The Year of the Lord

The_Great_Isaiah_Scroll_MS_A_(1QIsa)_-_Google_Art_Project-x4-y0.jpg

We can thank Dionysius Exoguus for our New Year’s Eve celebrations this evening—or we can blame him for the noise that will interrupt our sleep come midnight. Dionysius was the sixth century character who created the codifying system for historical dates that is the basis for our current calendar. He did it by coining what has now become two very controversial letters: A. and D. They stand for Anno Domini, meaning ‘year of the Lord’ and they divide all of history into before and after the event that marked the human birth of a baby named Jesus of Nazareth.

Why is the phrase Anno Domini so controversial?

When Jesus had barely begun His ministry of traveling through the region of the Jordan Rift Valley—the land of Israel and its surrounding territory—He made a stop in His hometown of Nazareth. There He made a statement that divided His listeners into two camps: the few who would respect and follow Him, and the majority who would be infuriated by His bold effrontery and seek to destroy Him.

He had stopped in at the synagogue in Nazareth because it was the Sabbath day. He was a born and bred Jew and He had spent His boyhood and early adulthood in this synagogue on Sabbath days. But today would be different.

We’re told Jesus stood up, volunteering to read the day’s selection of Scripture, and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus would have memorized that and many other scrolls as a boy. That was the norm for His culture. He knew the exact passage His heavenly Father intended Him to read that day, and He skimmed through the thousands of words until He found it:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” He began to read, “because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All would have been well if He had left it at that. The status quo would have been maintained. The people would have left the synagogue that day no different than before coming. Their lives would have hidden the same superficiality they had come to accept as the norm for life. “Prisoners” would have meant political prisoners—the Jews knew first-hand about that. The “poor”, the “blind” and the “oppressed” would only have described physical ailments. The “year of the Lord’s favour” would have been a hope for some future return to the glory days of Solomon’s wealthy empire.

But as Jesus sat down, the service did not continue its routine flow as usual. “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,” we’re told.

“Today,” Jesus explained, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

‘Yes!’ thought the people. ‘Perhaps this man will successfully throw off the fetters of the oppressing Roman Empire! Surely that would be an act descriptive of the year of the Lord’s favour!’

But Jesus could not leave well enough alone. He knew better. This people were—all people are—under an oppression much worse than political or physical in nature. We are in bondage to our own rebellion against our Creator, God. It would take nothing less than an act of God—the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus, God in the flesh—to bring freedom from this oppression. But Jesus knew many if not most people would reject His freedom-making work. The year of the Lord’s favour would be spurned. He bluntly told them so.

Anno Domini is offensive and controversial because we struggle against God’s rightful sovereignty over our lives. Yes, yours and mine. We want to live our lives our own way. We balk against being harnessed to a lord. Yet Jesus knew only through Him would freedom from the messes we make of our lives be available to us—at least, to the few who will accept the year of the Lord’s favour.

As we say farewell to 2015 and enter a New Year, it only takes a ‘yes’ to Jesus to begin and continue a journey into a year full of the Lord’s favour. The year is the Lord’s—we know deep down it’s not ours to grasp—and He offers His favour to those who submit their lives to Him. His invitation is open. His favour is for all who accept that Jesus fulfills the role of rescuer from our worst oppression. It is Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord.

(Photo Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_Great_Isaiah_Scroll_MS_A_(1QIsa)_-_Google_Art_Project-x4-y0.jpg)

Who Are You, Really? Part 4

Rome_-_St.Peter's_Basilica_-_Small_Dome_0461

Royal Priests.

Identity is a precarious and complicated thing. One moment we think of ourselves as capable of accomplishing anything we set our minds to, and the next moment we are in turmoil over our tendency to trip up and fall flat on our faces. The person we believed we were fails us. This, in its various forms and expressions, is the anxiety of our fallen human condition. While we secretly know something deep within us is wrong, we don’t want to believe it. We have a God-given urge to think better of ourselves than experience has shown us to be. We want an identity that is internally consistent—that relieves us of our angst.

God, who is the author of our lives, knows this. He knows it and He has the solution to our identity quest. The solution is tied up in God’s Son, Jesus, and our response to Him.

When we allow Jesus to step into our lives, He begins the process of turning everything right side up. Coming to Him and giving up the struggle of trying to be who we are not, causes something deep within us to change. We think of ourselves differently. We become part of a process of transformation from the inside out. Façades drop. The reality of who we really are comes upon us like a light. Our true identity emerges.

