Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Immanuel . . . Alive Through Us!

The day after Christmas I got a Christian magazine in the mail with a purple cover and lead ins about New Years Resolutions, and not a drop of red or green on it, nor a mention of Christmas. As I drove down Vine Street in Paso Robles (a very decorated street for Christmas!) two nights ago some people were already taking down their Christmas decorations. There is nothing wrong with any of that, it just sort of jars me because I work so hard to wrap my heart around the majesty and awe and wonder of Christmas and all that is wrapped up in our God of wonder who holds a universe in His hand coming to earth, and it sometimes seems like there isn't even a slow descent from a Christmas focus afterwards, but rather a plunge off of a cliff!

There are, actually, many aspects of Christmas that never end and which we should rejoice in and celebrate and participate in all year long. For instance, every day you enjoy your salvation you enjoy the Christmas message proclaimed by the angel to the shepherds, which is the good news of great joy of a Savior. Then there is our role in the unfolding eternal plan of God which was initiated with Jesus' birth and which we participate in by spreading the Gospel until the day of His return—a day all the hosts of hell can not stop! Every day you follow God's lead and share the good news of a Savior you share the Christmas message and participate in the "Christmas plan" of saving a people until He returns.

Then there is the one I find most stunning to me given my intimate awareness of my failings. It is the role I play in the continuance of Immanuel, which means, "God With Us." At its most basic level Immanuel obviously refers to Jesus (God) being born of a woman and living among us. Then there is the continuance of it in which the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us as our Comforter, Counselor, Helper, and seal of our adoption as God's children. But, then there is the natural extension of that which really causes me to step back and evaluate my life and how I live it, and the priorities I choose for it.

I am a part of the body of Christ. I am His hands and feet. While He operates sovereignly at times, He very often chooses to wait until His children (His body) are obedient to do His will. I, as God's adopted child, indwelt by His presence, serving as His hands and feet, am His vessel for bringing about His will and for showing Him to the world. Just as Jesus represented the Father on earth and was His image and modeled Him for the world, Jesus then sent us as the Father sent Him. As His disciples we are to walk as He walked. More than that, we carry His presence. We are the new dwelling place (temple) of God.

Stop and let that melt in to your heart for a moment. If you are a Christian, you carry the presence and image of God in to a lost world around you. You bring His presence and power with you wherever you go, you have the access to His wisdom and favor those around you need, and your actions should show them the love and forgiveness and servanthood and authority and power He embodies. You are His child, you are being transformed in to His image, you carry His name, you exercise His authority, He tells you the secrets of His heart, He beckons you to hear His voice and carry out His will—you are His body, you are the vessel He chooses to use.

You are, in a sense, to the lost around you, Immanuel. Now don't take that wrong, or blasphemously, because that is not how it is intended. We are not God, but we carry God with us. We are not God, but we reflect His image. We are not God, but we reveal God and point people to God. As His children, in whom He dwells, when we are with a person who is lost He is with us so He is, inherently, with them! You have brought to them the presence of God in you, and you are His hands and feet and mouth to follow His leading and show them His ways and speak His prophetic words to them. So, in that sense, which is humbling and awe inspiring, God has chosen you and I to continue Immanuel. Every time you carry the presence of God in to someone's "space" you live out the Christmas message of God with them. I don't know why God chooses to use frail vessels for such an awesome job, but He does, and it is pretty amazing to think that through me the Christmas message is lived out tangibly and physically every day I am among people who are lost. May every day of the year His presence in me, and my surrender to Him and His will, draw them to Him—the great Savior whom Christmas proclaims.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Wish, Story, and Thought . . .

First, a Christmas wish. I wish each and every one of you the joy of Christmas. May the message and wonder of salvation and God's love permeate your spiritual pores until it embodies all you are and think. May it so fill you with joy and peace that no circumstance that comes your way can dent it. May you find your heart and hands and voice lifted toward heaven with uncontainable, spontaneous awe and worship and love and adoration!

Second, a neat story. We spent Monday in Carmel on our "traditional" (in our family, anything twice becomes tradition) day of Christmas shopping and hanging out with my mom. We begin the "tradition" each time (this is our second time) with my dad joining us for coffee at Il Fornio, and we are batting 100% in getting the seat by the fire. You can enjoy the moment with us in our "traditional" picture, above. Last year's picture is in the right column of the blog, a ways down, if you want to see how much the girls are growing in a year (or how well I am aging—ha, ha).

Anyway, while shopping mom took the girls for a few minutes to a store so Mary Ann and I could be clandestine and get a few things. About five minutes before leaving Carmel Plaza to rejoin them, my left ankle started hurting with a real sharp pain that made it uncomfortable walking. We crossed the street and a woman passed in front of us on the sidewalk, being pushed in a wheelchair by a man whom I assume was her husband. We fell in step behind them and as I looked at her foot in a cast I thought about Jesus and Christmas and His love and power. I spoke kind of loud to them as they were a few steps ahead of us, "Can we pray for you?" They stopped and said, "Okay."

