Thursday, January 30, 2014

Adam, Eve, and the Human Condition ~ January 30 Bible Study

Tonight’s study took us to the Garden of Eden and brought us face-to-face with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The serpent tempted Eve to eat of its forbidden fruit, and all humanity falls into sin.  We affirmed that one should not interpret Eve’s sin as occasion to diagnose all women as inferior to men.

But we had some burning questions: Why did God present humanity with the opportunity to do evil?  Why does God allow evil?  Why would God create us with free will?

God did not create human beings as robots who are programmed to do only God’s will.  Free will opens up the possibility of love in a relationship—human beings choosing to love the God who first loves us.  Could love be the highest good of God’s creation?

All of us struggle with questions about why God allows suffering and evil, and the reasons why terrible things happen.  Jesus questions God just like we do as he died on the cross: “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus teaches us to direct our questions toward God—and God will meet us in the midst of those questions, full of mercy and compassion. Though we cannot understand suffering and the reasons for it, our faith remains firmly planted on one single truth: that God is love.  God’s will shall be done on earth as in heaven, and not even Satan can derail the coming of God’s kingdom.  By faith, we shall behold God's goodness, even in the face of so much evil and pain.

And as our technological age bombards us with a constant deluge of and news, we Christians are challenged in two ways—to make news through our proclamation of God’s promises and the healing work we do in the wake of tragedy; and to keep ourselves firmly planted in the good news of God’s reign over the universe.


We will re-gather in two weeks: on Thursday, February 13, at 7 p.m.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Caught in Jesus' Net ~ Matthew 4:12-23 ~ Third Sunday after Epiphany


I thought I’d found everything I wanted in a career…

Three months out of college, with no job offers on the table, I answered a “now hiring” ad for an advertising firm.  The job had it all—great benefits and earnings potential, frequent travel, and the exciting world of marketing and advertising.  I sent in my resume, and immediately received a call to interview.  Everything went great—and I was thrilled.  I was even more thrilled to be called back on a second interview—to “meet with a major client” to shadow someone “out in the field” (as they said).

Me and another young man my age got into a car with another young man, when we discovered that “out in the field” was a residential neighborhood—and we’d be selling coupon books door-to-door for the “major client.” 

After two hours knocking on dozens of doors in the summer heat, my “future mentor” sold just two coupon books.

Later, he puts a contract before me—explaining that my salary would be 100% commission, all travel would be at my expense, and the cost of benefits would be deducted from my sales commissions: eight cents on the dollar for every coupon book sold.

I was sick to my stomach that that I was being offered a complete sham of a job—and even more sick that they baited me and almost hooked me into their profitable little scheme. 

As terrible a job as that was, the life of a fisher in Jesus’ day was exceedingly worse.  You could argue that it was a better fate to be a fish caught in a net, than to be caught in the terrible world of commercial fishing.  Fishing was grueling, dangerous, and a hard day’s work brought no guarantees of success.  And even though fish were one of the most basic staples of food in those days, the fisher saw very little in the way of wages for their work.  They didn’t own the boats or the nets they used.  These were leashed at steep cost from wealthy merchants.  Furthermore, the Roman Emperor owned the seas and the fish within them—so the fisher had to pay the Emperor for the fish they caught, as well as for the rights to fish in the Emperor’s seas.  This was a terrible way to make a living.  But it was a living—the only one Simon-Peter and Andrew, James and John had ever known…

Then Jesus comes along, and everything changes…  “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Immediately, they “leave their nets, and follow him.”

But they leave behind far more behind than just a wretched vocation…  With reckless abandon, they cast off their only known means of making a living.  James and John leave behind their father.  Following Jesus puts them at greater risk than fishing for fish—just consider what happens to John the Baptist…  Fishing for people will prove be exceedingly more difficult than fishing for fish.  Still, “they leave their nets, and follow him.”

