{re}fresh

Month: December, 2015

Learning to be loved

by mandyade

LoveisintheAir_SusanaFernandezhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/susivinh_CC BY-ND4.0

LoveisintheAir_SusanaFernandezhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/susivinh_CC BY-ND4.0

Peter was famous for asserting his love and commitment to Jesus, even when he couldn’t live up to his vows. Peter was deeply loved by God, but Peter did not place his significance on how much he was loved, but on how much he loved.

Peter saw himself as the man who loved Jesus, his identity was in his own love and commitment to the Lord, after all he had left all to follow Jesus. Peter’s human love and strength became Peter’s source of significance, which would become Peter’s downfall.

It was only when Peter’s love was put to the test that he realized that human strength is a bubble, a foolish place to put ones identity and significance. I believe it was during the time of Peter’s triple failure that he realized there was something wrong with his thinking.

John was very different to Peter. He saw himself as the man who was loved by Jesus. He identified himself as the ‘beloved’ one and he spoke of the times when he lay on Jesus breast. The most significant moments for John were not the moments when he was performing well, but when he discerned God’s love. This is who John was because this is how John saw himself, John came into agreement with God about who he truly was; God’s beloved.

When John’s and Peter’s love was tested Peter ran away (because human strength alone is not enough). John remained at the cross and even inherited Jesus’ mother because John was not living by the strength of his own love but by the strength of another’s unfailing love. John had tasted how to live from love, not for love. For John understood that he was already deeply loved and all his significance came from how God loved him.

We are all Christ’s beloveds, but only those who believe it and place their identity on it will live in that position.

 

 

 

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The Reason For The Season

by Rob Dunne

Image: Art4theGloryofGod by Sharon; 12/25/12; sharon-soberon.artistwebsites.com/galleries.html

Image: Art4theGloryofGod by Sharon; 12/25/12; sharon-soberon.artistwebsites.com/galleries.html

And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. John 17:3

On all Hallows Eve, my wife Kellie and I had to pick some things up at BJ’s. Much to my dismay, they had a bunch of Christmas stuff out. The commercialization of the holiday is causing retailers to push Christmas on us earlier and earlier. This would not be so bad if we spent the time reflecting on the reason for the season. However, our attention tends to be focused on trying to buy the perfect gift for others or what they are getting us.

Why do we celebrate Christmas? At its core, it truly is about giving and receiving. The gift that we receive does not come wrapped in fancy paper topped with a decorative bow. Rather, it came in the form of a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.

The birth of Jesus was only the beginning. He modeled an extraordinary way of life. Each day started by communicating with God. I suspect that God gave Jesus His marching orders every morning. Then the day was spent loving people. He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead.

Jesus also taught people what life in God’s kingdom looks like. If someone offends or hurts you, forgive them. How many times do you forgive? Infinitely. When someone strikes you on the cheek, don’t respond in kind – turn and offer them the other. Pray for your enemies and bless those who spitefully use you. How on earth is this possible?

The lifestyle that we are called to live is impossible. Human beings are too selfish to live life in this manner. This is where the true gift comes in to play. Jesus became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. As He sat down at the right hand of God, it made it possible for the Holy Spirit to come live on the inside of us. Saying yes to the gift that Jesus offers us makes it possible for us to receive new life. We die to who we once were and we are born again.

Spiritual birth is not the same as the one that we experienced when our mother’s water broke and we first came in to the world. Being born again is where we are given a brand new spirit and we are joined with the Spirit of God. This is what makes living like Jesus possible. In the same way that Jesus was able to talk to God every morning, we can communicate with God. The selfishness that once dictated our actions is replaced with the love of God. Our needs, wants and desires are erased and our thoughts turn to the needs of other people. That is kingdom living.

Christmas allows us to reflect on God’s goodness. We remember that Jesus became a man and lived a selfless life. His death allows us to be reconciled to God. That is the gift of Christmas. It is not forced upon us. Rather, we have to receive it freely. It is then our delight to share the gift with others so they too can experience God’s love.

