Posted in angels, christmas, glory, night, shepherds

The shepherds were watching their flocks by night

I mentioned yesterday that one of my favorite Christmas passages is Simeon’s Song. Another favorite of mine is the moment when the myriad of angels appear to the shepherds who were watching their flocks by night. First, here is the passage:

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
(Luke 2:8-14)

I’m focusing on “night.”

NIGHT: The period of darkness between evening and morning. It is generally a time for the cessation of daily activity and for sleep, but, because darkness also gives an opportunity for evil, there is need to be watchful. The term may also be used figuratively to refer to evil or to a period of distress. Night-time also provides opportunity for contemplation and for prayer.

(Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.)

The ancient Jerusalemites did not have the advantage of electric lights, street-lamps, flashlights, or any sort of man-made illumination, save candles or fire. Normally, work began at dawn and ended at sunset, for the obvious reason is that it was too hard to perform tasks when the natural illumination of the bright sun was absent. When the sun went down, it got dark.

Without light, people turned in for the day, eating a last meal, resting, and then going to sleep. Except the shepherds. Their work was not finished when the sun went down. As a matter of fact, night-time required extra attention. Nocturnal predators came out to hunt. Robbers stole in the dark. Mischief was done. Night is a time for evil, so the shepherds had to stay awake, or take turns in shifts for the night watch in order to protect the sheep. But it was dark.

Lamps of clay, bronze, or other metal were indispensable in every home. With oil, wax, or pitch as fuel and flax, papyrus, or other fiber as wick, they often burned all night. To show how desolate the land would be after Nebuchadnezzar laid Judea waste, God said through Jeremiah that no one would see lamp light in the land.

Even though their eyes adjusted to the dark and they could perceive this or that, dimly, it was dark. The darkness would have been near-total, save for any starlight or moonlight.

So on this momentous evening, the shepherds had settled into their night watch routine. Suddenly the night gloom was split by LIGHT. The instant change would have been overwhelming, searing their eyes blinding them momentarily. Imagine their terror! It was not as if a bonfire had been lit or a prankster shepherd has snuck up with a torch. This light was BRIGHT. It was from heaven, no ordinary light.

It was HOLY light. It was GLORY light. Not only was it bright, but it was Light from God, the heavenly realm touching the earthly realm.

You know that each time an angel appears to a person, the first thing the angel says is “Fear not!” Why? Angels are terrifying. They are not chubby, flying babies. They are holy messengers of God, with power and strength beyond our comprehension.

Matthew 28:3-4
Luke 1:11-12
Luke 1:30
Luke 2:11
Daniel 8:17
Daniel 10:7-8

Angels appearing in glory light, in an innumerable company, praising God so loudly the ground must have shook, must have been absolutely terrifying. It must have been bright.

How fitting, that in darkest night, the Light had come. Practically, the night was dark. At night, people were blind. Spiritually, Jerusalem was apostate, with barely any faith in the nation at all. But suddenly the shepherds could see! The Light would lead the way.

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. (John 12:46)

The Light illuminates our sins, so that they are exposed, and then we can be cleansed. Do not hide in the darkness, but seek the Light.

LIGHT: The brightness that enables sight in the darkness. Scripture often uses light as a symbol of the saving presence of God in a fallen world, with darkness being used as a symbol of sin or the absence of God.
Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.

Light has come into the world, born of a virgin, proclaimed by angels, seen by shepherds, witnessed to by God’s people: us. Hallelujah, the Light has come, darkness is no more.

Posted in christmas, incarnation, prophecy, shiloh, simeon

Simeon’s Song

Rembrandt: Simeon’s Song

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas Story of Jesus’ Incarnation is Simeon’s Song.

And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. And the same man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” (Luke 2:25).

Of those verses, Charles Spurgeon said it best:

WHAT a biography of a man! How short and yet how complete! We have seen biographies so wordy, full one half is nonsense and much of the other half too dull to be worth reading. We have seen large volumes spun out of men’s letters. Writing desks have been broken open and private diaries exposed to the world. Nowadays if a man is a little celebrated, his signature, the house in which be was born, the place where he dines and everything else is thought worthy of public notice.

