December 30, 2011

God has visited His people. Now what?!

“Christmas morning” came and went. The baby grew to become a man. He was about His Father’s business and people began to glimpse what the Kingdom of God was about…

Some were elated—a widow’s son is raised from the dead and the people proclaim: “God has visited His people!” (Lk.7:16).

Others were confused—John the Baptist, imprisoned, asks: “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Lk.7:20). 

And yet others are infuriated—the Pharisees and experts in the law see their whole way of life threatened with extinction. Who does this man think He is?!

Already the spokesmen for this Kingdom are being rounded up and put to death… These were radical times. The old wine and its skins were not sufficient to hold this new wine. Jesus came asking pointed questions of those who thought themselves closest to God and most knowledgeable in His Word.

Everyone had questions, but His were the most penetrating of all…

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Lk.6:41

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?” Lk.6:46

Good questions. Easier to answer when they’re addressed to someone else! So I sit here looking at the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They were the Bible experts of their day. True, they only had the Old Testament, and were particularly adept at interpreting the books of the Law. They had analyzed and dissected and critiqued the Law boiling down its inconceivable standard into minute external details one might attempt to keep…They had created a standard of righteousness all their own. When John the Baptist came to help them get ready for a paradigm shift, calling them to repentance from dead works, they would have none of it. They knew they were right; why repent?! And so Luke says, they “rejected the purpose of God for themselves not having been baptized by [John].” (Lk.7:30)

OK, so now here comes Jesus proclaiming the GOOD NEWS of the Kingdom of God and what is their reaction? To the Pharisee, even the Good News is heresy! In their careful study and dissection of the Law, they missed the very point of it. It was to be for them a tutor to bring them to Christ (Gal.3:24), a standard so high they would repent in dust and ashes of their inability to keep it and be ready to welcome a Saviour with a plan of redemption!! But no, they missed Him. They judged Him, condemned Him, and sentenced Him to death. They were not ready to part with their own plan of ‘righteousness’ or to debate its adequacy. They were far too busy examining the dust specks in others’ eyes to see how blinded they were by the log booms in their own!!

And here comes Jesus with His pointed questions…


Do I know anyone remotely like those Bible experts who might benefit from a reminder of the truly Good News Jesus was bringing?!

‘For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."’ Rom.1:17. Without a lifestyle of repentance and the necessary log removal there is no seeing to help a brother with his ‘speck’. Without cultivating an honest and good heart, there is no soil to grow a healthy crop from the seed of the Word (no matter how much of it I know!) (Lk.8:15)

I am reminded of these things today as one gifted with the eye of a critic, and involved in reading and reviewing works of others…Always good to come back to the heart of the Gospel—a God who loved and died and gave the gift of righteousness not based on merit—and who patiently continues to extend mercy, not based on merit, and who calls me to critique with an eye to restoration, not condemnation. He is after all, the One who came to seek and to save the lost, not denounce and condemn them to the death they deserved! This Jesus who grew from the baby in Bethlehem brought a profoundly different way of living, and it began with hard questions…

I commend to you a fresh reading of Luke’s Gospel and the questions of Jesus as we all commence a new year of seeking first ‘the Kingdom of God and His righteousness’ (Mt.6:33).


December 22, 2011

Losses and Gains

I will keep it short today, these ponderings, for the sake of the reader who, like me, finds the ‘to do’ list growing and has yet one more trip to make to the store for ‘stocking stuffers’ and last essentials…while the days grow fewer for ‘getting ready’ to celebrate Jesus appearance on the earthly scene.

I found the Christmas story in an unexpected place this morning—reading the book of Philippians.  This is the time of year when letters come re-capping the losses and gains and accomplishments of another year.  It’s always a little bit of a challenge for me not to begin comparing our story with others’ and feeling either ashamed or envious in response.  Of course there are always other letters that are full of sadness and hard things.   These remind me how good we have it.  But always, there’s this tendency to compare, to turn others interests into self-interest…

This morning I was reminded of my calling, of Jesus’ attitude, and Paul’s.  The verses themselves are very familiar, but the attitude a rather rare one.  And read in the flow of a whole letter, and with the backdrop of nativity scenes and carols playing, they are freshly poignant: 

