against perfection

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

Luke 2:1-7; MSG

When we think of Christmas, our visions might be a bit idyllic. And there’s no doubt that no greater gift was given, and this is cause for celebration, even extravagant celebration. But what we need to not lose sight of in the backdrop and throughout is that this happened in the real world. God became flesh, fully human, yes, one of us, in this sad, weary, broken world. And the event itself was marked by just one conundrum after another. A fiancée near the end of her pregnancy having to go on a long trip, around seventy miles, over a three day journey on a donkey. When they get there, “no guest room available” (NIV). They ended up putting the newborn Jesus in a manger, a feeding trough for animals (see NET footnote in above link).

One of the greatest enemies of faith is the desire and thought that life in God in the here and now is marked with perfection. If we can get rid of that thought, we’ll begin to experience the real joy and blessing. God-with-us in this broken world, in our own brokenness. We need to settle into that. Not imagining everything should be perfect now if God is really with us in Jesus. But that God-is-with-us in Jesus, Emanuel in the midst of the imperfection in everything, the real world in which we live. As we look forward to the change the one Perfection will bring, that little baby Boy to us, yes, and to the world.

grace comes through real life

Too often we are so caught up in how we feel, or what we’re up against, that we can become discouraged and be tempted to despair, even while we continue to plod along. And add to that, the ideal put in front of us that we shouldn’t be that way, that we should be on top of the world, feeling well and fine and dandy. That can make us feel all the more down.

But God’s grace in Jesus comes through in the real and rugged parts of our lives. We need not despair, even when we feel in despair, and sometimes for some good reason. God in Jesus is present. Remember: Emmanuel: God-with-us. We are not alone, and we’re not on our own.

We certainly face challenges along the way. On a number of fronts in our world, life can indeed be hard. It is the real world, after all. Certainly there are blessings as well, along the way, and we need to “count [our] many blessings,” no doubt. We should be thankful to God for his rich provision for us. At the same time, we don’t need to pretend that all is well. In the real world all is not well. Obviously there are sicknesses out there, as well as broken places everywhere, some especially broken in need of serious help, and divine intervention where there seems to be no answer. Yes, we live in the real world.

But like a cup of coffee can help us get going in the morning, remembering that God in Jesus is for us, and that by faith we belong to him, can give us that needed spiritual boost to continue on with confidence and good cheer that God will help and see us through, and even that we are victorious, indeed “more than conquerors through him who loves us” (Romans 8). Right in the midst life in the real world. A word that I need this Monday morning.

Jesus as the Immanuel: God-with-us

Our Pastor Jack Brown made a salient point during the Christmas Eve service, that Jesus as Immanuel: God-with-us, should be something that is noted and celebrated throughout the year, not just in December. In some ways we may very well lose sight of that, I’m afraid. God is indeed present in the person of Jesus by the Spirit in the church. In that Presence there is peace and joy. But there is a shaking going on, as well. God in Jesus meets us where we’re at, but not to leave us there.

In Jesus, God is with us. Given our western, modernist upbringing and mindset, all the more emphasis oddly enough is going to have to be on Jesus, in this needed point. In other words, God is with us in Jesus, no less. Yes, God, and that can in no way be minimized. But the focus ends up being on Jesus. Who is this God? Look to Jesus. Gaze into the human face of Jesus.

Dusty theological books are thick with pages which make much of God and God’s attributes. Jesus is taught to be both fully God and fully human, but to understand Jesus, one looks at the doctrine of God. There is some truth here, although not so much in terms of the systematic approaches out there, I’m afraid. More in terms of the story of God as told in Genesis onward. We find a God who while mysterious, is very much immeshed in human affairs, the climax of that coming in the incarnation, when God actually becomes human in Jesus. That life taking the shape of a cross, followed by resurrection.

Do we want to understand God? In fact just how do we understand God? Do we isolate his attributes through our study of scripture? Such as his omnipotence (being all-powerful), omnipresence (being everywhere present), immutability (being never changing), etc.? Jesus said that whoever sees him, sees the Father. He was speaking to his disciples and whoever else was listening at the time. But surely in some way this promise holds true for us today, since he is really only seen this way by the Spirit. I take it that through the pages of scripture, especially in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament we can gather in the essence of this, even though, unlike his disciples, we have not seen and experienced him in person.

N. T. Wright some years ago pointed me in a new direction with points like this, sustaining me in that direction, along with others (such as Scot McKnight). So that I see everything in scripture and in life in a new way, in and through Jesus and the revolution of God’s grace and kingdom come in him. Everything both having significance and finding its true significance and place in that. And not apart from that.