Short biographies, which give a concise and exact account of the whole man, are the best. What do we care about what Simeon did—where he was born, where he was married, what street he used to walk through, or what colored coat he wore? We have a very concise account of his history and that is enough. His “name was Simeon.” He lived “in Jerusalem.” “The same man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel: and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Beloved, that is enough of a biography for any one of us. If, when we die, so much as this can be said of us—our name. Our business, “waiting for the Consolation of Israel.” Our character, “just and devout.” Our companionship, having the Holy Spirit upon us—that will be sufficient to hand us down, not to time, but to eternity memorable among the just and estimable among all them that are sanctified!

At the time in Israel, faith was in short supply. Of course, Christianity didn’t exist yet, it would fully flower in their generation, but not yet. Judaism, which was supposed to have brought the light to the world, had become dark and corrupt- unrecognizable to the One it was supposed to point to. (Jeremiah 7:11). This was a time when what was supposed to bring the Light was at its darkest and most corrupt. Where was faith? Where was a right heart? Where was a mind with a right understanding of the promise of Israel? In a few people, and as we see here, it was in Simeon.

Simeon’s character was enumerated in Luke 2:25 gloriously and concisely. Note that his entire being was laying in hopeful wait for the Messiah. His old body tottered up to the temple each day, waiting and waiting, for what? To be with the Messiah that was promised, maybe even to say (as Spurgeon proposed) “Perhaps He will come today.”

We can learn from Simeon’s example. Despite the corruption ongoing all around him, despite national occupation and oppression by a hostile regime, despite widespread apostasy, despite greed, pride, and the blackened hearts of the priests, scribes and Pharisees who were supposed to shepherd the people, Simeon persevered in joyful expectation and faith.

He had the Spirit with him, but we have the Spirit IN us! We have the New Testament, knowing the second advent will occur, that the rectification of all that is evil will happen. We know that Jesus will return to take His place on HIS earth as rightful owner, finally and blessedly crushing the head of the serpent. (Genesis 2:15).

Upon seeing the Babe presented at the Temple, Simeon “took him up in his arms and blessed God”… Let us take Jesus up into our hearts and minds with all our strength and soul, and let us bless God for Him, Shiloh.

The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (Genesis 49:10).

Posted in christmas, concert, grace church

Grace Community Church Christmas Concert is this week

One of my favorite events of the year will occur this week- the Grace Community Church Christmas Concert. Held at John MacArthur’s Church in Sun Valley CA., this concert has grown to be one of the most beloved among of the Christmas Season.

With a mixture of solos, classical music and stirring hymns, it is well worth listening to.

More information here. From the Grace Community Church website:

“We just received confirmation that the Sunday, December 21 concert will be live-streamed at 6:00 p.m. PST from the this page: www.gracechurch.org/live.”

“Also, beginning the week after, the concert will be looped every two hours through New Year’s Day for your enjoyment. The link will be this page (www.gracechurch.org/concert).”

Please be sure to tune in and you will be blessed by this wonderful ministry of music.

Posted in christmas, encouragement, jesus, kingdom, manger, repent

He came down!

Today is a day we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. He deigned to leave his holy place and incarnate as God and as Man, to live among us. His story extends beyond the manger. The helpless babe, innocent and swaddled, grew in stature and wisdom. (Luke 2:52). And the grace of God was upon Him. (Luke 2:40).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Coming of the Kingdom
“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
“And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. “And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”
(Luke 17:20-25)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Kingdom is still in your midst. The Holy Spirit who indwells believers is crafting a sanctified kingdom of wisdom and stature which pleases God. If you seek entry to this kingdom, which is among you in this age of grace, do not reject the cornerstone of the kingdom, who is Jesus.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Living Stone and a Holy People

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
(2 Peter 2:1-7)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
(Mark 1:14b-15)

Merry Christmas! The Lord has come. Will you believe?

Posted in christmas, jesus, joseph, nazareth, prophecy

"He shall be called a Nazarene": God is the author of the future

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:19-23)

God is the author of the future. He ordained it and only He knows it. Sometimes, He tells us before it happens. That is what’s called prophecy.