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,  being born in the likeness of menAnd being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

There He is, the baby in the manger—not threatened that He will lose His identity, or be overlooked or thought lowly—committed to the interests of others, ME in fact.  Willing to lay aside all His divine prerogatives to take on the identity of a human being and a lowly one at that, and ultimately to submit Himself to shameful mistreatment and finally death at the hands of His enemies.  He was looking out for the interests of others, ready to die for their good.  And in this context comes that verse: so now “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” 

These annual letters are ‘God stories’.  He is working out His good pleasure in each of us and invites us to join in by learning Jesus’ attitude.  It’s not so much about pedestal building or maintaining as it is of giving ourselves in the best interests of others, losing ourselves in the service of our Father….

The book of Philippians is replete with this theme.  “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  Paul had all manner of accomplishments to tout but he recognized they were liabilities if he put his confidence in them.  He consigned them to the compost pile in favor of finding his identity in Christ’s righteousness and laying down his own life for others’ benefit.

And that is the Christmas story, lived out again in the life of each of us as we choose to be about our Father’s business.  I commend to you a fresh read-through of Philippians this Christmas time.  And I close with Paul’s blessing, as my Christmas wish for all of us. 

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”





December 16, 2011

And glory shone around!


The music, the light, the glory of the Christmas season—I love it! Snatches of lyrics trot through my mind in endless succession like that illusive horse pulling the ‘one-horse open sleigh’ --a song that threatens to undue me if I hear it one more time!! I’ve never taken such a sleigh ride and I suspect I would be freezing and opt to stay home and have hot chocolate or perhaps linger under the mistletoe…while the chestnuts roast on our open fire. Ha! that’s another set of lyrics I’ve had more than enough of for a whole year! But while ‘Silver Bells’ and ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ and such modern ‘classics’ vie for airtime, it’s the old ones that hold the glory of the Season.

They tell the story of what happens when God appears on the human landscape— to ”certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay”-- when a long dark night is punctuated by stunning lights and angels and an earth-shattering birth announcement!  The glory of the Lord shone around them and their world would never be the same.  They hightailed it to Bethlehem to find this living, breathing, swaddled-in-cloth Savior and spread the word.  “Veiled in flesh, the God-head see.  Hail the Incarnate Deity.  Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!”

If the folks asleep in Bethlehem that night ‘sprang from their beds to see what was the matter’ the news went way beyond a reindeer-drawn sleigh driven by Saint Nick out doing last-minute parcel deliveries.

“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee!!!”  Age-old prophecies were being fulfilled this night on their very doorsteps, if only they had ears to hear the news. “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen  upon thee.” (Is.60:1,2)

But ‘how silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…’ (O Little Town of Bethlehem)  How many local residents even knew what was happening that night?  It would be years before Jesus’ glory would begin to be unveiled…and His neighbors were the ones most likely not to recognize it.  And as for the rest of the world?  Only a few ‘wisemen came from country far; to seek for a king was their intent, and to follow the star wherever it went’(The First Noel)….It would be years yet before the significance of this night’s glory would be flung to the far reaches of the world.

And who would believe it?  Isaiah predicted the whole situation: “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.” (Is.53)

Here, the glory of the Lord was all wrapped up in swaddling clothes…then in a carpenter’s apparel, then in the garb of an itinerate teacher…then hanging naked on a wooden cross…who would see it?  It was announced with great fanfare and drama in the beginning: “GLO………RI-A   IN EXCELSIS DEO…” by ‘angels from the realms of glory, wing[ing] their flight o’er all the earth’ [Angels from the Realms of Glory] but what of the glory now?  ”how silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.  So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven, no ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in” [O Little Town of Bethlehem]…inviting all who would follow:

“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (Jn.8:12)

This God-man came into the world with his glory largely veiled, or I suppose we’d all be dead.  After all, the shepherds were left quaking and ‘sore afraid’  at the mere announcement of his coming when ‘the glory of the Lord shone around them’. (Lk.2)  No, the glory of Jesus was of a more subtle sort.  John described it this way: ”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.” Jn.1:14  Before His coming there was the Law, impossible to keep, bringing condemnation, showing the gulf that existed between man and God.  But with Jesus, there came grace, God’s unlikely, untimely, unbidden favor---peace on earth and good-will toward man.  A perfect melding of grace and truth was the glory Jesus shone with ‘and from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.’ (Jn.1:16)

