Friday, December 25, 2015

Our Coming King!

I have always enjoyed the season of Advent; those four weeks set apart to meditate on the first coming of Jesus. Advent means 'a coming into place, view or being,' so it is the perfect time to remember Jesus' arrival into human history as a tiny infant. Everyone loves babies; they are cute and cuddly. They are also non-threatening; they write no manifestos and make no speeches. They don't march or have causes. Examine any manger scene, the baby Jesus just lies there limply, without so much as a Pampers on—pretty harmless stuff. It is easy to reflect on and sing the praises of baby Jesus, asleep on the hay. Even the worldexcept those allergic to even the most innocuous religious expressions of Christmas—mostly tolerates baby Jesus. But Jesus hasn't been a baby for a long, long time. 

The man Jesus makes conclusive, polarizing statements about His identity. He directs how we should live—meddles even. He tips our sacred cows. His statements about Himself demand a response. He's politically incorrect and intolerant, with His claim of being 'the only way'. His promise that He will return, destroy all that hinders love and rule this planet as absolute, undisputed King places Him squarely at odds with the world and its systems. It's much less controversial to focus on His humble birth. Can't we just all get along? 

Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending Advent reflecting on Jesus' first advent—we should express love and gratitude that He came to save us. But Jesus our Messiah is also our coming King. He asks His disciples to remember that He is coming back and that they be ready. Like a watchmen vigilantly guarding his house against burglars. Like a pregnant woman, excitedly waiting for the day her baby arrives. Like a Jewish bride in ancient times, eagerly waiting for the day her bridegroom completes his preparations and comes to take her from her father's house, into his own.

So it's good that I remind myself that He's coming again, especially at this time of the year when everything around me insists that celebrating Christmas is okay, as long as I keep it about gifts and parties and baby Jesus. Baby Jesus only. But King Jesus is the One returning, with fiery eyes and an implacable determination to return the world to what God intended from the beginning. A place where God may walk among us; where we may see Him face to face. A place of unhindered love and intimacy, where we creatures may finally and forever live with our Creator. A place of eternal glory. 

As 2015 draws to a close, I want every manger scene be a reminder, not just that Jesus humbled Himself by coming as a weak, human infant, but that He's coming again as all-powerful King. As I remember and honor Jesus' appearing, I am asking God to refresh my desire to watch for His reappearing. This beautiful, terrible, broken world is passing and will pass away. Soon and very soon we will see our King, our glorious Jesus, high and lifted up. His train will fill all the earth. Every eye will see Him, recognizing Him as King and God. What a privilege it is to see and know Him now. 

May this Advent reaffirm your trust that what He has promised He will do; renew your resistance to the pull of this world; and refocus your life on Jesus. May He shorten the time and strengthen the saints to walk out His love to others.  Merry Christmas. Maranatha! (Oh Lord, Come!) 

“[Jesus] who testifies to these things says,
‘Yes, I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

Revelation 21:20-21

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Sudden Change of Perspective

I have to confess that, with regard to the Syrian refugee crisis, I’ve been pretty much marching lock-step with the band of popular opinion. The idea of importing large numbers of anonymous Muslims of unknown intent into my country, let alone my state or neighborhood makes me a little anxious. It also makes me angry for a variety of reasons, which are too many to get into and have mostly to do with carnal irritation at our delusional government and potential inconvenience to my lifestyle (which is even more carnal).

But recently I experienced one of those sudden perspective shifts in which you instantly know something that you didn’t before. During a Sunday sermon a large animated map was projected on the wall, showing the movement of refugees into Europe (a still shot is below. See the animation at I recognized that the refugees were fleeing, not just Syria but the entire 10/40 window. And it was like God adjusted a tuning knob in my brain—suddenly the picture was crystal-clear and the sound distortion-free. Into my mind popped Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

For two thousand years the Church has worked industriously to take the gospel all over the world, as we were commissioned to do. But some places have remained out of reach. A large percent of the remaining unreached nations are in the 10/40 window. Those governments where Islam holds sway are closed to missionaries; preaching is forbidden; and conversion is often a death sentence. Fortunately, when Jesus spoke of 'all nations' He didn’t mean real estate, He meant people groups. That map shone a spotlight on our commission…since we can’t get to them, God’s sending them to us. It was a goose bump moment, as I instantly "knew in my knower" that God is using this massive migration as part of His plan that all nations hear the gospel. This means my response to the refugee crisis is not just my personal preference, it is also my response to God’s call on my life. I may not be called to leave my home and culture to risk my life in Muslim lands, but I am called to help people in my circle of influence…people who come to my land.

If the purpose of salvation is to give me a happy life and then get me into Heaven, then I am right to protect my life and my stuff from all comers, both foreign and domestic. But if I'm here to play my part in God's bigger plan—that changes things. I can get so caught up in my comfortable, safe American life that I can forget that the goal all history is moving toward is the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. The last part of Matthew 24:14 is “…and then the end will come.” History will culminate in a glorious unveiling of God as God. All we now know will be swallowed up by the new and perfect and eternal. So my natural desire for peace and safety must not, cannot be of highest importance. Jesus said, “…whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25.

Don't get me wrong. This does not mean that we shouldn’t screen those those entering our country--there are terror groups actively attempting to exploit America’s weaknesses in order to destroy us. But whether or not refugees pose me any particular threat is God's business, and I’m pretty sure that Christians are called to have a different response than the hysterics currently on display in the world.

God has a special place in His heart for the stranger, the poor and the dispossessed. I’m called to help the less fortunate and love the stranger and pray for my enemies. I don’t think I get to qualify that help by adding when it’s convenient; when it doesn’t cost me anything; or when it’s safe for me. Of course there is a line to discern here, for I am also called to protect and provide for my family. But I cannot base my refugee response on a desire to avoid danger. History shows that Christians who attempt to live their lives so as to avoid danger, fall into a different, more terrible danger. Read about Christians in 1930's Germany. The ones who saved their lives and their stuff by saying 'yes' to the Nazis by their silence. Both the Bible and church history confirm that from the early disciples all the way to the Christians being martyred around the world today, normative Christianity includes trouble. 

So I’m prayerfully examining my thoughts about the refugee situation. Though I remain a little nervous, I no longer see it as trouble heading my way, but my unconventional God at work. I'm asking Him to help me make room in my heart for what He's doing. I am reminding myself that my wonderful, glorious Father loves all people and wants them to hear the good news of His coming kingdom. If they need to come to America to hear it, then God's will be done. I confess I am still fighting to be happy about it. But then again, my cramped, Grinchy heart rebels at most of the Scripture that demands I die to self and serve others, so this is no surprise. 

It’s not as if we don’t know what Jesus thinks of all this. That pesky Sermon on the Mount makes it pretty clear that He expects us to love our enemies and pray for them; to give to those to ask us; to have a different, higher response than the world—though it pains my worldly little heart to admit it.


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