfulness are not about the appearance in certain results or turning things to our desires in our time or fashion. Rather, it is always about His way, His time, and His actions that bring glory to Him. 

Hope: We all have hopes and dreams. We have desires. However, these hopes, dreams and desires can be for much apart from God and His will.  The true hope is when our hope is focused on the things of God.  Such hope is not easily swayed by the vagaries of life. Rather, such hope rests on the knowledge and surety of who God is.  Yet, we are always torn between having the hope  “built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness” and hope that all will fall in line with our desires while at the same time knowing we don’t always get what we want. Yet, when there is true hope, hope that is founded on Jesus blood and righteousness, hope that is based on the surety of God and his promises and plans, the hope always is right.  For God and his hope and faithfulness are not based on what is visible, what is seen as many have gone to their graves without seeing the fullness of God’s promise yet received and walked in it daily.  There is a great could of witnesses. So our hope, when in God never disappointments even if things to not appear to match how we think it will work out. As God does things His way which more often than not does not match what is expected, for what He does is far greater than any of our expectations for His ways are perfect.  So, the key is to have more and more our desires and our hopes to match what God is doing which is always about untangling the twists that come from a sinful world and being shaped and restored back to what God intends.  Ultimately, the true hope is to be fully restored and in line with God.  And, true hope is resting in knowing that God meet our desires and needs in his way. He knows us intimately so our hope can be sure that God will give from His abundance, in accordance with His will, as we walk His path.  And His ultimate gift, the ultimate hope, the ultimate gift is that which endures: His love.  In His love is all, and in His love is life everlasting. So whatever we hope for, whatever we want, whatever we desire the point of it all in God’s time and frame is drawing us closer to Him. For with God, all things are possible and He moves us ever toward that which is beneficial and draws us in alignment with Him.  And it is resting in the hope based on Him that can carry us through the dark times, knowing that God keeps His promises in His way and that His ways are not our ways.  True hope is hope in who God is and that regardless of circumstances for good or bad, God has the best in mind.

Love: Ultimately, we all long for pure love. We want to be valued, be safe, and secure. We want to know we matter.  Yet, in this life we can often focus on our lack of being loved. Fact is none of us live up to God’s standard of loving, and we all want to be loved as God loves us.  We all have hurts and pains that get us twisted up and in turn we act in ways that hurt others, in turn twisting them up. We lack being loved wholly, leaving us not only broken but resistant even to true love, for the pain results in fear.  So we grasp on to what we know. God’s love is beyond that which he grasp. God’s love is greater than the “something other than” love to which we cling.   God’s love always brings us to restoration and wholeness.  God’s love never changes.  God’s love endures forever. Yet, we often fail to grasp God’s love, twisted by the varied bits of harm that comes, concluding that love falters, but not grasping true love.  We exchange our limited love for limited love; self for self.  Yet, the love of God is shown in love for others.  The love of God is shown in giving up that which is adored and valued for the benefit of others.  True love comes with great cost.   True love is found in surrender to the point of surrendering our very lives.  Living in love is working to the good of others and pointing them to the truth, so the sins of self and others caused wounds and twists and distortions, can be made right.    Now it is important to note, that while our love is faulty and frail, every action we take that reflects God’s love results in lasting reverberations that have long lasting impact. However, that impact has it limits as our love in not ever enduring, but it lasts far beyond our scope or vision.  He action of moving beyond self, of considering others better than self points to the one True way which is Jesus.  He that set aside his divinity, became a servant and suffered in every way yet remained untwisted and whole, and set aside His life so that all who come may live.  Oh, what marvelous love that is beyond our perception in every way for we only really know limited, self-focused love that falters.  We can taste God’s love, know that it is good but our experienced is distorted and partial for God’s love is far greater than comprehension. 

