Thursday, December 31, 2015

Random Thoughts

Here are a few random thoughts as we turn the page for another go around the sun. About divine love, relationship with God and new life in Christ. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Many have been my tweets and Facebook updates. Some have been my Instagrams. Offered as “jump starts” for a Happy New Year!
  • Love is not merely an asset or attribute of God. Love is the essence and energy of God, for God is love.
  • God practices what Jesus preached.
  • O Blessed Fellowship! I am in the Three and the Three are in me. It is a good day.
  • King Jesus, who made all things in the beginning, will make all things new again.
  • Jesus has been given the keys to death and hell. What do you suppose he will do with them?
  • Faith in Jesus is trusting him with your past, as well as with your present and your future.
  • Hell is not the absence of God but the soul unprepared for the presence of God in the radiance of his love.
  • God always gets the last word ... and his final answer is love.
  • Real love is cross-shaped.
  • The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, dwelling in eternal community, know the all-surpassing power of love.
  • Whatever happens — Keep Calm and Remember that JESUS is LORD!
  • Put not your trust in judges or politicians ... nor fear them. King Jesus is Lord over all, and his love will prevail.
  • All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus the Messiah. Love is the outworking of that authority. When we walk in love, we walk in the authority of King Jesus.
  • The full revelation of God is not found in a book, not even the Bible, but in a person: Jesus the Messiah.
  • The revolution has come and Jesus the Messiah is Lord of all. Follow him.
  • I worship the God who is man, the man who is God. His name is Jesus.
  • King Jesus is making all things new by the consuming fire of his love.
  • The mercy of God is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Always has been, always will be.
  • One day everyone will get what they want ... but not everyone will like what they get. What is it you want?
  • Lord, in your mercy, strip away in me everything that does not belong. Some things, I can easily tell. Other things, I do not trust myself to know the difference. Let only love be left in me. Amen.
  • My faith is not in how the future will be taken care of, but in God, who will take care of the future, for he is greater than the future.
  • Fear not the future. It is in God’s hands ... and God is love.
  • This is the judgment of God: Jesus the Light has come into the world and exposed the darkness of our hearts. Follow the Light.
  • God is not in the damning business. He is in the Search and Rescue business.
  • The mysteries of God and His love are not for us to understand but to experience.
More random thoughts from this past year …

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Small Town, Eternal Significance

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be our peace. (Micah 5:2-5)
The prophet Micah alternates, as the prophets often did, between the warning of judgment and the promise of restoration. He foretold the fall of Samaria, capital of the northern Kingdom, Israel, and the people were carried off into Assyrian captivity. He foretold the fall of Jerusalem, capital of the southern kingdom, Judah, which was later carried off into Babylonian captivity. But then, in chapter 5, he speaks of a remnant, a return and a Ruler whose reign would cover the earth. He speaks of Messiah, God’s anointed King.

It would begin in the small, seemingly inconsequential town of Bethlehem, but one mighty in eternal significance. For from there this Ruler would arise who comes from long ages past, indeed, from eternity. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” says John the Evangelist. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).

But until then Israel would be abandoned, given over to captivity, for as with all births, there is a time of travail. And though the Jews were eventually allowed to return to Jerusalem, they remained under foreign rule and so also in exile. Yet there would come a true return, a gathering together of Israel with this Messiah who was to be born in Bethlehem.

Messiah would stand up for his people and shepherd them. He would not be a transient ruler who would pass away or be overtaken but would persevere and endure for their sake. “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11). Jesus identified himself as this shepherd: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

This Messiah does not stand in his own strength but in the strength of the LORD. He does not stand in his own name, yet he has been given the majestic name of the LORD, and his greatness extends to the ends of the earth:
Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does ... By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:19, 30)

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
“He will be our peace,” the prophet says. Not only Israel, but all the world benefits from Messiah’s reign and will know his peace. In the end, every knee will gladly bow before him and every tongue gratefully confess him as Lord. After the cross and resurrection, but before he ascended to his throne at the right hand of the Father, Lord Jesus gathered his disciples and said to them,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)
The nations will not lose their identities but will find them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They will be included in God’s people, Israel — “grafted in” is how Paul puts it — through faith in Jesus the Messiah. “And in this way all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

God’s Wild, Exuberant Joy Over Us

Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.

