What Does God Look Like?

I recently read a book about God and the human brain.  In the book, researchers asked people what they thought God looked like.  The question produced a lengthy pause in most adults.  This was significant to the neuroscientist because it meant that a great deal of neurological activity was taking place as different parts of the brain attempted to put into words a concept that defies the parameters of language for many people.

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God's Timing

DISCLAIMER:  I want to be completely transparent here.  This is not just "a crummy commercial!"  In fact, I had to have my editor approve this particular message before, during and after writing it.  Timing is everything right?  For the last four years I have been writing a book entitled, Our Journey With God.  No, I am not announcing its completion but I do want to share with you what is about to happen. 

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Who Inspires You?

The Winter Olympics are almost here and I'm excited.  While I love the competition I especially look forward to getting to know the athletes and their life's journey to the Olympics.  I just read an article about Maame Biney, a 17 year-old American speed skater who is expected to do great things in PyeongChang, South Korea.  She was asked about how her life has been different since she qualified for the Olympic team.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

It amazes me how many different ways that God speaks to me. (When I'm paying attention!)  From the morning's sunrise to the song on the radio to the smile from my beautiful wife Maria, I try to hear God as often as possible.  As the sun rose this morning, HIs message came to me through a book I am reading on discipleship.  Not only was this book speaking of Jesus' calling of His disciples (This week's Gospel) but it also referred to another book I read years ago.  So what is God saying?  

After John had been arrested,  Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:  "This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel."

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."  Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.  He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.  They too were in a boat mending their nets.  Then he called them.  So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.  Mark 1:14-20

In his telling of Jesus' calling of His disciples, Mark's style comes through.  His Gospel version is fast-moving and action-packed.  Jesus calls and the disciples respond, leaving everything behind.  Before long the disciples were watching as Jesus heals a demoniac, Simon's mother-in-law and as Mark continues, "He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons..."  All of this happened before the end of Mark's first chapter.  

Sometimes we read these passages and wonder why things aren't moving more quickly on our journey with God.  I know I often hope God will heal and move mountains and bring peace...NOW!  But the reality is that we need to grow in our relationship with God, continually.  Jesus calls us all to follow Him.  That means that we must accept that being a disciple of Christ requires that we leave the world behind us.  As the the disciples did, we must spend time with Jesus getting to know Him better.  Through our relationship with Him we become a part of Jesus' time of fulfillment, bringing His Kingdom to the world.  Will you respond to His call today?

"Come after me..."  

What's In a Name?

I spoke to a friend today who just became a father for the first time.  After months of waiting the baby had arrived.  I immediately wanted to know what Rory's little girl's name was.  Madeline Noel, how beautiful!  Names are obviously important in this week's Gospel:  

John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God."  The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.  Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, "What are you looking for?"  They said to him, "Rabbi" — which translated means Teacher —, "where are you staying?"  He said to them, "Come, and you will see."  So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they stayed with him that day.  It was about four in the afternoon.  Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.  He first found his own brother Simon and told him, "We have found the Messiah" — which is translated Christ —. Then he brought him to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas" — which is translated Peter.  John 1:35-42

Jesus is referred to by no fewer than four names in this short passage (six if you count the definitions of two of them).  Names were critically important in biblical times.  Zechariah gave John (the Baptist) his name after hearing from the angel Gabriel.  John pronounced one of Jesus' names as "Lamb of God."   Andrew, knowing the significance of John's pronouncement immediately followed Jesus.  Next is Simon who hears the long awaited name, Messiah, from his brother Andrew.  When Simon meets the "Christ" he receives a new name, Peter.  

Parents choose their children's names with care, often giving names with great family meaning.  So what is really in a name?  Identity.  We are identified by our names.  In the case of Jesus, understanding His identity means we must understand the meaning of His many names.  We also learn of His purpose.  John's identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God speaks to why Jesus came.  He came to be God's final sacrifice for sin.

Jesus died for Rory and Madeline and for you and me.  So what's in a name?  When it comes to Jesus' name as the Lamb of God, He suffered and died so that our names could be written in the "Book of Life."


Gifts That Keep Giving

This morning Maria and I reflected on 1 Corinthians 12.  It sparked some interesting conversation about gifts.  In this passage Paul talks of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are meant for the whole church.  As I sat down to write, the connection between that passage and this week's Gospel became clear to me.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,  "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage."  When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,  He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.  They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:  And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel."  Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."  After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, 
they departed for their country by another way.  Matthew 2:1-12

The story of the magi's visit to Jesus is well known for many reasons.  Among them are the gifts they bring to the newborn king.  Matthew's Gospel mentions three specific gifts each of which had important meaning in Jesus' time.  In a writing that dates back to 248 AD, the Church Father Origen explains the three gifts this way,  "gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God."  This acknowledgement of Jesus' true identity came from magi who had journeyed some distance to see this king, this man and most significantly, this God.  

The Magi Journeying by James Tissot c.1890

The Magi Journeying by James Tissot c.1890

Now think about God's Christmas gift.  He gave the gift of His Son Jesus, king, man and God who made the journey from heaven to be with us.  And let us not forget the gift that Jesus promised to us, His Holy Spirit.  Because the Spirit is present with us each and every day we need not travel to be with God.  The magi offered their gifts to Jesus.  Jesus in turn offered Himself for you and me.  Now it is our turn to offer ourselves back to Him as a gift, a gift fit for a king!

I Can't Wait!

Years ago I built a manger out of Maria's grandfather's barn wood.  This year we decided to leave it empty in anticipation of the arrival of the Christ child on Christmas.  In all honesty it has been hard to wait, especially as we see the nativities in our neighborhood filled with figurines looking in awe upon the baby Jesus.  Imagine the anticipation of the virgin Mary once she received her angelic visitor.      

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."  But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

"Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"  And the angel said to her in reply,  "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God."  Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.  Luke 1:26-38

Mary could not have anticipated the surprise visit she received from the angel Gabriel.  Her initial reaction was one of fear and Gabriel comforts her with words of affirmation and peace.  But things were just starting to get interesting.  After hearing that she will bear a son Mary learns that her child will be, "...great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Hold on!  Those are some heavy duty expectations!!  For nine months Mary carried her baby knowing all of this.  For 30 years she waited and wondered.  For three days she mourned.  And then...the Son of the Most High rose from the dead and eventually rose to His throne to rule forever!!!  To say that Mary's wait was worth it is an obvious understatement but how did she endure the waiting?

We find out how in Mary's trusting response to the angel Gabriel, "May it be done to me according to your word."   Mary accepted her role as Jesus' mother unconditionally.  She did so not knowing what it all meant.  She simply trusted God, waiting for His Word to come to pass.

And I can't wait to put my manger figurines out in my front yard?!?  Mary models a graceful acceptance of God's will.  We too need to wait on His coming at Christmas and everything that comes everyday beyond.

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