I was gathered yesterday with my faith community. At one point during our worship, we were guided in prayer and I heard the words proclaimed, “In a world where nothing seems right…” And my heart and my mind were gripped in pause. Now, I should confess that I too have spoken those words and likely on more than one occasion, but this time my soul was arrested with these words ringing in my ears.
“Nothing seems right?”
The context of these words was in proclamation of a world disordered around us. It is true; all around us there are swaths of chaos, turbulent waves of discontent, poverty, famine, pestilence, pollution, dread, and dis-ease. All this is true, but even in the midst of this broad brushed generalization, can we say with certainty… should we say with certainty “nothing seems right?” I question if this is a true statement.
I think and believe there are many things, perhaps most things that are truly right. I’m afraid we miss the deep truth as a result of our blurry, self-absorbed, and shallow perspectives. When we view the world, the cosmos, and all of creation through the narrow experience of our own self-realized being, we inevitably see all things tarnished by our own frailty and brokenness. Does our brokenness though, translate to all things being broken? Does our inability to be what we were created to be translate to “nothing seems right?”
There are many things right; in fact, most things are right.
Rocks are right. Gravity is right. Osmosis is right. Photosynthesis is right. Stars, suns, planets, and galaxies are right. Plants, animals, insects, fish, and fowl, all express perfect being. They are all complete expressions of what they were created to be. Not one is outside of its origin as God intended. A rock rocks as a rock was created to rock. Birds bird as they were intended. And so on. None of these created entities are in rebellion to their created being. Counting all created things, only man rebels against his created essence. Because of this rebellion, nothing seems right…
I wonder…I contemplate the possibilities and consider, what if man submitted to the order of his creation—surrendered to the command to reflect his Creator—would it be possible for us to see and even realize how much is right? Amidst the chaos and dis-ease, might we see the hallelujahs sung by the waves, might we hear the crescendos of the rising and setting sun? Is it plausible that we might witness the incomprehensible Divinity that sustains each atom that binds this universe together? I think we might. I’m sure we can.
It was narcissistic coordinates that landed us on planet ME and self-centered perspective leads me to see the world through my own corrupt lens. Jesus Christ prescribes the course correction: “Pilot, adjust your coordinates 180° and set your course for Deny Self.” Herein we are privileged to take in scenery that assumes the likeness of its Creator and suddenly…everything seems and looks right.
I shared this devotional thought a few years back, but as I am about to enter into a new season of forming discipleship groups in my local church, I thought it a timely piece to share again.
The Gift of Community: It’s a Family Sort of Thing
Hey, uummmm… you’ve got a booger hanging from your nose.
I know, I know; “ooooh gross!” But really, who hasn’t heard these words at least once in your life? I know I’ve heard it more than once myself and it is never any less embarrassing than it was the first time I ever heard it, but in the end I’m always thankful (after the initial horrifying embarrassment) I was made aware of my “booger.”
Something I’ve realized about publically exposed boogers, there aren’t lots of people who will tell you about them. Strangers, casual acquaintances, and sometimes even close friends will hardly ever take the time to advise you of your “hanging chad.” There are rare exceptions, but that’s why they are exceptions…they’re rare. Family, on the other hand, will almost always tell you about your “sticky little friend.” I come from a family with brothers and sisters; none of us ever hesitated to share with one another about a potentially vulnerable “exposure.”
This is the gift of true community; family familiar and intimately comfortable community. Speaking generally, family love and family friendship is a working paradox of the exquisitely beautiful and grotesquely messy existing side-by-side and all the time.
We talk much about our Christian experience being one of community, but I think we have lost something in the translation. I read something not too long ago that talked about our lifestyles being overly connected through the advances of technology (email, IM, Facebook, etc.), but we are more disconnected from intimacy than at any point in the history of mankind. My experience in the Christian community has been largely disconnected even though we speak of connection. It’s not often that I have had someone share with me about an exposed booger… and when I’ve pointed out boogers to some of my brothers and sisters in the church, some of them have become offended to the point that it was catastrophic, but enough about boogers…
I am becoming more and more of a believer in very small communities of faith. As well, I think these communities need to live in close proximity to one another and spend much time together… really doing life together; eating, playing, learning, laughing, crying, and praying… all together. This is how families live and this is how we grow comfortable with one another even through the screaming frustration that being in family creates sometime. I know that my biological family had some serious knock-down-drag-out matches, but that never stopped us from being family. Truth be known, it was the laughter and the tears that taught us about unfailing beauty and assurance of unconditional love. There needs to be more of this same experience in the Christian family (in my honest opinion).
