Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26
“Let us…our image, in our likeness;” are phrases of the reality of Christ’s presence, not just at our Christmas or Advent celebrations but at the beginning of all life. He was there when the stage was set for mankind: water, light, sky, vegetation, stars, living creatures…and finally…Adam. He saw firsthand what a new creation looked like and it was good.
It was a perfect preparation for that future day when he would open his eyes in a very different place, a cradle, and a new beginning. Even though people might not recognize him, he would still see the likeness of their creator in them and in that image they bore the possibility of a new beginning…and it was good.
Those images we see of that divine baby during Advent remind us we are image bearers of our creator but that likeness always starts with a new beginning. While our eyes are focused on him, he sees that likeness in us and that is good!
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
I love advent. I love taking the time every day to think about how the story of the birth of Christ is the beginning of life for so many of us. It’s as if remembering all the long-ago events that led up to his actual birth is God’s way of refreshing us. I love Advent Calendars and wreaths. This year I’m going to create a digital version of a less-well-known way to remember these days leading up to Christmas, the Jesse Tree, the branch Isaiah 11:1 mentions. There’s a lot of information on the internet about that if you want to know more.
On this first day of Advent 2016 I can’t help but think of the effort God put into preparing what we are here to remember again this year. Isaiah is a perfect place to begin. Out of the root of that stump of a great tree that seemed seemed only to be lost, there came Jesus, the branch who began at the very moment of his birth to bear fruit that you and I are living proof of.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5. I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge—
I’ve read and heard Paul’s words before. Of course they are great, and now I’m thankful I have a really good reason to pray them. I sat in church on Sunday and listened to one after another grateful volunteer share what they were thankful for. We sang a line from Build You Kingdom Here…”we are your church.” That’s not new either but this time the words of the people around me gave that phrase a fresh reality. I’m thankful for that too.
The church is not just a neat little bundle of like-minded people with well-defined walls around us. The church is the people around us who’s ordinary lives depend on more than those walls to define them. The church is people who’s minds have been changed and enriched with the extraordinary grace of Christ Jesus. That’s what makes “we are your church” worth singing about.
Build Your Kingdom Here
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. נ Nun
Back on September 4 when I was in my long study of this Psalm I wrote about the eight verses of “Nun” from the point of view that we begin life pretty much in the dark, looking like one thing but if we’re plugged into God’s plan we finally become what he’s meant us to be all along. Life in Christ is finding the path to get from that beginning to where we need to be. This verse is a reminder, the Word isn’t always a spotlight. Sometimes it’s a purposely directed flashlight beam that’s enough to light a path needed to navigate current events by.
Check out this 7-day devotional, Thriving in Babylon. [click title] It’s a story about Daniel, a man forced to live in the midst of big changes beyond his control. He faces fears about the future, concern for his safety, and the discouragement of a world that seems to be falling apart. Sound familiar?
This is a quote from Day 2.“Daniel’s humble respect was tied to his firm belief that God is in control of who is in control. It wasn’t merely a theological axiom. It was a reality he lived by. He saw Nebuchadnezzar as God’s servant, a wicked king allowed to reign for a period of time in order to fulfill God’s sovereign purpose—in this case, the discipline and judgment of Jerusalem for the sins of its people. Daniel wasn’t respectful because Nebuchadnezzar deserved it.
He was respectful because God commanded it.”
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
This would be a perfect world if verse 8 could only be true. Post-election the exact opposite seems to be the case in our nation. It’s a dangerous truth right now. There doesn’t seem to be bottom line of thought from which to begin to work toward agreement let alone imagine like-mindedness. I’m caught trying to figure out who’s the enemy in this whole mess.
There’s an enemy at work, for sure, but contrary to the evidence of the emotional response to this election, it’s not of our making. Evil is the enemy. It’s an enemy that’s chosen to wreak havoc among us. It’s an enemy that’s clever enough to know how to do just that; by wearing the disguise of the choice you “didn’t” want. Either choice!
This enemy is afraid of the truth of these two verses. Verse 8 is God’s vision of what he’d like us to be, and verse 9 is reality of how to see through the enemy’s disguise to get there. When you can’t stand what’s happening, kneel.
2 Corinthians 3:6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
I’ve spent a good share of my Christian life learning about the “new covenant.” This is what I’ve learned: There’s a difference between confident and competent. Those two words are metaphors for “letters and Spirit.”
The “letter” does have power. It has the power to make you confident in what you know and that’s a good thing but not the whole story. That confidence can become a dangerous thing if you begin to believe that’s where the power of the letter lies.
The “Spirit” can use your confidence “—not of the letter but of the Spirit;” to build life-giving power into what you know. That makes you confident and “competent as ministers of a new covenant.”
The Presidential election is finally over! I suspect everyone can honestly say “that’s one for the books” and that’s true. It’s now become the reality of recorded history. Imagine future generations of high school students sitting in history class trying their best to stay awake as they are forced to study this one year in politics that kept us glued to the TV and up half the night.
Romans 13:1 is my challenge to accept another reality of an even older history that’s now the cutting edge of Plan Be.
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
The image of that sharp, double-edged sword makes being changed by the word of God sound so brutal…and painful. Here’s an idea to consider about how that sword might be working in you as you read.
Have you ever read a familiar part of Scripture and been surprised to find you see something new and meaningful you’d never seen before?
I think that’s the sword at work cutting up the Word of God into smaller, easier-to-digest pieces for you. Thats how it becomes the nourishment needed to reunite your soul and your spirit. That’s complete renewal that penetrates your bones, your heart and your mind. That’s God’s Plan Be.
Ephesians 5:18b-20 Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Don’t be tempted to skip right over that seemingly insignificant word “Instead.” It may surprise you to consider how important just that one word is when it becomes stand-alone Scripture. “Instead” is a word of promise that God’s options and really good advice are available.
Here’s the key. “Instead” is a very simple “word of God” with the power to separate circumstances from outcome.
“Instead” is Scripture that’s easy to memorize too! It’s not a rule or an ultimatum. It’s God’s reminder when the right choice counts, he’s provided an “Instead.”