And every Christmas we again string lights and light candles and listen to music that celebrates the glorious reality that “God with man is now residing.”  Where is He?  Lo, the star over Bethlehem has given way to a Body of Christ-followers who ‘shine like stars in the universe.’  It is in the likes of you and me ‘in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation’ (Phil..2:15) that His glory is now seen, in these earthen vessels shining with a glory not their own, revealing the Light of the World!  And as we shine, wise men are drawn to come and see this great King who has been born to us--the Light of the World and the Glory we long to see.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2Cor.3:18

“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.  Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”.Jn.17:22-24


May His glory shine in and around you this Christmas season!

---and some final thoughts on this great glory---

“…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2Cor4:4

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” II Cor 4:17,18

December 9, 2011

Got Containers?


She was destitute, about to lose her own children to bondage…She didn’t know what to do but she knew who to turn to—the man of God would help. This widow was at her own wit’s end but not at the end of her resources. Elisha’s help started with the question: “Tell me what you have in the house?” (II Kings 4) It wasn’t much but there was a bit of oil tucked away in a jar. It was all that she had, and it was enough--that oil.

But first the gathering of jars, the getting out of her house and her helpless inactivity and seeking her neighbors’ favor: “May I borrow an empty jar, please?” She recruited her sons to the task of scouring the neighborhood in search of recyclables… the more the merrier. And then, as per Elisha’s instructions, she closed the door, pulled the curtains I suppose, and with just her two sons watching began to pour her ‘little’ treasure into the neighbor’s jars... And it just kept coming, filling the jars as fast as her sons could hand them to her till there was nothing left to contain the oil. Then it stopped. There was all she’d need to pay her debts and live happily ever after in freedom with her two sons at her side. All she had was all she’d ever need.

What do I have in my ‘house’, all tucked away and dwindling? As God’s own child indwelt by His very Spirit, all He’s given is all I’ll ever need for life and godliness (II Pet. 1:3). His Spirit residing within may seem a small thing but if I’ll open my doors to opportunity, if I’ll start looking for containers and quietly begin pouring my ‘little’ store into them it will be like streams of living water flowing from me to fill whatever containers I’ve gathered. Question: Am I collecting containers?

Now, it took a bit of faith on the widow’s part to just go ahead and follow those simple instructions. There’s no record of skepticism, or of her making excuses that her little store of oil could never amount to much. We don’t see her staring into the depths of her jar waiting to see the supply grow. She just collects a bunch of ‘vessels’ (any sort will do) and following instructions, starts pouring. What if she hadn’t gone scavenging for those jars or had settled for just what she had kicking around the house? She’d have missed the abundance of the supply God intended to give. He intended for her and her children to be debt-free and supplied for life! But the oil only flowed till the available jars were filled and then it stopped.  “According to your faith be it unto you.”Mt.9:29

Without the pouring out, the supply remained a dwindling bit. But given empty vessels to fill, there proved to be plenty. Why would I expect to realize the power of the Spirit in my life without seeking out empty receptacles and starting to pour out my little trickle? It would be like plugging in a lamp but forgetting the lightbulb and the lightswitch! The electricity is there all right, but the circuit is incomplete and the power lies dormant. Screw in a light bulb and flip the switch and ‘Voila’, radiance!

Jesus’ own illustration is of a vine and branches. The sap flows as we stay connected to the vine. As we absorb His life and listen to His Words, we will know His heart. But it will be in the ASKING that the fruitfulness will come: Ask whatever you wish [when you’re immersed in My Word] and it will be done for you. By this my Father Is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (Jn.15:7,8) The proof is in the (fruit) pudding as they say. The actual disciple is the one who follows the instructions—abide in me, let what I say abide in you, and ask!

