Friday, December 18, 2015

Advent Day 15: Love beyond obligation

Have you ever felt obligated? Obligated means that you are legally or morally constrained to do something. You may be obligated to do your chores or go to school. When you get a job, you will be obligated to show up on time, work hard, and do the tasks you are given. You are obligated to obey your parents and when you get married, you have a whole new set of obligations. Life is filled with obligation. It is just the way it works. It isn’t bad, but sometimes it isn’t much fun either.

Ruth was a Moabite woman. She was not of the family of Israel. But when an Israelite family came to her land, fleeing the famine of theirs, she found herself in love with one of the sons and married him. And remember, with marriage comes obligations. His laws and customs were now her laws and customs.

But when an obligation is released is indeed the true test of love.

The father of the family died, as did the sons. Ruth’s husband died. There were all sorts of legal obligations concerning deaths and the protection of widows, mother-in-laws, etc. But the law in this case was clear: Ruth was free. Free to leave the family of her marriage, her mother in law. Free to marry again and return to her family.

But love said “no. I don’t want to leave you. I want to help you and bless you” And so Ruth returned to Israel with her Mother-in-law, Naomi. She chose to leave everything behind. She went to a place that was not her home, in poverty, in love. She now existed on the outskirts: feeding herself and her mother-in-law by picking up the leftover wheat in the fields. An obligation of the farmers to the poorest.

Love over obligation means doing your work even when your mom says you don’t need to. It means doing a job the best you can because you want to help the other person. Love over obligation is playing with a sibling when you really want to do something else. You could get ‘out” of it, but because you love that person you wouldn’t dream of it.

That woman Ruth, who chose love beyond obligation, miraculously found a husband. A wonderful husband. In fact, he owned the fields of which she begged. They would give birth to children...and would be in the direct plan of another who chose Love over Obligation.

He didn’t have to do it. He didn’t have to send His Son. We didn’t obey, we didn’t listen and we didn’t honor our part in the deal. He could have “gotten out of it” and watched as we all fell to eternal ruin.

But Love.

My child, it is not out of moral or legal duty that we are saved. No promises fulfilled by our merit or work because...we haven’t measured up. We have broken the agreement.

But love.

It is love that saves us, not obligation. Obligation stops as soon as a promise is broken. Love calls to leave behind what our heart wants because of our love for another.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son. That whoever believes should not perish but find everlasting life."

Find life today. Let the Love of God sink into your heart and spread to those who you are obligated to. Follow the Light and go further than obligation. Love beyond obligation.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent Day 14

The time was here! It was finally here! The wandering, homeless people of God were finally able to cross into their Promised land. There was only one problem: The land was occupied by another people. A people who would not just willingly hand over their territory to wandering vagabonds. Overcoming this hurdle would take belief, courage, and obedience. And God knew that Joshua was the man who would lead them into the land.

Consider what he spoke to Joshua:

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.  I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips;meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Imagine getting a pep talk like that straight from the Lord’s mouth. “I WILL GIVE you the land.” “I WILL BE WITH YOU wherever you go.” There is no room for doubt. No room to question the outcome. According to the Lord, it has already happened. Like a light shined on the dark path.

There was another person named Rahab who was more removed from the inner circle of the Lord’s people. So far removed that she was dwelling in the city that was to be destroyed. And what is more, she was a prostitute. Unclean. And completely apart from the community of God.

She was not there when the Lord passed over the chosen sons nor when the sea split in two. She had not drank the water from the rock or tasted the miraculous food, She had not experienced the love and comfort when the Giver of Light sent his Luminous Law nor had she heard the salvation message of the snakes. She had, however, heard of the Israelites. Her whole city knew about them...and about the Lord who was on their side.

She had heard  all of this, but she had not heard that God would be with her.

And so, when Israelite spies came into her city...into her home...she knew her moment had come. The King had sent his decree, “Turn over the spies so they can be killed in order to keep our city safe.” But Rahab, in faith, hid the spies and pleaded for her life. She could see the light of the Lord, shining on the future ahead of the city, and she knew the side she wanted to belong on.  

A simple instruction: “Hang this scarlet rope from your window.” Stay inside. We will pass over this house and your life will be saved.”

