This is an Assyrian girl and Priest singing Our Father. It is a haunting and beautiful melody.
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Luke 2:1
Normally my spirit can be found standing in awe of this Light of Heaven. This season however, I’ve found myself wrestling a bit more with what lies before Luke 2.
The years that are so neatly summarized “In those days.” Those days were a time of darkness and stillness that lasted 400 years. No prophets, no Word from God, no new sermons, just darkness that has blinded much of the World to the Messiah’s arrival.
In those days is a very uncomfortable place. Desert places where there are no Angels singing “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Where the world seems cold and dark. Where God himself seems distant and heaven is closed.
Those are not places that inspire hymns or revival sermons but they are very much a part of our journey.
I wonder what it would have been like to be a follower of YHWH in those 400 years. I imagine them to marked by dwindling services with waning devotion. Where the culture of following YHWH seems to be all but lost. Just a remnant holding to distant Hope.
Prayers seem trite, devotions become an act of habit rather than actual discipleship, and fears and doubt continually dampen the fire of the Spirit. Where faith is a bit more than a flicker
Then a whisper.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”
God whispers to Simeon.
The Messiah is coming soon and you will see him.
To be told in the midst of 400 years of silence that the Messiah, the rescuer, is coming seems ridiculous. How does Simeon even process this? It seems too good to be true. And then…
I can feel Simeon’s heart explode as he watches Mary and Joseph enter the temple. The tears on his face as he takes Jesus in his hands.
“for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.””
My spiritual imagination has him wanting to shout these words as he holds up the Messiah in a Lion King Simba pose.
A declaration of salvation and victory for all people!!! Behold the Messiah.
This whispered promise to Simeon that surely happened a few years before Luke 2 is, for me, the beginning of Christmas.
The whisper that says,
darkness does not win
silence does not last
the distance of God is going to be forever shattered in one word.
God with us.
And that my friends makes Christmas and the miracle of it that much more awe inspiring.
Pardon me while I go stand in the awe of the light because I remember the dark.
I’m writing this in the waning hours of “Silent Saturday”. That awful day between the death of Christ and the dawning of a Sunday that would change everything. A day when God seemed silent and perhaps silenced. As I anticipate Easter I find myself running to Sunday a bit too quickly without pausing to realize what Saturday is trying to teach me.
The middle is hard. It is painful, dark, and full of doubt.
A wise brother said too me a few months ago, “We forget that when we read the accounts of redemption in the Bible that we have the benefit of knowing how it turned out. We forget that the middle is mess.
Pause to imagine yourself in the shoes of:
- David: just a fugitive being hunted by King Saul.
- Moses: After Pharoh changed his mind the 5th or 6th time and seeing no deliverance just plague after plague.
- Peter: After seeing Christ die and facing the truth that you denied knowing him 3 times
Those aren’t scenes that make the final cut of our victory narrative. They are however where God does some of his most important work.
When you hear the testimony of someone delivered after years of alcohol and drug abuse and see how God has used them it’s easy to praise God for showing his power. But what if you were there for day 2 of detox?
Would you have doubts? Would you wonder about this being truly God’s plan? Would you consider doing the logical thing to end the pain?
This middle is where doubts and fears challenge the core of our faith. This is the place where all our accumulated knowledge of God isn’t enough to anchor us and we are left with we really believe?
Which is exactly the point.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3 ESV)
Poor in spirit might be expressed as reaching the end of yourself. Knowing that no amount of self-will or self-discipline will overcome this struggle. When you are left with nothing but crying out to God and pleading for mercy, grace, and divine power.
Don’t miss that God hasn’t even answered yet in this “Silent Saturday”. I can imagine Peter pleading and distraught as he wept this day. Feeling nothing but fear, loneliness, and shame.
BUT – Was God silent?
NO! Hell was trembling because the very Son of God had come to declare victory over death because the price of sin had been paid. This day was the day the Devil lost. It was the turning point of all eternity.
And tomorrow morning when day breaks that Son of God will be raised by the Holy Spirit and be exalted by the Father. And what does the Angel say?
But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee.” (Mark 16:7 ESV)
Those 2 words are astounding, they are the Gospel.
Hold fast my brothers and sisters.
The storms and trials of this world can crush us and we can’t see how this chapter ends. God can and is working to make you more like him. So even in the painful middle we can believe that God is Sovreign, loving, and at work.
He may actually be doing His most important work.
I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” (Zechariah 13:9 NLT)
- Ferguson, MO.
- Confederate Flag license plates in Texas
- Indiana Religious Freedom Bills
- Arkansas’ Prohibition of Anti-Discrimination Ordinances –
I’m simply trying to ask the question: Are my actions and words surrendering to the glory of God and advancing hope to a dying world?
