Monday, December 30, 2013

Still We Say, O Come!

It is just a few days after Christmas, and my Christmas song of the year still resounds in my heart and mind. The fact that it is just as true immediately after Christmas 2013 as it was just before Christmas the year God came to earth as a baby, is wonderful to me. The anticipation we celebrate during advent is a picture for us of, and is now eclipsed by, the great anticipation we have at His second coming. I am humbled as I reflect on 2013 to realize that my time and focus points in Scripture this year mirror very closely the stanzas in this wonderful song.

O come, O come, Emmanuel, 
And ransom captive Israel, 
That mourns in lonely exile here, 
Until the Son of God appear. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

I studied 1 Peter a little this year. It seemed to keep coming up. Whether it was comfort, or insight to comfort others, in suffering, or exhortations for spiritual leadership, specifically eldership, the book stayed on my radar. But perhaps more than anything the first verse stood out the most because of its application to the great commission. 1 Peter 1:1 - "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia."

The relevance of the book of 1 Peter I find to be best explained by the ESV Study Bible notes: "The book moves in a fluid manner between two poles: the riches that believers have in Christ and the duties they need to shoulder, within the implied situation of their living in a hostile surrounding culture." This first verse is powerful to me because of the perspective it gives on geography and mission, and our existence as exiles and dispersed.

We are exiles, and dispersed. We are lonely here. And we are mourning. But! We are elect. And Emmanuel, the Son of God, is going to appear and ransom us, once and for all. What remarkable news.

O come, our Wisdom from on high, 
Who ordered all things mightily; 
To us the path of knowledge show, 
and teach us in her ways to go. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

God lead me to the Book of Proverbs for wisdom and knowledge this year surrounding two subjects: money and productivity. We focused on money in our small group, and finances in general is something my wife and I are trying to submit to the Lord always, and approach biblically even in daily expenses. Productivity is a topic constantly on the front of my mind as I seek to work in a way that matters to God, for eternity. For those two themes, and more, I hope to be in Proverbs consistently. It is so rich. Here are some examples.

First, on generosity and diligence and its connection to money and possessions:

"One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it."

"A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich."

Then on work and productivity:

"Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in the kings' palaces."

As Eric McKiddie says, it is possible to be productive without looking like a productivity guru. Probably the most productive people are those who don’t need tools, apps, etc. Don’t try to look productive. Just get your work done!

O come, O come, our Lord of might, 
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height 
In ancient times gave holy law, 
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Much of this year, in church, small group community, and personal study, was focused on the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament. A book entirely about the Lord of might, who to the tribes of Israel in ancient times gave holy law in cloud, and in majesty, and in awe. Through the preaching of Pastor Mark Vroegop at College Park Church, we wrestled with the wonderful truths that God is a God who hears, delivers, provides, commands, is holy, and ultimately, is near. We learned the key lessons that God is supreme, that redemption is amazing to behold, that worship and obedience matter, and that God can be trusted and keeps his promises. What an amazing journey it was! Still we say, O Come Emmanuel!

O come thou Rod of Jesse free, 
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell thy people save, 
And give them victory o'er the grave. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Our small group this year had two "theology nights" where either over a bonfire, or an indoor fireplace fire, we gathered and discussed difficult to understand theological topics of Scripture and our faith. The first was on creation and evolution, and the second was on end times. So, we covered the beginning and the end. This year, we will figure out everything in the middle! The discussion on the end times was particularly interesting, and helpful, and we all dug into the Book of Revelation trying to figure out what God desires us to know about something that specifically we will never know (for sure) until it actually happens. But, it is still good to try to know. Among other things, the passages in Revelation, and elsewhere in the New Testament, that talk about Satan being bound dominated much of our conversation. Whenever and however it happens, God actually will, in Jesus, free us from Satan's tyranny. And more than that, he will give us victory over the grave, as He did with Jesus. That victory is not just a spiritual existence in heaven someplace far off, but is (will be) actual physical bodies that will come out of the grave, meet our spirits, and form an eternal physical and spiritual being that will be recognizable as ourselves. Hash tag, mind blown.

O come, O Key of David, come, 
And open wide our heavenly home; 
Make safe the way that leads on high, 
And close the path to misery. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, our Dayspring from on high, 
And cheer us by your drawing nigh, 
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, 
And death's dark shadows put to flight. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

As with every year, there have been some shocking and tragic incidents of suffering in our world, in the news, and surrounding my life. There have also been some less tragic, but just as real experiences of suffering and loss. By the grace of God, my eternal perspective continues to widen and develop as I see these things around me. As I wrote about in the post Eternal Encouragement, I feel strongly that we should be encouraged and encourage others with eternal realities all the time, not just in suffering. For then, when we are actually in the trial, we will know where to look for encouragement: the only place it really exists: in the Bible, in the Gospel, and in Jesus.

The text that has been especially helpful for me is also from 1 Peter: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though for now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

O come, Desire of nations, bind 
In one the hearts of all mankind; 
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease, 
And be yourself our King of Peace. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

What better place to end the year, and start the next year, than at the end of the Book of Revelation, specifically chapters 21 and 22. Jesus Christ is the desire of every nation and the joy of every longing heart. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is our alpha and our omega. Tim Keller says, "If you start with yourself you'll never understand your self." And, "The things you want the most you'll never get if you want them the most. If Jesus is your means and everything else is your end, you'll get neither. If everything else is your means and Jesus is your end, you'll get both."

So still we say, O Come! Come quickly, Lord Jesus.