And so in Jesus, God is indeed with us and there’s a whole lot of shaking going on both in terms of our own lives, and the life of the world. As we await the completion of this revolution in and through Immanuel.

love came down

What is the keeping of Advent and the celebration of Christmas except the remembering in faith, hope and love that love came down in the birth of a baby? The meaning from this is rich, and fills the pages of scripture, helping us understand the story of scripture, its end.

God became flesh, fully human, yes, one of us. Right where we live, in our element- in this baby boy. The birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel for the world. He was born in the city of David, a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. With his coming, God’s kingdom had come, present in him, the king. His kingdom was certainly not from this world, but it is for this world, destined someday to hold sway on earth in the new creation.

Love came down and met us where we are at, yes meets us where we live in Jesus, God-with-us, Emmanuel. In the pages of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we read how God became king. Bringing in a kingdom of peace through the person and work of Jesus.

Jesus’ throne is made out of wood, in fact it is the cross. Yes, with a crown of thorns, beforehand. He died on that cross, was buried, and rose from the dead, the third day. The resurrected, ascended Lord is at the place of ultimate authority, seated at the right hand of the Father, to return and bring in the rule of that kingdom across every sphere of life, when heaven and earth are made one in him.

And so we celebrate in wonder and awe with joy filled songs and in tears the birth of this baby boy. For us, yes for the world.

Brennan Manning on “the victorious limp”

Make a radical choice in faith, despite all your sinfulness, and sustain it through ordinary daily life for Christ the Lord and His kingdom.

The mature Christians I have met along the way are those who have failed and have learned to live gracefully with their failure. Faithfulness requires the courage to risk everything on Jesus, the willingness to keep growing, and the readiness to risk failure throughout our lives. What do these things means, specifically?

Risking everything on Jesus: the ragamuffin gospel says we can’t lose, because we have nothing to lose. Faithfulness to Jesus implies that with all our sins, scars, and insecurities, we stand with Him; that we are formed and informed by His Word; that we acknowledge that abortion and nuclear weapons are two sides of the same hot coin minted in hell; that we stand upright beside the Prince of Peace and refuse to bow before the shrine of national security; that we are a life-giving and not a death-dealing people of God; that we live under the sign of the cross and not the sign of the bomb.

The willingness to keep growing: Unfaithfulness is a refusal to become, a rejection of grace (grace that is inactive is an illusion), and the refusal to be oneself….

The readiness to risk failure: Many of us are haunted by our failure to have done with our lives what we longed to accomplish. The disparity between our ideal self and our real self, the grim specter of past infidelities, the awareness that I am not living what I believe, the relentless pressure of conformity, and the nostalgia for lost innocence reinforces a nagging sense of existential guilt: I have failed. This is the cross we never expected, and the one we find hardest to bear.

One morning at prayer, I heard this word: Little brother, I witnessed a Peter who claimed that he did not know Me, a James who wanted power in return for service to the kingdom, a Philip who failed to see the Father in Me, and scores of disciples who were convinced I was finished on Calvary. The New Testament has many examples of men and women who started out well and then faltered along the way.

“Yet on Easter night I appeared to Peter. James is not remembered for his ambition but for the sacrifice of his life for Me. Philip did see the Father in Me when I pointed the way, and the disciples who despaired had enough courage to recognize Me when we broke bread at the end of the road to Emmaus. My point, little brother, is this: I expect more failure from you than you expect from yourself.”

The ragamuffin who sees his life as a voyage of discovery and runs the risk of failure has a better feel for faithfulness than the timid man who hides behind the law and never finds out who he is at all….

One night a dear friend of Rosalyn’s named Joe McGill was praying over this passage in John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….The Word was made flesh, he lived among us…” (John 1:1, 14). In the bright darkness of faith, he heard Jesus say, “Yes, the Word was made flesh. I chose to enter your broken world and limp through life with you.”

On the last day, when we arrive at the Great Cabin in the Sky, many of us will be bloodied, battered, bruised, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a “welcome home” sign on the door.

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out, 185-187.

one in whom God’s name is

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

God is not taken for granted in elite society, but there remains a God consciousness impressed in every human being. Atheists deny that, and fight against it, they would say because it is so ingrained in society, but we Christians say, because it is ingrained in us by God himself.

Jesus is not only the supreme witness, we say, of a great and good God. But Jesus has the very name of God on him, indeed in him, in his very being. This was in the promise given to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, many years before Jesus. I’m sure they saw the promise in something like a human who by virtue of God’s calling on him, had the very name of God on him, and hence the authority that goes with that.

This is the one who was born so humbly, and whose birth we now remember and indeed celebrate. A human like us, and yet one in whom God was, unlike any other. We see this explicated in the New Testament, a bit here by Paul:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him

And again by the writer to the Hebrews:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

And we see this over and over again in the witness of Jesus himself, particularly in the gospel according to John. Jesus does not hold back, but essentially preaches himself, and thus preaches the gospel (see Scot McKnight’s, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited).

