Monday, January 2, 2023

A DIWG New Year

 Now that we are past Christmas and the New Year is upon us, it easy to develop a dutiful “the party is over” mindset.  We return to school and/or work.  And, we gear up to pay for the party, so to speak: holiday bills, holiday pounds, exhaustion, and the all-too-common strained family relationships from family gatherings, all of which often generate or exacerbate fatigue, depression, and anxiety.  We pay more attention to budgeting, we ponder the fastest and least painful way to lose weight and gain fitness, we set a new bed time, and we promise ourselves to change our participation in family gatherings even as we sometimes deal with guilt and shame because of our present condition.

 

It is easy to understand why New Year’s resolutions are a common theme in January.  This is the time of year when we encounter and confront the consequences and the cumulative consequences of our choices, some of them poor ones.  The typical approach to a New Year’s resolution is to browse the ads and offers of a quick DIY fix on our medium of choice.  We plan to get our act together as quickly as possible and then get on with life.  

 

But the quick DIY approach can be discouragingly counterproductive.  It was first introduced to humanity by no other than Eve in the Garden of Eden.  She engaged in conversation with the serpent by herself, even though Adam was at her side and the LORD was certainly within calling distance.  She made the fateful choice herself, largely attracted by the serpent’s lie that the forbidden fruit would make her wise like God—so that she could continue to do life herself.  We can’t fix ourselves, and when we try, we become self-focused and vulnerable to the pride that was exposed and exploited in the Garden of Eden.  C.S Lewis puts it this way:


            Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy's Pride, or as they call it, his 

            self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome 

            cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are 

            beneath his dignity--that is, by Pride.  The devil laughs.  He is perfectly 

            content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled 

            provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride--

            just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was 

            allowed, in return, to give you cancer.  For Pride is spiritual cancer: it 

            eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common 

            sense.  

 

            

Another problem with the DIM (“DO IT MYSELF”) approach is that it invites us to become performance oriented.  We follow the way of the world and measure our value and status in society by how well we perform and how closely we conform to the expectations of our culture.  This generates a competitive attitude, making it difficult if not impossible to find contentment and peace and to love as our Lord calls us to love.

 

We can give up and stay as we are.  We can charge forward to fix ourselves anyway.  Or, we can consider a Biblical approach.  We can put our need before the throne of God that is both perfect and full of grace.  We can DIWG—Do It With God.

 

The DIWG approach means that we find our identity and value in Christ and our place among His people.  We look for the Holy Spirit to do His sanctifying work in us as we walk in faith and in the fellowship of believers.  We not only talk the talk of faith, but we do our best to walk the walk.  As we worship and minister in the body, our weaknesses and sin patterns will be exposed.  We will be invited to confess and repent, to grow in conforming to the character of Christ.  And as we do that, we will find that becoming whole, as our Creator intended, involves our bodies and minds as well as our souls and spirits.  If we want to become who the Lord created us to be and to fulfill His purposes for us, we need to pursue physical and mental health as well.  

 

Research has demonstrated that a healthy lifestyle of good nutrition, exercise, and adequate sleep is essential for brain health and our ability to make wise choices.  And brain health and wise choices are essential in our faith walk.  And the cycle continues: Our faith walk—built on deepening and growing relationships with the Lord and His people—also supports a healthy lifestyle as it enables us to fail without shame and to grow as we both humbly and confidently abide in Christ and depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit within us.  

 

I, for one, find that I am surprised that 2023 arrived so quickly.  I don’t feel that I have managed to clean up after 2022 yet!  But ready or not, 2023 is here.  May we accept the Lord’s invitation to seek wholeness in Him as we in turn invite the resident Holy Spirit to make Himself at home, choosing to keep company with our spiritual brothers and sisters to prosper that work in all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

God's Response to Darkness

 Today marks the Winter Solstice--the shortest day of the year, and therefore the longest night.  The Winter Solstice has a long history of pagan celebration, but it carries an even more powerful Christian message.

As the Winter Solstice marks the shortest day/longest night, it also marks the march toward Spring and Summer, times of abundant light and reduced darkness.  The analogy is easy to make:

The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.  Isaiah 9:2, quoted in Matthew 4:16.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness but will have the Light of life.  John 8:12.