We’ve explored this in the first four parts of asking “Who Are You, Really?”: We discover we are children of a loving Heavenly Father, citizens of another place, and living stones. What else are we?

“You,” explains Jesus’ disciple the Apostle Peter, “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

That’s an earful. Peter employs a Hebrew idiosyncrasy in his writing here. He is saying the same thing four different ways—a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God—they all mean “a specially God-focused group.” Let’s use the term ‘royal priests’ simply because it is so unique. Not many of us would have called ourselves that naturally. Does that mean we need to change our vocation and start wearing the robes and vestments of the clergy in order to identify with our new office?

Let’s look at what Peter says. He explains that this new identity and purpose as priests is to enable us to “declare the praises of him.”—that is, of God. Why? Because he “called (us) out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We each have a story. We each have our own anecdote of darkness we’ve experienced. When we take God’s hand, He moves us out of that darkness and into the wonderful and awe-inspiring light of His presence with us. That’s a story of God’s amazing grace in our lives.

The chief privilege of a priest,” explain the footnotes in the NIV Bible for this Scripture passage in I Peter, “is access to God.” Believer-priests are those for whom God removes the barriers between Himself and them. He reveals Himself, His character and His great truths to His priests. He hears their prayers. He makes His presence known to them in innumerable, meaningful ways throughout their day. That is the privilege given to each person who comes to Christ, entrusts him/herself to Christ’s salvation, and chooses daily obedience to His teachings found in His Word, the Bible.

Not only that. Christ Himself is the great High Priest, the One who has intimately known the presence of God by virtue of being one part of the Trinity of God. So He becomes our identity-model, the same way He does with the other identities we’ve observed: the only begotten Son models our filial relationship with the Father, the Firstborn of Heaven models our new connection with God’s kingdom, and the great Cornerstone enables us to be living stones in an eternal home with God. Jesus, the High Priest, qualifies us to be priests, and teaches us how to offer up the sacrifice of praise to God by our daily lives.

The office and position of royal priests is not exclusive, but it is conditional. It is open to every one of us who surrender our lives to Jesus. It means giving up our false identities that in any way exclude Jesus as primary identifier. That’s the part about being “called…out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

We were created to be like Jesus—nothing less. “Come to me,” He invites us each day, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29).

(Photo Credit: NormanB [[File:Rome – St.Peter’s Basilica – Small Dome 0461.jpg|thumb|Rome – St.Peter’s Basilica – Small Dome 0461]])

Who Are You, Really? Part 3

800px-Chief_RP(1)

Living Stones

The Stawamus Chief is Howe Sound’s impressive monolith. Rising hundreds of metres vertically from sea level, its presence commands great respect. The solid granite mass of the Chief’s three peaks attracts thousands of climbers and hikers every year, delivering stunning views from many vantage points. The Chief seems as solid and dependable as anything on earth. But when springtime rains and perhaps a deep earth-tremble recently loosened a section of granite at its fissures, tonnes of the Chief calved away plummeting to the forest floor. More than a rocky shoulder was lost that day; the aura of solid reliability was lost with it. The Stawamus Chief was not as indestructible as it had appeared.

As we explore our own identity, asking who we really are, perhaps we can relate to that old Stawamus Chief. Most of us have tried to represent solid dependability at times. We’ve maybe even believed it ourselves for a while, rising as examples of strength, intelligence, beauty, or other forms of commonly considered success. But there comes a moment in each of our lives when the persistent erosion of inner fears and a corresponding external stressor cracks the façade. We begin to see the stonework of our lives crumbling at our feet. Our identity has become a shambles.

“See, I lay a stone (“lithos”) in Zion,” quotes the Apostle Peter, referring to God’s message through the prophet Isaiah nearly a millennium earlier, “a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (I Peter 2:6). Notice how the reference to “the one who trusts in him” reveals this stone monolith as him, a person—a uniquely reliable and indestructible person. Peter, we may recall, was called “Petros”, little stone. But “Lithos,” Peter correctly interprets, is Christ. And not only is Jesus Christ the massive monolith and Rock of Ages, he is the resurrected and living Stone that changes everything for us.

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also,” explains Peter, “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:4,5).