This act would take belief, courage and obedience. Without sight. If you think of Joshua walking a tightrope across a deep ravine filled with rocks and snakes, think of Rahab doing the same...blindfolded. That is how powerful faith is.

She courageously hid the spies from the soldiers, obediently placed her red chord in the window, and waited in faith for God’s deliverance.

Do you know what happened to Rahab? She was saved. She believed and was saved. But not only that, she was accepted into the inner circle...accepted into God’s people. What was outside and unclean became a part of God’s plan. You see...Rahab got married and had children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. One of those great, great, great, etc. grandchildren’s name would be Jesus.

The light ahead was not completely revealed to Rahab, but the path was already carved. God had chosen her while she was still an unclean gentile.

Consider the people who you see whom you would never consider to have a part in the plan of God: rug dealers, murderers, cowards, bullies, or anyone who makes you raise your eyebrows disapprovingly. Now consider that the ancestor of our very Lord was one of these.

As Paul says in Romans,
“ just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Never judge by what you can see. You don’t know the path ahead, and you don’t know who will be walking that path with you. And the truth is: not one among us is any better. Indeed, by faith we believe that we are darkness...saved by Light.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Advent Day 13

Here they were. The Israelites. Wandering around in the desert with new laws, a new leader, strange food and no more access to the comforts that come from a permanent city. They began to complain and grow weary. God was in their very midst and yet they were dissatisfied.

And so, in His love, God sent snakes into the camps.

The last time we read about a snake wandering around was bringing a message of deceit. Pain disguised as wisdom.

But these snakes were messengers of another kind: messengers calling for repentance. Wisdom disguised as pain.

Their turning from God did bring pain. Pain that could be felt but also reflected the inevitable pain that was in their hearts as they walked away from their God. Pain,that in some cases, brought death.

The people spoke against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food. The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.”

Sometimes when we go through visible pain we become more aware of God. Sometimes that is what it takes to turn our hearts towards him once again.

“So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us." And Moses interceded for the people.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live. And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”

When God sent these message bearing snakes, He sent them with a lesson: This turning from God, this grumbling, the dissatisfaction while the wonders and provision of God surround you...these are things of the darkness. They bring pain and they bring death.  

There is only one solution. Look up. Look to the cross, and be saved.

And so we, in our pain, our dissatisfaction, our doubt. We in our grumbling and longing for the things of the world. We too can be saved.

All we have to do is to look up. Look at the cross, and be saved.

Advent Day 12

Don’t, don’t do it. You are not allowed
No. No. No. No.
You cannot, you must not, you may not...

Do you just feel the love? We’ll get there.

When the Israelites fled so quickly from Egypt, they were not leaving a foreign place. They were leaving their homes. They had lived in the Land of Pharaohs for over 400 years and not even the oldest man among them remembered any other life.

The funny thing about home is that no matter how dysfunctional it may be, it is the place we are the most comfortable. It is our “place.” The family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had outgrown their small home and had become many families with many homes. They were God’s chosen family, but had no doubt forgotten how it was to work. Maybe some homes had adopted practices of the Egyptians. Perhaps they didn’t see the need to follow what was handed down from so many generations ago.

It was time to make Israel a family again with God as the Father, their Leader and their Light.

And with God as the Father, one of the first things he would do is to give laws. I know...get to the love part.

In Love, God called Abraham. In love He blessed him and gave him many descendants. In love he Saved the children of Israel. In love he guided them with His light.

And in LOVE, he told them how to live. By His Law.

The little tiny baby we celebrate this season would grow to be a man. And that man beyond all wisdom would speak these words:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The purpose of the commandments is not to stifle or confine...the purpose is literally to reflect the greatest Light Himself because God is Love. When the God of Love gave the commandments, it was so that we would be a reflection of Himself. And an amazing gift.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Day 11: Blood

It was the final blow. The last standoff.
Not the river of blood or the frogs, or the lice, or the flies.
Not the killing of the livestock, or the boils, or the thunder, or the locusts.
It wasn’t even the darkness so dark it could be felt.

“Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle.30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead.”

The Lord killed the sons of Egypt and that was a grief so dark there were no words but “Go. Away from here.” Go worship your God and get out of here.”