I think another illustration might be helpful. We are sometimes stubborn about admission of our faults, especially when we spend so much time making ourselves look and smell good. What do you do when someone tells you that you might be wearing too much perfume or cologne? I know my first response is that it might be that person’s issue. Maybe that person who told me has sensitive smell or doesn’t like my cologne; that is their problem, surely it isn’t mine. Right? Well, in a large family a parent, brother, or sister might come to tell me I’m wearing too much cologne as well. Maybe this happens three or four or eight times (my family might be as big as the Walton Family). Maybe now I am inclined to think the remotest possibility could be a reality; maybe my cologne is on a little heavy. Now, I might be persuaded to ask one of my most trusted family members if they think I’m wearing too much cologne… They, of course, being a brother who has nothing to lose or gain (unconditional love works that way), tells me; “Of course, you’ve got too much cologne on. You didn’t notice people passing out from lack of oxygen whenever you entered a room?” Armed with new information and valuable insight, I am now able to adjust the amount of cologne I use so that it enhances my presence instead of overwhelming everyone who comes in contact with me.
On the other side of this “family coin” is the confidence of privilege a family member has in speaking truthfully to a brother, sister, mother, or father in the family. Consider yourself; how comfortable do you feel about telling someone you randomly pass in the shopping mall their perfume is too strong, or how about someone in your workplace, school, or church? Now, consider the same about a member of your immediate family… If your family is anything like mine, you feel comfortable about saying, “Hey Sis, you need to back off a bit on that Miss Dior Chérie and by the way, you may wanna blow your nose.” This is the value of true family and true Christian Community.
I hope my playful illustrations provide something for us to think about on a much more serious level… and we might just want to check our nose before walking out the door today… just sayin’
Revisiting The “I’m better than I was card”
I originally wrote and posted this a few years back. As I was reading some of my past writing, I thought this an appropriate reflection as I head into a new year. What is it that God is calling me to? What is it that he desires of me? He desires whole-hearted devotion and complete transformation to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ… How often do I drag my feet? How often do I think of myself better than I should?
10 “Son of man, give the people of Israel this message: You are saying, ‘Our sins are heavy upon us; we are wasting away! How can we survive?’ 11 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?
12 “Son of man, give your people this message: The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins. 14 And suppose I tell some wicked people that they will surely die, but then they turn from their sins and do what is just and right. 15 For instance, they might give back a debtor’s security, return what they have stolen, and obey my life-giving laws, no longer doing what is evil. If they do this, then they will surely live and not die. 16 None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live.
17 “Your people are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right,’ but it is they who are not doing what’s right. 18 For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. 19 But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live. 20 O people of Israel, you are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right.’ But I judge each of you according to your deeds.”
I’m still pretty hung up on this passage of Scripture from Ezekiel that I was also considering in yesterday’s meditation and post. While this passage speaks pretty loudly in its entirety, I keep being drawn back to the words shared in verses twelve through sixteen. In these verses, the LORD God Almighty is giving instruction to the prophet Ezekiel to send a wake-up call to a people who have grown complacent in their faith, even taking for granted the mercy and salvation of their God. It seems the people didn’t take seriously the nature of their sin against God. The nation of Israel was rife with idolatry, sexual immorality, greed, oppression of people, and a host of other abominations that were counter character to the nature of God. The end result was that the people were not reflecting the nature of the God who had called them out and made them His own.
Interestingly, it seems as though the people may have had the attitude that they were entitled to God’s goodness in spite of how they behaved. In fact, in verse seventeen, the people actually hold God responsible for their treatment. It doesn’t seem as though they are taking personal responsibility for their sin. Even more interesting, paying attention to the verses twelve through sixteen, it appears there may have been some assumption on the part of Israel that because they were “righteous” at one time in their history (as a nation or group) that God should show them favor in spite of what their hearts revealed in the way of rebellion and disobedience in the present. And, it seems as if the people are completely blinded by their own self-righteousness and pride, because they do not turn from their sin…
“The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins. 13 When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.”
Here is where it gets interesting to me. How often do we, as a people, do something similar with our actions and attitudes? I will confess that when I first examine my own heart concerning issues of sin, I am always prone to compare myself to “my best days.” I will think, “Oh, but I’m much better than I was… and God sees how much I have grown since I was the despicable me.” And, I will do this with little intention of changing the things that I still know are unpleasing to God. I will consider those “still to be corrected abominations” something that God forgives because of my “past righteousness.” Wrong. Let’s read that verse thirteen once again. “When I tell righteous people that they will live, but then they sin, expecting their past righteousness to save them, then none of their righteous acts will be remembered. I will destroy them for their sins.” We can see this same theme carried over under the dispensation of grace under the blood of Jesus too. Hear the words of James the brother of Jesus as he writes; “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).
