What God Thinks of You

This morning I pulled out the hymnal during my worship time, and one of the songs I sang was “What Child Is This?”, a Christmas carol. I’ve sung it and heard it all my life, but never had really considered the second verse before. The wording is a little confusing:
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

The first half is pretty obvious. Why would any child be born in a barn and laid to sleep in feed trough? That’s pretty lowly conditions (“mean estate”). On top of that, the chorus has already identified Him as Christ the King. But the second half of that verse is where, when you are singing, or listening to, the verse, it is easy to miss the punctuation. It sounds as though Christians are being exhorted to fear on behalf of sinners. But then, that leaves the last phrase kind of just hanging.

Why is this child lying in a hay bin in a barn? Because here, in this place, at this time, this child is the logos, the thought of God regarding mankind and the reconciliation of sinful man to God. He is the living Word of God, expressed into the world in the human form of a tiny, newborn infant. He is the Word, made flesh and living among us in the simplest, most common, humble form. He is God’s own intercession, pleading for sinful man.

God loves you. The creator of the universe compacted Himself into the form of an infant and slept in a box made to hold hay for cattle or sheep. Calvin Miller, in his book “A Symphony in Sand” gives several eloquent descriptions of this event:

“God has umbilicaled Himself to straw,
Laid by His thunderbolts and learned to cry.”

“No shot was ever heard around the world.
In fact, in all of human history
Only two sounds have been heard around the entire world…
The first:
A newborn baby’s cry, saying, ‘It is begun.’
The second:
A young man’s dying cry, saying, ‘It is finished.'”

“The vast Earthmaker, cosmic in His Grace,
Has locked Himself within a little space.
Behold, He whimpers weakly in a world
He made in strength. He who owns all lands
Is now reduced to poverty. He cannot walk
Who strode the galaxies. His tiny hands
Once light-years wide, are chubby-fingered now.
His dying world was weeping in the night.
He would not let it languish without light!”

Here, in this manger, this feed trough, God’s thought, His logos, the Living Word of God, bundled in a tiny, silent, sleeping infant, is the expression of His intercession, His pleading, for fallen man.

Here in this feed trough, the living Word of God, bundled in a tiny, sleeping infant, is the expression of God's own pleading for fallen man. Click To Tweet

What does God think of you? He thinks Jesus. He thinks He should confine His infinite, divine nature in human flesh. He thinks, in His purity and holiness, He should die for your sins, to wash you clean, to forgive you, make you pure and without fault or blemish, so that you can live every moment of every day in fellowship with Him. You can be in His presence. You can be His dwelling place. When God thinks of you, He loves you, and expresses it by taking on a human life, so that He can lay that life down for you, the ultimate expression of love.

God's thoughts about you are shouted into reality through His living Word expressed in a silent, sleeping baby. Click To Tweet

Don’t Need Religion; but Could You Use Some Love?

A young person told me not too long ago that he “has no use for religion.” While my initial thought was, “neither do I. In fact, I have less use for it and interest in it than you do,” his comment got me thinking. I have proclaimed for decades that Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship; and, no, I didn’t originate it, nor am I the only one who holds that position.

The word religion commonly refers to some concept of reverencing God, or gods. It can refer to a particular set of beliefs, or a system of beliefs, or set of behaviors revolving around a concept of deity. It can also refer to “any object of conscientious regard and pursuit.” In other words, one can be “religious” about pretty much anything. Frankly, some of the most religious people I have ever known are atheists who fervently seek out ways and opportunities to deny the existence of God. Some pursue science with a passion more intense than that which drives most Christians. Many are aggressively “evangelistic” in proclaiming their message.

Here’s the kicker. The word religion comes from the Latin word “religare,” meaning to bind back, to restrain. It suggests the use of strong force or authority to hold back, prevent, suppress or control.

Jesus said He came to give us abundant life. He said we would find freedom in Him. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul said, “the love of Christ constrains us.” Of the three Greek words that could be translated “constrain,” two hold the idea of using force or entreaty to make something happen, even against nature, somewhat like the Latin religare. The one Paul chose means “to hold or keep together, confine [as opposed to allowing to fall apart], to secure.”