Blood. Blood of children. This world is not feeling like a very happy place. What does all of this mean?

Well, blood is life. Without it one dies. It moves, circling our body, giving breath to all our thoughts, giving strength to our movements. But the circle only lasts so long. When the blood stops, so does the life.

The Lord went out over Egypt and stopped life. (If this troubles you, we will read a poem afterwards. Remember that God is good.)

The plagues had come to all of Egypt...the Israelites faced them alongside the Egyptians. But when this final plague came, The final loss...

...Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “[w]Go and take for yourselves [x]lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. 22 You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you.”
A heaviness must have been over Israel that night. Rejoicing mixed with fear. Fear of the Lord and his ways. Fear of the darkness, Fear of the greatness of the Light. But they were saved from slavery and saved from death. Saved by...blood. Not their blood, but the blood of a Lamb. An innocent, pure lamb had saved them.

Are you starting to see the themes? Fathers and Sons. Light and Darkness. Blood and Salvation.

My child, if you listen to nothing else, listen to this: God it good. He is pure Light. We are evil. We have darkness stained in our hearts.  Light and darkness can not mix. When the blood in our heart stops, we go into eternal darkness because we, with darkened hearts, cannot go to God. The angel of Death will pass over and the pain and agony will be worse than the kiss of a Dementor. My child it is worse.


Unless we are marked. Marked with the Blood of the Lamb.
If you feel your darkness, if you feel your sin...if you believe that only He can save you, all you have to do is say "yes." Be washed by the Blood of the Lamb and be saved. And then make that blood visible as the Israelites marked the doors. Tell us. Tell everyone. And walk from slavery to freedom.

“ Do you Think God made you so sick?” She drew Her breath, and swallowed hard. “I know You’d like to think that there’s a foe That hurts and God that heals. And that Would not be wrong; but I have sat And pondered months in pain to see If that is true – if misery Is Satan’s work, and happiness Is God’s. Jemimah, we must bless The Lord for all that’s good and bad.” But, Papa, God’s not mean or mad. He’s not our enemy. He’s kind And gentle, isn’t he?”

“ Your mind Is right, Jemimah, but it’s small. He’s gentle, kind, but that’s not all. I have some friends who thought they knew The mind of God, and that their view Of tenderness exhausted God’s, And that severity and rods Could only be explained with blame, To vindicate his holy name.”

“ So you think it was God who made You sick?”

“ I think God never laid Aside the reins that lie against The neck of Satan, nor unfenced His pen to run at liberty, But only by the Lord’s decree.”

“ So you think God was kind to make You sick,” Jemimah asked, “and take Away your health and all your sons And friends, and daughters – all the ones You loved?”

 “ Jemimah, what I think Is this: The Lord has made me drink The cup of his severity That he might kindly show to me What I would be when only he Remains in my calamity. Unkindly he has kindly shown That he was not my hope alone.”

“ O, Papa, do you mean your friends Were right?”

“ No, no, my child, to cleanse An upright heart of toxic stains With searing irons is not like chains Laid on the soul in penalty For guile and crimes no one can see. No, they were wrong. And kindly has The Lord rebuked good Eliphaz, And I have prayed for him, and all Is well. You see, their minds were small, And they could not see painful times Apart from dark and hidden crimes. Beware, Jemimah, God is kind, In ways that will not fit your mind. It’s getting late, Jemimah, come, I think I hear the bedtime drum. My little theologian deep, It’s time to say good night and sleep.”

 Behold the mercy of our King,
Who takes from death its bitter sting,
 And by his blood, and often ours,
Brings triumph out of hostile pow’rs,
And paints, with crimson, earth and soul
Until the bloody work is whole.
 What we have lost God will restore –
 That, and himself, forevermore,
When he is finished with his art:
The quiet worship of our heart.
When God creates a humble hush,
And makes Leviathan his brush,
It won’t be long before the rod
Becomes the tender kiss of God.

Advent Day 10: Oppression Overcome

A royal decree: Kill the Hebrew baby boys. All of them.

Throw them in the river. Kill them when they are born. Whatever has to be done to stop them from threatening our way of life. Just. get. rid. of. them.

