Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Mystery of Christmas explained: My grace is sufficient for you

So many thoughts competed for attention in my mind this week. The sheer joy of being home after a long journey and to be reunited with loved ones. The deep gratitude to the Father for protection going and coming - so many times each day I prayed to the Lord in the words of the Psalmist: " Keep me safe O God; for in you I have taken refuge". Psalm 16:1 NIV. Offering up many prayers " pleading the Blood of Jesus" against all kinds of evil - inside and outside. The stark reality of the level of violence worldwide, and in particular in the country where a few days ago I spent some time - as I listened to BBC and viewed the video scenes of the blast that killed many persons on that train on its way from Moscow to St. Petersberg. In fact I recalled a colleague who visited Moscow some time before I did , telling me of his traveling on that very train to Russia's second largest city. The brutish life in the ghetto where my church has had a presence for over thirty years, and which ministry is now being threatened by the mass migration of many of the residents for fear of their lives as gunmen wreaked havoc in the community. And, further, in the very same community, coming face to face with the harshness of life at another level, when I encountered a 14 year old teenager, attending a prominent high school, and now pregnant for the second time and facing the wrath of an irate mother. I wondered if she had been born under different circumstances, perhaps her life would have been less tempestuous.
Maybe. Just maybe. But who knows! And then the disappointment and the angst of facing another year when our death rate on the roads will almost exceed the target of below 300 we had set and expended all our energies to achieve, in order to prevent more grief and pain - there is already too much from homicides - in the homes of our people.
But then this morning again there was sheer joy. As one is not really back home until we find ourselves in the house of the Lord on a Sunday morning. So I rejoiced. And rejoiced even more when I heard the carols over the airways this evening, as although Lent/Good Friday/Easter is the most solemn season for Christians, for me Christmas is the happiest time of all.
So what did lessons did I learn from the Lord in all my travels , reflections and rejoicing? The single most important fact of the Christmas story - God became a little child, and " emptied himself of all but love", in order to save mankind from sin and death. God made Himself vulnerable, and as the Scriptures reveal in the well known and loved passage in Philippians 2:6-11 NIV;

Your attitude should be the same as Jesus:
Who being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness,
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death -
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

It it the great mystery of the world and that's why the song writer could exult in the famous words:

Amazing love, how can it be
That God, my God shouldst die for me

And later, the same writer wrote;

It's mystery all, immense and free
But O my God it found out me.....

Why should God of all Creation humble Himself in this fashion? Another hymn writer no doubt moved by the same mysteriousness of God, and perhaps seeking to answer this very question penned the following lines in the well known and beautiful hymn, " My God how wonderful thou art";
But I may love Thee too O Lord
Almighty as Thou art
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me
The Love of my poor heart

But the Lord did not stop there. This week I was led, again, and this time with a more profound understanding, to learn precisely how the Lord intends for us to live a life which reflects this
" upside down approach to power". How He expects us to empty ourselves so that He may fill us with His power, and in the same way that Christ was raised up in the highest place, we too, in Christ, may live a resurrected life. The opening words may be well known to many, but not many, or not enough of us pay attention to the thoughts of St. Paul that follow the Lord's mysterious instructions:

" To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from em. But he said to me, " My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness". ( Most of us stop there ) Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why , for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong"
2. Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV.

So which one of us can claim to " delight in weaknesses, in insults, in persecutions.....which one of us can, with all honesty, claim that " we will boast more gladly about our weaknesses? But this is precisely, according to the language on the street, " how the thing set up". This is how God in His mystery, has established His Kingdom. This is how Christ was raised from the dead - because He emptied Himself. And so must we, if we are to please God. So must we if we really hope to rescue young girls, living under harsh conditions, and lead them to a new life in Christ Jesus. So must we if we really hope to successfully beat back , by " pleading the Blood of Christ", the gun culture, not just the reality of gunmen, which has overtaken our country. So must we
" delight in persecutions and insults" so that God 's power may be made perfect in our weakness, so that our people may not die on in such great numbers on our roads and in our communities.
And so must we, across the world, in Moscow or in Seattle, in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, wherever violence rears its ugly head, for whatever reasons, so that out of our weakness, God's power may flow and bring true and lasting peace to a troubled world
The problem is that too many of us have been living " designer Christian lives"; lives which are far removed from the ruggedness and demands of the Holy Scriptures, but instead fashioned in the minds of " teachers" who tell us what we wish to hear. And yet still we hope for and expect to have the power of God work through us, or even worse, work for us!
At the same time, just to validate His message about humility, God led me to read a meditation, out of which I constructed the following text message and sent it off to many persons in my cell phonebook - some of whom have tremendous power and influence - one of whom responded appropriately. May the Lord bless him and his work.

" God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble". 1 Peter 5:5. " For those would learn God's ways, humility is the first thing, humility is the second, humility is the third." St. Augustine - a famous Bishop of the early church


"Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven".
Matthew 18:4

IN WORD Most cultures love their children. Few give them any respect or honor. We look down on them. It's a loving condescension of course, but it is a condescension nonetheless. Adults don't aspire to have the status of little children or strive for their accomplishments. We spend most of our childhood hoping to grow up so that we can do more and more. We spire to adulthood.
This may be normal human growth, but it runs contrary to the kingdom of God, at least in terms of spiritual development. Our bodies grow, our intellects accumulate knowledge, our talents are developed, and everything about us matures upward. But to mature spiritually, we must go in the opposite direction. We must intentionally avoid seeking status. We must not try to earn spiritual respect. True spiritual maturity and respect in the kingdom of God are issues of humility. And in order to have them, we must become like society's least impressive contributors - children

IN DEED Humans can be quite ambitious. We admire the drive when it comes to athletics, art, business and every other area of human achievement. We like the prestige and the honor that accomplishments bring us. But when we transfer such ambition to our spiritual life, it misses God's purpose for us. He did not make us to be spiritually independent. We are entirely dependent creatures, who must learn that the way to grow up is to go down ( as Jesus did words).
Have you learned that status in he kingdom of God is an inverted version of the status of the world? The first will be the last and the last first ( Matthew 20:16). Those who wish to rule must serve ( Matthew 20:26). And the greatest in the kingdom of heaven has aspired to the humility of ...well, just a child. It's a hard lesson to learn, but it's a solid principle. Aspire to greatness - the greatness of being discounted like a child. It's the way up in the kingdom.