Wednesday, December 30, 2009

We Shall Be Changed

We will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye. 1 Corinthians 15:51 NIV

Sign on a church nursery door: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” As a teenager, I worked for a Nazarene church on Sunday mornings, where I was in charge of 20 to 30 babies every week. My helpers and I changed every child’s diapers multiple times. We learned that even the stinkiest substances wash off with soap. But I don’t think that kind of changing is quite what the apostle meant!

Let’s go back to Paul’s discussion: what happens when Jesus comes. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed… But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52, 57, 58 NIV

It’s been quite a year, filled with long hours, events and projects that came to fruition, accomplishments at church and work, improving the home and garden, struggling with a healthy lifestyle, and challenges in the family. Some of us lost jobs and income, lost friends in relationship changes, lost loved ones to death, lost savings or pension to the economy...

The important thing to remember, though, is to not lose heart, but give yourself fully to whatever work God calls you to do. All that labor, though it may seem foolish to a secular-minded person, is not in vain. It’s not silly to God. He values the efforts we make. Who has not assigned a task to a child or subordinate, and thought, “I could finish this in a tenth of the time it takes me to teach it.” Creator-God could speak or even think the word, and it would be accomplished, but how would we grow or learn, or value the fruits of our labors? The very acts of planning, executing, and following up, are the methods God uses to change us.

Change, whether it’s lifestyle or attitude, is difficult when we attempt it alone. Trying to be good is completely impossible! But Jesus said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:27 NIV

He can do it in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Best Part of Waking Up

Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 CEV

You have to love that Folgers Coffee commercial where they show the good-looking young man returning home to surprise his family on Christmas morning, and three generations awaken in a delightful mood, with perfect hair and no facial pillow marks, to drink coffee in their jammies and celebrate the reunion.
What a scene. We have total recall of that best of all Christmases, until we really do wake up and smell the coffee, and realize that Hey! That never happened! The commercial makes you nostalgic and misty-eyed over an experience you never had.
What really happened is: your sister’s family is broken and her kids are split between households every holiday; your son can’t make it because he has to work on Christmas; your mother and her new husband would just like to spend the holiday in a “low-key” way with a restaurant meal and TV specials (meaning without interference from relatives); and your favorite aunt or uncle passed away right around Christmas last year. Instead of a Waltons Homecoming or Touched By an Angel Christmas, you got a Simpsons or Malcolm in the Middle (in other words, horrifying) Christmas.
Unrealistic expectations (especially those generated by a marketing firm) can make real-life special occasions seem bitter or sad. But remember the times, both Christmas and everyday, when God turned it around: when all your plans crashed, but church members or neighbors invited you to fellowship in their homes and treated you as family. Or you volunteered at the homeless shelter and found peace in acting as the hands of Jesus. Or you just stayed home alone in your unattractive-but-warm fuzzy robe and a mug of coffee. God is faithful and has not forgotten you.
The LORD’s…compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22 NKJV
“The best part of waking up” isn’t what’s steaming in your cup. It’s the brimming heart of God, whose mercy and compassion are new every morning!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Incarnation--Made himself nothing

Christ Jesus… being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:6-7 NIV

I’ve always thought of this song as a Christmas reading! It speaks of the pre-existence of Jesus as God, and the miracle of the Creator taking the form of His created. It speaks of His life and death, His glorification, and His justification before the world that He is Lord of all.

He “made himself nothing.” The Creator of the universe, an infinite being, took the form of a microscopic zygote, embryo, and fetus. He developed a spine and tail, large eyes, and gecko-like fingers. His arms and legs lengthened, His heart began beating, his brain made patterns, and He sucked His thumb. He could hear His mother’s heartbeat. As He grew larger, He crossed His ankles and drew up His knees. He developed in every way as we did. When He was born, He cried and needed milk and diaper changes.

As Jesus grew he played with the neighbor kids and scraped his knuckles and shins. He rolled down hills and climbed trees, and helped with the harvests and flocks as a day laborer. As He learned to read, He apprenticed to the building trade. As he matured, His voice deepened. Fathers thought He’d make a great husband for their daughters. The town knew Him as the kindest, most helpful kid ever.