Funny (in a sad way) how we are so easily ensnared in this twisted deception that the false self would tempt us to believe. We want to place blame on God too. We want to say He isn’t fair… just like the people of Israel. We will lie to ourselves and say it is too hard to change and God’s expectations for us are too difficult, but He tells us otherwise “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” (Deut. 30:11). I think the truth is that we just need to be honest with ourselves… either we want to walk after Jesus or we do not. If we do choose to walk after Jesus there is the way of repentance, dying to self, and the life of service to humanity (Phil. 2:5-7). If we choose otherwise, we have no one to blame for the mess we make for ourselves…but ourselves.
“Today if you hear his voice, harden not your heart…” (Hebrews 3:15)
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. The LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, in those who await his gracious favor. For God alone my soul in silence waits; from him comes my salvation. Happy are they who trust in the LORD. (Psalm 86:11; Psalm 147:12; Psalm 62:1; Psalm 40:4)
This past fall, I was taking some CEU classes that entailed lively discussions about the history and challenges of the modern church in North America. My pastoral role and calling to the vocation of pastor as spiritual director puts me headlong into some of the challenges we discussed, especially those challenges that affect the process of discipleship and whole life transformation in the image of Jesus Christ. This is, after all, the primary mandate Jesus commissioned his followers to pursue before his ascension back to the Father. Jesus said; “Go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” We, the Church of the 21st Century, specifically in the United States of America, face unique and difficult challenges… not insurmountable, but challenges nonetheless, if we are to fulfill the commission we have received by Jesus. The following is a presentation I shared following the the completion my my CEU course.
When asked to prepare a thesis and presentation for what I might consider one of the greatest challenges of the church for the twenty-first century, I immediately thought discipleship…that is, making true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically, I believe consumerism is one of the greatest challenges to the mandate of the Great Commission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ” the Church faces today.
The very nature of making disciples in the image of Jesus is difficult by definition of Jesus himself. It is he who qualifies the disciple as one who “denies himself daily” and/or one who “takes up a cross” to follow Jesus. Likewise, Jesus proclaims his disciples are people who are “kingdom people,” yet he also says the number is “few” who find and follow the path to this kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14).
While I believe the Teacher and writer of Ecclesiastes speaks truthful words saying, “There is nothing new under the sun,” I think our first-world western culture offers unique challenges making discipleship as difficult as or more difficult than any time in the history of the church.
I pastor and worship in the context of the United States of America and my statements are reflective of this context and not a generalization of the global church. This is important because, while I believe discipleship is difficult in any culture; my statements are uniquely applicable to our setting.
It doesn’t take a deep reading of Scripture to realize there is something strikingly different about the message that Jesus taught his followers. A quick reading of the gospels reveals the message of Christ as very counter-cultural, especially when that culture is centered around the economic system of capitalism and the “American Dream.” We, the church in North America, are in direct competition with our culture; this detail alone makes creating disciples incredibly difficult.
Reading from the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, quickly reveals the American Dream as the antithesis ideal to following Jesus.
Before I proceed, I think it necessary to say that I love my country and I love the Church of the Living God. I also believe in large part the motive of the Evangelical Church has been born of honorable intentions, but I also believe despite her intentions, she has been deceived by destructive intent disguised as an “angel of light.” Our good intentions and attempts to be culturally relevant have largely defused the dunamis of the Gospel of Christ. Many of our efforts to acculturate the gospel for shifts and changes in our society has resulted in blurred understanding of the gospel at best and a complete reduction of the gospel at worst. The result of this blurry reduction of Jesus’ message is a lack of discipleship and a patchwork of shallow theology that often borders on heretical teaching.
In the monumental Reveal study commissioned by the Willow Creek Association, one thousand churches and two hundred fifty thousand congregants were surveyed. It was discovered that our contemporary church growth model was largely ineffective in making true disciples of Jesus and producing measurable spiritual growth. Our programs and formulas can build self-sustaining organizations, but these organizations are rarely consistent fulfilling the primary mission given to us by Jesus Christ to make disciples.
Recently, I have been reading from the book Thinking | Listening | Being by district superintendent of the Kansas City District Church of the Nazarene, Jeren Rowell. In this book, particularly found in chapters titled “thinking identity” and “thinking leadership,” he gives voice to the dangers presented to our churches as our models for organizational leadership have shifted from the pastoral and prophetic to business and the boardroom. Superintendent Rowell identifies the jugular of this challenge quoting from Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles; he writes:
“The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.”
One of the greatest challenges we face with making disciples in our society is the economic engine of capitalism. The very success of a capitalistic economy hinges on consumers; therefore, all that our society does from top to bottom and side-to-side is built to nurture and develop consumers. The result of this nurture and development is most everything in our society becoming commodified and/or commoditized. Capitalism and consumerism has trickled and seeped into the church at a slow and steady pace over the years until it has become utterly saturated until it bears little difference from any other marketplace in our society. In practice, the western church has simply become another marketplace for many consumers seeking “christianized” commodities. Sadly, the Gospel has become another commodity to sell on Sunday and one wonders if there might not be tables and lattes overturned were Jesus to join the services on any given weekend.
