I live in an area not too far from Lake Michigan. All along the shores of this Great Lake are lighthouses. Some are small; some are tall; some are old and some use the latest technology Some are red; some are white; some are striped. Most are designed to warn ships of rocks, but others warn of shoals and hidden sand bars, as well.
We think of lighthouses shining their light in the darkness, but lighthouses also shine in the daytime, through cloudy days, foggy mornings, and stormy afternoons. Most lighthouses also have fog horns, to warn ships when even the light won’t penetrate a thick fog.
This past week, a faithful lady at our church reminded us of a favorite song from childhood– “This Little Light of Mine.” We are called to be like Jesus, the “light of the world.” But what does it mean to “let our light shine”? And what does it mean to “hide it under a bushel?” (See Matthew 5:14-16)
Lighthouses use special lenses, called Fresnel lenses, to magnify the effect of refracted and reflected light. The resulting beam of light is stronger and can be seen for miles. Our own “little light”– our weak and imperfect faith; our limited talents and resources; our clumsy attempts– would not be enough to “save” anyone. But God magnifies our efforts as we reflect HIS radiance; His Love and Mercy. And many will be saved as we allow God to shine through us.
Lighthouses are consistent– they don’t “turn the light off” when the weather is perfect, waiting only until someone spots a ship in danger. They don’t “dim” the light, or add extra strobe lights for the holidays or special occasions. Each lighthouse sends a consistent signal–steady and sure. But each lighthouse is unique– both in its outward appearance, and in it’s light pattern. This helps sailors tell them apart, and provides further help in navigation. As Christians, our light should also be consistent and unique. God created us with unique talents and opportunities–and we can “shine” the light of Christ in such a consistent and unique way as to help others “navigate” the trials of life. I am so thankful for the many faithful and uniquely gifted Christians who have inspired and guided me throughout my journey–and I want to be that kind of light for others!
Lighthouses are solid. They are normally built close to the shore, but not on the sandy beaches– rather on a rocky outcropping or a solid concrete and steel-reinforced foundation. As Christians, we have a solid foundation in Christ. We need to “shine our light” from that foundation– living out the Gospel of Christ– His life, death, resurrection, and imminent return. Building a bonfire on the beach may produce light, but it won’t stand out in a storm. Building our lives on any other foundation or religious “fad” may produce outward “success,” but it will not withstand storms.
Finally, and this may sound ridiculously obvious, but Lighthouses shine with purpose. They don’t twinkle or glitter; they don’t scream from the shore– “Look at ME! Look at ME!” They don’t shoot off fireworks to captivate onlookers from the shore. But they shine. They send a consistent warning, and provide consistent security to those who need it– and those who are seeking it! “This little light” may not be a blazing comet on the horizon, but without its steady pattern, there is darkness, confusion, and danger for those at sea (on lake in our case!) “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.” (Luke 11:33 NIV) We are commanded to shine– to Love others, to reach out with light, and hope, and yes, even a warning. To hide that light is to deny our purpose. To shine only for our own glory is to miss our purpose.
Father, help me to be a light in the darkness today. Help me to shine with Your Love, Your Mercy, and Your Goodness. Help me to be consistent, and to shine in the strength of Your Righteousness and Grace. Help me to use the unique gifts and opportunities You provide to show Your Character and Love to others.
I’m very grateful for all the many blessings that God has given me– for Salvation, most of all. But God has blessed me with family, health, freedom, and so many other wonderful things. But there are several things God didn’t give me. Some of them are things I wanted (or thought I needed!) Others are things I never even imagined.
God didn’t give me a pony when I was younger. God didn’t give me blonde hair. God didn’t give me the genetics to be 5’9″ tall, athletic, and thin– I never became a ballerina or a model. God didn’t make it possible for me to study in France my junior year of college like I had wanted. God didn’t see fit to make “Mr. Right” fall in love with me in high school or college. God didn’t give me children to raise. God didn’t let my father live long enough to walk me down the aisle when I finally got married. And I never won the lottery (probably because I don’t play!– but still…)
It’s very human to look around and see what others have that we might desire– things that God did not choose to give us; even things that God has taken from us–and feel resentment, envy, and even anger. But we rarely look at those things others have that we would NOT desire. And we rarely look back and see how things we thought we wanted would not have been good for us, or how God removed things from our lives–even good things–for a better purpose. Sometimes, we cannot know or understand such things this side of heaven. But it might be a good practice once in awhile to look back and see what God DIDN’T give us– and thank Him for His wisdom and provision!