Now taking these thoughts back to reality, back to life on this earth as currently know it.  Again pointing to surrender as watch those I love hope, struggle, heal, slip away, suffer, grow, and live whatever God has come their way.  There is one sure foundation in all, that no matter what happens and however what happens is perceived, that God is working to draw me into ever deeper understanding of Him and growing my ability to walk in true faith, hope, and love. And this is the essence of “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13 (ESV) which is that God the enables what we are unable, so in all these circumstance the possibilities and direction belong to God and God alone.  Whether blessing or sorrow; mourning or dancing, it is all in His hands and for His will for no matter what, He is faithful and His love endures forever, blessed be His name. All Glory to the King of Kings! Hallelujah! Amen

Advertisements

Musings on the Incarnation: God’s Divine Empathy

Lately God has brought to my mind a growing awareness of the depth of God’s empathy. Perhaps it is related to the gifts of empathy he has given me and the ongoing awareness of deepening levels of pain. As thinking about empathy and God in relation to this season where we celebrate the Incarnation, of God stepping down and taking on flesh, being God with us it cross my mind that the Incarnation really is a visible demonstration of God’s empathy. God became flesh, experienced life in a world twisted by sin and filled with pain and suffering. Jesus ultimately suffered greatly, dying a gruesome death in order to set us free and opening the door for God to be truly with us.  Emmanuel, God with us is all about divine empathy.

Divine empathy is a difficult concept to fully grasp for often times we fail to even grasp simple human empathy.  We have difficulty at times putting ourselves in the place of others.  Yet, God is constantly aware fully of others.  He knows our depth.  God daily is aware of the pain of all.  He knew from the moment of the first choice to go against His will the depth of pain, the twists it caused.  God is in constant awareness of the whole of pain. He is constantly filled with empathy. Then He took that empathy, came to earth and entered into the physical reality of the fallen and twisted world.  He moved beyond the emotional awareness to the physical experience. He does not just know of the pain, does not just feel the pain, but experienced the depth of the pain.  God’s awareness of the pain of sin, God’s empathy, really helps us understand even God’s wrath and actions that cause many to suggest wrath in inconsistent with love. Well if one begins to understand divine empathy the reason for divine justice and wrath is clear.  God is not capricious in His actions, there is purpose and that purpose pertains to the pain and twists caused being outside God’s will, plan, and order. 

Yet, even greater than understanding God’s wrath, is if we understand part of God’s character as divine empathy then we understand better the relational nature of the Holy God.  Personally, one of my struggles with God is truly entering and engaging God relationally.  God often has felt distant and far off.  Now there are certainly experiences in my life that helped shape that faulty perception but really grasping God as one who embodies true and pure empathy lets me grasp deeper the love and know that God is far beyond one that is distant.  He is always aware of every ounce of my pain and knows full well the pain of my own choices.  Each and every self-centered action is aware of.  In fact, God’s empathy stretches beyond humanity to the whole of Creation. He knows how it was twisted. He knows the pain of each living creature.  Divine empathy is beyond understanding.  And grasping God as divinely empathetic gives a grasp of His love and awakens me that there is not a moment, not a speck that God does not know and understand.  He knows my pains, my hurts, my pains, my fears intimately not just at the “awareness” left but also at experiential and felt level. 

Takes some time during this season of celebrating the incarnation and God’s carrying out His plan of salvation. His plan displayed divine empathy and enables God with us, enable God in us, and makes it so we can approach God, as no longer any barrier for the sin and pain and twist of actions outside of God’s will is more than He could bear in His Holy empathy for our sins cause God great pain.   God’s love and empathy and immeasurable, ever enduring.  Praise the Most Holy One who is beyond our ability to grasp, for who can measure the love of immeasurable empathy that bore all so that we may be made right.  Hallelujah!

Peace on Earth Goodwill to Humanity

Christmas and all the trapping of the celebration have come and gone. Gifts have been given and received. Carols sung. Time with family and relatives spent. Countless sermons preached on the various elements of the story of the birth of Jesus. For this writer though, it all boils down to reflecting on what the birth of Jesus means. More particularly, the reflection of what the Angels announced to the Shepherds. The angles announced that Jesus came to bring peace on earth and goodwill to men. It strikes me that the people at Jesus time missed the meaning. They expected Jesus to come as a conquering hero and bringing all things under his reign. He would bring peace by re-establishing the throne of David. Here is the amazing thing. The depth and true meaning of peace is a common element to life in Israel. The Hebrew word for peace, Shalom, remains the common greeting. Perhaps with the daily greeting of peace the true meaning of the word gets lost. At the same level, has the gift of Jesus sacrifice at the cross so common a reference that we lose sight of what the gift truly means?

