Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Gift Is Given

Isaiah declared that "unto us a child is born, to us a Son is given." The Ultimate Christmas Gift was given thousands of years ago. It has your name on it. But we have not all received the Gift.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood[put it out] it. 6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. 14The 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. 15John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' " 16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known. John 1.1-18 (NIV)

Everyone's Gift

Pardon my Arminian emphasis but over and over in John 1 we hear God declare his plan for ALL humanity, not just a select few. God give light to everyone. Everyone who believes is blessed. The Gift has all our names on it.

Gifts are not paychecks, we don't earn them. I am not fond of the strong-arm behavior management use of Christmas. You know, the "You'd better be good or Santa won't bring you anything." "You'd better be good for goodness sake." My children will receive presents regardless of behavior. They are gifts, not something they earn. The gifts reflect our [Lisa's and my] love and our empassioned desire to bless our children.

This is especially true of the Ultimate Gift -- Jesus. God gave him out of a heart of love and a desire to bless the people of the world. He sent Christ to the good, the bad and the ugly. While no one would imagine they could earn such a One as Jesus, we must not imagine we could be so bad as to be disqualified from the Gift. God gives him to ALL.

Not Universalist

While God gave the gift to everyone, not everyone has the gift. Gifts are not earned, but they must be received. So many or, more acurately, most still have not benefited from the Ultimate Gift. It remains enclosed in a box and hidden in the wrappings of the holiday.

We must do as John 1 instructs. We must receive Jesus in order for the Ultimate Gift to have the Ultimate impact on our hearts and lives. But how does one receive this Best-of-Gifts?

Receive HIM

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—John 1.12a

We receive Jesus first when we are willing to take him "as is." So often we think of Jesus as a Genie in a Bottle. He's there to help us out and make our wishes his command. He makes miraculous things happen at our behest. Or we might have any number of other false or warped images of who Jesus is based on family or church history. But like any other person with whom we wish to have relationship, we must take Jesus the way he really is and "seek not to alter when alteration find."

Believe in His Name

As we open ourselves to the Jesus who really is and cease from trying to fit him into the boxes of our imaginations, we will begin to trust him. That's what the Bible word believe implies to relating to God -- trust. We will grow in our interdependence on him as we release the need to control and learn more of his character. Time and intimacy with the Almighty leads us to trust even when we do not understand fully how or even what He is doing. This trust is the center of our relationship.

Given the right to BECOME.

We continually expand our understanding of the Jesus who really is and deepen our trust of him. He in turn continues a process of growth and development that changes us from the inside out. Faith in the Bible narratives is ALWAYS transformational. We have stopped trying to shape Jesus to fit our plans and entered into a change where he shapes us to fit his plan.

Here is where habits and patterns are deconstructed and new, wholistic ones constructed. Our spiritual and character DNA is spliced with that of Jesus. We literally become more and more like our Savior by his amazing grace.

So... have you RECEIVED this Ultimate Gift. The final steps of unwrapping him are as simple as A, B, C. Accept Jesus as he is revealing himself to you. Stop trying to use God and start allowing him to use you for his purposes. Believe or trust him and act as if his directions are the best and have your best interest at heart. Commit to the transformation process and to following his lead.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jesus: The Prince of Peace

We have been unwrapping the Ultimate Gift: Jesus Christ. God gave this gift to everyone and yet not everyone experiences the blessings of this gift. We hope to find new dimensions of His presence as described in Isaiah 9.6 this Christmas.

For 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.

Prince of Peace

The final aspect of this Ultimate Gift is the peace He brings into the lives of those who receive Him. Isaiah further promised that Of the increase of his...peace there will be no end. What does it mean to have His peace that always increases and never ends.

Isaiah fleshes out this Reign of Peace in Chapter 32:

1 See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. 2 Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land...16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. 17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. 18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 19 Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, 20 how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

Prince of Peace [and Quiet]

When the Prince of Peace sets up His forever Reign, it will include quietness. This is the effect of right living. In our hustle and bustle toward Christmas Christ offers us quietness of heart and soul. How frazzled our spirits can get in the pursuit of the Perfect Christmas. Jesus wants to calm and quiet our heart like he did to the stormy lake. Today, hear him say to you, "Quiet! Be still!"

Prince of Peace [and Confidence]

Confidence is that calm assurance that all is well. When the Reign of Peace comes to stay, people will have such assurance. But even today, we can have the Blessed Assurance that Jesus is near. When my family went Christmas shopping, we had to go to Charleston. I was a small boy from the country and the city scared me with all the people. But as long as I held Mom or Dad's hand, I felt confident and sure. So it is with Jesus, he holds our life in his hands and we can be confident.

Prince of Peace [and Security]

When the Kingdom comes, the lion and the lamb will lay down together, children will play outside snake holes and all will be safe. We "ain't gonna study war no more" and spears will be refitted as plowshares. Peace will preside over all.