Jesus’ true identity as the cornerstone of all existence becomes the source of identity for those who “trust in him”. It is that simple. Trusting in the One who is the foundation of all life gives us a secure foundation. His permanence becomes our permanence. And—notice this—our true identity is dependent upon His identity. More than that, Jesus Himself explained that those who identify with Him, beginning to trust Him and continuing to trust Him—even when appearances sorely test that trust—will find His very presence dwelling within them.

“Remain in me,” counsels Jesus, “and I will remain in you” (John 15:4). He’s revealing something here. He means that when our identity is characterized by His work—Christ’s redeeming work of transforming us from our unnatural, fallen state into unsullied God-image-bearing creatures—we begin to solidify with the living minerals of Christ’s character. We will never be the “one and only Son” of which Christ is solely described, but we become “living stones” like Him who is called the “living Stone.”

We’re beginning to see a common thread here in these thoughts on identity: we are children of God only as we come to the one and only Son of God to receive family status; we are citizens of heaven only as the Great Ruler of Heaven makes a way for us to enter; and we are living stones only as the massive Rock and Cornerstone invites us to participate in his trustworthy and unchanging character.

The purpose of our identity is to reflect the identity of Christ. That goes for every human on this rocky planet. Any other identity is a shallow and trifling sham not worthy of our status as image-bearers of God. “I was born this way; this is who I am” is only a defense for maintaining the corrupted identity resulting from our fallen nature—it’s like clinging to the rubble at the base of the Stawamus Chief, unwilling to answer God’s calling of us to the heights.

So let’s come to him today, as Peter invites. Let’s accept our identity as living stones and offer praise to Jesus Christ, our God and King.

My hope is built on nothing less — Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; —I dare not trust the sweetest frame,– But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.– On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand. (“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote, 1797-1874)

 

<a title=”By Psi4ce at English Wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons” href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChief_RP(1).JPG”><img width=”512″ alt=”Chief RP(1)” src=”https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e2/Chief_RP%281%29.JPG/512px-Chief_RP%281%29.JPG”/></a&gt;

Who Are You, Really? (Part 2)

Women_and_children_among_Syrian_refugees_striking_at_the_platform_of_Budapest_Keleti_railway_station._Refugee_crisis._Budapest,_Hungary,_Central_Europe,_4_September_2015._(3)

Citizens of Another Place.

Syrian refugees will soon arrive on our shores—and not ours only. Nations around the world are opening their doors to Syrians displaced from their communities by the violence of a fatiguing war. Men, women and children like my family and yours simply want a new beginning. They want a chance to live quiet, peaceful lives again. They want their work to be meaningful, their children to develop to their full potential, and their relationships to thrive. They want to escape the constant warring and destruction—and they are willing to change their citizenship to make it happen.

As we explore identity through the eyes of the Apostle Peter who was an eyewitness of the historical Jesus and a veteran of God’s transforming power, we see some parallels to our current socio-political state of affairs. The first element of identity the Apostle examined was our role as children of a Heavenly Father. The second follows closely on its heels: citizenship.

“Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially,” reasons Peter, “live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (I Peter 1:17). Live as strangers here, he counsels. Strangers to what? Peter goes on to clarify his unusual message by explaining, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (I Peter 2:11).

There is a war going on in, around, and for each of us. It’s a war that we are not fully cognizant of, yet neither are we fully innocent of. The devil, spurious wraith and enemy of our souls, is behind this war. He works from without and from within to slide us closer and closer to the slippery precipice of destruction. He masquerades as a rainbow of light, inhabits the shadows of our fears, and hides in the darkness of our ignorance—even implying he doesn’t exist—anything to ensure we fail to return to our true Father. But we do not need to remain in his territory ‘Sin’, under his terrible tyranny, helpless against the terrorism of his attacks.

We have a Father and He has prepared a ‘kingdom’ for those who have their hopes set higher than the rebellion our race has inhabited. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” explains another first century follower of Christ, “and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20).

When we identify ourselves as citizens of heaven we find our identities with earth are less confining, less descriptive of our true selves. (Note: heaven is not the location depicted by cartoons as caricatured angels in clouds and saints on duty at heavenly golden gates. It is the embodiment of life beyond time where individuals finally realize their full created potential in relationship with God).

Earthly identities can be anything from roles within our families, national and ethnic identification, educational and vocational labels, to gender and sexual identities. All of these earthly identities begin to fade in the brilliant light of identity as citizens of God’s absolute, unhindered domain. Only this identity is eternal.

