Offering/Receiving Peace: Examen

2nd-sunday-peaceIt’s hard to believe that it’s already the fourth and final Sunday of the season of advent. For me, this has been a wonderful experience and a much needed break from the normalcy that I’ve grown accustomed to during this time of year. Choosing to focus on the hope I have in the second coming of Jesus as he ushers in the age to come has had many rewards, for which I’m extremely grateful.

As you recall, during the first three weeks we looked at the themes of hope, love and joy. This week we’ll consider how God’s offer of peace to us through His Messiah, the Prince of Peace,  encourages us to not only be peacemakers ourselves, but also to look forward with great anticipation when Jesus will return to rule and reign with an everlasting peace that the world is so desperately longing for.

To help us become acquainted with this theme of peace, I’d like to recommend that we consider a daily examen where we focus on the parts of our days where peace was offered to us or when we had opportunities to offer peace ourselves.

Remember, the practice of an examen is to give you an opportunity to slow down, pause, and prayerfully reflect on your day. Here’s a simple outline for you to follow as you close out each day.

Preparation

  1. Make yourself comfortable. Light a candle and/or play some soft instrumental music if you like to help with the atmosphere.
  2. Rest into silence for a few minutes.
  3. Ask God to lead you through your day or week.
  4. Review and reflect.

Reflection

  1. When did I offer or receive peace to/from someone today?
  2. When did I refuse to offer/receive peace to/from someone today?
  3. When was I aware of living out of the fruit of the Spirit today? (Galatians 5:22-23)
  4. When was I aware of the absence of the fruit of the Spirit today?
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Three Joys

On this final day of the third week of advent I thought it would be fun to take a look at three different passages that encourage us to be a people who embrace joy. I believe that the joy of belonging to God, the joy of knowing God, and the joy of understanding His promises can all help us remain devoted and faithful to God as we await the return of Jesus when all God’s promises will be fulfilled and we will reign and rule with Jesus in the Kingdom of God.

Belonging to God

As children copy their fathers you, as God’s children, are to copy him. Live your lives in love—the same sort of love which Christ gives us and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us in sacrifice to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 (PHILLIPS)

This passage doesn’t use the word joy to describe anything, but I believe that there is great joy in knowing that when we choose to believe in Jesus as Messiah that we are adopted by God into His family as His children and, therefore, belong to Him. We not only feel secure, loved, and protected, but because of our joy in belonging to God, we therefore choose to live our lives in such a way that imitates God.

The best way that we can know how to imitate God is to fix our eyes on Jesus and pay attention to how he lived a life of love. Jesus told us that he only did and said things that he saw his Father doing. So, when we look at Jesus we see God and can imitate Him.

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. What the Son does is always modeled on what the Father does, for the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he does himself… – John 5:19-20 (PHILLIPS)

Knowing God

“After Jesus had said this, he lifted up his eyes to heaven. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘the moment has come. Glorify your son, so that your son may glorify you. Do this in the same way as you did when you gave him authority over all flesh, so that he could give the life of God’s coming age to everyone you gave him. And by “the life of God’s coming age” I mean this: that they should know you, the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah, the one you sent.” – John 17:1-3 (NTE)

The passage above has always been a favorite of mine. Over the past year or so my joy in knowing God has increased primarily because I have been learning what it means for me to love God with all of my mind.

I love how Jesus equates knowing the only true God with the life of God’s coming age. In some ways this seems to be kind of confusing, but in other ways it makes complete sense. For me, I have begun to understand how God’s promised inheritance to Abraham and all of his descendants and all who believe in Jesus is a huge part of my hope for the age to come. And so, there is no life in the age to come without the God who will make it all happen and His Messiah, who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Knowing God is what it means to enjoy life in the coming age.

The Promise of God

“Surrounded then as we are by these serried ranks of witnesses, let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet, and let us run the race that we have to run with patience, our eyes fixed on Jesus the source and the goal of our faith. For he himself endured a cross and thought nothing of its shame because of the joy he knew would follow his suffering; and he is now seated at the right hand of God’s throne. Think constantly of him enduring all that sinful men could say against him and you will not lose your purpose or your courage.” – Hebrews 12:1-3 (PHILLIPS)

This well-known passage is our final stop today. There’s a lot for us to consider in these verses, however I only want to focus on the part about Jesus enduring a cross and thinking nothing of its shame because of the JOY he knew would follow his suffering.

So, what was this joy that Jesus knew would follow his suffering on the cross? It must’ve been amazing for him to endure such pain and sorrow, and not to mention, the end of his life.

