Drawn In

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We are attracted to light.

My son (pictured above) knows this first hand. When viewing the synchronized light show at the downtown square where we live, he could not take his eyes off the nearby tree that was constantly flashing from one color to the next. He had to touch them, and even tried to blow them out at one point because he was concerned they were hot. It was a moment to cherish, no doubt.

But that is not the end of its importance.

It reminded me of the magi, and the light that drew them to Christ. And then there’s the shepherds, and the angelic light that drew them to that treasured manger. Peter was drawn to the glorified Christ, Paul was changed through a blinding light. Make no mistake, our longing for light can be clearly seen throughout Scripture.

This makes Jesus’ words about the reasons why we cling to the light, or avoid it, take on a powerful tone this season. But it also makes me wonder: does the light of Christ shine through me?

Jesus said we can’t hide the light when we’re people of God, and then reminded us that we are light so that people will see God. So, much like the stars and angels of old, we beckon to those who have not met Christ or who have maybe lost their way. We cry out on their behalf, and we know that God listens.

Are you a light this Christmas? If you are, will your light shine throughout the year?

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Star of Wonder, Star of Light

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2:10-11

The star that led the magi to Jesus was an exceedingly awesome light. Something was special about it. It wasn’t just a really bright star, nor was it special simply because it was out of the norm. This light had meaning, and the magi understood that.

A kingdom was breaking into the world, and it was starting at the birth of the new King. That’s powerful. And yet, for many, Christmas is a time that seems without power. In fact, the lights of Christmas often pale in comparison to the beauty of the star that led the wise men to Christ.

Part of this is due to a failure to understand that Advent is not so much about gifts and turkey, although those things are good. Giving is crucial to Christmas, but not in the way most Americans think of it.

Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell. – Isaiah 58:6-12

This is the majesty of that star which guided foreigners so long ago. We aren’t just supposed to follow the star to Christ’s manger, we’re supposed to keep following. All the way to the Cross, so that we can shine brightly through the Resurrection of Christ.

We should all shine to such a degree. Don’t you want to be called a repairer of the broken, or a restorer of the streets? I do.

Science and Advent

I’m going to geek out for a minute or two. If you don’t know about CERN, this post may bore you. Still, I encourage you to read on at your own risk.

For the past couple of years, this giant machine has been slamming atoms together at faster than light speeds in the effort to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Cheesy, right? The subject fascinates me though. Max Planck, the guy who got the ball rolling in the realm of quantum physics, understood that science without God was incomplete.

And this week has been an exciting one in both realms. For Christians, Advent is fully in swing. We wait, anticipate, and most importantly, participate in the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. For scientists, the God particle seems just around the corner.

Of course, not everyone in either camp is excited. In fact, there seems to be a rising level of animosity from atheists this holiday season (but that’s probably best saved for another post). Many Christians fear the worst when it comes to science, and CERN ranks high among signs that the anti-Christ is coming (for the brave and the bold, check out the comments in the above link).

Yet, in spite of the arguments and rivalries, the news coming out of CERN this week is exciting. Because what so many people don’t realize is that with every step, we’re drawing nearer to our Creator. How so? Well, Planck said it best: “Science…means unresting endeavor and continually progressing development toward an aim which the poetic intuition may apprehend, but the intellect can never fully grasp.” CERN demonstrates the lengths to which people will go to seek out the meaning of life, and the thing that keeps it all together. For Christians, this is an awesome thing because we already have the answer!

And this is the time of year when we celebrate His birth.

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. – John 17:3

Eternal life doesn’t mean “pie in the sky someday.” It starts today. In fact, Jesus said we would have it in abundance. So whether you dig science like I do, or you think smart people are going to inadvertently trigger Christ’s return, remember the reason of the season. For He is worthy of all praise!

