The Christmas Story Continues

Revelation chapter 12 gives us the truth about Christmas. It is about the eternal destiny of all mankind. It is about war, Satan and his angels, Michael and his angels, God, a virgin birth, a mass murder of infants by evil in high places and principalities of this world and, Praise God, Christ’s ultimate victory. But it doesn’t stop there. It is not just a historical view. It reaches forward to where we are now and where we are headed. The Christmas story continues. It helps us understand the realities of the post war world we are living in.

Often times when thinking about a past war, victors will recall images of celebration. Their post war snap shots are flooded with newspaper headlines that read “Peace!” or “It’s Over!”. These types of images often come from the victors territory and can give the victors a false sense of finality. The war may have been won but the reality may be that the victory was the beginning of the end, not the actual end. However on the other hand the losers’ dominion presents a very different picture. One that is easier to discern; the war has been won, but battles still rage and lives still hang in the balance. 

On the other side the picture will often look something like this; failed states left in ruins, void of leadership and often rampant with lawlessness. The victors have left behind remnants of their soldiers to help the failed state find their way. These soldiers are most always up against remnants of a different sort, remnants of the enemy. 

Post war, the enemy most often deploys a covert strategy. They go underground to continue the fight covertly, doing all they can undermine the victor’s agenda and to strengthen their camp. What seems to motivate them is the hope of carrying their agenda forward at some future time. Living to fight another day. History has shown us that of these sorts the worst is often the hopeless. The ones who know they will never gain the strength to ultimately win but deceive and give false hope to that end anyway. Who still refuse to let go of their agenda and determine themselves to ‘take as many with them’ to their hopeless end as possible.

The end of Revelation chapter 12 makes it clear, the War is won but not over. the battle still rages and Christians are in enemy territory. The enemy is present, powerful and hopeless. In my estimation, a Christian’s role then is that of the remnant of the victor in enemy territory post war, there to help people find their way to the right side. There to provide a beacon of truth amidst all the undercurrents of deception. There to save people from hopelessness.

Perhaps this is the gift of Christmas that Christians wield in post war enemy territory. The light that Christians have been given to shine in the shadow of deceit and through the darkness of hopelessness that the enemy works so hard to create. May your light shine this Christmas season. May your Christmas be merry and bright!

 

Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 25; Revelation 12; Zechariah 8; John 11

Suggestions for prayer: Ask God to help you steward the gift of Christmas well for Him. Ask Him to help you give the gift of Christmas.

All You Need Is Love

When Jesus speaks of the perfect life, He is very clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” -Luke 10:27. In perfect love, God desires our wellbeing, our fellowship and obedience.

Obedience is a hard word for me to hear, let alone to say or do! But obedience to God’s precepts ultimately make us better, stronger, healthier and happier. God’s law is no longer imposed, but encouraged in love. It’s not offered in oppression, but in freedom from sin through a life of tangible fellowship with the Creator of the Universe. Obedience to a perfect God is to seek the love Jesus speaks of.

Love gets more complicated when we are concerned for our well being, when others threaten our way of life, our freedom or interests. This is when we must chose between our own understanding or trusting God.

I am fascinated by the intensity of the discourse after this very unusual and surprising election. I have had to remind myself that God is eternally sovereign and we are not.

Living out our faith is about love in action, showing love without favoritism, loving the unlovable, practicing grace and gratitude. It is helpful to recognize our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, avoiding demagoguery, so easily embraced.

Personal spiritual transformation is the true source of social change. It is born in Love. God’s Spirit guides us. There is no other way.

God is sovereign and everything, even political power, comes from Him or is allowed by Him.

We have a lifetime of opportunity to live out values like kindness, humility, forgiveness, bravery, sacrifice, integrity, generosity, and compassion. We might easily claim these as our own, and overlook them in others, but love is the champion of justice and truth.

More than anything Jesus is saying to me, “trust God, surrender all to Him and love each other like there is no tomorrow.”

Perhaps John Lennon had it right; “all you need is love!”

1 Chronicles 15; James 2. Secret: Amos 9; Luke 4

Be Still

I was honored to have my talented sister-in-law, Lisa Pruitt offer to write this week’s Journal Post. She loves caving more than anyone I’ve ever met. She is the adored older sister of my wife Heather and the adoring mother to my wonderful nieces, Chloe and Camile. Thank you Lisa!