Now often people caught like that think you mean, "Can I pray for you sometime in the future or when I think about it." They usually don't think you mean "right now, on this corner, in downtown Carmel" so I quickly added "now" and moved up beside them. Mary Ann joined me and I put my hand on the woman's shoulder and we all bowed our heads there by the intersection and I asked God to pour out over them, to defy the doctors with her healing, and for it to be the best, most God-filled Christmas they have ever had. After we were done praying they thanked us and we parted. As we left them and began walking up a hill toward our rendezvous with my mom and the girls, I noticed that MY ankle pain was gone! How cool is that!

Third, a Christmas thought. I shared this in much more detail with our church on Sunday, but I wanted to share its core here with all of you as well.

When the angel appeared to the shepherds he said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lu 2:10-11). There is, in this proclamation, the foundation of our whole faith and joy. When everything else is stripped away, when theology is confusing us more than helping us, when life has broken us, there is a place of joy we can turn to.

The angels said that the birth of Christ (which would end at the cross) was:
1) Good News!
2) of Great Joy!
and it was to all the people! He didn't say, "to people of secure finances" or "to people who have a great marriage" or "to those who have it all together." No, he said that this good news, of great joy, was available to all people. Now Jesus didn't go and fix every earthly problem, but He did pay for our sins that we might be restored to our Father in heaven if we would embrace His gift and Lordship. So, this is clearly an "eternal" joy—a joy fixed on our eternal condition, tied in to Jesus' role as Savior. It shows the Father's emphasis on eternity over simply the now (though I do believe He desires us to joyfully walk in, and use, the authority He gives us to tackle and destroy the works of the devil in this life, as well).

The other day I hit a real low spot. I wasn't sure anymore what this pastoring was about or supposed to look like, or what I was supposed to be telling people, and it seemed like every "theological" conclusion I came to I was finding a verse to contradict it. I felt closer to stepping down than I have ever felt, and I was sitting by the fire with Mary Ann and I told her, "I don't know what this is about any more." She said, "Yes, you do." She then said something to the effect of, "God loves you and He sent His Son to die for you and you are His forever." It was utterly simple, and it touched and stirred something so deep in me I can't explain it. When all else is stripped away, when you feel like a failure, when life crashes in, that is the core, foundational message that it all comes back to—that is the message that never changes or leaves you—it is the good news, of great joy, that is unto me and you. This doesn't mean we take joy in clear victories of the devil, but it does mean that no matter what is stripped away there is, at the core, a place that can't be touched and which we must always return to—a place which simply is our eternal, born again, new creation life with God that can't be taken from us, and that came because His Son came to earth and died for us out of a love beyond our comprehension.

The utter simplicity and foundational essence of that reminder brought to life for me, again, the Christmas proclamation—and I hope it helps you, too. God bless each and every one of you, and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Surrender in Christmas . . .

Hello All! I hope that this finds you well and your hearts being prepared more and more each day for the amazing day we call Christmas. We had a nice couple of days last week visiting Mary Ann's family in the Los Angeles area for a homeschool trip we took with the girls (and, yes, rest well, I was able to spend some good time studying in a coffee shop near her mom's house). We got to visit the La Brea tar pits (the outside grounds because there was a power outage and the museum itself was closed) and the Griffith Observatory (our family must have looked pretty funny counting to three and then jumping up and down as hard as we could to try and get the seismograph to register our movement!).

I put a few pictures here from our trip for you to enjoy it with us. They are: 1) The girls in front of the La Brea "lake" display, 2) Mary Ann and the girls at the observatory model of the size of some stars—our sun would be the size of one of the tiny yellow dots straight above Abigail's head if the large yellow and red balls represented some of the giant and super giant stars out there, 3) Me next to the scale that informed me I would weigh over 500 pounds on Jupiter (I think I'm staying home!).

Christmas is almost here, and as I shared with our fellowship yesterday, I just can't grasp or wrap myself around the fact that the God who breathes out stars and holds the universe in His hand is also the baby in the manger . . . that the baby in the manger is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the One before whom demons tremble . . . that God is surrounded on the throne by the multitudes of angels and hosts of heaven worshiping Him in the glory He deserves and yet He came to earth, laid in a manger, greeted by shepherds, hunted, mutilated, murdered—by choice, for us, His rebellious creation.

