Is Christmas still “the most wonderful time of the year”? Christmas, for those who celebrate it, is probably the time most filled with traditions. We bake cookies, peanut brittle and fudge. We get crafty and make tree ornaments, stockings and … Continue reading
God speaks into our condition with the aid of scripture, teaching, circumstances, and other people. If we’re tuned into the Spirit who lives in us, we understand what God is saying to us. The Holy Spirit is who Christ said “will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
The passage about a group of disciples leaving Jesus in John, chapter 6 came to mind and gave me necessary insight as I was having a conversation with friends in recovery.
Someone described how his life had been before recovery and this is the passage his story made me think of.
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'”
The epiphany for me was discovering that I had seen Jesus the same way Peter did. Unlike the disciples who left because they didn’t think they could follow such a “hard teaching,” I was willing to stay with Jesus and let him teach me how to obey and live by that hard teaching.
Then to paraphrase Peter, using my personal experience, I asked “To whom and to what would I go? Why would I want to leave you and go back? That lifestyle almost killed me and without the benefit of eternal life through you.”
I thank God for the Holy Spirit living inside me. I don’t deserve it, but because I decided to trust Him, God entrusts me with His presence in me.
Jesus and his disciples came to the region of Caeserea Philippi and he asked them one of the most important questions that could be considered about himself. First, he wanted to know what people were saying about him.
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:14-15)
Jesus also wants to know who we say that he is. The sort of relationship we can have with him is determined by how we answer.
Savior, Lord, Friend, Christ, Son of God, Teacher, Prophet. How do you answer when Jesus asks you “Who do you say that I am?” The way in which you answer can evolve. At any rate, how you respond to him…
Can change your life.
“He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” Isaiah 40:11
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” Luke 24:5
“Star of wonder, star of night, guide us to they perfect light.”
The graphic below shows a prayer, commonly referred to as the “Serenity Prayer,”* attributed to Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr and reportedly written in 1926. Niebuhr was a Lutheran pastor and theologian.
After knowing only the first four lines of the prayer, which I learned in 1984, it wasn’t long before I became acquainted with the entire thing. Even though at the time I hadn’t made a decision to follow Christ, the words made sense. Years after that, I was reciting the whole prayer from memory at a weekly small group.
Today, I believe the three most important words of this prayer aren’t, as some people choose to see them, acceptance, courage and wisdom. They are
“God, I surrender”
For me, surrendering to God creates a serenity and peace I can’t otherwise know.
*Usually Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is quoted using only the first four lines shown here.
During this year’s Christmas season, social media seems to be crowded with the hashtag #NotAChristmasSong. People, come on…
I remember singing, as a tradition, so many of the songs they’re talking about. Singing them makes me happy and nostalgic. No matter what people think, I’ll continue to sing them. Perhaps for most people, it’s just a joke and they’re not really slamming these songs. They may be trying to make fun of the social media hashtal using their own hashtags. But, in my opinion, some of those folks are a little too serious about what is and isn’t a Christmas song.
A song I remember singing is “Good King Wenceslas.” In reality, it’s not a Christmas song, but a song mentioning the Feast of Stephen. That particular feast is to honor the first Christian martyr, the apostle Stephen. Celebrating that feast is also a way to remember that Christ offers eternal life. Stephen, after all, saw Christ standing at God’s right hand. That gives a whole new meaning to “it’s a wonderful life.”
The song is also a nice story about how a king looked after a poor and probably oppressed man. Now how much more can that be about Jesus?
In the lyrics to the song, the good king welcomes his page to follow in the footsteps he makes in the deep snow.
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly”
How much more could that be about Jesus’ offer to us, “Follow me”?
The page obeys, knowing his King will guide him in safety and security. Even in hardships.
“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted”
The word dinted means “with force or power.” How much more could that be about Jesus’ character?
Eventually, the story sends a message to everyone, no matter their worldly status, that blessing the poor brings a blessing. How much more could that be about God’s favor?
I invite you to click to see the musical score for Good King Wenceslas, which has all the verses of the song’s music and lyrics. Put yourself in the poor man’s place, receiving gifts from a King. Put yourself in the page’s place, following your Master. (If I was a betting sort of person, I’d wager you can’t read it without singing along.)
Oh, my King and Master, thank you for the position you give me as I follow you. I am lowly as a page, and not deserving of your grace, yet you’ve chosen me to stand with you. May I follow, every day, in your powerful steps and remember to provide justice to the poor and oppressed. Help me to remember how much you love us all. Amen
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
When I was a child going to Sunday school in the basement of my church they used “flannelgraphs” to tell Bible stories. A flannelgraph consisted of a flannel-covered board on an easel and cloth Bible characters. The characters stuck to the board as you placed them. Then you’d peel them off and place more characters while telling the story. There was Joseph and his brothers; Noah, the ark and the animals; and of course, Jesus.
The stories I heard about Jesus in Sunday school always made him sound larger than life. He worked miracles healing people and made a little bit of food go around to feed a multitude. He was a pretty awesome Jesus.
Then I’d go upstairs to ‘big church’ and the pastor’s message about Jesus was that he died on a cross for me. That kept Jesus in the larger than life realm. Not knowing exactly what a crucifixion entailed, I assumed it was pretty bad and that I was lucky Jesus would do such a thing for me. The pastor talked about how angry God was about sin and how much I needed his forgiveness. He was a pretty awesome God too, but for different reasons. I made a decision to ask God to forgive me and said a prayer, asking Jesus to come into my heart.