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” -Psalm 46:10.

Today’s reading: Judges 21; Acts 25; Jeremiah 35; Psalms 7–8

Imagine with me we are in a cave. It is a landscape beneath the landscape. Some enter caves with trepidation and fear. But a cave – to me – is the very essence of God’s work right before our eyes. Caves are a fragile ecosystem, dark, damp, flowing water, the pungent smell of earth. Caves are our final frontier and they contain indescribable beauty.

I am drawn to caves, not because they are dark and scary but because it is a place where I can experience God in a new way. I can be still there in the dark and quiet, my senses are tamped down. When I turn off my headlamp, sight is absent, taste is minimal, I can touch the cool damp rock and smell minerals and soil. I can hear the delicate musical and echoing sounds of water dripping somewhere. It is a perfect environment for meditation, for prayer.

The Celtic Christians appreciated a concept known as “thin places”. A thin place is where the divide between our earthly world and God’s kingdom are narrowed, where we can experience a glimpse of God’s majesty, feel his love in surround sound. Sometimes I experience a cave as a thin place. It is not a place of fear but a place of beauty, a place where I know that God is at work, molding and sculpting hard limestone into natural art. As written by T. Augustus Forbes Leith, “from the star-spangled canopy of heaven to the far bottom of the majestic ocean, created earth is teeming with wondrous beauty”.

I went with a group of people to a cave in Mexico a few years ago. We went in single file, walking and talking quietly in the dark, our voices echoing. We walked about 15 minutes before encountering water. We slowly and gently entered the water and got acclimated to our surroundings and the unfamiliar feeling of swimming and floating in a very dark cavernous space. The water was warm and so clear that it appeared to be only 6 or 7 feet deep but it was actually 60 feet deep. There were extravagant formations everywhere I looked, hanging from the ceiling, along the walls, some emerging from the edges of the clear deep water – as if an artist had placed them there. I felt so peaceful, so blissfully happy, so overwhelmed with all my senses – that I began to weep. I experienced a thin place that day.

When I read the scriptures for today, what I continued to ruminate over was Psalm 8. “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” God has set his glory in the heavens and the earth. When I consider the tangible and visible things that God has created, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars, the innumerable bugs – so colorful and specialized, high mountains, deep oceans, the rebirth of spring, the delicate soft features of a baby, the miracle of unfolding life, flowers, fungus, and the amazing array of colors our eyes can perceive, I am humbled. Our God is majestic.

Appreciating the beauty of our natural world around me reminds me of the Lord’s majestic name! Anytime I can stop and notice, anytime I can be still and think of God’s love, I am reminded of God’s majesty and I experience a thin place. Sometimes the cave’s environment facilitates my experience of a thin place, sometimes it’s a mountain top, other times it is when I lie in the grass at night and allow the grandeur of the night sky to flow into me.

These profound thin places are not experienced by me every day for they require 1) the right environment, 2) the proper state of observation by me and 3) most importantly – my willingness to be still. What I know is that without Jesus at my side, even at times when these three ingredients converge, they would be meaningless and would not coalesce into a thin place without Jesus, because I would not be worthy of the familiarity of a thin place. I would be there but could not reach out to God, could not feel Him.

The indescribable beauty of all that God has given us on this earth is majestic but it is nothing compared with the gift of Jesus.

Contrast and Choice

Life leads to death, but from death comes life.

Contrast is how we evaluate things. Usually this is on a relative basis. We compare one thing to another and it is easy to tell the difference. If we try to compare too many things we are easily confused. The bigger the contrast between things the easier it is to choose one thing over another — but not always.

Everyday we make choices. By comparison deciding between one thing or another and by contrast we are able to make our clearest choices. Sometimes the contrast between two things is so stark that it seems impossible to miss the importance of the distinction.

Comparison and contrast is usually easier if we consider things in pairs. Sort of like having our eyes examined. Discerning something clearly from a large group can be very difficult, but when we can get two things side by side it is much easier to select our preferences, even between things with subtle variation. By comparison, starker contrast make our choices even more certain, harder to miss.

