Monday, December 28, 2009

Bridge of Blessing

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. ~John 1:16~

As 2009 comes to a close, the words of John 1:16 fill my heart and mind. Throughout this year, one blessing after another has touched my life. Some blessings were packaged in struggle or disappointment; others were lovely surprises, far surpassing anything that my mind could have conceived...but each blessing of 2009 helped me to better understand a precious nugget of truth regarding blessing: My life is lived from one blessing to another...the blessing of this moment is a bridge to the blessing of the next moment -- in Christ, the cycle of blessing is never broken, it is unending.

There are moments which are marked by immense pain, making it difficult to associate the word blessing with that moment. Yet blessing is ever in the mind of my Lord. Because I know His character, I know that He would not allow a trial or difficulty unless blessing was engraved upon that moment of trial. In this realization, my understanding of blessing was adjusted...blessing is not defined as a release from hardship, stress, disappointment or illness...blessing is the very presence of the Lord in this moment, it is living in complete fellowship with Him whether a moment is pregnant with pain or rejoicing. Blessing is the grace which God granted when He provided a Way for me to know Him...and every proceeding moment is an opportunity to know Him more.

No matter the circumstance, God is the blessing of every moment. I guess you could say that He is the Bridge of Blessing, for only a moment without Him could be void of blessing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fixed on Peace

I love nativity sets. If it were possible, each Christmas I would have one displayed in every room of my house. This year as I was setting out the pieces of my nativities, I was struck afresh by the way each participant is focused on the face of the Christ child. When this babe becomes a man, such worshipful gazes will be replaced with contempt...but on the night of Jesus' birth, and then later through the wisemen, Simeon and Anna, there was pure worship of the baby Messiah.

The night God's Son came to earth, in worship and praise the angels proclaimed a message of peace: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests". (Luke 2:14) The good news of Jesus is for all men (Luke 2:10), but God's peace can only be known by those on whom His favor rests. Hebrews 11:6 tells us, ...without faith it is impossible to please God. God's favor comes to rest on any person who believes Him. Simply put, only those who believe God can be pleasing to Him, and only those who are pleasing to God can experience His peace.

Luke 2:15 says, When the angels had left...the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing which has happened, which the Lord has told us about." Before the shepherds looked on the face of the Christ child, they first believed the words of the Lord. After they looked on Jesus' face, the shepherds glorified and praised God for all that they had heard and seen. They praised God because His words were true. Their praise was a sign of peace. They could praise because the Peace of God had captured their focus.

As I ponder that thought, Isaiah 26:3 comes to my mind. In speaking of God this passage says, You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you. (NLT) When my mind is fixed on the truth of God, my heart will be filled with peace. Such peace, as proclaimed by the angels, is the reason that God sent His Son to the earth: He wanted all men to experience the peace that comes from being made right with Him.

On that first Christmas night, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds were given the great privilege of focusing on the face of the Messiah. In like manner, until I can also fix my eyes on His face, I desire to fix my heart on His truth. Beautifully, as my mind and heart is fixed on His truth, the celebration of his birth, life, death and resurrection becomes an unending process...and the Peace proclaimed on that first Christmas night can daily be proclaimed through my life.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nothing to Distract, Part II

As I live to defend my rights, I am a distraction to the renown of God...I know my selfishness, my covetousness, and I am sobered as I think on these words. Yet, in Christ, there is another possibility for me: As I surrender my rights and allow Christ to respond through me, I will bring renown to God. To lay down my rights that others may see Christ, to embrace His truth over my own feelings and emotions, this is to allow my imaginations to be captured by Christ. As I allow Him to captivate my imaginations, I decrease. As I decrease, He is free to express Himself through me...and others can then see a true picture of Him. Christ living through me will say more than my words could ever express. His life in me is the call to all that is right.

A favorite story of mine, which magnificently demonstrates lives that desire to decrease that Christ may increase, is found in Acts 16:22-36. Sitting in the inner cell of a jail with their feet in stocks, we find a stripped and beaten Paul and Silas. They were treated in this manner because they cast demons out of a young girl whose owners used her as a fortune teller. Once the owners realized that their fortunes would no longer be amplified by this young girl, they were furious with Paul and Silas. They brought Paul and Silas before the authorities and accused them of slandering the Roman laws and customs. As a result, here sat Paul and Silas, feet in stocks, and yet instead of wallowing in their circumstances, instead of wailing, crying and questioning, they prayed and sang hymns to God. They praised their God, knowing that despite the change in their circumstances, He had not changed. They knew that His thoughts and purposes for them were full of love.

This is amazing in itself, but it is not the end of the story. As Paul and Silas sang, the prison was shaken, the doors flew open, and their chains were released. The prison guard, certain that the prisoners had escaped to freedom, took his sword and was about to kill himself, but Paul cried out, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!". The prison guard was overwhelmed. He went before Paul and Silas and asked them what he needed to do to be saved. He then took Paul and Silas home to his family, and he and all his family believed in God.

This story speaks to me of freedom and understood purpose. Because Paul and Silas understood truth, because their imaginations were captured by the truth of God, they were internally free. Even though they were externally beaten and chained, they were filled with joy and rest. It was this freedom and understood purpose which steadied them and caused them to remain within the prison after their chains had been released. If they had run as soon as the doors were opened, they would not have fulfilled a part of the purpose which God had designed for their imprisonment...and the prison guard would probably have known an eternity in agony rather than eternal security.

It would have been very easy for Paul and Silas to focus on themselves within that prison cell. To think on their discomfort...to feel outraged that God would allow this to happen to them...to care more for their own lives than for the life of the prison guard...to have thoughts that were consumed with release...but instead, they chose to rest in the One who loved them. They did not allow their circumstances to control their reaction, rather they praised the God who had captured their thoughts and imaginations. They saw this situation as an opportunity from Him, and they did not want to miss what He was going to do in them or through them. They wanted God's renown more than they wanted release.

I wonder how much my desire to be released from struggles, inconveniences and disappointments has hindered God's renown...I do not want my selfishness, my covetousness, to obscure the glory and truth of God. I long to wait on the Lord as Paul and Silas waited on Him, to surrender all my rights to the Lover of my soul and allow Him to capture my every imagination. May I see every moment of my days as an opportunity to decrease that God's renown may increase.

The path of the righteous is level, O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you, your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. Isaiah 26:7-8