Don’t Miss the Disguises of Jesus

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/dont-miss-disguises-jesus/.

In the dream, we had to shepherd all the kids inside, because there was a strange man outside trying to lure them away from the house. And not just with penny candy or puppies. He was setting up extravagant bounce houses right in the front yard. Tall ones to climb, and sturdy ones to jump inside, and long ones to race through and slide down. This was a serious threat for even the most stranger-wary child.

bouncehouseOnce safely inside we pulled the curtains. The kids were playing happily since none of them had noticed the extravagant playhouses just outside our door; I stood guard at the window. I watched the man move from one brightly colored obstacle to the other. It was an entire playland, just waiting for someone to join the fun. Each time he glanced at the house his whole face lit up with a beaming smile. Then when no one appeared, his face fell into such a deep sadness that I felt my own heart twist inside me. Again and again this happened until someplace in the recesses of my subconscious another idea knocked against the dream. I jolted awake with the realization that it was not a scary man after all – it was Jesus, waiting for us to come out and play.

Jesus comes to us in many different disguises. Mother Teresa talks about serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor. Jesus himself said whatever we do for his brothers in need we do for him (Matthew 25:31-46). But service to Jesus is not limited to those in need. Sometimes Jesus comes to us simply to have fun. Sometimes He flings open the door to the banquet hall (or bouncy house) and invites us to join the party. We should ask ourselves how often we choose to stay behind a locked door, peering through the window, and mis-judging his intentions.

Jesus wants more than anything else to be with us. We know this truth especially well during this time of year when we celebrate Jesus’ most famous disguise of all. A little more than 2000 years ago He was born into the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Herod tried to kill him, the magi came to worship him, and the shepherds praised God for him. He was so well disguised that it is likely no one, even Mary who pondered all these things in her heart, really understood what the birth of this infant truly meant. Jesus came to be with us. And He went to the cross so that we could always be with Him.

desert hills

In moments of quietude, God is there.

Today, don’t miss the many disguises of Jesus. Don’t miss Jesus in the poor and downtrodden, but also don’t miss Jesus in the joy and the fun.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. See Him in the moments of quietude.Jesus is the Light of the World. See Him in the brightest of moments.

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. See Him in all wisdom and knowledge and truth.

Jesus is Love. See him in the love of your family and friends.

two friends

In the love of family and friends, God is there.

 

Take some time, this Christmas season, to have fun. Have fun with your family. Have fun with your coworkers. Have fun with your friends. Have fun with Jesus. He may be setting up the most fun activities on the very doorstep of your heart.Jesus is Emmanuel: God-With-Us. See him, even when you can’t actually see him.

Don’t hide inside.

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Shepherds

Some of the most interesting questions are raised during Bible study. Like this one, that came about while reading Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth: 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 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” (Luke 2:8-11).

“Why,” the question was raised, “did the angels visit shepherds?”

Why not kings? Why not the village watchmen? Why not dispatch angels to every corner of the earth with this astounding news?

Isn’t it interesting that apart from angelic visits to Jesus’ earthly parents, the only recorded angelic herald surrounding Jesus’ birth was to shepherds?

Think about that.

The first recorded use of sheep as a sacrificial offering dates all the way back to Cain and Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep…and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering (Genesis 4:2,4). Sheep were also likely part of Noah’s offering after the flood (Genesis 8:20), and when God tested Abraham during the binding of Isaac, it was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns, that God gave to Abraham to sacrifice in place of his son (Genesis 22:13).

Generations later, God’s law dictated the use of sheep as burnt offerings (Leviticus 1:10-13), peace offerings (Leviticus 3:6-11), sin offerings (Leviticus 4:27-35; 5:1-6), and guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:14-19; 6-1-7). And it was lamb that served as the first Passover feast on the night the Israelites fled from Egypt. Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire…you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt…The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you… (Exodus 12:6-13).

It was the commemoration of this very Passover feast that Jesus celebrated with His disciples on the night before He was crucified. During that meal, Jesus set before all people a new covenant. No more would continual sacrifices be necessary to abide by God’s law; all of God’s law was being fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).

The next day, Jesus would sacrifice Himself on a cross and then rise again three days later, defeating once and for all the sin, death, and devil that plague this world.

So why, on the night of Jesus’ birth, was His entry into the world heralded to shepherds? Perhaps it was to let them know that some of their services would no longer be needed. And to introduce them to a Lamb more perfect than any they would ever find within an earthly flock.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29). For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Points of Music

I distinctly remember the first time I heard a bell choir.  I was at a church in southern Illinois when half a dozen ringers stepped to the second floor railing and raised their bells.  I watched, dumbfounded, as first one and then another flick of the wrist sent forth a stream of intricate notes.  Until that moment, I had never considered bells to be a musical instrument.  Bells to me were a cacophony of random sounds strung to a winter sleigh.  But here were these tiny domes pealing out a melody.  I’ve been a bells’ fan ever since.

I recently attended a concert.  The singers were good, but the highlight for me was the bells.  I sat in the darkened auditorium and smiled in anticipation as two rows of ringers walked onto the stage. I was not disappointed. In perfect order the arms came up and out and the notes began to peal.  From one end and then the other, singly, in pairs, and then together – notes chimed a ribbon of music.  How was this possible?  How was it possible for so many disconnected metal pieces to chime in such unity?  It seemed like magic.  Even thinking about it now, several days later, it seems like magic.

I understand that any band needs to work together.  There has to be teamwork.  And practice.  But the coordination of a bell choir seems to take teamwork to a whole different level.  A bell choir isn’t just blending instruments. They are the instrument.  It’s like sitting a dozen people at a piano, giving them each a single key to play, and watching them belt out Beethoven.  Each note is clearly and separately rung; there’s no hiding a mistake.  I imagine it only starts working when the ringers don’t merely read the music; they become it.

It would be easy to let Paul chime in here with 1 Corinthians 12:12.  Bell choirs seem like a custom-made analogy for the importance of individual effort and team coordination, right up there with Paul’s analogy of the Church being a body made up of many members.  Everyone has a different part. (A choir of bells all with the same pitch wouldn’t be very interesting). And everyone has to act at the right time. (Can you imagine the sound if everyone rang their bells whenever they wanted?) But the true joy of a bell choir is not the mechanical precision.  It’s the transformation from inanimate metal into something mysteriously alive.  You can talk about rhythm and tempo, pitch and melody, sharps and flats and notes. But you will never be able to capture what actually happens when dozens of bells are carried into the spotlight.  When the notes are struck, something beautiful comes into being that was not there just moments before.

We are entering into the season of bells.  Jingle bells, caroler’s bells, church bells.  Bells rung over red Salvation Army buckets and bells jingling on shopkeeper’s doors.  Many of these bells are reminiscent of daily life – rushed and discordant.  Even as we prepare for Christmas, most days feel more like clanging gongs than melodious music.  We need a Great Conductor to step in and teach us when to chime, when to remain silent, and how to rest in God’s love.

We could try to study Christmas in the same way that we could try to study a bell choir.  We could consider science, history, philosophy… but none of these can ever really capture what happens when Jesus walks into the spotlight.  Something even more beautiful than the most amazing bell choir was born into the world a little over 2000 years ago.  Out of God’s love for us, Jesus Christ came to heal the discordant pieces of our lives and to envelope us in His song. When we pause to listen, we will find that His Spirit is still chiming quietly within us. 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1).

It’s Christmas Time! Are you weary and burdened?

You know what I usually do when I get tired?  I keep going.  Then I get sick.

This is a pattern that repeats itself several times a year.  You’d think I would learn, but I never do.  I always think I can do just one more thing.  Eventually, God draws the line for me and sends me to bed.  In no uncertain terms.

It’s especially easy to get rundown this time of year.  There are still the things I have to do (my job comes to mind).  And then there are all the things I want to do (it’s Christmas time, after all!) I do find it a little interesting, though, that all this bustle is in preparation for a day which originally had about as little preparation as we can possibly imagine.  Can you imagine telling your guests this year, “Oh, hi!  Sorry we weren’t expecting you and the house is full, but help yourself to the stable out back.”  Or consider the probability that the wisemen didn’t even show up until a year or two after Jesus’ birth! (This makes me feel better about sending my Christmas cards in January.)