God allowed me to get chicken pox as a child– but He didn’t let me get Polio, or Diphtheria, Scarlet Fever or Whooping Cough. God didn’t give me blue eyes like my dad– but He didn’t give me Dad’s color-blindness, either. God prevented me from going on a date with one cute and popular boy who asked me out in high school. And the one in college. And the one I worked with. But God delivered me to my husband a virgin, and free of the guilt and shame of a string of failed relationships. God took my father at age 68. But He healed my father after a heart attack at age 50 (the reason I never got to study in France). We had and “extra” 18 years with Dad, and while Dad was sick most of the last years of his life, we didn’t have to see him suffer years of pain, misery, and helplessness. And about that semester in France? Some of my friends went that year– and they were plagued by injuries, nationwide strikes, and other issues. God knew what I wanted in each case; He also knew what was best for me.
Last year, I was diagnosed with Diabetes. God did not “give” me Diabetes. (That’s another mistake we often make.) God gives good gifts. (James 1:17) But we live in a fallen and imperfect world. Disease, injustice, pain, and heartache are part of this world. Someday, God will redeem the world and put an end to all of these, but for now, there is no guarantee that God will keep us in perfect health or happiness. So I’m Diabetic. I’m not grateful because I have the disease, but I am grateful for so many things related to it. I am grateful that I live in a time when treatments are both available and accessible. I am grateful that I was diagnosed, rather than suffering a coma or dying without help. I am grateful that I have access to healthful foods and the ability to exercise– two things necessary to keep the Diabetes under control. I am grateful that I lived for so many years without the disease. I am grateful for a supportive husband and family members who help keep me motivated. And I am grateful that nothing about having Diabetes changes IN ANY WAY God’s love for me, and His plans to give me eternal life in Him!
Are there things, people, or situations in your life that God DIDN’T give you? Healing that was denied, or blessings withheld? Hurtful things that He allowed to happen in your life? That He took away from your life? God doesn’t want us to pretend that all is perfect in our world. He knows the pain of NOT getting what we wanted, and the agony of losing what we did want. But He also knows the joy that we haven’t yet experienced– the joy of renewal; the joy of restoration; and the joy of completion.
God didn’t give me a pony– nor the hard work of caring for it, or the heartbreak of losing it. God didn’t let me date the popular boy– but He gave me a man of gentleness and integrity. God didn’t give me children to raise, but He gave me grown children, and grandchildren to love. God didn’t “give” me the semester in France, but He did give me opportunities to meet people from France. He gave me opportunities to use the French language I studied– in Florida, Texas, and even the Dominican Republic! God didn’t let my father walk me down the aisle at my wedding. But He allowed Dad and David to meet and even know each other– years before we were married. God didn’t give me perfect health here on Earth– but there will be no disease or death in Heaven.
Thank you, God, for all that you have given me– even Diabetes–and for all that you have allowed to shape my life. Help me see You in every detail of my life– the pleasant, the painful, the difficult, and the mysterious– and to praise You in every circumstance. Thank you for today, and for all the plans you have for it, and for me. Thank You for being You!
Have you ever worked with a “difficult” boss or co-worker? Even a job you love can become a source of tension and even torture. Maybe they are lazy. Maybe they are unreasonable and demanding. Maybe they are incompetent. Maybe they are corrupt. Maybe they just “push all your buttons.” Whatever it is, it leaves you frustrated, stressed, and questioning your future.
I’ve worked for several bosses through the years, and most of them were wonderful. But there were a couple…I can still remember uncomfortable confrontations and unresolved issues even years later. And I know several others workers who suffered under those same managers– many of them left to take other jobs because the situation took so long to resolve. A bad boss can really hurt a company or office. They can destroy morale, decrease efficiency, and make it difficult for anyone to know what the goals and expectations are– this week!
