Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sympathetic Resonance

Luke is extremely careful to give us the facts and not the exaggerations when it comes to the most important story in the Bible.  He chooses his words carefully, and they tell the events in simple fashion.  His words provide us with the meaning of Christmas which is summed up in the doctrine of the incarnation. That is a big word that simply means that Jesus became a man while retaining his divinity. Although he voluntarily laid aside the use of his divine attributes, he was both God and man. He didn’t just appear to be a man; he really was a human being. He had a real body in which he experienced real human emotions—even our human weaknesses, and all this he did without ever sinning. Since Jesus was a real baby, he had to learn to crawl, to walk, and to talk. He had to learn how to be a carpenter as a man and all that we have to learn as we grow into adulthood.

The writer of the book of Hebrews says that since Jesus became a man he has the ability to sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). Two perfectly in-tune pianos that are in the same room have a sympathetic resonance with each other. When one note is struck on one, the same note will respond on the other piano without being touched by anyone. Since Christ came in the same body we all share, he is capable of feeling our pain, sorrow and disappointment with life. Whatever sadness that originates in our hearts will be felt in the savior’s heart.

Celebrating Christmas biblically means that we embrace the belief that Jesus, who was God throughout eternity, took on the human body which he now continues to retain—all for us. He did this to feel our pain and to share our human experience. He did this to save us from our sins and to give us hope in a hopeless world.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

“No One Can Hold Back His Hand”

Following the announcement of the angel Gabriel about the birth of Jesus to Mary, she made a journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth. By the time Mary arrived, the impact of the angel’s words had penetrated deep into her heart. Upon her arrival, the Holy Spirit caused the six-month-old fetus of Elizabeth to leap in the womb. Then Elizabeth declared that Mary was the mother of the Messiah, after which Mary spontaneously delivered her beautiful song.

Mary’s song shares a biblical truth that clearly states how God deals with people. Here is the principle:
“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52).

Perhaps the most notorious example of the arrogant was Nebuchadnezzar who was unbelievably proud. He so fits Mary’s description. He was so self-absorbed that he may have possibly been the world’s greatest narcissist. Even though he had been warned to humble himself, he refused.   Twelve months later as the king was walking on the roof of his palace, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"  (Dan 4:29-30).

Scripture records that the king’s mind snapped and he began to act like a wild animal. He cast aside his royal robes due to his insanity and was found among the wild animals of the field. He remained in this state for seven years. When he came to his senses, here are his words:  “I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?... And those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Dan 4:34-37).

God is able to scatter the proud, as Mary clearly states and Nebuchadnezzar testifies “No one can hold back his hand.” Peter says that it is much more advisable to humble yourself than to have God humble you, " Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

Jesus’ life was the complete opposite of Nebuchadnezzar. He humbled himself through his incarnation, life and death on the cross. As a result “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-11).

There is enormous pressure from our sinful nature and the influence of culture to be like Nebuchadnezzar in how we live and treat people. Mary warns us that we will be humbled if we choose to live that way. Jesus, on the other hand, teaches us to live humbly so that in due time God can exalt us.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Announcement

We all like important announcements, and we wait in anticipation for them to come. The greatest announcement this planet has ever received came as a Christmas message 2000 years ago. Four hundred years after the last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, had predicted the coming of the Messiah, the people continued to wait. When the long awaited announcement finally came, it didn’t come to any place of significance or to anyone of prominence. The angel Gabriel was dispatched from the Father on a mission to the obscure, unimportant town of Nazareth. Six months before, Gabriel had delivered a message to Zechariah the priest. It had been 500 hundred years since his last visit to earth when he delivered a message to Daniel about the coming Messiah. This visit to Nazareth was the culmination of all the waiting.

Gabriel found Mary, who was very young, perhaps only 14 or less, which was the common age to marry in this time.  Mary was part of a believing community who waited and hoped for news of the coming Messiah. She was engaged to be married to Joseph the carpenter.

The angel’s words still amaze us, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). Mary was certainly favored. Not that she has become the dispenser of all grace and should be the recipient of our prayers. Mary herself would have been horrified by such a thing, but she, after all is the only woman chosen to bear the son of God. Jesus would have born her features because she was his real mother, even though she was a virgin until his birth.

Mary responded to the angel’s words with a reflective heart, “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” It is quite a compliment for a girl her age. Mary is then told that, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” The next part of the angel’s words make it clear that this baby will be the Messiah, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:29-32).

Mary asked for clarification, "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34).
Once Mary understood how this would all happen, she responded, "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38).

This is the meaning of Christmas—a response of belief, trust and submission. Christmas is about faith and belief in the God of heaven who has not abandoned us but has sent his son to save us.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Forgiveness is a Gift

Forgiveness is a Gift

Christmas is a time of giving and receiving gifts. How about giving the gift of forgiveness to someone who has hurt you this Christmas? The gift will not only heal their heart, but it will also bring healing to your heart. Forgiveness is truly a gift to be shared, but it takes practice to learn how to share this gift.

When our children were very small, I remember how difficult it was for me to accept the idea of forgiveness on a practical level.  It goes both ways, we forgive, and we ask to be forgiven.  Our family was having breakfast when my toddler son spilled his milk.  I reacted by scolding him, and he immediately started crying.  I went to the kitchen to get him some more milk and in the process spilled a whole lot more milk than he did.  My first thought was to quietly clean it up and not say anything, but I knew that wouldn’t be right.  As hard as it was, I returned with the milk and apologized to my son and the family.  That act of forgiveness healed his little heart and taught me this is the only way I would be able to teach my family about forgiveness.  I would have to be the first to ask for forgiveness when I did wrong.

Apologizing to people is one of the ways we open the door to forgiveness.  No matter what it takes, we have to forgive, even those who won’t forgive us.  The benefits of forgiveness are wonderful, but the consequences of not forgiving are devastating.  How many marriages could have been saved from divorce if both or even one of the spouses had learned to say these simple words, “I’m sorry.”  Dick Keys writes insightfully about our difficulty of offering apologies:

Apologies are never easy, but apologies for resentment are among the most difficult. This is because the same pride that drives us into resentment blocks our retreat from it. Think of the difference between the ways a squirrel and a cat climb a tree. The squirrel has the equivalent of your thumb on the back of its front paws which enables it to scamper down a tree as easily and neatly as it goes up it. The cat, on the other hand, has only claws on the front of its paws.  It can climb up a tree very nicely, but it is a great indignity for a cat to come down. It must come down backwards, usually very slowly, twisting and clutching at the bark, looking over one shoulder.  A cat might climb to the top of a tree and the fire department comes to carry it down on a ladder.  In our rush into anger at high speed and with great ease and there we sit in the high branches, with the reminder, ‘Anger lodges in the bosom of fools’ (Eccl. 7-9).  To get rid of resentment can be an awkward and humiliating experience.  Like the cat, we too would rather wait until someone hears our howling and sympathizes with us, and helps to carry us down from our perch with gentleness and dignity. In short, we wait for the other person to apologize to us.[i]

Getting past the hurts others have done to us is vital to seeing our future.  Unless we are able to forgive and allow God’s forgiveness to heal our broken hearts, we will never see the future God has for us.  One time when ordering Chinese food, I received a fortune cookie that read: “Time heals all wounds.”  How often have we heard this refrain, but it is simply not true.  Time alone is not enough to heal our deepest wounds, only God can do that though the gift of forgiveness.

[i] Dick Keyes, Beyond Identity, (Great Britain, Paternoster Press: 1998), 211.