GOD AMONG US

As we join together in celebrating God coming to be among us, I wanted to offer something I wrote back in 2014. We remember that Christmas is celebrating God’s plan for victory over sin and death. I hope your Christmas is full of joy and peace. Merry Christmas!

 

The recent flood of movies based on ancient mythology depicts gods with the more base human characteristics of violence, greed, covetousness and murder. The hero god battles the dark side and wins in the end. What a great story line! The same basic story line found in the popular super hero movies. I love them. I’ve been to many. We all love to see good win over evil. There seems to be a feeling of vindication when the hero wins. I like feeling vindicated.  But, (you knew a but was coming) what if the evil that needs to be defeated is inherent in us? You know those base human characteristics. How’s a super hero or a god going to overcome that?

Now think how the actual event of God walking among us differs from the good vs. evil stories we all love. Jesus came as a helpless baby. He walked unassumingly on the earth as one of us. Who knew that he was an all-powerful being through whom the earth was created? He never whipped out his sword and killed the bad guys. Actually, the bad guys killed him. But, (Yes, we know this but.) He rose from the dead. Now there’s a great story line, and it’s a true story. Don’t you love those stories based on real events. It seems to give the story a lot more impact.

Yes, a great story, but how was the victory won? He didn’t kill all of us who have inherent evil. We’re grateful for that. What he did do was:

Romans 8:3b God….. (sent) his own son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man…

By surrendering himself (all-powerful being-God) to death, which appeared to his enemy like defeat, his death condemned sin in sinful man. The victory came in his death and was displayed for all to see by his resurrection. This is a powerful real life story that has impacted us for thousands of years. Wow, God really did come to earth and walk among us. It was very different than our favorite stories. The ways of the real God are not our ways:

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

BE MERCIFUL

“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

 Jude 22-23

 

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.  In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says,

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

 

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

 

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy.

 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy.

GOD IS WITH US

A few weeks ago I had to face a medical procedure that I knew would be painful.  The normal way I handle a difficulty like this is to draw into myself and face it in my own strength.  Of course there is considerable anxiety that comes with this method of facing a difficulty, and I am usually stressed out.  But by God’s mercy this time was different.

I am finding it difficult to explain what caused it to be different, so I’ll just tell you what happened.  I found myself aware of God’s presence.  The more I focused on his presence the more relaxed I became.  While the procedure was going on, I looked to God.  When my focus began to shift, I reminded myself to keep my focus on God.  For the first time in my life, I walked through a difficulty not thinking that I was alone but recognizing that God was with me.  I tell you it made the procedure almost pleasant.

I am not alone!  I know this, but now I’ve experienced it.  I am thankful for my family and friends who prayed diligently for me.  They helped me break through to this new awareness.

Later that day, my daughter Ruth gave me a greeting card, and in the text was this line, “You rush to help when in faith we draw near.”  Yes, that’s it.  God’s presence is always with me.  I experience him when in faith I draw near.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

BE MERCIFUL

“Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”

 Jude 22-23

 

The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful.    On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning.  It’s been a mixed bag.  In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says,

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful.  I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy.  Humility is the key.

 

To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy.  When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God.  Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt.  God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt.  I don’t have to work for it.  It’s free.  That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness.  However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.

 

Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church.  Our pride often gets in the way.  In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”  And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy.  They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit.  They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy.   Therefore, they could not extend mercy.

 

Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart.  This is God’s nature and his heart toward us.  By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy.  I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free.  But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom.  That lie feeds my pride.  I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy.  A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy.

CRYING OUT TO GOD

Psalm 34:17&18

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

I have prayed and ask the Lord for many things.  I have sought his wisdom and direction.  Still there have been times of despair when I was emotionally distraught, and I have cried out to the Lord.

In my recollection, every time I’ve reached the point of crying out God has immediately answered, and the answer has always brought me comfort.  Often the answer does not resolve the difficulty or even bring a positive outcome, but there was always a warm comforting touch from my Father.

I believe God answered my cry because in my crying out there was surrender and recognition of my need for him.  I went to him in my time of trouble since I needed him, and only he would do.

When I come to the end of myself, and I’m at the place of despair, unpretentiously I stand before the Lord.   Then my words flow from a humbled heart, and he draws near to me.  He hears and he answers.

When you come to the point of despair, God will be there to hear you.  He will answer.

LOVE = RESTRAINT

Last week I wrote about restraint.  Continuing to contemplate this topic I have found an interesting connection.  Restraint is a companion to love.  If I love my neighbor as myself it stands to reason that I will restrain myself and defer to my neighbor’s wants and needs.  If I do not love then why restrain myself.  I will simply pursue whatever I want without regard for others.  Therefore love provides a motivation for restraint.

When love motivates us to restrain ourselves we find those virtues rising up in us like the ones Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7,

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love produces restraint.  In love I restrain myself and become a better person, more God like.  I feel better about myself when I am patient and kind.  I feel bad when I trample over others because I’m in a hurry.  The people I push past and disregard don’t feel very well either.  Wouldn’t it be great if I restrained myself because I love others as myself?  Help me Lord!

God loves us.  He restrains himself from judging us because he loves us.  As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago God loves us all (see Another Perspective).  Every human is God’s creation and he desires the best for us.  The all-powerful God of the universe restrains himself because he loves.

Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to protect him from the humiliation, the brutal beating, and the horrible death of the cross?  He restrained himself because he loves us.  He carried through the Father’s plan for our salvation because he loves.

WWJD

The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) movement was to encourage Christian to look to Jesus in our decision making.  I always felt that since Jesus is God, I was going to fall very short of what he would do.   In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus gives his disciples clear directions as to what they should do.  It is quite a challenge for us mere mortals.

Let’s take a look at verse 25, “If you decide for God, living a life of God worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether clothes in your closet are in fashion.  There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body (The Message).”  I find this quite challenging.  Living in materialistic America, these words cut to the quick.   The quick being where life happens.  But this is not a concern just for Americans.  Evidently, those in ancient Israel needed to hear these words.

In this whole section, from verse 19-24, Jesus is giving his disciples a new view of their life.  He wants them to refocus.  As followers of Jesus, we need to look at life differently; step outside of the social norms, and focus on what God is doing.  Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about the things of this world; he wants us to trust our Father in Heaven with them.  Jesus came to set us free.  This refocusing is a part of that freedom.

This sounds great doesn’t it?  So how are you doing with this?  I’m struggling.  My struggle is within and against my sinful nature.  That’s why WWJD bothered me.  I knew I couldn’t do what Jesus would do.  The Apostle Paul gives quite a dissertation on this struggle in Romans 7:14-25.

I am battling to refocus my life, but I am always relying on God’s grace and mercy.  Grace is not an excuse for sin, but it is God’s answer to our failings.  Jesus is in the battle with us every day.  He is our strength in times of weakness.  We are not alone in our struggles.