Dec 20, 2018

When Christmas Calls: A Back 40 Christmas Celebration!

On that first Christmas night so long ago, two worlds gently touched. The spiritual world of our Creator, bumped ever so tenderly against the one in which we live.  And, God reached out and laid a gift at our feet.

The gift was a harmless Child. And that Child had great purpose attached to His life. And He fulfilled that purpose with perfect devotion. 

But, to truly grasp the depth of the Christ Child's devotion,  we must understand the true length of His journey.  This baby came to our world from the place of His own unlimited joy and power. 

In that former place, time could impose no limit on him. A thousand years were as one day,  and a day,  as a thousand years.  And, tomorrow was as yesterday - and both were always but the present to Him.

Nor could any space impose its dimension on Him.  Before he came here as a baby,  He was everywhere in the universe,  while, at the same time, completely encompassing it,  as its Creator. 

Before this Baby arrived in our world, He knew no restraints to even His slightest whim. Whatever He determined, He could effortlessly do. 

His existence was without pain. He knew nothing of anguish, or fear, or weakness. He knew nothing of hunger or thirst - before He became the Christmas Child. 

But, on that first Christmas night,  as God presented this innocent gift to our fallen race, all of that changed for Him.  He became like us in every way, save one.  And, it was all to deliver God's message of love, forgiveness, and the opportunity for a true newness of life. 

But, the toll of His faithfulness, both to God and to man, was hard-paid in long suffering.   As, He joined our race, this Child began to experience the pain of all things human.

How unfamiliar and difficult that first breath of air must have been for one who, only a moment before,  had no need to breathe at all.  But now,  He must not only breathe,  but also, feel the strange throes of hunger and thirst, and the deep depletion of exhaustion.  

This one who had so effortlessly governed creation merely by His graceful thought, must now become entirely surrounded by the bitterness of disappointment, frustration, and failure.

He who had, only yesterday, instantly spanned the universe without effort, must now spend years,  merely to cover the small regions of the Promise Land.  

He who created our sun,  and numberless others like it,  and who flung them all into the Heavens with but a word - must now bear up under that sun’s disabling heat - and know the sweat born from laboring beneath it. 

And every day, He had to endure the ingrained pain of humanity's physical frailty.   And, He was forced to do so in the knowledge that,  this was pain which was never meant to be.  In the world He designed and created,  it was never to be known.  

 And, though He had lovingly given life to a perfect race in Adam,  He must presently endure the wounds which this now depraved race would inflict upon Him.  And, how horrible it must have been for the very essence of all life to lie down in the dark void of death - for our sake.  Nevertheless - He did it.  

Thus, in His long suffering, the baby Jesus faithfully and courageously traversed two worlds to bring a message of hope, and newness, and everlasting life. And now, each year the Christ of Christmas freshly whispers to us again in the soft and lovely undertones of divine love.  He whispers:  "Entrust yourself to Me.  Take my hand and walk humbly with me.  And, I will give you a new heart, and a new life of peace and deep meaning, and an everlasting destiny of fulfilling life."

So now, each year at Christmas, our world is gently nudged once again by our Creator - in the face of a baby, and by that inner voice of a gentle Savior, by this promise of Almight God:

 "Behold, my tabernacle is with men, and I will dwell with them, and they shall be my people. I will be with them and be their God.

 "And, I will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

 "Behold, I make all things new." It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  And, I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to those who thirst.  And, those who overcome shall inherit all things, and I will be their God and they shall be my sons and daughters."

So, how can we not give ourselves to this One,  who has so completely given Himself to us?  How can we possibly resist such abundant love, so gently delivered?

Apr 17, 2018

The Divine Companionship

From the day I first met my wife, there has always been a constant background awareness of her precious presence in my life.  And now, it is just a natural part of our loving companionship.   Indeed, I have no awareness of myself, anymore, without her.  And, I think it is absolutely true that the beauty, and constancy, and depth of our companionship has shaped the quality of my life more than any other single factor, save my relationship with Jesus.      

