Advent and the Particularity of God’s Love…a post by Rich

The season of Advent is upon us and as Christians we turn our hearts in preparation for the coming celebration of the birth of the Messiah, our Savior. A theme we often attended to here at CrossPoint is the particularity of God’s love. Thomas Oden considered the incarnation the “scandal of particularity.” God in his wisdom makes himself know to us in and through a very particular Jewish man. But there is more to the scandal than God simply making himself know in Jesus. The crux of the scandal is that this Jewish man, with a real family history -hence the gospel genealogies- is in fact the Son of God! God is now made know to us and is with us in Jesus. As Jesus put it, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. . . “ (John 14:9) And as the writer of Hebrews makes clear, “but in these last days he has spoken to us in his Son . . . He, (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God (the Father) and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Heb. 1:3)  Scandalous it is, to say the least. God loves us in this very particular person, Jesus!

There is endless mystery and beauty within the story of our Savior’s birth. The humble and yet truly beautiful response of Mary to the Angelic announcement. The Angelic confirmation for the anxious Joseph that comes to him in the quiet dark mystery of a dream while sleeping. The notoriously dishonest Shepherds are the first to herald the good news- ah, God’s ways are not our ways. And the deep longing of the wise men compelling them to follow a star surrounded by the heaven’s darkness. And there is much more that is filled with beauty and wonder. But that which is most beautiful and for sure the grandest of all mysteries is that in this particular Jewish man, this Son of God, has come to show us the love of God and in so doing loves each one of us particularly.

The particularity of God’s acts in Christ manifests the particularity of God’s love. God’s love is not a generic love but it is a specific particular love of individuals. It is a love that greets individual men the likes of Andrew, Peter, James and John. It is a love that reaches out to the woman at the well. He touches deeply the lives of Mary and Martha. It is the love that notices the woman in the crowd who suffered so long and touched him. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. The blind man crying out for mercy, and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” There is the widow of Nain whose only son died. Jesus notices and raises him from the dead. The gospel narratives tell us again and again of the wonder of the love of Christ that is specific and particular. A love that greets each person in the depths of their soul. And it is no less true for you and for me! What wondrous beauty what glorious mystery that we should be loved in Christ so deeply and lavishly by our Heavenly Father.

The humility that blankets the entire gospel narrative of the birth of Jesus points ahead to the great humiliation of the Cross. Here the love of God shines forth in its fullest glory for “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) The love of God is this particular! God’s love addresses the specifics of our individual and corporate sin. It enters the darkest places of any and every individual’s soul and brings “the light of life.” (Jn.8:12) And all of this love comes to us as a gift of grace, even more beauty and mystery. Who can truly comprehend this love? We need only to surrender and trust.

Our Savior has come! Immanuel, God with us. So then, we rejoice! We give thanks. And we rest in him. May it be so for each and every one of us in this Advent season. May we again receive afresh the love of God who sent his Son as our Savior and the Savior of the world!

Trusting God’s Faithfulness…a post by Joy

As Christ transforms us daily to be more like Him, sometimes He allows delight and sometimes He allows pain to do the transformational work in us.

Sometimes being present and vulnerable with the painful challenges in our lives is what creates the most beauty in the long run. Our lives are not about living without pain and struggles. It’s more about how we respond to what happens to us along the way.  Psalm 37:4–”Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”  If our greatest desire is to know God and to become more like Him, we have to be mindful that we  are not promised to have only “good times” on this journey of life.  We have to remember that even Jesus wept.

What we are able to harvest from the deepest terrain of pain can bring the greatest delight and steadfastness in a relationship with the Holy Three in One. It comes at a great cost to us. And it certainly was a great sacrifice for Jesus in the first place.  The grace He bestows on our lives during these times are truly the times He gives “beauty for ashes.”

It seems that our invitation in situations of the painful knowns and unknowns is to fully trust God that He will BE WITH US no matter what, trust Him to guide and direct us each step of the way,  and depend on His  unconditional love that reflects His faithfulness to us.  (Proverbs 3:5-6).

I invite you to listen to this song entitled: Faithful One by Robin Mark.

