Monday, January 9, 2017

Sacrifice




January 9, 2017
Dear Christa—
Over break we spent a few days in the Midwest visiting my mom and relatives. Small Midwestern towns tend to be sprinkled with old churches—churches whose cemeteries stretch out from the church yard like an extension of the building and its message within. Each entrance and exit is in the shadow of the eventual future of each individual.
Isaiah 53 is the great prophetic chapter of Jesus’ earthly life and end. It cannot be read without reflecting on the purpose of the incarnation—Jesus came to die as a propitiation for our sins. Now, there’s a word for us—one we don’t use much today.
God didn’t just come to be our friend. He didn’t come to reveal Himself as God. Though those things came to be, Jesus come to be a sacrifice—a sacrifice for all mankind—a propitiation for our sins.
The concept of sacrifice seems so archaic to us in the 21st Century. Ancient cultures practiced it in desire to appease—to propitiate—their gods. Israel, too, brought sacrifices to the temple. Even Joseph and Mary brought a small sacrifice to the temple after Jesus was born.
The great culmination of Jesus’ life was His sacrifice for us—for every sin from Adam right down to the very end of time. God Himself provided the lamb, and it was He.
Perhaps, that’s why peoples have long left the practice of sacrifice: It is no longer needed.
As Jesus proclaimed on the cross: “It is finished,” so every man, woman, and child can now approach God. From this moment, through death, to eternity in Heaven, nothing can separate us from God.
—the parishioner who doesn’t do anything

Monday, December 26, 2016

Jesus, after Christmas


Dear Christa—

The angels and shepherds were gone. The magi had returned to their country in the east. The wild journey to Egypt was over, and Joseph and Mary settled back into the town they knew best, Nazareth.

Christmas was over.

Joseph worked and Mary raised children. Days became busy. Did it become easy to forget all the events that surrounded the first Christmas?

So, what do we do with God once Christmas is over?

Do we set Him on a shelf like any other gift? Do we pray to him morning, noon, and night with little more expectation than an old pagan idol made with human hands? What do we do with God after Christmas?

After last Christmas we purchased a cute ceramic nativity scene on clearance. The only problem with it is that baby Jesus tends to slide out of his manger. It seems like I’m always putting that one inch Jesus back in his manger bed.  I’m afraid that’s where many desire to keep God—in a manger, a little baby.

But, God is not a baby in a manger. He’s the Creator and Savior of the whole universe. How do we plan to know God better this year? I would suggest one begin in Isaiah. Isaiah describes God a way that I think is so easy to forget. It’s good for us, for me, to move from the concept of a baby to the all-powerful Creator and Designer of each moment in the universe.   

Then, maybe the real question isn’t what will we do with God after Christmas.

Maybe the real question is—

What will God do with me?


—the parishioner who doesn’t do anything




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Light of the World



December 20, 2016

Dear Christa—
The Light of the World
I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the earth (Is. 49:6).
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (Is. 7:14).
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means “God with us” (Mt. 1:22).
Isaiah is a long book. It seems like I’ve been reading it a long time. Through the prophet, God spoke many encouraging and fearful remarks to the nation of Israel. For their disobedience, there would be captivity; and for God’s own glory, there would be freedom. Then, in among all these admonitions and blessings, God reveals Himself—powerful, omnipotent, Creator, Savior.
To know God is the reason we read the Bible. To see every created thing is a reminder of who God is. The wonder of a fight of birds, frost on the windowpane, shadows cast forth by naked winter trees—the image of God is in them all.
To know that He orchestrates every nation’s rise and fall, to realize that He brings forth His glory through those who know Him and those who don’t—that He loves so deeply that He would sacrifice Himself to bring redemption—
Even for us today, there are messages of hope, fulfilled through Jesus.
For many, Christmas can be a time of sadness. We all have regrets. We all have felt alone. We all have been in the dark.
Yet, Isaiah tells us about God—the God who was and is and always will be—the God who sent light to world, who sheds light in our hearts.
Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God (Is. 49:10b).
Those who hope in me will not be disappointed (Is. 49:23c).