God tells us in different ways what His plans are for the future. In the Old Testament, He told Adam directly there would be a savior. Other times, He selected men as Prophets to receive His word. In the NT, He selected men as Apostles and told them to speak His future. Then finally, He spoke through His Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2). The life and death and resurrection of Christ is part of that amazing reliability of God’s ordination of events, because all the events prior to His coming pointed to Him!

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” 
(Psalm 2:7)

And after Jesus rose and went to heaven, God sent His Spirit to inspire men to write it all down so we could read the past, the present and the future all at once, in one book.

John MacArthur wrote,
There is no way to explain the Bible’s ability to predict the future unless we see God as its Author. For example, the Old Testament contains more than three hundred references to the Messiah of Israel that were precisely fulfilled by Jesus Christ (Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah).

Peter Stoner, a scientist in the area of mathematical probabilities, said in his book Science Speaks that if we take just eight of the Old Testament prophecies Christ fulfilled, we find that the probability of their coming to pass is one in 1017. He illustrates that staggering amount this way:

We take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas . They will cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly. . . . Blindfold a man and tell him he must pick up one silver dollar. . . . What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would have had of writing these eight prophecies and having them come true in any one man. ([ Chicago : Moody, 1963], 100-107)

And Jesus fulfilled hundreds more than just eight prophecies!

God is the author of the future. In eons past, He ordained that His Son would redeem a sinful humanity, and do it in a way that stops our heart just thinking about it. His Son would voluntarily depart from His holy habitation in heaven and descend into a helpless babe’s body. He would live and grow on earth as a human, amid the pollution, curse, and sin we created. He would teach and prophesy and die a bodily death as the Spotless Lamb of God, and pleased with His Son, God would raise Him on the third day.

Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD; for He is aroused from His holy habitation.
(Zechariah 2:13)

This was His plan since the beginning and made known to us since Genesis 3. Jesus is a fulfillment of God’s prophecies, His plan since the beginning of time, and the very embodiment of love.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him…” 
(John 3:16-17)

And He was and is called The Nazarene. Believe on Him and be saved.

Posted in christmas, malachi, shepherds, spurgeon, three kings, worship

Christmas, Malachi 1, and the nature of true worship

In Malachi 1:6-14, the LORD our God rebukes the priests and the people for offering polluted worship. Let’s take a look at what proper worship is by first looking at what proper worship isn’t, from the mouth of the LORD. Here is His rebuke in full:

A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts.

Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.”

He said that the priests bring the people’s sick and the lame animals for the altar, not even the Governor would accept these blemished offerings. Yet they bring them to Him, the Holy God of Israel. They sneer at the weight of having to sacrifice, saying it’s a burden. They give no thought to the Lord’s table nor revere Him as King. They don’t even honor Him as Father.

In this day and age, we have come to believe the lie that just because we show up to church, mumble a few prayers, half-heartedly sing a few theology-less songs, and sit through a sermon that’s interfering with the timing of the crock pot, that we have blessed God.

God has standards for everything, including worship. He calls those who bring less than their best a “cheat”. He says that they “pollute” his temple. He refuses to accept their sacrifices. And He says they still expect Him to show them favor. And it shouldn’t be a duty nor a burden, because as He says, “I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.”

What if God were to expose our worship today? What if He spoke a word from through a person as He did Malachi, saying that we are evil, polluters of His sanctuary, and are not worthy of favor? That we might as well all just leave and close the church doors behind us? That He has no pleasure in us? (Reminiscent of the condemnations in the letters in Revelation 2-3). The church as it is today would probably reject Him! They’d say He is being too mean, not being tolerant or inclusive, and after all, they are doing the best they can and He should just be happy with that. (Revelation 3:20)

Worship is important, but it doesn’t stop at the church doors when we enter in. Showing up isn’t worship. We need to worship in the right way.

Superficial worship, shallow worship, wrong worship cripples, debilitates, robs God of what is rightfully His, limits your usefulness, denigrates your whole Christian experience. We need to worship in the right way, to give God what He is due and to put ourselves in a position of being most useful to God. (source)

I am thinking about true worship on the almost eve of the celebration we offer to God for sending His Son into the world, in flesh. Jesus’ birth is a monumental moment in history, one that culminated with His death and resurrection. Man and God reconciled. Do we offer pure, and good worship to Him? This week of all weeks is a week to worship! What are a few of the positive templates of worship we see in the New Testament?