In the busyness of the season, take time to reflect on the gift of eternal life that Jesus paid for you to enjoy and share that gift with the world around you. After all, that is the true reason for the season.

Everything Old Is New Again

by Mike McKinniss

My mother, as they say, is a saint. And I have witnessed her righteous indignation, expelled in the spirit of Elijah on Mount Carmel, at the insidiously subversive notion that Advent hymns might be too overwrought, lyrically; too dense, theologically; and too passé, musically. The initial accusation might have wrinkled her brow; the second may have elicited a silent shake of her head; the final, however, was outright blasphemous slander.

My mother’s musical blood is purebred, and Christmas songs, above all other genres, make it sing. Others may have rushed to the mall on Black Friday; my mother rushed to her LP’s, cassettes and CD’s to unleash her voluminous Christmas collection. Thus have I been raised with an appropriate reverence for carols, which I gleefully imbibe all December.

Among our favorite carols, often sung at the conclusion of the Christmas Eve services of my childhood, is the rousing “Joy to the World”. It is a favorite of many because of its celebratory tone, yet it also highlights the tensions of Advent.

“Joy to the world,” we sing, and in so doing, we echo the angel appearing to the bewildered shepherds in Luke 2:

But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: today a Savior who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David” (Lk 2:10-11, HCSB).

But these days, with ISIS wreaking havoc in the Middle East, with the bombings in Paris, and with mass shootings popping up across America with far too much frequency, you’d be forgiven wondering whether the birth of the Savior of the world had really happened two thousand years ago.

In fact, it hardly takes headline grabbing atrocities to stretch our faith. We may each be a cancer diagnosis, car accident or downsizing away from wondering whether Jesus had truly brought “peace on earth to people [God] favors” (Luke 2:14b). The tension can be all too real.

But the tension is not new.

The Christmas season, naturally, is the right time to review the nativity stories from Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Seldom, however, do we arrive at Matthew 1 by way of Malachi 4. That is, we too often begin reading these celebrated Christmas passages without their historical context.

When the angels burst into the shepherds’ lives in Luke 2, the Jews of Palestine had already been living under the Roman thumb for 60 years. Before that, with the exception of a few notable years, Jews in the Near East had been cruelly governed by the Seleucids for 140 years.  Before that, the Ptolemies had come from Egypt and harshly ruled the Jews for 120 years. Just seven years or so before that, Alexander the Great had swept through the Middle East, making everything Greek. One hundred years prior, Malachi had prophesied in a Jerusalem under Persian jurisdiction. And though the Persians were generally beneficent toward other cultures, they certainly were not Israelite descendants of David, whose throne God had promised to uphold eternally (2 Sam. 7). And before the Persians, who controlled the land for 200 years, came a half century of Jewish captivity in Babylon, which itself had been preceded by 150 years of captivity under the Assyrians.

All told, by the time Jesus was born, God’s people had been waiting over 700 years for the Lord to restore the fortunes of His people, to bring “peace on earth”.

Everything that’s old, as the saying goes, is new again.

Advent is, as it ought to be, a celebration. Yet it is further, as it ought to be, bittersweet. Like a Van Gogh painted upon a postage stamp, Advent is a frustratingly stunning portrait of how the world ought to be. Indeed, it is a premonition of God’s aim for the creation—tantalizing in the glimpses we get of that hope; frustrating in the long wait for Christ’s return, when the angels’ song for peace on earth at last will be made fully real.

This Christmas, then, I will again be singing “Joy to the World” with full throat. I will do so as a declaration of history, for those with eyes to see, and as a prophetic act: Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!