One of the difficult things about working under a “bad” boss, is that, often, what makes them a “bad” boss also makes them look “successful”– at least in the short term. They manage to turn in impressive “numbers”– it looks like production is up and waste is down; it looks like everything is in order to outsiders. Those who leave are often workers who have been with the company a long time– new hires come in at a much smaller salary, and with “fresh” ideas– at least initially. If there is an overriding goal, they will pursue it with fanatical focus, making them look committed, determined, and competent. If workers can see underlying problems, other people only see what looks like focused efficiency and “sour grapes” from harassed staff members.
When I worked for “bad” bosses, they seemed to last about five years, before their cruelty, arrogance, or incompetence forced them to leave. They went on to “new” positions, where they followed the same patterns.
In the Bible, there was a young man (just a teen when we first meet him) named Daniel. Daniel had grown up in a noble family in the capital city of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem was besieged and fell into the hands of a tyrannical ruler named Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was captured, exiled, and taken into Nebuchadnezzar’s service. On the surface, this may have appeared to be a “plum” position; he got to live in the palace, and he served as an advisor. He had food, clothing, advanced education, and many “creature comforts” available to him that were lost to many of the other exiles who were forced into manual labor.
But Daniel’s position was far more precarious than it appeared. Nebuchadnezzar wanted men of intelligence, culture, and breeding– and he wanted them to be clean, healthy, and confident–but he also demanded results, and often, he demanded the impossible! Field hands might have brutal masters who would beat them for minor offenses, but Nebuchadnezzar didn’t inflict punishment– he simply “eliminated” anyone who didn’t produce the desired results!
In the history books, Nebuchadnezzar looks like a successful ruler– his armies had conquered every region they attacked. And by sending the people into exile– bringing the best and brightest to Babylon, and scattering the rest–Nebuchadnezzar kept the conquered regions from rebellion and revolt. He appointed satraps and governors to help manage the empire, and it looked like nothing could stop him from conquering the world! But Daniel wasn’t reading a history book. He was living and working under one of the harshest and cruelest rulers of his time!
The book of Daniel gives us at least three examples of Daniel and his friends being put in life-and-death situations involving some of Nebuchadnezzar’s more impossible demands. And in each case, God gives miraculous rescue to Daniel and his friends as they bravely serve this unwelcome “boss.”
When we study Daniel, we tend to focus on the miracles– the fiery furnace, the writing on the wall, the lion’s den, and the answers to impossible dreams. But God didn’t just send miracles, and He didn’t rescue them from having to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court (or in the courts of some of the equally bad rulers who followed!)
God’s purpose in our life may involve serving with or under people who abuse their authority, or who don’t “deserve” to be leaders. But His purpose also involves teaching us to serve, as Daniel and his friends did, with integrity, dignity, and consistency. It wasn’t easy for Daniel– he was the target of jealous plots, megalomaniacal panics, and culture wars. God didn’t rescue Daniel from his situation– Daniel remained in exile, likely for the rest of his life–but God rescued Daniel from being consumed or changed by his situation. And Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a “mistake” that God made. He was God’s chosen tool to punish Israel for its unfaithfulness, and His chosen tool to show His sovereignty OVER even the great Babylonian Empire!
Daniel was known as a man of prayer– that’s how he ended up in the lion’s den (years later under another ruler)! Praying won’t keep us from experiencing “bad” bosses, or from facing difficult situations. But prayer can help us to persevere, to endure, and to be a shining example of God’s faithfulness.
I would love to say that I behaved like Daniel when I was in a “bad” boss situation. I didn’t. I endured, but I was impatient and vocal in my displeasure. I complained, I worked grudgingly, and I even changed jobs to get away from the situations. I don’t mean to suggest that it is always God’s will that we stay in a bad situation– I was lucky to be able to change jobs, and grateful for the opportunity to continue to do good work elsewhere. But in times when we are being tested and cannot change jobs, or have to endure chaos and upheaval for a long season–we need to be willing to be like Daniel, who was faithful, loyal, patient, and trustworthy. Daniel “kept his head” because he kept his heart turned toward the source of his real success– not the King of Babylon, but the King of Kings!
