Category Archives: New Testament

A Wake Up Call to Wonder – Luke 2:8-12

Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.  10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

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As I read this passage from Luke I couldn’t help but compare that first Christmas to today.  “Normal” Christmas is filled with a lot of beautiful imagery that fills my head.  Today as I reread the actual circumstances of that night, I’ve been reminded this is not a “normal” year and Advent this year is not just a preparation, it’s a wake-up call to “Wonder.”  Centuries of hindsight have eclipsed the realities of that night in the middle of nowhere when the Glory of the Lord lit up the sky for a very frightened group of shepherds.  Their story has become a window for us to see that while God chose to send them His promise  in a frightening blaze of holiness, they responded to the wonder of God in an ordinary way despite their fear and the harsh realities of their circumstances.  That is what has given them their special place in our history.  

The story of the birth of “a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” triggers beautiful romantic images for me of a newborn baby with a halo of light about His head.   I hear the romance of my own history in the angel’s words “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  The circumstances of Advent in the Year of our Lord, 2020 have reminded me God chose to fulfill the dramatic promise from the angel in what appeared to be a far more ordinary way.   “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  That still matters.

There’s an old story of a European ruler who would sneak away and walk among his people incognito.  It drove his security people nuts but his response was “I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live.”   The reality of the ordinary birth of Jesus Christ is that God found a way to walk among His people “incognito.”  Christmas began with what appeared to be an ordinary baby…wrapped in ordinary swaddling clothes…from ordinary parents…in an ordinary stable…for ordinary people.

God has triumphed through the ordinary record of Luke’s story to remind me He will redeem Christmas again this year.  During these last few days of Advent, despite the harsh realities of darkness, pain and loss, the Wonder of God can still appear in the reality of the ordinary and encourage us to respond.  “And this shall be a sign unto you…”

• Ordinary Christmas lights twinkling everywhere as a visible reminder “the glory of the Lord shone round about them.”
• The ordinary music of Christmas audibly breaking through the noise of life with different angelic words that remind us to respond “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
• The ordinary seasonal 
“Merry Christmas” greeting taking on new meaning this year as a way for us to remind each other to “Fear not,” God is with us.
• Ah, and those bell-ringers with red kettles are surely angels of God that remind us that He will turn what appears to be an ordinary gift into into “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

Likeness

Romans 8:3 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. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. NASB

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This week an interesting discussion about the word “likeness” became the catalyst for fresh look at Romans 8 and part of a previous Advent post from 2015.  We all know what the “Law could not do.”  It couldn’t change us and even those first two people couldn’t manage to obey it.

“What a surprise to find myself in my favorite chapter from the whole Bible for my Advent reading today.  If you remove the “religiousity” factor of laws you have to admit we can’t live without them.  We need laws to create order and some level of security in our society.  I’ll bet I’m not the only one that’s broken some of them: ever rolled through a stop sign?  That’s an easier-to-swallow version of “weak as it was through the flesh” to own up to.  Now that our minds are in the right place maybe we can face the issue of “sinful flesh”…and “in us.”a   

Eden was where “weak as it was through the flesh” became a reality.  There was only one law but the bad choice to violate it was where the separation between man and God began.  [BTW that’s not unlike that stop sign.]  The amazing truth of Advent is God chose new birth to fulfill something that one “first” law was unable to accomplish.  

Advent is pretty dramatic evidence of the second time God created perfection for all mankind to experience.  The birth of Jesus revealed God’s determination to redeem and replace what had been lost in Eden.  This time perfection was a person, not a place.  That first Advent God chose a baby, His Son…God with us…Jesus, to restore His own “Image” within “the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin.”  Advent is our annual reminder that Jesus is the reality of God’s promise to unite the likeness of our sinful flesh with His own Image “in us.”

a Click here to read that original post

God Was THERE!

Ephesians 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. [NIV]

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I’ve mentioned before that words spark thought for me.  Today was an interesting variation on that.  I read verse eight several times before I realized I’d been subconsciously adding the word [IN] before the word “darkness.” Dropping the [IN] and reading “you were once darkness” changed my whole perspective on what I’d read.  It has reminded me this Word is not only timeless but it’s still alive and well. Darkness is not a place I was “IN”  but the far more ugly reality of “what I was.”  It says it right there but I missed it.

I re-read those verses thankful for the specific words of hope I found there, words like “now you are light in the Lord” and “the fruit of the light.”  The emphasis on “WHAT I was” [darkness] has now been dramatically changed because of God’s intervention through Jesus in my life to “what I WAS [past tense].  “Once darkness” was changed to “the fruit of the light” and that is the joyful connection to Advent I share with you in December, 2020.

That first “Advent” in Bethlehem was God’s intervention in the world He’d created.  His choice was to make Himself visible once more to redeem His people and free them from their dependence on their own best efforts to dispel the darkness that plagued their lives.  Jesus was born to reveal God’s promise to ordinary people who were “once darkness.”  The “Advent of Light” could forever change their emphasis from knowing “there was GOD” [hope] into the new reality that “God was THERE!”

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

The Last Third Chapter – Revelation

I found the Word of the New Living Translation helpful to my thoughts about this last, third chapter.  The verses about each of the three churches of Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea are arranged in that same sequence under each of my headings, what Jesus knows, what Jesus asks and what Jesus vows.  It is one way to understand how this revelation of their history impacts our future and confirms Scripture is still living Word that challenges the church of Jesus Christ and His people today.

