Warning: This post will be a bit longer than normal.
The final day of 2018. It is hard to believe this year has ended. For me? Seemingly so quickly. I’ve already decided looking back is not something I’m going to do. I know there have been victories. I know there have been defeats. I’ve had highs and lows. I’ve had moments of growth. I’ve had moments where I feel like I’ve gone backwards. But I had already concluded what Tripp put so much better into words than I was able to articulate:
God’s work in me is a process, not an event. It progresses not in three or four huge moments, but in ten thousand little moments of change.
I would be foolish to think that life-my spiritual life-would be one big growth chart. Honestly, I can’t look back and see one or two or three big significant events in my year that I can point to and says, “That’s it! That’s the turning point!!” It is more like Tripp writes:
…the transforming work of grace is more of a mundane process than a series of a few dramatic events. Personal heart and life change is always a process…It takes place where I live everyday.
Each day I make a choice. Each day I wake up and make a choice whether I will give control TO God or take control FROM God. Each day is part of the process of molding me and shaping me. I was molded and shaped this past year. By little events. The divorce of a friend. The failing marriage of another where I was called incompetent; a poor excuse for a pastor and counselor; among other things. The excitement of several weddings. Watching Ryan grow and falter and grow some more. Spending time with my grandson and watching him grow up and mature. Watching love happen to two people I care deeply about. Grateful people who expressed their thanks when I badly needed it. A deepening friendship with “3 Feet Dave” as Jo calls him. Riding more this year than I have in several recent years. An awareness of the creeping scepter of growing old, but enjoying life in spite of the aches and pains. Still in love with the wife of my youth (and neither one of us fit that bill today). A developing friendship with a cancer patient who will soon be home with Jesus unless a miracle occurs.
A thousand little moments with a BAM! or two, but mostly little ones. Each one forming my character. Each one bringing to mind several Scriptures:
“He must increase; I must decrease.” John 3:30
“The eyes of the Lord roam throughout the earth looking for hearts fully committed to Him.” 2 Chron.16:9
May my 2019 be a testimony to the changes God is making in my life-little by little, day by day, little moment by little moment.
“Father, I pray my new year is further testimony to your goodness and grace. 2018 is history. I can’t change a thing. But you can go with me as I navigate the new year. Only you know what’s coming. I will trust. ‘The Lord is my life and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ AMEN. “
The Bible is a hope story. It is about hope misplaced and hope found. It’s about hope that cannot deliver and hope that gives me everything I need. It’s about where not to look for hope and the only place where true hope can be found.
The truth is no one can live without hope. Men sunk in the depths of the earth by a coal mine collapse can fight if they have hope. A person living in the worst of places can survive to get out if they have hope. Hope gives life. Hope breeds life. Hope get rid of the empty feeling. Hopelessness is a killer. That’s one of the reasons corporate worship is important. True worship is one of vertical hope. It is designed to replace the flimsy horizontal thread so many cling to.
In Romans 5:1-5 Paul says 5 things about hope:
- It is connected to my justification.
- It is connected to the glory of God.
- It is connected to my sufferings.
- My vertical hope will never put me to shame.
- It is connected to the Holy Spirit who lives inside me.
My hope is not in the flimsy thread of horizontal hope but that which is strong and ever lasting. That’s the kind of hope that will sustain through the New Year and gives hope for the past.
“Father, living hope. That’s what I want! The hope you give. For now. For the future.”
Change. I know some people dislike that word a lot. It’s not the word; it’s what it infers. And it isn’t really an inference; it’s action. It’s movement. It’s saying, “Guess what? Move. No more status quo.” Tripp says it this way:
Yes, change is possible, not because I have wisdom and strength, but because I’ve been blessed with the grace of Jesus.
Change is difficult for many people. We like sameness. We like status quo. Change means out of the comfort zone and into uncharted waters. I know there are some personality types where change is difficult; I’ll even give them the benefit of the doubt and give them some time. But those who resist because of “I refuse to” or because “I want things like they have always been” test my patience.
