Friday, January 23, 2009
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
In the Stable of Bethlehem
We begin in the stable, the makeshift motel of the mortal Messiah. It was no doubt home to various creatures, and it is likely with some trepidation that we imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of such a place as this. The stark reality of these things—the pungent aroma of manure, the improbability of completing a task as mundane as finding a clean place large enough in which to lie down comfortably—may seem somewhat out of sorts with our personal views of Him whose corporeal existence began there. But so it was. I, for one, do not know exactly how many or what types of livestock were present that holy night; I use as the basis for my mental image of these creatures the assorted Nativity scenes upon which my eyes have fallen throughout the years that have included such beasts as cattle and a donkey. In my mind, however, there is one animal that takes precedence over all others in the traditional Nativity—the lamb, whose significance we will discuss momentarily. For now, let us return to our examination of those privileged to witness the scenes that followed this blessed birth.
In the Fields of
Abiding in an unnamed field, in relative proximity to the stable where a virgin mother had just laid the Son of God in a manger, a group of shepherds kept watch over their flock by night. It was to this collection of everymen that an angel of the Lord appeared, bearing good tidings of great joy concerning the heavenly birth and accompanied by a celestial concourse ascribing glory to the child’s Father and promising peace to mortals below. After having received from the angel details of the means by which they could locate the Christ child and subsequent to the seraphs’ ascension into heaven, these simple stewards wasted no time in seeking out the newborn Immanuel. Luke records that “they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16), presumably the first human eyewitnesses of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob now clothed in a tabernacle of clay.
In the House of Joseph the Carpenter
Some time later, after a journey that had spanned months and perhaps years, wise men from the east arrived in
A Type and a Shadow
Among those who were privy to the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem, the titles of these particular characters with whom have become acquainted hold singular significance in this, the tale of tales: lamb, shepherd, and king. Each has a significant but complimentary role in this story. This is as it should be, for in playing their respective parts, each points calculatingly away from himself and toward Him who occupies center stage. Each has a dual purpose—both to participate and to prefigure.
“By One Offering” (Hebrews 10:14)
Long before His mortal birth, the ancient prophet Isaiah described the Christ in the context of His atoning sacrifice as “a lamb [brought] to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). Similarly, His trusted apostles and fortunate friends John the Revelator and Peter the Rock took a retrospective glance into eternity in their respective depictions of Jesus as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) and “a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:19-20). At the outset of His mortal ministry, His cousin and predecessor John the Baptist, when called upon to perform the ordinance of baptism that was necessary for the Christ to fulfill all righteousness, exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And so it was. The blessed birth of
“Every One to His Own Way” (Isaiah 53:6)
The inclusion of shepherds in that night’s supernal scene is also telling, for corrupted
“And Let Him That Heareth Say, Come.” (Revelation 22:17)
Finally, we again turn our attention to the bearers of regal gifts, the kings who sought their King. Like the lamb and the shepherds before them, these voyagers also provided an important symbol of Jesus the Messiah. That there was a fairly lengthy interval between the appearance of the first two parties and this last one is instructive. The Christ has already consummated His mission as sacrificial Lamb; the fruition of that sacrifice, to some extent, now depends on us as individuals. In like manner, Jesus already stands as Shepherd, ever seeking and beckoning us to His arms of safety. Nevertheless, though He is most certainly “The God of the whole earth” (Isaiah 54:5), His return to Earth as “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16) is yet future. Let that not dissuade us from allowing Him His rightful place as King over our individual and familial territories and Lord of our lives. We can choose to do so now, or be compelled to do so later, for the day will surely come when “As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me” (Romans 14:11). As we choose to place Him in his proper position of preeminence, we will be prepared for the day when He returns, clothed in royal power and glory—and we will welcome it.
The Testimony, Last of All
I close with a simple declaration of my faith in Jesus the Messiah. I know that He was indeed born of a virgin and is the very reason that we celebrate the Christmas holiday. I testify that He has the power to change hearts, minds, and lives. This I can say with certainty, for I have witnessed it firsthand in His dealings in my life. I know that He suffered, died, and rose again on the third day as the conqueror of physical and spiritual death. I will ever marvel at His mercy and grace for me, and I would surely be lost without Him. That, to me, is the real miracle of Christmas—that I am not lost, despite the multitude of mistakes that so easily besets me. I pray that each of us will, during this special season of celebration, allow Him to take center stage in our hearts and homes. He is, after all, the most important player in this production that we call life. Merry Christmas.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
"Then wake up and do something more - Than dream of your mansion above - Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure - A blessing of duty and love."
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Friday, November 7, 2008
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
We can certainly admit that in today’s world, this infatuation with self has become pervasive. It is evidenced even by the ways in which we are offered opportunities for improvement and advancement. We are taught to improve our self-esteem and self-concept by going to the self-help section of the bookstore and buying books that will help us fix our own problems by overcoming things like self-loathing, self-abuse, etc. The abundance of these "self"-ish words in our everyday lexicon is troubling to me. It is an indication to me of just how perilous a state our world is really in. The self-help movement (in my humble opinion) epitomizes another item on Paul’s aforementioned list: "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Timothy 3:5). Paul continues, "From such turn away" (2 Timothy 3:5).