In many churches across America, congregants come to the marketplace on Sunday to have felt needs met and to get their soul entertained…rarely is the intent to enter into deeper transformational relationship with Creator God by becoming a more dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ.
This consumeristic relationship between the church organization and the congregant develops codependency. While codependency may be good for the capitalistic model, it is critically unhealthy for the Bride of Christ.
The dangers of codependency become realized when the organization becomes the focus of the church rather than Jesus Christ, making disciples, and living as kingdom people.
Ultimately, the codependency becomes the “driver” behind every vision and mission statement. If the “mission and message” is not new and fresh to compete with the latest “flavor of the day,” consumer-members may seek out a more popular and momentary gratifying mission and message… In essence, churchgoers may seek out a more charismatic teacher (claiming they are not being fed), they may seek out a different music, children’s program, affinity group, or more robust programming. While there may be some validity and good in all these aforementioned programming elements, it can easily be recognized how quickly they become commoditized and consumed. When this becomes the model and churchgoers become dissatisfied consumers, they leave in search of a better product to consume. When churchgoers leave, finances wane. When the organizational structure (building, grounds, staff, and capital resources) get large, the organization cannot afford to suffer serious and unsustainable loss of income. When this happens in a capitalistic model, bankruptcy can occur and the business dissolves. Churches have largely copied the business model of western society and tried to balance the reality of their message with the wants and perceived needs of the churchgoers and have effectually compromised the message and call to “deny self” and follow Christ. Simply put, the consumer discipleship model hinges on serving the self, which illustrates the fundamental flaw when compared to a Christocentric discipleship model.
The call of the Church is to make disciples and teach them all the commandments of Jesus Christ. We are not called to make “McChurches” looking to franchise or assembly line church growth methods. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, not consumers of church products hoping to make a better self… a better self is not necessarily a denied self.
The nature of this thesis is to identify the challenge of the Church and not to necessarily identify a definitive correction; however, there are some suggestions we might consider as we ponder our next steps.
We might remember that systems and processes are needful, but discipleship is intimate and organic at its core. People and souls are unique, mysterious, and wonderfully made, and as such, disciples cannot be cookie-cutter created or assembly line manufactured.
It is likely we will not be able to change the current and flow of our economy and society. Personally, I’m not sure that is part of our mandate; there are a number of Scripture passages that teach us to not conform to the world and we are “in the world, but not of the world.” The point is that we are all consumers of some degree and it is all too easy for consumerism to creep into all we have done and all we do. It will be important for us to remain vigilant, always on guard that we do not allow consumerism to contaminate our mandate to make disciples of Jesus.
The Church can learn much from the ancient traditions and not fear the streams of Christendom that are not our own. God has been working from the earliest days of the Church to refine His bride and make true sons and daughters in the likeness of Christ. We might choose to walk on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and embrace the revelations that God shares with us today.
by Jeff Borden–The Greatest Challenge for the Church of the 21st Century ©12/27/2014
25DEC2014—Christmas Year B
Incarnation—God in Flesh, God in Me: Christmas Day
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Lectionary – Christmas 1: Psalm 96 ◊ Isaiah 9:2-7 ◊ Titus 2:11-14 ◊ Luke 2:1-20 ◊
Christmas Collect: O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Contate Domino—1 Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. 2 Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. 10 Tell it out among the nations: “The LORD is King!” 11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad. (Psalm 96)
Christ has come! The LORD is King!
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.
What a great and marvelous promise that comes to us through the words of the prophets, speaking as the oracles of God. These, the words of the prophets, are the words that strengthen and encourage us as we wait in patience…even in suffering… with hopeful, and joyful, expectation. James exhorts his listeners; “For examples of patience and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord (James 5:10). Let us look to the prophet Isaiah today, based upon the exhortation of James, to hear what the LORD might speak to us.
(Isaiah 8:20) Look to God’s instructions and teachings!
1 The time of darkness and despair will not go on forever… 2 The people who live in darkness will see a great light. 3 They will rejoice as people rejoice at the harvest. 4 For you will break the yoke of slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod. 6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders and he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:1-7).
What amazing hope-filled promises to look forward to from God through the words of Isaiah. The passionate commitment of our God is to “break the oppressor’s rod.” No more will the yoke of sin’s slavery be the burden of humanity! This is the promise! “Darkness and despair will not go on forever…”
700 years might seem like forever (the amount of time between Isaiah’s prophecies and the birth of Jesus), but the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s decree arrived in the form of God himself wrapped in the flesh of humanity. Light came. Darkness was dispelled. The rod of the oppressor was broken. The promise was real and the promise was realized; Luke’s gospel shares the account of the herald of his arrival.
The angel said; “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today… Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke2:10-20 NLT)
The One the world waited for since the time of Adam’s rebellion had come. The waiting was much longer than 700 years. The wait had been millennia. The estrangement of humanity from God had been too long. God himself condescended himself (Phil. 2:5-7), so he might re-breathe life into his most cherished creation (Gen. 2:7, John 20:21-22) to reconcile and reunify himself to them (John 17:20-24) as he had determined all along, before creation and time itself, that this creation, yes, humanity, would be the Tabernacle of His very Presence (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16, John 14:16-17).
God has come. Incarnation. God in the flesh, and God in me.
The free reign of the oppressor is no more in the life of the believer. God can live fully in me as he did in Jesus when he walked amongst men (John 14:12, 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT). This is the joy of what the day of Advent, His Coming, the Christmas Celebration entails. The Apostle Paul helps to shed “light” on the what the coming of Light means to us in his letter to Titus.
For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to god, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds (Titus 2:11-15).
We live as people who are filled with the presence and full-embodiment of Christ. Are we not filled with his Holy Spirit? Is not the Holy Spirit a person of the Triune Godhead? The Spirit of Christ lives in us and among us. What is the Spirit of Christ?
1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God.3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:1-5 NLT)
God has come. Incarnation. God in the flesh, and God in me.
It means something. Christmas. Incarnation means something. God came. God has come. There is a reason and there are lasting repercussions to his coming… both good and bad. For those who receive Him and his eternal, life-giving, Holy Spirit, breath… the repercussions are good and active even now as we wait for the eternal fulfillment of all God’s promises. We can live and expect to live fully into the atoning grace of Jesus Christ today. This is good news. This is great joy news! This is Glory to God in highest heaven. Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad. I know I am. Glad. And rejoicing. God has come. He was in the flesh and now is in me.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever…
My merciful God comes to meet me…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your Name; may thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil—for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end. Alleluia. Amen.
Leo the Great preached, “Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the incarnation. From the time when Christ came, the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, and speech of kindliness diffused. A heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth.”
“My merciful God has come to meet me…” This is Christmas. Christ has come. Christ lives in me. Christ will come again. Praise Him. Alleluia and Amen.
And now may the spirit which was in Jesus Christ be in me, enabling me to know God’s will and empowering me to do God’s will. Amen.
24DEC2014—4th Wednesday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Christmas Eve—The Power to Save
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 45, 46 ◊ Isaiah 59:15-21 ◊ Phil. 2:5-11 ◊ Luke 1:67-80 ◊
As for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord. My spirit, which is upon you, and my words, which I have placed in your mouth won’t depart from your mouth, nor from the mouths of your descendants, nor from the mouths of your descendants’ children, says the Lord, forever and always. (Isaiah 59:21 CEB)
Today is the eve of Mystery revealed; Advent is upon us, and darkness is now at dawn. The question begs asking; “Are we ready?” Are we prepared for the greatest and our most longed for Visitor to arrive? Are we looking for and anticipating his living amongst us…living within us? Arrival is nigh. He comes. Ready or not.
“How can we expect to find Jesus if we do not seek him in the states of this earthly life, in loneliness and silence in poverty and suffering, in persecution and contempt, in annihilation and the cross?” -Francois Fenelon
The time and place of Jesus’ birth makes me wonder if many of us in this modern and over-busy world would recognize his coming today. We people living in “first world” countries have a debilitating habit and hunger for the loud, proud, and shiny things. Many of us like busy and entertainment filled lives; we do not crave the quiet or silence, and many of us do not like being alone or in solitude.
Jesus was born in the shadows…and lived in relative poverty on the edges of his society hidden from the world’s stage for more than ninety percent of his life. Would we know him? Would we recognize him? In all likelihood, many who claim to know him today probably would not have recognized him then… Truthfully, many who say they know him today, probably would not recognize him if they saw him face-to-face today. I count myself as one of those who likely would not have known or recognized him.
For Christmas is not merely a day like every other day. It is a day made holy and special by a sacred mystery. It is not merely another day in a weary round of time. Today, eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity… We are then, above all, obliged to reveal Christ in our lives… Every day of our mortal lives must be His manifestation, His divine Epiphany, in the world which He has created and redeemed.” -Thomas Merton
A Psalm and a Prayer
1 God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. 2 That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, 3 when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. 4 There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city, the holiest dwelling of the Most High. 5 God is in that city. It will never crumble. God will help it when morning dawns. 6 Nations roar; kingdoms crumble. God utters his voice; the earth melts. 7 The Lord of heavenly forces is with us! The God of Jacob is our place of safety. (Psalm 46:1-7 CEB)
Lord God, our Father in heaven, you have sent u the Savior, who was born to bring great joy to all people. Glorify your name, we pray. Give the world the peace you along can give, the peace that wells up in our hearts. Let your favor rest on us so that we may hold out under our sufferings on earth. We need your loving help to remain inwardly steadfast until everyone can be reached by the message, “Be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ.” Amen.
