God in the Requirements

 

I can’t imagine Joseph being overjoyed when news of the census arrived in Nazareth. Beyond the dangers of the extensive trip north to Bethlehem, and the time away from his carpentry (which supplied his living), his betrothed was very round with child.

He had no choice, though. The requirements of Roman law overruled the inconvenience.

But what may have seemed a gigantic disruption was actually fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem.

We also live under the weight of requirements. We must stop at red lights. Show up to work on time and give our best effort. Help children with homework. Return books to the library. Shop for groceries. Pay our heating bill. Renew our licenses. Pay our taxes.

Like Joseph, we don’t jump for joy at all the musts put upon us by the authorities in our lives. Then on top of all the required things of life, we must bear the surprises. The car breaks down; the child gets sick; the water heater breaks; a friend dies; the economy crashes.

Have you suffered an inconvenience lately? A requirement that forced you to reshape your life? Perhaps something outside of your plans, but which has taken center stage with the power of a prima dona?

Nothing—not the required musts of life, nor the interrupting surprises—can disrupt the Sovereignty of God. His will prevails, not only by his power, but by his grace and love. Meaning, if you’re asking, “Why, Lord?” He won’t shout at you, “Because I can,” but rather whisper, “Because I love you and am with you.”

Emmanuel. We must come back to this foundational truth daily. God is with us. Not just at Christmas when we read the prophetic scriptures and focus on the manger, but every day, all day.

“Glory to God in the highest,” sang the angels. Highest in power. Highest in love. Highest in redeeming circumstances, using the requirements of this world to fulfill his purposes.

Grace and peace to you, friends, and may you remember Micah 6:8 amidst the pressures of this season: What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Even if you’re walking a difficult path, maybe one that takes you from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

His Mercy Never Fails

God, have mercy. Please, Lord.

That was my hopelessly uttered prayer the other night. More of a wishful thought, unfortunately. I didn’t actually expect that mercy or grace could penetrate my already deflated attitude and situation. Those words, really, were more of a groan of frustration.

And then the words from the song on my iPod:

His mercy never fails

Never fails. So the mercy I sought was already there in the moment. Constant. The question of God’s mercy being present or not–is not a question at all. The certainty of God’s mercy spans all our circumstances.

The question, then, was where? Where is the mercy? Where is the grace? Where is the joy? We must become seekers of what we know to be present. Seekers, not doubters. Not wishers of God’s mercy.

Jesus came–Emmanuel, God with us–so that we may be knowers of God. That we might know that we know that we know. He is here. His mercy won’t fail because He is God, with us. All that God is–the fullness of his character–is wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. There for the taking. Actually, for the surrendering. Will you come?

This is mercy. Not that we deserved to hold the Christ child in our sinful arms, but that we get to kneel before the Christ child and find all that we need. God cannot hold back his mercy from those who call on the name of Jesus. He cannot go against his promise of the abundant life He’s made available in Christ Jesus.

Next time you utter, “God have mercy,” know that He is. Present tense. He is having mercy right now by giving you his unending presence, unhindered access to the throne room. There is no situation too thick with sin that his mercy cannot penetrate. No pain too intense for his mercy to heal. No night to dark in which his mercy can’t shine.

Seek it, and you will find it. Jesus, the yes and amen.

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Communal Joy

Never more than at Christmas time do we speak of joy, and never more than at Christmas time do people ache because of the lack of joy in their lives. Smiles are plastered on countenances, but the happiness is only face deep.

We need the mercy of God’s joy, and thankfully for us, that mercy burst into the world years ago.

shared joy

After Zechariah and Elizabeth, long barren, announced the birth of their son, John, Luke records that the people shared her joy. They rejoiced for her because God had done the impossible. God had shown mercy. Mercy led to joy, and joy led to community.

Joy brings us together, and the joy of Christmas, specifically, unites us in celebration of the Savior. In a season full of gifts, let’s give each other the gift of joy.

Perhaps you’re not able to give the gift of joy this season. If you’re struggling with joy this Advent season, don’t struggle alone. Tell others, invite them to pray with you. Receive from them their joy–answered prayer, an unexpected opportunity, a promotion, a new child or house or job . . . We are the community of Christ, not only meant to bear each other’s burdens, but share each other’s joys.