In other words, we are not forced or manipulated or otherwise made to believe in Jesus, we have found His love, and it embraces us, hold us together, and we revel in it. It is a relationship, not a set of rules or beliefs, not a system of beliefs or behaviors. It is not law, it is Spirit and life and grace. Rituals, systems, or methods can be used to help us learn and grow. They may help some enrich and better understand their relationship. But when these things get in the way of grace, when they become laws to live by, they are just dead works without any positive, eternal effect. (That’s why Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, see Gal.5:4).

The apostles were willing to die for their risen Lord. Religion didn't make them do that Click To Tweet

The apostles all died for their faith, most by cruel, unthinkable torture. They did not die for a system of beliefs. They did not die to defend a set of rituals, or even a way of life. They certainly did not die just to hide a lie. Do you really think if they had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb they would have allowed themselves to be persecuted, tortured and killed without confessing? They knew the resurrection was real, and they were willing to die for their risen Lord. Religion didn’t make them do that.

So, to my young friend, believe me, while you may say you have no use for religion, no one has less use for religion than one who has experienced the love of Jesus. Do you have any use for love? You will never find deeper, wider, higher, longer love than the love of Christ. You will never find greater, more lavish, more intimate, more liberating love than you will find through Jesus.


Resurrection Day

The newsletter the  church mailed out had an article reminding everyone that April 20th is “Resurrection Sunday.”  The purpose of the article was to remind members to invite people, because it is one of the most attended Sunday’s of the year.  And, because of that, protocols are needed to make sure the guests feel welcome.  For example, park near the back of the lot so guests can find spaces closer to the building.  Sit near the back of the auditorium so guests aren’t shunted to the back and can sit closer to the front.  That’s all well and good.  I was mostly just kind of excited they were calling it Resurrection Celebration and not “Easter.”

Still, it begs the question:  If this is the “resurrection celebration Sunday,” why do we gather on Sunday the other 51 weeks out of the year?

The early Christians understood Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, so they considered themselves to still be Jewish.  As such, they still met on the Sabbath, the 7th day of the week.  Until they were thrown out, they met in the temple or synagogue with other Jews.  They also met on the first day of the week, because it was on the first day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead.  They didn’t do this once a year.  They did it once a week.  In other words – every Sunday was a resurrection celebration.  That was the whole point of meeting on the first day of the week.

It’s really a little sad that the modern church misses this, and gives a nod to the resurrection once a year.  When they do, they blur it even more with Easter egg hunts, etc.  Now, I understand, and see the value in activities like this engaging the community and getting more people in to hear the message.  Even so, I can’t help but acknowledging that we wind up celebrating a pagan fertility idol instead of the Creator of life.

Spring is a beautiful time of the year.  As I get older, I’m learning that every season of the year is beautiful, even brown, barren Winter.  But there is no denying that Spring is special.  I love it when the redbuds begin to bloom with a soft pastel mist of green from all the billions of little seeds covering the elm trees.  It means it won’t be long until Spring actually arrives with its array of colorful blooming flowers and layer upon layer of shades of green.  It is a time of wonder and delight.

Rom.1:20

Spring is a season of opportunity.  The greatest opportunity is that of pointing to all the new growth and changes and beauty and teaching our children of the amazing creator who made it all.  The beauty of creation testifies of His eternal power and divine nature.  It isn’t about appeasing an idol in order to have an effective planting.  It isn’t about worshiping some “lesser” god or goddess of the season who is bringing an end to winter.  It really is just another revolution of the seasons.  But it is beautiful to our eyes, and that does make for a unique opportunity to tell of the handiwork and majesty and love of God the Creator.  Click here to see the description my 2nd great grandfather gave in the 1860s.

Bottom line:  We need to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus year round.  Without it, the grave wins.  Without it, death wins.  Because of it, we have eternal life.  Because of it, we can abide in the presence of the living, holy creator God, the one true and living God.  It is our victory.  On the cross Jesus paid the price for our sins.  Spiritually, His death there is our death, our penalty paid, our death because of sin and our death to sin.  But what then? Resurrection!  New life in Christ.  The resurrection is what separates Christianity from all the religions of the world.  In no other religion does God Himself take on humanity, live a sinless life, die because of the sins of man and because of His love for man (not because of the sins, failure, foolishness of the god himself) and rise from the dead for the purpose of making man holy and pure and able to enter into a relationship with God (not in order to bring an end to winter and make the land fertile for Spring planting).  It is what makes relationship with God possible, and is why many assert that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion.  It is a once and for all atonement, not an annual, recurring event.  We should celebrate it every time we gather, and not just once a year.

