Monday, December 17, 2007

The Incarnation

Though I know the story, though I have pondered the texts, I simply cannot grasp the full significance of the Incarnation. How does the One who has always been and who always will be become a baby born at a given time, to die at the appointed hour; how does the One who created mankind, the Heavens, and the earth become a man to walk on His created earth; how does the One whose Home is Heaven be born in the animals' barn?

Everything seems backwards. The Messiah does not come in strength and power but in lowliness and humility. The King of Kings is not born in a palace but in a cattle stall. He is not raised as a king's son, but as the son of a poor young couple of Nazareth.

As a man, the Messiah was subject to the same temptations, hunger, cold, thirst that we know. He entered - willingly - into every aspect of what it means to be human. It is God who came and fully entered the human condition. Isaiah foretold that this child, this baby born of Mary, shall be called Emmanuel: God with us.

God comes to dwell with us; it is inconceivable mystery.

"Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold him come, Offspring of the virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel."

- Hark! The Herald Angels Sing by Charles Wesley

Monday, December 3, 2007

Advent - The Coming of the Messiah, the Promised One

Since the fall of man, all creation has been restlessly waiting for the Promised One. God foretells of this Promised One when He declares to Adam and Eve the punishment for their sin. God says that One will come who will save His people from their sin. Since then, this expectation and hope has echoed through the pages of Scripture.

"As for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me." (Micah 7:7)

But generations were born and generations died - yet the promised Messiah had not yet come. God’s people “died in faith, without receiving the promises, but have seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13)

As years turned into decades and decades into centuries, both the world and the prophets cried out, “How long, O Lord?” Men see the pain in the world and in their hearts, and they cry with Habakkuk and David

“How long, O Lord, will I call for help, And Thou wilt not hear? I cry out to Thee, ‘Violence!’ Yet Thou dost not save.” (Habakkuk 1:2) “How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou forget me forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)

But God did not forget; God was not delaying. The time had not yet come. To encourage His people, He gave the promise through His prophet Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

Though the Messiah had not yet come, the hope remained burning within the hearts of the people. “We have waited for Thee eagerly; Thy name, even Thy memory, is the desire of our souls.” (Isaiah 26:8)

The pages of history fly by. The Promise is not forgotten amidst the pain and suffering on earth. Several millennia come and go since the Savior was promised. But then, in the darkness of the night, in a humble stable, in the small town of Bethlehem, Mary, a willing servant of the Most High God, delivers a child.

“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” (Galatians 4:4)

The Heavens shout out, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)

The world sleeps, unaware of the momentous event that has just occurred. It is not just a baby who was born that night; it was the Son of God Himself, coming to fulfill the promise made long ago - coming to deliver the people from their sins!

The Promise is fulfilled! Immanuel has come.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Our Days are Numbered

Our days are numbered before we are born. And just as one hair of our head doesn't fall to the ground unnoticed by our God, neither does one day pass without His sustaining us. But eventually, for each of us there is that day, when God calls us Home. For the one going Home, it is as if life has just begun. Paradoxically, for us that remain, it is as if our life has just ended. Our hearts are torn apart by our enemy death. Life as we have known it has suddenly taken a new, unwelcomed direction.

Death is hard to understand. When faced with death, our souls scream out that it is not right. We are made for living, not for dying. Recently a friend with four children died of cancer at the age of 37 years. My mind races with all kinds of questions: who will take care of the children when they are sick, who will listen to the stories of their day, who will cook their dinner? But God deemed it good for her to go Home. Her days were numbered.

Within a couple of days of her death, I learn of another's friend whose granddaughter is killed in an auto accident; she is 16. Surely, there are many more things for her to learn, ways to serve God, life to be experienced. But God deemed it good for her to go Home. Her days, too, were numbered - just as they are for each of us.

I have to fight the notion within myself that these women's lives were cut short. It looks to me as if they had so much living ahead of them. But this is not God's perspective. Just as one hair doesn't fall to the ground unnoticed by Him, neither does one saint die without His knowing. Even in death, God is about His good purposes; He is accomplishing His plans. Through the pain of death, we can also rejoice – for one of those purposes is to abolish death!