One of my favorite Christmas stories comes from the era of World War I. The whole of Europe was divided by a series of trenches interconnected with tunnels. It was a stalemate. In almost pointless procession, solders would receive orders to climb out of their trench and run across "no-mans-land" toward the enemy trenches. The goal was to break the stalemate and advance the battlelines. Almost always it resulted in the death and wounding of hundreds of men who would eventually have to fall back to their original position.

One Christmas eve after nightfall, the sound of singing drifted from the German side toward the Allied side of "no-man's-land." In German someone was singing "stille nacht, hailege nacht..." Silent Night. Soon some English and French singers joined the song.

Eventually, these singers climbed out of the trenches and walked toward each other. They exchanged Christmas greetings and the fighting ended...briefly. For just a while, eternity's peace invaded earth's warring.

Prince of Peace [Chieftain of SHALOM]

The Hebrew word for peace encompasses wholeness of the entire person. God sent Jesus to make a whole out of our fragmented selves. Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christ-followers, May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he'll do it!

God wants to pull together our brokeness and make us whole persons again.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jesus: The Everlasting Father

The original Christmas gift was Jesus. He remains the Ultimate Gift. Advent 2008 calls us to finally unwrap this best of gifts. We were on God's Christmas List when He gave Jesus.

For 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

The Everlasting Father.

Before His birth, Jesus was. Before the birth of His ancestors David or Abraham or Adam, Jesus was. Before the creation, Jesus was. He is the eternally Begotten of the Father who has lived with Him and the Holy Spirit in perfect harmony as God from before all time past. He is the Everlasting Father.

As such He exists eternally in the present. When speaking of Abraham, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth before Abraham was born, I am!" John 8.58 When Moses asked God what he could tell the Hebrews His name was, God relpied, "I AM." Jesus is present, never past or future. We may refer to His past acts or long for His future return, but Jesus lives in an eternal now that knows no past or future.

The proclaimation at every Meal of Grace (Communion, Lord's Supper or Eucharist) is "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." Advent especially reminds us of our expectant waiting for Jesus' Second coming. The future is bright for those who have opened the Gift of the Everlasting Father.

The Everlasting Father.

How many gifts from previous Christmases can you name? Not many, huh? How many gifts do you still have? Even fewer, I would guess. Every gift you get this year will in time fade, break down or wear out. These Neverlasting gifts promised happiness or convenience or renewed health or labor-savings. But the reality disappointed.

Jesus is EverLASTING not Neverlasting. Even the very world in which we live will wear out, declares Psalm 102.25-27, "In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end." So we must put our hope in the only One who will never change: Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever!

The Everlasting Father.

When Christians speak of God we mean the One who is Three persons. God is Father, Son and Spirit. The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. God is distinct in Persons, and one in Essence.

So why refer to the Son as The Everlasting Father?

The title fits very well with the remainder of the prophecy about this coming One. "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this." Isaiah 7-8

Jesus will be the Father of a New Era of Justice and Peace, like Simon Bolivar was to South America or George Washington was to the United States. (By the way, Washington never "fathered" any physical children.) Jesus will initiate this new Kingdom of God with His second coming. We look for a city whose "achitect and builder" is Jesus (Hebrews 11.10.)

And this Era of Peace will never end. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Jesus: The Mighty God

Jesus is the Ultimate Christmas Gift. But many have never openned the gift God provided. This Advent is a call to open ourselves to Jesus: the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.

The Mighty God.

First, this is a divine title for Jesus. He is God. With the Incarnation, God became a man. In Him we see what God is like, how he would respond and how he would have us live. Jesus is not just an historic figure. He requires greater notice than a "good teacher."

Jesus claimed to be God! Along with C.S. Lewis we must proclaim the Tri-lemna. Either Jesus is a lunatic: someone out of touch with reality in claiming to be God like someone might claim to be an Easter Bunny, or he is a liar: someone who knows good and well that he is not God but claimed to be anyway, or he is Lord: someone who really was God-in-flesh-appearing.

The life of Jesus does not reveal someone mentally unstable. His teachings and ethics are matched by his lifestyle. He is a man of integrety.

It is the claim of Scripture and the teaching of the Church that Jesus cannot be thought of as a good man or teacher. He is The Mighty God.

The Mighty God.

Second, this name for the promised Son reveals his nature as a victorious warrior. The coming One would be like the Mighty Men of Valor in the Hebrew Scriptures. These were men whose military exploits made them national heroes. They were brave, strong, persistant and won the victory.

Jesus, though his Suffering, Death and Resurrection, has become the Victor. He now has victory over death, Hell and the grave. When he rose again to life he lead captivity captive and made an open triumph over the law and sin. He will return in the clouds as a Prince at the head of a vast army of light. He's the All-Time-Undefeated-Undesputed Champion.

The Gift.

With this Mighty God as your present Christmas gift, you can be made more than a conquerer! Nothing in all of creation can defeat you with Jesus as your Champion. The habits, hurts, heartaches, hardships and hurdles that have defeated you in the past are no match for this Mighty God. Turn these over to Him today and experience what true victory can be like.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Advent means coming. Like parousia, it often refers to the Second Coming of Jesus to the earth. We focus on His coming as the Babe and as the Bridegroom, the kid and the King, the infant and the Infinite.

