Friday, December 24, 2010

Loved Before the Earth Was Formed . . .

I wanted to wish each of you a very merry, joyous, peaceful, Spirit-filled Christmas tomorrow, and to thank you for sharing in my life through reading my blog, making me richer with your thoughts and sharings, and blessing me with your prayers. May God pour out His Spirit upon you this Christmas, and may the coming year be, for you, one of growing closer and closer to Him as your relationship with Him deepens and deepens.

As a simple gift to you, this Christmas, I want to share with you the thought that will be at the core of my sharing this evening at our candlelight Christmas Eve celebration. May it take you to a place of deep reflection, and may you rise from that place with a joy and security deeper than any you have ever felt before . . .

As Christians, we all know that the birth of Jesus was for a purpose—and that purpose took Him to the cross where He died for our sins. We also all know that it was love that took Him to the cross. John 3:16–18 are our guidon verses that we raise up to let others know that, ". . . God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

The Apostle John shared this recognition of God's love in 1 John 4:9-11 when he wrote, "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." John shared his awe at such love when he penned 1 John 3:1, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God . . ."

I know this, and I am filled with gratitude for God's love, that He would give me such a gift. That love is, in itself, so astounding that I could never capture with words or in my heart the amazing wonder of a God who loves me that much when I have loved Him so little, and sinned so much. But, there is something that makes it even more astounding to me, and this truth is found in Ephesians 1:3-10 in which Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

The "fullness of time" is Christmas, and the cross. Galatians 4:4-7 makes this clear when it uses the same expression: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

So, when God said the time was "full" (or had come) He sent Jesus to complete His plan—to unite us with Him through Jesus. And He did this from love. And, and here's the thing that rocks my mind, He did this from a love He had for you and I before He even formed the earth! Read again those Ephesians words, ". . . even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ." Do you realize that before He even formed the earth—before even your grandparents a hundred generations back were born—He knew you and loved you so much that He established a plan to unite you back with Him through His Son, Jesus?

How can we comprehend such love? To be loved before we were even concieved!?!

He LOVED me before He even formed the earth! He loved me before He even formed me in my mother's womb! Back when ". . . the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep" He already knew me and loved me so much that He established a plan to bring me back to Him—a plan that would cost Him His life. Then, as He watched and waited, came "the fullness of time" and He sent forth His Son on that first Christmas morn to complete His plan to unite me with Him, still, long before I was born. Of course, that applies to you as well—not just me—He knew and LOVED you before He ever formed the earth. If that doesn't tell you and I how absolutely special we are to Him, then I don't know what will. To be known, and loved so deeply that He would lay His life down for us, before He ever even formed the earth—wow! Our God is so amazing, and His love for us so incredible—it is a revelation that should alter the very fabric of our lives, focus, anxiety, values, and aim. To be loved like that, by a God who could know and love us before we ever were born. It is a wonderful God we have to lay our lives before. All praise and glory be to Him, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

God bless you all. Merry Christmas! You are loved!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It Must Have Been Amazing . . .

Maybe I'm the only one . . . but for years, hearing the story of the shepherds in their field watching their sheep by night, all my attention has been on the angel. Maybe because I know, from reading the Bible, that the angels were probably far more mighty and awesome than we usually portray them as pudgy, baby-faced, and just floating around with wings and a harp. Maybe because the Christmas pageants show mainly just the angel and because the angel is the one who delivers the message. I'm not sure why, but until recently I had glazed past the fact that something else was there that night as well . . .

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them . . .

The glory of the Lord! Wow! There they were, out at night, tending their sheep and a mighty angel from Heaven appears, and the glory of the Lord comes down also. A simple word search of the Old Testament will reveal that the glory of the Lord isn't just some "feeling" or "warm fuzzy" because an angel is around. It is the weighty, tangible presence of our holy God in some way I don't fully understand. A small sampling of the many verses in which we find it mentioned makes that abundantly clear:

Ex 24:17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

Ex 40:34-35 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

1 Kings 8:10-11  And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.

2 Chron 7:1-3  As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord's house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever."

Ezek 1:28  Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

It is no wonder, then, that the shepherds were, ". . . filled with fear." There was an angel—reason enough—and the glory of the Lord. I can only imagine that in a moment these men, who were raised under the Law and who knew much about God's holiness and justice and wrath, and little about His love, were filled with terror. His glory must have, in a moment, destroyed any pretense of their own goodness or righteousness as they were in the presence of His holiness. How their righteousness must have suddenly seemed as filthy rags, and how terror must have filled their souls. But then . . .

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people...” and the message of a Savior—One to save and not condemn them, One to do what they could not, One to free them, One to make them right with God—was given! No wonder it was proclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest!" At that moment there is no chance they could have claimed any glory for themselves. His manifest presence and holiness would have stripped them of any pretense and it would have been clear to all—man and angel alike—that God alone was doing the salvation, and to Him be the glory!

How they must have been filled with joy as they went out, found this good news to be true, and returned glorify and praising God and telling what they had seen and heard! It must have been amazing . . .

Friday, December 17, 2010

For unto you is born this day . . .