Years ago, I was talking with a co-worker who claimed to be an atheist.  However, when I spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, he said, “The resurrection is the strongest argument in favor of Christianity.  If it’s true, then what the Bible says about Jesus is true.”

It’s true.  And we, as Christians, need to live in the joy and fullness of it year round, not just one day a year, buried under the trappings of eggs, bunnies and chocolate.

As Christians, we need to live in the joy and fullness of the resurrection year round, not just one day a year. Click To Tweet

The Christmas Mystery

How can rational, 21st century man embrace a religion founded some 2,000 years ago? I’m sorry, but how can he not? How can he not realize that although man is building and discovering and accomplishing amazing things, man has not changed. He is still brutal, manipulative, self-centered, and downright ugly at heart – capable of amazing anger, bitterness, cruelty, harshness and vitriol. Yes, much harm has been done in the name of Christ and the so-called “Christian religion.” But this is not the Christ or the Christianity of the Bible.

christmas_love

“The Christmas Mystery” evokes images of a fictional story taking place at Christmas time involving searching for something, or solving some crime, or reasoning out someone’s strange behavior. There are myriad of possibilities, many of which have been explored in books and movies and TV programs. But this mystery was proclaimed centuries, even millennia ago. It was revealed on that first Christmas night when a young man and woman, deeply in love with one another, found refuge in a barn and laid their newborn baby in a bed of hay in a trough used for feeding cattle – a manger.

What was so mysterious about this event? We’ve told the story countless times in countless ways. We have sung songs about it. We have made into the biggest event on our annual calendar.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote out a prayer. He prayed that God would grant, according to the riches of His glory, two things:

  1. You to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man
  2. Christ to indwell your heart through faith

There is a wealth of truth in those two phrases, but for now, let’s focus on the indwell part. The word used there means to be at home. Literally, it could be translated “to house down.” That’s kind of an odd way of saying it, but it means to settle in, to be not just in a place of dwelling, but to be comfortably at home.

The results of this prayer would be that you would comprehend the full dimensions of the love of Christ and know it in a way that would surpass all knowledge, and that you would “be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

Paul described himself as a steward of “the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from the ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the gory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27)

The Christmas story is not just a baby in a manger, it is God indwelling His people. It is the gospel story of this child, God with us – Emmanuel – God among us – the creator wrapping Himself in the creation, confining Himself to this tiny little wrapper, growing as a child, becoming a man, living a sinless life, making knowing and fully depending on the heavenly Father His top priority – taking on the death of the cross – the One who did not deserve death dying for those of us who do, then conquering death through the resurrection.  So that He can abide eternally, not just in heaven, but in the each heart that follows Him by faith.

Colossians 1:21-27 – “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach – if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard… Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Not just God with us, but Christ in us. That is the mystery of Christmas. God became man and dwelt among us. In doing so, he only began enacting a series of events that would result in the creator of the universe coming to make His home in your heart. In the process, He would make you holy and blameless and beyond reproach. He would make you a house so beautiful that God Himself would be comfortable dwelling there.

 

Two songs

My sin – oh wait. this is so cool. Just the thought of this makes me overflow with joy
My sin – not just part of it, not just one sin, but all of it!
Every sin I’ve ever done is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. It is well with my soul.

Or, as Philip Bliss put it:

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.
It is well, It is well with my soul.

And then there’s this jewel by my dear friend Dennis Jernigan. It’s called “I Will Run to the Arms of My Father.” It’s been awhile since I sang this one, but I pulled it out during my quiet time, and as I sang and thought about how much my heavenly Father really loves me and delights in me, I thought of family and friends who need to hear this. Not just hear it with their ears, but hear it and receive it in their hearts! Oh, to know the love of the Father – God, who not only loves, but is Himself the true meaning of love – who directs that love toward you and me. He loves us with a love a love that will not let us go.