And, in fact, the beauty of the marriage companionship is a very prominent New Testament analogy for the believer’s relationship with the Living Christ.  And, though the larger world is not privy to this facet of our faith – nevertheless, there is this simple truth.  Our Savior is risen! He is alive!  And, as a living being in Spirit form, He is completely capable of providing a deep and intimate daily companionship to believers. 

Truly, the Resurrected Christ is absolutely capable of intellectual and emotional exchanges with us.  And, every day, out of that capacity flows conversations and sharing’s which are very fulfilling and often even life changing.  Through these cherished daily exchanges come solutions to our problems, invaluable life lessons, emotional under-girding, constructive criticisms, timely encouragements, a truly empowering synergy, and much, much more.

But again, it is true.  This intimate companionship is the wonderful privilege of our faith which the larger, non-believing, self-sufficient world can never taste because of their arrogance.  And, even many in the organized Church, for similar reasons, fail to experience the sheer beauty and vibrancy of a life characterized by shared struggles and mutual celebrations with our loving Creator. 

But, to be sure, it is one thing for the larger, self-absorbed world to miss this wonderful reality.  And, it is quite another for so many in the modern Church to be missing this very basic privilege of our redemption in Christ.  But, in fact, they are. 

“How do you know, preacher?” you may be asking.  Good question.  And the answer is simple, really.  It's in their eyes.  Their eyes entirely betray them. 

I know, because when my sermons touch on the absolute wonder of God’s intimate daily presence, too many, in too many congregations, merely smile and nod - politely.  But, their eyes are missing the overflowing excitement which which confirms, “I know what you're talkin' about preacher!  I, too, know His constant companionship"

And, the tears are also missing.  Those warm, confirming drops of real empathy don’t show up in mere politeness.  They come only to confirm the emotions of a deep and intimate connection.  But, far too often these days, they are not showing up at all.

"S&N," smile & nod, I think this casual response to the most earth shaking opportunity mankind has ever known breaks my heart more often than any other.  And, how it must also hurt the heart of a loving God, who so graciously offeres the richness of who He is to our every day and to our every circumstance of life.    

But, here is the bare truth which confronts us at the end of our casual response to that opportunity.  If, for whatever reason, we miss this beautiful facet of our redemption, we have missed the point of redemption, itself.  All that Christ has done has simply been to restore this daily divine companionship to mankind. 

And so, to miss this communion, is also to miss Heaven, itself.  And, this is so because of one other immutable truth.   And, that truth is this.  It is only God’s truly intimate friends who will ever be allowed to enter His Heaven. 

Jesus was clear when He said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never *knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'"

[*Knew: In the Greek: “Genosco” = A deep and intimate knowing.]

Mar 30, 2018

East . er (ˋdo ōver) n. A Christian holiday

There is a reason why Christians celebrate Easter with such enthusiasm.  Well, actually, there are two reasons.  Well, wait.  Now that I think about it, there are actually three reasons.

The celebration begins, of course, with the Resurrection of Christ.  Resurrection Celebration Reason #1:  We have a Living Savior!  

And, indeed, it is crucial that we have a Living Jesus in order that we might experience the absolutely astounding completion of God’s redemptive process for humanity.  And, this mysterious redemptive twist is one which no one saw coming until these New Testament times.

So, the vibrant Living Christ springs from the tomb, leaving it entirely empty.  And, from the vitality of this now Living Savior, springs the most fantastic human opportunity one could imagine.  Resurrection Celebration Reason #2:  The opportunity to become truly and thoroughly new in the here-and-now! 

It is true.  The Resurrection is about nothing less than the opportunity for a magnificent “Do-over,” for human beings – only this time, with a much better, Living Christ-empowered result. 

Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.”  Little did the world realize, at the time, what Jesus was actually forecasting by this statement.  

Indeed, He was offering to allow humanity to symbiotically share in His own renewing character essence.  This was that wonderful redemptive twist which no one really saw coming until it actually happened. 

But, the New Testament Church has now been able to clearly understand that the believer's thorough personal renewal entirely results from this empowering Spiritual merger between the devout believer's character essence and that of the Living Christ.  And, we also now know that this Spiritual interconnection between the believer and the Living Christ occurs through the specific redemptive event which the Church calls the Spiritual Baptism.   

