Sunday, November 22, 2009

He's Been Here Already

Christians are waiting for the return of Jesus to rule the nations. That's completely legitimate, because He said He was coming back. But "back" means He's already been here once. And both of those points are the message of the traditional four weeks of Advent -- that the Son of God visited us once, and that He's returning. ("Advent" means "arrival," as we see in the name "Seventh-Day Adventists" who emphasize the Second Coming.)

The first week of Advent wraps up the entire year of Christian teaching and celebration, by telling us of that blessed, joyful return of our Savior to the world. Typically, the message of that day in song and sermon and prayer gives us reasons to lift up our eyes in hope of His return, and to be encouraged as we continue to work with Him on the earth now.

But of course, Jesus couldn't return unless He'd been here once already. The next three weeks of Advent teach us some of the many lessons of the first coming. Those include the fact that humanity needed His sacrifice for sin. But Jesus didn't just come here to die -- He, as the Son of God and the Son of Man, perfectly joined God with humanity for the first time. Because He did that, He healed the breach that was opened up in Eden and continued on to that time. All of the angels were waiting for that new beginning, and they celebrated at His birth (Luke 2:8-14) just like they had at the creation (Job 38:7).

Hebrews 9:26-28 gives us both ends of the Advent season when it says this: "But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him."

Do you have goose bumps yet? I do, every time I think about the magnificent, all-inclusive scope of that passage. He's been here once; He dealt decisively with our separation from God; and He's coming back to finalize what He started a long, long time ago. I've got every reason that I can think of to celebrate. How about joining me?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

God's Faithful Deliverance

I just noticed a parallel, brought out to me by a commentary, on two passages in the Book of Moses:
Gen. 8:1, 14 -- and God remembered Noah...and sent a wind...and the waters receded...and the ground was dry.
Ex. 2:24 -- and God remembered His covenant... 14:21 and sent a strong east wind and drove back the sea... 14:22 and the Israelites went through on dry ground.

In both stories, God "remembered" and "sent a wind" and the waters were pushed back and "dry ground" appeared for the people to walk on. Now, isn't that interesting...the same sequence (even though, in Exodus it's separated in time) of remembering -- taking note of and deciding it's time to act -- sending a wind, and the dry ground appearing for the people to walk on.

There are other places where God "remembers" or takes special note of something, and then takes action, sometimes an action that requires time and a sequence to complete; for instance, Gen. 30:22, where God 'remembered' Rachel, took note of her need and acted.

But in these two cases, the sequence includes a drying wind. Now, for Israel on the seashore, the strong wind was probably unpleasant -- the sand getting in their eyes, and perhaps in their food. Noah and the family may have had a bit of a rougher ride once that wind started. (I wonder if seasick elephants throw up?) But the wind came as an agent of God, and the good result came later. In both cases, He used the wind instead of just waving His hand or something.

Just a thought -- if a dry wind of distress or pain is blowing in your life right now, it could be in preparation for a greater miracle. If God has taken away something, perhaps it's so He can give you something else. That's how it's happened in my life, a dozen times that I can think of. As James 1:2-4 says, about trials:
"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."

May God give you the strength and patience, from His store of grace, to ride out the wind of pain or loss or worry, whatever you're going through, so His greater miracle can become evident in you. And may you walk free, on dry ground.

Monday, November 9, 2009


November 11 is celebrated in the US as Veterans' Day, remembering all the men and women who have served and are serving in the armed forces in this country. Those who fell in battle, and those who are still serving, get honored once a year. So they should be. To keep us a free country, they risk their lives every day, enduring a lot of discomfort, often thousands of miles from home and loved ones. As much as I hate war, with its waste of human lives and its savagery, I still believe it's important to honor those who have served our nation. Whenever I have a chance, I stop and thank people in uniform for their service to the country. (And that includes emergency workers as well -- especially our police and firefighters.)

We can also honor those in the faith who went before us. Hebrews 11 has a list of them: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Jochebed (Moses's mother), Moses, Rahab the prostitute, and a bunch of others, named and unnamed. You could also include Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her husband Joseph. All the apostles and leaders of the early church, too. They all went through suffering, pain, separation from their families, ridicule and disdain from those around them, and in some cases, torture and execution for holding on to their convictions, to make a way for us. More recent figures come to mind as well. Martin Luther, for instance, and a lot of other leaders of the church.

What about those 'veterans' of the faith who provided a way for you to know your Savior? That may be your parents or grandparents, or a teacher, or neighbor, Scout leader, friend or even someone you didn't know before that time. And somebody who first told them about the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And the one who told that person, all the way back to the first apostles.

Maybe we should stop to honor them as well. Without them in our lives, we might not be here.

Who can you thank God for?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On the Shore of the Red Sea

Exodus is a very cool book: full of stories of God's power, his peoples' inability to understand him even though he made it plain, and some 'excellent adventures' to borrow the title of a slapstick movie. Plagues, miracles and wonders, new kinds of food, burning mountains, the whole panorama of the new and unusual.

One story that always gets me is what I call "Standoff at the Red Sea" in chapters 13 and 14. First, God puts the Israelites into what my military friends would call an indefensible position, stuck on a little stretch of beach between the mountains and the sea. The whole Egyptian army, out for revenge for all those plagues, is boiling down on top of them. The Israelites, of course, blame Moses for the whole thing (starting with, "I can't keep my campfire lit next to the ocean!") and he spends some time complaining to the LORD about them.

The LORD comes back with something nobody would have predicted: he opens up the Red Sea for them. They stand there gawping for awhile, then because the Cloud moves into and through this new channel, they go across too. Probably shaking in their sandals the whole way and stopping the kids from picking up seashells. Then, just to sew it all up into a nice package, the LORD lets the waters come back over the Egyptian army; that'll show 'em!

I've sat in that spot, between the mountains and the sea with something or other coming at me like a Mack truck, more times in my life than I can remember. It's almost gotten to the point of being routine, except the circumstances keep changing. And, yes, I spend my time complaining to God about it. And inevitably, something happens that I didn't know was out there and couldn't have engineered to save my life (which is sometimes the point!).

Sooner or later, we all face illness, job loss, death of a loved one, financial problems, housing problems, or a thousand other problems we can't solve. Thing is, the same LORD who knew what the Israelites were facing also knows what you're up to. He is just as faithful to deliver you as he was to deliver them. And he is just as capable at parting your Red Sea as he was theirs. Now, the solution may be just as hard to step into as theirs was, but you can usually tell it's from him because nobody else could have done it. It may not be the solution you'd have chosen, but it will fit his plans to a T.

And when you step forward into his solution, whatever it is, he may show you a really pretty shell to keep, just to remind you that he loves you.