I don’t know what situation you may be facing today– what injustices, or upheavals you are enduring. But I pray that God would give you the strength and wisdom to be a Daniel. Look past the Nebuchadnezzar in your world, and serve the King!
Are you ever afraid to pray? Afraid that God will not hear, or worse yet, that God will hear but reject your prayers?
The Bible has much to say about fear and our worship of God and in our conduct before God. We are supposed to have a healthy “fear of the Lord.” After all, God is Sovereign. He holds absolute power over life and death, both in this life and throughout eternity! We should have the kind of awe and respect we have for one whose power is so great. We fear forces of nature, such as fire, floods, earthquakes and tornados. We should be afraid of God’s power in relation to our own. But what does this mean in relation to prayer? Does fear have any place in our pursuit of prayer?
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:16-19 (ESV)
The “fear of the Lord” has to do with God’s power and authority to punish sin. We live in a fallen, sinful world, and we are fallen, sinful people. Our natural response is that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden– to hide from God, and try to avoid His righteous judgment against us. Those whose consciences have been seared will lose this healthy and natural fear– they will be proud in their defiance against God. They will say that God is not sovereign or Holy; that He does not have the power to judge them; that they can “bargain” with God about their eternal destiny– they will even deny His very existence. Others will claim that God is Holy, but not “Good.” They claim that He is disposed to judge harshly; that He is vindictive and without mercy; that He demands too much of us. Even Christians can become so disposed to seeing God as their friend and advocate that they forget His awesome Holiness and Power. Christians have no reason to be afraid of God, but we have every reason to stand in AWE of Him!
The Truth of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ is that God is LOVE– perfect and everlasting Love! While He has the power and the authority to judge, it is His desire to lavish mercy on us! Such love should compel us to run TO God, rather than run away from Him! We fall on our knees in worship and adoration, not in abject terror.
So what could still cause us to be afraid to pray?
Perhaps we are still in sin, or we have strayed back into sin. Christ has already paid the penalty for Sin– it has no real power over the believer who “abides in God.” But it still has the power to draw us away from God and damage our relationship so long as we hide it, refuse to confess it, or repent of it. Even as we know that Christ has paid the price for our Sin, we also know that we need to abide in His Love to grow into a more perfect relationship with Him.
Perhaps we are holding on to old patterns of thinking and old guilt. Satan is an accuser. Even after we have confessed our sin and received God’s forgiveness, Satan will try to keep us enslaved to our guilt and shame. He will try to bring it to mind, or have others treat us with condemnation or condescension, so that we feel unforgiven or unlovable. We need to follow the advice of the Apostle Paul:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)
God’s love is PERFECT. But our love is not. Sometimes we are praying, not out of love, but out of duty or even selfish motives. We pray for God to give a green light to our wants and desires and plans, rather than listening for His wisdom and grace in our situation. We pray for God to “change” that person who annoys us or persecutes us, rather than praying for God’s blessing on them, and listening to the ways He may want to “change” us! Sometimes we cannot see the wisdom of an outcome we don’t like, and we are afraid of the unknown path we must take– even with God’s continued presence by our side.
We don’t have to be afraid to pray. But when we feel apprehensive, it may be a sign that we NEED to pray–honestly telling God what He already knows and asking for the grace and wisdom to listen to what He so lovingly wants to tell us.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.
It’s another new year, and many of us are resolved to pray– pray more, pray better, pray longer, etc. That’s a good resolution, but without a plan, it can fizzle out as the year goes on. It’s not that we stop praying altogether; it’s just that we end up praying the same old way or about the same old things, and our pursuit of prayer becomes another routine.
This year, I want to present several “How-to’s” of prayer– at least one every month– to keep things fresh. Today is ACTS. ACTS is an acronym that stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. I learned this method way back in college, and our Wednesday morning prayer team at church still uses it each week.
Start by coming to God in worship and ADORATION: List some of the Names of God–Father, Creator, El Shaddai, LORD, King of Kings, etc., OR List the attributes of God–Merciful, Mighty, Humble, Everlasting… Pray one of the Psalms… Sing or recite the words of a worship hymn or praise chorus… Think of creative ways to spend some time expressing God’s Worth and Majesty. This may be difficult the first time; it may feel awkward at other times. Don’t be discouraged. God inhabits the praise of His People, whenever, wherever, and however we make the effort!