Jesus coming to earth did bring peace on earth and goodwill to men, just not in the way people expected. The Hebrew and Greek words for peace point to wholeness. Peace is not about the absence of conflict or suffering rather it means being complete, whole. The gift was Jesus that we needed because since the fall, when humanity made a choice not to be dependent on God for knowledge of right and wrong, humankind has not been whole. True wholeness comes when we are in fellowship and at peace with God. Any peace without being at peace with the Creator is limited and impotent. In order for the restoration of all of creation, first the debt of turning from God had to be paid. Jesus paid the price and made a way of reconciliation with God. That way established through the sacrifice of Jesus. His death and resurrection set all things right for those who choose to walk in the way. The way is a way of giving of self in whole, for only by whole surrender is true wholeness found. This is the meaning of peace on earth, goodwill to humanity. Jesus reconciled us with God enabling humans to be in right relationship with God and thus whole. This option is of benefit for all and is good news for all to embrace. For there is nothing to anyone needs to do to be right with God, other than surrender to God. It is noting earned by merit, it is simply a benefit received by turning from self to be in relationship with God.

Here is the difficulty though, while all should embrace the good news it falls short of expectations. Jesus life resulted in death because of failed expectations. People reject true peace today because of failed expectations. People expect a loving God would do away with all suffering and strife. What people fail to understand is that you cannot have peace without surrender. True peace is readily available to all who are willing to stop fighting and striving for self and return to listening to God and following His ways. His ways are good and simple. We are to love God first and then love others. Simple to say yet very difficult to do, as it is far easier for each person to focus on self. The path of true peace though comes with ever growing in loving response. In addition, as we love, we help generate true peace and goodwill in the lives of others, as we reflect the light of God’s peace and spread His goodwill. So if your desire is to see more peace, and less conflict in this world. It all starts with yourself and being at peace with God. Any other peace is faulty and temporary. Remember it all starts and ends with Jesus. His surrender leads to our surrender and by which comes peace on earth and goodwill to humankind.

Helpful Articles: Joseph Husband of Mary

I was browsing some blogs this morning and came across this writing about Joseph and the love he shared.  Joseph is someone we do not think much about related to the story of Jesus birth. Yet, it is worthwhile to think what God was showing us.   The post is worth reading and I hope you appreciate it.  Do click over to the blog authors site and let him know of appreciation for the article if it impacts you.

http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/2009/12/joseph-husband-of-mary/#more-4617

Joseph, Husband of Mary

Calendar December 24, 2009 | Posted by Polycarp

One of the most forgotten men in the Scriptures is Joseph, who was a man from the line of David who had  a certain Jewish girl espoused to him. He makes a small appearance in Matthew and Luke, the only two Gospels to record something about him. His name appears only a few times in all of the New Testament. It is only in Matthew’s work which we find him and his actions as any part of the story,

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.  (Matthew 1:18-25 NKJV)

A wise man once said that the words that we read are the headlines, and this is especially true in this case. We find a great story of love and sacrifice in Joseph, in as much as he was willing to become an outcast – if only temporarily – in order to protect Mary, the young girl who he would have paid a dowry – the young girl who carried the public signs of a betrayal. The law required death for Mary. In this instance, we find the first shadow of the Grace which was to come.

The law is clear – death for Mary:

“If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NKJV)

Mary was considered evil – a blot on the community, something to be killed and done away with – exterminated ruthlessly. We see something in the horror of the law that is not mentioned – the great love of Joseph for Mary. He would have paid a dowry, perhaps a goodly sum for the espousal. He would have made preparations for Mary in his home, and already giving her that which was sacred – his family name. I can only imagine what love he  had for her and the loss he felt to have gone so far but to have been betrayed with such a great sin. She had slandered him, his family, and his family name.

