Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. It was wonderful to praise God with many of you in the Christmas worship at church. Loretta and I are truly blessed to serve on your behalf in mobilizing Chinese Churches worldwide for His Kingdom missions. It was great to be home with you in worship. The decoration of Christmas is the exercise that symbolizes the preparation for the second coming of Christ. And the corporate worship is a glimpse of what it is like to sing praises with the heavenly hosts in eternity. Christmas is a statement of love that God made for all of us. This statement is “He is willing to be on our side – Emmanuel – He enters into human history to stand on our side.” And it’s followed by a question, “Are we willing to be on His side?” David testified of what it was like if God were not on our side in Psalm 124…
If the LORD had not been on our side-- let Israel say-- if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler's snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 124).
The proper work for the Christian is witness, not apology, and Psalm 124 is an excellent model. It does not argue Gods help; it does not explain God s help; it is a testimony of God’s help in the form of a song. The song is so vigorous, so confident, so bursting with what can only be called reality, that it fundamentally changes our approach and our questions. No longer does it seem of the highest priority to ask, “Why did this happen to me? Why do I feel left in the lurch?” Instead we ask, “How does it happen that there are people who sing with such confidence, ‘God is our help’?” The psalm is data that must be accounted for and the data are so solid, so vital, have so much more substance and are so much more interesting than the other things we hear through the day that it must be dealt with before we can go back to the whimpering complaints.
“If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, let Israel now say—if it had not be the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then over us would have gone the raging waters.” The witness is vivid and contagious. One person announces the theme, and everyone joins in. God’s help is not a private experience; it is a corporate reality—not an exception that occurs among isolated strangers, but the norm among the people of God.
Every day I put love on the line. There is nothing I am less good at than love. I am far better in competition than in love. I am far better at responding to my instincts and ambitions to get ahead and make my mark than I am at figuring out how to love another. I am schooled and trained in acquisitive skills, in getting my own way. And yet, I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily—open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.
All that is hazardous work; I live on the edge of defeat all the time. I have never done any one of those things to my (or anyone else’s) satisfaction. I live in the dragon’s maw and at the flood’s edge
The psalm, though, is not about hazards but about help. The hazardous work of discipleship is not the subject of the psalm but only its setting. The subject is help: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth! We have escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped! Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Hazards or no hazards, the fundamental reality we live with is “The LORD who was on our side … Our help is in the name of the LORD.”
Psalm 124 is an instance of a person who digs deeply into the trouble and finds there the presence of the God who is on our side…Faith develops out of the most difficult aspects of our existence, not the easiest. The person of faith is not a person who has been born, luckily, with a good digestion and sunny disposition. The assumption by outsiders that Christians are naïve or protected is the opposite of the truth: Christians know more about the deep struggles of life than others, more about the ugliness of sin.
A look into the heavens can bring a breathtaking sense of wonder and majesty, and, if a person is a believer, a feeling of praise to the God who made heaven and earth. The psalm looks the other direction. It looks into the troubles of history, the anxiety of personal conflict and emotional trauma. And it sees there the God who is on our side, God can help. The close look, the microscopic insight into the dragon’s terrors, the flood’s waters and the imprisoning trap, sees the action of God in deliverance.
We speak our words of praise in a world that is hellish; we sing our songs of victory in a world where things get messy; we live our joy among people who neither understand nor encourage us. But the content of our lives is God, not man.
The whole message of Christmas was a clear signal from above that God came to stand on our side. He came to rescue us from bondage of Satan and his evil snares. The snare or the net has been broken. Unfortunately, the birds did not fly away. They became too complacent inside the snare that they did not want to fly away. They remained captive not because they had no choice. Christ came to break the curse and loosen the bondage. Yet His people did not want to be delivered. They remain in the bondage of sins. Have mercy on us. From time to time, we dwell in Satan’s snare and we questioned why God did not do anything to save us from our trouble. When we look intensely (focus in meditation) on God, we will realize how fortunate and free we are to become the target of His love. Indeed, we exist for this very reason: to become the target of God’s love and to be channel of God’s love to others. Amen.
Loretta and I will be leaving for Hong Kong tomorrow night. I have the honor to officiate two weddings on Christmas day and New Year day. I may not have time to write journal for the rest of the year of 2010, I pray that you will draw near to God each day. Just as Apostle James said, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). During this season of Christmas and new year, May God reminds all of us to be content in this precious gift in Christ Jesus, who was born to set us free. He was born to give us this assurance that God is always on our side…Have a blessed New Year to come.
With His love in our friendship,