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Christmas Peace

Christmas. Just the word alone brings a soft glow to the soul. A warm crackling fire, hot chocolate and watching Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey yelling “Mary!” as he runs through the old drafty house. Peace.

Isaiah prophesied centuries before Luke penned his gospel saying: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  (Isaiah 9:6) Fast forward to Luke 2:14, with the singing telegram to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Peace had come to earth.

Biblical peace (in the Greek) is ‘to set at one again,’ – the picture is something that has once been erected has toppled over. Chaos, strife, irritation, unrest even war are the results. Once it is set back, PEACE is the result; all is in its rightful place. Remember Adam and Eve sinning in the garden?  (Thanks, guys!) The original design, ‘God and man’ had been ‘toppled over.’ Gone were the daily walks together in the garden. Jesus came, setting things back in the right place, God and man in right relationship.  “The Word became flesh (Jesus) and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 (emphasis mine) It may not be the Garden, but God again walking with us. Immanuel, oh the ‘with us’ of God!  Jesus, peace on earth, the Prince of Peace. Peace is a Person.  One of my favorite Christmas carols, “Hark the herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” After 400 years, the angels break the silence with the spectacular news. Such theology dripping from this song: Jesus, Peace, God back on earth, setting things right again. God and sinners reconciled.  As a bookkeeping clerk, I fully understand ‘reconciled’, the number zero could not be a more beautiful number, through Jesus I have ‘0’ debt!  ZERO!

Peace is not only a Person but a position. “But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace …for through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:13-14) We are now back where we were originally designed to be, right-standing relationship with God, given full access and ability to come into His presence.  Paul declares this point, “Since we have been justified through faith we have PEACE with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)   Peace is a God thing.  Man cannot create true peace in his own soul, it is not part of the package deal, in the sense; it does not come attached to intelligence or fame and wealth.  It is the result of Jesus’ presence, Jesus’ Lordship, and Jesus being walked & lived.   Peace is a position.

Because of our sinful nature and our perpetual continuing to do so, John strongly declares “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) This is written to the Jesus follower, we mess up, but as we confess, we are saying the same thing about our situation that God does.  We are now in full agreement; we realign with what God says. To stop doing something we have to start doing something else.  I don’t stop standing until I START walking.   In this process, we are taking what was ‘toppled over’ returning to the original design and bringing Jesus back to His rightful peaceful place. We mess up, we get cleaned up. Peace restored.  Peace is a process.

The increase of peace accompanies the increase of Christ’s governing power over our lives. Colossians 3:15 “Let the peace of Christ RULE in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” If I want peace in my heart, I allow Jesus to RULE in my heart.  He is King, I bow to Him as King, giving Him the rightful place on the throne of my life. A continual challenge indeed! We will know peace to the degree that we bow to Jesus.   It is NOT about peaceful circumstances, it is obedience, His voice over our own, God doesn’t come to take sides, He comes to TAKE OVER. Peace is a posture, a bowed, get OFF the throne, posture.    (Head bowed)

This Christmas may we pause and consider wholeheartedly, the Person, position, process, and posture of peace.  Yes, Peace had indeed come to earth, Prince of Peace.

In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)

 

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Immanuel

Continuing our ‘Names of God’ study, we look at Immanuel.  This time of year, we sing with a resounding ‘O come, O come Immanuel…” and it is written in beautiful font lettering across our Christmas cards. Immanuel*, meaning ‘God with us.’  Many who attempt to say God is uninterested and doesn’t turn His divine head our way does not understand Immanuel.  Whether it is walking in the Garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8) the pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:22) or sandaled feet in Galilee (Matt. 4:18) or gloriously residing within us (1 Cor. 3:16) The God who dwells with us, among us and in us – God is Immanuel.