Thinking to yourself

When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.  – Luke 2:17-19

When something incredible happens… when revelation opens our eyes, it elicits a response. And sometimes we feel, much like the shepherds did, that what God has shown us needs to be shared. But sometimes, we need to be more like Mary.

I love this passage because it doesn’t indicates that one response was better than the other. The shepherds aren’t like the lame who are healed by Jesus, specifically told not to tell anyone. Nope, they’re met the Messiah and they cannot contain their joy. And it’s fine. It’s a good response.

Then there’s Mary, the one who has had her life more turned on its head than anyone could possibly imagine. And rather than going around telling people she gave birth to the Messiah, she ponders these things in her heart.

This isn’t so much a personality thing, as it is a “proper” thing. There is a time and place to share what God has shown you. But then there’s also a time and place to think on it, mull it over. And above all, do so privately.

What is God showing you right now? Does He need to be the crutch you lean on? Do you need to mend a relationship? Perhaps you need to confess your sin? Whatever is, there is a time for sharing and a time for pondering. Reflect before deciding which one it is. Seek, and you will undoubtedly find.

Music in the Air

Undoubtedly, a tradition that sparks intense feelings for me is Christmas music. Listening to someone soulfully pine for Christ through songs like “O Holy Night” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel” cause my heart to stir in ways that I have difficulty putting into words.

As someone who is more interested in mysticism from an academic perspective, Advent is a wonderful season for me because for a few weeks I cross the threshold from observer to partaker. The music and the weather and the lights and the smells…it all draws me into a beautiful time of praising my Lord and Savior.

It’s sometimes difficult to really praise God. With all that seems to be broken in this world, it’s hard to praise anyone or anything. And yet, that is exactly what God’s Word encourages us to do:

Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, You are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
– Psalm 104:1-2

Psalm 104 begins with a declaration, a command so to speak. The psalmist tells his soul to bless God, and then launches into a lovely and powerful description of God’s majesty and sovereignty.

Christmas, for many reasons, is a time of year when I see the necessity of this kind of praise more clearly.

So I invite you, join with me over the next couple of weeks. Offer God praise. There’s always a time for requests, petitions, and questions. But I encourage you, set aside a few minutes each day and simply praise God! Need a place to start? Mary’s Magnificat is an excellent beginning.

Try it out. I promise you, God shows up.

Keep On

And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. – Luke 23:50-52

Joseph of Arimathea had been waiting. As a righteous mas, who was also a teacher of the Law, he understood what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah. And he bet it all on Christ.

One can imagine his heartbrokenness. Jesus was the one who was going to change everything! Jesus was the one who was going to bring God’s justice and mercy into this world! Except, now…He was dead.

Christmas reminds us that much of our role in God’s plan is waiting. And for many that leads us in one of two directions:

1) I’ll wait on God to direct my every step. The world has gotten on this long with God at the helm, so I can manage too (this is sometimes called the “everything-happens-for-a-reason” plan).

or…

2) This waiting business if for the birds. God, if you have a plan, I’m sure it will adapt to the decisions I make (this is sometimes called the “God-doesn’t-have-one-set-path-for-you” plan).

The reality though is not so black and white, not so either-or. Much of Christianity is a both-and proposition, which people as a general rule don’t tend to like (think of Mark 9 for example). Joseph of Arimathea spent his whole life waiting on the kingdom of God, and when it looked like everything was coming down around him and all his hopes were shattered, he still kept on.

He didn’t pray and ask, “God do you want me to bury Your Son?” He didn’t say to himself, “God doesn’t care if Jesus gets buried.” No, he kept waiting on the kingdom, and did what he knew to be right while he waited.

Read Luke 2, and you’ll see even more people doing the same thing.

We wait. But while we wait, we serve; we act.

How are you waiting on God? Will you stop if your dreams perish? Or, when the chips are down, will you turn to God and continue waiting?

What’s in a name?

