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The Journey

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Grace Appeared

Scripture: Titus 2:11-14 (NRSV)

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” 

For the grace of God has appeared!  Sit in an easy chair thinking about this passage. I am looking at a tree covered with lights and waiting for family to arrive so we can njoy a Christmas lunch and supper. But since my mind wonders I began to read and pray.

I do not minister in a Meeting or church where we have midnight services or Christmas morning services, although I guess if I suggested it we would. So while many of you have already or are worshipping, I was just sitting here thinking of the awsomeness of Christmas.

Have we ever really thought of what Jesus did for us when he came to be born that cold morning in Judea? We quickly turn our attention to the salvation and sacrifice he provided for us on the passion cross, but that is just a small part of His ministry. Jesus came live among us.

When I was studying at Friends University my theology professor Dr. Christian Kettler continuously rant about the vicarious humanity of Christ. I thought I knew what he was saying. I mean I read books about the subject. I have even read some of Dr. Kettler’s books. I guess I understood the concept but never really considered the emotional and mystical aspects of this mysteriously divine exchange.

God’s grace appeared as a child, hidden from pomp, in a stable. Mystery number one. God’sgrace came in under the radar so to speak. I have not really considered this mystery before, but it somewhat ties into the parables this baby will eventually tell. The treasure is found and then suddenly the world changes around the one that find it. It was hidden from everyone except those that seek, or have eyes to see. I know that that sounds like God is being exclusive but that is part of that mystery. How many times have I walked or driven by a tree or a stone formation that has some unique beauty without ever actually seeing, or maybe you can only see the uniqueness in a certain light? That is the mystery I am speaking of, God is there but often we are overlooking it.

The grace of God appeared in a common public inn shed. He was not hidden but shrouded in mystery. How many people came and left their animals in this barn? How many people even noticed? The shepherds in the fields were the first. It is striking that the Holy Family was there in town and the first people to bother coming in to see this amazing thing were the sheep herders out in the fields…out side of town.

The grace appeared yet did we notice the unique beauty and importance of it all. This little child appeared as most children but it brought salvation to all. The next group of people to visit the Family mentioned in scripture is the magi from the east. These by all indications are not Hebrew people, and may actually be priests from other religions. Yet here they come bringing gifts to the king of the Jews. The shepherds then the pagan priest, salvation to all people.

This child grew as any boy. Offering friendship and comforts to those He met, just like many other children. Yet with this just beyond the surface was a mystery that people could only see in passing and then it was gone. The boy and eventually the man trained us to be humane. This boy king, God man taught us how to be human. He taught us how to live a life devoted to loving God and mankind. He came to be human for us. The vicarious humanity of Christ.

How many times do we let time and other distractions get in the way of our relationships? Time flies. It feels as if time just slips faster away from us each day. Have we been loving God, our families, and our neighbors in this time? Have we even introduced ourselves to the people who live just on the other side of us? Jesus spent time talking. He was rarely in a hurry. Even when a small girl as deathly sick he spent time to encourage a poor sick woman. I am not like that. I am constantly rushing to and from, which is probably why I received a speeding ticket for Christmas. Jesus taught his disciple and us to slow down, and to take time to pray. It is when we join with Christ we can truly become human, that lovely social being that was created to live in communities, we need social interaction we need families and friends and if we are left to our own devices we would destroy the spirits of those around us in our self seeking pursuits. But Jesus lived the perfect human life for us, and then he continues to train us to be human as we slo down and draw close to him.

The mystery is that we often forget how precious life is when we rush from one thing to the next. Grace appeared as a baby. Salvation was brought to all but hidden in plain sight. And this unique person both God and Man and Man and God taught us and provided the way for us to actually find who we are.

What an amazing gift. I encourage you all to take some time to slow down and just reflect on this mystery of Christmas. I hope you will see the treasure that will turn your world upside down.    

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Revival

Scripture: Zephaniah 3:14-20

The end is near! With all the talk of the Mayan calander, polar shifts, climate change, and zombies we may just start believing that the end is near. With all that being said you might be right the world as we know it is ending and something totally new is emerging before us.

I find this fascinating. Sure there might be challenges, but when have challenges been absent in life? Our culture is on the verge of a reset. I find this as a remarkable opportunity, because it gives us a chance to rebuild again. Is this not what our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have been praying for revival?

Revival has a very dark side to it, that most of us seem to forget about. If anyone has ever watched a tv medical drama you know what happened just prior to revival…someone died or at least was very lose to death. Then everyone hurriedly began working, they pumped the chest, they put a breathing bag over the patient’s mouth, then someone yells CLEAR! At this point everyone jumps back and a charge of electricity pulses through the body. And since I’m discribing a medical drama on tv the patient revives and lives happily ever after.

Revival does not happen in the living. Why should it they are alive already, it happens when the living cease to be living and something dramatic happens to raise the dead. This is what is being talked about in the scripture reading today. Shout aloud. Zion, O Israel! Rejoice! You were dead and now the Kingdom of God has come, it is in your midst! The Lord is taking away th judgement and you will be renewed. I don’t know about you but that sounds like an electrifying jolt!