23DEC2014—4th Tuesday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Emmanuel, God in the Flesh–God with Us
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 66, 67 ◊ Isaiah 11:10-16 ◊ Revelation 20:11—21:8 ◊ Luke 1:5-25 ◊
December 23nd: O Emmanuel (Is. 7:14) : “O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.”
This week, with only two days remaining until Christmas, I will focus my reflections on what God “in the flesh” means to me. What does the little Hebrew baby born in a lowly manger two-thousand years ago really mean to my life? How does this reality translate to the life I live out daily? How does this translation of God in the flesh, living in me, create anticipation and expectancy for his coming again.
The fulfillment of a divine plan…from the eternal wisdom of God; this is Christmas. The most amazing thing to me about this mystery that I cannot fully comprehend is the desire of God to be in holy union with humanity. That’s the way it all began with the creation of humankind. The Holy Triune Eternal of Days wanted to share the incredible joy that is Divine Communal Love, and so They made man. However many thousands of years, that passed after Adam’s rebellion, the redemptive promise was realized in the birth of the Christ child, Jesus… Emmanuel; God with us. Thirty some odd years later the Christ child turned man would be put to death on a Roman cross and the redemption work of God would come to a climax when after three days the murdered Messiah would arise and emerge from the tomb that could not contain His Presence or Glory. In a short span of fifty days the mystery of divine union with Holy God would be experienced in a room of five hundred people and then witnessed by more than three thousand that same day. Mystery indeed…magnificent and marvelous!
These “Mysteries” of Christ are not merely called “Mysteries” because they are too deep for us to understand and are therefore proposed to us to be contemplated with silent and adoring faith. They are not just something you think about and look at. The term mysterium in Saint Paul has a dynamic sense. It is the fulfillment of a divine plan, springing forth from the eternal wisdom of God, producing its effect in time and, by virtue of this effect, elevating men from the level of time to that of eternity, from the human level to the divine. -Thomas Merton
The wonder of this mystery is that it isn’t only for a single night or day, but the reality of God’s gift is every day, all day, every minute…always with us and never entirely silent, until He comes again. Yep, this is Christmas. Emanuel. God is with us…with me… and the greatest of all mysteries? God is within me. Amen.
A Psalm and a Prayer
16 Come close and listen, all you who honor God; I will tell you what God has done for me: 17 My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue. 18 If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened. 19 But God definitely listened. He heard the sound of my prayer. 20 Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. (Psalm 66:16-20 CEB)
“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend on us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels. The great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide in us, Our Lord Emmanuel! Amen.” (O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillip Brooks)
22DEC2014—4th Monday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Jesus, King of all the Peoples
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 61, 62 ◊ Isaiah 11:1-9 ◊ Revelation 20:1-10 ◊ John 5:30-47 ◊
December 22nd: O Rex Gentium (Is. 2:4; 9:5): “O King whom all the peoples desire, you are the cornerstone which makes all one. O come and save man whom you made from clay.”
I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will. I have no need of human witnesses, but I say these things so you might be saved. …You were excited for a while about his (John the Baptist) message. You have never heard his (God the Father) voice or seen him face to face, and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you. You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life. Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me. (John 5:30-47)
These are some serious words that Jesus is throwing out. While Jesus is speaking directly to the Jewish leaders during this discourse, this being the Living Word for us today, these words apply in some sense to us today as well. The question I have been asking is, “How much attention do we pay to Jesus’ teaching and his invitation to ‘follow me’?” Read carefully the words of Jesus in this chapter five of John’s Gospel paying particular attention to the indictment that Jesus launches against people who know truth but fail to believe it through obedience. The gavel of Jesus’ justice comes down with this blistering verdict; “You search Scripture thinking it gives you eternal life, but the Scripture points to me and you refuse to come to me… therefore, rejecting the life you seek in the first place. Your problem is this; you don’t have God’s love within you!” (My paraphrase)
The way we wait is very telling… the outward manifestation of our lives; how we live, the things we value, where we spend our money and time, and things like that are the equivalent of a spiritual EKG or MRI. These actions of our lives indicate the value we place on the testimony of Jesus. Yes, the way we wait reveals what we truly believe.
The endurance of our faith is tested during our wait. Another way of saying this; a persevering and faithfully obedient wait is part of the work of sanctification… it is faith being proven genuine.
With each hour the Christmas day celebration draws nearer, the more frantic and rushed the flow of society becomes. The feverish pitches of television commercials, email “last minute to order before Christmas” solicitations, postal sales circulars, and radio commercials stir our collective psyche like a mixing whisk beats an egg into a bubbly froth. The mob mentality takes over so many folks and the swarm begins. I just want to sit…and reflect…and adore…and worship. It’s not that I don’t value tradition and the memories that Christmas evokes, but it is so easy to get sucked into the current that pulls me away from the real object of Christmas, the Christ.