Having recently been away from home for a couple of weeks, living in a big city for most of that time, I was amazed at the sharp contrast as I drove back to Bloomington from O’Hare Airport. imageWe had been living in a rooftop apartment in Paris, undoubtably one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Still, it was good to be heading home. Past the Chicago Metro fringe, at that perfect time in the early evening when the stark contrast of the green fields under the big blue sky seemed unreal.image

We had been living in grey’s and brown’s of limestone and marble. Now I was bathed in the beams of new light that opened my tired eyes. As we drove southbound Interstate-55, I looked toward the expanse of the heavens, to clouds painted by the fluttering of the wings of angels. Majestic thunderheads building before patterns of scattered cirrus, shaded with the pastels of the setting sun and twilight shadows. I’m not sure I have ever seen more beauty in that prarie I’ve called home for the last twenty one years.    image

In today’s reading, what stood out for me was Sampson’s riddle.“Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” Eating honey from a lion’s rotting carcass certainly represents an extreme contrast. It made me think of how Jesus was born from a rebellious nation, one that rejected God’s prophets and incredible blessings, often turning towards their own understanding. The savior of the world reflected the contrast of God among us, in the midst of people so confused and broken that they rejected and crucified the very source of love and creation. But this didn’t stop Jesus from transforming the lives of believers and He is still doing it today.

The contrast of a changed life is extraordinary. A life filled with love, patience and peace, once filled with strife, anxiety and self seeking is hard to ignore. The contrast of sin and its destructive emptiness when considered against the healing power of God’s grace shows us who we are, with and without God. It shows us who God is. It opens our hearts making us long for perfection.

For me it wasn’t until the latter stages of my life that the light of truth began to shine and despite my imperfection and brokenness it continues to get brighter.

I thank God for His truth everyday. In His grace I am bathed in forgiveness and the power to continue to change. Jesus I praise your holy name. You are the way, the truth and the life.

Judges 14; Acts 18; Jeremiah 27; Mark 13

Consider it Pure Joy

Today’s Readings: Numbers 17-18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7 and James 1

James!!!! Oh friends, it’s Monday and I’m so joyous because today we are starting the writings of James. For once I know a whole lot about this particular scripture and I’m so excited to share it with you. Let’s begin at the beginning:

 “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ”Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:53-55)

 There you have it. James was the brother or more accurately the half brother of Jesus, the one and only. Doesn’t that change your perspective a bit? More research shows us that at first James wasn’t a believer. In fact, he didn’t become an “ambassador for Christ” until after the resurrection. In Acts 1:14 and then in 1 Corinthians 15:7 we learn that Jesus appeared to James and then his twelve apostles shortly after the resurrection. This appearance convinced James that Jesus was indeed the Christ, he later went on to lead the Jerusalem church. The book was probably written around 48-52 A.D. James died somewhere between 62-66 A.D. James’ letter was written to address the broad audience of Jewish Christians living in or around Palestine. These early believers did not have the support of established Christian churches, James wrote to them as a leader, to encourage them in their faith during difficult times. He opens with this:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

 I first studied the book of James from the NIV translation which begins with: “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds….” I LOVE that sentence. I say it to myself all the time. When my infant is just screaming in the back seat on the way somewhere, or when work stress is just crashing down on me. Notice that James does not say, “consider it pure joy IF you face trials” it’s “whenever you face trials!” When I think about the point of view of our author today, it puts these words into even more perspective. Imagine growing up as the younger brother of Jesus. As Jesus grew, the gospel of Luke describes his evolution into a young man filled with wisdom and gaining the favor of God and fellow man. How did his lowly younger brother feel then? Is it possible that he spent some of his young adulthood jealous of Jesus? Did part of him want to deny Jesus’ perfection? Do I ever deny God’s plan despite knowing that it is right and perfect for me simply because I want to exert my child-like will?

It’s not until after the resurrection that Jesus appears to James. We can infer from the scriptures that they are alone. (1 Corinthians 15:4-7). It is then that the transformation occurs. James, who had a history of persecuting Christians is now a Christ follower. James becomes a fearless leader of the Jerusalem Church, a witness to what later cannot be seen or heard for the people living as Christians among the Gentiles. I love this story because it reflects my own. Before I really knew anything about Christianity, I was a Gentile living among Christ followers. People that quoted scripture and met in little groups at home studying the word of God seemed strange and somehow naïve to me. Now, here I sit surrounded by 3 different bibles and book on James at my desk. I’m no modern day James, but what I am is someone that can tell my “turn around” story. It was me that was so naïve, in fact the truth is; I didn’t experience Christ until I let go of my jealousy of the Christian’s around me. Of course I didn’t know I was jealous. I only know now that the silent persecution I waged was really just a mask covering my inmost desire to be part of that chosen group. If only I had realized sooner that you don’t have to be asked to become a Christ follower, there is no audition.