What is this kingdom that Zephaniah is speaking about? I am sure that asa nation they are thinking about the golden years of Israel under King David. The years of plenty and of rightiousness, and of Solomon where the temple of God was raised and the glory and power of God was seen thoughout the land. But even that has a flip side the golden years of Israel lead to the divided kingdom, mainly because people failed to recognize what was really important to God and his kingdom. Eventually the prophet emerged and said that mercy is what God wants more than sacrifice…mercy.

If you were to really look at the laws of God you would see that the vast majority deal with honoring Him and honoring others. Even the dietary laws are dealing more with honoring others and yoursel than anything else. So honoring or respecting God and others is the main point of God’s kingdom. That is what people in Zephaniah’s day is getting excited about. They knew their history and how they failed to honor and love now they get a new opportunity to try again.

This was the main focus of Jesus’ ministry as well. If the Gospel was only about the substitutionary attonement for sin then why would the writters of the Gospels care about telling us of the healings, wedding parties, and feasts? These things have very little to do redemption or forgivness of sins. To be honest they have more to do with restoring life today than they have to do with eternal rewards.

Which brings us back to the continuous threats to th world as we know it. Yes I do believe that the end is near…I also believe just as if not more strongly that the beginning is near. I think we are on the verge of a time where followers of God can once again refocus their lives and ministries on the things that matter, the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Instead of living in fear of the closing of an age maybe we should honor those people in our past that were able to preach the gospel to their generation, by listening to that message and live it in ours.

Am writing today after spending much of the day in prayer. I was also listening to a book by Donald Miller, Through the Painted Deserts, in this book Don and I seem to b thinking similarly. We see that something about the way life was isn’t exactly the way live will be. In other books Don speaks about a radically different type of Christianity. Not that it is a new type, just different than we have been exposed to. A type of Christianity focused on mercy not just religious observances. A religion based on relationships and mission than legalism.

There are groups already involved in these missional ministries. There is something different about our relationship with God when our service to God moves out of the sanctuaries and into the streets, not to preach on the corners but to feed the people with both manna for today and for the life to come.

So as you pray for revival and escape from the coming zombie epidemic, let’s remember that both of those events stem from us bringing life into our comnumity. So pray for tht you will be open to the kingdom to come on earth, in you, as it is in heaven.

Sharing in the Gospel

Scripture: Philippians 1:3-11
When you read scripture what do you think about? I get wrapped up in reading. When I read a novel it is as if I am sitting in at the movies, my imagination gets so vivid. I am kind of embaraced to admit that even when I sleep I tend to replay the story line in my dreams. Sometimes I get confused because I took the story in a different direction in my dreams than the author took things. It can be weird when this happens while I am reading scripture, I almost feel like I am not taking things serious enough and some of you may agree, but most of the time this imaginative aspect of my brain gives me insight, and the more I read the more intimate I become. Many times as I study commentaries my imaginative processes actually help my understandings.

When I read the sections of scripture that are more narrative I understand my active imagination, but I find it odd when it happens in a epistle. It is a letter not a story, but at times I imagine the writer dictating the words to a scribe, or sitting in a Meeting of Worship and listening to a respected leader reading it to me. At times my mind will get hung up on a word or phrase and it will take my mind to a place, event, or a different scripture. Praying with scripture strengthens the relationship and interaction with God, I believe this is where imagination is important. Now if you do not read in that way I understand, there is no right or wrong way to pray or meditate with scripture…well I take that back there is a wrong way…Not to pray or meditate on scripture.

Today there is one of those phrases that seems to transport me… Sharing in the gospel. The word sharing conjures up several images. The interaction and joy of friends playing together, the excitement of a couple exploring their first kiss, and the laughter over a table filled with grandma’s cooking. Sharing in the gospel is interactive. Have you ever really considered our religion interactive? Really interactive? Sharing? Sharing is relational. One cannot share alone, sharing also implies something that compounds, grows, and expands. Sharing in the Gospel. A compounding, growing, expanding gospel? This makes us have to reconsider the Gospel.

This time of year is advent, we are anticipating the coming of Christ. The entire New Testament begins with the coming of the kingdom of God, which means the coming of the king. The Gospel message taught by John the Baptist is that the Kingdom of God is near, at hand, or here! The teaching of Jesus was the same, the good news is that the kingdom is at hand, near, right here. Sometimes we miss the point if we fast forward through the life of Jesus and just focus on the saving redemptive sacrifice provided by Christ, there is not a growing, expanding, sharing in that Gospel. That is just a headline. There is more to the gospel, why else would we have a “fat” bible as my theology professor would say. We need a thick bible, because thick shows the growing gospel. It show the expanding kingdom, one that increases as it is actively shared and intimately participated in.

The sharing, the growing, expanding gospel continues. Imagine this. What if each person would write how the sharing in the gospel has and continues to affect their life and the life of those around us, and these stories of the expanding kingdom were added to the Bible? Imagine how quickly this book of the Sharings in the Gospel would grow!

“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight…” (Philippians 1:9 NRSV)

As you pray, meditate, and share in the gospel today I hope and pray that each of us will see the love overflowing, grace
abounding, and mercy exceding. Enjoy your journey with God!

Jared A. Warner

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