Friday, December 21, 2012

Eternal Thoughts Flowing from Christmas

The prophetic voice of Isaiah and his recurring theme of redemption through the Messiah yet to come (hundreds of years later) is startlingly specific and powerfully sweeping in scope. With a precise focus on the area of Galilee, looking toward Nazareth and Capernaum yet to be, Isaiah pinpoints the exact location of the childhood home and initial ministry of Jesus. He prophesies a fabulous destiny greater than can be humanly imagined: a great Light shines through a Child, a Son Who will be called Mighty God and Father of Eternity among many other titles, and Who will rule the entire world bringing peace and justice with righteousness FOREVER:

ISAIAH 9:1b In the former time [the Lord] brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He will make it glorious, by the way of the Sea [of Galilee, the land] beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light; those who dwelt in the land of intense darkness and the shadow of death, upon them has the Light shined. 3 You [O Lord] have multiplied the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You like the joy in harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil [of battle]. 6 For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father [of Eternity], Prince of Peace. 7. Of the increase of His government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from the [latter] time forth, even forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

The apostle Paul picks up Isaiah’s theme of Jesus as the Source of true spiritual light, with a statement of breathtaking depth, from the moment of God’s speaking into being the creation of the universe by His Word, all the way to His shining Presence in the hearts of every follower. Jesus Himself is the Light Who illuminates us with the true knowledge of God’s glory and majesty. He alone manifests this enlightenment revelation through His very Person and especially by the Light of His Face. We can each experience face to Face blessing and illumination from Jesus, as we choose to gaze intently at Him, moving toward Him beyond our current circumstances(Hebrews 12:1-3), with a willingness to surrender all that distracts us from appreciating Him alone as the One and Only Pearl of great Price (Matthew 13:45-46).

Many of us have had a true initial encounter with Jesus, and we have had further glimpses of Him, but can become falsely contented with less than He desires to have with each of us. Jesus is always and forever calling us to come up higher, go on further, and to enter into deeper relationship with Him. He wants to shine His light in greater measure, so that the darkness of the world around us, and the weakness of ourselves and all other human beings is not what we are depending on.

Instead, we are called to carry this ineffable light of Jesus within our very normal, weak human vessels, recognizing that we are not worthy in ourselves to be examples by our own virtue, nor oracles or flowing fountains of life by our own knowledge. Rather, we are compelled by Jesus’ love flowing into us, to open our mouths and allow our countenances and deeds to show His Presence within each of us (2 Corinthians 5:14-21) to everyone we encounter:  

2 CORINTHIANS 4:6 For God Who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts so as [to beam forth] the Light for the illumination of the knowledge of the majesty and glory of God [as it is manifest in the Person and is revealed] in the face of Jesus Christ (the Messiah). 7 However, we possess this precious treasure [the divine Light of the Gospel] in [frail, human] vessels of earth that the grandeur and exceeding greatness of the power may be shown to be from God and not from ourselves.

We are called to be active participants in this divine process of our own redemption, by actively pursuing a greater and more encompassing relationship with Jesus, grabbing hold of everything He has offered us to complete each of our unique destinies! James, Jesus’ apostolic brother, echoes Paul’s call to us to join with all mature followers of Jesus, (James 1:22-25) by becoming doers of His word, not just those who hear it.

The core of our pursuit of Jesus is to become more deeply connected to Jesus by actually coming to really know Him, not just about Him. This true knowledge leads us to embracing Jesus in His sufferings, by communing with Him in our own difficulties (Isaiah 53), which will result in our sharing in the glory of His resurrection life!

When we taste of these powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:4-5), we are enabled to let go of the past, in effect to forget the pains and pleasures that we leave behind, in order to give ourselves to focus and lean forward and take hold of the newness of life, living in and being led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14-17), actually becoming the children of God in reality (1John 3:1-3). This is the goal and upward call of Jesus for every one of us who have named Him as our Lord and Savior:

PHILIPPIANS 3:10 [For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope] 12 Not that I have now attained [this ideal], or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own, that for which Christ Jesus (the Messiah) has laid hold of me and made me His own. 13 I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.

Even as we engage ourselves fully into developing our relationship with Jesus, this is only an entrance into His sovereign rule and reign over us, in which we learn to give up control willingly. We recognize, as John the Baptist did (John 3:26-31), that we must decrease until it is no longer us living for ourselves, so that Jesus may increase in us and out from us.

We have no resources in ourselves to do this, but we walk our lives out by the one true faith generated within us for us, and then received from us by Jesus Himself. Our trust in Jesus is not a blind faith, but a faith renewed by continual experience of His faithful loving Presence with us, picking us up and holding us close as we need it, if we are willing to pull ourselves away from the false and powerless loves of the world (1John 2:15-17) to run to Him!

