Thursday, December 31, 2009

An Oswald New Year

Great stuff from Oswald Chamber’s “My Utmost for His Highest”. Happy New Years Everyone! - Joe

This is from the December 31st reading…

“You shall not go out with haste, ... for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”
Isaiah 52:12

Security from Yesterday.
“... God requires an account of what is past” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). At the end of the year we turn with eagerness to all that God has for the future, and yet anxiety is apt to arise when we remember our yesterdays. Our present enjoyment of God's grace tends to be lessened by the memory of yesterday's sins and blunders. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future. God reminds us of the past to protect us from a very shallow security in the present.

Security for Tomorrow.
“... the Lord will go before you ...” This is a gracious revelation — that God will send His forces out where we have failed to do so. He will keep watch so that we will not be tripped up again by the same failures, as would undoubtedly happen if He were not our “rear guard.” And God's hand reaches back to the past, settling all the claims against our conscience.

Security for Today.
“You shall not go out with haste ...” As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, forgetful delight, nor with the quickness of impulsive thoughtlessness. But let us go out with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible things for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.

Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Feast for the Ages

Noche Buena (or Christmas Eve to my non-Caribbean friends) always brings a smile to my face. Growing up Cuban-American, this was the high point of my family’s yearly social calendar. We’d somehow cram all of our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, godparents and assorted friends of the family together under one roof to celebrate Christmas (before even opening a single present!).

Center stage was the roast pork. They get a whole pig from a local butcher (yes, the whole hog) and prepare it for the coming evening. I have vivid memories of seeing the pig before it would be infused with garlic, spices, and marinade. My thoughts? “Man that’s gonna taste good!” It would then be put into a “Caja China”, a box where the coals were spread on top of the metal lid, and the pig would lay underneath.

A veritable cornucopia of food surrounded the event. Rice and beans, Yuca root, Tostones (twice-fried plaintains), ham croquetas, veggies, mashed potatoes, arroz con polla (Caribbean chicken and rice), even roasted turkeys! Food somehow served to bring us together. The real celebration was family; our love for one another. Differences were set aside and we enjoyed each other. The younger kids would play, the older cousins would hang out (and play pranks on the younger ones), and parents would sit around and talk (and eat). Leaving was always bittersweet…Ok, maybe not (Christmas morning awaited just a few hours away). But the memories of our time together far outlasted the life-span of the toys we’d get the next day.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us remember the baby in the manger; God with us. His greatest gift to us was Himself. The outpouring of that gift, resulted in a mending together of our broken relationship with Him. When history ends, Scripture states that there will be a great wedding feast between Jesus and the Church. That which was separated now has been united. What is it about food and the healing of relationships?

May God bless you this Noche Buena and Christmas Day!

Revelations 19:5-10
And from the throne came a voice that said,

“Praise our God,
all his servants,
all who fear him,
from the least to the greatest.”

Then I heard again what sounded like the shout of a vast crowd or the roar of mighty ocean waves or the crash of loud thunder:

“Praise the LORD!
For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”

For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”

Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Can you map out a heart?

During a recent walk with a friend, we discussed science and faith and how over the years have wielded them like weapons against each other. But it's like comparing apples to oranges. They're simply different. Science is diligently at work trying to make sense of that which can be measured, codified, and tested. Faith wrestles with everything else that (so far) cannot be prodded and probed by lab technicians.

There is much mystery that continues to cloak our existence.

And I think that’s great.

Sure, you can share the science behind why stars twinkle and what makes the sky turn various colors at sunrise and sunset. You can explain how an acorn turns from a tiny seed to a mighty oak. You can categorize the various constellations and even use them to guide your way across a starlit sea. And you can use mathematics to analyze a song.

But what person who possesses a soul can stand unfazed by the beauty of what they can observe or the music that they hear?

Where can you find the wellspring of pure joy?

I mean, it would be a real downer if you could somehow quantify love.

What is love? What does it mean to be in love? What does it mean to be moved by love?

And I’m not just talking about romantic love (although that has its share of delights). How is it possible to ignore your own needs, interests, and sometimes even safety, because of love?

Love is the most powerful word in our language. People seek heaven and earth for a taste of it. To experience it. To somehow attain it.