On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

“I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you. At that time I will deal with all who oppressed you. I will rescue the lame; I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame. At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,” says the LORD. (Zephaniah 3:14-20)
The burden of the book of Zephaniah was a warning to the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repent, for the Lord was about to allow judgment to fall on them because of their wickedness. Historically, this occurred when Jerusalem was captured and the people were carried off to Babylon. But then, in the last half of the last chapter, there is a word of hope and restoration. God would remove their “punishment” and “turn back” their enemies. Benton’s translation of the Septuagint (an ancient Greek version of the Old Testament) says, “The Lord has taken away thine iniquities, he has ransomed thee from the hand of thine enemies.”

This was a prophecy about the return of Judah from Babylonian captivity. Yet it was never quite fulfilled, for though the Jews were able to return to Jerusalem, they were never free from foreign rule and in that sense were still in exile. But the New Testament teaches us to read this now in regard to Messiah, because all the law and the prophets, Jesus said, are about him. And, indeed, that is how the early Church understood them.

Especially at Advent, then, we read this passage theologically, as fulfilled in the coming of Messiah. For he has taken away our iniquities, which distanced us from God. In him we have forgiveness of sins and through him we are reconciled to God. He has also delivered us from the enemy of our souls. Paul puts it this way in the New Testament: God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

In Jesus the Messiah, we now have exuberant celebration: “Sing, shout aloud, be glad and rejoice.” But that translation doesn’t quite capture the enthusiasm of the Hebrew text. More like: wild singing, ear-splitting shouts of triumph, exhilaration and jumping for joy. For Jesus has delivered us from the oppressor — he has disarmed the “principalities and powers,” destroyed the works of the devil and broken the power of death. He “rescues the lame” so that we may walk straight and sure. He gathers us from our exile and replaces our shame with honor.

God joins in the celebration, too, taking “great delight” and “rejoicing” over us with “singing.” Again, the NIV seems too tame here. Rather, God exults over us with exhilaration and dancing, whirling and twirling over us in boisterous song. For he is gathering his sons and daughters and bringing them home. He is like the father of the prodigal, with unbridled joy at the return of his son:
Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. (Luke 15:22-24)
As we draw near the Christmas season, let your heart be open to God’s wild, exuberant joy over you.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent and the Refiner’s Fire

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4)
This passage in Malachi speaks of two messengers. The second one is the Lord himself and is called the “messenger of the covenant,” because he is the covenant God makes with the people. The prophecy speaks here of a desire fulfilled, but the question that then follows is a sobering one: Who can endure the day of his coming? Who will be left standing when he appears?

This is the solemn language of judgment, of sorting out what is good from what is evil, a sorting we must all eventually go through. It may not seem a cheery thought, but it is a necessary one. And it is for this judgment that Jesus the Messiah came into the world, to set everything right — and that does bring us hope.

It is also heartening that it is not we who do the sorting out but God. If it were left to us, we would get it all wrong, for it is we who are the problem. With us, judgment and mercy are two different things, and either one can be very destructive. But with God, judgment and mercy are the same thing and work toward the same purpose.

Now, note what Messiah is like on the “day of his coming.” He is like a refiner’s fire and a launderer’s soap. The purpose of the refiner’s fire is not to destroy the silver or gold but to purify it. And the launderer’s soap is not meant to destroy the garment but to cleanse it. Likewise, the judgment of God does not come to destroy us but to burn away the impurities in us and cleanse us — and that is a great mercy. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).

The testimony of Scripture is that “God is a consuming fire” but also that “God is love.” Whatever God’s fire is, then, and whatever it burns away must always be for the sake of love. It burns away whatever is not love or does not come from love — which is to say, whatever does not come from God — and purifies in us what does come from love, from God: the divine image and likeness in which we were created.

Here is something important to understand about the season of Advent: It has just as much to do with the second coming of Jesus as with the first. The two complete each other, establishing in the earth the fullness of the promise of God. This passage in Malachi appears to indicate both. For the first messenger is John the Baptist, who heralded the kingdom of God and focused our attention on Jesus of Nazareth, the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” But then the “day of his coming” and the question of who can endure it sounds like the great day of Messiah’s return.