Adoration of the Shepherds (The Holy Night)
Correggio 1530

I think of the Shepherds to whom the angels appeared with the glad tidings on that night in Bethlehem so long ago.

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. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:15-18)

The shepherds truly worshiped! First, they listened to the angels. They did not run away and they did not sneer or mock or say “what weariness is this?” They listened with all their heart and souls. We know this from Luke 2:9 when the shepherds feared the glory of the Lord.

Then, they obeyed. They were instructed to get up and go, seek the babe, and they did. “In haste”!! They heard the message and they obeyed it as fast as their feet could carry them. Inertia didn’t keep them on their bedrolls. Weariness from a long day shepherding didn’t stop them. Fear didn’t paralyze them. Resentment at being marginalized from the worship structure of the day didn’t hinder them. They got up, gathered together and they searched for the babe, in haste. This shows us that nothing else was as important to them at that moment. The shepherds worshiped by obeying the word they had heard from on high.

Third, when they saw the sign of the babe in swaddling clothed confirmed, the shepherds went out and told the news. “They made known.” They must have told a lot of people if the angels’ message had become known. They didn’t stop at one or two people, they made it known. This also is worship- to proclaim Him.

Byzantine art usually depicts the Magi in Persian
clothing which includes breeches, capes, and Phrygian caps.
Mosaic, ca. 565. Ravenna, Italy

How about the Kings from the East? “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. … ” And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:1-2; 11).

These kings had come from a distance of what was probably at least 800-900 miles away. In any case, distance was of no matter to them, they set their eyes on the west and walked until they found Him. Would you walk the distance from Atlanta to Oklahoma City because you had heard Jesus was there?

They brought Him their best, best offering. They did not bring a blind lamb and a broken-winged dove! Their worship was that they had known He was coming, and had watched for His appearing. Then they put action to their worship by seeking Him. And do you see the manner of their worship? Unlike those in Malachi, the kings brought best offerings they had. And they fell down.

“Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him“. (Psalm 72:11)

As the Christian Courier delves into the discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well, the article discusses true worship:

In drawing the contrast between Samaritan worship and Hebrew worship, Christ emphasized that true worship is more than emotion; it is grounded in knowledge. … Away goes the contention that the format of worship is immaterial, so long as one is sincere.” (John 4:22-23, source)

To properly worship, we must know Who we are worshiping and we must do it in the proper mode. I’m not talking about a list of legalistic rules, but only referring to the templates of worthless worship and proper worship presented to us in His word. It is a heart condition. We no longer have sacrifices to bring, but do we worship sacrificially, with all our heart, mind, and soul? Or do we vow a large tithe but switch it for lesser at the last minute?

Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished… (Malachi 1:14)

Do we acknowledge not only the babe in the manger, but the glorious risen KING of Kings and LORD of Lords who is to come?

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering…(Malachi 1:11)

Do we know who we are worshiping and why? Do we love Him?

Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you– majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)

Spurgeon speaks of true spiritual worship.

Christ comes to tell us that now his worship is to be wholly spiritual, even the altar which belongs to antediluvian times is gone, for we have an altar of another kind; even the sacrifice which belonged to the early period has departed like a shadow, because we have the sacrifice of Christ in which to trust. … At any rate, my dear hearers, if you have not with your whole hearts loved and worshipped God, repent over it, and pray the Holy Ghost to make you spiritual. Go to Christ’s cross, and trust in him; then, and not till then, will you be capable of adoring the most High God in a style in which he can accept your worship. God grant that this may be impressed upon the hearts of all of us, that we may worship God in spirit and in truth.

Posted in christmas, encouragement, jesus

High and lifted up

As I drove to school, the full moon was ahead of me. It hung there in the deep sapphire sky, glowing and bright.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.” (Genesis 1:14-16)

I watched it, the silver globe, casting light down to the pastures just visible in the pre-dawn.

And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth,” (Genesis 1:17)

I had time to wonder on this light, the beauty of this silver satellite planet orbiting ours. I thanked our Creator for not only the precision of the moon and earth’s dance around each other, but that the moon is so pretty.

The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” (1 Corinthians 15:41).