Again I’m brought to the prayer:

Lord, grant them to be strengthened with might by Your Spirit in their innermost being,
and grant Christ to indwell their hearts through faith,
so that:
they may be able to really grasp, really embrace in their heart of hearts,
the breadth and length and height and depth – the full dimensions of the love of Christ
and to truly know – experientially, personally, see it for themselves so that they truly know – the love of Christ, which is greater than all other knowledge!
and be filled with all the fullness of God.

May Christ truly be that at home in your heart today. May he feel totally, comfortably at home in you. And may you find yourself to be enabled with His ability, strengthened with His strength, empowered with His power, by His Spirit in your spirit. God loves you that much! He, the God of the universe, the creator of the universe, wants to confine Himself to that itty-bitty space – inside of you, so that You can know and experience a universe size love. And so, He sent His son to live as man, an innocent, holy life, and die on a cross – taking all of your sin and mine with Him there, and leaving it there – nailed to the cross, so we bear it no more.

God, the creator of the universe confines Himself in itty-bitty me so I can know a universe size love. Click To Tweet

hislove

Come Inside

Old Covenant

  • The animal was sacrificed in front of the people – daily sacrifices, annual feast days, and the day of atonement – outside the tent of meeting.
  • The blood of the sacrifice was taken into the tent of meeting and sprinkled before the veil and on the four horns of the altar of incense.
  • The remainder of the blood was poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice before the people.
  • The people remained in the outer court, as onlookers, while the priests ministered within the place of meeting. The veil hung in the temple to separate the holy place where the priests ministered, from the holy of holies in which the glory of God dwelt, and into which the high priest could enter only once a year, with the proper preparation and sacrifice.
  • It was a system of repeated rituals.

New Covenant

  • Jesus was taken to a hillside where he died in public view, once for all.
  • Jesus’ hung on the cross, blood flowing from His head, hands and feet; and He turned the cross into an altar of incense as He interceded for His executioners.
  • Jesus’ blood was poured out at the foot of His cross, before a crowd of on-lookers.
  • We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh (Hebrews 10:19-20). This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us… (Hebrews 6:19-20).
  • It was a once and for all work by God on our behalf.

We do not have to stand in the outer court and watch ever again. Christianity is not meant to be a spectator religion. You do not have to watch while the “priest” (or any “professional Christian”) ministers on your behalf. The veil was torn. Jesus made a way for us to abide in the presence of God. It is no longer a once a year thing reserved for the priesthood. It is no longer confined to a place – not a tabernacle, a temple, or even a church building. It is offered to us as our day-to-day experience and lifestyle. Will you be content to stand on the outside looking in?

When you call out as David did, “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness,” He bids you to enter into His presence, into the Holy of Holies. He bids you to draw near to Him, “having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” by means of an eternal, once for all redemption.

When you long for Him to “hide Your face from my sins,” He says, “I did.” When He turned His back on His Son, prompting Him to cry out, “My God, why have You forsaken me?”, He was turning His back and hiding His face from your sins and mine.

Bottom line, He has done it all. He has covered the bases. He has made the way for you to be restored to a loving, living relationship with Him. Your part is to stop trying to fight Him. Stop running from Him. Stop trying to please or appease Him. Stop trying to make yourself acceptable to Him. Becoming a Christian is not something that you do by your own self-effort. Your part is to cease from your efforts and find the rest for which you are searching by trusting that what Jesus did was sufficient to meet your needs, to make you clean and whole, to straighten out the mess you and others have made of your life, and to make you acceptable to God. Rest in Him and His finished work on your behalf.

If you are a Christian, whether you realized the process or not, that is what happened when you became a Christian. It is what every Believer has in common. No matter what your testimony is as to how you came to Christ, this underlying process is what took place at salvation. You get in by the cross. You get in by grace, through faith. You get in by ceasing from your efforts and resting (trusting, “faithing”) in His.

Have you been an “outer court Christian?” Are you learning to draw near to Him, to abide in His presence? Can you see God teaching you through your day-to-day experiences?