Yet, the first coming, when God became human and dwelt among us, was just as much a judgment as the second one will be. His light judged the darkness of the world. His love judged the fear that grips the world. His wholeness judged the brokenness of the world. His goodness judged the wickedness of the world. His cross judged sin and death and the devil, and his resurrection was the beginning of the new creation, the renewal of all things. The second coming, then, is the outworking of the first and will bring completion to it.

In between, there is the refiner’s fire, the ongoing process by which God is purifying the world and cleansing it. This refinement is not only the burning away of what does not belong but also about what is being instilled, a restoration of what is lacking in us. God does this by his own Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in us and manifest the fruit of divine love and the life of Messiah in us. In the Advent lectionary, Malachi 3:1-14 is paired with Philippians 1:3-11, where Paul speaks of the continuing refinement God is doing in us, that we may be prepared for the day of Messiah’s return.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus ... And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Messenger and the Messiah

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:1)
The book of Malachi presents us with two figures — two messengers. The first is the one God calls “my messenger,” who comes to prepare the way before the Lord. This is John the Baptist, who came announcing “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He is the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:4-6, quoting Isaiah 40).

The second figure is the Lord himself, whose way the messenger is sent to prepare. This is Messiah, who comes “suddenly,” which is to say, unexpectedly. But he is also himself a messenger, “the messenger of the covenant.” Indeed, he is the covenant, as foretold in Isaiah: “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:6-7).

Jesus is that second messenger, the Messiah. The covenant of which he is not only the messenger but also the substance is the new and better covenant prophesied in Jeremiah and is made in his own blood. At the Last Supper, we are told, Jesus “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:19-20).

The people of Israel looked for Messiah and desired his coming. But when he came suddenly, in a time and manner they were not expecting, many refused to recognize him, even though the way had been prepared by the preaching of John the Baptist and the “baptism of repentance.” He was not who they wanted him to be. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him,” says John the Evangelist. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).

King Jesus the Messiah is God’s covenant for the people and God’s light for the nations. He came — and comes — to open the eyes of the blind, set captives free and release those who are bound in darkness. To those who embrace him in faith, he gives the authority to become the children of God, to become the likeness of God.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

King Jesus and the New Jerusalem

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)
At the time this was spoken, Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians. The city was destroyed, the temple decimated, the people carried off into captivity. God allowed this to happen because of their wickedness, their faithlessness, their idolatry. But that would not be the end of the story. Not by any means.
Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it. (Jeremiah 33:6-9)
“Nevertheless” — a wonderful word with wonderful promise: Restoration. Rebuilding. Return from captivity. Healing. Abundant peace and security. Cleansed of sin and rebellion. Forgiveness. Prosperity. Awe. Praise and honor to the Lord before all nations.

“The days are coming,” says the LORD, and in those days, two realities would come to pass. The first concerns the “righteous Branch” that would “sprout from David’s line.” God had promised King David that there would be a son and heir who would reign on his throne forever. After the kingdom divided into Israel and Judah and their thrones eventually fell, it was understood that this promised king would be the Messiah, who would restore Israel and rule over the nations with his peace.

This promise is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus the Messiah, who is called the Son of David. He came in an unexpected way, born in a lowly cattle stall, to the Virgin Mary. He established his reign through the contradiction that was the cross and resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of God the Father.

This leads us to the second promised reality: Judah restored and Jerusalem dwelling in safety. As with the promised Messiah, this too would be fulfilled in an unexpected way, for the New Testament speaks of the new Jerusalem, a Jerusalem that is free, a Jerusalem that is above, a heavenly Jerusalem that comes down, joining heaven to earth.
  • But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. (Galatians 4:26)
  • But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem. (Hebrews 12:22)
  • And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. (Revelation 21:2)
This new Jerusalem is the Church, which is identified as Messiah’s body and bride. However, it is important to understand that the Church in the New Testament is not a separate entity from Israel in the Old Testament — indeed, the Church is Israel. What was promised to Israel in the Old Testament is received by Israel in the New, by all who come to Jesus the Messiah. Even the nations (the Gentiles) who receive him as King are, to use Paul’s words in Romans 11, “grafted into” the root, which is Israel.

The coming of King Jesus into the world fulfills the promise God made through the prophet Jeremiah. He is the Lord Our Righteous Savior, who comes to bring his peace and set things right in the world.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.