“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” 1 John 4:2-3 NKJV

Fully human, fully divine, even as a “nothing.” But being made in the image of God, this One reflected the love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness of the Abba Father, as well the human body and blended DNA of his ancestors going back to Adam and Eve.

Jesus’ authority, power, and glory were always there, but He lived His life as one of us, taking no power of His own, but showing us that even as lowly slaves, we can do anything in God’s power.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Unto Us is Given

To us a child is born, to us a son is given. Isaiah 9:6 NIV

I wanted to be a married mother of children. I planned early to be a piano teacher, so that I could be a work-at-home mom. I saved my journals, photos, and favorite toys as a heritage for my children. I worked with my mother on our family genealogy.

The hundreds of children I taught for fifteen years, both one-on-one, and in classes, are my kids, minus the sleepless nights and diaper duty. It’s true that I’m very proud of the lasting effect I’ve had on their lives and of their progress as adults and musicians. I still get invited to their weddings and grand occasions. They send Christmas letters and pictures of their babies. Through a Christian agency, I sponsor young girls in Indonesia and Uganda. But face it, at the end of the day, students and sponsored children are not my children.

But just as Jesus came to be my Savior and my Brother, and introduce me to our Father, He is Emmanuel, God-With-Us. He gives me membership by birth and by adoption into the family of God. His incarnation means that He is also my Son, my Child, and my heritage. I can share in the promise He gave us in Scripture, that “to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 NIV

At my church, the pastors are inclusive of childless women, and call us “Mothers in Israel.” They recognize the influence and ministry we have in counseling, teaching, and befriending children who think their own parents are members of any species but human!

As Christian friends point out, in the New Earth, I may be a mother at last. The Lord comforts me with the promises that I will have sons and daughters (Isaiah 49:21-22), and that I have a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).

And you'll say to yourself,
'Where on earth did these children come from?
I lost everything, had nothing, was exiled and penniless.
So who reared these children?
How did these children get here?'"

The Master, God, says: "Look! I signal to the nations,
I raise my flag to summon the people.
Here they'll come: women carrying your little boys in their arms,
men carrying your little girls on their shoulders.

And every time I sing, in Handel’s "Messiah," the chorus “For Unto Us a Child is Born,” I get teary, but with joy. I do have a Son, and He can’t wait to come back to fetch me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

God-With-Us. Always!

The Word became a human being and lived here with us. John 1:14 CEV

Christmas is the celebration of God-With-Us. In ancient religious systems, the gods were localized to certain places or their spirits were confined to a territory or container such as a wooden idol or a stone shrine. When people traveled or emigrated, they worshiped specific gods in specific places, or they took their idols with them (Genesis 31). The gods were capricious, vindictive, killed each other in power struggles, cheated on their spouses, and accepted human sacrifices—even infants.

So when, on the exodus from Egypt, the God of Hosts traveled with the Israelites, that was remarkable! A first! Here was a God who was personal; involved; protective; nourishing; healing; compassionate; Who fought battles and resolved conflict; who designed and implemented holidays, festivals and rest days for the former slaves; and who cared so much for their comfort that He shaded them from desert sun by day and warmed and lit the night for them. Unlike the gods who wreaked vengeance upon any whim, this God demonstrated that He was a forgiving God. He promised a present and future of blessings if they remained in His tender care.

Generations later, when the children had rebelled and forgotten, God repeated His plan for reconciliation. To His people in war and exile of their own making, and subject to the “gods” of their exile, He spoke: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [God-With-Us].” Isaiah 7:14 NKJV

Wherever God’s people were or are, He is God-With-Us. I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20 KJV) We can’t leave Him behind. He won’t abandon us when our closest companions do. And He’s not done with us in this short life span and at the end of this old world. He promises everlasting life to His children, and His presence continues forever!

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. Revelation 21:3 NIV

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Immanuel, full-circle

The Advent season is the celebration of God With Us. The angels who proclaimed Jesus’ birth were evangelists who carried the “good message” that because of Immanuel, all is well. They spoke peace on earth between God and mankind, a sabbath-rest from our own useless works of salvation, and God’s favor and good will, the gift of His perfect, unending love with the only power to save us from sin.