That’s the power of Jesus.  Simon-Peter and Andrew had their nets, but Jesus had his—the Holy Spirit.  God’s power is not too little to capture even the lowliest, most unqualified of persons and transform them into laborers for the Kingdom of God.  And even though Jesus chastises them countless times for acting like complete wimps, they build the church that still stands after two thousand years.

And whether you realize it or not, you’re caught in that same net—and not because you chose it, but because God chose you.  You’re caught in the net of God’s Kingdom.  It’s a done deal.  You have no choice in the matter. 

This is good news—because most of us are caught up in so many other nets…  In these nets we are dragged through life, run down, stressed out, constantly worrying about what tomorrow will bring.  In these nets, we are de-formed.

But in Christ’s net, we are transformed.  Jesus takes all of your life’s matters into his hands.  No longer are you living for yourself; no longer do the burdens and tragedies of life dominate your existence.  Jesus’ love and his faithfulness become the consuming passions and the dominant themes of your life. 

Jesus leads to where new life is born.  You leave behind life you as you lived it before.  You lose yourself in the Kingdom of God.  You are transformed.

And you, too, fish for people.  Jesus led his first disciples to serve the least, the lost, and lowliest of their world—and that fact hasn’t changed.  So many people are caught up in evil nets.  They’re basic needs are not met.  They can’t help themselves.  Society forgets about them, and tells them they don’t matter.  They know neither the love of their fellow human being nor the love of their creator.  It is among these persons that Jesus fishes for people.  These are the ones Jesus will catch; these are the ones he will transform.  The church of tomorrow is out there, waiting.  We cannot possibly know Christ to the fullest if we fail to go out into the world to fish for people.  Go fish—and you will see the dawning of God’s Kingdom.  Go fish and you will see the world transformed.

Do you need a little transformation in your life right now?  Follow Jesus.  Let him lead you into sacred moments of prayer and devotion.  Let him take your sins and your burdens.  Let him give you the strength to do the right things you know you should do but you always put off.  Then follow him to the least and the lost.  Watch God transform someone else’s life.  Watch God transform your life—and your church.  And watch the world be transformed—because God intends to do just that.

All this will happen and more as you’re caught up in the net of God’s kingdom—if you follow Jesus…

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Bible: My Anchor, My Light ~ January 23 Bible Study

I do not remember a time in my life that I did not have a Bible.  For most of my life, I’ve had many Bibles.  What I have not always had was a relationship with God.

I was raised in a loving, Christian home.  Every Sunday, we left the house at 8 a.m. for Sunday school and church—no exceptions.  I sang in the children’s choir, was confirmed, participated in youth group, and attended a Christian college.  But I can’t say I was close to God.  For most of my younger years, God was almighty, holy—and distant.  I questioned whether or not I was good enough for God to love me.  I was frequently discouraged that others had so much more faith than me.  Most of the time, I opened the Bible out of a sense of duty.  Sometimes, I opened in hopes of finding faith and peace within the pages.  But still, I struggled.  I read, but my heart was seldom engaged in it.  I read the Bible because I was too scared not to read the Bible.  God remained distant all the while.

Everything changed the day my boss told me that I was not required to work on Sundays. 

For nearly two years, I worked nearly every Sunday—and didn’t go to church.  In time, my boss learned I was a Christian—and she cared enough to allow me to be where I needed to be.  Once back in church, I rediscovered God’s love in the church’s people.  Even though I was the youngest participating adult, I was loved and accepted as I was.  In time, these people encouraged me to consider a call to ministry.  The rest is history.

My most significant learning from my seminary journey was that I am loved by God just as I am.  I always feared that I wasn’t good enough to be a pastor—but I learned that I didn’t have to be, because God is faithful.  I don’t have to prove myself worthy of God.  I’m baptized to live in God’s goodness.

In spite of all my seminary training, it was tough (at first) getting back in God’s Word.  I knew it—but I wasn’t experiencing a real connection with God.  But the more and more I was in ministry, the more and more I began to discover God’s love in other people.  I give great credit to my spiritual advisor for helping me to see all the ways God is being gracious and merciful to me and to God’s children. 