At the moment, the planet is angled away from the sun on its yearly journey.  This is the season of darkness.  But the celebration of the Winter Solstice reminds us that lighter--and better--days are ahead.  In like manner, we are living in a sinful, dark world.  But the Bible proclaims that the Light has come, and will come again!  That is good news, indeed.

Of course, the analogy is not perfect.  Our planet will continue to turn, and the Winter Solstice of 2023 will follow the coming spring, Sumer and fall.  But those who follow Christ in faith will have His light regardless of the planetary position or the conditions of this world.


In the bleak midwinter, all creation groans 

For a world in darkness, frozen like a stone.

Light is breaking 

In a stable for a throne.

                                                                                                             Chris Tomlin

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Messiah Beyond Our Expectations

 The Christmas narrative can be fairly described as a dialectical masterpiece, one that takes layer upon layer of apparently contradictory and incompatible bits of information and fits them into a miraculous whole.  Contrasts and the unexpected become normal and commonplace.

 

The mighty angel Gabriel is sent from heaven to Galilee, considered a backwater town and some distance from Israel’s religious center, Jerusalem.  A young woman with no status or renown is chosen to be the mother of the Son of God.  Her betrothed marries her, willing to believe that the baby she carries is indeed of God.  The two have little in the way of resources—no money, no power, no influence—with which to protect and nurture someone as important as the Son of God.  

 

The young Galilean couple travels to Bethlehem late in the pregnancy, not by choice but by legal decree.  And so they find themselves 90 miles from home when the Infant God is born.  The royal birth announcement is made by an angel, not to the upper class but rather to a group of lowly shepherds.  And as if the announcement of the single angel isn’t enough, he is joined by a host of angels rejoicing in the birth of the Messiah.

 

The newborn King—the Messiah, the Savior of the world—is the fulfillment of long-studied prophecy.  Born in Bethlehem, to a virgin, from the line of David.  And yet the religious experts and authorities of the day do not recognize the prophetic fulfillment.  Instead, two elderly prophets proclaim the good news in the temple, and upper-class wise men from a distant land appear to pay homage.

 

The wise men direct attention to the baby Messiah, but not in the way they intend.  A jealous ruler seeks the Messiah as well, not to pay homage, but to murder.  The result is the untimely and tragic death of a generation of young children.  The Messiah Himself is taken by His parents to Egypt.  Egypt!  The last place a Jewish family would expect or want to go….

 

 

And now, centuries later, here we are…. We have the benefit of the New Testament as well as the Old to understand those past events, and more context to understand and integrate the dialectical elements.  But we, just like those who lived back then, still interpret what we read and events around us according to our personalities, personal histories, desires, and sin nature.  Each Christmas season is an invitation to ponder anew the Incarnation and to pursue a deeper and truer knowledge of the Messiah so that we can better build our faith relationship with Him upon the reality of who He is.  He has created us in His image; we must not make Him in ours. 

 

And then from this humble position, we are—perhaps unexpectedly—much better able to glorify God with the angels as we celebrate God’s greatest gift at Christmas.  From Christmas we look toward the Messiah’s return, which will come when we least expect it.  Come Lord Jesus!

 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

November

 November.  Thanksgiving.  A reminder that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights….” (James 1:17a).  As we count our blessings and thank the Lord for His goodness toward us, may we focus on the Giver as well as the gifts.

 

Glorious

Infinite

Victorious

Eternal 

 

 

Trustworthy

Holy

Awesome

Near

Kind

Savior

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Christian Opportunism

 "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

This quote by Winston Churchill, while spoken in a secular context, provides Christian believers with an invitation and perhaps a challenge to consider how we view the world.  In today's rushed, stressed, and competitive world, it is all too easy to become overwhelmed with the tasks of daily living and to become crushed by events beyond those daily tasks.  This is a world where even those born with optimistic personalities struggle.  But if we move beyond secular thought and innate personalities, we find that Christ has something amazing to say to us about our world view.

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.  John 16:33.

These words of Christ, spoken just before He was arrested and crucified and quoted by the Apostle John, offer His disciples--then and now--a worldview for those who have a faith relationship with Him.  Jesus does not mince words.  As fallen people in this fallen world, we will encounter tribulation.  It can be and often is exhausting and excruciating.  But.  Jesus is beyond the fallen world even as He resides in us via the Holy Spirit.  He is not the eternal optimist; rather, He is the eternal Redeemer, who, as a manifestation of who He is, uses every difficulty as an opportunity for His good work of redemption and blessing.