Jesus showed us His great love by calling us His friends (John 15:9-15) and then laying down His life for us. This demonstration of Jesus’ love was the foundation for the constant flow of His love and care and concern for each of us right now, available to us if we want Him more than everything else:

GALATIANS 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ [in Him I have shared His crucifixion]; it is no longer I who live, but Christ (the Messiah) lives in me; and the life I now live in the body I live by the faith in and of (by adherence to and reliance on and complete trust in) the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Angels Unaware

Sometimes you hear a story that just makes you feel good and you realize there are still people in this world who are reaching out and touching the lives of others who are in unfortunate circumstances. These people are not doing it for prestige or honor but because they have the love of God in their hearts. I like to refer to these people as "angels unaware" because most of the  world has no idea what they are doing. I recently found out about some of these "angels" in my own backyard.

A couple of miles from where I live, there is a group of ramshackle buildings that most of us locals just refer to as "the dump." The place has no running water or electric. Trash surrounds the property and although there is a "house" among the junk, it really isn't what any of us would refer to as one. It just looks like a couple of boards were thrown together and a tin roof was tossed on top. For years we would see a man in and about the rubble or pushing his bicycle along the road. He would stop and pick up more trash and take it back to his "home." I am ashamed to say that most of us just ignored him and never really bothered to talk with him or ask him if he needed anything.

A few years ago, the man disappeared and the only reminder of him was the dilapidated buildings that continued to stand out as an eyesore to the community. As far as I knew, no one bothered to ask what had become of the man and even worse, no one seemed to care.

This summer, an out-of-town acquaintance of ours passed by the abandoned, neglected property and asked us about it. We decided to do a little research and see if we could find out what had happened to the man who had occupied the premises. We eventually found someone who told us this story:

Several years ago, the man became physically unable to get around on his bike as he had done for most of his life and became confined to his house. However, a local couple was concerned when they no longer saw him pushing his rusty bike around the neighborhood and checked up on him. Thus began years of "angelizing." These people began to buy him groceries and would deliver them to his house weekly. As it became apparent that he would not be able to continue to live in his humble dwelling, they began to look into a nursing home for him. They found one for him and did all the necessary paperwork to have him admitted. They packed him up and moved him and to this day they continue to monitor his wellbeing. According to the person who told us the story, the biggest adjustment for the man, was learning how to use a regular toilet because he had only ever used a five-gallon bucket for his toiletry needs.

I was touched by this story, but a little embarrassed that I too lived in this neighborhood and didn't even care enough to inquire about the man. I may not be able to do anything of this magnitude but I am determined to be on the lookout for situations where I can be an "angel unaware." How about you?

Mary Lehman

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

God's Love Letter to Us

My husband and I had a long distance dating relationship. Since this was before email and cell phones we wrote letters to each other several times a week. I waited with anticipation for those letters and read them with joy and excitement. I grew anxious if it went too many days and I did not receive a letter. I still have those love letters and they are very dear to me.

God also wrote us a love letter. His love letter to us is the Bible. God spoke through kings, prophets and priests for a long time. But then, God's words stopped coming to His chosen people that He loved dearly. I wonder what the people thought during this time of silence? Did they wonder if they were no longer favored and loved? Had they angered God? Why did He not speak? How long can I wait to hear from my God again?

And then--the angel came. The angel came to ordinary people like you and me and he spoke words from God. How much wonder do you think these ordinary people felt when they realized that the God of Heaven had broken His silence and spoken to them? What did Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph think? How much wonder did they feel as they thought through what had been spoken to them? The Savior was coming!!! God still loves us and did not forget us! And then the shepherds heard an angel. Have you ever really considered what the shepherds thought as that night unfolded before them?

To many of us, the Christmas story is so familiar that we fail to see the wonder of it all. As we journey through these next weeks of Advent I challenge you to again see the wonder of the greatest gift that we have been given. As you read the familiar story again, take time to think about how each person really felt as they realized that God had broken His silence of several hundred years. Take time to reflect that God never stopped loving and He did not forget even though He was silent. Take time to consider the wonder each ordinary person must have felt as they lived through the story. And, as you reflect and again experience the wonder of it all, may you remember how deeply loved you are by God. Share that love and wonder with others this Advent season.

May each of you experience an Advent season full of wonder and love.

Deb Riddell
Closet Manager

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Holidays

     The Holidays are fast approaching us and for some people it is a time to gather with family and friends; but for others it is a time of great sadness. I was reminded of this on Saturday when I led a "Surviving the Holidays" which is a part of GriefShare at my church. GriefShare is designed for those who have a loved one who has died regardless of if it was recently or several years ago. There are a lot of people who are hurting around the holidays and I encourage all of us to do our part to show Christ's love during these times as well as all year long.

     We all grieve about loss, whether it is through death, loss of a job, financial problems, or a natural disaster, and during these difficult times we cry out to God in despair. We feel lonely and abandoned even in a crowded room. So, as you are preparing for your Holiday festivities this year think about your neighbors who may be going through a difficult time. Reach out to them by inviting them for a meal or taking a meal to them. Perhaps they need groceries, clothing, shelter, or just someone to listen.

     Be the "light" for someone during this Holiday season!

Elaine Campbell, MA
New Hope Counselor