In time, I recognized an incredible hunger for God’s presence before going to sleep—because this was the time that all the worries and stresses of life and work would linger and bounce around in my mind.  For the first time ever, the Bible became a beautiful gift to anchor my worried mind and troubled heart in God’s truth.  I found myself and my own faith journey in the Bible’s characters.  I found passages to upon which to meditate, memorize, and recite back to myself whenever I was afraid.  I come to a greater understanding of God’s presence in the midst of the chaos and trials of our day as I learn of God’s work in the chaos and trials of yesteryear.  I found greater clarity in my sense of call as a pastor—and the very words to pray for this congregation and its people.  It is with thanksgiving that I say that my soul feasts on the richest of fare, both morning and night as I open the Word in my private devotional reading.

The world and its ways give much credibility to the devil’s lies: that God is fantasy, and that there is no hope for anything or anyone.  The Bible anchors me in the truth that this is God’s world, and God is in control.  The Bible illuminates my life with the light of God’s love amid all the darkness of the times. 

The Bible has become a fountain of grace for me—along with the sacraments, and my fellow Christians.  With the Word, the Sacraments, and my Church, my life is surrounded and filled with God’s amazing love. 

My prayer for you is that the Holy Spirit will speak through the Bible to form you in faith and give you the same peace and joy I have receive from God every day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Jesus In Plain Sight ~ John 1:29-42 ~ Second Sunday after Epiphany

I once saw a T-shirt that described Pittsburgh as "a drinking town with a football problem."

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers are heroes. They’re legends. They’re kings among men. And meeting a Steelers athlete in person is a dream-come-true for any fan…

Can you imagine what it must be like for one of them to go out in public, with adoring fans falling at their feet and begging for smart-phone pictures and autographs?

Last month, Steelers defensive-end Brett Keisel dressed up as Santa Claus and rang a bell beside a Salvation Army kettle, outside the downtown Macy’s.

For hours, people walked by, unaware of the identity of the giant, jolly "do-gooder" helping the less-fortunate at Christmastime.

But a few loyal fans saw through the white beard to the unmistakable reddish-brown lumberjack beard that strikes fear and loathing in the hearts of the folks east of the PA-Ohio border…

Once word began to spread, people came from all around to greet their bearded hero who had been hiding in plain sight

Jesus came into the world in much the same way: no lights, no fanfare, no fireworks. Just disguised in the ordinary; hiding in plain sight… Jesus would’ve remained as an anonymous run-of-the-mill stranger, had it not been for John the Baptist—and his simple testimony…

That testimony captivates Jesus’ first disciples, that they follow him—and begin to see with their own eyes that he is the Messiah. No longer will he be hidden in plain sight, because they now have faith to see him for who he is.

And he remains in the world, even today. But do you see him? Do you know him? Or is he a stranger?

One of the greatest challenges we’ll ever know as Christians is the hiddenness of Christ. Faith is supposed to be that bridge that connects you and me to the person of Christ, but faith seldom comes easily.

Bad things happen to good people.

Evil destroys what is good.

Prayers don’t get answered.

Stress and anxieties pile up to the point that they dominate our lives.

We cry out for Christ; we get crisis. We cry out for peace; we get fear.

It’s like Jesus is giving us the cold shoulder; rejecting us when we need him most; constantly telling us "no."

But God did not Jesus into the world to become a kind of "hidden treasure" that many will seek, but few will find.

The Christian faith is not some endless ladder you must climb in hopes that you’ll one day reach Jesus. He’s come down from heaven to be with us. If we’re struggling, he’s struggling with us. If we’re going through a crisis, he’s with us in the crisis. Even if we’re wandering off in sin, he’ll follow us to the mouth of hell if that’s what it takes to bring us back to where God wants us to be.

He’s calling you by name, above the rush of life and the clamor of commitments that call out for your attention. He extends his hand to you, amid of the storms of chaos and pain.

This is good news if you’re feeling cut off from Jesus—or if he’s always felt like a stranger to you.

