GOD WITH US NOW, NOT JUST AT CHRISTMAS

Jesus had fed the 5,000, had healed the sick, had cast out demons, yet the Pharisees demanded to see more signs, more miracles — show us a sign and we will believe!  Matthew 12:38.  It as if they thought that Jesus would deliver a sign upon demand!  How foolish of them, we say; how arrogant could they be, we say; how could they treat the Son of God like that, we say!

Are we not like them?   We demand that God would resolve our financial difficulties, perhaps by God letting us win the lottery.  We demand that God would miraculously take the disease away, on our immediate timetable, of course.  We demand that God intervene and solve all our problems when we try to buy a new house or car, although we have not financially prepared for the purchase.  Just one more sign!

Our God can do these things, of course.  He is omnipotent so there is nothing that He is powerless to accomplish.  But we miss out on His presence if we simply look for Him in a massive display of His power on our behalf.  We forget that He has given the believer in Jesus the gift of life, both here and for all eternity, through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Talk about massive display of His power!   We forget that He is with us, in fact He is in us through His beloved Holy Spirit.

Flower garden in Maine from Bette
A flower garden along a lake in Maine

We see evidences of God’s presence everywhere we look, if only we use our heart’s eyes.  A beautiful array of flowers, a stunning scene along the lake, an encouraging word from a friend that comes just when we needed it, a gentle rain or glittering rainbow, or provision He makes for our needs when we cannot see any possibility ahead of us.

The Pharisees did not need to see additional signs as evidence for them to believe in Him – Jesus had provided sufficient evidence that He was who He said He was.  He had healed the sick, raised the dead, responded to questions in ways too deep for these “thinkers” to understand. 

They didn’t need additional signs, and neither do we.  In short, we don’t need to seek spectacular displays of God’s work to know that He is the Savior.  The most spectacular display possible occurred 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ died the death that was rightfully ours and then when God raised Him from the dead. 

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV

 He is with us today, we don’t have to wait for Christmastime to realize this.

“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

2 Timothy 1:13-14 ESV

Oh that we would know that the Holy Spirit is resident within us, and that we would realize that we have “God With Us” in a way that those who lived prior to Pentecost could not imagine.  We don’t have to wonder where He is, nor do we have to go to a specific church or place to pray.  He is with us 24/7 and there is nowhere we can go that is outside His reach. 

Read Psalm 139 as you ruminate on how all-embracing God’s knowledge of you is. 

We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God.   He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.  

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963)

I pray that each of us will have open eyes to see His presence in our lives each day.

 

Father, You are Lord of the Universe, King of Kings, Creator of All, and You are the Lover of my soul.  Forgive, I pray, when I am so besieged by the difficulties, trials and concerns of the day that I fail to see Your hand, active and working in each of those situations.  Forgive, when I expect spectacular evidence of Your involvement in my life even though I ignore Your Word or the reminders that You provide in the chirp of a bird, in the sound of the wind, in the rustling of the leaves, in the antics of woodland creatures or the family pets.  Thank you Father for Your constant presence through the Holy Spirit.  May I be more sensitive to hearing Your call as You work in my life today.

PLANNING AND WAITING EXPECTANTLY

Have you ever planned something a long time in advance, like 18 months or more, and then it came time for the event, and you almost missed the fun and excitement of it in the worry and concern about details?

I admit that I am a hopeless planner.   When our daughter got married, I had lists to keep track of the lists — the overarching list was of things that had to be done and then the other individual lists of each of those things with detailed points to be checked off as the task was completed.

bride-down-the-aisle
Our daughter as she walks down the aisle with my husband … a glorious day indeed!

If a trip is being discussed, I will have a list, usually in Excel, where each day is outlined, things to do are identified along with address and phone number, hours of operation and sometimes even the cost of admission.  If a day has 3 or 4 events, I am a happy camper.  My lists are not set in concrete.  If something else looks interesting, we can and should do that, but in case we can’t find anything else, I have my lists.  I don’t want to have empty time … fill it up and then eat!