The Gospels illuminate Jesus as opportunist throughout His ministry.  Wherever He goes, He encounters difficulty, misery, and suffering: The ill, the blind, the lame, the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the dying, and even the dead.  And each encounter becomes an opportunity to reveal and extend the grace of God thought he work of the Holy Spirit who had descended upon Him at His baptism.  Jesus never denies or minimizes the suffering or blames the sufferer.  Nor does He ignore it.  Instead, Jesus takes each unique encounter as an opportunity to display God's gracious and merciful heart. 

As we follow Christ as our Model as well as our Lord and Savior, we would do well to remember that the same Holy Spirit who indwelt Christ now abides in us.  As difficult as it is to fathom, we have the power of Christ who has overcome the world by His death and resurrection.  We can indeed take courage and view struggles--our own and of others--as opportunities for God's good work in us and through us.

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.  John 15:11.

The world is full of tribulation.  But Jesus has overcome the world!  And while the culmination of His victory will not be complete until the end of time, Jesus is offering us both peace and joy in the here and now.  It is a wonderfully complete package: As we depend upon the indwelling Holy Spirit for the wisdom and power to exercise our faith relationship with Christ, we are better able to look for His work in and through us as we walk through this difficult world; the Holy Spirit then grows the fruit of peace and joy in our hearts; and we are encouraged to continue our dependence.  This is true as we deal with our own struggles and as we encounter those whom the Lord puts in our path.  The peace and joy that come from Christ as we negotiate both small inconveniences and more daunting tribulations are gifts from the Lord that we would do well to not take lightly.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Beginnings

 

September may be heading us toward the end of the year, but it is more often considered to be the harbinger of new beginnings: the start of a new academic year; returning to “normal” life and work after summer schedules and vacations; initiating new ventures.  But despite the feelings that often accompany beginning, the truth is that beginnings are not the whole story.  And sometimes, beginnings are not the story at all.

 

The Old Testament gives us many examples: God’s creation began in perfection, but marred by the sin of Adam and Eve (and all generations after them), it quickly devolved into a world of hardship, suffering, and pain.  The beginnings of Noah’s life would have given him no clue that his life would become forever known by his faithful obedience in building the ark.  King David’s beginnings were as a humble shepherd.  And then the New Testament continues the theme:  Mary and Joseph, focused on beginning life together as a married couple, were surely blind-sided by the Lord’s other plans for them.  The Pharisee Saul, raised by good Jewish parents and at the height of power in the Jewish community, found himself turned around by the God he served to become an Apostle of the Christian faith that he had dedicated himself to eliminating.  

 

Real life continues the theme we find in the Bible.  While most, if not all, newly married couples expect to be personally changed by marriage, I will confess that I was totally shocked that marriage to Ken made me not only a baseball fan, but a Yankee fan.  And whatever you think about the baseball in general and the Yankees in particular, they, too, offer numerous examples of beginnings that have little relationship to subsequent events and outcomes.  Babe Ruth is one of the most celebrated Yankee sluggers of all time, and indeed, the old Yankee stadium was known as the house that Ruth built.  But Ruth began his professional baseball career as a pitcher for the Yankee’s archrival, the Boston Red Sox.  And in a recent game, the Yankees found themselves down 5-2 in a game against the Kansas City Royals.  After the game resumed in the eighth inning after a rain delay, Yankee star Aaron Judge came up to the plate.  He struck out: a terrible beginning in the attempt to rally from behind, and without doubt personally disappointing for Judge.  But Judge’s teammates persisted and took a 7-5 lead.  Judge unexpectedly found himself with a second at-bat in the inning, and with bases loaded, he hit a grand-slam homerun, breaking the game open and giving the team an 11-5 lead.  

 

Beginnings are an unreliable predictor of the future.  But even as we know this, it can be all too easy to allow them to dominate our expectations of the future.  As we head into whatever beginnings September brings, it would be wise to shift our expectations and place them into our Lord’s hands, to strive for excellence but to also look with expectancy and anticipation to the Lord as He does His loaves and fishes work with our efforts.  We would also be wise to prepare to be surprised!

 

 

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.  Ephesians 3:20-21.

 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Thought For The Day

 "Love isn't a state of perfect caring.  It is an active noun like 'struggle.'

                                                                                    Fred Rogers