Ask for empty containers. Where can this oil be poured? Where’s an empty spot I can fill? What do you want to do in the lives of people I touch with this drop of oil I have? I may not have much, but I can go into my prayer closet and begin to pour…and I can take what comes of it and follow-through. James puts it bluntly, “You do not have because you do not ask.” He goes on to add, you don’t get what you ask for because you ask for selfish reasons! (James 4:2,3) John says much the same thing: “And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”  That’s the part I’ve memorized, but what he says next clarifies that our asking isn’t about us, it’s about God working through us to bless another. The very next verse says: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life… (I John 5:15,16)

As believers, boundless power is at our disposal, the power that raised Jesus from the dead! (see Eph.1:19,20)  But it’s tucked away like a little store of oil in ‘jars of clay’ to insure that the neighbors know this power belongs to God and not to us! (IICor.4:7) We may not look like much but watch out world, when we start looking for empty containers to fill… because all we have is all we’ll ever need when God is in it!

God bless you in your scavenging of containers; may He pour you out a blessing that cannot be contained!


“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Matt.6:6

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. Jn.16:25


**Read the  widow’s story for yourself in II Kings 4 at **

[I’m indebted to Andrew Peterson and his lyrical song: “All You’ll Ever Need” for the seed thought behind this blog, though I’ve interpreted his idea in a slightly different light…]

December 2, 2011

The Gospel Distilled


It’s here again, the advent season.  Our Christmas boxes came out of hiding this morning, whether I was ready or not to decorate.  It’s time.  Truth is I wasn’t ready.  The pre-season-clutter-removal hadn’t happened over the weekend and now geometry and physics were demanding a tutor’s attention…and my face hurt with an untimely sinus infection…No, I didn’t feel like decorating even if the magic day had arrived, and even less like dissecting polygons or wrapping my mind around how simple machines work.  I felt like ‘losing it’ over a shuffle of misplaced school papers,  a discouraged student, and a gray day.   And so I did.  I vented all my ‘righteous’ wrath, with all the reasonable justifications for doing so.  Only made my teeth ache worse and my student sag further.

Then I snatched some leftovers for a subdued lunch and breather…

Of course, it was quite evident that I was in no position either to compose a blog or to help a struggling pupil write an essay discussing principles governing Christian conduct!  Oh brother.  Why did this come due today?  But there it was, this very topic I’ve been pondering, the simplicity of the Gospel.  Here stood an opportunity to give evidence to the power of the Gospel—’Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief’.
(I Tim.1:15) And always, always He stands ready to forgive us our sins and put them as far away as the east is from the west.  Not only that, He stands waiting to dispense ‘grace in time of need’.  Now that sounds really trite I know, but what did I need?  I needed grace--to admit my wrong-headedness, to breathe a prayer for help to carry on and to equip my student to do her work.  All this is a by-product of the Gospel.  The heart of it is that God is now with us for life.  He is there in the stormy moments and the hurricanes.  God with us, because of the cross, because the hostility engendered by our sins is taken away in the death of Jesus.  He has brought us peace with God and now He resides with us forever…

Mind you, this didn’t all pass through my mind at that moment.  Actually I fumbled through an apologetic moment and a prayer, got some essential schoolwork wrapped up, and headed for a catnap with my hot wheat pillow and favorite blankie…still wondering what today’s blog would be about.

And while I slept it percolated… You see, last night a young mom in our Ladies Bible study group, gave an impromptu but poignant testimony of what her salvation means to her. 

The topic was facing the storms of life without fear.  Different ones recited their personal experiences of tough times they’d gone through and the difference God had made.  When this young mom, who is also young in the Lord, spoke up she gave us all a fresh perspective.  She said all of life before knowing Jesus was a storm, and always one to be faced alone! Now with God in her life, she would never have to face such aloneness again.  No matter what she would yet face she would not have to face it alone and that for her is a world of difference.  Her unfeigned earnestness said more than I can convey in words   God is with us, and will never leave us ever.  This is enough.  What a refreshing reminder of the heart of the Gospel.

And as I roused from my catnap, this afternoon, my face still aching, now my throat hurting too, it hit me.  All that matters is that God is with us.  This is the heart of the Gospel.  Our sinfulness is no longer a barricade between us.  His love has conquered and nothing can separate us from it, neither wind or weather, sickness or death, pain or persecution.  God is with us, forever.  And that is enough.  Stop your whining and get decorating.  There is indeed something to celebrate and no time to lose!


gold clip“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us."