To start the New Year right you must let go of any old grudges that are weighing you down. Philip Yancey describes forgiveness as an unnatural act and says, “You don’t find dolphins forgiving sharks for eating their playmates. It’s a dog-eat-dog world…not a dog-forgive-dog world.” Grudges come naturally when you’ve been hurt, whereas forgiving requires God’s enabling grace. Jesus said, “If you do not forgive…your Father will not forgive your sin” (Mt 6:15 NIV). Humanly speaking, there’s not one single reason God should forgive your sins, yet the offenses He pardons you for every day far outweigh anything you’ll ever be asked to forgive others for. By forgiving, you change the whole dynamic. You open the door of a prison where you are both prisoner and jailer, setting yourself and the other person free. Grudges not only isolate you from people who were once friends, they actually shorten your life by producing deadly enzymes that contribute to a host of physical ailments. One man told his counselor, “I wish my brother could come to my wedding, but we haven’t spoken in years.” The counselor asked, “How come?” Pausing, the man replied, “It sounds ridiculous now, but I don’t even remember.” Drifting apart is the natural result of an unforgiving spirit; forgiveness reverses the trend by restoring and healing broken relationships. It’s a medical fact that forgiveness adds years to your life. As a rule, when you talk to people who’ve passed the eighty-year mark you find they are at peace with themselves—because they’ve learned to forgive and let go.
Archive for December, 2011
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
Do our bodies really matter? Or are they just insignificant shells for our spirits? Does God care about what we do with our bodies? Romans 12:1-2 answers these questions by showing us how we might use our bodies to keep Christmas well.
Romans 12 examines some practical implications of the Gospel, which Paul meticulously considers in the first eleven chapters of Romans. These implications are a response to “all that [God] has done for you” (literally, to the “mercies” of God). The first step of the response is this: “[T]o give your bodies to God….Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (12:1). Notice the emphasis here on our bodies. We serve the Lord, not just in our hearts, not just in our thinking, not just in our feelings, but also and essentially in what we do with our bodies. Our bodies and what we do with them matter to God.
One way to talk about this is to say that our faith in Christ is to be lived incarnationally, that is, in the flesh of our bodies. The Incarnation of the Word of God is not only essential for our salvation. It also underscores the value of the human body as a vehicle for God’s activity in the world. The fact that the Word became flesh provides a theological foundation for the call in Romans 12:1 to give our bodies to God as “a living and holy sacrifice.” Christmas implies that what you do with your body matters to God. We worship God with our bodies, not only in the context of the gathering of the church for offering praise to God, but also in our daily lives.
Keeping Christmas well means recognizing that our bodies are instruments through which we honor God. It means taking seriously what we do each day because God takes it seriously as well. It means that all of our activity, at work and at home, in the community and in our churches, matters to God.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How might the connection between the Incarnation and your body impact the way you live? How might you use your body as a way of worshiping God today?
PRAYER: Gracious Lord, thank you for creating us as embodied creatures. Thank you for allowing us to serve you with our bodies. Thank you for reminding us of just how much our bodies matter through the Incarnation of the Word. You chose to become fully human, to take on a human body, because through bodies your will on earth is done.
Help me, Lord, to use my body for your service. May I learn to worship you in each moment of each day as I present my whole self before you as a living and holy sacrifice. Amen.
Let Us Draw Near Today
Today is our day. No one at any time has ever had any spiritual graces that we at this time cannot enjoy if we will meet the terms on which they are given. If these times are morally darker, they but provide a background against which we can shine the brighter. Our God is the God of today as well as of yesterday, and we may be sure that wherever our tomorrows may carry us, our faithful God will be with us as He was with Abraham and David and Paul. Those great men did not need us then, and we cannot have them with us now. Amen. So be it. And God be praised. We cannot have them, but we can have that which is infinitely better–we can have their God and Father, and we can have their Savior, and we can have the same blessed Holy Spirit that made them great.