To simplify the question: How do I bring glory to God as I interact with every single human?
Yes, but what about legal protection
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)
The question: Am I more concerned with self-preservation and security than I am with following after Christ?
Hope not Hate
Bless their hearts.
The question: Whom do I love more? Me or them?
— ERLC (@ERLC) March 26, 2015
Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NLT)
Advancing a Higher Agenda
My goal is to challenge ourselves to consider, to pray, to seek wisdom and above all else seek to advance only one agenda: that of the kingdom of God.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)
The one thing…
What is the one thing that:
- enables God’s forgiveness and mercy to flood our souls?
- ushers us to the point of confession and true repentance?
- takes us to the end of ourselves where we realize that we have no defense before God?
Knowing we are utterly and completely messed up.
We have selfish minds, evil hearts, weak wills, unsatisfactory talents, and we simply can’s make this thing called life work. When it begins to crack, crumble, or utterly implode then we cry out to God, “I can’t do this, I can’t take it anymore” and an almighty loving God says, “I know and I love you.”
My Lent devotional, Journey to the Cross, put it this way yesterday,
“You are worse than you think, but also far more loved by God than you ever imagined.”
Ouch and Hallelujah.
Pride says I’m not that bad. I’ve got this under control. I don’t really need God all the time, just occasionally. I’m really OK.
This pride completely shuts us off from God. Pride is worship of self and God hates me worshiping any idol. I dare say there is no greater idol than ourselves. I often say there is really only one sin, Pride. The rest (greed, lust, envy, anger, laziness, and gluttony) are just symptoms of what I think I deserve or want and when I want them.
The funny thing about God’s answer to pride is humility. Humility has only one prerequisite, absolute brokenness.
The point at which I hold nothing back. I reserve nothing from God, he can take whatever he wants and do what he wants. My response to his astounding love and mercy is to utter only one creed, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17
As I’ve seen God do miraculous open-life surgery on me to rip pride from my chest and have seen brokenness become a beautiful anecdote to so much of my sin…. the question I’m left with is
Why are we Christians, (the church) so consumed with pretending that none of us are broken?
Allow me to give you 2 snapshots from recent months:
- I’m a breakfast with 3 other men from a local church who by any standard are pillars of faith and the community. By anyone’s estimation these men have it all together: successful jobs, good physical health, beautiful families, savings accounts etc… Yet the conversation that morning was about how truly messed up and damaged we are by sin. Make no mistake these are truly good men that are seriously seeking to honor Christ and yet here we find a common bond of brokenness.
- At a recent breakfast with a dear friend we began to share or spiritual journeys over the past 4-5 years. This is a guy who has preached, led worship, can teach the Bible at a moment’s notice, and is a giant in my eyes and guess what? He’s broken too. His life has suffered catastrophic blows when God started trying to get his attention. God has redeemed so much of that pain and blessed him tremendously yet he still struggles. (Glory to God he is an agent of brokenness, seeking and sharing to help others.)
It’s as if God intended for us to be broken and to be broken together.
Yet how would a hurting soul see us on Sunday when we all pretend to have it all figured out. Perhaps they need to hear that we are as messed up as they are (perhaps more so when you consider our complacency and hypocrisy after encountering the gospel.) Yet God loves them and us.
I’ve spent years putting on a mask and pretending that I wasn’t broken all the while suffering in isolation in defeat. When God started to get my attention and by his grace I got vulnerable and real honest it was then that God put brothers and sisters in my life that shared their brokenness and suddenly I feel like I’ve discovered exactly what church should have been the whole time.
I told my accountability partner one morning that I’m ashamed that I’ve missed this for 35yrs of my life. That I feel like I finally discovered what church should have been along. Broken folks that stop pretending and celebrate the love and redemption of God against all odds and logic. Sounds like church to me.
So allow me to say: I’m broken, real broken. I’m messed up, I’ve got way too much sin I’m nourishing in my life, I struggle, I doubt, I waver, and I coming running back hurting and helpless to the throne of YHWH and weep when he shows his mercy.
I’ve spent along time dressing well and putting on an “I’m ok” mask on Sundays. I’ve worked hard to maintain a veneer of having it all together and now by the grace of God I’m no longer doing that. I’d rather be broken, because pride was killing me.
So what do we do now?
- Resolve not to tear others down when their broken parts are exposed. – Whether by gossip or simply coldness we communicate that being broken makes you an outlier and unwelcome. God forgive us. We never simply excuse sin but if Christ died on a rugged cross for it might I find a way to love someone in the midst of it?
- Find a place to get real. – There is certainly a level of wisdom that should be applied. I don’t suggest that the proper place is to ask the Pastor for 15minutes on a Sunday morning to air all that you are struggling with but we must find a safe place to start being real. 1 on 1 or small groups are a good place to start. Ask God to open the door and take courage to walk through. (Relationships have a funny way of requiring us to be vulnerable, why would the family of God be any different.)
- Seek others who are broken. – It might be serving the homeless, going on a mission trip, showing love to a visitor, or just finding a way to go the extra mile when you know someone is hurting. The flames of pride stayed doused when we realize that we are loved regardless and suddenly that love spills out onto others.
God is still God, he can redeem even the chaos and pain that is in your life and perhaps we can give him more glory and spread his good news more authentically once we resolve to be broken… together.
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. – Hebrews 3:12-14
[photo credit: andilicious]
In the midst of encouraging a friend this evening I just need to write these words. Perhaps they will reach you in a time of hopelessness.
God is a God of coming back, a God waiting with open arms…
At the point you don’t feel like you can’t crawl back the 1200th time THAT is exactly when you should fall before him and confess.
Confess who you are, confess who He is,
and cling to the cross of Christ which satisfies the scales of justice and opens the door to mercy. Pour it all out on Abba Father and surrender all pride. His mercy has no limit and His grace is sufficient.
An excerpt of an amazing prayer, “Meeting God” from the Valley of Vision.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:11-14 ESV)
One day the LORD said to Moses, “Climb one of the mountains east of the river, and look out over the land I have given the people of Israel. After you have seen it, you will die like your brother, Aaron, (Numbers 27:12-13 NLT)
I love Moses’ reaction to being told he was going to die and not enter the promise land.
Did he pout?
Did he protest?
No, he prayed…
and not for himself but for the people and that God might give them a courageous leader and shepherd.
Then Moses said to the LORD, “O LORD, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the LORD will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Numbers 27:15-17 NLT)
If God speaks a difficult word to you or I today will our hearts respond like Moses? Will our prayers be for those around us?
May God grant us the power to love so completely.
Romans 5:20, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,”
What God has done and has given us is much more than to counteract sin. Christ did not repress or weaken sin – He destroyed it in Himself, so that we might know the power of Him in us. People have been tyrannised so long that they live looking over their shoulders, expecting sin to raise its ugly head. We need a long, steady realisation that the grace of Christ is much more than enough to deliver us”
What a word of dependence and victory.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. (Psalm 62:5 ESV
We readily accept that our hope is in Christ but perhaps this can lead us to an incomplete picture.
Look at v. 5 again. “for my hope is FROM him.” Yes we have a hope in God but don’t overlook that this hope is from God. He is both the source and the fulfillment of the promise of hope. God is the start/finish line of our hope.
Without the Spirit of God working in us we are unable to manufacture true hope and without Christ and his resurrection and victory we have nothing to anchor our Hope.
Look at Romans 15:13 (emphasis is mine)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13 ESV)
When facing trials, suffering, fear, or uncertainty God does NOT say “Good luck go muster up some Hope” rather he waits for us to turn to him in prayer and stillness to give Him the opportunity to grow Hope in us.
This understanding should bring us rest and lead us to being more desperate for God. (Funny how so much of following God is continually confessing how utterly unable I am to do it in my own power.)
A hope that is planted by Him can sustain through any storm.
A hope that is secured in Him will never fall short.
God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:24 ESV)
At the point that all seemed lost I imagine hearing God the Father’s voice speaking the name of his Son in the darkness of Saturday night. Divine vocal chords piercing into the abyss of death and hell. A phrase that changed everything. – Jesus, my son, Arise.
The Bible doesn’t tell us the exact words God used but it does tell us repeatedly that the same voice calls life out of our death as well.
When we are trapped by our sin suffocating under the weight of our self-centeredness and wickedness that voice of YHWH pierces through. The power it contained 2000 years ago hasn’t diminished one iota. God is still in the resurrection business.
That voice is giving life to men, women, orphans, families, murderers, deacons, Sunday school teachers, our homeless neighbors and even we folks that have lost sight of God in our business of church. Gods speaks life to all who will come.
Wherever you are tonight do not despair. The Good News still stands, your debt has been paid.
Do not mistake seeing Jesus sacrifice as rudimentary appeasement of an angry terrible beast name God. He died because the wages of sin is death. God is Life and Holy and cannot abide sin. Justice demands a price and once we chose to sin that price was demanded of you and I. It is through God’s love and mercy that he made a means of atonement for you and I. Take hold of the cross and choose to live!
Glory Hallelujah Sunday is COMING!
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)