He’s here to shake up the status quo, so the pains, worries, and wrongs of the times will no longer dominate your existence. God didn’t give you life so that it would be ruined with pain. God didn’t create this world for evil to destroy it. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes the sin of the world. He’s here to heal to what is broken, and to give life to what is dead.

Jesus is here to save, to serve, and above all, to be seen.

He’s here so that your life to be lived in a daily communion with Jesus. This communion begins with the most simple, everyday acts of faith and devotion: prayer; Scripture-reading; worship… We must, must, must stop the rush of life; shut off the noise. We absolutely cannot constantly dwell on everything that’s terrible and negative in the world. We must believe he’s here. Faith lives and breathes by the sacred moments when we focus our hearts and minds upon Jesus and simply exist in his presence—because God works through these moments. But it cannot stop there.

We who bear witness to Christ must also testify to what he’s doing. We must invite others into our communion with Christ; because we grow in faith by what we do for others in Jesus’ name. We build each other up in faith when we tell the story of Christ in our own lives. We grow in faith by witnessing what Jesus does in others’ lives through the testimony we give. What’s more, the church of the future will only be built by the testimonies by the stories we share—and by inviting others to join us in our walk with Christ.

Jesus speaks just three simple words to build the kingdom of God: "Come and see…" That’s what this is all about. When we follow Jesus, we do not know what he’s going to do; where he’s going to lead us; or what’s going to happen. We only know who Jesus will be. Jesus will forgive sins and sinners. Jesus will be compassionate and merciful to those who hurt. Jesus will love and accept people unconditionally. And he will always, always, be present.

What a great hope that is; simply to believe and trust that Jesus will there with us, no matter what. Isn’t that where you want to be—with Jesus? And don’t you think, with all the brokenness and evil in the world, your neighbors want to be there too? The whole world can go up in flames—but together with Jesus, we’ll live forever. And surely we’ll get through the worst of the worst that confronts us today. By faith we see Jesus is with us—present in plain sight.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Right Righteousness ~ Matthew 2:13-17 ~ The Baptism of Our Lord

It’s been just about ten years since I moved out of my parents’ home.

My first "bachelor pad" was a first floor, two-bedroom apartment in the Borough of Aspinwall.

Apartment life was loads of fun for about the first year—until the night it became interesting

It was almost midnight. I’d just come home from a late-day shift. I was unwinding with some Oreo cookies and the David Letterman show.

Then I hear a trickling of water coming from the bathroom. I get up, turn on the light, and I see this huge bubble, the size of a beach ball, bulging from the ceiling—with water trickling through a small crack. Immediately, the plaster gives way, and a tidal wave of hot soapy water from the upstairs neighbor’s shower gushes down on my face. I dash to the kitchen, grab the trash can, dump its contents on the kitchen floor, and run to the bathroom to catch the leak.

Soon, the water begins pouring out of the light fixtures and the exhaust fan.

I finally catch up with it enough that I can contain all the leaks—but the upstairs shower just keeps running in what could be the longest shower in history.

All out of options, I go upstairs and knock on the neighbor’s door—soaked from head to toe. Of course, the single mother of two teenage children isn’t happy to be answering her door after midnight. And when I tell what’s happing, she says: "That’s not my problem! You can’t ask us to stop lives our lives!" And she slams the door in my face.

I guess I could call that event my literal "baptism" into the realities of apartment living.

In our day-to-day speech, we have what we call "a baptism by fire," which we usually define as the harsh and unpleasant initiation one undergoes into a new position or place in life. I remember my boss referring to my first bad day on the job as "my baptism."

Even though this figure of speech has nothing to do with God, it’s meaning is not lost. Baptism is the work of God, acting through the people of the church, to initiate women, men, and children into the Body of Christ. It’s not just a ritual or a milestone; God is giving you a whole new reality that is rooted in God’s love.

This is exactly what is happening in Jesus’ baptism. In his baptism, Jesus joins us in our humanity. He takes his place with us. He is Emmanuel—God with us. He becomes one with us in life and in death, so that we may be one with him in resurrection.

This is how Jesus fulfills all righteousness. And in dying a death he does not deserve, he gives his righteousness over to you. We are made righteous by what Jesus does for us. He does all this because you matter to God.

Jesus is on your side.

But are we prepared to live in Jesus’ righteousness?

It’s easy to equate righteousness with "being good people." We know there’s certain things we just shouldn’t do—and as long as we don’t do them, we can comfortably consider ourselves righteous. But that’s not godly righteousness. It doesn’t demand anything from us.

Godly righteousness demands everything. Godly righteousness means living for and doing what matters to God. And what matters to God? Our neighbors—that their needs are met; that they are loved and accepted as bearers of God’s image. Purity matters to God—that the good we seek be sought only in God. Peace matters to God—in our communities, cities, and nations. Witness matters to God—that we take the Gospel and make it public. Faithfulness matters to God—that we put obedience to God’s will above the satisfaction of our needs and wants. We focus our righteousness on others—because God has focused Jesus’ righteousness on us. But even that is easier said than done…

Do you ever notice how infants and small children react when they are presented for baptism? Most of the time, they cry and fuss. I once saw a toddler jump right out of his sponsor’s arms and run away that he had to be chased. The rest of us aren’t really that different.

There are two reasons why we resist God’s righteousness: (1) we do not trust that God has our best interests at heart, and (2) our hearts’ desires are consumed by the desire of what is not God, but instead yields instant gratification.

But why should we resist living in Godly righteousness when Jesus stands on our side? God knows better than we do what truly matters in our lives—and God holds all of these people and commitments in hand. Jesus remains at our side when evil strikes; he’s on our side when our hearts are breaking; he remains at our side even when we breathe our last breath.

Godly righteousness begins with simple faith in the promises Jesus makes on the day you are baptized—that he will love you and be faithful to you for all eternity.

What freedom; what peace; what joy that comes in believing that you matter so much to God that he would give the life of his Son. If you matter that much, God is going to take care of what matters to you. It’s not a burden to live for what matters to God—it’s a gift. Living in righteousness is the truest path to a meaningful life—because we are truly living in Christ. What better way is there to know the mercy and love of the Savior—and live in God’s peace and joy—than to live only for what matters to God—by putting what matters to you into God’s hands?

The Change You Really Can Believe In ~ Isaiah 42:1-12 ~ Contemporary Worship Celebration

A seminary professor once warned us: beware the three M’s...

Marriage

Money

Music

Because these three Ms will always be the three greatest sources of controversy in any church.

And this is not a new phenomenon...

My wife’s congregation recently uncovered 200-year-old congregational meeting minutes that describe a schism in the church that began in a debate over music...

In the Reformed Church tradition, it had long been believed that the singing of hymns during worship constituted a kind of idolatry. Since hymns are written by people and not divinely-inspired, they were considered blasphemous.

Only the Biblical Psalms, sung word-for-word, were believed appropriate in worship.

But it came to pass that the great hymn writer Isaac Watts composed a hymnal of the Psalms which paraphrased the biblical text so that they would be a better fit for the music—and the denomination endorsed its adoption as appropriate for use in worship.

You’ll know Watts as the composer of Joy to the World, Jesus Shall Reign, O God Our Help in Ages Past, and seven other hymns from our red hymnal...

It wasn’t long before Isaac Watts’ Psalter as it was called made its way to her congregation. Some were happy to get it—and eager for it to be adopted in their church. Others, however, were scandalized—and were prepared to fight against it and keep the church faithful to tradition.

One congregation with two factions—each believing that their way was God’s way.

In the end, the new Psalter was adopted—and half of the members left and joined another nearby congregation that retained the old tradition.

But we can be fairly certain that the faithful on both sides of this controversy were cursing this demon that struck their church like a bolt of lightning—a demon we know as change.

When you think about it, change is almost a dirty word—because we don’t know very much change that’s good. We know change as loved ones who’ve passed away; as good times that have come to an end... We know change as the ravage of age. Look at our community: we know change as vacant storefronts, shuttered steel mills, and closed churches.

