Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The glory of the Lord shone around them

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about" (Luke 2:8-15).

I know these words by heart. Do you? Our father helped all four of us children memorize them one year at Christmastime. Even our 3-year-old brother Phil could quote this whole passage. People thought he could read because he would open up his brand-new pocket New Testament (we all got one that year) and begin to recite this story. The give-away was that sometimes he held his Testament upside down as he “read.”

. . . But something special happened today as I considered this story for the umpteenth time. I saw that the text does not say that a light shone around them, but that glory of the Lord shone around them. It was a glorious, supernatural type of light. Like the light that shone from Moses’ face when he descended from the mountain where he had fellowshipped with God. Like the light that shone from Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. It’s a supernatural light that is reflected by those who are in the presence of him who “lives in unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16).

Whether the glorious, palpable presence of the Lord appears as light, or with the sound of wind, or thunder, or fire, or a thick cloud, it inspires humility, awe, revelation, and a longing to be that close to God again. I notice something else in this story: the shepherds did not say “Let’s . . . see this thing . . . which the angels have told us about,” but “Let’s . . . see this thing . . . which the Lord has told us about.” Seeing angels—yes, that was amazing—but the angels had brought something vastly more wonderful with them—they had caused the shepherds to hear the voice of God himself.

I imagine that you have a story to tell of a time when God was very real to you. Did it happen because of a person who radiated the knowledge of God, or did it happen in another way? I would like to share a story of an encounter which I had several years ago. Then I would like to hear your story.

Fittingly, my encounter occurred just before Christmas. I had just delivered a gift to an assistant pastor and his family. As I prepared to leave their home, they offered to pray for healing of my cold . . . I no longer remember what happened to my physical symptoms. What I do remember is that for days thereafter I walked around in a cloud of the glory of God, passionate love keeping my heart turned constantly toward him. Their prayers, coming out of the fountain of their relationship with the Lord brought me, also, right into his presence.

. . . Don't forget to tell me your story.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A simple key to abundant life

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

"Which ones?" the man inquired.

Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,'
and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' "

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:16-26).

The rich young man sensed a lack in his spiritual life and asked Jesus for the secret. Jesus, in his first response, seems to me to be saying, "There's no secret. You have the key—you know that God is the one who knows what is good. Whatever he has told you what to do; just do it."

When the young man responded, in essence, “I’ve done that, and I still don’t feel that I’ve arrived spiritually,” Jesus suggested that he sell all of his extensive possessions and come to follow him.

I believe that Jesus was saying, "Follow and obey God completely, whole-heartedly, exclusively. Don't just tuck the commandments in around the lifestyle of your choice. Make the pursuit of God’s goodness and his purposes the main event of your life." Selling all was not only necessary for this young man as an antidote for covetousness; it was a quick purge of a life of primarily serving self and the world, a decisive turning to a life that looks to God for its meaning.

Do we also sense a lack in our spiritual lives? Our problem is that we don't take heed of "all the things that I have commanded you"* then—in frustration with the quality of our spiritual life—we want a short-cut or a secret formula for abundant life.

What are some of these all-important commandments we might be ignoring?

“Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). [Well, I just can’t, we say. Sister So-and-so drives me crazy. And I will never be able to forgive the So-and-So’s. You don’t know what they did to me.]

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). [I’m too responsible to never be anxious about things. And also, God doesn’t seem interested in giving me some of the things I want, so I find it hard to just put all of my affairs in his hands.]

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). [I will get serious about telling others about Christ someday—maybe there will be a revival that will get me going. OR I’m too busy with my job and my family and my church responsibilities to think about that.]

We seem to think that if we have an excuse for not obeying certain commandments, that they don’t apply to us. You know what—if we repent of our disobedience and humbly ask for grace to obey the particular commandment that the Lord brings to our attention at any given time—wow! What a change will occur in our lives! After a while, we will not recognize ourselves, because our “old self” will finally stop being in charge in our thinking, our emotions, our actions, and our nature. Jesus’ commandments will guide us out of our old selves and into the life made possible by his Spirit. And every time we shed a little bit more of our old selves, we’ll wonder why we waited so long. Godly attitudes overflow into abundant life—peace, wholeness, wisdom, success, fruitfulness, and every other good thing.

God is everything that's good. His directions are our key to abundant life. Let's just do them.
*Matt. 28:20, emphasis added

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

It makes sense from here

At night, reflectors on bicycle wheels give an interesting demonstration of the difference that one's point of view makes. One would expect the reflectors to go around and around in a circular motion—and they do! If a bicycle wheel is lifted up off the ground and spun around, the reflector will trace out a fire-y circle in the dark. However, when the bike is ridden along the road, the reflectors seem to be hopping. They are still moving in perfect circles, but they are also being transported forward by the bicycle. With respect to the hub of the bicycle wheel, all the reflectors do is go around and around. But in the wider picture of their motion through space, they move in half-circles, never moving backward to complete the “bottom half” of the circle.

Are there areas and issues in your life which make no sense to you? They have not turned out the way you planned. Circumstances have befallen you which have left you asking “Why me?” Your life seems incomplete, pointless, perplexing, or unsatisfying.

Could it be that your life really makes perfect sense—you’re just not stepping back and looking at it from the right angle?

Ricardo Montalban, best known as Mr. Rourke in the TV show “Fantasy Island,” observed in Guideposts magazine that the Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father,” not “My Father.” When ask for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are aksing for God to fit our lives with the lives of many others in his plan for making this world a heaven on earth—for us all.

If we are disappointed with life, we’re probably looking at our lives through the glasses of the world’s self-centered values. We want our neighbors to approve of us and admire us. We want life to be comfortable. We want to have plenty of money to spend on luxuries and recreation. We have it in our minds that our lives—for the most part—still belong to us. We still think life revolves around ME. We have not been captured by the radically different attitude that belongs to a follower of Christ.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor 6:19 NKJV).

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20 NKJV).

On the other hand, the Lord—who did not live for himself but for us—takes seriously our commitment to him. He immediately begins putting us in situations which are not self-serving, but in which others can be blessed. Doing good for others was his greatest joy, and he is leading us into that same large, adventuresome life of making a difference for others. As we willingly step into that kind of living, we will have the satisfaction of a truly significant life—and the joy of being surprised by the Lord's bestowing on us some of the very blessings we would have sought for ourselves. (See Matt. 6:33.)

Step back and take the wide-angle view of your life. Have you been so involved in your own issues that you have overlooked your unique opportunities to make someone else’s day? Are you so fed up with strife in your family that you don't realize you are in a prime position to be a peacemaker? Are you the person who (like Joseph in Egypt) could pray about the practical impossibilities facing your company and receive God’s insight on how to solve them? Do you feel so unnoticed and insignificant that you have failed to notice that somebody already is taking a better approach to life because they have watched your style? Do you appreciate the privilege of being a vital spoke in a wheel that is making many lives go around?

When we expect our lives to revolve in neat circles around ME and what I want out of life, we will be confused by the shape that the Lord has allowed our lives to take. They make no sense. But, hopefully, we’re now looking at our lives from the viewpoint of the Kingdom of God. They make perfect sense from here.