What are we waiting for?

by Dawn Aldrich

Image by Marcy Leigh https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcyleigh_CC BY-ND 4.0

Image by Marcy Leigh
https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcyleigh_CC BY-ND 4.0

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior.” Micah 7:7

While we set aside lawn rakes for snow shovels, pumpkins for poinsettias we usher in the Advent season – the season of waiting and inward preparedness. But what exactly are we waiting for? And how do we prepare for it?

Are we awaiting a birthday celebration – the remembrance, the anniversary of the Christ child? Yes, in part. The incarnation of God’s love for mankind through Christ is certainly a divinely significant event to celebrate. Yet, if that’s all we celebrate – an anniversary- then we are left wanting after all the presents are unwrapped, the decorations torn down and put away. For what power does Christ’s birth have for us here and now without understanding the hidden cross inside his lowly manger on Christmas night as our hope of salvation and resurrection? (Watch for the Light, 2001 Orbis Books).

The First Advent – the birth of Christ – brought God’s kingdom from heaven to earth. And through Christ’s death, we gain salvation, adoption by God as heirs to his kingdom – the present and future. This future kingdom – when all heaven and earth passes away and Christ returns – this Second Advent – this is what we await with great expectation.

We wait and we prepare our hearts, first by remembering Christ’s humble birth and the hope hidden within him and through him and because of him. And secondly, we prepare our hearts as little children – ever hopeful, ever faithful, and ever watchful – for God’s light until it permeates and changes us.

This Christmas, what are you waiting for? Which traditions help prepare your heart for remembering the First Advent? Will you look at them differently in light of waiting for the Second Advent?

So This Is Love

by mymorethanme

bros7

My two rowdy boys were outside playing after school with their friends, our neighbors. A fence divides our property from theirs. Johnny was running from our side of the fence (the grassy side) while Gabe was running from our neighbor’s (the driveway side). Not seeing the other one coming they crashed head-on at full speed, each thrown to the ground by the force of the impact. Gabe’s grinding asphalt landing was grittier than Johnny’s grass cushioned fall. Both of Gabe’s knees, his arm, shoulder, and chest took a bloody beating. He jumped up and raced home, adrenaline pumping, face and lips a gray-white ashen pallor, feeling nauseous and close to passing out. Johnny followed, slowly limping behind, helped by his friend, chest aching, unable to clearly speak with the wind knocked out of him. He managed to squeak through tears, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt him. It was an accident. I’m so sorry. It was my fault.”

Gabe forgave Johnny immediately. “Johnny, it wasn’t your fault. We were both running. Like you said, it was an accident.”

The next morning at breakfast Gabe, terribly stiff and sore, with bandages covering leaky, oozing, gooey wounds, brightly piped up, “Hey Johnny, I’m glad I was on the driveway side. I’m glad it wasn’t you!” Our ever-competitive, spunky youngest responded, “What, you’re saying you’re tougher than me?” Gabe gently replied, “No, I’m just older than you and can handle the pain better. I’m glad to take this so you don’t have to.”

I am always blown away when I see Jesus in my sons. And I am always amazed when love and joy are extracted from pain and suffering.

Jesus left the comfort and security of His heavenly home, becoming one of us to become one with us. He took on flesh to be torn apart so we would never have to be apart from Him. He became the sin and darkness He so despised so we could become the glory and light in His Father’s eyes. He emptied Himself, He gave His all, He poured out His love–and it was His call. He wasn’t coerced; He was willing to die. He chose suffering–to be the least, the last, the lowliest–and He told us why.

“I’m glad to take this so you don’t have to.”

Love is a costly choice. It did not come from a posh store and it is not wrapped in glitter and gold, perfectly packaged under a six-foot spruce. It came from a poor stable, wrapped in rags, birthed through tears and pain under a starlit, not so silent night. It is not easy, comfortable, self-preserving, or safe. It is hard, disturbing, sacrificial, and risky. It is peace past calm, joy beyond happiness. Its reward is not recognition, fame, or fortune. Its reward is itself. It is not an it. It is a Him. He is Jesus. Immanuel. God with us.

And He is Love.

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