People are threatened by groups of people who see things differently than they do. As the Pharoah, this was the easiest way to assure they would not outgrow the culture they were in. It is called oppression. It isn’t good. It wasn’t the first time people were oppressed, and it wouldn’t be the last.

And tiny baby was hidden.

And tiny baby, when they could hide him no more... was placed into a basket and sent down a river. As a last hope. A hope to escape the terrible outcome of a dark decree.

The face of an infant, a light in a princess’ heart, and the plan of God.

Moses was that he could one day save a people from their oppressors.

A royal decree: Kill the Hebrew baby boys. All of them.

All the babies under two. Kill them with the sword. Town by town. Whatever has to be done to make sure that one child...the Child Who Will Be dead.

Again a threat. Fear that one man’s power could be taken away. That things might change and knock him from the throne.

And so they were warned in a dream...

And so they took their baby boy a hope to escape the terrible outcome of a dark decree.

The face of an infant, a light in the magi’s hearts, and the plan of God.

Jesus was that He could one day save a people from their oppression.

There hasn’t been a royal decree like this for a long long time. We aren’t told to kill our children. They aren’t ripped from our arms as soldiers come door to door with loaded guns.

But oppression. It is still here. It exists in the hearts of a troubled soul. It exists in the cultural lies that are threatened by the Light. It exists in the sins that surround, bind, and kill.

The One who was saved would soon be condemned again. Only this time he wouldn't run or hide. His death would be the final blow to oppression. He has won. No one will take away his power. Only a little longer and the Light of His triumph will outshine the darkest corner of every nation. His Light will outshine the darkest corner of your heart.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Advent Day 9: Restoration

Abraham fathered Isaac who was the father of Jacob who, after wrestling with God, became Israel.

Israel. We know this name as a nation, but at this time it was simply one man. One man who grew in wealth and cattle and sheep and sons. 11 sons. One favorite. Remember? I told you that would happen.

The favorite was his youngest son. And very spoiled. Have you ever been around a spoiled child? (stop looking at your siblings). This wasn’t just undertones of “he doesn’t have to work as much.” Or “she gets more stuff than me.” I think each sibling could point to another and find some sort of “unfair” charge. No, this was outright favoritism. He was loved more than the others and they knew it. How would that feel?

And how would it feel to have your little brother telling you that he was going to be your ruler?

I don’t know what Joseph’s attitude was, but from the reactions of his brothers, it doesn’t seem good. A little proud maybe? A little snotty?

Finally, his brothers turned their backs on him. Took his prized coat, staged his murder and sold him as a slave.

Relationships have a way of breaking. Jeering jokes, dirty looks, proud glances, hurtful tones. All of these things are like tiny cracks. And crack and it all shatters.

When something breaks, we have options. We can mend it, throw it away, or let it sit in a box for years. Relationships are like that. Some we find easy to just toss away. Lack of communication or interaction makes it easy. We feel we didn’t need it anyways. Others are vital. We couldn’t do without that person, so together the two sides mend the treasure. Piece by piece.

And then there are the ones we put in a box. For later.

In the years to follow, Joseph would face slavery, false accusations, prison, and  probably guilt and remorse for his part in the brokenness. The 10 older brothers would have to live a lie. Letting their father believe that his son had died. They would struggle and almost starve.

God did provide a way of escape through Joseph. He did end up ruling over them and saving them. God planned it all for their salvation.

But the beauty of the story also lies in the word restoration.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they broke the relationship between themselves and God. Then they ran, leaving the pieces under the tree. But God does not run away. He does not give up or turn his back on His relationships...he runs towards them. To restore. He cares so much about putting the shattered pieces back together that he would give his only Son to restore what was broken. And this is just what he did. He sent His Son into the body or a tiny, helpless infant to restore Light to broken, darkened hearts.

Is there a relationship with cracks in your life? Maybe one that has begun to break. Maybe you feel one is shattered. Piecing back together all of broken pieces takes time. And maybe many many tries. But here is a hint. Remember the Light. Trying to put together broken pieces in the dark will make something...but it won’t be right. Use the Light of our Lord inside your heart to work side by side...and He will restore.