Despite the seeming lack of preparation, I can only imagine that the Creator of the universe who orchestrates every detail of every human life paid extra special attention to the birth of His Son.  Which means that it must have transpired exactly the way He wanted.  If that’s the case, then maybe we need to rethink the kind of commemoration He wants today.  Maybe he wants us, like the wise men, to set down our gifts and worship Him.  Maybe He wants us, like the shepherds, to proclaim the good news and rejoice in God.  Maybe He wants us, like Mary, to ponder all of these things in our hearts.  Maybe He wants us, in fact, to not prepare at all, but to show up, just as we are. “Come to me” Jesus says, “all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). 

This sounds pretty good.  Why on earth don’t I take Him up on that offer more often?  The answer, I think, goes something like this.

There is a dark underbelly to the Christmas story that we don’t talk about during our brightly lit festivities.  We don’t mention what other ramifications were brought about by the wisemen’s visit to worship Jesus.  We don’t mention, in fact, that Jesus also said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34b).

What??

Jesus Himself, of course, never wielded a sword, but He knew His very presence would be divisive.  And it didn’t take long for the sword to manifest itself.  When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi (Matthew 2:16). It was the original sin all over again.  It was a man fearing his power would be overthrown by this “King of the Jews.”  It was a man, once again, trying to place his own power above God’s.  Herod did not want to take on Jesus’ yoke.  He wanted his own.

On some level, we all waiver between Herod’s grasp for power and the wisemen’s giving of their burdens to Jesus in worship.  When we focus too much on earthly matters, we are like Herod, concerned only with ourselves or with things that don’t really matter.  But if we allow the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf, we are able to release our burdens to Jesus and experience His peace. “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:7). It is not something we can do on our own.  Paul knew this when he cried out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  But Paul also knew the answer. “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord”(Romans 7:24).  We can come to Jesus anytime we are weary and burdened.  Like the wisemen, we can set our gifts down and worship Him.  Like the shepherds, we can proclaim the good news.  Like Mary, we can ponder all of these things in our hearts.  Indeed, when we set our minds away from our selfish desires and onto the Spirit of Jesus, we will find that His yoke is easy.  It is, in fact, life and peace itself.                                                                                        

For today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).

Two Shakes and a Whistle

So I was challenged the other day to write blog post with the title “Two Shakes and a Whistle.” My first thought was, “I don’t even know what that means!”

It turns out, I’m not alone.  Even Google doesn’t know.  I considered writing a blog post that simply said: “Does anyone know what this means?” but then I thought this may make my challenger angry.  And the last thing you ever want to do is make your challenger angry.  You never know what she might challenge you with next!  But take heart, because you are about to benefit from my extensive research.

I quickly realized that my initial impression of two giant milkshakes and an emergency first responder whistle was not entirely accurate.  Instead, it appears that this phrase is actually the conjoining of two idioms into one more brobdingnagian maxim.  (Yes, my research took me by dictionary.com).  The two phrases are “Two shakes of a lamb’s tail” and “Clean as a whistle.”

Two shakes of a lamb’s tail I get.  It means “quickly.”  If you’ve never seen a lamb’s tail shake, trust me, it’s quick.  What I did learn, however, is that a shake is actually an informal unit of time equal to 10 nanoseconds, or .000000001 seconds.  It is used in nuclear physics to time the steps of a nuclear explosion. Apparently, the entire chain reaction of a nuclear explosion takes about 50 to 100 shakes.  This means that two shakes of a lamb’s tail is faster than a nuclear explosion. (Wow, that’s a powerful little tail!)

As for “clean as a whistle,” there is a bit of scholarly debate about this one.  (I love a good scholarly debate!)  My favorite argument goes something like this: The phrase may have initially been “clear as a whistle” because a whistle cuts distinctively through a noisy environment and is a very clear signal.  The term “clean” was sometimes used to mean the same as “clear.”   If something is clear, it is also clean. (Hence that facial scrub, Clean & Clear, but I digress…)

Taken together, then, “Two shakes and a whistle” means quickly and clearly.  (I suppose one could simply say “quickly and clearly,” but really, “two shakes and a whistle” has much more pizazz.  Don’t you agree?)