“Here,” explains the Apostle Paul, “there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). Paul is listing common identities in the first century Roman Empire. He gives examples of national and ethnic identities, religious and gender-based identities, military identities and societal identities. They are examples, not meant to be exhaustive but to incorporate all temporal identities we humans gravitate toward embracing. In contrast, identity with Christ is unveiled as the supreme and quintessential identification available to us. When Christ is all to us we realize the true proportions of our existence—we discover all we were designed to be and do and experience.

So how do we live with this heavenly identity foremost in our minds? Are we relegated, as the saying goes, to ‘be so heavenly-minded we are of no earthly good’? We may remember Peter’s counsel that we live our lives as strangers here in reverent fear. Our citizenship in Christ’s eternal domain is to affect our daily living by giving us a reverence for life here on earth as created by and for God, and a hope for the life to come. We are to fear the consequences of destroying ourselves by embracing other identities—they all turn us little by little away from God, away from His love for us—and instead come in awe, daily, submitting ourselves to God’s plans for us. It is not easy but it is what our souls are designed for.

Join with countless followers of Christ as we hold citizenship in God’s kingdom in highest regard in our heart of hearts; we “set (our) hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1).

(Photo Credit: [[File:Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. Author Mstyslav Chernov]

Who Are You, Really? (Part 1)

 

1280px-Laughing_Kid

http://www.flickr.com/photos/vatobob/

 The Child in You.

Sooner or later we all must face our identity. Simplistically speaking, identity describes who we are, but if we delve a little deeper we may discover that identity actually controls and governs how we think, speak and even act. When identity is manipulated or twisted by outside forces, individuals suffer great angst and confusion.

The era of the residential schools in Canada for first nation children illustrates the phenomenon. Instituted in order to aid the assimilation and integration of aboriginal culture into the growing Euro-Canadian dominating culture, residential schools were an identity experiment. The Canadian government was hoping that education would make future generations of aboriginal youth think like Euro-Canadians, become economically self-sufficient, and weigh less of a burden on the public purse. The experiment proved to be a dismal failure. Disruption of the family and lack of cultural anchoring left individuals deeply wounded. Recent governmental compensation for survivors of the residential schools experiment raises awareness of the complex nature of identity.

The Apostle Peter seems to be intrigued by identity. Perhaps his interest was first piqued when the extraordinary man named Jesus, whom he had come to follow, changed his name from ‘Simon’ (hears/listens) to ‘Peter’ (little stone). As a result of embracing this new identity, Peter began to recognize references to Christ in ancient prophecies where Christ is called the ‘stone’ (lithos), ‘cornerstone’ (gonia + kephale) and ‘massive rock’ (petra) (Isaiah 28:16; 8:14). Peter was beginning to see his identity in terms of following the Rock of Ages incarnated before him.

Thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter used a letter we call ‘First Peter’ to write to people scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Much of what he describes is about identity. In portions of the first and second chapter he will observe four elements of identity followers of Christ begin to develop as they become more ‘Christ-like’. Peter begins by calling followers of Christ to think of themselves as children.

“As obedient children,” Peter explains, “do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

True followers of Christ have been given a fresh start in God’s eyes, called the “new birth”; they are to be “obedient children” in relationship to this Heavenly Father with whom they are now connected by family ties. In fact, they are called to exercise their new God-given ability to be “holy”, pictured in the fresh innocence of a newborn infant. Peter instructs, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Pure spiritual milk is the truth of God found in the Scriptures that feeds our souls and helps us mature into Christlike children of God.

Unlike external identities imposed on us by the agendas of culture around us, the identity of child of God is internal and integral to our being. It is what we were created by God to be. It not only defines who we are, it establishes whose we are. We belong to a loving, compassionate Father who has gifted us with an amazing inheritance: His own godly characteristics implanted within us. It is His nature in us that allows us to develop faith in Him, goodness from Him, knowledge of Him, self-control by Him, perseverance through Him, godliness like Him, brotherly kindness to those created by Him, and love for Him.

There is no angst or confusion in this identity. There is no moral law that is broken by this identity. To be God’s child is the beginning of an eternity of growth and development, of usefulness and challenge, of knowing we are the beloved of the Father. Join with me in thanking the Father that we can leave all other identities behind when we become children again—children of God.

(Photo Credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/vatobob/)