O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one. Come, and save poor humanity, whom you fashioned out of clay.
I am comforted by the promise and the knowledge that communion and union with God is for us today and the hope we look forward to for tomorrow. The days that spin wildly out of control and the days when friends and loved ones leave us sobbing with grief are the days that make my soul sing the loudest: Come, Lord Jesus!
A Psalm and a Prayer
1 God, listen to my cry; pay attention to my prayer! 2 When my heart is weak, I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am 3 because you have been my refuge, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy. 4 Please let me live in your tent forever! Please let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings! (Psalm 61:1-4 CEB)
Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find me a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
21DEC2014—4th Sunday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Jesus the Rising Sun and Eternal Light
Scripture Reading: Lectionary Year B-Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26 ♦ or Canticle 3 or 15 ♦ 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 ♦ Romans 16:25-27 ♦ Luke 1:26-38
December 21st: O Oriens (Is. 9:1): “O Rising Sun, you are the splendor of eternal light and the sun of justice. O come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
27 Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” 28 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean… 30 “Don’t be afraid” the angel told her. 35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…For nothing is impossible with God.” 38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1: 28-30, 35, 38)
Several things “pop” out to me in the passage of text above. First, the angel Gabriel assures Mary that she is favored and the Lord is with her. Oddly enough, Scripture says this “confused and disturbed” Mary; other versions say the encounter left her “greatly troubled.” I think the end result is the same in either case… meeting with an angel and hearing a direct message from God sorta freaked the teenage girl out. I don’t think we are different in how we respond to God’s word. I think hearing from God in almost any capacity kind of freaks us out. I have realized most people like to keep God at an arm’s distance. In the midst of Mary’s discomfort, and ours too, God’s ambassador says do not be afraid; “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow all” And then, Mary takes this all in and proclaims; “I am the Lord’s Servant. May everything you have said about me come true.
The portions of the text that are bolded above are of particular interest to me as thoughts began to stir while I was reading them. It is interesting to me first, the description of the angel, Gabriel’s, appearance and message. He comes, greeting and praising Mary; “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” I wonder how this really went down; I mean, from the things I could find to learn about the angel Gabriel (particularly Jewish and Catholic literature) it would be an intimidating meeting. Gabriel is said to stand in the presence of God and is believed to be a messenger-warrior-avenging-protector angel, fearsome and imposing in stature I am sure. He comes to visit a young teenage girl. The Bible records this event as “greatly troubling” to Mary; other versions relate her response being “confused and disturbed.” I can only imagine or wonder how I would have reacted… something tells me I might be searching for a change of clothes.
In the midst of this supernatural meeting, an incredible proclamation is made to Mary declaring her as “favored by God.” Perhaps equally and maybe more important is the announcement Gabriel makes when he tells Mary, “The Lord is with you!” These two pieces of information would be important promises for the young girl as she soon finds out what God has planned for her. Following the details and Gabriel’s explanation to Mary that she would carry the Christ child, he tells her, “Don’t be afraid.” Gabriel continues to respond to Mary’s “confused and disturbed” state by telling her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Wonder! God is come among humanity; he who cannot be contained is contained in a womb; the timeless enters time, and great mystery: his conception is without seed, his emptying past telling! So great is this mystery! For God empties himself, takes flesh and is fashioned as a creature, when the angel tells the pure Virgin of her conception: “Rejoice, you who are full of grace; the Lord who has great mercy is with you!” Stichera of Annunciation
This story is incredible on so many levels. It seems I learn something new each time I read it, but this time I just started to consider what this encounter meant to me on a practical and daily living perspective. Yes, we’re talking about the birth of our Savior and I get that, but I think some of these points are meant for each of us too… not just applied to Mary and Gabriel’s exchange.
The Bible teaches us from cover to cover that each of us is favored by God. I think we overlook that nugget of truth sometime. Additionally, if we are “in Christ” …HE is in us and thus, the LORD is with us. Jesus said he would never leave us alone and the gift of the Holy Spirit living-indwelling the heart of believing followers ensures this is the case. The Lord is with us. How easy it is for this divine truth to escape us in our day-to-day business of living. We are so quickly caught up in the urgency of each day we forget how highly favored we are in the eyes of our God and fail to remember the very Guiding Presence of the Triune God is within our very soul …always there, always faithful, always with a word of wisdom when we need it. We are never alone and God is never entirely silent. Ever. Remembering these promises helps us in times of dire need or times of doubt to never be afraid. God is with us; He holds us in the palm of his hand and will never let us fail or be plucked from His grasp (Romans 8:38). We are favored, God is with us, and we have no reason to fear. Even knowing these things it is sometimes hard to hold the faith. In the midst of uncertainty and gazing into the face of my own insecurities and frailty, sometimes my faith wavers… not in God, but in me. This is why it is all the more important to commit this promise to memory: The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. That’s right; when I can’t, He can… and will. Not only does the Holy Spirit dwell within me and provide me with the comfort and guidance I need from day to day, but the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon me to assist in the needs I have when I need that strength. When I feel I have done all I can possibly do and I am close to failing… I stand firm and allow the power of the Most High to overshadow me.
