Saturday, January 09, 2021

Think On These Things

“January 1st is just another date on the calendar.”  I have heard several people repeat this phrase as last year concluded.  However, the challenges, issues, and problems do not suddenly disappear when you throw out the old calendar and hang up a new one.  It is understandable that there is a sense of renewal when the old year ends with short days and the new year gradually brings longer days.  But the events in the world around us are a reminder that all that has happened was a changing of the calendar.  Little else has changed.

We should be encouraged at some of the things that have not changed.  Jesus is well and alive yesterday, today, and forever.  We worship and serve he who was, who is, and who is to come.  Our Lord inclines his ears to the prayers of his godly ones.  Our Lord is with us even to the end of the age.  He who began a good work in us is continuing to complete it. His Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and the gates of Hades have not and will not prevail against it.  With the rising and falling of nations throughout history, his Kingdom continues to thrive.  He will set up his heavenly kingdom after he has abolished all rule, authority and power.  We will reign with him forever and ever.

Jesus said this in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Amid the world’s troubles, which are to be expected, we have peace.  We are not ruled by fear, but by faith in our King who has overcome the world.

I am reminded of a letter Paul wrote while he was in prison due to his commitment to Christ.  Being in prison for doing the right thing could potentially be faith destroying without the right perspective.  But we need to remember that Jesus said we will have trouble in this world, and that he has overcome it, bring us peace.  The letter Paul wrote from prison to the Philippians is full of joy and rejoicing.  Paul was not weakened, but strengthened due to the perspective our King on his throne gives us.  Here is his instruction:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4-9).

Two phrases stand out.  “With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Thanksgiving as a discipline shapes our outlook on life.  It is a reminder that our blessings always outweigh the problems.  It gives us the ability to focus on hope and to take hold of the joy that strengthens us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  It is not escapism but is merely standing back and looking at the true and larger picture.  If all we do is focus on the tiny smudge at the edge of the plate, we miss out on the magnificent feast that our Lord has prepared for us. 

The other phrase that stands out is, “…if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  This goes hand in hand with thanksgiving as a discipline.  Another word for thinking is meditation.  Meditate on this passage.  In order to do so, it is necessary to turn of the T.V. and put down the newspaper and pick up God’s word.  It will remind us that we are and always will be blessed in the Lord, not in the world.  We need to as Paul said in Thessalonians, encourage one another with these words.

Our Tent

One of my memories growing up was staying in a tent.  My father used to take us on road trips.  Instead of staying in a motel, we always stayed in a tent.  My Dad had purchased a large canvass Coleman tent.  Sometimes we traveled for the purpose of camping.  At other times, we traveled to get from point A to point B.  Regardless of the reason, we stayed in a tent.  I can remember waking up to frigid mornings as well has hot and humid ones.  I also remember meals coming from either a grill or campfire.  After we were finished, we literally pulled up stakes and packed everything back up in the trunk of the old, blue, beat up '69 Chevy Bell Air that served as our family car.  That tent served us for several years.  However, like so many other things, it became old and worn out.  Eventually, the tent was no longer serviceable and had to be discarded.  

Even though we had fond memories of trips with the tent, we would not have wanted to live in a tent.  A tent is not intended to be a permanent home.  It is portable and temporary.  It is quite different than a house built on a foundation.  When we lived in Vermont, we went shopping for a home.  I was struck by the age of some of the houses we looked at.  I used to think that a house built in the1920's or 1930s was old, but there were houses for sale that were built in the 1800's or even older.  They were older than myself, my Dad, and even my grandfather.  They were still very solid homes despite their age.