The prophecies and covenants God had made with believers were fulfilled, or filled up and running over, by Jesus. Immanuel, God-With-Us, dwelt with our parents in the Garden of Eden. He walked with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and certainly with many others not recorded. He proclaimed Himself “I AM” to Moses, and said that He would go with Moses and His covenant people. The Lord appeared to them as a pillar of fire and cloud. His Presence filled the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and Temple.

When the Jews languished in exile, God said, I'll make a covenant of peace with them that will hold everything together, an everlasting covenant. I'll make them secure and place my holy place of worship at the center of their lives forever. I'll live right there with them. I'll be their God! They'll be my people! Ezekiel 37:24 MSG.

When God came to experience humanity as one of us, an angel said, “… You, Joseph, will name him Jesus—'God saves'—because he will save his people from their sins." This would bring the prophet's embryonic sermon to full term: Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for "God is with us"). Matthew 1:20-23 MSG.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NIV.

During His ministry, Jesus said, “I AM the Door,” “I AM the Bread of Life,” and other “I AM” statements recorded in the Gospel of John. Jesus was here among us.

At His ascension, when the Messiah gave the Great Commission to His followers, He said, "I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age." Matthew 28:18 MSG.

And when the perfect love relationship and world God intended from the foundation of the world is realized, the Lord says of that fulfillment of our salvation, Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. Revelation 21:3 NIV.

Whether or not you believe in a “Christmas” celebration (some people consider it pagan custom to be avoided), you must believe in Immanuel’s advent. Although it’s difficult to conceive from our finite human vantage, God has been with us before the foundation of the world, in eternity past. He is with us now. And He will be with us for eternity future. We are celebrating Christ’s advent every day that we’re new-born in Him.

That’s joyful, peace-filled news. That’s good news. That’s evangelism.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Word and wordlets

Christmas music is ubiquitous this month: on TV and radio, in the malls and grocery stores, the mp3 player plugged into your head, and jangling from the brightly-blinking animated zoo in the neighbors’ front yard. We’ll hear a lot about sleigh rides and bells (even if we live in a Mediterranean or desert climate—or south of the equator), chestnuts roasting, having a merry little Christmas, Santa Claus, and the legend of a drummer boy present at the nativity. At church, surely we’ll sing Joy to the World, Silent Night, and O Come All Ye Faithful.

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Why is Jesus characterized as The Word? Dictionaries define “word” as

the smallest unit of language,

a conversation,



an expression or authoritative utterance,

a promise,

a proverb, and

a hypostasis for divine wisdom.

In Latin, “word” doesn’t mean a motionless noun, but verbum. Verbs act and move.

In Greek, logos means word, thought, principle, or speech.

In the gospel of John, first chapter, we read the soaring song of salvation: that in the beginning-before-the-beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-5, 14 NIV.

That’s certainly the most famous reference to Jesus as the Word. But there are many more references to both spoken word and written word in both Testaments. Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV says, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Jesus is not only the Word of God, but He is the Author of our salvation. (Hebrews 2:10.)

In Revelation 3:12 NIV, the Author tells His believers: I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.

In Jeremiah 31:33-34, the Lord declares that the old covenant, the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2), has been broken, but He will create a new covenant: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

That is what Jesus, the Word and the Author of salvation, did to our wickedness: forgive and forget. It’s not stored in a computer chip or written on paper in a giant book. We are written in the Book of Life, Jesus Himself. Jesus is life. Every word I've spoken to you is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making. John 6:63 MSG.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they were a letter, written on his heart of love, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:3 NIV.

We are epistles written from God’s heart, and dare I say, written on God’s heart. Ah! Not only is our Lord “The Word,” but because we are His children through creation and adoption, we are also words—maybe “wordlets” (to coin a word). He has written His words and His will upon our living hearts, and He dwells within us.

What an incomprehensibly gigantic gift is wrapped up in the small collection of letters that we read as “Word.”

As I read the story of Jesus’ birth this season, I will meditate on each of the secular definitions of “Word.” In them there is much to learn of our sacred Word.

…..In the beginning was a small unit of language (from God to His children).

…..In the beginning was a conversation.

…..In the beginning was communication.

…..In the beginning was an authoritative utterance.

…..In the beginning was a promise.

…..In the beginning was a verb.

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!


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