What an incredibly affirming and encouraging word. Praise the Lord who Saves and provides us with the gift of Himself to dwell in us, guide us, comfort us, strengthen us, give us wisdom… Praise Him!
I think the last thing I glean from this encounter is the attitude of Mary… even in her state of “doubt, troubled heart, confusion, and being disturbed.” She loved and trusted God. She loved and trusted God to such a degree she wholeheartedly agreed to a plan that would lead her to possible stoning, rejection by friends and family, put her in harm’s way up to even facing death at multiple points in her life, disgrace, distress, and so much more that is not good. The cost to become the woman God desired and fulfill the plan God had for her would be high, but she said, “may it be as you say to your servant.” I believe it is the surrendered heart of Mary that paved the way for all the promises that God made to her through the words of Gabriel. I can only imagine and wonder what God has in store for those of us willing to full submit and surrender our hearts to Him in the same way as Mary.
A Psalm and a Prayer
1 I will sing of the Lord‘s loyal love forever. I will proclaim your faithfulness with my own mouth from one generation to the next. 2 That’s why I say, “Your loyal love is rightly built—forever! You establish your faithfulness in heaven.” 3 You said, “I made a covenant with my chosen one; I promised my servant David: 4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever; I will build up your throne from one generation to the next.'” (Psalm 89:1-4 CEB)
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming,, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reighns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
20DEC2014—3rd Saturday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Key of David, the Kingdom of Light
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 55, 138, 139 ◊ Isaiah 10:20-27 ◊ Jude 17-25 ◊ Luke 3:1-9
December 20th: O Clavis David (Is. 9:6; 22:22): “O key of David and scepter of Israel, what you open no one else can close again; what you close no one can open. O come to lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
In that day the LORD will end the bondage of his people. He will break the yoke of slavery and lift it from their shoulders. (Isaiah 10:27)
But you dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. (Jude 20-21)
We have observed extended reflection on the themes of hope, peace, and joy during the past three weeks of Advent. Tomorrow begins week four and our theme changes to love as we light our fourth candle. Even now my mind is swirling with thoughts about the love of God for me and all that it entails and implies. The Bible says things like, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16), and “Greater love has no man…” (John 15:13), and “While we were yet sinners…” (Romans 5:8).These are all wonderful examples revealing the love of God for men, but what boggles my mind even more is the promise and experienced reality of God inhabiting the souls of men through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God and man joined… Christ sharing the glory that he had before the world… with men. Incredible. This is the coming of Divine Love; God and man in holy union, joined now and joined for eternity. Wow!
Quite often out of an intimate encounter with God encounters with other human beings become possible… If you are the beloved of God, if you start thinking about other people’s lives, you start realizing that they are as beloved as you are. One of the profound experiences of the spiritual life is that when you discover yourself as being the beloved son or daughter of God, you suddenly have new eyes to see the belovedness of other people.—Henri Nouwen.
This week I will focus my thoughts and heart on what this love means to me today and how this love translates to the world around me. What is the transformation God desires to affect in me as His Spirit, which dwells in me, perfects and makes me into the reflected image of the SON, our Savior, Jesus. May it be so in His Name for His Glory. Amen. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come.
Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. (Luke 3:9)
Contemplation of Christ does not mean an emotional sort of pious daydream; it means entering by a deliberate, self-oblivious and humble attention into the tremendous mysteries of His Life—mysteries which each give us some deep truth about the life and Will of God and the power and vocation of a soul that is given to God—mysteries which each one of us in particular is called to make part of our very lives. They will break up, into colors we can deal with, that white light of God’s Holiness at which we cannot look. -Evelyn Underhill
A Psalm and a Prayer
The LORD will work out his plans for my life—for your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever. (Psalm 138:8) 14 I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful—I know that very well. 15 My bones weren’t hidden from you when I was being put together in a secret place, when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my embryo, and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me, before any one of them had yet happened.17 God, your plans are incomprehensible to me! (Psalm 139:14-17 CEB) Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24)
O Loving heavenly Father, whose blessed Son did suffer for the whole world, grant that we may know you better, love you more, and serve you with a more perfect will. Lord, I admit that I often feel inadequate, in spite of your promises. Often I hold back. Help me to take the risks of faith, to be aware of your affirming presence in my life. Now, in Advent, sharpen my spirit and my senses, and enable me to pay attention to the moments of God-radiance when you ask me to look, to listen, and to be a peacemaker. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.