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for fixing our life problems the best we can; I just don’t believe that we can do that by ourselves. Let us not forget Christ’s words to the scribes in the synagogue after stating that he had come to heal the brokenhearted: "And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself" (Luke 4:23). Contrast this theoretical rabbinic injunction with Christ’s own statement, alluded to both above and in a previous post [see Desires – The Hole in Our Hearts]: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted … This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:18, 21). Self-help is, in reality, the antithesis of the way to true and lasting change; it has the form, but not the power. Only God can provide the power to help us make all the necessary changes in our lives and our relationships. We must "turn away" from the concept of self-help and turn toward Him, fully embracing the concept of God-help (or receiving divine assistance).
In fact, I believe that nearly all of the "self"-ish words we use can change for the better when we adopt an approach that is God-centered rather than self-centered; let me give you a few examples.
SELF-ESTEEM becomes GOD-ESTEEM. Rather than putting ourselves first, we put Him first. This is necessary if we are to obey the great ancient commandment given to Moses: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). This mandate of exclusion includes ourselves; when self-worship exceeds our worship of God, it is the very essence of vanity and the opposite of humility.
SELF-CONCEPT becomes GOD-CONCEPT. It is impossible to truly understand ourselves unless we understand Him. We must accept that He is truly our Father; we are literally His divine sons and daughters, created in His image: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:27). With this understanding of our divine heritage, we can begin to grasp the concept of who we really are. Without it, our view becomes distorted and we not only forget God, but despise Him. "The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood" (Moses 7:32-33 – emphasis added). Thus …
SELF-HATRED becomes GOD-HATRED. If we truly are His creations, His children, we cannot hate ourselves without displaying contempt for Him, the Creator.
I could continue this list, but I won’t. I’d rather have you examine some more "self-" words on your own and think of how the concepts those words describe are enriched by focusing on God instead of on oneself. I know that as we shift from self-centeredness to Christocentricity, our lives and our relationships will be fuller, richer, and more beautiful.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Unfortunately, this is often the essence of our own worldview as well. The difference between my son’s view and our own is not one of style, but simply which letter we recognize. Instead of the letter B, we become obsessed with the letter I. We each let our world become nothing but I’s and gibberish. This excessive focus on "I" blurs our vision and inhibits our recognition of other letters. In a related paradox, the English word "eye," pronounced the same way as the aforementioned letter I, doesn’t contain the letter at all. If our eye is to be at all useful, it must expand its scope and see the whole alphabet, of which the "I" is but a small part.
I submit to you that there are more important letters in the world than the letter I. The letter U, for example, is certainly more important. I am convinced that if we as individuals focused a lot more on "U" and a lot less on "I," our lives and our relationships would be better for it. Try it, and see how it works. Step out of your comfort zone. You will come to see that from each individual first-person perspective, there is really only one "I" in the world, while the supply of "U’s" is nearly endless. As we adopt this point of view, the amount of time we spend focusing on "I," when compared to the amount of time we spend on "U’s," will begin to mirror this proportion.
While "U’s" are exceedingly more abundant and important than "I", there are two letters that surpass even the "U’s" in importance. They are the Greek letters Α and Ω. When our eye is fixed upon these two letters, our vision, rather than being limited, is actually enhanced. It is only when we focus on Α and Ω that we can see things as they really are, for a singular focus on Α and Ω allows us to see all other letters (as well as numbers, objects, and everything else) in their proper light.
[Note: Α and Ω - See Revelation 1:8 & 11, Revelation 21:6, and Revelation 22:13.]
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Noted French scientist/philosopher Blaise Pascal stated: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be satisfied by any created thing, but only by God, the creator” (as cited in Chamberlain, Wanting More, p. 90 – see book list). If Pascal’s assertion is true (and I believe it is), it puts us in a potentially precarious position when we face the prospect of assuring that our desires and intentions are pure and “best.” Why? Because the heart is the metaphorical center of desire, and it has a big fat hole in it.
The truth is that we as human beings know about the hole. We recognize that we are lacking something - we just don’t always know what that something is. As such, we often try to fill the void we sense, the hole in our hearts, with other things: material goods, the praise of our peers, sexual pleasure, sumptuous food, and mood-altering substances are a few things that readily spring to mind. The problem we face is that those things don’t fit into the hole, but we try to cram them in there anyway. Figuratively speaking, we, like the pretentious step-sister attempting to stuff her awkward foot into the delicate glass slipper near the end of Disney’s Cinderella, find ourselves exclaiming, “I’ll make it fit!” All too often our hearts meet the same cruel fate as the glass slipper; they are not just broken, but shattered. In such a position, it is difficult (if not impossible) for the desires of our hearts to be upon those things that are most beneficial to us.