A passage of scripture I have been reading brought back memories of the tents and old dwellings of the past.  In John 1, after stating that the Word was with God and was God and created all things, it states, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

There is more than one word that can translate to "dwell, remain, abide, etc." from Greek.  This particular word, skēnoō, means to pitch a tent, or dwell in a tent.  This is an interesting word choice to describe what Jesus did when he left Heaven and came to earth to live among us.  It is a remember of what God did when he made a covenant with Israel at Sinai.  He gave instructions to Israel to build him a tent as his sanctuary.  After construction of the tabernacle, his glory came and dwelt in the tent, which was pitched in the midst of the camp.  God had come down to dwell among his people.  The reason it was in a tabernacle was so that it could be portable.  God and his people moved from one place to another together at temporary lodging places until they arrived at their permanent home. The same is true for Jesus.  He pitched a tent for a time and lived among us.  This was not his permanent home.  After his death and resurrection, he ascended back to the Father.  

2 Corinthians 5 tells us that we also are living in a tent.  Even though the tent will wear out, we have a permanent home built by God in Heaven.  The tent that this text is referring to is our body.  Our bodies, like any other tent, wears out over time.  The text says that while we are living in this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.  This becomes more apparent as the years go by and the tent continues to wear out.  Our stay in this tent is only temporary.  Like Abraham in Hebrews 11:10, we are looking for a home with foundations.  Our Lord has gone to prepare this home for us.  This tent is not our home, we are just passing through.  

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Shepherd and The Sheep

Oh the irony of the upside-down birth of Jesus in Luke 2!  After hearing that the long-awaited Savior had been born, the angel told the shepherds of the sign that this is Christ the Lord.  They would find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes laying in a manger.  The first part of the sign, while not anything unusual, evokes thoughts of not only the beginning of his life, but the end of his life.  At the end of his life, he was wrapped again but placed in a borrowed tomb rather than a manger.  We know that in both cases, he did not remain there, but arose to perform his redemptive ministry.  

The second part of the sign was highly unusual.  He was placed in a manger, where livestock may have eaten before.  This may remind us that Jesus is the bread of life, and that we have no life apart from him.  But this scene seems too domestic and mundane for the King and Lord.  What a contrast to the earthly king who was living in a palace.  As I reflected on this, I wrote down the phrase, "Domestic Divinity."  I do not know if I had heard this phrase before, or if it just appeared in my thoughts.  There cannot be a more domestic scene than this.  When people put up nativity scenes, what strikes me is how domestic they often appear.  I realize that nativity scenes try to compress several stories about Jesus into one scene, but historically, the Magi do not belong there because they came later.  The manger, barn, animals, and shepherds make for a very mundane and domestic scene.  Yet God typically glories in the mundane and the ordinary.

This scene from Luke two reminds me of several passages.  In Zechariah 10:2, God said, "2 For the household gods utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; they tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd."  A recurring problem was the lack of spiritual and moral leadership in Israel.  Kings, false prophets, priests, and fathers often turned to false gods and led the people away from God.  Without proper shepherding, the people were devoured.  The people were sheep without a shepherd.  

What was God's plan for this?  In Ezekiel 34, God condemned the leaders, whom he referred to as shepherds, for not exercising spiritual and moral leadership.  The result of their failure was the scattering of the sheep.  They had become prey to predators.  God then declares in verses 11-12, "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness."

God fulfills this promise in Christ.  In John 10:11, Jesus declares that he himself is the shepherd.  He said, "I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus came to those who were like sheep without a shepherd to save and care for them.

What an irony, then, that the first to tell of the coming of Jesus were literally shepherds.  These shepherds, whose job was to care for and watch over the sheep, came to the barn and saw the lamb of God.  The lamb of God is the good shepherd.  The lamb has become the shepherd, and the shepherds have become the sheep!

This reminds me, that even though I benefit from fellowship and leadership from people, I must let nothing take the place of the leadership of the good shepherd.  The people had their shepherds, but despite this, Jesus saw in Matthew 9:39 that they were like sheep without a shepherd.  Only Jesus can lay down his life for his sheep and take it up again.  Only Jesus can renovate our hearts through the Spirit as we submit to him.  Only Jesus can redeem us and give us life more abundantly.