Immanuel is first mentioned in Isaiah (chapter 7) within a strong warning to King Ahaz to get his act together in the midst of political uprising and trust that God is with them – but the guy chose poorly. Isaiah prophecies: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will be called Immanuel.” (v14)   As we know, God’s people were quite fickle in their love, trust, and obedience, causing them to do what was right AND evil in God’s eyes, they STILL didn’t fully comprehend God’s presence.  Fast forward to the New Testament, tucked in the story of the birth of Jesus – Matthew chapter 1.  Joseph is about to take Mary as his wife, (according to cultural tradition, the engagement was a done-deal).  BUT, she is pregnant (Hm…) he, a good man plans to dissolve the marriage quietly as to not disgrace her.  Queue angelic messenger:  Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife, the baby she carries is of the Holy Spirit, she will have a Son, and His name will be Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.  Matthew gives narrative: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us.” (vv 22-23)

God was and is with His people throughout history, but sending His Son, slipping Him into human flesh, all He was, all He did, could not be more unmistakably-striking evidence of God’s presence. A sign indeed!  God keeps His promises.  The All-Powerful, All-Sufficient, Sovereign Creator of the universe does not NEED to be with us – He wants to!  This holiday season, as you consider Immanuel, step up, lean in, look to the far left, back to the beginning and then follow the timeline all the way to where YOU now stand and then continue to the right, following the thread into eternity as declared from the heavenly throne, Jesus reveals to John, “the dwelling place of God is with man.”  (Revelation 21:3)  So beautiful, so comforting – Immanuel.

In Him DeDe, (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)

*Why do we often see two spellings for Immanuel?  The different spellings ultimately are because of different vowels used in Hebrew (O.T. ‘Immanuel’) and Greek (N.T. ‘Emmanuel’) yet they are indeed the same God presence, just two different languages.

Gifted Myrrh – Prophetic Indeed

Christmas, a time of sharing, loving and gift giving.  We are in the season of gift hunting, we may not have anything in mind, but there is hope of something jumping off the shelf and literally wrap itself with a glorious bow attached.  Regardless of what makes it home with us from the mall, all of us have gifts to offer, God-given gifts that He asks that we share with one another. Whether it is the gift of serving, or of encouragement, or hospitality, providing an extra place at the dinner table.

We often read the Christmas story and highlight the most spectacular parts: Singing angels, “Fear Not” statements, the Star of Bethlehem, and yes the dingy manger. YET, there are some quiet and seem less significant items to be had in the excitement.  Gifts.  Consider if you will, (imagine with me) the Magi as they prepare for their trek out to find the child to whom the shiny Star belongs. They are packing, dividing the supplies list, then they come to the gift inventory, gold is given to the first, then frankincense handed to another, oh yeah, the myrrh is last. How would you like to be handed the myrrh, and picture yourself bowing low, head to the floor while you offer M-Y-R-R-H (said with an Eeyore deep tone) to the King of Kings! You may think “Dude, why do I have to carry the white elephant gift?”   White elephant it is not – one among the triune gifts that are of great value.  Have we thought about these? Gold, we have that one down. Frankincense is ground dried up tree sap used as incense.  And myrrh, what is THAT?

The divine significance of myrrh: It too comes from the sap of a tree and used in the anointing oil of the Tabernacle and the priests (Exodus 30:22-23). Myrrh/Myron:  Perfumed oil poured over Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50).  It was used as one of the spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39-40).

Picture now, the Christ child, perhaps two in age or younger (took the Magi some time to get there), curly dark hair, possibly pudgy cheeks. At His feet, the Magi place gold, frankincense, and MYRRH. The same anointing oil used to anoint temple priests, Jesus our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16).  The same perfumed oil poured on His feet as a grown man, those feet that would one day hang on a cross and be pierced. The oil added to the spices wrapped around His body following His death.  He now a child will one day be the man fulfilling this gift.

Myrrh, HOW PROPHETIC.

Christmas gift giving! Follow the Magi’s example – be prophetic.  Regardless of how insignificant, we never know the impact and how far-reaching our giving may be (in Jesus name). An encouraged heart, a feed soul, a lived principle, a person no longer lonely – the gift that keeps on giving.