I hope it is an encouragement to your heart and soul.

Wild Geese…a poem by Mary Oliver

This is a beautiful poem that speaks for itself and the first few lines are of particular encouragement for those tortured souls…you know who you are.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

If anyone thirsts…a post by Tom

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. – John 7:37

I am struck with this simple and beautiful invitation from Jesus. It addresses four important issues.

SELF WORTH

Anyone…Yes anyone. Including you? Yes. Including me? Yes. As humans created in the image of God we have the dignity and worth to approach the Savior. God desires all to be saved.

NEED

Thirsts… Feels a need and wants something more. God I am so thirsty in this broken world. I feel a need and want something more. I thirst. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” – Augustine of Hippo

SOURCE

Let him come to me… Not let him study or let him do x, y, z or clean up his act first but let him come directly to Jesus. Am I going directly to Jesus or somewhere else including my thoughts and emotions?

ACTION

Drink… Take in what Jesus offers, drink it in and ingest. Let who He is and what He offers become me. This involves consent, this involves openness, this involves communion, and this involves receiving. Do I trust that what he offers is good?

Invitation to Trust…a post by Rich

Brennan Manning in his book “Ruthless Trust” tells the following story.

“When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.” She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.” (Ruthless Trust, p. 3)

As we approach Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord it may well be that many are seeking a new sense of clarity or certainty about themselves or the things of God.  Too often however our quest for clarity or certainty is a subtle strategy for us to be in charge. We like being in control! The gospel of Jesus Christ has been and ever shall be an invitation to trust. Trust for the disciples of Jesus is not optional, it is required. Jesus says emphatically in John’s Gospel, “Let not your hearts be troubled, trust in God, trust also in me.” (John 14:1). So we come to the heart of our faith; we trust in a Risen Savior! Again we are reminded that the Kingdom of God is not made up of those who have figured out all of life, nor of those who have resolved haunting questions in their life, nor of those who have recovered from all their wounds, nor of those who are completely certain about matters divine, but rather of those who trust the love the Father has for us in Christ. We are like children trust a loving and good parent who seeks our very best. Such trust delights God the Father and it is for this trust by his children in him, that God our Father sent his Son and delivered him from the power of sin and death by his resurrection. So this Easter we come again trusting in our God who loves us more than we know! Grace and peace to you, Christ is risen!

For Longing…a New Year blessing from John O’Donohue

For Longing

Poem by John O’Donohue

blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.

may you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

may you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

may the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

may the one you long for long for you.
may your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

may a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

may your mind inhabit your life with the sureness
with which your body inhabits the world.

may your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.

may you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
may you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

God Paid Attention To Me…a post by Joy

God paid attention to me this morning in a way that He knew I would love! I opened the blinds of the window in the bedroom. Immediately I saw a bright red cardinal sitting on top of a tall weed in the field of swaying grasses behind our house. I smiled and whispered a prayer of thankfulness. The beauty of the red bird always reminds me that “God is with me.” He shows up at the most amazing times. He may be flying across my pathway as I’m driving, arriving at the bird feeder on our snow-clad deck in December, or even singing as he lands on the top of my wreath hanging on the front door of our home. The latter has happened at least 3 times this year. The last time it happened, I first heard the close sound of his chirping before seeing him. I walked quickly to the living room to see if he had landed on the wreath again. Sure enough, he had!

I felt that Christ was being playful with me by sending the cardinal to my front door. It delighted my child’s heart within. Intentionally entering into every moment when God’s little messenger comes “flying by,” I am reminded that He loves me unconditionally with my own particularity with no strings attached.

 

Ephesians 3:18-19

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

 

Thanks be to God!

 

Olympic Pressure … Olympic Love…a post by Jim

I’ve never competed at a high level. I felt the weight of spelling competitions in elementary school. And the pressure of going 14 and 0 on our middle school softball team. And the strain of getting sermons ready week in and week out for many years. But I’ve never felt anything like the Olympic pressure of putting everything on the line after years of preparation for that one chance.

For the swimming events, the difference between gold and bronze is often just a few tenths of a second. And then there are the women gymnasts on the balance beam. They do things on those 4 inches that I couldn’t begin to do with 4 feet. The pressure they feel just to avoid a broken leg is huge, much less a win.