Our president campaigned on the slogan "Change We Can Believe In..." His opponents, on the other hand, campaigned against him with the slogan "I’ll keep my guns, money, and freedom. You keep the change."

A personality test I took before I began seminary diagnosed me as "very resistant to change"—which comes as no surprise to me when I look back on my life.

My parents remember how angry I was as a seven-year-old when we moved into a new house.

Last November, I was absolutely sick to my stomach when the car I owned for nearly ten years became so unreliable that I had to replace it.

I could honestly say that I despise change. How about you?

And in a changing world, we want for our church to be a refuge in a world that’s rapidly changing and heading in a direction that scares us, quite frankly.

Yet, Jesus Christ inevitably brings change. That is exactly what the prophet Isaiah teaches us today. When God shows up in the person of Christ, things change. "The eyes of the blind are opened; the prisoners are released from the dungeon. The former things come to pass, and new things spring forth."

In other words, Jesus brings the kind of change we truly can believe in...

So the question becomes: what kind of change is Jesus bringing us today?

What is the difference his presence is making—in our lives, in our homes, in our work, in our relationships? In how we spend our time and our money? In how we look at the future?

We’re not going to notice much in the way of change if we do not allow for our faith to make its way into our daily lives. If we allow ourselves to become so busy that we take no time out for prayer or meditation on the Scriptures; if we’re not looking for opportunities to serve others or share our faith; we’re going to see little in the way of change. The status quo will remain the status quo. Jesus is change—and if we resist that change; if we allow for our lives and our routines and our priorities to remain what they've always been, Jesus will be little more than an intellectual belief.

But God’s will is for us to live in relationship to Jesus—and that demands us to open up our lives so that he may enter. It demands us to step out of our comfort zones so that we may be uplifted by his strength. It demands that we be open to change so that we can grow as God’s children; knowing Christ more deeply and becoming an agent of change in the new life he brings into the world.

Jesus has come to set right everything that has gone so wrong in the world. God is not pleased that there’s poverty and need in the world; God is not pleased that human beings sin against one another; and God is certainly not pleased that there are people out there who do not know the love of Christ.

Jesus means change. As God's children, we are changed—and as disciples, we create change. Our church is an agent of change in the world. God is taking the status quo and setting things right.

This leaves us with some important questions: what changes is God inviting in your life and mine? What change is God calling for in our church? What change are we invited to create?

These are very much opened-ended questions.

But knowing the kind of change we know God desires for us and for the world, there are answers to these questions... And when God desires change, God gives us what we need for the change to happen...

So take these three questions with you:
What changes does God desire that you may know Jesus Christ more fully?
What changes does God desire in for our congregation, so that we may be more faithful?
What gifts does God give to create change? What doors are open; what opportunities exist?

As people of God, we should always be prepared for change—because Jesus is in the world, and his kingdom is coming to fruition. If we’re ready to change and to be changed, God is going to show us the hope that is ours. We’re not going to be bruised and battered by all the terrible changes happening in the world. We’re going to be formed, healed, and strengthened by the power of God to know change and bring change as new life for ourselves, for our church, for our community, and for our world. Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

New Year's Hope ~ Matthew 2:1-12 ~ Epiphany of Our Lord


Recently, Forbes magazine named Pittsburgh “the most livable city” in the United States.  They lauded the city for having everything you could ever want: world-class hospitals, major universities, a great cultural scene, good job prospects, a low crime rate, and an affordable cost of living. 

But one thing the magazine didn’t mention is what I believe to be the city’s worst quality—commuting.

Pittsburgh is a tangled spider-web of roads, ramps, bridges and bypasses that test the patience and directional senses of even the most seasoned city driver…

Here’s a two-minute sample of our return trip following a visit with my family in the South Hills:

1.       You’re heading north on Route 19, merging onto the Parkway west at one of the city’s most congested bottlenecks.  You must get left two lanes before you enter the tunnels, all the while traffic is traveling nearly bumper-to-bumper at fifty-five miles an hour. 