The light from the moon was so bright, it illuminated even the blades of grass I passed in my silent, whispery cruise along the byway. I wondered, what will it look like when Jesus comes? He will be so bright! He will come in glory and appear in the air, the bright and eternal Light.

And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.” Ezekiel 43:2)

As I drove to school, the moon’s light was high and lifted up but that light will be nothing compared to the pinnacle moment in all eternal history, when JESUS is high and lifted up. He will be crowned KING of Kings and LORD of Lords.

“Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up
and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.”
(Isaiah 52:13-15).

I long for the day when He is the brightness in all our souls, and He is high and lifted up.

The Son of Man Is Given Dominion

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

Brethren, we are a part of that! We will be in attendance when we see our Lord crowned. We will part of the myriad crowd who will serve Him. (Daniel 7:10).

Our Lord came as a baby, lived a sinless life, taught and loved, and died for our sins. He rose again under the power of God, and will come again in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. He will take His rightful place on His throne, High and Lifted up. There will be no moon or sun to compete with His glory, for He IS THE LIGHT.

The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.” (Isaiah 60:19)

Merry Christmas. The Light has come.

Posted in christmas, Piano Guys

Piano Guys: Angels We Have Heard on High

So, soo pretty….

The Shepherds and the Angels
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:8-14

Posted in christmas, grace, Immanuel

On the joy of discovering I am a wretch

I used to enjoy visiting cathedrals, basilicas, abbeys, cloisters … anything that was old and resembled something artistic and architectural.

Milan, Italy. Duomo

I enjoyed the peace inside, the stillness and coolness. I liked to look at the art and the statues. Visiting a church as a tourist is different than belonging to one as a Christian. I was blind, I did not see.

Paris, Notre Dame

In Pisa, I enjoyed the acoustic perfection of the Baptistry. Really. It is acoustically perfect. And who doesn’t love the story of the Leaning Tower? I heard the sound of a tenor voice sweetly rumbling among the rafters in the Baptistry. I could hear the notes, but I was blind. I did not see.

Enjoying a church as an architectural wonder is great, but it got me no closer to Jesus.

Quito, Bell Tower

These churches are mausoleums to emptiness, odes to nothingness. And far be it for me to visit a working, bible believing church. Too new. Too uninteresting. It had nothing for me. Sigh… I was so blind. Far better to stick with large, tourist oriented churches. Safer that way.  I heard the bells and listened to the choirs and studied the history, but I was blind…

St. Paul’s Cathedral, London

Even in a simple clapboard church, if I happened to visit for a service, and if they happened to play the wonderful hymn, Amazing Grace, I’d sing, all right. But when it came to the part about ‘saved a wretch like me’, I clamped my mouth shut. I was not a wretch, I was not, I was not! That lyric was stupid, I thought. But I was blind. How could I see the most important thing?

Labrador

I sang of grace, but I didn’t know what grace was. (Unmerited favor from God). How could I possibly know how amazing it is? I didn’t. I sang pretty words that had no meaning for me. “I once was lost but now I’m found” is a comforting lyric. I could safely relate to that. Who doesn’t find comforting the notion of being lost but found and enveloped in arms of love? Yet I was blind, and did not know I was lost and I did not know love. I didn’t know the height from which the arms came down to envelop me nor the depths of sin in which I was living. (1 John 5:17)

Then I was saved. (Grace!) I came to know Jesus (Amazing!) But the most important thing of all is learning that He is not in a cathedral or abbey or cloister or basilica. He is now in my heart and He is now with me wherever I go. I had been looking for Him the whole time, but I was missing Him by a mile.

I praise God that He came down to us as a babe. Grace came down to live with us (Immanuel; Matthew 1:22-23). He lived a perfect life so that He would qualify as the Lamb of God to be slain as the sacrifice for sin. He sent me a spirit of repentance and of faith so that I could know Him and be reconciled to Him with no wrath between us. (Romans 8:7).

Now I have the best Christmas gift of all: I know I am a wretch! I sing that lyric with gusto. I know Jesus loves us and He came to put away sin. I know that in my wretchedness He came to save me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Christmas, (and Easter), made it all possible. Thank you Jesus. Happy Birthday!

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

The best photo of all —