Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Self-Emptying Lord of Life

If you’ve done any genealogy projects in your life then you know how exciting it can be to find a famous person in your ancestry. Even if you don’t find any famous people (or infamous people), like Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or a King of England, it is really amazing to find the names of those who came before you, where they lived, what occupations they had, and even what religion they were. 

Imagine for a moment that you are drawing the family tree of Joseph - which is exactly what Matthew does for us in this first chapter of his gospel. As we get close to Mary’s husband we hear how there was a man called Eliud, then his son was Eleazar, whose son was Matthan, who was the father of Joseph. But what is most remarkable to those who are in the line of King David is the child of Joseph - his name was Jesus which means “God saves.” Just imagine the excitement of discovering in your family lineage the Savior of the nations - God in the flesh - the incarnate Word.  

This would be a profound discovery to say the least! 

Matthew recalls the story by saying, “Joseph, husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” which means God’s special choice, Messiah, anointed one. Both Matthew and Luke tell us that this happened by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
The best part about it is that, even if we cannot place ourselves in those boxes and in the lines of a drawn family tree, we know for certain that we are a part of this King of king’s family. We are all children of the Lord and we have all been offered the precious gift of God’s eternal salvation through this one - Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem. 

You know the heroic story of Joseph (Matthew 1) - his courage and selflessness, and his faith. It is much to be admired for sure, but I want to continue where we left off in Advent with the songs of salvation:
  • Magnificat (My soul magnifies the Lord)
  • Benedictus (Blessed be the Lord God of Israel)
  • Nunc dimitus (Now you let your servant depart in peace)
  • All are songs of salvation inspired by the Holy Spirit at the time before and after Christ’s birth. There’s one more song that is very important for us as people of faith. It was written down by St. Paul, though likely not penned by him. It would have been a hymn of the early church that the Philippians were familiar with. It is called the Kenosis hymn. 
  • Kenosis is a Greek word that means “to empty.”
'Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Php 2:5–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

The miracle of the incarnation of God (God taking on flesh and becoming human) is that God in Jesus emptied himself of all power. He put aside all glory, strength and might that was a part of his divinity - to be birthed in a stable amongst the smallest and most insignificant of clans in Bethlehem. 

Let’s just say - if you had the power to create everything out of nothing the way that God created the heavens and the earth and all that exists - would you be willing to give it all away? Would you set it aside? Would you give up your claim? 
You would if you loved someone enough. You would if you were the Christ. We are the someones that God loved so much that he took on flesh and blood in order to save us from sin and death. 

Humanity was in a terrible predicament before Christ’s arrival. We were failing miserably at keeping our side of the covenant relationship with God. We were captive to sin, disobedient to God’s will, and stubborn as stubborn could be. We still are! But there’s good news that saves us from such rebellion. God didn’t come to us as a helpless infant only to take up his divine power again! What he did for us was to put that power aside - it was the only way to change things for humanity because humanity couldn’t do it for ourselves and there existed a great chasm that separate people from the Heavenly Creator. 

As we hear Paul speak about the humility of Christ, it is impossible for us to grasp because we are so deeply bound to our ego. We let our pride and ego take over all the time. We point the finger at other’s sin and fail to acknowledge our own. We fail to put Christ first in our lives - yet we practically demand that he listen to our woes. We worship him when it’s convenient for us; and we hide from him what we don’t want to admit to ourselves. 

But the kenosis hymn reminds us of the depths of God’s grace for those who believe. It reveals to us the steadfast love and tenderness of our God. It assures us that there is no fear of God’s retribution in our lives because of this One: “Who though he was in the form of God (meaning he shared the very character and nature of God) did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped.”  Jesus did not count on his godliness to get him through human life. He never held onto it or retained it by force or otherwise. Rather, he emptied himself of his divinity by taking on the form of a servant. 

The word "servant" is actually SLAVE in Greek (doulos)

Jesus became less than human in order to save humanity. He became subservient to the likes of Peter the deny-er, James & John - the power hungry, Mary - his mother who demanded he turn water into wine before he was ready to reveal himself to the public, Thomas - the doubter, Pilate- the Roman governor who washed his hands of Jesus even though he knew He was innocent, Judas- the traitor, Caiaphas & Annas- the Jewish high priests who were terrified of the impact Jesus was having on the people, and Barabbas the murderer, the one the crowd demanded to be set free at the Passover. 

Jesus lowered himself - below the best and the worst of the human race. And the culmination of that self-emptying was his death on a Roman torture instrument. That death put an end to ALL death for those who believe. And the wood that was his manger became the wood of his cross. 

"Therefore" - Paul says- 
(Notice how the word “Therefore” is loaded with anticipation and answers!) "Therefore, God has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name SO THAT - at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven or on earth or under the earth. AND every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord!"

Jesus is first in our lives. 
Jesus is the master we answer to, who loves us unto death. 
God became a slave so that we could be free:
Free from sin
Free from death
Free to live as his precious sons and daughters. 

Christ emptied himself so that we might be filled. Merry Christmas! Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Daily Devotions: Psalm 126

Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
   we were like those who dream. 
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
   and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
   ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ 
The Lord has done great things for us,
   and we rejoiced. 

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
   like the watercourses in the Negeb. 
May those who sow in tears
   reap with shouts of joy. 
Those who go out weeping,
   bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
   carrying their sheaves.

Read this psalm hymn over a few times to get the true feeling present within it. 
Do you feel the joy in the words? A restoration joy? 