Second, spend some time in CONFESSION: Ask God to examine your heart to see if there is any wickedness that has gone unacknowledged..(Psalm 139:23-24) Confess specific sins as you think of them… Confess your need for God’s forgiveness and His Guidance.. Resolve to take action– either action to seek forgiveness from those you have wronged, or action to change course in the future, or action to let go of past resentment.. Sometimes, you may need to stop and take the action NOW before you continue in prayer. Sometimes, you may need to let go of your own lingering guilt and shame over past actions for which you have already confessed. Remember, God removes our Sin as far as the East is from the West, (Psalm 103:12) and He will remember it no more– so we must trust in His forgiveness and move forward; not stay stuck in the past!
Next, THANK God–for His provision, and for His Mercy: Thank God for His daily provision of life, health, strength, and unfailing Love! Thank Him for the people in your life– those who encourage as well as those who challenge you! Thank God for His Mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 2:22-23) Thank Him for His forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9) Thank Him for His eternal presence (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6) Don’t confuse this with step one–ADORATION is about Who God IS. Thanksgiving is about What God has Done for YOU. It is easy to recite a verse about what God has done for others– take time to make it personal, especially in light of whatever you have just confessed!
Last, bring your petitions and requests in SUPPLICATION to the Father: Bring your heart-cry for lost friends and relatives… Ask for God to work in situations that have you frustrated.. Plead for Justice and Righteousness to be done in the world around you.. Pray for leaders, elected officials, and church leaders..(1 Timothy 2:1-4) Ask for the strength to resist temptation, stand firm, and run the race that is set before you.. (1 Corinthians 10:13, 1 Corinthians 16:13, 1 Corinthians 9:24, more..) It isn’t that this is the least important step, but it works better when it follows the other three steps. NOW you are in the right frame of mind to present requests. They can be seen in their proper perspective. Instead of a giant wish list of things you hope God might do for you, you can present requests that you KNOW God already knows about, cares about, and for which He already has a plan! You can come in confidence, knowing that you have peace with God because He has forgiven your sins and restored your relationship as His son or daughter– nothing stands in the way! And you have just rehearsed (and said Thank You!) for all the ways God has been faithfully working in your life!
Does this sound like a lot of time and energy? It is. But it doesn’t have to be for every prayer you pray. This is for special time set aside for deep prayer. OR, you can break it up throughout the day: Wake up with praise and adoration (it will make an immediate difference!), spend some time at the end of the work day confessing (when it’s still fresh!), and end the day with thanksgiving and supplication (what a way to find peaceful rest– give all your cares over to God who has done so much for you (1 Peter 5:7)!
However you choose to do it– consider trying the ACTS method this week. Do it during your quiet time, or try it with a group. Develop a habit of coming to prayer in this order.
Keep watching this space for more ideas to stimulate your prayer life. Let’s pursue prayer together in 2023!
Have you ever tried to read through the Bible in a year? There are many programs that can help you do it–even Bibles divided into daily readings. Some are organized in segments–a short passage from the Old Testament; one from the New; a Psalm, and two or three verses from Proverbs. Mine is organized in bits from Genesis to Revelations– a few chapters or a short book each day, with every seventh day set aside for reflection.
It’s curious– the Bible is organized naturally in rough chronological order. In January, as we look ahead to a new year, we are challenged to look back and read about how the world began; in December, we read about the “end” of the world as we know it. But of course, Revelations isn’t about “the End.” It is about the new beginning– a New Heaven and a New Earth.
As this year closes, and we naturally look ahead to next year, Revelations challenges us– not just to look ahead, but to look beyond! We can’t see the future, even if we try to prepare for it, or even control it. We can’t know for certain even what will happen in the next days and weeks of next year. But God has given us a glimpse of what will be– in His time. If this year has left us complacent, we must look beyond that complacency to see God’s righteous judgment. If this year has us frustrated about injustice, we must look beyond to see God’s coming endless reign of Peace. If thoughts of next year leave us confused or worried, we must look beyond to see how God’s plan is from everlasting, and that He is Sovereign over time and circumstance.