I can rationalize this mania for lists, of course, but the reality is that sometimes, in the preparation and scheduling, I miss the point.  When she got married, we were celebrating this creation of a new home and were asking God to bless it with His presence and guidance through the years to come.  When we are going on a vacation with our children and grandchildren, we want to forge memories, to tell stories of how God has been involved in our lives through the years, to pass the torch from generation to generation.  That’s what important, not what schedule we will have or whether the event goes along without a hitch.

When I get lost in the detail, I forget the big picture and sometimes I run the risk of missing it entirely.

This characteristic of mine makes me think of the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ day.  They kept the rules; they taught the dos and don’ts; they were zealous for God.  But they missed Him when He came.  The Old Testament has numerous prophesies about the Messiah, and these teachers could read the verses from Isaiah and Psalms and probably quote them by heart, but they were so lost in the details of dogma that they missed the important One.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

king-size-bed
The manger that provided a place to sleep for our Savior was, on that day, a bed for the King.

Their preoccupation with the rules and details of what they expected resulted in them missing the Messiah’s coming.  Even more than that, it resulted in the actual rejection of the very One they said they were waiting for.

 

They rejected Him when He did not fit the mold they were expecting.

 

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.

Matthew 26:3-4

 

They were waiting, as they were told to do so in the Old Testament, but they were not waiting expectantly … in short, they r-e-a-l-l-y didn’t think anything was going to happen.  They did not expect the Savior to be born, certainly not on their watch!  He would certainly not come as Jesus did, so they rejected His message and His life – they set out to kill him and, ultimately, they did so.

 

In today’s world, we are still waiting for the Lord, but this time it is for His second coming.  This time it is waiting for Him, when He will usher in the end of time and the beginning of our eternity.  We are told to wait for Him and He promised that He would come again.

 

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.  When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”

Matthew 25:13. 31

 

He said that He would come back.  Do we wait expectantly for our Lord to return?

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

John 14:3

 

Are we weighed down with the cares of this life so that His second coming is nowhere on our radar screen?

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  … Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:27, 33-36

 

Are we longing to see Him and to leave this world behind for the life we will have with Him in heaven?

 

I may be able to list out the details of a wedding or a trip, but I cannot list the details of the second coming of my Lord and Savior.  I can, however, trust what He says in Scripture. The details of this incredible event are unimportant to me here and now. I don’t need to know all the ins and outs of the details.  Those are in God’s hands.  The fact that Jesus will return is based on the truth of Scripture.

 

God’s Word is true.  Unless my body quits and I die first (at which time I will be met by my Lord in heaven), Jesus will return and take me to join the Church Triumphant.  Praise His holy Name!

 

Lord, may I be so in tune with You and your Word that I don’t get caught up in the detail but I rest in You and your righteousness, love, mercy and grace.  May I not get so entwined with the goods, activities and cares of this world that I forget to watch and prepare for your return.  Thank you Lord for salvation and the blessing of your Word and for the security and truth of your promises!

BRIDGES

A bridge is a structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley or road, for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle.  [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge accessed September 19, 2015]

There are a multitude of examples of bridges that we can find or have occasion to cross.

Henley Street Bridge in Knoxville
Henley Street Bridge in Knoxville

 

In Knoxville we have the Henley Street Bridge, which is well over 100 years old, and is the site of fireworks during holiday celebrations.

The interstate takes its course over this incredible bridge as we traveled across the Mighty Mississippi River.