In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)

The Christmas Lamb

Christmas 2018: Santa Claus, electronic yard reindeers, snowmen, decorated trees, wrapping paper, and lights – LOTS of lights.  Christmas the beginning: Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus, a manger, bright star, angelic host, shepherds, sheep, and GOOD NEWS.

Luke chapter 2, the familiar recounting of the Christmas story, like that of a well-rehearsed children’s play, all the characters are in place. The declaring angels hit their queue perfectly, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” (v14) LOVE IT!  There is one small phrase prior in the narrative; “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”(v. 8)   Scholars believe, due to the proximity to Jerusalem THESE lambs were the temple lambs. Potentially, THESE shepherds were caring for lambs destined for sacrifice.  The religious custom (requirement) of the day was to raise or purchase a lamb for each family, take it to the priests and have it offered as a substitutionary sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

Keep reading… I tried to keep this short, but we don’t want to miss this!

The shepherds were the first to hear the glorious news, not chief priests or princes or even the learned men of Jerusalem, no dignitaries were found in the bunch.  Oh, these shepherds knew the divine importance of keeping watch over their flocks!  In addition, news of the Messiahs coming would not be “good news of a great joy” (v. 10) unless they were seeking Him and waiting for Him.  These men got the message, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” declares the angel (vs. 10, 11).

The Lamb.

Remember the conversation Abraham had with Isaac as they climbed the mountain on that heart-wrenching day?  “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “But where is the lamb…? Abraham answers, “God Himself will provide the lamb…” (Genesis 22:7-8)  What prophetic imagery for what is yet to come.

Fast forward, this recorded of John the Baptist, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) About 3 years following John’s statement, it is Passover; Jesus is found gloriously-innocently* (See below) hanging on the cross. Onlookers watch as His blood drips from His beaten, nail-pierced body.  John’s words echoing, “Behold! The Lamb of God…”

As we follow the story of God, the angels again declare, yet this time, (Let’s all stand…) Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing … be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:11-13)

This Christmas as we consider the Nativity scene, may we attempt to grasp the full message of the birth of Jesus.  In the stable, the KING, the lil lamb not eating from the manger, but IN the manger – He is our substitutionary sacrifice for OUR sins. However, we did not purchase Him – He will purchase us! (Head bowed) Nowhere in scripture are we told, suggested or asked to remember Jesus’ birth.  We are told to remember His death. (The Last Supper: “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”- Luke 22:19) Don’t pack up that shiny-star tree topper yet – His birth is divinely tied to His death, His death needed for His resurrection, His resurrection the authoritative power for YOUR redemption and deliverance! Christmas leads to Easter.  Hallelujah! (Hands raised!)

Where is the lamb?  Behold the Lamb.  Worthy is the Lamb.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”

In Him, DeDe  (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)

*Jesus gloriously-innocently hanging on the cross. The requirement was that the sacrificed animal was to be ‘male and without defect – without blemish’  (Ex. 12:5) Jesus was indeed THAT: “He committed no sin..” (1 Peter 2:22 – See also 2 Cor 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 Jn 3:5; Jn 8:29)  Peter declares; “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. (1 Peter 1:18-19 NLT)

 

Giving Presence in the Present

Christmas and gift giving, standing amongst all the stuff, the noise and the chaos.  Christmas has become somewhat of a plummeting oneself into the art of either grab and go at the store or park yourself in front of the computer and let your fingers do the shopping.  My goal this year is to slow’r down. Taking time to smell the cinnamon infused pinecones, watch yet another Hallmark Christmas movie, listen to Elvis and enjoy our son home from college.

