A Reformed Congregation. Sierra View Presbyterian Church, Fresno, California

Month: December 2014

A New Year’s Refocus

A New Year’s Refocus

 

“I’m going to stop eating sugar!” “I’m going to start working out again! Again!” New Year’s Resolutions: you gotta love ‘em. I always notice how the sporting goods stores load their showrooms with ellipticals and treadmills at the end of the year. Watch Craigslist in 8 weeks: “Workout equipment for sale, like new!” We’re pretty fickle, aren’t we?

 

This week’s “Wednesday’s Words” will be a little different from all the others. Instead of a devotional, I thought I’d lay before you a helpful list of questions for your consideration in the coming year. Rather than a New Year’s Resolution, consider it a New Year’s Refocus. It’s a short post this week. And, for the record, these aren’t original from me. We came across them someplace online, and I’ve simply edited them slightly.

 

As you reflect on your walk with Christ over the past 12 months, I wonder what you’ve learned. What has God taught you about Himself and about yourself? What might He be preparing you for in the New Year? To help guide you through those questions, here’s the list of 7 more that may be of value to you.

 

  • What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
  • What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask of God this year?
  • What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your devotional or prayer life this year?
  • In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year? What means has God given for you to make progress?
  • What was the biggest time waster of last year in your life?
  • What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church this year?
  • What is the thing you will do this year that will matter most in 10 years?

 

I hope you’ll give consideration to these questions. There is no right or wrong answer to any of them, and we’ll all have different ones. They are meant to get us all thinking and praying about things that matter as the New Year approaches. May God be gracious to you as you refocus your soul in joyful pursuit of His glory. Happy New Year’s to you all.

On Seeing Jesus

Sirs, we would see Jesus” – John 12:21

 The chapel on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary is the first things a visitor will notice. For good reason, too. It’s magnificent. Colonial style, pretty wooden pews, red carpets, the whole deal. Most notable, however, is the pulpit. It’s obnoxiously elevated. Imagine our own sanctuary about half the width. Then imagine a 10-foot high pulpit in the middle, with a set of stairs on either side. Like I said, it’s obnoxiously elevated for a sanctuary that size.

But on that pulpit is an indelible reminder to anyone who steps foot into that hallowed space. “Sirs, we would see Jesus.” Those words are stamped onto a copper plate about the size of a business card, but they scream in significance. The little placard on the massive pulpit made sure we poor students felt the constant prodding of our professors, “Whatever you do and say, give ‘em Jesus.”

The story of Christmas morning is filled with lowly servants and kings in high places. Consistently, as they come from places everywhere, they are compelled by a desire to see Jesus. The shepherds hear the angelic choir and run to the stable. The kings of the orient follow the star, gifts in hand. They have all come to see Jesus. Even Herod seeks Him, although for more sinister reasons.

In John 12, Jesus is an adult not very far from the cross. In that chapter gentile people come to Philip and utter the most important phrase of their lives, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” What’s remarkable, however, is Jesus’ response. Far from a casual or indifferent remark, Jesus responds to their interest by saying things like, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (a reference to the cross) and “Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (a reference to our devotion to Christ). In effect, Jesus says, “If you want to see Me, then you must know My cross, and you must know the claim I have on your life.”

What does it mean to “see Jesus,” then? It means to come and behold Him, He who is born the king of angels, in His sufferings and demands on our lives. In this, the third week of advent, I wonder if you remember the claim that Jesus has on your life. I wonder if your wonder at His birth reminds you that He will not stay in that manger. That He will soon suffer many things to bring many sons to glory.

To ‘behold’ means to come and see. Come and see what God has done through Jesus Christ, late in flesh appearing. Whatever else He has done for you, he has done so through the cross because He loves you. And because He loves you, the claim He has on your life is for your good and for His glory.

That’s what it means to ‘see Jesus.’ It means to lay down the life that we owe at the foot of the cross in order that, by grace, God will exalt His Son in our midst.

Come to think of it, maybe that highly elevated pulpit wasn’t so obnoxious, after all. Maybe it’s exalted status was a reminder of the One Good Thing: To see Jesus in this life, as the shepherds did, and in the life to come, as sheep.

A Full and Bright Celebration

“My Soul Magnifies the Lord” – Luke 1:46

 

My family and I recently went down to San Diego and visited my childhood home.  There’s always something about going home, isn’t there?  Memories, good and bad.  All the sights and sounds bring it all back.  For me, those were sweet days.  The nice people who live in that house now saw us awkwardly out front pointing at their home like a group of star-struck tourists.  Remarkably, instead of calling the police, they were kind enough to open their doors to us.

 

As I stood in the foyer of that house, what came flooding back to me was the joy of Christmas past.  I couldn’t articulate it as a child, but my heart was always full because Christmas was always brightened by the sense of expectation and by the warmth of love.  When I saw the banister and stairway that day, I saw in my mind’s eye three little Peterson kids (of whom I am the youngest) quietly sneaking down to the tree with bated breath.  For whatever reason, that’s the first memory that strikes me when I remember that house.  I consider it a sacred joy.

 

There’s a passage in Luke 1 known as “The Magnificat” because it begins with the truly sacred joy of young Mary looking expectantly to the very first Christmas saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  That Christmas morn will come soon enough.  But in anticipation, she wants to magnify her Savior, who will occupy the exalted place in that lowly manger.  The word ‘to magnify’ derives from the word ‘mega’, which we can all understand means to ‘make great’.  To make much of something, or to consider something of such magnificent importance that to miss it would be a devastating loss.

 

The saddest thing about Christmas is that I often make more about Christmas than the Christ of it.  You, too?  That’s what I make much of.  Christmas.  I can be scrooge-like when it comes to Jesus’ magnificence.  There is no joy in missing Christ during the advent season.  After all, ‘He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.’  What joy can there possibly be if we miss that?!

 

Ah, but there’s Mary to call us back to the truly sacred joy of what is coming.  Not only does she ‘magnify’ the Lord, but she also rejoices in God her savior (1:47).  That’s the thing about advent: it’s all about rejoicing in God!  “Mary, tell me about your memories of that first Christmas.”  Do you think she’d answer that any other way than saying, “Oh, it was all about the bright expectations of Holy Love.  Oh, how our hearts were full.”

 

My dear friends, in that lowly Bethlehem feeding trough lay the eternal Son of God in frail humanity.  Fully God, fully man.  Holy and Sovereign.  How exactly was Jesus Christ sovereign over the entire universe while being swaddled by the very people created by Him, for Him and through Him?  I don’t know.  But He was.  And He is.  And He forever shall be.  I think that’s why Mary so joyfully magnified the Lord that day.  It was because God told her that she would play a central role in the unfolding of the highest mystery known to both heaven and earth.

 

More than that, she rejoiced in God and magnified her Savior because God was coming in person to conquer sin and evil, to give freedom to the captives and light to the darkness.  This is truly sacred joy.  Build your celebration this year around the theme of God’s treasured Gift to you.  Approach Him with the same anticipation as a child stumbling from his room on Christmas morning.  You will sense an abiding joy rising within you, because your soul, like Mary, will magnify Him.  May your spirit rejoice in God as you anticipate Christmas, and may your heart be full and your season brightened by the Holy One of Israel.