I can only imagine God’s feelings. He is not satisfied with us being as we have always been. His desire is for change. Change doesn’t mean:
- I’ll get my wish list
- God will change people into what I want them to be
- God will make life easier. If anything, I see life becoming more difficult as old moorings get broken loose and new “tie downs” are made.
“Father, I know change is necessary. I simply cannot stay the same. That breeds stagnation and death. Change me from inside out. Change me into the Christ-follower, the man, you want me to be. Let me not resist change but to accept it as part of your plan for me.”
As I read this devotion today, several Scriptures popped into my mind:
“The heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows his handiwork.”
“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Every pleasure I have experienced-seen, touched, felt, tasted, smelled-have all come from God and is to be enjoyed. And as I enjoy them I must keep in mind this is all a gift from God, that I did not deserve it. God has blessed me with so much, so much more than I could ever imagine. AND I DESERVE NONE OF IT! God has given me all good things, not because of me, but in spite of me. It is because that is WHO HE IS.
2018 is almost history. A year of everyday with NMM (my 2nd time through the book) has taught me much. It has taught me gratitude for all things. It has definitely heightened my awareness of grace. I have all I have; I’ve been blessed with good and bad; I’ve had pleasures beyond my wildest dreams; not because I’ve earned them, but because of His amazing grace. I’ve been challenged to take nothing for granted, to see it all from the hands of a good, good Father. My daily experience has been a good discipline. A challenge at times due to time involved, but I would not trade this past year in God’s presence for any amount of money in the world.
“Father, help me, today, to remember all I have is because of your grace. It is nothing I have earned or deserved. It is all because of your goodness and blessing.”
I can still remember it being said, (not to me but to the other boys! 🙂 ) “Stop running. This is God’s house.” I still hear it upon occasion, though not nearly as much. (Note: that may have as much to do with the lack of parenting as misbehavior. Just sayin’). Anyway… One of the men involved in overseas missions will often say, “This church helped build that church.” Many will say it’s a matter of semantics but the church is not the church building. The temple of God is not the physical plant of the building. The temple of God is me and you. God, through His Spirit, lives within me. I am the church. I am His temple. So are you.
This becomes very important when grace enters the conversation. Grace cannot be extended to a building. But it can be extended to an individual. Grace cannot change a building; it can and does change a person. Grace cannot alter a building’s life; it can and does alter a person’s. Grace has no impact on the direction of a building; it does impact an individual’s direction of life. Grace cannot reveal the inner needs of a building; it will show the inner working/needs/shortcomings of an individual.
I know. I am a recipient of grace. I am God’s house, his temple. He lives in me. With his grace and power I can change. My life has meaning. With his grace I’m not just forgiven; I’m renewed and used for His glory.
“Father, I am your house, your temple. That means you own me. So make yourself at home. Have your way. Put your feet up. Or better yet: do some housecleaning and rearranging. Let your grace flow to me and through me.”
I’m not saying “it’s not uncommon” but to say “it is easy” to lose sight of Jesus’ suffering would not be a stretch. What do I mean? It is easy to lose sight that Jesus’ whole time on earth was one of suffering. I’m not going to reiterate all the ways Tripp says Jesus suffered, but I can repeat his opening statement:
Jesus endured suffering in the here and now so that I could escape suffering for eternity.
Psalm 22 (the supplemental reading) is a Messianic psalm. It foreshadows the Messiah. “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (V.1) That first part is straight out of Jesus’ words on the cross. After exalting God as holy (Vs.3-5), he says he was “scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me” (Vs.6-7) Many of the rest of the verses are descriptions of the suffering of Messiah.
Tripp says, “His calling, his mission was to suffer, and suffer he did…For the Messiah, suffering was an everyday thing, even a moment-by-moment thing. And every act of his suffering was substitutional.” (Emphasis mine).
“Father, let me NEVER take for granted the suffering of Jesus. When I whine; when I whimper; when I complain; when I cry; please remind me I had Someone go before me who suffered a whole lot more than me. I have absolutely nothing to complain about.”
Following an early morning rise and a breakfast for the community, I’m finally getting to my NMM. Seems strange that the devotion is not about baby Jesus, the manger, etc. But it was still very poignant. It actually focused on another good and important truth for Christmas. In short, Jesus came to give me life but part of that is something I can count on: His presence to the end.