She was safe as long as she stayed in the house. Before conqueringJericho, Joshua sent two spies in on a reconnaissance mission. That’s when they met Rahab and she befriended them. As a result they gave her a scarlet cord to hang from her window, identifying her house as “off limits” to the invading army. But notice the instructions that were given to her: “If any one goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head.” There’s a lesson here: if you’re a procrastinator the lesson is: “Get into the household of faith while you still have time!” If you’re drifting away from God the message is, “Don’t leave the house.” When it comes to the importance of staying under God’s protection, here are two great Bible illustrations: (1) “You shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood…And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning” (Ex 12:22 NKJV). (2) “Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved’” (Ac 27:31 NKJV). Are you getting the message? Stay in church. Stay in God’s Word. Stay in the place of prayer. Stay in the company of those who can build you up spiritually. The hour is too late and the attack is too great. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps 91:1 NKJV).
So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
If we’re sinful people, how is it possible for us to come into the presence of a sinless, perfect God? And if we’re permitted to approach God, how should we come before him? Should we cower in shame? Or can we approach God with confidence? Hebrews 4:14-16 helps to answer these questions.
In my last two reflections, I examined the second chapter of Hebrews. There, the Incarnation laid the foundation for our salvation and for the offer of Jesus’ empathy. Because he suffered and was tested, he understands our struggles and is able to help us.
Hebrews 4:14-16 reiterates the good news of Hebrews 2. Because Jesus is a human being, he is able to be “a great High Priest who has entered heaven” (4:14). As our High Priest, he has offered a uniquely effective sacrifice for our sins. But Jesus, as High Priest, also relates to our human frailties: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin” (4:15). Thus we have in Jesus one who has opened up a way to God for us and who knows what it’s like to be human.
This makes all the difference in the world in our relationship with God. In light of the High Priesthood of Jesus, Hebrews 4:16 proclaims, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Because of who Jesus is and what he has done, we know that God has forgiven our sins and that he understands our struggles. Therefore, we do not have to wallow in guilt when we approach God. We do not come before him begging for a hearing and fearful of his rejection. Rather, we come “boldly,” telling God everything on our minds and hearts. When we come before God in prayer, we know in advance that we will receive God’s mercy and grace…not because we deserve it, but because of what Christ, our High Priest, has done for us.
Keeping Christmas well means receiving the gifts the come from the birth of Jesus. It means freely and frequently coming before God’s throne in prayer and worship. It means approaching the King of kings with boldness because of what Jesus, the Word Incarnate, was able to accomplish as our Great High Priest. Keeping Christmas well means having confidence that God understands our weaknesses and is eager to lavish his mercy and grace upon us.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you come before God in prayer, do you come boldly? Why or why not? What keeps you from feeling free before God? What helps you to pray with abandon?
PRAYER: What an amazing privilege to approach your throne, O God! More amazing still is the invitation to come before you boldly. Thank you for making yourself available to us. Thank you for the High Priestly work of Jesus. Thank you that he understands our weaknesses because he was truly human.
O Lord, how I thank you for all the times and ways you have poured out your mercy and grace upon me. You have been there when I needed your help, again and again.
May I continue to approach you with boldness, O God, not because there is anything special about me, but because there is everything special about Jesus, the Word Incarnate, my Great High Priest, my Savior. In his name I pray, Amen.
Making the Most of Today
We have little sympathy for the psychology expressed in the various “Back To” movements among Christians today. Our direction is not back, but forward. Few acts are as futile as sitting down and singing “Backward, turn backward, O Time, in thy flight.” We cannot turn the clock back. We cannot bring back better days. And it is not necessary or desirable that we should. If by means of some fantastic “time machine” one of us were permitted to go backward and visit some favorite period of the past, he would in all probability find the experience extremely disappointing. He would find himself a kind of anachronism, wholly out of place and thoroughly unhappy. To each one it is given to occupy his own spot in history. He must, like David, do the will of God by serving his own generation. It is in his own day that he must meet God in satisfying encounter. It is in his today, not in some pensive yesterday, that he must explore the riches of divine grace, do his allotted work and win his crown. Psychologists attribute certain abnormal mental conditions to an unconscious desire to escape the responsibilities of adult life by returning to the quiet and security of the prenatal state. Our habit of trying to recapture the spiritual glow of some better time by going backward creates a suspicion that we have lost the will to fight and are retiring to a safer spot behind the lines where we can sit down in peace to dream of armies defeated and battles won.