My thought is that there were two main things that made up the joy that Jesus is talking about. First, I believe it’s obvious that part of his joy was knowing that through his faithful, obedient life and sacrificial death he was God’s agent to inaugurate and offer new life to those who believe in him and the coming kingdom. This is the new covenant God has made with the world through Christ.

I also believe that another part of Jesus’ joy was believing that God would do what he promised, raise Jesus back to life on the third day. This was part of Jesus’ hope and joy, that he would be the first of all creation to become immortal, and as God’s Messiah, he would then be given a place of honor and seated at the right hand of God the Father.

Jesus had great joy in the promises of God and we can follow his example and live with this same kind of joy believing in the promises of God that are yet to be fulfilled. As we await Jesus’ return and all things becoming new, we wait with a living hope and with great joy!

Jumping for Joy

jump-for-joyAs we wind down our focus on the theme of joy during this third week of advent , I wanted to share something special that I came across this week.

This amazing watercolor painting by Corby Eisbacher, entitled Jumping for Joy, captures a very special moment of joy shared among two women and one baby.

Recall the story shared by the gospel writer, Luke, when Mary visits with her cousin Elizabeth:

With little delay Mary got ready and hurried off to the hillside town in Judea where Zacharias and Elisabeth lived. She went into their house and greeted her cousin. When Elisabeth heard her greeting, the unborn child stirred inside her and she herself was filled with the holy spirit, and cried out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is your child! What an honour it is to have the mother of my Lord come to see me! Why, as soon as your greeting reached my ears, the child within me jumped for joy! Oh, how happy is the woman who believes in God, for he does make his promises to her come true.” – Luke 1:39-45 (PHILLIPS)

I love the way Elizabeth describes what happened within her womb as Mary greeted her upon arriving at her home. She could have easily played it off as indigestion or simply the baby trying to get comfortable, but instead she became aware of God’s power and presence and allowed this simple moment to be an opportunity for joy that she could share with Mary.

This passage is rich with emotion and future hope. I can’t imagine the conversations that Elizabeth and Mary enjoyed during Mary’s three month stay, but I’m sure they laughed and cried together as they each were preparing for their lives to be turned upside down with the birth of their sons.

Below is what Luke records as Mary’s response to what Elizabeth shared about her baby jumping for joy. As you read, pay attention to Mary’s attitude toward God and how she seems to be fully aware of how God’s promises of hope and salvation to Abraham and his descendants will be fulfilled by her son to be born.

Then Mary said, “My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord, my soul is full of joy in God my Saviour. For he has deigned to notice me, his humble servant and, after this, all the people who ever shall be will call me the happiest of women! The one who can do all things has done great things for me—oh, holy is his Name! Truly, his mercy rests on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has swept away the high and mighty. He has set kings down from their thrones and lifted up the humble. He has satisfied the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands. Yes, he has helped Israel, his child: he has remembered the mercy that he promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and his sons for evermore!” – Luke 1:46-55 (PHILLIPS)

Before you go, I want to encourage you to not only look at the painting, but to take a few moments to gaze at it in light of the Scripture that it represents. Read the passage again, or ask someone else to read it, or use an app that will read it to you and as it’s being read, enjoy the painting and invite God to stir up that same joy within you that Mary and Elizabeth shared such a long time ago.

Joy: Dedication & Service

As I consider the theme of joy this week I continue to find myself drawn to the idea that joy is one of those things in life that stirs up other good things, especially good things that inspire, encourage and bless others.

A simple example from my own life brings this idea to life. I am fully aware that when I have an overall joyful attitude I am far more willing and even desire to serve others than when I instead am focused on myself and my own needs. A joyful countenance helps me to be others focused to the point of noticing how I can meet a need or simply be a blessing to someone else.

I find myself on the lookout for ways that I can help my wife or kids or neighbor when I’m joyful. Whether it’s homework, a project around the house, cooking, cleaning, washing the dishes, sharing a resource…no matter how big or small it may be…a joyful attitude makes all the difference for me.

All throughout the story of God we see people blessing and serving others. In the New Testament, especially, the writers frequently encourage their readers to be fully engaged with giving of themselves in generous ways. Here’s one of those many examples:

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” – Hebrews 12:16 (NET)

This encouragement to do good and share what we have is obviously a way to serve others, but it’s also a simple way that we can bring a smile to God’s face and make Him happy. Living a life that pleases God always has the potential to bless others as well.

This next example is one of my favorite passages because of the description of just how contagious the joy of the Macedonian churches really is as well as the dedication they had, first to God, and then to Paul and his companions.

“Now, my brothers, we must tell you about the grace that God had given to the Macedonian churches. Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves, produced a magnificent concern for other people. I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else. In fact they simply begged us to accept their gifts and so let them share the honors of supporting their brothers in Christ. Nor was their gift, as I must confess I had expected, a mere cash payment. Instead they made a complete dedication of themselves first to the Lord and then to us, as God’s appointed ministers.” – 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 (PHILLIPS)

I’m so glad that Paul included this in his letter to the church in Corinth, because we now have this as an excellent example of how the joy of the Lord can strengthen us to dedicate ourselves to those around us. One of the most amazing parts of this passage is often times overlooked. Near the beginning Paul mentions that the Macedonian church was walking through hard times themselves, but despite that, their joy was leading them to forfeit being selfish and focused on their own issues, and instead consider how they could freely give of themselves for the benefit of others.

May God continue to inspire us to put on joy so that as we remain attentive to sharing faith and life with others we can be a blessing.

Joy to the World

Joy to the World is one of the most beloved Christmas hymns worldwide and is one of my personal favorites.

I took a few moments the other day to do a Google search regarding the origin of this song and was not only amazed at what I found, but what I learned about myself.

I learned that despite thinking of myself as someone who pays attention to the lyrics of songs as I sing them, that I’m not always that type of person. Joy to the World is one example of this.

Because we sing this song at Christmastime I automatically assumed that the song lyrics bring in elements of the Christmas story as well as paint a picture of the joy of Christmas. I couldn’t be further from the truth. Go ahead and read through the song lyrics below and then I’ll give you a link to follow that leads to a page that gives some background to the song that will most likely communicate truths that you haven’t thought of before.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love;
And wonders of His love;
And wonders, wonders of His love.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing

Now that you have the song lyrics fresh in your mind, go ahead and click here to learn more about this great song. The great thing about what you’ll learn, at least from my perspective, is that the song is a perfect advent song that goes well with the theme of waiting for the return of Christ. Enjoy!

Good News of Great Joy: Q & A

In yesterday’s post we took an initial look at the passage below from the second chapter of the gospel of Luke and landed on the theme of joy. We then concluded the post with a list of a few questions that we wanted to consider today.

Before we dive into these questions, allow me to share something with you. Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed sharing faith and life with several good friends. i connect with one of them in particular by discussing and asking questions about Scripture and other theological books that we’re reading. I took a few moments yesterday to ask him about his thoughts in regard to the questions below. I’m so thankful for his insights and have included them as part of what I share.

Let’s read the passage again and then take a look at the questions to see what we can discover together.

Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.‘” – Luke 2:8-11 (NET)

With that fresh in our minds, let’s take a look at the questions below:

1. What did it really mean to the shepherds and the people of Israel? What did it mean to them that their savior, the Christ, the anointed one, had been born?

There are numerous passages found in the Scriptures, especially among the prophets, where God communicates hope and deliverance and salvation despite the continuous rebellious behavior of the people of Israel.

Consider the Isaiah 52:7-10 (ESV):

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
    together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

If you’re looking for more, here are two other passages (among many) that speak specifically of how God’s Messiah will be God’s agent of deliverance and salvation: Isaiah 9:1-7, and Isaiah 42:1-9.

So, for the shepherds to be told by the angel that their savior, the anointed one, the Messiah, had been born meant that the long-awaited deliverance from the consequences of their sins was finally becoming reality. And the main consequence that the majority of the people of Israel would have been eager to be delivered from was Roman rule. Freedom from the Roman oppression was paramount for all Jews.

Not only were the people of Israel longing to be set free from the rule of the Romans, but they were expecting the Messiah to establish the Kingdom of God as a government at that time that would bring peace to all the nations.

2. And what about what the angel said that this would be good news of great joy for all people? Did they really mean all people, or was that just another way of saying the people of God, Israel?

The establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, God’s government, would bring peace to the nations, which is good news for the entire world. Peace, as you recall, has been missing since Adam and Eve experienced the consequences of their sin and were banished from the Garden of Eden. God’s desire since then has always been that His creation be at peace again with Himself and with each other.

Another way to think about how the announcement about the savior being born was good news of great joy for all people is in regard to what Paul declares in his writings to the churches in Ephesus and the surrounding areas. I encourage you to read the letter to the Ephesians, or at least chapter 3.

The good news, the mystery revealed, that Paul shares with the Gentiles is that they are no longer considered to be outsiders, but rather co-heirs of the promises of God. This revelation takes the good news beyond the people of Israel and stirs up joy worldwide.

3. Was there any significance that it was actually taking place at that exact time in history?

I asked this question because of the word “today” in the declaration of the angel. “Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.” I was curious if God’s specific timing at that point in history had any specific meaning. Why did he choose that day?

And I’m sure there are many ways to speculate regarding that exact time, but I’m not certain that we’ll find much explanation in the Scriptures regarding this. However, we do read in the letter Paul wrote to the Galatians one way to describe God’s timing…

“But when the proper time came God sent his son, born of a human mother and born under the jurisdiction of the Law, that he might redeem those who were under the authority of the Law and lead us into becoming, by adoption, true sons of God.” – Galatians 4:4-5 (PHILLIPS)

4. Is the City of David important to the story?

The City of David, or Bethlehem, seems to certainly have some importance to the story. It’s called the City of David because Bethlehem is where King David was born and raised (1 Samuel 16).

Earlier in the story of God we find the town of Bethlehem mentioned as the place where Rachel, the wife of Jacob died (Genesis 35:19-20).

Probably the most popular verse in the Scriptures that mentions the little town of Bethlehem is found in the writings about the prophet Micah. This is a specific reference to the Messiah.

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.” – Micah 5:2 (ESV)

And we can then see this prophecy come to fruition as we read a little further in the gospel of Luke to see what the shepherds did and where they went once the angel left them.

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:15-16 (ESV)

One last interesting nugget about the town of Bethlehem is that it means House of Bread. And it’s hard to not consider the words that Jesus spoke as found in the gospel of John…

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” – John 6:35 (ESV)

My hope is that considering these types of questions has not only been good for your mind, but has continued to stir within you great joy during this season of advent.

Good News of Great Joy

good_news_of_great_joyWhen I think about joy, especially during the season of advent, I am immediately drawn to the passage in the gospel of Luke when an angel of the Lord surprised a group of lowly shepherds in order to make a most amazing announcement about God’s Messiah.

When you read this passage you’ll notice that there are a variety of characters and themes that could easily grab your attention. You could focus on the shepherds who were working hard, minding their own business until they were scared witless by the appearance of an angel. You could fix your attention on the angel and how it tried to calm down the shepherds by telling them to not be afraid. To be honest, I’m not sure that hearing an angel speak after I’m already terrified is going to make things better, but hey, that’s just me. You could take time to dive into the actual message that the angel declared. Which is something that we’ll look at, but for me, for one reason or another, I’m drawn to that simple, three letter word, joy.

Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.‘” – Luke 2:8-11 (NET)

As I am re-reading this passage again just now I’m noticing that the angel doesn’t do what we normally do when we have news to share with people. Often times we present an option to our hearers and say, “I’ve got some good news, and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” I’m so glad that the shepherds didn’t have to deal with that kind of presentation. Could you imagine how that would have worked out? I’m not sure that I would want to hear bad news from an angel, but good news would probably be really great news…and that’s exactly what the angel was sharing that night.

The angel instructed the shepherds to listen carefully because what was about to be proclaimed was what they had been longing for for a very long time. And so the shepherds pulled themselves together so that they could pay attention to every word that the angel said. And before the angel actually gave them the news, they prefaced it with a description of the news itself. I can’t help but wonder if the description was simply a part of the message they were supposed to share, or if this was the angel’s own commentary on the news from their perspective.

Either way the description of the news is very fitting when you consider not only how long the people of God have been waiting for the promised Messiah, but also what it meant for them. We’ll get to that in a moment.

So the angel sets it up by telling us that this is not only good news…but it’s the kind of good news that will bring great joy to all people. It’s like it’s the best new ever!

And then the angel proclaims, ‘Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.

I can just picture it. My mind’s eye has this scene playing out where the angel is so stinking excited to share the news that he can hardly contain himself. And then, once he’s able to get it out, he’s almost blown away by what he said as much as the shepherds were, and he already knew what he was gonna say. Then I see the angel pause as if to say, “Didn’t I tell you this was going to be the best news ever!?!”

This is certainly good news of great joy! But I can see how some would read this as any old birth announcement. Some are probably wondering what’s all the fuss about. And these are legitimate responses for those who aren’t aware of the whole story of Israel and the promises that God had made to them so long ago.

So perhaps we should pause and ask some questions ourselves.

  • What did it really mean to the shepherds and the people of Israel? What did it mean to them that their savior, the Christ, the anointed one, had been born?
  • And what about what the angel said that this would be good news of great joy for all people? Did they really mean all people, or was that just another way of saying the people of God, Israel?
  • Was there any significance that it was actually taking place at that exact time in history?
  • Is the City of David important to the story?

These kinds of questions take some time to consider, and so we’ll plan to tackle these over the next few days together.

Until then, be encouraged that there is good news that is meant to stir up a great amount of joy in us. Let that joy resurface as you continue to journey through these days of advent.