                                                                               Happy Christmas, Christa!
—the parishioner who doesn’t do anything

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Mary


December 9, 2016
Dear Christa—

But Mary treasured up all these things
and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

Maybe Mary had time to ponder—while nursing a baby, while grinding grain for their bread, while washing clothes.
In many ways technology has stolen the natural rhythm of life—the mundane tasks in which one would ponder.
We don’t do much pondering these days. —texting, rushing kids from one activity to the next, throwing meals on the table and clearing them off—
For many of us, the main thing we look deeply into is the “to do” list that sits ever present, nearly always at the touch of our fingertips. Really?
Sometimes, I wonder what is wrong with us? What is wrong with me?
And, all that lack of pondering can be an avenue to get all worked up. Are we as a people not angrier than we’ve ever been? I’m afraid 21st Century life has not made us a better people. For many it’s a life in which it’s easy to forget to live.
Perhaps, Luke 2:19 is for us.
Mary treasured the shepherds, the angels, Joseph, and this Child. The wonderful thing about pondering is that we don’t have to come to a conclusion. We don’t have to act on anything. We simply need to treasure—to be grateful.
What better time than now to ponder on this Child—Jesus.
Mary did not and could not know the future. I’m sure she wondered what would become of Him. What would become of them?
Christa, I hope you find time—make time—to breathe—to treasure the wonders of God’s work in you—to ponder the blessings of His hand.
God in the flesh—could that really be? I’m sure Mary had many questions, yet she gathered up these events of birth, angels, and shepherds; and she treasured them.
Should we not do the same?
—the parishioner who doesn’t do anything

Sunday, December 4, 2016

God with Us


Dear Christa,

The prophet Isaiah speaks the voice of God as he tells the emperor Cyrus: “I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God (Is. 45:5b). I bring prosperity and create disaster; I the LORD do all these things (45:7b).

As with Cyrus so it was in the days of Caesar Augustus, certainly not a man who worshiped God. He made a decree that a census should be taken of the Roman Empire. What else would have forced Joseph and Mary to the small village of Bethlehem?

Perhaps it felt like a disaster to them; the timing surely seemed wrong. Yet, this decree that affected the whole empire moved Joseph and Mary to the very place of prophecy fulfillment. The child Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem.

Perhaps, as this year comes to a close, you have received honor, or perhaps your world is rocked by disaster.

Isaiah reminds us that God works in the lives of those who acknowledge Him and in those who don’t.

All the days before our time, right this moment, and in the epochs to follow, God is carving out His story, and the birth of Jesus is certainly one of the greatest moments in this narrative.

Remember it. Ponder it. Let it renew your soul.

And, they will call him Immanuel—which means, “God with us.” (Mt. 1:23)

Happy Christmas season, Christa. May your days be filled with awe—

—the parishioner who doesn’t do anything

Monday, November 28, 2016

What Kind of God--

 Dear Christa—

What kind of God creates a world with the design to sacrifice Himself to ransom His creation—who chose to create a race so bent on going its own way?

Even given a second chance to start over after the flood, little time passed before we turned away from Truth and the worship of the only Being worthy of worship. Then, when God chose Moses to lead a nation out of Egypt, their bent was to make idols of gold, to worship the creation of their own hands instead of the One who created their hands.

So easy it is to fall away. We shift like leaves blown in the wind, one direction and then the next.

Yet, “in the fullness of time,” God the Creator became the created. As moments turned to days—then years, Jesus remained the same until the day of the cross. And, angels and men beheld Him.

What kind of God becomes a man?

Most did not turn to the Truth—the truth that God alone is worthy of worship, that God alone could bring salvation, that God alone has power to create anew.

What kind of God creates a world with the design to sacrifice Himself?

A baby—in a manger—poor, weak, purposeful—

And the shepherds came to worship him.

—the parishioner who doesn’t do anything


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Where are we looking?


November 9, 2016

Donald Trump is no panacea. His platform may slow the tide of Christian persecution that crouches at the door, but it cannot stop it.

He has promised to make America great. Just what does it mean to be great? Is greatness measured in world dominance? Or, could it be measured in how we individually treat and respect our family and neighbors?

Can greatness be measured in wealth, gross national product, or does greatness reach out to one without and states, “I will help you”? Do we as Christians continue our upward mobility at the expense of relationships with those we proclaim we care for? Do we see a picture so big that we forget to look down at the uplifted eyes of the small ones in our own homes?

Do we cast our vision above this Book—the very Word of God, or do we gaze within the Bible’s pages for direction that will outlast any leader, nation, or movement? For it’s in those pages we find greatness—a Greatness that transcends a material world. When individuals seek to know the Creator of the universe and beyond, then in spite of what humanity considers great, we will lift hands to worship the God of Heaven and Earth and recognize that to be great is to set aside our selfish desires and reach out to the world next door and the world abroad and declare:

“God is good all the time;
He loves you;
He conquered death for you;
He sees you;
He controls ALL things, even when we don’t understand;
He will give you strength for your daily trials and the trials of your future.”

He, and He alone, is great.

Some need to acknowledge that, and some need to rest in that.