What Jesus knows: 
• 1 “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead… your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. 
• 8 “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.
• 15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!

What Jesus asks:
• 3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again.
• 11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.
• 19 So be diligent and turn from your indifference.

What Jesus vows:
• 5 All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. 
• 12 All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.
• 20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne. 

The Third Chapter – I John

1 John 3:18-20 My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.  21-24 And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. MSG

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Here’s your Good News for today: There is a way to practice real love that can help you know you’re’re living truly in God’s reality.  It’s this simple: “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  Say that to yourself.  Do you believe that in the depths of your soul?  “Jesus loves me, this I know” is not the same as self-affirmation.  It’s not a fake-it-’til-you-make-it plan. “Jesus loves me, this I know!” is how God chooses to establish His in-person relationship with you to confirm His love for you. “Jesus loves me, this I know!” is the only truth you need to know to make you a person after God’s own heart.  

God never uses shame and guilt to transform you. It is not God who bedevils you with “debilitating self-criticism…”  “Jesus loves me, this I know!” is how God has chosen to convert that space designed to harm you into a reminder of your need for Him instead. “Jesus loves me, this I know!” is real love that changes guilt and shame, “even when there’s something to it,” into a heart full of thanksgiving and praise for the Grace of God, and that confirms your love for Him. Once that’s taken care of and [you’re] no longer accusing or condemning [yourselves], [you’re] bold and free before God!  

The Third Chapter – 2 Peter

2 Peter 3:8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  [ESV]

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“Man ceases to be in any sense a pilgrim [if] there is nowhere to which he can make pilgrimage. He must simply drift in a kind of lostness, coming from nowhere and on the way to nowhere.”a

The Day of the Lord is an unspecified period of time that stretches between two well defined points; creation and a new heaven and a new earth.  Those are the boundaries of the time of pilgrimage for everyone, believer or nonbeliever. The difference is where you begin and where you end. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient…not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  

The pilgrimage of a follower of Jesus Christ begins at the point of becoming a new “creation.” The unspecified period of time is the life of faith that weaves the pilgrim into the strength of a cord that is “not easily broken.” The reward of the pilgrimage is found in the Day of the Lord – a new heaven and a new earth.

a William Barclay

The Third Chapter – 1 Peter

1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. ” [ESV]

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Have you ever wondered about “unity of mind?”  Today that’s foremost on my mind.  There are issues of faith, culture and politics that can, and do, divide us. Unity is defined as likeness but is unity the same as likeness?  Each of us exist in the flesh at the will of the same Creator but every person is a unique creation.  That uniqueness is evident in our own bodies.  Every cell within each person is unlike any other but they they still unite and manage to form one unique body.  Each person is formed with their own body, DNA, mind and personality.  Each of us is one-of-a-kind, unlike any other. 

We have been purposefully created in God’s own image, by His own design, to be mismatched from one another in our own physical body and mind. God has created His unique body, the Church, from mismatched minds and bodies learning to depend on His likeness and be united by His mind as they struggle to find the balance between personal uniqueness and Spiritual “unity of mind.”

The Third Chapter – James

James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [ESV]

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GK Chesterton said “A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.”  I don’t know if he had meekness in mind when he penned that sentence but it seems like the reality that explains the “meekness of wisdom.”  My heart longs for absolutes based on God’s Word but I am not immune to the paradox Chesterton referenced.  My absolutes are just that – “my” absolutes.  They comfort me in a world of division, and hostility where even another believer’s faith can feel like a weapon of attack unless I agree with their absolutes.  That’s when the “meekness of wisdom” reminds me “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” 

I’ve learned a lot over 40+ years as a believer in Jesus Christ but my faith is still just a small glimpse into the mind of God.  That glimpse has only become faith because of my confidence in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I don’t know it all, but the grace of Jesus has made certain that what I don’t know will not separate me from the Sovereign God who really does.  Some may doubt everything else I know but I have no doubt about that at all!

Remember Matthew 5:5? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”  The “meekness of wisdom” for today might read ‘Blessed are those who don’t know it all but know the one who does, for the promises of their inheritance begin right here where they live now. Absolutely!’

The Third Chapter – Hebrews

Hebrews 3:12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.a” [NIV]

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“That day, next day, one day and someday” is a tongue-in-cheek description I recently read to describe the confusion of keeping track of time and days when the routines of life are altered during long-lasting life circumstances like this pandemic.  I’ve experienced that confusion about time and days myself.  It’s a real thing that caused me read this Scripture as if it was speaking about the confusion of time and days, then, as a danger in the spiritual life of believers in Jesus Christ now…and the much needed protection offered for “today.”

We have been so blessed for so long as a nation, as a democracy and as individuals that we’ve become confused about how real, and subtle, the danger of a “sinful, unbelieving heart” is.  “Today” is the one word in this Scripture that made me realize “that day, next day, one day and someday” is really about missing the warning and protection available “now.”  “Now” is our God-given opportunity to to “share in Christ” and “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of [us] may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness…Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…a

a Psalm 95

The Third Chapter – Titus

Titus 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [ESV]

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3:4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. [ESV]