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Time is one of those ever-elusive realities of life. My constant question is "where did it go?" It is rare that I do not wish I had more time to devote to whatever I am doing - be it talking to one of my girls, writing a letter, reading, studying.

Have you ever noticed how many clocks are in our homes? Almost every appliance and electric gadget comes with a clock to set. I deliberately do not set these digital reminders. It is a small act of defiance to say that I will not be ruled by the clock; but other people come behind me and set them anyway. It is hard to look any direction within my home and not see the time.

In my effort to be free from the tyranny of time, I try not to look at my clocks constantly. I try to free myself from the mindset that today I must accomplish a little more than I did yesterday. But I am not very successful. Furthermore, the clock is always calling out to me: time to pick up children from school, time for a meeting, time to begin dinner, time for bed.

This is a puzzling issue of discipleship. God honors work, but He also honors rest. When God created time, He declared that a 24-hour day was good. (What was He thinking?!) Jesus does not appear rushed or harried in the Gospels. He seems content with the time that God has given Him. So where is my misunderstanding of time? Am I a prisoner to a society that honors busyness above all else? Do I have too many responsibilities? Am I involved in the wrong activities?

My problem is not with time management – I know how to do that. My problem is more basic. I need to agree with God in His perspective and purposes of time. I need to be content and faithful with what God has given and declared good.

May God grant me contentment and understanding in using my days for His glory.

Monday, September 17, 2007

An Ordinary Man

In my study of James, I have often thought about its author. As I mentioned before, James did not always think that Jesus was the Messiah. John 7:5 says, "For not even His brothers were believing in Him." In fact, at one point Jesus' family goes to take custody of Him for they feared He had lost His senses (Mark 3:20-21). Yet after Jesus has ascended into Heaven, there James is with the apostles devoting himself to prayer.

How did James move from being a skeptic, to a believer, devoted to prayer (Acts 1:14), to a leader in the church (Acts 12:17, 15:13), and then to a pillar of the church (Galatians 2:9)? What made the difference? I believe it was an encounter with the Living Christ. "He (Jesus) appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve...then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles."

An encounter with the Living Christ has the power to change everything - and it did.

In Acts 4:13 the Peter and John were brought before Annas and Caiaphas by the Sadducees. After listening to Peter talk, Acts records, "they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus."

These early church leaders were not extraordinary giants of the faith. In fact, many of them were uneducated and untrained - like me. I do not hold a degree from a prestigious university; I am not a CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. I wash dishes and cook dinner and spend many hours listening and talking with my children. In reality, I am sort of a 21st century female equivalent of a Galilean fisherman - a very ordinary person carrying out very ordinary responsibilities.

But these men, these uneducated and untrained men, had been with Jesus.

And the gospel still has the lifechanging power to transform lives today. I am an ordinary woman; I have ordinary responsibilities. But I pray that as others see and observe my life, they will say of me, "this woman has been with Jesus."

Sunday, September 2, 2007

James, the brother of Jesus

James, the brother of Jesus, is one of the prominent early church leaders in Jerusalem. Paul, in fact, describes him as a pillar of the church. (Galatians 2:9)

But, as for most of us, life hasn't always been that way. We don’t have a lot of information on how or when Jesus’ family came to believe that He was the Son of God. But there are a few snippets in the Scriptures which hint of it.

Think for a moment what it would be like to grow up with a perfect brother. I cannot imagine that perfection would be an endearing quality to a sibling: always right, never guilty, perfectly obedient to parents. I wonder if Jesus’ siblings tried, as the Pharisees would in later years, to make him sin. Unfortunately, I think I would have – so that I could feel better about myself. (ugh!) Jesus is aware how people you live around feel. He says, “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town, and among his own relatives and in his own household.” (Mark 6:4)

Yet, somewhere, somehow, something has changed. Just after Jesus' ascension into Heaven, James, along with his mother and his brothers, are in the upper room with the disciples. Their days are devoted to prayer. It appears that now, not only Mary understands who Jesus is, but His brothers do as well. God has opened their eyes.

Prayer becomes a way of life for James. He is said to have had camel knees – knees made leathery and tough from his long hours of prayer spent on his knees. He led a very devout life. Think what this means – James sees, knows, believes that his brother is truly the Son of God. James believed this so much that he is eventually martyred for his faith in Christ Jesus.

