New Year’s Eve
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” [The Message]
This contemporary paraphrasing of the words of Jesus from The Message was the first version I read. Then I read the same verses in the NIV and the NASB. I feel the need to compare versions partly out of curiosity, looking for a kind of unity of thought between them and often because they make me think in new ways about familiar verses. Any of the three versions are a really good beginning place for a brand new year but two sentences from The Message really spoke to me. “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
The familiar desire of most Christians is to know God’s will. That phrase “unforced rhythms of grace” made me think of that in a new way. God’s will is a big part of daily life, more than you might imagine. Our effort to live within that will can be part of the struggle these verses are addressing. Tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Weary and burdened? Exhausted?
We are fooled into believing the will of God is something to be learned. We study the Bible for helpful hints from the the prophets, the Old & New Testament heroes and historical records. We listen to sermons and we pray for “thy” will to be done. It’s no wonder Matthew had to address weariness and our need for rest. Trust me, no matter how brilliant your brain is, no amount of mental gymnastics can accomplish what God already has already done in you.
Here is a radical idea that I’d like you to ponder: If you have placed your life in Christ, you are “living” the will of God. Here is the assurance of your repentance and acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ as your complete restoration to God.
• “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:” 2 Corinthians 5:17
• “We have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:16
• “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;” – Galatians 2:20
• “You are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in…” – 1 Corinthians 3:16
• “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:13
• ”All things that I [Jesus] have heard from My Father I have made known to you” – John 15:15
• Nothing…”will be able to separate [you] from the love of God” – Romans 8:38
These Scriptures ARE the will of God and they’re built right into you. There is not a moment, a thought, an action or choice – right or wrong, at the most elemental cellular level of your being that the will of God is not at work within you. You won’t always make the right decision or the right choice but you can depend on this truth; your life in Christ has placed you in the will of God. Now take Jesus at his word. “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn to live “freely and lightly” in “the unforced rhythms of grace.” Rest.
“A miracle has happened. You are new. You are a new creation in Christ. And on that glorious, confident basis, rooted in Christ and his saving work for us, now we have some work to do. And we do it with joy and with confidence [of] children of God. We are not trying to be children of God or get into God’s favor, we are in his favor rock solid through faith in Christ.” [read more from John Piper at https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-to-know-the-will-of-god
My Jesse Tree of 2017
This is why we celebrate past, present and future.
“God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone! We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life, and how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life. This new life is starting right now, and is whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears. He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.” Titus 2:11-14 [MSG]
Romans 8: 1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
My whole theme for this year’s Big Event has been Blessing. I have practiced what I preached about trying to use my voice to bless others as I went about my Christmas preparation. It’s been a revelation to me that if your mindset is to do that, opportunities just seem to pop up where saying “God bless you”…for whatever…seems natural and right. It bears repeating all year long..
Your Savior has been born! Remembering the Big Event has come to an end. Now I’d like to introduce you to the grown-up Jesus of Romans 8. This is the Savior with treasured gifts for you this Christmas morning; forgiveness, freedom and fulfillment. I know this Jesus well.
I had a very special dream as a relatively new believer more than half a lifetime ago. Jesus had come to take me to see something with him. He held my hand as we looked at a grotesque museum style head-and-shoulders statue sitting alone on a pedestal in the room. It wasn’t until we were leaving and I turned to take one last look at that ugly thing that I saw it was me. That was “my” dream but It has a reality that’s become my blessing for you this Christmas Day.
You have a grown-up Savior who loves you enough to hold your hand while you take one last look at who you “were.” It’s time to open those gifts of forgiveness, freedom and fulfillment. That is no longer who you “are.” Your Savior has been “born again” into your heart’s memory this December. Merry Christmas and God Bless One Last Look.
Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
This journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem is so romanticized [make something seem better or more appealing than it really is]. In my mind it’s a serenely beautiful story of a faithful man and a very pregnant woman traveling at an inconvenient time. I see the image in my mind of them traveling alone on that road to Bethlehem carried along by the promises given by angels that the coming “holy Child shall be called the Son of God” That image is further supported by many movies and books…but…
Then I started pondering the bottom line of what makes their story real…and beautiful too. Did they realize the birth was that close? What was the trail like? How far could they go in a day? Where did they sleep? How did they cook? What did they eat? How did they manage the required ritual cleansing? What about sanitation? Weren’t there many other people and animals on the same trail?
I don’t know any of those answers but here’s what I do know…Mary and Joseph were real people, in real circumstances with real choices. Each chose to believe their own promise received from an angel despite the impossible circumstances. They chose to obey the law of their heritage and go to the city of David to do what was required of them despite the timing. They chose to be obedient even when they others would say they had no choice in the matter. .
Their lives were filled with legitimate opportunities and reasons to say “no” to circumstances beyond their control but instead they chose to say “yes” to God. God bless choosing “yes.”
Posted in Christmas Eve, Luke, Sunday, The Big Event
Tagged Beautiful, But..., Choices, Circumstance, Journey, Obedient, Real, Yes
Luke 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord…15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about… 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
These shepherds weren’t wise men. They were barely even acceptable. They couldn’t possibly observe the rules of cleanliness living as they did. They lived on the edge of religious society because they were unfit. They lived on the edge of danger because of the predators that threatened them and the flocks they were protecting and they lived isolated lives on the edge of town. It’s no wonder they were terrified when suddenly all around them there was inexplicable light and sound.
The revelation of the centerpiece of God’s plan was given to those who were unfit, at risk and isolated. That’s how God still works today. Do you remember how God first got your attention? You will certainly have a much less dramatic story than this revelation to the shepherds but the fact is their story is ours. Our heritage was not the intimacy God intended at creation but of our descent from Adam. God determined he would pull his creation back from the edge of life’s circumstances to that first-love intimacy with him and give them “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”
God chose to reveal the centerpiece of his plan, a Savior, to YOU…of “all people!…” to give YOU the joy of intimacy with him so YOU might desire to …”go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about,”…again this year. God really meant Jesus, the Big Event, to be all about YOU. God bless YOU + Jesus.
Matthew 2:1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”…11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Magi were men who still had the desire for God in their hearts. Desire was why they watched for a sign. When they recognized the star they prepared their gifts and took that first step of a long journey expecting God would to lead them to a king.
People really do still have the desire for God in their hearts. God has pulled out all the stops for us during this season with many different and personal signs to guide us to “the one who has been born king,” the Big Event. This is our modern-day version of the journey but it’s still all about desiring God, watching for the signs, preparing our gifts of worship and then taking that first step expecting God will lead us to the King.
These are the perfect gifts of worship if you’re short on gold, frankincense and myrrh.
• Give Jesus your desire.
• Offer this new born priest your long journey.
• Let him be King of all your expectations.
God bless our journey.
John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus always “was” but it took the Big Event to remind people to notice. This year it was odd to notice Christmas things beginning to show up in stores in October. It was a confusing reality that just didn’t seem right. Couldn’t we just get through Halloween and Thanksgiving first? In fact I wonder about that.
Remember the times Jesus makes reference to eyes that see and ears that hear? Remember all the things that are associated with our celebration of Christmas that impact our senses: sight, taste, touch, sound, smell. Remember when that “other” Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”?
What if the reality is God has not lost control of the celebration of the birth of his Son, our Savior to commercialism? Maybe God is using retail to remind us to notice it’s his reality on display even though the stores may have a different plan.
• What if those beautiful illuminated trees decked out with ornaments and flashing lights are meant to remind us of a long ago star?
• What if the Christmas music playing everywhere is really the modern-day version of the angel choir?
• What if Christmas hoopla is God using the money, time and effort retailers put into Christmas to appeal to our physical senses to remember HIS reality?
• What if crowded aisles full of people searching for the perfect gift is God reminding us Christmas is the reality he chose “to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives,” the Big Event.
God bless reality.
Isaiah 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
My only other “Jesse Tree” was made for a church decoration years ago early in my own faith journey. I was caught up with the idea of a simple branch as a decoration. This year it’s different. The origami Stars are folded around the Word of Light for each post to help me remember. The ornaments for the days in between posts represent ways I do remember God has worked in my life. This year the Jesse Tree is more than a decoration.
Isaiah told about gifts the Savior would receive, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”
There’s a little piece of knitting to remember my first real awareness that God could use ordinary hands and a pair of knitting needles for his purposes. Prayer Shawls were knit with nothing more than those hands and trust that God would open my eyes to recognize a connection he’d made between his heart and my hands to know who should receive that shawl. Giving away those shawls was an unexpected gift that changed my life in ways I could never have imagined.