But what is love? What does it look like?

There are so many things we can understand, so many things we can control.

But we cannot control love.

What we can do is yield to love. To let love have its way with us. To deny ourselves and to live for others.

That’s the sum total of the life of Jesus. He came to show us the way to God. He was killed to take away our sin and rose again to make reconciliation with God possible. He ascended to heaven to lead His followers in beginning the process of growing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

A Kingdom of Love.

For you see, love wins.

When someone mistreats you and you forgive them, love wins.

When you stand up for the rights of another, love wins.

When you give to another who cannot repay you, love wins.

When you seek after God, love wins.

When you live with the faith of a child, love wins.

This Christmas season; remember that the baby in the manger represents God’s love for humanity.

Emmanuel, God with us.

1 John 4:7-21
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Start of Joy

On Tuesday morning I got up REALLY early (obscenely early if you ask me). I couldn’t go back to sleep and so tried to do some productive stuff while the rest of the world slept in peaceful oblivion. Cuban coffee helped wake me up a little bit and I was thus able to talk with God, work on some writing, and catch up with the latest news regarding my beloved Miami Dolphins as dawn began to break.

But dawn didn’t just break that morning; it cracked wide open like a dropped china vase. Pink fingers of light crinkled their way across the gloom. The clouds lit up like they were on fire. The dark trees just outside our yard along with the recent snowfall magnified the effect of the growing light in the sky. The contrast between dark and light was like watching an evenly matched game of tug-of-war.

But the light was winning.

It was so amazing that I ran upstairs and got Kathy (who was up at the time). Together, we watched the glow of a new day, spellbound by the beauty we savored.

I felt peace and joy. A genuine, non-commercial Christmas moment.

This week of Advent, marks the coming of joy.

It was only fitting that Kathy and I watched “a Charlie Brown Christmas” that evening. After complaining that he can’t possibly memorize his lines for the Christmas play, Linus shares with Charlie Brown and the others what the true meaning of Christmas is.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.”

With the arrival of the Savior comes joy. We have joy because even though we are surrounded by the gloom of circumstances, sickness, problems, and pain, we can see the light at the edge of the sky.

A new day is dawning. Let us greet it with joy.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Peace on Earth

In describing an argument between two of his children regarding an object, Bill Cosby recalls the younger one screeching “MINE, MINE, MINE,” a wail that could decalcify your spinal column. He ended the argument by snatching the item from the older sibling (who was the rightful owner) and giving it to the younger (immediately silencing the shrieks). The older one protested mightily about this injustice, but Bill was unmoved. He later shared that, "The truth is that parents are not really interested in justice. They just want peace and quiet."

Ah, peace…

Peace is a state of being. A state of well-being. When you are at peace, life tends to slow down. You can savor positive experiences as exquisite delicacies. You can also weather horrible events with grace and patience.

But where does our peace come from?

Am I at peace because of my current conditions or environment? Is peace situational? Can I only find peace in a secluded beach where staff unobtrusively bring me drinks shaded by little paper umbrellas? Do I find peace when I immerse myself in tasks? What happens when I take a break? Do my beliefs bring me peace? Just because I believe in Santa doesn’t mean that I forgo Christmas shopping (or Christmas “making”). If I leave it all up to the big guy, THERE WILL BE NO PEACE on Christmas morning. That’s something you can believe in!

This second Sunday leading to Christmas is the Advent of Peace (Advent means “coming”, so we’re talking about “the Coming of Peace”). In Israel (an occupied nation at the time), the idea of peace was welcome … but nobody expected that it would come in the form of a helpless infant. This infant grew and became a man. He walked among us. He taught us the Way. And He suffered and died to purchase our peace. To regain that which had been lost since the beginning...

Peace between God and His Creation.

As we continue to watch and wait for Christmas, let us reflect on the gift of peace. While peace cannot be created or earned, it can be accepted. It is a great gift indeed.

John 14:27
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Zechariah 9:9-12
Rejoice, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious, yet he is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt. I will remove the battle chariots from Israel and the warhorses from Jerusalem. I will destroy all the weapons used in battle, and your king will bring peace to the nations.

His realm will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon. Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles.