ADVENTures Day 11–Unwrap

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.   John 1:1-8 (NIV)

I just wrote a piece over today’s scripture right before Thanksgiving, and I don’t think I can dig deep enough to come up with any additional insights right now! I’m actually quite proud of that piece, so I hope you take a look at An Inestimable Masterpiece for thoughts on John 1:3-5.

But I’m not posting without anything new to share. I’d love for you to take a look at this video produced by the students at the school where I teach. I started on my ADVENTures with the goal of meditating on the scriptures and looking expectantly each day to Christ. What I’ve found is that the running theme through my ADVENTures posts has been Christ’s worth, the incomprehensible value of our salvation. This video so beautifully portrays how easily we brush aside a truly priceless, phenomenal gift.

God uses circumstances to get our attention. But His real purpose is to reveal our need for salvation and point us to the Cross. I hope you will unwrap that gift this Christmas and recognize its worth. Glory to the newborn King!

 

ADVENTures Day 9 or (10ish)–Rights? What Rights?

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'” Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.  John 1:9-18 (NIV)

So . . . I missed another day. But I didn’t miss because I was too tired. I missed because I was spending time with my family! That’s a good excuse, right? After a game of Wahoo that put my daughters at each other’s throats, we went light lookin’ (my husband’s term). I had about half of this post written and wanted more time to finish than thirty minutes before my face hit the pillow. Here ya go . . .

I tell my students routinely that they don’t have rights. As you might expect, this provokes some protest. “What??? We have freedom of speech! Freedom of expression!!” And we’re in Arkansas, so, figure on at least one kid per class getting really upset that I’m not acknowledging their 2nd amendment rights. But obviously I’m not in favor of wiping anyone’s Constitutional rights off the books.

Follow me on this. Do you have a right before God to say whatever you want in any way you want? No. The bible says we’ll be held accountable for every careless word that drops from our lips. Women’s rights activists claim that I have the right to choose what to do with a pregnancy. Is that a claim that can be made before God? I’d like to see you try. Or maybe I wouldn’t. The government and its laws allow me plenty of room to act immorally. Do I have a right before God to do those things? Certainly not.

I’ve only seen a couple of places in scripture where the word right is used in this way. Prior to in-depth bible study, like any American, I assumed that documents written by the founding fathers were akin to the gospel. And like any American, I’m grateful that I live in a country where I can speak my mind without fear, assemble to worship the one true God–again, without fear–and I’m not giving up my 2nd amendment rights either.  Political rights and human rights–these are good things, very necessary things, to ensure (or at least strive toward) the safety and equal treatment of all people.

But in terms of my relationship with God, having rights is an illusion. Rights empower me, and when I feel empowered, I tend to make myself an idol. Then I quickly screw something up, rather badly, and find out that I’m not God for a variety of good reasons. As I’ve come to know Him more intimately, I realize how I’ve allowed that American sense of entitlement poison my perception of things. Everything that I have came from Him. Everything. I said to my students once, “Breathe in. Breathe out. God did that. Now thank Him–because you didn’t give you life.”

In this passage, we find that those who receive the Lord Jesus and believe in His name are given the right to become children of God. It’s a curious use of that word. He may be extending to me a right, but it’s the right to be a child–dependent, maybe even helpless–under the absolute authority of an all-powerful God. My political rights give me the power to challenge authority if the need arises. God is in authority over all of us–whether we choose to acknowledge that authority or not. His power is absolute, which would be threatening if He weren’t also just, righteous, and good.

The right to be a child of God means that my status has changed–my days of slavery have ended; the King has adopted me and paid for it with His blood. Forever I will have the right to lean entirely on the power of my Father. That’s a radical gift for many, many reasons–not the least of which is that I get to depend on Him rather than myself. I’ll gladly give up entitlement in order to have the pressure transferred to someone who can truly handle it!

What we have in the Lord is favor which is unmerited and cannot be earned. “Out of His fullness, we have all received grace . . .” Lots of gifts will be exchanged this Christmas, some quite expensive. We will interpret the value of each gift, sometimes because of the expense, sometimes based on a gift’s usefulness, or maybe a gift is priceless in our eyes because of the identity of the giver.

In being given a Savior, we have value in all three. It is priceless, it is eternal. The Giver of Grace IS THE GIFT, and He IS priceless and eternal.

giver of grace

 

Lord, open our eyes to see the incomparable value of Your gift to us.

Confessions of a Christmas Junkie…or…Yes, Virginia, I Have Three Christmas Trees

For ADVENTures Day 9, I give you a previous post. Enjoy!

Katie Prescott Beasley

The media wants us to be bitter about Christmas. Have you noticed that abrasive tone in commercials and TV shows? It’s like we’re expected to shift gears somewhere—as kids we are encouraged, nay, expected, to lose ourselves in the fantasy and believe. In what, I’m not sure; the media is pretty non-specific on what we’re putting our faith in. But then the brainwashers have us round a corner somewhere (right about the time we graduate college) and it becomes our holiday lot to dread the decorating, crowds, invading in-laws, wrapping gifts. If you’re skeptical about my take on this, check your TV listings. Dora saves Christmas. Two and a Half Men endure it by retelling the same jokes about Santa being a drunk. Or a pervert. Or both.

Me? I’m a Christmas junkie. The only thing I dread about Christmas is the day after—when I have eleven months to…

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ADVENTures Day 8–Unimaginable Peace

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.  Isaiah 11:1-10 (NIV)

This passage is so packed full of greatness–I’m not sure where to start!

I’ve only had a little bit of time to dig into the details here, but what I have learned is interesting. The end of chapter 10 is the prophecy of the destruction of Assyria, who had carried Israel into captivity. Isaiah describes Assyria’s fall as a permanent one. God Himself would fell the cedars of Lebanon, which in this case symbolically represent the Assyrian army.

See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
    the tall ones will be brought low.
He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax;
    Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One. Isaiah 10:33-34 (NIV)

What I would never have known had I not looked it up for the sake of this post, is that cedar stumps do not produce shoots. In fact, a felled cedar will die slowly. By contrast, an oak tree stump will grow “sucker” stems. David’s dynasty came crashing down, but unlike Assyrian rule, this is not the end! From David’s line comes the Messiah.

It’s also interesting that Isaiah does not specifically mention David in verse one, rather he reaches one generation back to Jesse. Why? I don’t know what the scholars have to say, but here’s my take. The stump can create a bunch of shoots–not unlike Jesse who had a gaggle of sons. If you recall the story, Jesse had not bothered to call David in from tending the flock when Samuel came to anoint the king. David was the youngest and seemed the least likely candidate for so lofty a position. Now, what about the birth of Jesus? Who would have supposed that a child born so poor was divine, a king whose reign would never end?

The passage continues to describe how the Holy Spirit would rest on the Messiah. Jesus would house the character and identity of God, not just be intermittently inspired by the Holy Spirit as the ancient prophets were. His rule, then, would bear the qualities you would expect from God. He would be wholly just and righteous, being an advocate for the oppressed and slaying the wicked.

My favorite part of the passage is what follows. Again, I haven’t done a ton of study, so I’m no expert. But one commentator described this section as a description of the church of Jesus Christ. From that perspective, the different animals represent the diversity of the body of Christ. Even more telling, the violent and the victim come together for worship, and they are completely at peace with one another. Jesus’ reign, having been initiated by grace and forgiveness at the cross, will be one of unimaginable peace. It is so unlike anything we’ve ever known that it can only be described in terms that are almost laughable. A child reaching its hand into a snake’s nest? Ridiculous!

But that’s what we’re in for, followers of Christ–peace which can only be achieved by the supernatural moving of the “Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

As I continue through these Advent readings and unravel the levels of history and prophecy, I sense God’s voice saying, “I have done great things. I AM doing great things. I will do great things.” What does that mean for you? If you are a follower of Christ, that means that you are a part of great things brought about by a great God whose love rescued you from great peril.

If you don’t know the Lord, ask yourself if you want unimaginable peace. Then place your faith in the Lord Jesus and be a member of His family.

Christmas tree 2

Friends, I pray that this Christmas, more than ever before, you will be confounded by the power and love your Savior. May we all enjoy a silent night with sweet dreams! More tomorrow.

ADVENTures Day 7–Absolute Power

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;
    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known
    through all generations.
I will declare that your love stands firm forever,
    that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to David my servant,
‘I will establish your line forever
    and make your throne firm through all generations.’”  Psalm 89:1-4

A few friends have been so sweet to send me messages thanking me for posting every day for Advent. Thank you for the thank you. But I must apologize. Last night the post just didn’t happen. Sorry about that. I got my inspiration kind of late in the afternoon, and then decided I needed help from a scholar and so posed a ‘little’ Hebrew question to my husband. I figured he would just open a website or two to find what I was needed. It seems there is no such thing as a small Hebrew question.

HebrewI was a little disappointed in myself for missing a post, but today I hit on a little different inspiration than I had last night. The nice thing about teaching at a Christian school is that I get to read the Bible and pray with my students.  I try to have a scripture for each week; usually we stand to show our respect for the authority of God’s Word, and we all read aloud together. Generally, on Mondays a small amount of preaching accompanies the reading of the Word–I like to explain why I chose that verse. This week, I’ve tried to have a different Advent passage each day and, time allowing, I slip in an explanation about how the scripture relates to the birth of Christ and, naturally, to our salvation.

This morning I figured that I would make an explanation about the word covenant, since that is what prompted the Hebrew quest last night. But in first period as I was reading, God took me a different direction. In my ninth grade classes, we start the year discussing the absolute power of 17th-18th century European monarchs, particularly in France. We begin with Louis XIII and trace how his power was increased, how that power reached its pinnacle in XIV, and then follow that line of Louis-es (yes, I invented that word) through the French Revolution. Once we get Napoleon exiled, we watch power struggles and uprisings all through Europe in the 19th century–rulers trying to click some default setting back to absolute power, fighting off these upstart lower classes who picked up dangerous ideas about liberty and equality from the French.

While I was reading this morning, the repetition of the word faithfulness popped off the page, followed by covenant, forever, and throne. You see, it’s impossible to discuss absolute power in class with out making the obvious connection that none of us want to be subject to that kind of rule. That is, we don’t want to be subject to that kind of rule by someone who is likely to abuse it. We don’t want to be subject to that kind of rule by someone who is inept or acts arbitrarily or who plays favorites. Basically, we don’t like to be under anyone’s authority very much, but absolute rule under someone who is morally flawed? Yikes.

In today’s scripture, God’s promise of a forever throne through the line of David is reaffirmed. We have this prophecy fulfilled in Christ our King. He rules absolutely, BUT HE IS GOOD. More than that, He rules with compassion and love and mercy and grace–fairly, justly, [working] all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). 

We balk at someone who has ultimate authority over us. In reality, He already has ultimate authority over you whether you choose to submit to Him or not. But His call to repentance should not be viewed as a threat, it’s an invitation (thank you for preaching that one, Jonathon Curtis!). You are invited to be a subject of perfect, loving absolute rule.

Friends, I pray that you will see the unimaginable worth of this King who loves you, who is faithful, and whose throne will last forever.

Merry Christmas!

New blog post: ADVENTures Day 6–Gaining a little perspective . . .

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.  For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.

I fell into a bit of a funk today, friends. I’ve had a little trouble getting in the right frame of mind to write. Everything seemed kind of dreary and colorless, and I was depressed! The weather’s cold and wet, which kind of makes me want to curl up in bed anyway. I have a lot of work to do, but even though I stayed pretty busy, it feels like I didn’t get much accomplished. That always aggravates my stress level.

Then I had planned on going for a run after school–and probably it would have improved my mood–but I decided I could do cold but not wet. So scratch that idea. On the way home, my girls let some giggly rough housing  in the backseat turn a little violent, and the next thing I knew everyone was in trouble and I was growling at them and ordering people into their rooms. This is the fifth or sixth recent discipline event (always either to or from school) that’s left me feeling pretty inadequate as a parent. I was already running on fumes. That took the last of the wind from my sails.

Later I scrolled through my news feed and read a few headlines. Here’s what I know. Lots of people are sick–even little children with illnesses that will take their lives unless God performs a miracle. People are grieving–from past losses and from very recent ones. And the world is so violent and so full of hate. Sad, broken world.

One day not too long after my dad died, I was in about this same place.  I said, a little bitterly, to my husband, “The world is just a giant ant hill, isn’t it?”

Todd didn’t hesitate when he said, “Yes, but God chose to redeem the ant hill.”

Nice, Rev. Excellent answer.

The world is cursed because of sin, and if I choose to give too much attention to the curse, the world will seem quite out of control. But our Advent scriptures keep pointing us to God’s purpose–His plan to redeem. In today’s scripture we see prophesied the coming of Christ–a prophet who speaks God’s very words. In John’s gospel, Jesus says a number of times that He only does what He sees the Father doing, that His teaching is from the Father, that He came to finish the Father’s work, that He speaks for the honor of the Father who sent Him. We have only to look at Jesus to know our God. He loves. He is merciful. He is compassionate. He heals. He restores. He teaches. He has a purposeHe did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:17).