This year the Jesse Tree is my visual reminder of why I choose to spend these days remembering the Big Event; the birth of our Savior. I can see with my own eyes how the branch is changing as the ornaments are added each day. They are the gifts received, remembered and returned that make the branch beautiful and add Isaiah’s capital “B.” God bless the fruit of the Branch.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
The relationship of Mary and Joseph is confusing. “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph”…”Joseph her husband was faithful”…”he had in mind to divorce her”… but…“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Were they “pledged” or were they married? Why was divorce involved? Here’s what I found.
Marriage was considered far too important to be left to a matter of the heart. A pledge of marriage was made by family arrangements in the name of the couple. It was only a promise at this point but the next step really mattered. The promised couple must confirm their agreement with that family arrangement at some future point in time. Their agreement turned that promise into a binding contract that only another legal action could break. Legally they were now recognized as husband and wife but there was one more step that must happen. That’s where Mary and Joseph were at this point. It was the wedding celebration ahead that was meant to unite promise, contract and their relationship into the one flesh God promised in Genesis but there were those disturbing circumstances.
I can pass on facts I discovered about the culture of relationships of the time but I cannot explain why God would use these circumstances in Joseph’s life to fulfill his promise to all of creation. They were hard circumstances. Joseph could declare Mary unfaithful and possibly condemn her to death by stoning. He could stay in the relationship and deal with his own conflict with the law he was faithful to…or he could accept his dream and the words from the angel of the Lord as a truth and a blessing on their life together. God bless circumstances. Joseph’s circumstances and his response became a blessing for all of us that celebrate the Big Event. Wisdom and the Word still work to help the believer navigate circumstances today. Matthew Henry’s commentary on this scripture says it perfectly.
“Observe, it is the thoughtful, not the unthinking, whom God will guide. God’s time to come with instruction to his people, is when they are at a loss. Divine comforts most delight the soul when under the pressure of perplexed thoughts.”
“You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”
Today is the beginning of Advent, 2017. Advent may not be a familiar name to you. It’s really just a time set aside leading up to Christmas to acknowledge the fullness of what has become the “Big Event” of our life, the birth of Jesus. I’ve come to love the daily moments that catch my heart and focus my mind on the Who, What, Why, When and How the Bible records of that Big Event but the season is filled with many other things that catch my eyes and ears. It’s starting to sound like a whole body experience isn’t it…heart, mind, eyes and ears? That’s exactly what the purpose of the month-long celebration of the Big Event is about.
The words Isaiah spoke way back then have added one more facet to the fullness of this year’s celebration of the Big Event for me. This might be the best part. The weeks leading up to Christmas are one of those rare seasons when the hearts of complete strangers are softened by music, lights, food, parties, friends, family…and gifts. Softened enough that what Isaiah says to us may touch them as well. “You who bring good news…lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid… Here is your God!”
We are what is popularly referred to as snowbirds. Around Thanksgiving each year we pack our 35’ RV and head for warmer climate for a few months. That’s where my celebration of the Big Event happens each morning. Instead of a Christmas tree I have a hanging tree branch, a Jesse Tree [see above] that I decorate. It’s very simple. Today I hung an origami star with some off Isaiah’s words folded into it. I need those words to challenge myself, and maybe you too, to experience the fullness of a whole body celebration in one more way…voice!
There will never be a better time to “lift up your voice”…and bless someone. I’m not talking about a soapbox in a park or snagging someone on a street corner or even quoting scripture to them [although that might be appropriate in the right situation]. I’m only asking you to notice and respond to the people that cross your path between now and Christmas with a gift from God; a blessing given with your own voice and from the fullness of your own heart to make this year’s Big Event a whole body experience for yourself and maybe them too.
This doesn’t come naturally to me so I’ve been sitting here jotting down ideas of ways to fearlessly speak a blessing to a complete stranger. Ten minutes have gone by and after a lot of typing and a visit to look up the definition of blessing, Isaiah’s timeless truth [this is the “do not be afraid” part] has finally dawned on me. There is only one way to begin this blessing…God bless you…
…for your kindness
…for your help
…for your cheerful greeting
…for ringing that bell
…for opening that door
…for caring to ask
…for doing your job well
You get the idea, right? Make it part of your preparation during the days leading up to the Big Event to watch for opportunities to let your voice be a blessing for others. It’s really true you are blessed to be a blessing. May God bless you with his own heart, mind, eyes and ears…may he bless you with the courage to speak…may he bless you for pondering my thoughts and then coming up with your own.
Posted in Isaiah, Sunday, The Big Event
Tagged Blessing, Ears, Eyes, Fullness, Gift, Heart, Mind, Simple, Voice