Now stick with me, because I am about ready to do a two shakes transition.  Because while I was reading through my volumes of research, I kept having this thought:  We are getting ready to enter into the season of advent, the time of year when we remember the first coming of Jesus Christ even as we are still anticipating His second coming.  I was thinking about what that first coming was like.  Do you remember?  There was a giant star for the Magi to follow (Matthew 2:1-12), and a host of angels talking to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20). Seems to me these were pretty clean signals – clean as a whistle, even.  And when the Magi saw it, and when the shepherds heard it, they went quickly to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about(Luke 2:15).

The Bible tells us that when Jesus comes again, it will be even more unmistakable. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God (1 Thessalonians 4:16).   For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:27).

This is the great shepherd, and He knows all about whistles, shakes, and lamb tails.  More importantly, he knows all about us.  He came once to save us, and he will come again to gather us to Him forever.  He will call, clean as a whistle, and we will go to meet him, quicker than two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

It all will happen, you might say, in two shakes and a whistle.

He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily!  Isaiah 5:25-27

 

Joy of Giving

One night as I was reading my Bible – I don’t recall exactly what passage, but it was one that referenced our future in heaven when we would spend our time singing praises at the throne of God – I had one of those all-American, in-the-flesh, I-can’t-believe-I just-thought-that thoughts.  I thought: what’s in it for me? 

Now I know the answer to that.  Surely the alternative to heaven is an option I don’t care to ponder.  But, truth be told, the image of sitting around all day singing praises sounded… boring.

I didn’t say the thought was right or good.  Just that I had this thought – and once it was out there, God surely heard it.  It was too late to take it back.  I turned out the light and went to sleep and didn’t think about it again.  But our God sees and hears and does not forget.

Fortunately, we have a God who can take our doubts, our fears, our angers, and all of our other I-can’t-believe-I-just-thought-that thoughts.  The Bible says God knows our hearts and minds; He knows our words before they are even on our lips (Psalm 139:4).  And I have sometimes found that when I ask a sincere question, even one I feel like I shouldn’t be asking in the first place, God has some pretty remarkable ways of answering.

I heard a sermon once where the minister said he ran from anyone who claimed to have been directly spoken to by God.  “God spoke directly to his people in the days of the prophets,” he said, “but if you want to know what God is saying to you today, read your Bible.  That is God’s Word.  That is God speaking directly to you.”  I think his point is well-taken: we need to be wary of divine claims and to test them against the words of the Bible.  But I also believe the Holy Spirit sometimes uses the circumstances of our lives to goad us towards a deeper understanding of God’s Word.  Sometimes the events around us suddenly click in a new way with what God has been telling us all along.  This, I believe, was one of those times.

A couple weeks later I was driving home after a dinner out with friends.  My mind was wandering its own tangential course when it stumbled upon a gift idea for one particular friend.  It was one of those perfectly personal, practical, inside-joke kind of gifts that made me giddy just thinking about it.  Have you ever had one of those gifts?  Something you couldn’t wait to give because it was just so perfect? 

Driving alone in my car I actually laughed out loud.  She would love it.  I could picture her face… and out of nowhere I suddenly thought: this is a little bit what it must be like to give the gift of praise to the throne of God.  This joy is what’s in it for me.  Not that I feel joy because I give, but because of the joy, I cannot wait to give.  How much more will this be true when I am surrounded by the joy of being in God’s presence!

I was thunderstruck.  I drove home in stunned silence.  I had completely forgotten my earlier thoughts.  God had not.

As we approach the Christmas season and the celebration of the day when God gave us the greatest gift by delivering his Son into this world, I am reminded again of that night.  Too often gift giving bears only a token semblance to something deeper.  But there are still special moments, when we stumble upon that perfect gift, when we are reminded of the true joy of giving.  And there are moments when we receive a foretaste of the joy that will surely beset us when we eternally sing praises to our amazing God.  During this holy season, may we experience the joy of God’s gift to us, but also the joy of giving back to Him.

 Freely you have received; freely give (Matthew 10:8).