Christmas to me is so very sentimental.  I gave my heart to Jesus on December 21, 1979, at the age of 16 ½ (the half counted back then) while sitting on the white carpeted floor of the Associate Pastor’s living room.  I had been visiting the lil corner church, now with Pastor Ben’s wife Brenda, lovingly, openly, full of acceptance telling me about Jesus, His love for me and what it meant to be a Jesus follower.  That day will always render special to me, that moment and the moments following as I walked home, down the street.  As I walked, the Christmas lit houses took on a new glow, the plastic baby Jesus in the front yard demanding my attention and respect.  That baby Jesus was no longer just yard deco, but now my Lord!  Not just a baby, but a KING! I stopped, pausing to take it all in, I was in the moment!  Thirty-nine years later, (*GASP*) I remember the moment, I cherish the moment.  The moment changed me. Sing with me, “O come let us adore HIM…”

How often are we somewhere else when we are with people or in circumstances or perhaps even in church?  Our bodies may be present but by golly, our minds are full of grocery lists or a prior situation rehearsing over and over in our head, or while someone is talking to us we are busy formulating our response.  What-did-we-miss?

Be in the moment.

In Exodus 24 (the theology of Exodus is Presence) God called Moses up the mountain, “The LORD said to Moses, “”Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.” (v12, emphasis mine, NKJV)  For 40 days Moses was there.  Eight chapters worth of divine instruction was given.  Moses was there.  Many translators interpret God telling Moses to ‘stay there’ or ‘wait there.’  Yet a 19th-century rabbi wrote from a different perspective which I adore.  He exclaims that there are times we go to a place and not actually being there, going on to say that we can exert ourselves getting to a destination, yet when we arrive, our thoughts remain at the original point of departure.  The Rabbi imagined God was telling Moses not only come up the mountain – but be fully there, with complete attention and concentration. *

May we too be there this holiday season and every day, be in the moment, giving complete attention and concentration to those we are with and in the moment of where we are.  It is a gift we give to others & ourselves when we are giving presence in the present.

In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)

For Pastors Ben & Brenda, ‘Thank you.’  That lil corner church became my home church for two years following, then they sent me out to the big world to attend Bible college, study God.  Now a Bible teacher.  Thank you for being in the moment!

*Lois Tverberg, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus (BakerBooks Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2018)

The Names of God – Yahweh

Continuing our ‘Names of God’ study, today we look at the promised name of God.  The name, according to Orthodox Jewish tradition is so full of majesty and considered so ‘other’ and too holy to even utter, that when reading from the scriptures the name is verbally replaced with HaShem (Hebrew for ‘THE Name’).  His name is Yahweh.  In the original Hebrew text (O.T.) it is YHWH, (the vowels added later for pronunciation sake).  YHWH is referred to as the ‘Tetragrammaton’ (Greek for the ‘4 letters’) this is indicated in the Bible when we see LORD, (used over 6,500 times) all caps distinguishing it as the covenantal name, Yahweh.

LORD (Yahweh) is built on what God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3; Moses is on the far side of the desert attending his father-in-law’s flock when he sees a bush on fire.  This was no ordinary bushfire; there was no ravishing destruction of the bush.  I adore the direct and clarifying Word of God, verse 4 states, “When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush…”  Moses turned aside, he stopped everything, going and giving his full attention…  THAT is when God spoke. May we take note; there are times God waits for us to stop and give full attention before He speaks.  God tells Moses to go to Egypt and demand His people be set free from slavery, Moses basically asks “Whom shall I say is sending me?”   God answers, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me.” (v.14)

‘I AM’ conveys ‘to be’ the root word signifying existence.  God’s all-pervading, ever-present nature, His character, all-that-He-is, is our here and now, simply put, He is. The Pastor of Hebrews wrote: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (11:6, emphasis mine)    God states, “I am the LORD, that is My name, I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.” (Isaiah 42:8)   “I AM.”

Jesus, God in the flesh – boldly stated in John 8:58 “I tell you the truth before Abraham was born, I am!” The Jews were so irate; how dare he say THAT!  They picked up stones to kill Him.  Later in the olive grove (John 18) when Judas, on the night of betrayal, approached with the soldiers, they said they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus answers, (in the original language) “I am.”  The narrative says the soldiers drew back and fell to the ground, struck no doubt by the MAJESTY of not only His words but the essence of Who He was.