Thankfully, however, there is still hope. There is One whose expressly stated mission is “to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18). He, the Creator, can both repair our hearts and fit perfectly into the holes therein. It is only then, as we allow Him to inspire our desire, that we can be absolutely sure that our hearts are set upon that which is not only good, but that which is best. This is true both in the ultimate, eternal sense as well as in the minutiae of everyday life. When our hearts are purified by Him, our existing skills and talents (as well as those we will yet develop) will truly work to our ultimate benefit. Only then will our relationships be heavenly.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Pretty cool commercial, huh? It used to give me the chills when I was a kid (actually, it still does). As a kid, I was obsessed with Michael Jordan. He could do things with a basketball that I could never dream of duplicating; he never ceased to amaze. [Note: I am still enthralled by my old videos of Michael Jordan, basketball player. I am considerably less enthralled by Michael Jordan, husband - but the point of all of this is not Michael Jordan. It is, as always, finding the truth wherever we can and yielding to it whatever the cost. Can we find truth in a Nike commercial? Sure ... if we want to.] After watching the commercial, we are prompted to ask ourselves the ever-important question, "So what?" Each of you will answer that question for himself, but here's my version.
The last line Jordan speaks in the commercial seems to contradict fundamental logic. He states: "I've failed over, and over, and over again in my life - and that is why I succeed." Huh? Failing repeatedly doesn't make you a success; it makes you a FAILURE, right? Well, not so fast. Michael Jordan the basketball player was anything but a failure. I could list his exceedingly numerous accolades, but I don't think that's necessary. Suffice it to say that he is widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time. So wait, failing repeatedly did make him a success? Again, not so fast. We don't remember him because of his failures, but in spite of them. The lesson for us: Persistence Pays. If Jordan had begun to think of himself as a failure the first time he missed a game-winner, or when he was cut from his high school team, etc., that's exactly what he would have been. But he didn't see himself that way. He knew he was a winner; as such, he kept working, kept practicing, kept striving for excellence, even when he had become the best at what he did.
As we strive to improve our relationships, there will inevitably be times when we fail. We might even metaphorically trip on our own feet as we go up for a breakaway layup. It's easy to do, especially when we are trying to do things we have never done before. However, we must remember the axiom: Persistence Pays. We may have a desire to improve our relationships, we may even have great plans for doing so - and those great plans just might blow up in our faces. I promise you, though, that it is true: Persistence Pays. Even if things don't go the way we plan on the first try, or the second, or the fifth, we must not give up. If we sincerely strive to improve our relationships, I know without a doubt that our best efforts will be magnified. A loving Father will help us to make our "best" better, and in time, change will come. Our plans will get better, our implementation of those plans will get better, our relationships and our lives will get better, if we will but apply this truth: Persistence Pays.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
But what if we were to view adversity in a different light? Another definition of the word “adverse” is “confronting.” Thus, if we adapt our perspective a bit, adversity can be viewed as an opportunity for confrontation to occur. The confrontation of which I speak is not that of a person confronting an external force or event – it is an internal, intra-personal confrontation, a chance for a person to confront himself. Let me give you an example that will help illustrate this point.
Some time ago, I was going through life convinced that I was doing my best, though I had a perpetual sense of discontent. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I started to experience seizure-like convulsions, body spasms, facial tics, and other similar symptoms. I was rendered relatively helpless; I took a leave of absence from my job and basically just lay on the couch most of the time. My wife was convinced I was going to die, and I was forced to strongly consider the possibility as well. As it turns out, I’m not (at least I don’t think so - I still don’t really know what’s wrong, but I take medication and it helps a lot). I will be forever grateful, however, that for a time it seemed as though I would.
Why would I be grateful for thinking I was at death’s door? Why would I continue to be grateful for the “bad days” - the days when I don’t have a lot of control over what my body does? For the very reason I stated above: it gave and continues to give me the opportunity to confront myself. At the time I began having seizures, there were some things in my life and my relationships that were amiss. Thinking I was going to die forced me to face reality - truths that I had known, but refused to know, for some time. I realized just how fragile and fleeting life could be, and I started the process of trying to get the affairs of my life in order.
Is my life perfect? Far from it. But I am happy to say that it is a lot better than it was a few months ago. I have begun to make a more serious effort to see things as they really are and to yield to the truth, whatever the cost. My life and my relationships are better for it. I am constrained, like Paul of old, to “glory in my infirmities … for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). This is true only because of the vicarious power that is available to me when I choose to accept it. The crux of the matter then, for all of us, is this: How do we view adversity, and how do we react to it? Do we view it as a miserable catastrophe and become miserable ourselves as a result? Or do we view it as an opportunity for self-analysis and for receiving healing and cleansing power from above? These are questions that each individual must answer for himself.