Joseph had such a love that he was determined to take the ridicule, the shame, and give her the bill of divorce  privately. Like anyone in pain due to love, with his heart breaking, he most likely took time, mourning, to determine his next course of action for the young Jewish girl whom he clearly loved.

If we step away from Joseph, to a higher plane, we can see the sovereignty of God in this matter. God did not just choose Mary, and because of that Joseph, for no reason. Joseph was a man of great love (Mary with her own qualities), a love that would rather endure shame and the outcast of a community instead of harming Mary. He would risk breaking the Law of Moses to protect someone who he loved. What better caretaker for the son of God?

Returning to Joseph, we find that it was in the middle of his deliberations – I can imagine them maddening and tortured – that the Angel of the Lord appeared to him with words of consolation. So, with this love of Joseph, we find faith. Joseph disobeyed the cultural mores of ancient Palestine, obeying rather the will of God, and held Mary as his wife, in the face of what would have been certain opposition from everyone, perhaps even his parents as well as Mary’s.

So, we have a picture of Grace and Love in the life of Christ even before He began His ministry. Joseph was ready to sacrifice his standing in his family and community to save the life of  a pregnant girl – a trollop, a whore, a sinner – and to protect her and her unborn Son – the bastard child of this trollop and perhaps a Roman solider, Panthera – from the death demanded by the Torah. It was because of this love that the Angel appeared to Joseph the Carpenter and told him that this Child would be the deliverer of all Israel. His wife who was dead to him was now alive again.

If we remove the doctrine and traditions that surround both Mary and Joseph, we find a picture of grace – we find love – we find a truly holy family.

//  

A Giving Challenge: A Response to Black Friday

Today, the day after the national celebration known as Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday.  It is the day most retailers either make profit or end up losing money for the year. It is a day that has become known for the start of the “Christmas shopping season” where promises of deals and discounts abound. 

In our culture the Christmas Holiday has come to be about giving gifts to one another.  The tradition is supposed to be reflective of the gift of Jesus coming to earth so that we might be able to be reconciled with the creator. It was the ultimate display of love.  In turn, the giving of gifts has become symbolic of love, and how much or how expensive the gift reflective of our love.  Love has become something bought and paid for, rather than acted upon.  

Now I appreciate the custom of giving gifts and enjoy both giving and receiving. The focus is often about understanding those around us and giving them something they want or need.  Good givers know the person they are giving and match well those wants and needs.  Sometimes the gifts given are simply reflections of self.  Yet, the way we give is incomplete. It is done in love and may touch the person you care about. But what is given can readily be forgotten or discarded.  The question for me is how to give that truly reflects God’s love.  The answer as a starting point is to give in a way that not only touches a person but actually builds them up in an area of deep need that may not even be expressed.  It requires identifying and responding in a way that elevates the person wholly.  The giving touches a part of their self: strength, heart, soul, or mind.  It is something that goes beyond what is readily apparent and touches a person at a deep level reflecting God’s love.

So here is a challenge. How about turning the giving to others to be more than supplying a want or need in a persons life this season. With the love that you want to demonstrate truly find a way to build up those you love.  Find a way to touch them and supply something missing that goes beyond shallw desires and perceived needs of self.  Take time to reflect and pray and identify a way to bring a lasting blessing rather than a consumable item readily disposed or set aside. Find something that build up their hurt in the midst of where they are at, that touches the self with love at a deep level.  Also the challenge will be do not just do it for those that you love and care about ,but also find someone in the community that you may or may not know and touch them with a piece of love that reaches a level that builds up what is lacking. Let God lead you to touch either those that you know, those that you are aquainted, or those that you did not know at all.  Above all find a way to give to touch others that reflects God’s love as a genuine reponse to His gift to us that has touched us completely.

Now perhaps this challenge resonates with you but you feel overwhelmed with the prospect and do not know how to start.  Well here are a few steps on engaging in such giving. 