But what of our coming to him?

I use purple as the liturgical color for Advent because I believe it calls us to move toward Him as well. Many have moved to the royal blue and away from the penitential purple. But, like John the Baptizer, Advent cries out, "Prepare ye the way of the LORD! Make straight paths." Advent demands we level the way, lowering the lofty and lifting the low. Roughed up people and relationships need smoothing. Advent calls us to work at ushering in the Coming One, walk the way of preparation and watch for His approach.

James teaches that if we "draw near to God, He will draw near to you." The Gospel empowers us to be workers together with God in advancing His kingdom. Our participation is a privilege. God invites us as persons of will to journey with Him in this path of reconciliation. But we could never reach Him if He were not reaching for us. He doen't do this to us, but in cooperation with us.

In the din of voices crying, "Buy!" "Sale! Sale! Sale!" there is one clarion call.

"Prepare the way..."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I Come from "Good People"

They are "Good People." This is an Appalachian expression I've heard all my life. And over the past few days I have seen what it means. Two of my uncles stopped by during our mourning the passing of Grandma McCoy to show support and condolences. First my Uncle June (Oscar E. Anderson, Jr.) stopped by the funeral home. I'm sure he did so just to see me and Lisa. He doesn't really know the rest of the family very well. He was on his way to a Boy Scout council meeting. That was "Good People."

Then on the day of the funeral, my Uncle Robert paid his respects. He is my Aunt Mary (Shinn) Kennedy's husband and a good ol' boy from up Sanderson. He knows Roger well as they serve in the same district of TWC. He also shook hands and spoke in a familiar way with all Edna's children. No one else did so all day. Then I spoke briefly with him. That is definitely "Good People."

I am blessed to be among and from such "Good People." I have a rich Appalachian heritage and am truly blessed by God to belong to and with such wonderful, simple folks.

The Ties that Bind...

Families are a mixed blessing. In them we form our basic identity, patterns of operation and relationships that will go with us throughout our lifetimes. Positive behaviors and self-limiting self-talk take shape among family. We share more than just genetics we share experiences--both good and not so much. In this sharing we find common strengths and weaknesses.

The basis for family is marriage. Each marriage builds a new one from the remnants of two previous ones. The relationship and relatings of Mom and Dad inform the relationships and relatings of the children in the family. The stability of the family comes from a strong marriage partnership.

Yesterday, Lisa's Grandma McCoy was laid to rest.

I've thought much over the last few days about Laco and Edna. I also thought of Lovell and Allie and Os and Louise. These relationship were not perfect but they were permanent. The bedrock of whole tribes of children, grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. These folks and their salt-n-pepper partnership could be counted on. There used to be something unchanging in the rapidly changing world.

I want so very much for my children to have memories of their Mom-maw and Pop-pops, their house, their love, their example and their always being there. My own parents cannot provide this stability. My childhood family now has dual addresses and lifestyles.

I am Appalachian. We are a people bound to our land and to our clan. I pray daily that my children's children can find such a blessed heritage as Lisa and I have known in our grandparents. Amen.

Jesus: Wonderful, Counselor

My denom, the Wesleyan Church, has created a church-wide Advent resource this year. It has some great helps, ideas and multi-media. We like so many others are following the outline for our Advent Worship and spiritual formation.

The first Sunday, November 30, focused on Jesus: Wonderful Counselor. This series will unpack the four names of Jesus given in Isaiah 9.6 and what it might mean to receive Him as the Ultimate Gift in these ways this Christmas.

But are there 4 names (Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace) or five (Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace)? The modifier/noun pattern supports the grouping of four. The fact that wonderful and counselor do not have a definite article (the) preceeding them as the others do lends credance to the grouping of five names.

The words themselves are an interesting mix. Wonderful comes from a Hebrew word that most often is translated as miraculous work attributed to God. It is an amazing mystery how these things were accomplished. These works of God form the basis for exalted praise.

Counselor denotes one who leads with a plan. Like those who advise a king, this counselor will provide wise planning to carry out a goal or objective.

It was not too exegetically palatable or homiletically smooth to teach Jesus as Wonderful Counselor. But I did Sunday. Amazing, jaw-dropping things happen when we follow the leading of this Counselor rather than hurry to the Throne of Mercy/Grace and ask Him to bless our plans that they might succeed. The former leads to victory, the latter leads to confusion about God's love, power and leadership when our plans do not succeed.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Faith's Worship, November 30, 2008

This is what Worship Time looked like at Faith this first Sunday of Advent:

Gathering Time
Musical Call to Worship: Our God Saves
Advent Candle: The Light of HOPE
Opening Prayer

Gathered Time
Community Singing
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, Here I Am to Worship, Forever, Sing to the King
Morning Prayers
Special Music: Tim Allen

Teaching Time
Isaiah 9.1-2, 6-7 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan- The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned...For 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. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Teaching: Jesus, The Ultimate Gift: Wonderful, Counselor

Dismissal Time