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” – Matthew 1:20-23

Wk1.LongingNames matter to God. As a Church History teacher, its often difficult for me to deal with the “Saul converts to Paul” type of theology. It’s hard for me to look past the simple facts: Saul and Paul are the same name in different languages. Same with Peter and Simon.

But the overwhelming testimony of the Bible is that God is quite interested in giving each of His children a new name. Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, John the Baptist… each of them were given a name specially chosen for them by God.

See, He knew them better than they knew themselves. Gideon was a wheat farmer, but God knew he could be a brave warrior. Jacob was a liar, but God knew Jacob would never quit striving with Him. It’s a powerful thing to see ourselves through the eyes of our Lord. It’s transforming. It’s liberating.

And its amazing to see how this plays out in the birth of His Son. God tells Joseph (you know, the guy having second thoughts about Mary because she’s pregnant and it ain’t his kid)… God tells this guy that Mary’s child is important. More than that: He’s a savior. And then God gives Joseph a special task: name Him. Why? Because our names matter to God. And He knows what our true names are.

Worthless? No, God calls you a Treasure (Deuteronomy 26:18). Broken? God calls you Healed (James 5:16). I could go on, but I won’t clutter this thought with more words.

Tonight, tomorrow, this week, dwell on this question: what does God call you? What is your true name, that only He knows?

Seasonal Woes

Today, I read this fascinating article that analyzed which cities in America were the “saddest.” The most interesting aspect of the study was this: some of the most idyllic locations were the most depressed. Despite lots of good weather and sunshine, not to mention the occasional party locale, certain places boasted high rates of suicide, unemployment, and use of antidepressants.

What does all this have to do with Advent? It’s simple really: we long for paradise. We move places that seem to promise happiness because there are jobs or beaches or mountains or beer or whatever. And yet, when the casino lights fade, we find ourselves alone. Broken. Empty.

And then Christmas comes. And for many, this only accentuates the woes. The loneliness seems lonelier. The brokenness seems even more broken.

Yet, hope remains.

Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth. And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm. – Revelation 11:14-19

If we believe that Christ came in the flesh; that He was born in Bethlehem; that He lived and fellowshipped with others; that He died on the Cross and ultimately rose again… well, then a passage like the one above is very good news.

We won’t ever find paradise in a place here on earth. We have to seek God, and then an amazing thing happens: every place has the potential to be a little piece of paradise. Here. Now.

That’s good news indeed. And a welcome thought from someone who lives in the most depressed, and yet most sunshine-filled state, in the country.

25 Days of Advent

Last year was the first year I fully immersed myself in the Advent season. If you’re not sure what that is all about, I would suggest starting here, or here, or here.

This year, continuing on the path that God has invited me to be a traveler upon, I will be reflecting on various things concerning Advent and Christmas. As I grow in my own understanding, I hope that any who read this will mature alongside me.

With that being said, tonight’s post is about fellowship. This is a word easily tossed around amongst evangelical Christians these days, with some churches even adopting it as part of their name. But, much like the word compassion, it’s a word we seem to be out of touch with sometimes.

Dinner. Movies. Laughter. These things are very much a part of fellowship, but they are not the sum total. Depression. Fear, Doubt. Grief. Frustration. These things are also a part of having true fellowship. Not sure that’s right? Think about Jesus’ disciples: they’re followers, He calls them his friends, they abandon Him when he’s most in need, and then He cooks them breakfast. That’s fellowship.

There’s another element of fellowship amongst God’s people that I think if often missed: theological reassurance. I’m sure some will say, “huh?” But it’s really simple. The Bible tells us that certain things are true, and we’re to encourage people by reminding them of those truths. Take Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, for instance:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

It’s supposed to be uplifting to us that Jesus has come, and will come again! We’re supposed to think about it, soak it in, and let it find expression through our lives!

Advent invites us to that.

So as Advent is fully underway, and Western culture pauses briefly to acknowledge a King (even if most of them don’t know who He is), we rejoice that Christ will return. And we get to be a part of that.