This is the joy we feel when we know we've been delivered through some terrible existence, captivity, malady, or curse. We feel completely free knowing that we can begin again with new dreams, renewed hope, and the freedom to laugh and rejoice. This is not a state of being we can create for ourselves. You know this to be true if you've ever suffered anxiety, worry, or depression. One day you feel awful, like there is no hope in the world, that the darkness will swallow you whole; the next day you can barely remember how desperate you felt. This newness of life comes to us by the Spirit of God - plain and simple is the fact that we cannot manufacture it on our own. No amount of positive thinking will create restoration joy! It is a gift of the Spirit to us even in times of sorrow. Our freedom comes from Christ, through his death and resurrection we are given restoration and a new beginning. (Daily!! Moment by moment even!) 

This is cause for great joy!

Loving God, we give you thanks for pulling us out of the muck and mire of this human life and giving us a chance to dream again. Fill us with your Holy Spirit that we would be filled with joy and laughter all our days. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent Devotions: John 1:6-8, 19-28

John 1

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ 21And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ 22Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 23He said,
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ 26John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Who are you? 
That was the question the people asked John the Baptist. Are you Elijah? The Messiah? The prophet? The one we've waited for for so long?
John's answer to all of these questions was a simple "no." "I am none of these. I am the voice in the wilderness calling all to repent and prepare the way of the Lord. I am not worthy to untie the laces of his nike's - this One for whom you wait." 

Notice how John didn't answer by telling about himself - "Well, I'm the son of Zechariah the priest. I went to Bethany High School where I was 'all world' in soccer and chariot games. I have a Phd. in hydro-science, and I was Phi Beta Kappa in college." Not at all. It wasn't about him. It was singularly about the coming Christ, of whom John was sent to serve by smoothing the way for him. His job was to be the attention grabber - not for himself but for Jesus who was about to break in on the human scene. It was all for the purpose of bringing the good news of salvation. 

We too are unworthy to lace up Jesus' shoes or fix him a meal or wash his clothing, and yet he welcomes it as an act of love and service. He wants us to do it for the least of humanity thereby we do it for him. But also, like John we are called to prepare the way for the Lord, not by telling others who we are, but by pointing to Christ. Who we are is only in relation to who HE is. Who we are doesn't matter much at all if we aren't basing our existence on the Savior. 

*** In what ways do you see yourself as "child of God," "son or daughter of the King of kings," rather than all the labels that we tend to put on ourselves in order to make people notice us or command respect? 

Holy God, you are the source of our identity and it is through Christ that we are saved from the power of sin, death and the devil. Grant us to see the only identity that truly matters - children of the King. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Advent Devotions: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Have you ever asked yourself, "What is the will of God for me?" Have you ever asked the Lord in prayer, "Lord, what is your holy will for my life?" Most followers of Christ at some point want to discern this question, seeking to be obedient to God's will in our lives. 

The truth is, there are many, many things that we could be or do that would fit into God's will for our lives. There's not just one vocation, or one location where we can serve. God can use us wherever we are; the key to being within God's will is given in this passage. Read it again. 

Did you catch it? "Rejoice ALWAYS." That means no matter the circumstances of life through at you - be filled with joy! The Spirit provides this joy for you so you don't have to be concerned with manufacturing it on your own. The joy of the Lord is a true joy that comes even in the worst of times - especially in the darkest of times.

"Give thanks in ALL circumstances." This can be a tough one, even for the most trusting disciples. But that's the message - give thanks in ALL circumstances! You have no idea in this moment what God will provide for you and he wants you to trust him fully and completely. You can't do that if you are depending on your own brute strength to get you through, now can you? You can't let God be God if you have to be in control! So give thanks in those moments when you have lost control, because there God will gladly take over with his perfect, Fatherly love and care.

So, back to the will of God in our lives --- two things that characterize it and the rest is up for grabs as to circumstances, holy choices, location, vocation etc. 1) Rejoice Always and 2) Give thanks in all circumstances. 

For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, for YOU! Amen.

Holy God, grant that we would turn our worries and our whole lives over to you and give thanks for whatever may come our way for we know that you are present with us in sickness and in health and in feast or famine. Help us to follow your will and grant us peace. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent Devotions: Luke 2:29-32

Luke 2:29-32

‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’

Have you ever had to wait a very, very long time for something you truly wanted? What was that waiting like? (Frustrating? Peaceful? Excruciating? Calm?) Perhaps what the wait is like has something to do with our faith - when we trust in the Lord, our wait is much easier. Simeon, who sang this song when he met the infant Jesus after waiting for so long, waited patiently and trusted that the Lord would do as he said. Simeon could now die in peace as God's word had been fulfilled - with Simeon's very own eyes he beheld the glory of the Lord's Messiah. We can imagine Mary placing the baby into the old man's arms, moved by his words of wisdom and faith. Perhaps he put his face near the infant's to see him better, as the elderly often do when holding a child so they can see their face with aged eyes. No doubt, it had to be a precious and tender moment in the memory of the young mother as she thought about it later. A source of comfort and hope in those times when she would have to wait for God to act, like as she stood at the foot of her son's cross on Calvary, or as she grieved his death over that Sabbath night.

We all have moments when we have to wait for God to act. But act he does! In the waiting time we cling to our faith that God's promises are indeed trustworthy and true and we will see the Lord's salvation with our own eyes just like Simeon.

Holy Lord, give us patience and hope as we wait and watch for the return of the Messiah on the last day. Fill our hearts with your light and love, and encourage to recall your wondrous deeds that happen in your time, not ours. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.