Most of the athletes who put everything on the line after years of sacrifice will win only a sense of satisfaction that they had a chance to compete. Few get medals. But still they welcome the chance to compete. It is as if they don’t care what others might think as long as they can have the chance to give their all.

This morning I read the story of the blind man in Luke 18. When he heard the crowd he wanted to know what was happening. On hearing that Jesus was passing by he put everything he had on the line in order to get Jesus’ attention. He ‘won’ his event. He got his sight. And he did because he didn’t stop shouting at Jesus. It was his one chance.

I’m glad that for most of life we get more than one chance. I’m thankful we don’t live under the strong pressure of putting everything on the line every moment of the day. But I am struck with the love of the game that motivates the Olympic athletes. What do I love that motivates me to put everything on the line?

Surely God is in this place…a post by Tom

“When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ –Genesis 28:16

Jacob was on the run from his brother who wanted to kill him. Jacob whose name means ‘deceiver’ had maneuvered himself into the patriarchal blessing and birthright by tricking his Dad and also taking advantage of his brother. As he was fleeing and making his way to his Uncle’s house he stopped to rest. It was in this vulnerable and exposed ‘in between space’ that he had a fantastic dream and awoke to his conclusion that God was there! He then called that space Bethel which means house of God.

The human condition is on the run. Plagued with fear, manipulation, maneuvering, and trickery we are running from something. We think we have to fool our way into God’s good graces and blessings. In doing so we make a mess of our lives and end up running from what is essential. Yet the funny and sad truth is that what we are running from and looking for is the same thing!

Sometimes it is in these ‘liminal’ spaces when we are in between relationships, jobs, locations, religions, political beliefs, or whatever that we actually stop to rest. It is in these spaces that we are finally vulnerable and exposed and God can get at us! What does he want to get at us with? His love and reminder of our birthright and blessing! We are the beloveds no matter what and His promises aren’t related to our behavior but to an unconditional covenant cut with Abraham by grace through faith and made reality through Jesus. It is our big brother Jesus, not Esau, who is chasing us to remind us of our birthright and blessing!

The shocking revelation of the New Testament is that I am a temple of the Holy Spirit a walking and breathing Bethel. That in each and every eternal moment God is in this place! The issue is that I am too preoccupied to know it. Thank God for those liminal spaces where this can be revealed. May I encounter each moment with childlike wonder and awe that God is in this place, especially when I am on the run.

Bonhoeffer on the Christian life…a post by Rich

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work the “Cost of Discipleship” was the most significant book I read in the decade of my twenties. It was a book given to me from a pastor in Alton, Iowa who was retiring and dispersing his library.  Bonhoeffer’s reflections on what it means to follow Jesus changed my life.  It was the first time I came to realize the meaning of God’s grace. After reading the book I was motivated to become a serious student seeking to bring all of my life under the Lordship of Christ.  I came to understand in the economy of God their was “no cheap grace.”  Bonhoeffer taught me that grace was costly. Consequently Christ in grace continually invites us to give our entire life in service of him as we respond in love for being so generously loved by God.

Eric Metaxas’ work “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” is well worth a place on your summer reading list.  Chad Lewis, a friend of mine, recently sent along to me a quote from Metaxas’ book that summaries Bonhoeffer’s life.  I have returned to these words numerous times in recent months as I reflect on what is it means to be a follower of Jesus. Here is how Metaxas summaries Bonhoeffer’s Christian life.

“He had theologically redefined the Christian life as something active, not  reactive. It had nothing to do with avoiding sin or with merely talking or  teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules or tenets. . . . It was God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings obedient to the one  who had made us, which was the fulfillment of our destiny. It was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom that was what it was to obey God.”

How we imagine what it means to follow Jesus eventually becomes HOW we follow him. Bonhoeffer imagined a way in following that was about becoming fully human, “a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom.” Perhaps Metaxas’ summary of Bonhoeffer’s manner of loving God and living as a child of God can help us all imagine a way of being with Jesus as Jesus hopes we would!