On January 1st, many of us will “start over” reading the Bible, with the opening of Genesis 1– “In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth..”, reminding us again that God has been in control all along. The story is the same–Creation, the Fall, the Promise, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and the coming Return of Christ– just as God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
We can look ahead– and hope that 2023 will bring goodness, adventures, triumphs, etc.. But we can look beyond, with a certain and sure hope that God has the future in His Mighty, Holy Hands!
Lord, Thank you for this past year. Thank you for giving us new opportunities in the coming year, whatever circumstances may bring. Thank you for your wisdom and sovereignty in all things– that we can have complete confidence in You! Help us to enter 2023 with that confidence, and honor You in the days ahead, and throughout eternity. Amen.
Another year is nearing an end, and it is common to look back and take stock of what the year has brought to, taken from, or challenged us with…
It can also be a time of regret– things not done, opportunities not taken, mistakes not corrected, hopes and dreams unrealized.
I keep two journals– a daily planner, filled with goals I hope to accomplish and plans I hope to fulfill; and my prayer journal, filled with requests, praises, answers to prayer, and names of people and places I wish to lift up in prayer. I spent some time the other day remembering and reflecting on this past year.
As I stop to pray over the next/last few days of 2022, I want to remember two things in particular: God knew everything that would happen this year. And God was “there” for everything that happened; not just aware of what was going on, but as close as our own breath–loving, caring, and providing strength and comfort in every moment. He shared our tears and our laughter, and sent us mercies in the form of friends, neighbors, and even strangers– “angels unaware.”
God knew that on January fifth, my mother would fall and break her leg, starting her on a sixth month odyssey of hospitalization, rehabilitation, assisted living, and finally, moving into a new living arrangement near my sister’s house. He knew that my mother-in-law would fall the very next day, breaking her leg and requiring a similar journey through hospitalization, and two nursing homes, before finally being able to return to her home before Christmas.
God knew that I would be diagnosed with diabetes, and that David would face a challenging wound in his leg this year. Our lives and routines have been altered in ways we could never have predicted.
God knew that our extended family would face divorce, death, illness, job changes, and more. He knew that members of our church family would face cancer, heart disease, and death; just as many others would experience healing, weddings, and new birth.God knew what would happen worldwide– the death of a Queen, the changing of world leaders, war, famine, earthquakes and blizzards and hurricanes.
And God was there for every moment, joyous or terrifying; heart-breaking and uplifting moments, personal triumphs and worldwide tragedies. Miracles and losses, devastating news from the doctor, and joyous answers to prayer.
Looking back can be painful. Dwelling in the past–even on good memories, can be unproductive. But looking back to see how God has provided in our need, given us strength for life’s challenges, and brought unexpected opportunities gives us cause to sing praises and cause to hope for the coming year.
Thank you God! Thank you for bringing us through another year– hopefully wiser and closer to You. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given, and those you will bring into our lives in the year to come. Prepare us to be patient, hopeful, strong, and kind in the time to come. And help us to share this hope and strength, kindness and endurance to those around us, by pointing them to You. Amen!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:1-5; 14
Emmanuel– God WITH us. The Baby Jesus in the manger is the same Jesus on the Cross; the same Jesus who was involved in the Creation of the universe.
We love seeing the Baby Jesus in the manger. We like the idea of Jesus, the good teacher and friend. We even bow our heads to honor the Jesus of the cross. We pray to Jesus, acknowledging that He is the God-Man who came to save us from Sin. But sometimes, we get so comfortable seeing Jesus lying peacefully in the manger or serenely enduring the pain of the Cross, that we ignore His absolute Holiness and Power.
Jesus was fully human– he ate, slept, cried, felt cold, and felt pain. But He is also God– fully Divine; fully Sovereign. He doesn’t force us to worship Him– not now, anyway. Someday, though, every knee will bow, and every tongue compelled to confess that Jesus is the Ultimate Authority in Heaven and on Earth (Philippians 2:10-11). Larger than life; more permanent than history; eternally Sovereign.
We pray to a God who is so awesome and glorious that no person can see His face and live. And yet, we pray to a God who so loved mankind that He came and walked among us, lived among us, and died among us. We look at Baby Jesus in the manger– we see the face of God. And when we look at our neighbors and friends, we look at those made in the image of God– we see those beloved of God; those Jesus came to save.