This very unique occurrence, initially arranged and then sustained by the Holy Spirit, intimately, connects the believer to Christ’s value system and, thus, His correct perspectives on life's circumstances (His divine truth).  And, this new Christ-based view of life, stemming from the believe's now Christ-based value system, is, indeed, God's ultimate redemptive goal for the New Testament believer.

And, as previously described, this event changes everything for the believer.  Indeed, it is this pivotal event which is the ultimate "Target Event" of the New Testament experience following one's initial embrace of the Lordship of Christ.     

The Bible speaks of this mysterious Spiritual connection to the Living Christ in various places like this one in the Book of Collossians.  Here it simply says, "...To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." 

The Apostle Paul framed it this way in the Book of Romans.  “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors - not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

And this wonderful, here-and-now transformation of the believer's character and life circumstance brings us to Resurrection Celebration Reason #3:  Everlasting Life!  Indeed, it is true, this Spiritual symbiosis with the Living Christ not only empowers the believer's new physical life, but also his or her eternal life.    

Again, the Apostle Paul framed it this way in the Book of Corinthians. "But, now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." 

So, Jesus rose again to life by the power of the divine Spirit.  And so it shall also be with those devout believers who are, Spiritually enjoined to Christ in this life.   They shall be, not only empowered to newness in this life, but also, by the same divine Spirit, empowered to an abundant everlasting life.

So, when you think about it, all of the reasons for which we celebrate Easter only relentlessly beg one very simple question.  It is this: “Do you want to be new in the Living Christ?”  

Indeed, the true joy of Easter can only really "sing" in our heart and in our life to the music of this desperate and delighted answering chorus.  “Yes! Yes! By all means, Yes!  Make me new, Lord Jesus!”

Jan 14, 2018

No Refuge In The Fog

In The Book of the Revelation, the last book of the Holy Bible, Jesus spoke of a time to come in the life of the Church when its people would be widely marked by the trait of “lukewarmness.”  Surely, these are those times; and, we are those people.  The modern Church does not see itself that way, of course.  But, that is only because of the blindness created by the present theological fog in which we hide.

We cultivate that fog by minimizing our personal investment of time and energy in the careful verification of redemptive truth.  Rather, we choose to be quite satisfied with the limited and second-hand information which the pastor or Sunday school teacher offers – which they also typically got second-hand from someone else.  

Listening to a lecture is just much quicker and easier, than verifying for yourself, right?  And, since we’re not really that interested in delving too far into the matter, anyway (for fear that we might discover more than we really want to) it works out very nicely to just go with that quick-and-easy, second-hand approach.

So, here we are, the rank and file of the modern Church, largely living blissfully unaware of the true intricacies of our faith and the sophisticated expectations of our Creator.  And, in the seeming safety of this convenient fog of mind, we simply busy ourselves with whatever is our personal brand of “busy-ness.”   And, without the burden of any significant divine requirements upon our life, what else is there to do but focus on our own favored fascinations while we wait for all of this to be over. 

And, if we do occasionally suffer a twinge of “maybe I should draw closer to God and delve deeper,” then we simply resort to the cure for all such heart pricks.  We merely reassure ourselves in the knowledge that most everyone around us is also cloaking themselves in this same insulating fog of theological vagueness

But, here’s the kicker.  When all of this is finally over, and we think to offer our ignorance to God as a defense against any divine recriminations for our failure to invest at the proper level, we will discover something.  In that final terrifying moment when we stand in that deadly serious space between this life and eternity, it will be made very clear that the fog of ignorance actually offers to us no refuge at all.  And, how could it?  Since, in the Living Christ, true enlightenment is readily available to every believer.

The great lie of our times is that redemption requires essentially no significant investment on the part of the believer.  In truth, redemption requires everything of the believer.  And, pulling the theological covers over your head in an attempt to make that reality go away is a huge mistake akin to mixing your metaphors.  You just should never, never do it. 

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save [keep control of] his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose [surrender control of] his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”- Jesus   [Brackets added]