Saturday, November 29, 2008

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A Message of Comfort

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins" (Isaiah 40:1-2).

In our quest to go beyond where we have been in our walk with God, our desire to faith forward more each day, and our continual pressing in to take hold of more of what God has for us,  there is a danger.  There is a possibility that we end up and "the accuser of the brethren" (see Revelation 12:10) delights to lead us there focusing too much on the places where we are not measuring up or missing it or how much farther we have to go so that we are pleasing to God.  There is a danger in the journey of faith that we will end up defeating ourselves.  Do we all have more that we can do, deeper that we can dig in, and further that we can go?  Absolutely.  But, we always need to see how far we have come.  We should definitely "not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment" (Romans 12:3).  At the same time, we are to see ourselves "in accordance with the measure of faith that God has given you" (Romans 12:3), and God has given to each of us immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), through his grace and out of the glorious riches of Christ (Philippians 4:19).

Novelist Garrison Keillor, in his book Lake Wobegon Days, talks about his experience as a child, going to church just before Christmas.  He had talked about all of the other people in Lake Wobegon and then told how the, "Lutherans get a sermon about sacrifice, which the late Pastor Tommerdahl did so well every year, entitling it 'The True Meaning of Christmas,' and if you went to church with visions of sugarplums dancing in your head, he stopped the music. Santa Claus was not prominent in his theology. He had a gift of making you feel you'd better go home and give all the presents to the poor and spend Christmas with a bowl of soup, and not too many noodles in it either. He preached the straight gospel, and as he said, the gospel is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. He certainly afflicted the Lutherans."

Afflict the comfortable.  That's probably a good idea.  And I'm sure we all know some people like that that could use a little affliction.  Comfort the afflicted.  That sounds like something right out of the Bible.  Keillor talked about how he was feeling particularly afflicted on this Christmas as a child, having only $10 to his name and so many people for whom to shop.  To get back to where we started, however, I think that we need to be careful not to afflict the afflicted.  Not to put on ourselves or others a burden that is bigger than we can carry and that will kill us rather than lead us into abundant life.

So, at all times, we need to hear and listen to the message of comfort that runs alongside the encouragement to grow and press in and take ground and do warfare.  "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God" (Isaiah 40:1).  And, while God demands much of us, he is also more than aware of the fact that, "all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.  The grass withers and the flowers fall because the breath of the LORD blows on them" (Isaiah 40:6-7).  The breath of the Lord, another way of saying the Holy Spirit, convicts us of sin and leads us into truth we see ourselves for real when he blows onto the scene and we may feel like we are about to wither and blow away.  But, his primary function, according to Jesus is that of a Comforter (John 14:15-27).  Yes, Jesus wants us to grow in him and grow up, leave behind sin and wrong thinking, but he also knows how difficult this process of learned obedience is having gone through it himself (Hebrews 5:8-9).

We need not be afraid to open ourselves to more of God.  Yes, it will be hard at times.  Growth always is.  Seeing where we have fallen short or don't measure up is not ever fun.  But we are never alone.  We have a constant companion and guide.  And he comes not only to convict of sin and to lead us away from lies and into the truth, but to comfort and to speak tender and loving words to us.  Let him do all of what Jesus sent him to do.  All of it.  At the same time, we silence the accuser who would use all of this to destroy us and lead us away from God.  We say, Lord, you and you only, have your way with me.  I want all of you and all you have for me.  The end result of this entire work of the Holy Spirit in you and me is nothing short of amazing!  It is the nothing missing and nothing broken shalom that Jesus was referring to when he said,

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27).

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