"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. . . ." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"  (Luke 2:10-14)

An article by Stephanie Samuel in the online Christian Post today gives Christians a pause for reflection. The article, titled, "Author: Most Evangelicals Believe Good People are Heaven-Bound," has some interesting quotes (you can read the whole article by clicking on the name of it above). Some of the things it says are (the words in #s 1–3 are quotes from the article):

1) The majority of Protestants and evangelicals believe that good people and people of other religions can go to heaven, according to author David Campbell. . . . surveys of 3,000 Americans, used to write the book, show that American people of faith, though devout, are very tolerant. So much so that most believers also believe that good people, despite their religious affiliation, can go to heaven.

2) Campbell . . . explained at a Thursday discussion of his book that the numbers can be explained with the “Aunt Susan” theory. Aunt Susan, he said, is the nice family member who is well-loved and is an all around do-gooder. “You know that if anyone is destined to go to heaven, it’s Aunt Susan,” described Campbell. However, Aunt Susan is of another religion. Rather than condemn that person to a lost eternity, Campbell said, most American believers choose instead to believe that that person is heaven-bound.

3) Land lamented that more evangelicals are being taught the doctrine of universalism. “It’s emphasized from the pulpit; it’s emphasized in the seminaries,” he decried. Universalism is the theological doctrine that all people will eventually be saved despite a relationship with Christ.

My Thoughts: This survey raises some interesting questions around Christmas that the Evangelicals who this describes need to answer. The first of these is, "Then what was Christmas, and ultimately the cross, about?" If a Savior was given to us, and that Savior was God's Son, and God allowed Him to suffer so ultimately for us, then why did that happen if there were other ways? How can anyone believing in Jesus as Jesus describes Himself believe that if there was any other way to save us that God wouldn't have taken that path?

Another question is about God's Word. Do you believe it is His Word or not? If you are going to pick it apart and decide arbitrarily which parts you believe and which you don't then who are you to state John 3:16 with confidence, or how do you possibly offer confident hope to someone contemplating suicide or struggling with hopelessness? 

Another question, equally relevant around Christmas, is, "What were we being saved from if all people end up in Heaven?" It is amazing to me how reluctant most Christians are to talk about things God was not hesitant or apologetic talking about—Heaven, Hell, fear of God, sin, holiness, condemnation, redemption, etc. It doesn't mean that we should talk about these things with a pointing and "in their face" finger, from a platform of arrogance, but we are very remiss if we don't share what God openly shares, and do so from a place of humility and love because we know that, but for Christ, we, too would be separated from God in Hell forever.

Christmas is a message of great joy! Indescribable joy! All Heaven declares the glory of God and the news! Why? Because the bad news is so bad. Because man is sinful and fallen and there is not one good among him according to God's Word. Because eternal separation from God, in Hell, is a fate to wish upon no one. Because we were helpless to save ourselves, but God came and saved us. He didn't steal us from the devil on some "Underground Railroad" smuggling us away—He recognized Satan's lawful right to us as his slaves and He bought us from him, and the purchase price was His Son's blood . . . the only innocent blood that could be shed in another's place because we were all guilty and condemned to die anyway.

Glory be to God in the highest! He has saved us, and He has given us His precious Word to show us the way and to make sure we understand that His Way, through His Son, is the only way—and that is the message of Christmas! God, please help us to stand strong in your Word, to not be ashamed or apologetic of what you are not ashamed or apologetic of, to be filled with joy at your message, and to shed it abroad with all love and humility.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Immanuel . . . In and Through Us

Note: I look forward to sharing more about the issue of Christian "rights" which I wrote on last time, but today I want to share something a little different. ("Rights" being those things/promises from God we can stand on in faith because God says that they are ours since we are His.)

Immanuel . . . Traditionally the day(s) right after Thanksgiving are when we take out our Christmas stuff. It is a time the girls, especially, look forward to—eagerly anticipating the movies and music and, when we are able to get it, the decorating of the tree. This year, however, a situation in the life of some friends caused us to put that off. We wanted to spend the bulk of those days helping them and our whole family participated. I felt like God shared with me a special way to talk to the girls about it, and I wanted to share it with you.

Friday morning I told the girls that we were going to begin celebrating Christmas that day (eyes wide, smiles big, excitement there, Christmas movies envisioned) . . . but, that it might not be the way they were thinking. I then asked them what one of the names of Jesus was, tied in to the Christmas story—a name that our family has used often to remind each other of God's presence. They answered "Immanuel" and, when asked what it meant, said "God with us." (Matthew 1:23)

I then talked with them about how, while Jesus was here on earth, God was with us in bodily form through Him. But, then, something amazing happened—He died and ascended to Heaven, and His Spirit came to dwell in believers! From being in one body at one time, to being in every Christian at the same time!

Through my asking them questions and drawing them to realizations, we talked about how, when a lady in our fellowship is serving as a nurse, it is really Jesus who is loving the people through her. We saw how, when someone else in our fellowship is loving someone else at their work place, it is really Jesus loving them through them. And then, how we were going to have the privilege to allow Jesus to love our friends through us as we allow ourselves to be His hands and feet.

It was amazing how the girls got it—that Christmas hasn't ended when Jesus died, just expanded! That now God (while present, certainly, around us at all times) is tangibly with us, living through us, as His children. Immanuel has the potential to be true in and around every believer at all times and, so, that miraculous aspect of Christmas continues and expands as believers surrender their lives and allow Him to live His life and love and serve others through them!

So, Merry Christmas! Immanuel! God is with you, believer . . . and He seeks to be with others through you! What an amazing comfort and privilege that is to know!


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