“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the mashiach [Messiah], and though he may tarry, still I await him every day.” [Click here to read Rambam’s 13 Principles of Jewish Faith then click the word(show) to view.]
We know the desire of Israel’s heart was that Messiah would come as a powerful and conquering King. Remember that? They were tired of war but who would choose a helpless baby to win a battle? Answer: God himself. I hope you’ll click on the link above and read all 13 Principles. They are powerful and beautiful. I think they will surprise you as they did me. Moses’ and the prophets are still our truth. The big change for us is the tense in that twelfth principle has changed for us from “will” to “has.” That one “small” variation is what we’re celebrating in this season of preparation.
Now we are in the “New” Testament and Paul tells us we are still at war. We fight a war against strongholds, arguments and pretensions that keep people separate from the knowledge of God. We fight hoping to capture their minds and hearts forever. This is the reason we remember and celebrate this season: God’s own gift “has” come with the power to assure our confidence in Him and ensure the certainty of His promise to us that insures our success. Today Scripture is the final word for us.
“II Corinthians 10:3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
II Corinthians 8:1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.
Paul’s words about gifts brought this “gifting” process to mind: * Choosing, * Presenting, * Receiving.
* Choosing: God chose a part of himself, Jesus Christ, to be his gift to us and for our celebration.
* Presenting: God chose to present himself to us in a surprise package for an unusual reason. A baby is a far more intimate gift than the might be expected from the supreme ruler of the universe. God chose intimacy not intimidation and possibilities not preconceived ideas as his preparation for us to receive.
* Receiving: God chose and presented his gift. Now all that’s left is opening that surprise package filled with growth, change, nurture, grace and His own will for us to give ourselves back to him. The gift has been successfully delivered. Open it and follow the example of the church at Macedonia to keep the gift going. “They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”
I Corinthians 7:8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
Paul’s reference to sorrow caused by his letter has been my Advent preparation trigger. I read his words as if they were God’s words. Sorrow began in that place of creation where those first two people lost their perfect status as companions of God. Life would go on…and on…and on…and that lack of perfection would continue to be a source of sorrow, so God wrote a letter to his people on tablets of stone. That “letter” clearly showed the solution to worldly sorrow but their damaged mindset was still the problem. They “thought” the answer to their loss of perfection, and the sorrow it caused, was to be more committed to trying harder.
Fast forward from God’s letter to that “first season” we now call Advent. God was going to show his creation a new message: Jesus Christ, Son of God born as the antidote to the poison of man’s damaged mindset. Jesus Christ, Son of God born as the image of restored perfection and new life. Jesus Christ, Son of God born to overcome the futility of worldly sorrow and reveal the power of Godly sorrow. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret…” Jesus Christ, Son of God, born to be our Christmas Joy.
Promises from Chapter 6: “I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.” …I will welcome you and be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” says the Lord Almighty.” [NIV]
II Corinthians 7:1 Having such great promises as these, dear friends, let us turn away from everything wrong, whether of body or spirit, and purify ourselves, living in the wholesome fear of God, giving ourselves to him alone. [TLB]
There was a day when we understood those promises of God, turned away from our sin and believed his words: “I will welcome you and be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.” That first “turning away” brought us the life-changing relief of grace. It was a spectacular beginning but that’s exactly what it was…the first day of the rest of our life.
The relief of grace is God’s gift of courage to look at the challenges of the rest of our life and be willing to confess we still need courage to “turn away from everything wrong, whether of body or spirit, and purify ourselves… giving ourselves to him alone.”
II Corinthians 6:3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
I read through these verses and was struck by how many word comparisons Paul uses just after he writes about weapons so I made a list – but in columns: a left-hand one and a right-hand one. Apparently comparisons are catching and maybe that’s exactly what Paul had in mind. It certainly has made me think.
The left column is clearly filled with recognizable defensive weapons of righteousness. What if all those words in that right-hand column might also be weapons of rightousness? The Holy Spirit revealed our desire for those commendable words in the left-hand column to be a reality our lives at the same time our eyes recognized the words of the right-hand column were a part of that same reality. Doesn’t that make those dismal words pretty effective weapons of righteousness too?
Good Report. Bad Report
We Live On Dying
Not Yet Killed. Beaten
One column wasn’t enough to bring us into the faith of Jesus Christ on that day we came to our senses and returned to His victory and I’m guessing a majority of us would admit our lives still need both columns today. We couldn’t have understood glory if we hadn’t recognized dishonor or desired a good report if we hadn’t been aware of our bad report “then”. You can continue on down the list for yourself and just make the change to present tense: we can’t understand glory if we don’t recognize our dishonor, or desire a good report if we can’t confess a bad report.
The words in both those columns have turned out to be very effective weapons ”of endurance, in purity, understanding, patience and kindness “then” and “the power of God [to arm us now] with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and the left…”
II Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Being an ambassador “…as though God were making his appeal through us” become more real to me this week. I wanted to implore these people I really care about but instead my appeal was full of frustrated emotion and more loaded with the need to persuade than the desire that anyone might be reconciled to God. It’s so easy to spout off when you get your mouth and emotion involved. The fact is being an ambassador for Christ has obligations of grace.
I lost track of the reality that grace at it’s most basic level is God working to give me time to change. My motivation was more of the problem than my words were, and I blew it. I disappointed myself, and my two best advocates, Christ and my husband. It’s been a reminder to me of the obligation of, and my need for, grace AND it’s purpose.
Forgiveness has bound me to these people and grace in a new way AND loosed me to transformation “so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God”…together.