2.       At the end of the tunnel, you’re on the Fort Pitt Bridge—and you must get left another two lanes in about six seconds time…

3.       But don’t get too comfortable—because you’ll immediately be crossing the Fort Duquesne Bridge—and you must get right two lanes in about four seconds time—so you can take the exit for Route 28 north.

4.       You better to be sure and be in the center lane, or else you’ll miss out on sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic as all commuters traveling north into the Allegheny Valley merge into a single lane at the construction zone. 

That’s how you commute through Pittsburgh. 

But today we’re embarking on a journey that’s even more harrowing: the year 2014 

We turn the page on the new year with high hopes—and rightfully so. 

But none of us knows what 2014 will bring—and that is a very scary thing. 

There are two certainties for the children of God: 1) the certainty of uncertainty; and, 2)the certainty of God’s love.  God will be faithful even when everything is going wrong.

When you think about it, God had to have chosen the absolute worst-possible time in history for Jesus to be born.  The Holy Land is under the dominion of the ruthless and godless Roman Emperor.  The bloodthirsty King Herod rules over the Jewish people and reports directly to him.  The religious affairs of the Jewish people are controlled by an elite and learned class of men who exploit the common people’s faith for their own selfish benefit.  We know them as scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law.  All of these persons would be vehemently opposed to Jesus.  The moment he is born—his life is in danger.  It is as though everything and everyone is against Jesus, right from the start.

But just then, these Magi show up—by far, the most unlikely people to visit the newborn Jesus.  They weren’t Jews—and they certainly weren’t local.  They were astrologers.  They dabbled in magic and fortune-telling, the likes of which were strictly forbidden by God’s Law.  But somehow, God sent the Word across thousands of miles to announce the birth of the Messiah—and they learned it so well, they knew exactly what was to be the star that would rise at the Messiah’s birth.

So they come—and they present these very curious gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Certainly not the kind of gifts you’d find on a baby registry at JC Penney. 

But there are reasons why they came.  God is certainly up to something here.

For starters, Jesus wasn’t born to be the Messiah exclusively to the Jews.  He’s the Savior of the world.  And now, these Magi can go back home, and share the good news of his birth who probably didn’t even know of the existence of the God of Israel. 

And God is up to something in these gifts—of incredible monetary value to a family as poor as Joseph and Mary.  As soon as the Magi leave and the family goes to sleep, Joseph is warned in a dream that King Herod is out to destroy Jesus—and that the three are going to have to leave Bethlehem in the middle of the night and journey thousands of miles into Egypt.  The Magi’s gifts are sure to provide for all their needs for the unknown length of time that they must be there. 

It’s all because God has a plan for Jesus to be the Savior of all humanity, which he will accomplish by his life, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection.  And today we see God providing everything necessary to make it all happen.  God is working through all the complications, the setbacks, and even the enemies so that Jesus can do God’s will. 

And God has a plan for our lives just the same.  God is always busy, leading us to Jesus so that we may know (1) the peace of his presence; (2) the comfort of his compassion, and (3) the power of his resurrection.  God’s purpose for you is that you may be one with Jesus in his life, in his work, and ultimately his resurrection.  If we are committed to living in obedience to God’s will for our lives, God’s faithful provision for everything we need is as certain as the rising of the sun at dawn. 

So on this fifth day of 2014, consider then what is your every worry about the year ahead…  What hurts from 2013 are following you into the 2014?    What are your greatest hurts—and your greatest fears?  Name these before God today—because Jesus will be there with you in every one of them.  Jesus will show you his faithfulness in taking care of you, and delivering you from every single trial and temptation.  He will provide the gifts you need so that you may know the power of his love and live in obedience to his purposes for your life. 

Don’t live in fear of what can go wrong—and don’t live in the misery of what has gone wrong—because none of these things is will keep God from you.  Resolve to make Jesus the first and only treasure you seek.  Don’t just have faith, live by faith.  Walk with Jesus as he walks with you and you’ll see the truth—that God will be up to something good.