Most important, may we all share his joy, the joy of the one and only, sent to earth for us.

The Delight in the Manger

 

Psalm 16

I’ve always loved this verse. It breathes goodness, security, and promise. In the unstable ruckus of today’s world, we need this reminder that God has set boundaries for us out of love, not only in our personal lives (through the circumstances and personalities he’s given us) but in our spiritual lives. He’s not left us guessing, but given us his word and law as direction. Standards that lead to freedom.

So how does this verse point us to Jesus?

In Jesus, we are given an example of how to live a life pleasing to God. God’s ways embodied. His boundaries exemplified. It’s like God’s large finger reaches down to earth and traces the boundaries for us. Jesus is the ink circling our lives. His boundaries are light and hope, joy and peace. When we stay within the bounds of Jesus, we please the Lord, we receive the inheritance.

What is this inheritance? None other than the baby in the manger. The wisemen may have brought him gifts, but He is the gift to us. The everlasting, never spoiling, inheritance. He brings into this dark world an inheritance of salvation, and the promise of an eternity with the holy Father.

Receive this Christmas, not only the miracle of the baby, but the boundaries of the Lord: His ways, His rules, His inheritance.

His Feet

Baby feet: tiny toes, smooth skin, jerky movements. There’s something innocent and pure about baby feet. In the minutes after birth and first bath, those wiggly toes beg to be touched. All ten, perfect.

Jesus had baby feet. I imagine Mary holding those feet to her face and breathing in fresh baby smell. I imagine Joseph tickling those soles and laughing at Jesus’ smile.

Those baby feet were the feet of which Paul would say: “God placed all things under his feet, and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” (Ephesians 1:22)

Everything under his feet

Those feet that stand over everything? They had to learn to walk, one in front of the other. They had to be washed. They had to be bandaged when a stone cut deep, or a thorn found its way through tender flesh.

And what’s so amazing? Christmas feet become Good Friday feet. Sweet, small feet, grow into calloused, well-traveled feet, and those feet get nailed to a cross. Pierced through for me. And Good Friday feet become Easter feet. Feet that walk a man from his tomb into glory.

These are the feet that stand on everything. EVERYTHING. You’re wounds. You’re forgotten dreams. You’re enemies. They’re under his feet. Nothing that has happened or will happen can escape the wide scope of his authority. Nothing that seems out of control can roll out from under his feet.

Tidings of comfort and joy, Friends. Because these feet have come for you. The toes that wiggled were pierced for you.

The Touchable Cloak

If only I touch

Thoughts on the bleeding woman in Matthew 9

If you saw her, you would think of her as a dirty beggar. A woman with no hope. And you certainly wouldn’t want to hang around her. Cursed for twelve years with a bloody discharge.

To be clean, to obey the law and stay pure, you’d have to avoid her. Look away quickly and thank God you weren’t like her.

But you’d be wrong.

This woman had a hope like no other and He was footsteps away, crushed in a crowd. He was a busy man. A healer. And He was on his way to another miracle, to visit a dying girl of an important official.

She wouldn’t bother him. Had no need to interrupt him. She only needed one touch, and with that faith, she reached out her hand. Her fingers brushed across that rough linen of his robe, and instantly, hope birthed healing.

He felt. He turned. He saw. He spoke and called her daughter.

In this Advent season, what are you hoping for? Just one touch, maybe?

To touch, you must reach. To reach, you must have the faith to lift your hand. Believe that the baby in the manger came for you to be able to touch his cloak. By his very presence, he invites you to interrupt him and grasp his robe.

I wonder what Mary felt when she picked up her baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes. When she touched the cloak of her toddling son, did she feel the power of Messiah? When she washed the dirty garment of an energetic boy, could she sense the miracle unfolding? When she embraced her grown son….what did she feel?

Reach with me today, friends. His cloak is touchable and his healing is sure.

Advent: Week One

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And so begins Advent.

We wait. We expect. We yearn. We cry tears of frustration that evil wields its ugly horns and spears through this world, rendering us paralyzed to save ourselves.

But we have a promise from above: an inbreaking Emmanuel. A light shining in the darkness. And this Light humbles us, tears down our resistance and breaks through our walls.

Happy Advent, friend. May He crumble your walls to the dust.