Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Though you can't see it, the wind can be measured, and has effects that you can observe, like trees bending over. God's Holy Spirit is similar in that way. The Spirit can't be seen, but the effects he causes can be seen. We aren't in charge of which way the wind blows, nor are we in charge of the Spirit's direction either. Jesus said in verse 8 of John 3, "The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit." (New Living Translation). The Greek is more literally, 'so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit' but the emphasis is on the idea that the inner change in people by the Spirit can't be seen but the outer manifestation of that change is obvious to all.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would continue his work in the world, like continuing to teach us as Jesus did (John 16:12-14) and convicting the whole world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). The Spirit has a lot to do with the growth of the church in Acts, and with people understanding God's will (for instance, Acts 15:27) and we believe he continues to be actively involved with the direction of the church today.
How do we know? Well, you can't see it, just like the wind, but you can look at the results. Churches continue to find ways to bring the good news of what God has done for humanity to a changing culture. People continue to be convicted of sin, and their need for the righteousness of Christ. Those people begin to learn how to live a new life, directed by a new sense of peace and an outward love that they didn't have before. And we continue to learn more about how to understand the Bible. Are those all things that would happen through our own effort? Given the track record of humanity overall, I don't think we would find those improvements on our own, or agree on them together. Instead, it seems that God is still busy doing what he does, even sometimes in spite of us.
The wind of the Spirit is blowing. He is calling us all to more understanding of God, more surrender and dedication to his will, and to more actively serving others. Why not hoist your sails like a wise sailing captain, and ask to be carried where He is going. You won't know where that is (John 3:8 again) but if you hang on, you'll enjoy the ride!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
This is sometimes called "The Great Reversal" in theological circles, or to us common folk, just a most amazing contradiction. It's something I contemplate, as much as my poor brain will let me try to plumb the depths of something, and every time I do, it leaves me speechless. (Of course, if you know me, it doesn't leave me that way for long...) I don't think we'll ever truly understand how great the difference is between being God and being human, until we finally see God (1 John 3:1-2) and begin to understand how truly great he is. Then, perhaps only then, we will start to understand what an enormous sacrifice was made by the eternal Son of God, just to put on human flesh. And even at that, this huge move was only the first step in bringing us back to himself. He also had to die, was destined to die from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:1-2, Revelation 21:6), to perfectly erase the guilt of our sins.
Not that there was any guarantee we would respond. We humans are famous for not paying attention to what's best for us. Several of Jesus' parables were about people who spurned God's gracious invitation. Even many of the people who heard him teach, standing there in the dusty streets of their own city, didn't believe him. How much less we who sit here in the comfort of our warm homes 2,000 years later? Nonetheless, God made the effort, all on his own, to give us life: everlasting, abundant, joyful, and full of absolute love.
Our loving God has already given us the greatest gift he could offer: himself. He asks in return that we love him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength -- that is, without holding anything back -- the same way he has already loved us.
How about giving God that complete, unreserved gift of your love today?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
You probably know where I'm going with this. Whenever we humans go our own way and try to make life turn out the way we want, on our own steam, we're turning our backs on the one Source of life, happiness and peace. Well, guess what? Anxiety results! By trusting ourselves, instead of God, we not only are unsuccessful in our pursuits, but we live anxious and unsettled lives.
The wonderful message of the Incarnation, celebrated this time of year with Advent and Christmas, is that God has come to be with us in the person of his Son Jesus; and has permanently erased that separation. Jesus said in Matthew 11:27 “No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus came to show the Father to all of us wandering people (John 14:6-11).
To make the truth even more amazing, Jesus said "When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you" (John 14:20; also John 17:21). His being "in" the Father, and our being "in" him, is no mere wordplay; it is a word picture of the intimacy, the closeness, the bond of love, that the Father and the Son have for us, as expressed through the Holy Spirit's mind in us. The Father's intention, as delivered through his Son's life on earth as he brought all of creation back to himself, was and is for us to be in complete unity and intimacy with him again, forever.
The holiday seasons can be lonely times as we miss the companionship of loved ones, or wish for closeness with others and see it missing from our lives. Jesus came that we might never have to be truly lonely again. He wants us to know the love of the Father and never be without it. So if you know those who, this time of year or any time, are feeling lost, left out or alone, why not find a way to help them know that love of God for them? As you call or write, visit and sit with them or help with chores, you're expressing to them the love that God sent into the world through his Son, and continuing the Son's work in the world. That love flowing through you will increase your own closeness to the Father, too.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
In the US, we have what is called a ‘representative democracy.’ That means we elect people who go to the place of government and act on our behalf – voting to pass laws that, we hope, will benefit us and our country.
Jesus, as the only perfect human ever to live, was a perfect sacrifice when it came time for him to die for our sins (John 1:29). As an ordinary human, he could only have died for his own sins; but without sin, and as the infinite Son of God, he died for all of our sins, as our representative.
But he was a lot more than that. Jesus was also the only proper representative of the human race to the Father. He lived a perfect life, in complete faith and complete obedience. So, his perfect obedience represents, to the Father, perfect obedience for all of us. The same with his faith, his prayers, his love, and so forth. He was the perfect human ‘Yes!’ response to God’s loving invitation to relationship.
Just think – when our faith is not as strong as it ought to be, Jesus is there at the Father’s right hand, representing us (1 Tim. 2:5) as the perfect mediator between God and man (Rom. 8:34). In fact, our salvation is not by our own faith, but by our trust in the perfect faith of Jesus Christ himself, the perfect Son of his Father. Our obedience, our prayers, our thoughts, our trust in God, is all perfect in the Father’s eyes, because we approach the Father by Jesus, the perfect man.
And of course, Jesus also perfectly represented the Father to us: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). So when we want to understand the Father, we study the life and teachings of Jesus the Son.
These are some of the reasons we refer to Jesus as the ‘hinge of history’, the ‘perfect Lamb’ and ‘the plan of God.’ Without him, the Bible is a rulebook, not a story of God pursuing us. Without him, we literally don’t have a prayer – because our prayers aren’t good enough to approach a perfect God. But with him, and in him, and through him, we have life.
Which is a great reason to celebrate him any time of the year, and why especially during the Advent and Christmas seasons we take an even closer look at this God who loved us so much he became a man. May that stopping to look, this year, bring you many blessings.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Peace is elusive to people, even individually. Between people, and between groups and nations, peace is almost impossible to achieve. (When’s the last time you saw a news headline claiming ‘Peace Breaks Out’?)
But peace is exactly what God intends for us. Inner peace, peace between us and God, and as a result, peace between people. That’s what he wanted for us in the first place, and it was our own fault that we didn’t accept it. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, had a face-to-face friendship with God, but they decided they would rather make their own choices without his help. They turned away from him, and in trying to make their own decisions, their minds became tormented with the loneliness of their existence without their Creator. Their children and grandchildren invented their own ‘gods’ who only resembled themselves with all their own faults magnified – not their true loving, living Father at all. So their minds continually tried to resolve their self-made conflict, turning it over and over and inventing new, flawed realities to live in. (Romans 3:9-20.)
Sounds nasty? Well, it is. Human life without a loving Creator is no life at all. But God is far too loving to leave us in the lurch. He sent his Son to bridge that gap, and to create peace for us (Eph. -22).
During Advent, we celebrate the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), the Son of God who was God-With-Us, Immanuel. He came without our asking, rescuing people who didn’t deserve it, and was killed without reason to wipe out the guilt of even those who killed him. He brought peace to our tormented souls by taking all that pain and separation on himself, and created an unbreakable bridge between us and the Father. He gives us the peace of his own mind, the Holy Spirit who lives in us because of our faith in the Son (Romans 5:1, 8:6, , , etc). He himself is the Plan of God (2 Tim. 1:9-10).
“Give peace a chance?” Amen, so we should! So if you’re not feeling peaceful, then it’s time to surrender – for the first time ever, or once again – all your conflicts and inner turmoil to the One who has already resolved it for you and is waiting for you to accept it. If you know someone who is full of that turmoil, then maybe you can introduce him or her to that Prince of Peace. It’s the best gift you could give a loved one, now or anytime.