Each time we read ‘LORD’ let us take pause, look at the context, insert “The Great I AM, the One Who is…” – He is everything.  Like David wrote, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) “O, LORD…the Great I AM! The One Who is and ever will be, the One Who comes to me with all that He is… my strength and my Redeemer!”

Yahweh, the promised name of God, “I AM.”

By the way for you Scrabble players, ‘Tetragrammaton’ … BOOM!  67 points!

In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24)

 

The Names of God – El Roi

 

Continuing our ‘Names of God’ study, we take pause in Genesis 16.  Giving a brief summary:  Sarai & Abram have been promised a son, an heir in their old age.  Sarai’s impatience motivates an assuming creative alternative – MAKE it happen – by giving one of her maidservants (Hagar*) to Abe (as was the custom of the day) so they can create a child with the family name.  Like all ‘let me do it myself’ plans – it didn’t go so well.  Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarai & Hagar get all ‘girl-fight’ on the issue, Sarai was rather harsh and Hagar runs off.  There in the desert, Hagar is alone and upset… yet … she is found – by God.  The Angel of the Lord calls her by name, “Hagar, servant of Sarai…”  May we not miss the importance of this; Hagar was a slave, a servant, a title that considered her the property of another – BUT the title does not outweigh God-knew-her-name!  We may be the wife of… the mother of … the employee of… the friend of… BUT God knows our name.

The Angel of the Lord speaks directly to her situation, (in short) the discussion leads to promises, promises that Hagar will see her son (Ishmael*) grow to be a nation.  She once the run-off-slave now the heir of promises. Hagar ends the encounter by naming the Lord, ‘El Roi’ (EL-row-EE) the “God Who sees” – Hagar, the only person in the Bible to give a name to God.*  The “God Who sees” – in the midst of rejection, anger, aloneness, hurt and yes, even a dysfunctional family – God sees!

The Psalmist wrote of the watchful eye of God over Israel, but we, who by the blood of Jesus share in the same seeing God. “The LORD Himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.” (121:5-8)

El Roi, the God Who sees me and sees …YOU!

In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)

*Hagar, the Egyptian servant (Gen. 16:1) – how did she join this Hebrew caravan?  Remember when Abe took the family on a detour down to Egypt due to famine in the land, with the whole ‘Sarai is my sister’ facade.  Well, before Pharaoh found out the truth and kicked Abe and all out of Egypt, he gifted Abe with “sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants (Hagar) and camels.” (Genesis 12:16, emphasis mine)  Note to self: DO NOT TAKE DETOURS; you never know what attachments might mess with your life and MANY others!

*Ishmael: Fascinating, when the Angel tells Hagar about her son there in the desert, he explains that Ishmael will be a donkey of a man, (nice warm fuzzies) his hand will be against everyone, and everyone against him, then at the very end of verse 12 (Gen. 16) ‘and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”  Now skip to Genesis 25, it speaks of the descendants of Ishmael andthey lived in hostility toward all their brothers.” (v18)  The ‘he’ turned into a ‘they.’  Also, interesting side note:  Jumping WAY ahead:  Josephs brothers and their jealous outburst of selling him off – look who they hand him off to, “So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.” (Gen. 37:28)  WOW.   It was Abraham’s ‘other’ sons descendants who transported his great-grandson Joseph (of the true heir bloodline ‘Isaac’) into Egypt and we know what happens in Egypt.

*People gave names to places & altars on behalf of God’s actions, indicating a quality of God (I.e. Abraham called the place ‘The Lord Will Provide’ – Jehovah Jireh – Gen. 22:14 and Moses built an altar and called it ‘The Lord is my banner’ – Jehovah Nissi – Ex. 17:15-16).  God refers to Himself as ‘God Almighty’ – El Shaddai  – Gen.17:1 and through Jeremiah God speaks of the coming Messiah, King as  ‘Jehovah our Righteousness’ – Yahweh Tsidqenu – Jeremiah 23:6.  And at Moses’ request for God’s name, God responds, “I AM THAT I AM” (in short) ‘Yahweh’ – Ex. 3:14.