This is the one whose coming we anticipate both in terms of remembering his first coming as well as looking forward to his reappearing when heaven and earth become one in and through him.

Yes, he is human. And so much more. The one in whom we put our faith, and through whom alone we come to God. The one hope of the world. And we in Jesus carry that life-changing, even world-changing name. The name of Jesus our Lord, Lord of all.


God meets us where we live

In Jesus, shown vividly in the Incarnation, God is with us where we live no less. God is with people in the hovels, the destitute poor,  near to all who call on him in truth.

God faces us, turns his face on us to shine on us by grace–a gift–through Jesus. We need to acknowledge and trust him in our lives. As we do, we find his help and blessing not out of trouble, but through, as in the midst of trouble. God meets us in every place.

God meet us not because we are deserving, but because of his grace which means gift to us, which we never deserve nor can earn. In fact God meets us especially when we realize we are sinners and what sinners we are. Like the tax collector who in despair cried out to God: “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” This is all “in Jesus”, God’s salvation in him.

I am so glad God does that in my life. I like to draw near to God in light of that before I get overwhelmed by this or that, or when I am overwhelmed. This is to be more and more our orientation in Jesus in life.

God is present with us in Jesus, and helps us in practical down to earth ways, as well as in ways beyond that, when all else fails. Of course that should not be an either/or, but and/both–though there is that peace of God to us which transcends all else.

God in his goodness is active in ways we don’t know and surely do not imagine in this world and beyond. God does this out of love, and also to draw people to him because of his goodness in their lives. There is so much darkness. But amazingly in the deepest darkness on earth, we often find people who through that darkness have found and bore witness to the brightest light in Jesus.

During this season of Lent, let us look to God as the one in Jesus who meets us where we live, so that not only we can be helped, but can help others to find this same blessing in Jesus.

eating with others

On Jesus Creed this morning there is a post which reminds me of the centrality of eating with others, which we find in scripture and practiced by Jesus. In many cultures eating a meal with others is a staple of day to day life. In such a meal one is sharing in a kind of feasting, or festival with others.

There are few things in life as enjoyable as a delicious meal. And life is meant to be shared with others. So there is something special about sharing meals with others, other loved ones- family and friends.

Such times are all the more special when we do so as if Jesus is at table with us. That doesn’t mean we have to omit the ordinary from our chatter during such times. In fact the ordinary then is indeed blessed by the presence of Jesus through the Spirit.

Here’s to a Blessed Thanksgiving to all! Including any whose culture may not include such a celebration; may your meals be so blessed, as well. In and through Jesus.

God will see us through

There are times and situations in which there seems no way out. Or God’s favor seems somehow lost or absent, as if that depends on us when it is found only in Jesus. As we approach Advent season we need to ever remember one truth that stands out for us at that time: in Jesus by the Incarnation God is with us, Immanuel. And in Jesus God will see us through.

We like easy ways, ways which we know we can navigate. Oh yes, with God through Jesus of course. But those places where we know by experience that the Lord will see us through. We are less inclined, indeed we tend to shun any path which is breaking new ground. In which we can see no good or easy way out. But in such places we can end up cast on God more than ever, which in itself is good.

We in Jesus need to set our hearts and minds and wills to be bent on living in and following God through Jesus no matter what we may face. That is one thing life, no matter what it may bring, can’t take from us. But that choice and stand is up to us. Yes, God is faithful in his grace in Jesus to work in us, so that we will both will/desire and do his good pleasure, his good will in Jesus. So we are dependent on God to be sure, and not on ourselves. Just the same we need to see these dark, difficult places as part of our way in Jesus, the path we are to walk faithfully in, even when darkness and despair threaten to overwhelm us at times.

The desert is a place no Christian should shun. It is prominent in the Holy Land, and in the narratives of scripture. It is the place where God meets us through a deep inner work of emptying and cleansing, prior to filling us for his good works for us in Jesus. In the desert we run into the world (paradoxically), the flesh and the devil. We are sifted, so that the chaff/weeds can be separated from the wheat in our lives. We are emptied so that we might be filled. Though there may be a special time for this early on in our Christian lives, I believe this is ongoing, off and on for us along the way in Jesus. The wilderness temptations Jesus experienced just after he was baptized by John the Baptizer were not the end of the road for our Lord in his being tempted by the devil, nor the end of a struggle in him, as we see clearly in the Garden of Gethsemane. So it will be for us who are his followers. We too by the Spirit will partake of all that his life entails in this life, if we go on with him. We can expect that.

But God through Jesus will see us through. Through his Spirit and his word. Through his community in Jesus. Even through Holy Communion. And for the world, that others might see not us, but God through Jesus.