Finally we arrive at the part that I find most comforting. James gives the best advice if we can just see past ourselves and take it: Count it all joy when you meet trials. In other words, we are going to have had times, James is encouraging us to use them as learning opportunities. He goes on to say that these trials will test our faith and produce steadfastness. The NIV uses the word perseverance in the place of steadfastness. Isn’t that encouraging? Imagine for a moment that you are in a large room with other Christians when suddenly all the lights go out. Then imagine that James is there with you. Instead of turning on the light, he hands you a flashlight so that you can find the switch and turn it on yourself. That’s the purpose of this message. James is giving us a flashlight so that we can bathe our trials in the light of Jesus’ promise. Our daily struggles aren’t just for the purpose of frustrating us, they are to strengthen us so that one day we will be “perfect and complete lacking in nothing.” James ends this first section with these words:

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be first fruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-18)

 Of his own will he gave us little flashlights so that we could shine a light on the truth. How many of us are carrying these flashlights in our pockets, never bringing them out and flipping the switch. I consider it pure joy that He gave me enough trials that I had no choice but to find my light. He is after all the Father of lights. I hope you’ll consider turning yours on today.

Light in the Darkness

 

Links to today’s reading: Exodus 31; John 10; Proverbs 7; Galatians 6

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? -Job 38:19

Early one morning I was trying to understand the multitude of world religions; many of which were compelling in some way. Could different belief systems be pointing to the same God like some people said? Was it possible to reconcile these without taking glory away from God, not ignoring the urgency and importance of sharing God’s story? I believed truth was found everywhere; but that didn’t mean everything was true. If there was a specific, profound, absolute truth that all people could discover, I wanted to know it; if it was applicable for everyone, I wanted to share it.

As I contemplated the idea of truth, the image of a large stone temple atop a great pyramid popped into my head. There were hundreds of meticulously cut stone steps, leading past sprawling terraces, to the massive doors of a mighty fortress on high.

Along the steps, and throughout the terraces, were statues of great men and women that had lived extraordinary lives, and of the world’s great beasts, elephants, lions and bears, all carved from the finest marble.  On each terrace were courtyards where splendid gardens grew; these were also decorated with statues of animals, and jeweled models of planets, solar systems and galaxies. Attached to well shaped trees were reptiles, mollusks and insects, formed from precious metals.

The air was heavy with moisture and the smell of spring and nectar. As inviting as this place was, something very important was missing — there was no light. None. The world that surround the Temple Mount was enveloped in total darkness, leaving the sojourners to wander these grounds, and climb the great steps; forever groping in the dark. They spoke to each other, describing the statues and models, which they often felt with their hands. Each believed they described a greater truth about this world they were blind to; some in wonder, some in humility, and some with arrogance. Each in their own way believed that something pointed the way (perhaps even offering a key) to the entrance of the temple, a thing, somehow, they knew in their hearts. Inside the temple, they believed, resided every good thing which was missing from their present lives. And each was certain that the entrance was at hand, calling out to the others, “come hither.”

One day the door of the temple opened, and out shone the most brilliant light, blinding the sojourners at first. Then, at the door of the temple, a lamb appeared, wearing a crown of light and calling out, “follow me.”

Now as the sojourners’ eyes adjusted to the light, they saw the things they had been describing to each other for the first time. Some were embarrassed that they had been so sure about the location of the door, or the ridiculous descriptions of things they could only feel. Others, when they saw the lamb at the door, immediately bowed down, knowing it was he who had opened the door to the fortress they had been searching for. Those who knew the truth then arose, and climbed the stairs to the entrance, there they were embraced by the king, who welcomed them. Surprisingly, many of the others remained behind, in disbelief. They were certain that which they had described in the darkness was still true; clues that would someday reveal the key and the door. Then the lamb called out, “come to me,”over and over to those who remained, but they could not hear. Eventually the door closed, and the darkness returned forever.

When Jesus spoke to the people, he said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. -John 8:12