Step 1: Depend on God. Start with prayer. Turn these actions over to God first and for most. In order to be a true reflection of the gift or Jesus, everything starts with God.  Make this act of giving an act of worship and bring God to the center.

Step 2: Identify who to touch with these blessings.  Make a list of people that God puts on your heart and start praying for them. It might be a good idea to identify who in your family God wants you to bless, who in your circle of friends/acquaintances, who in your church, who in your workplace, who in your community, and even who else somewhere else in the world.

Step 3: Explore how.  Start praying and thinking of ways to touch these other people.  What are the areas that need building up? Perhaps you know they struggle with fears, how do you touch them?  Perhaps they faced significant loss?  Ask for wisdom from God in how to meet these needs and listen to His voice.

Step 4: Act on how you are lead.  It is one thing to perhaps think about giving in such a way, it is another to actually follow through. Please do follow through with at least one person.

Now this type of giving may involve money, but the better and more touching way of building up those you know involves no money.  This type of giving can serve to truly function as a reflection of God’s love.

Please feel free to leave comments about your response to this challenge and what God’s does in your life in relation to it.  Feel free to post comments here on the blog or in addition on the forum in this thread: http://www.peacebringer.net/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=2114#p7222.

I can tell you God led me to give in such away about five years ago know. I was lead to write a blessing which resulted in prophetic words to people in my family and members of a small group at my church.  God has stirred up in my heart today to find ways to give in such a manner this year as well as encourage others to do the same.  I look forward to seeing and hearing what God may do and who he touches.  Please pass this article to those you know as well.  If you receive a link to this via email, pass it along. Let’s see genuine response to God’s love giving this year, building up those with gifts of blessing.

Christmas Reflections

Well another Christmas season has come and gone and soon the New Year will be upon us. However, still have some thoughts about Christmas. This season has brought this writer a lot of searching into the roots of Christmas and prayer over the appropriateness of celebrating Christmas. The reflection started with a reminder of the pagan roots to Christmas as well as the purposeful change from any connection from Judaism due to antiemetic mindset of Constatine.

Christmas and Easter were designated as an attempt to reach culture with The Gospel and the celebration of Jesus Birth and Resurrection were selected on days set aside already for pagan deities such as Mithras. It was a clear changing of times and seasons that are part and parcel to antichrist. Yet, for many believers in the Gospel today, it is the prime day that the birth of our Messiah, Yeshua is commemorated.

Today Christmas is either largely secular with focus on gifts, materialism, and family or it is about Jesus. From the secular perspective, it is where the essential elements of the culture are celebrated and even a key component to the health of our economic system. As the Christmas holiday consumerism goes, so goes the economic health of the United States. Most people in the United States are generally aware that Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus and his birth. Yet, even so they fail to fully grasp the depth of the Gospel. In fact, ultimately many false views of Jesus get wrapped up and celebrated on Christmas day. Christmas for many is blended as is the culture of the United States of America with a majority of Americans failing to truly grasp the essential components of the Gospel, that Jesus in the only way to True Peace by having our sin and selfishness redeemed, if we accept the gift and turn away from self.

Some people are aware of the pagan roots and see the day and the symbols as really being a way folks give own to the demonic pagan deities at the root. Yet, God is in full control and there is no day which darkness has the true authority over and there is no symbol which darkness owns. God can and does redeem all. God is in control. For this writer, Christmas is about God’s redemptive work. No while Christmas was established by man, God does direct us to remember and commemorate His moves and actions. Christmas is a time for commemorating God’s redemptive work through given us the Messiah Yeshua who by his taking on sin we can be redeem and all darkness is and will be defeated. So this writer will continue to celebrate Christmas, with full recognition of roots, for it is a day that celebrates redemption. Yes, it was set up by man, it has pagan roots, but it is a day that Honors God if the heart of the person is worshipping and honoring God. So for each person, what do these holidays mean to you? Are you caught up in cultural Christmas, do you blend celebrating Jesus and the cultural celebration? What is this time of year about?