God and Jesus fell into the larger-than-life category for a long time. And there’s nothing wrong with that; they are larger than life. But something was missing and it kept me from really knowing how much I could benefit from the decision I’d made about Jesus. I didn’t know it then, but what I was missing was Jesus with flesh on.
Skip ahead several years. I had become confused and disillusioned by church, leaving it to try my own way of living. I still believed in God, but he wasn’t part of my worldview. Then something happened to create in me a hunger for him and I returned to the church. Because I was hungry for God, I began to read my Bible. In fact, I devoured it. Guess what I found?
I found a Jesus with flesh on.
I don’t remember the folks in the church where I grew up talking about Jesus as a man. They must have, but I was young and mostly hearing the anger part. I never really got a glimpse of Jesus with flesh on until I read about him for myself. As I traveled through Galilee and the Judean countryside with him and his followers I watched him interact with people like a real person would. I saw him express emotions like anger, joy, and grief.
He got tired and slept. He got hungry and ate. He interacted with friends and with some Pharisees (who weren’t always counted among the friendly). He worshiped on the Sabbath. He engaged in normal human activities found easily if you look in scripture.
Maybe it’s the storyteller in me that looks for what’s hidden. I look at more than just the words, and I read between the lines. For starters, he was a carpenter. Imagine Jesus banging his finger with a hammer and getting one of those black fingernails. We know he had sisters and brothers and, though we aren’t told much about his childhood, it must have been a fairly normal one with playtime, chores, and “school”.
Then his ministry began. Look at the loaves and fishes story. After Jesus multiplied the food for the crowds, he sent his disciples on to Bethsaida “while he dismissed the crowd.” (Mark 6:45) Call me goofy, but I see Jesus talking to people as they leave as if he knows them personally. It’s not a “Hey, all of you, clear out of here now” type of dismissal. It’s the type of thing a host would do, saying goodbye to as many as possible and seeing that their needs are met. Anyway, that’s the Jesus I was getting to know.
I got to know this Jesus who was a single man all his life while many his age would have been betrothed or already married. Jesus lost a relative, John the Baptist, to a cruel death and took time to grieve alone before he was called again to minister to the crowds. Jesus’ closest relatives misunderstood him to the point that they tried to manipulate his actions, thinking they knew better what he should do. At a crucial moment, his best friends deserted him. One of his friends took his own life.
After becoming familiar with this Jesus, I realized that I need the God who’s larger than life and truly awesome. But I also need this Jesus who has been human and can understand what it’s like to be me. Many of us have no mate, have grieved the loss of a close relative, are genuinely misunderstood, and have been deserted by a friend.
Jesus with flesh on makes him able to relate to us in every problem and in every success. God wants to get up close and personal. He wants us to know he’s not just a flat personality we peel and stick to our circumstances when we need him. He’s a fleshed-out God who relates to every situation in which we find ourselves. And his desire is that we’ll get to know him as that pretty awesome Jesus.
Sometimes we wonder what God must be up to. Life is getting weird and we seem to be floundering. Ever feel that way?
If I keep my eyes open to what’s happening and keep trusting that God is doing what I cannot do for myself, the answer is usually simple.
What is Jesus doing? He’s helping me to grow in grace.
Be a blessing to someone today.
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” ~ Jesus Christ
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.” ~ Charles Dickens
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” ~ Paul, the Apostle
“You have not lived today unless you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ~ John Bunyan
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.” ~ King Solomon
“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.” ~ W. H. Auden
People struggle. You do, I do. Everyone experiences hard times. People are grieving. Others are weary. People face health issues to the point of death. Some struggle with a crisis concerning their child. That child may be one with “special needs.” Adults are caregivers to an elderly parent or guardian to an individual who can’t help themselves.
Since we’ll all struggle at some time, remember how difficult it can be. Some people, for whatever reason, find it hard to ask for help. Don’t go through it alone and don’t let someone else. Pray for that person, but put feet to your prayers. Platitudes will not help. A helping hand will.
Be a blessing to someone today.
Why did you place me in a family with parents who, though imperfect, were devoted to one another for forty-seven years until death separated them?
Why did you give me a childhood in which I regularly ate three meals a day, had pure water to drink, a safe neighborhood to play in and clean clothes to wear? And God, why did you show your tender love to me through the example of one Sunday school teacher?
Why me, God?
When I walked away from you, why didn’t you walk away from me?
Then when I went away to college and my intellect became my god, why were you so patient?
Why did you give me two children who love and trust me even though I’ve failed them so many times?
Why did you spare my life when my foolishness or despair brought me so close to death?
Why me, God?
And why, after years of living my sinful lifestyle, did you welcome me back to the fold?
Why are you keeping all your promises to me?
Why do I have a roof over my head? Why do I get to walk with two feet, see with two eyes and hear with two ears?
Why do I have friends who stand by me?
When my pain is such a burden I can’t bear it, why do you take it onto yourself?
Why, when I’m so imperfect, do you allow me to serve this world in your name?
And why, oh why, God, when I was still an object of your wrath, did you die for me?
Oh, why, why me?
“For God so loved the world…” John 3:16