I need to remember these:
- Jesus willingly endured constant rejection and life-ending injustice so I would remember the unalterable, unshakeable and undefeated love of God.
- He readily went unloved so I would know constant love.
- He deserved to be loved, but was rejected so that I, who deserved to be rejected, would be eternally loved.
- He was willing to submit to the fickle and failing love of His followers so I would know the faithful and unfailing love of the Father.
- He endured separation from His Father so I wouldn’t.
If God was willing to do all that, what would make me think He would abandon me?
“Father, thank you for the manger. Thank you for the deeper truth that the manger is a precursor to something grander: love for me, with me, forever!”
I love Christmas lights! As a kid, even though we were not blessed with a lot of money-sometimes barely squeaking by thanks to mom’s “creativity”-we always had a nice Christmas. Included in that was a brightly lit Christmas tree, which we never saw until Christmas morning. Dad would put lights in the lower windows and on a tree outside. I’m not that elaborate, but I love lights on a tree!
Lights are a perfect picture of Jesus’ entry into our world.
Jesus willingly entered the darkness so that I could live in the light of His presence forever.
Tripp says it well: “The Christmas story really is a light story.” It’s a story about the Light of the world coming into the darkness of this world in order to dispel the darkness. I say dispel and not disperse on purpose. Disperse means “to spread it around.” God had no intention of spreading around the sin and darkness of this world. Dispel means “to wipe out, eradicate.” That was God’s solution. He knew the darkness and sin could not be trifled with or be allowed to stay. It had to be wiped out. So He sent the Light-the Light of the World. The real Christmas story. The real Light show. The world’s greatest houses fighting light wars has nothing on this one. They pale in comparison.
“Father, the heaven lit up on that Bethlehem hillside that night. No darkness Only light. Jesus came to bring light to this sin-darkened world. Let the True Light of the World be my light also.”
My sermon this morning is on the dark side/light side of Christmas. The dark side is, of course, my sin which brought about the need for God to enter into the world in the form of a baby; the light side being the birth and life of Jesus and ultimate death to bring about my salvation. Today’s devotion gave another perspective to that thought. First this:
Jesus endured human injustice in the here and now so that I would be blessed with divine mercy for all eternity.
The Christmas story is that baby in the manger would find Himself on the violent end of death. What Tripp does is show how slaughter started things and murder finished it. When Herod found out the wise men had tricked him, he lashed out in slaughter. When Pilate could not stop the hoards, he crucified Jesus. As Tripp so clearly puts it: “The slaughter depicts how much the earth needs grace. The murder is the moment when that grace is given.”
“Father, what a pointed lesson. While I celebrate the birth of Jesus (which is okay), it should also remind me of another celebration-the death of Jesus for my salvation. Help me not to forget that as I celebrate. Help me (as Tripp suggests) to see another tree as I look at the decorated Christmas tree with lights shining.”
I have faced separation several times in my life. Going away to college is one. But it was not traumatic. I’d been going off to camp for weeks at at time to work and it seemed like an extended camp time (only with some studying thrown in). Plus I knew I could go home occasionally. My grandmother and grandfather’s death. My in-laws. Then my mother. But even those weren’t traumatic since I know I will see them again. But those were a natural thing of life on earth. It’s gonna happen.
But how about the separation of the Son with the Father? It wasn’t a natural progression. It was the result of sin-ours, mine-not His. Jesus faced the separation from His Father because at the beginning two people decided to go their own way; do their own thing. And that never stops. I’m still into my own way, doing things as I want to, when I want to, often not caring whom I hurt.
However, I was never meant to live my life alone. I was never meant to go my own way. I was never meant to do as I want. My life is to be wrapped up in and controlled by Jesus. His life & ultimate death is the reason for Christmas. That was why He came-so I can be an eternally accepted child of God.
“Father, the life and ultimate death of Jesus was not only Your plan but the only way I can spend eternity with you. He came to be temporarily separated from You so I can permanently connected to You in eternity. Thank you.”