Bridge across the Mississippi River outside of Louisiana
Bridge across the Mississippi River outside of Louisiana

The bridge at Multnomah Waterfalls along the Columbia River Highway, Oregon enables people to get up close to the waterfalls without killing themselves on the slippery rocks or without being pummeled by the pressure of the water falling over the edge over 500 feet overhead. [See: http://www.waterfallsnorthwest.com/nws/falls.php?num=4051%5D

Multnomah Waterfall, Columbia River Highway, Oregon
Multnomah Waterfalls, Columbia River Highway, Oregon

Then we have a footbridge across the creek in the Great Smoky Mountains.   Not every bridge is a sterling example of engineering marvels.   Here, the bridge accomplishes its important purpose with dignity and a simplicity that is beautiful in its own right.

Wooden bridge across creek in the Smokey Mountains
Wooden bridge across creek in the Smoky Mountains

The bridge over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg is iconic as well as fundamentally important, being one of the links between the East and the West of our country.

Bridge over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg
Bridge over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg

While different in materials, design, location and terrain surrounding each bridge, the fundamental purpose is the same – to provide safe passage from one side to the other.  There is a chasm from which passage is either extremely difficult or impossible and the bridge enables us to move unhindered across that chasm, if we will but avail ourselves of its presence.

In 1956 I had occasion to visit the Royal Gorge in Colorado.  It was an event for which I have vivid recollection because of the impact it had on me – the depth of the gorge was mind boggling and its presence in the middle of, what seemed to me to be, nowhere made a lasting impression.  I could not fathom how anyone could cross this incredible tear in the fabric of the ground!

The Royal Gorge, Colorado, picture taken in 1956
The Royal Gorge, Colorado, picture taken in 1956

But someone did — many years before.   There was a bridge over the Royal Gorge to make travel across the gorge both possible and safe.  I admit to being panicked when my father drove across the bridge, but we were safe.

Bridge over the Royal Gorge, Colorado
Bridge over the Royal Gorge, Colorado

All of us are subject to a chasm that renders the Royal Gorge insignificant … the chasm between righteousness and sin. Romans 3:23 says, simply and concisely, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

We may think that we have done such good things that God will surely let us enter His Heaven, but if we have not repented of our sin and confessed Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we may be like the Pharisees in Luke 16 where Jesus said:

“You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”  Luke 16:15

Indeed, Jesus said: “No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18.

In short, we need to bridge the gap between us and our unrighteousness (also known as sin) and the Holy God, Who cannot look upon sin.  Isaiah learned this as a result of the vision he had in the year that King Uzziah died.  Isaiah 6:1-8. Isaiah saw the Lord on His throne, high and lifted up.  And the seraphim that stood by the throne called and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Isaiah’s response was not to say something like “Hey there – here I am and you should be glad that I have come, after all, I am your prophet and have a lot of clout on earth!  Look at all the times I did what you wanted and what I have accomplished for you!”

Quite the contrary – Isaiah said:

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

After this, the seraphim took a coal from the altar and touched his lips saying:

“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Only after this did God speak and Isaiah responded.  God cannot look upon sin!

Isaiah’s response when he was confronted with the holiness of God was “Woe is me!” Isaiah became aware that sin is not fixed simply by “washing up and looking good” – it is a fundamental condition that we are powerless to cure.  It took action by God to cleanse Isaiah so he could minister as God wanted.

Like Isaiah, we can do nothing to fix our own condition. But, One has come and has bridged the gap for us – He became the way we can come before the Holy God and call Him “Abba, Father!”

In Philippians 2:5-8, Paul writes:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, bring born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The sinless One became sin for us so that we, who have no righteousness in our own selves, could be covered in His righteousness.  His sacrifice made our acceptance before the Holy God possible – we stand in His righteousness claiming Jesus as our Savior and, miracle of miracles, God the Father accepts us as His children.  Not because of anything good we have done – all because of the acts of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Father, I thank you and praise Your Holy Name for sending Jesus Christ as the sacrificial lamb Who secured salvation for those who call upon His Name, repent of their sin, and confess Him as Lord and Savior of their lives.  Thank you for providing a way for us to breach the chasm that sin created, and I praise Your Name for adoption into the family of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In Whose Name I pray, Amen.