This is not new theology. This is basic Christianity. But sometimes, in the bustle of the “Season, ” we forget the wonder and the miracle that is the very reason for it all. God is NOT distant. He is not looking for reasons to reject or condemn us. He reaches out to us EXACTLY like a baby reaches out– seeking to be held close. He is as close as the person sitting next to you at the dinner table, or sharing a seat on the bus. GOD! Not a theology; not a list of do’s and don’t’s. Not an esoteric idea. A Presence; a living Christmas Present! An eternal Gift of Love! One with arms and legs; a twinkling eye and infectious smile.
In this season of Advent and Christmas, may we let the Glory of God fill us with awe and wonder. And may we let the Love of God fill us with hope and joy. May our prayers be like the sweet singing of the Angels on that Holy Night so long ago. “Glory to God in the Highest! And, on earth, Peace among those with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14).
We get excited about Christmas coming–we put up trees and decorations, and often a manger scene or Creche, with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger. But Jesus didn’t start as a baby. Long before He ever came to Bethlehem, Jesus was one with the Father. He ruled from the heights of Heaven. He saw the first dawn of the first day on Earth. He walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. He was a witness to all the events leading up to His own birth.
We like to picture Jesus as a baby. We like to picture Him as a man. We like to think of Him as a good teacher. And these are all correct. But we miss the full picture if we never imagine Jesus with God before He ascended to Heaven. The Ascension was Jesus returning to His rightful place, after the work of Salvation was accomplished in chronological, Earthly time. Jesus walked with His disciples. He ate with them, He laughed and talked with them. But He spent His earthly life talking and walking and relating with His Father, too. Nothing separated them, until that moment when Jesus became Sin for us so that we could be restored to a relationship with the Father.
On the Cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken ME?”(Matthew 27:46 or Mark 15:34). God was not just “sending” His son as an emissary or a benign sacrifice to demonstrate how much He could love us. Jesus came, fully intending to be a living sacrifice. He endured the “imposed” separation of a human body, bound by time and place, separated physically from the glories of Heaven. But this separation– this knowledge of being forsaken, banished to Hell and Death–was what Jesus came to take upon Himself. The one who had eternally existed in loving harmony with the Father and the Spirit, had to be ripped away from Himself, forsaken by the Father and Spirit as one condemned. The one who had lived a perfect life of obedience had to be shunned as one who was unclean and unworthy of life, so that WE could have the right to be adopted as sons and daughters of God. We can be “with God” because He chose to endure the inconceivable pain of the rejection that we deserved. But there is another miracle of the Birth of Jesus that we overlook.
At the moment of Jesus’ birth, He was Emmanuel– God with US. Just by entering into a human existence, God already fulfilled His promise to bring us to Himself. When Jesus ate with His disciples, God was eating with them. When He laughed with them and walked side by side with them, the fullness of God was there. By His death, He continued “with us” to the grave and beyond. There is not a single moment of life –or death– that God, through Jesus, has not experienced and shared with us. In His resurrection, Jesus broke the power of Sin and death to separate us from God. Even the power of God’s justice cannot condemn those who put their trust in the finished work of Jesus, because Jesus has paid the debt in full. There is NOTHING that can ever separate us from God’s love and His loving presence. The Word was with God– and that same Word was with us. That same Word lives with, and in, and through us throughout our days on earth. And, if we have put our faith in this same Emmanuel, we will be “with God” throughout eternity.
I need to meditate on this truth today. Even in the Holiday season, I can feel very separated from God–surrounded by stress and worries; focused on my own struggles and goals; chasing after a temporary joy in the busyness of preparations. Jesus has not forsaken me to return to Heaven– He is no less “with me” for being once again “with God.” No, He doesn’t physically walk beside me and eat with me, or talk audibly to me. But His presence is constant, steady, and promised.
The Word– the same Word that spoke galaxies into being; the same Word that conquered Death and Sin–is “with us!” Today. Every moment! We will never have to cry out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” And we know this because Jesus CAME! He didn’t just “say” it. He gave us “His Word.”