I can't grasp that. Any words fall so short of its majesty and love. But one thing that I do grasp about it comes from Philippians 2:5-8 which says: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Surrendering our rights is a hallmark of Christianity and the only true way we can, I believe, reflect Christ's image and truly model the heart that made Christmas. It is not easy in a society that prides itself on individual rights, but that is probably why it stands out as such contrast from everyone else when it is done. It is hard because, by the very nature of the word, they are our rights. But Jesus, who had every right as God, didn't hold on to His rights but surrendered them and came to earth as one of us to be subject to our same temptations and limitations and dependence on the Holy Spirit. He who had every right to judge us, to stay in heaven where He was worshiped and recognized, to obliterate His attackers, gave it all up, by choice, of His own free will, in love. He laid His rights down at His Father's feet that His Father's will might be done and His Father glorified.

I don't think we can truly capture, or model, the heart of Christmas until we capture, and model, the heart of surrendered rights. Yes, we have a "right" to be apologized to, a right to freedom, a right to be acknowledged, a right to be heard, a right to be comfortable, a right to justice when we are wronged, a right to . . . but until we are willing to lay our rights down at the Father's feet we will never live as Jesus lived. This doesn't mean, say, as parents that we contradict other parts of God's Word that tell us to be heads of our home and to train up our children, or that we contradict other parts of His Word, but it does mean that if we are to truly show the world Christ, and Christmas, we have to be willing to say, "Yes, that is my right to ____, but I chose to surrender that right and humble myself, in love, for my Father and for another." It is only when we let go of our tight cling to this life and its comforts and "rights" that we will truly live a life focused from heaven, to earth, as Jesus did. The only way to show heaven to earth, and to show the Father's heart to man, is to live as in heaven and as the Father, and that is modeled, in Christmas, with surrender.

Note: Please still consider answering my request to you in the post: So, You've Been Given the Pulpit . . . Christmas. I would truly treasure your answers, and I believe others would be blessed by them as well as you being blessed by the prayer and thought it would require.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Too Cool Not to Share . . .

This is too good to not share! I’m jealous—I want dreams like this! For those you who know me, or follow this blog, you will really laugh when you read that last part. God bless you all, and have a great day (please don’t forget, as well, to send me your answers to my “So You’ve Been Given the Pulpit . . .Christmas” post—I think you’ll be blessed by the first response I’ve gotten, you can see it in the comments on that post).

So, the dream . . . yesterday morning Bethany (shown in a recent picture of her) came in to our room very excited to share the amazing dream she had. She said that she and Abigail were playing in the play area when there was a knock on the door. She went and answered it and, believe it or not, Jesus and His disciples were there! They came in and she said that Mary Ann and I had coffee with them on the screen porch. When Mary Ann asked who made the coffee, she said that I did. Now is that cool, or what!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

For Me, Alone . . .

(Note: Please don’t forget about my Saturday, November 28, 2009 post, “So, You've Been Given the Pulpit . . . Christmas.” I truly would value your answers to it, and I think you would be blessed in the time spent with God seeking your answer to it, and others would be blessed by what you share.)

I heard an interview on K-Love radio yesterday with, I believe, Jeremy Camp. In it he said something that spoke to my heart. I will paraphrase it since I was driving and couldn’t write it down.

Basically, he was talking about the songs he writes and he shared how he had set out to write songs that connected with and touched the people and ministered to them. During the process God told him, simply, “You write songs that touch Me, and let Me worry about ministering to the people.” Jeremy said it was so freeing because he realized he only needed to write songs for God and God would do the rest.

As a pastor I found that speaking to my heart. There is such a temptation to preach to, or at, people, and to weigh their possible reactions to things in your mind as you write them. You have to battle all of those things aggressively or they will start to be the driving force. Each week I have to bring myself back, out of that place, and simply ask, “Father, what do You have for this Sunday?”

I don’t think that the struggle is simply for those in ministry, either. I believe that we all struggle with focus and where we put our eyes. Some struggle with wanting the glory of men more than the glory of God, so they live in fear of the cost of open worship or testimony. Others struggle with ministering for God, hoping it will bring intimacy with God, instead of ministering FROM a place of intimacy with God. Many of us carry burdens that the Lord never put on us, because His yoke is easy and His burdens are light. The struggles, the pain, the doubt, the fear, the longings, the needs—the all can weigh so heavily that we sometimes forget the model of Mary, to simply take the time to sit at His feet.

So, maybe the lesson in this busy season from the Jeremy interview is this—before we wear ourselves out trying to do good all around us let’s first simply worship and adore Him, and see what comes out of that. It is truly amazing what He can and does do through a surrendered heart and life that is fixed on worshiping Him! When we let go and let His Holy Spirit lead, the world is turned upside down. It is not about not doing anything—our faith is called to be an active faith expressed in works—but it is works that come from the place of our faith, works that are led by the Spirit who inhabits our praise and worship, works that spring from a place of love for Him and others.


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