The Israelites in our passage did not get to hear from Jesus, God’s Word. In fact, they had told Moses that they didn’t want to hear from God directly and to get rid of that pillar of fire already. Really??? How blessed are we that eyewitnesses like John wrote all about Jesus? So that we can actually study Jesus’ words–words that came from God? We can read and know for sure that the predictions of our Advent prophecies were fulfilled in Christ.  You see, when we consider God’s purpose, and all that has already been done to accomplish His purpose, the world no longer seems to be hurtling chaotically through space. We–and this rock we call home–are all part of God’s purpose.

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:38-40)

I’m so grateful that the baby born in Bethlehem came with a purpose–to redeem this sad, broken world–and that He would not lose any of us that He’s been given!

ADVENTures Day 5: The exceeding great reward to those who believe . . .

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”  He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Day 5! I’m enjoying this so much. It has not been at all convenient to write these last couple of days, but I’m so eager to do it anyway. One thing that I like about Advent scriptures is that they bring so many concepts together, and yet it all relates to Christmas. My sweet momma taught me that everything in scripture points to Jesus and, more specifically, to His work at the Cross. We tend to study all the different components of God’s story separately, but Advent is feeling a little like a crash course in how it all meshes.

Every time I read today’s scripture, I wonder why God opens with, “Do not be afraid.” Is Abram scared? After reviewing the back story a little, I wonder if Abram was just feeling a little disillusioned. God had already told him that He was going to make Abram a great nation, that his descendants would be like the dust of the ground. Though Abram had become quite wealthy, he was still vulnerable. He had come, at God’s calling, to a land that had long belonged to others. He was a foreigner. In chapter 14 we have the story of Lot’s capture, and Abram fighting four allied kings to set his nephew free. It may be that he was feeling uneasy about his situation. I wonder if he was just lying awake in his tent one night, toying with doubts that had quietly taken root in his heart. Did he give life to those doubts–so that they sprang to life and taunted him, “What if God brought you all the way out here to abandon you?”

God doesn’t stop with never fear, He reveals Himself, “I am your shield, your very great reward.”

And then–I love this–Abram doesn’t waste any time, “Right, God. About that reward. Exactly how does that work?”

I absolutely love how God reassures Abram. He walks him out of the tent to show him the night sky. I imagine God’s arm sweeping from one horizon to the other. “See that? You can’t even count it, right? So shall your offspring be.”

stars in the sky 2

On the two other occasions when God promised Abram that he would have many descendants, Abram’s reactions are recorded as “So Abram left . . .” (Genesis 12:4) and “So Abram moved . . .” (13:18). He heard what God had to say and did something, but other than that, there’s no indication of how much confidence he had in God to deliver the promise. But this third time, we are told, “Abram believed the Lord.” He just . . . believed.

Click.

Did anyone else just have a light go on? No? Just me? Holy smokes, that all just came together in my head as I was typing.  I can think of scores of times I acted in response to God’s Word, but faith had so little to do with it. In fact, I ached for a baby for a lot of years, all the while exhausting myself being “obedient”, or so I thought. If I had spoken honestly with God, in a tone that truly reflected my pain and disillusionment, it would have sounded something like this: “Listen up, God. I’m working myself to tatters down here! I am doing my stuff–YOUR STUFF. Where’s the payoff? When do I get something out of this?”

Abram had packed his life, left home, and had no clue where he would end up. I’ll bet he did wonder, “I’m doing my stuff–YOUR STUFF. Now where’s that thing You promised?”

But God’s Word says that this time, Abram “believed the Lord, [who] credited it to him as righteousness.” Do you know what that means? God considered him righteous–that is, in a right relationship with Him.

Do I see something pointing to Jesus in this? Certainly I do. Besides that fact that Abram became the nation which would give the world its Savior, I see John 1:11-12:

He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, TO THOSE WHO BELIEVED IN HIS NAME, he gave the right to become children of God.”

I hope you are having a joyous December in anticipation of Christmas Day. I also hope that you have time to reflect on how great a gift we have–that we can receive Him and believe in His name, and be made righteous.

More tomorrow, friends. Sweet dreams.