Lord, please give me that type of devotion for the Lord Jesus Christ

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Life's New Adventures

I recently visited my friends’ new baby – she was just over 24 hours-old. She was all that a newborn is – beautiful, petite, vulnerable, completely dependent. The next day I said good-bye to my 18 year-old daughter as she headed off for college. And she was all that a young adult is – beautiful, excited, apprehensive, independent. While these two young women are at very different stages of life, they are both beginning new portions of their journeys. The only reason that I know of whereby a parent can let them venture out into the world is that God goes with them. Blessings, my two dear ones. Keep your hands in the hand of Abba Father.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

My Lesson from the Other Side of the World

We recently hosted a young girl from Taiwan in our home. We have had people live with us before; all of us were excited about having her come. We felt like we were embarking on a summer adventure.

As is so often the case, God's ideas about my adventure with this young girl were different from my own. I dreamed of introducing her to the better side of American life, of teaching her many new words and expressions in English, and of possibly developing a life-long friendship.

But instead, God's destination for me in this experience was to take another look at my own heart. God revealed to me the depth of my selfishness. I saw that I was quite content to serve her as long as she appreciated what I was doing. But she didn't seem to. She didn't say thank you. She didn't try to speak English. I never knew if she enjoyed the places and events I took her to. My instinct was to say, "Fine. If you can't at least say thank you, then I won't help you anymore." I felt like leaving her to her own devices rather than reaching out to her.

But as I contemplated how God would treat her - how God has treated me - I quickly saw my selfishness and sin. I didn't realize I was so dependent upon other people's feedback and appreciation for what I was doing. I grew tired of entertaining her. I didn't like the stress she was bringing into my home. So, my solution was to give up on her.

However, God was faithful to me to show me my attitude. As I stood gazing upon my heart's true condition, I was disappointed with what I saw. God reminded me how He loved me long before I ever thought of glancing His direction. I thought about how Jesus would respond to her - He would fully accept her right where she is and love her as she is. His love for me has never been dependent upon my actions. His love has never depended upon my thanks. His love is free, overflowing, pure and whole.

I repented of my attitude. I asked for God to love her through me. I prayed for patience and the ability to let go of all my expectations. It is odd, as I think about it. How did this young woman from half-way around the world come to stay with us? What is God's design and purpose in it? I don't have an answer to that. I don't know what she took away from her time in our home. But I hope, that in spite of this leaky and faulty vessel that I am, she saw and felt something of God's love for her. May she come to believe in and serve the living God.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Road to Righteousness

This life, therefore, is not righteousness
but growth in righteousness,
not health but healing,
not being but becoming,
not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it;
the process is not yet finished but it is going on;
this is not the end but it is the road.
All does not yet gleam in glory but all is being purified. - Martin Luther

This quote comforts me but at the same time frustrates me. It is a comfort because I am aware that I do not yet reflect the image of my Savior. There is still much polishing and refining to be done within my soul. Luther writes of the process we are in - the process of being remade into the image of God.

On the other hand, I am frustrated with the journey. I don't want to walk another year in the wilderness of Sinai. I want to reach the destination now. I want to lay aside the weight of sin that so easily entangles me. I am anxious to be rid of the pull of sin...yet even my impatience shows my need for further cleansing.

The verse that Luther alludes to is a favorite of mine. Its promise is great.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. 1 John 3:2

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Day by Day

Day by day life happens. Often it feels as if I don't have much control over the things that happen in my life or in the lives of those I love. And I guess I have lived long enough to see that the reality is I don't. But rather than being left in despair, I have hope. My hope does not come from what I can see and feel around me; I fear that would leave me in despair, for life is hard. My hope comes from the One who created me as well as this world I live in. Life is not spinning out of control. This life is straight on course; this life, my life, is speeding straight into eternity. We are headed toward life eternal. In the meantime, I can live each day confident that His purposes are being accomplished and that nothing can thwart His hand. There are many sitiuations I see and experience that I do not understand. But this I know: we rest in the arms of a God who loves us greatly, who is working out His purposes, and whose hand cannot be thwarted.