Parenting Jesus

Jesus in the templeTheir eldest son had never given them a bit of trouble. Obedient, loving, respectful, they watched Jesus grow and became strong. His miraculous birth and identity never left Mary and Joseph’s thoughts, even as they raised him like any other Jewish boy. But their boy was different, filled with wisdom and with the grace of God upon him.

This year the family’s annual pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover held special significance as Jesus had reached twelve, the age when he could fully participate in the religious life of the synagogue. Up to this time he was under the tutelage of his parents concerning Jewish religious law, but now he was a bar mitzvah, a “son of the commandment,” on the brink of manhood.

After the Feast was over, they made ready, along with their large company, to travel home. Mary’s hands were full with packing and caring for her younger children so she assumed Jesus was among the company. She believed in his good judgement and had no reason to worry. Joseph came to the same conclusion, for he too implicitly trusted Jesus to behave responsibly.

“After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it.” (Luke 2:43 NIV) Jesus had stayed behind in the temple, a logical place for his parents to look for him when they were ready to depart. However, they did not come because it appears both thought him to be with the other. Once they realized Jesus was not with their company, they spent another day returning to Jerusalem to find him. Their conversation as they hurried along may have been somewhat accusatory of each other’s negligence or surprised at what appeared to be Jesus’ defiance of their authority. They may have momentarily forgotten that this was the Son of God they were looking for, but they soon were reminded when “they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (vs. 46-47)

Mary’s anxiety came out in her reproving questions of Jesus’ perceived disregard for their concern. But his reply held no insolence, only genuine amazement that they did not know where to look for Him. “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (vs. 49) In other words, ‘you shouldn’t have had to seek at all. For you know, don’t you, that there is within me an inner necessity to be about my Father’s business?’ This should have been an epiphanous moment for Mary and Joseph, when Jesus declares his unique sonship to God, which takes precedence over his closest earthly family ties. Yet the scriptures state they did not understand what he was saying to them.

In spite of who they knew him to be, he was still just their boy whom they had raised as best they could and who brought them much joy. Their lack of understanding might be attributed to their familiarity with this child they lived with daily, and perhaps a reluctance to acknowledge the beginning of his independence away from them toward his divine ministry and his true Father. Gifted with the singular privilege of parenting Jesus, his mother would come to treasure all these things she knew of him in her heart, (vs. 51) just as she did when he was born. She would do so for the rest of her life , until welcomed home to heaven by her son and Savior.

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The Face of Christ

A short, roughly-cut black beard, olive brown skin weathered from spending most of his time outside in a warm middle eastern climate, a strong, straight nose and dark brown eyes. From what history tells us of the appearance of men during the time of Jesus, this is an approximate description of how He might have looked. Imagination might embellish with deep creases around His mouth from smiling, slight shadows above His cheekbones from a nomadic lifestyle short on sleep, and eyes like His Father’s, full of compassion and love.

This beloved face is described by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Christ’s birth, as “having no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Isa. 53:2 NIV) He was an ordinary-looking man of His time, with no distinguishing physical features to set Him apart. Although prophesied as the Messiah, He wore none of the usual emblems of royalty, making His true identity visible only to the discerning eyes of faith.

Three of Jesus’ disciples saw His face in a new light when Christ revealed His glory to them. “There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as light.” (Matt. 17:2) Peter, James and John were privileged to see Christ in His glorified state, with the light of His holiness shining from His face.

As the time of His crucifixion approached, Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 NKJV), facing the completion of His earthly mission with determination, even as He knew the inevitable outcome. Isaiah records the prophecy that the Messiah’s face would resolutely be set like a flint (Isa.50:7) toward the suffering He must endure. Before the crucifixion, His captors spit upon, beat and disfigured His face until it was marred beyond human likeness (Isa.52:14) Those who once knew His familiar face no longer recognized it. Nor did they expect to see it again after His death, yet He was resurrected to life, whole and identifiable by the many people who encountered Him before He ascended to heaven.

The features of Jesus will not always be a mystery to us. Some day we will behold Him in heaven, where we will see His face clearly. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part: then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” ( 1 Cor.13:12) In the meantime we have a purpose to fulfill, given to us when we first believed in Christ, our risen Savior. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor.4:6) We are to let this light shine from our own faces to a hurting world.

Do you want to see the face of Christ? Then look into the faces of those who love and serve Him here on earth, perhaps even your own face, and you will see the resemblance.

Loving By Faith

One of the most famous literary romances in history, between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, began without them ever having met in person. During the 20 months of their courtship, the couple exchanged nearly 600 letters. In his first letter to her, Robert Browning wrote Elizabeth, “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett … the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought. In this addressing myself to you for the first time, my feelings rise altogether. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart … and I love you too.”

How is it that love could bloom between Robert and Elizabeth, never having seen each other or spent time together? Theirs was a meeting of hearts and minds; a love fueled on paper with words written by two gifted poets. They learned to love by faith. Faith that the person expressing themselves in letters would be the same one they would someday meet face to face. They fell in love with the essence of each other, how they thought, felt, reacted and believed.

There is no physical description or image of what Jesus actually looked like. No one living today has seen Him in human form or heard Him speak, in reality. Yet millions of people love Him. “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet. 1:8-9 NIV)

Through His love letter, the Bible, Jesus has shown us His heart and His desire for us to be His beloved. This love letter is the vehicle used by the Holy Spirit through which we are drawn into relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. We love Him by faith in the truth of what is written. The truth running like a scarlet thread through the God-breathed Word, that God sent His beloved Son to earth as a man who lived a perfect life, suffered a sacrificial death, and rose from the grave to gift us with forgiveness, eternal life and a restored relationship with God. All because He loves us beyond what we can think or imagine. Therefore … “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 1:9)

Sight unseen, we love Him because His love has filled us with an inexpressible and glorious joy. To know that God loves us in spite of our inadequacies, our failures, our sinfulness, gives rise to a great response of love for Him. We cannot love like God does, but we can love those He loves. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.”  (1 John 4:12)

And that is how we may see God, in the faces of those we love here on earth. Because loving God by faith opens our hands and hearts to show others His love, and so His love is made complete in us. Some day we will see Jesus face to face, when loving Him by faith will become a shining reality.

Turn Toward the Light

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As a relative newcomer to the Canadian prairies, I delight in the cheerful sight of a field of blooming sunflowers. Their sun-shaped, bright yellow heads raised in unison to the east always lift my heart with joy. It is a common misconception that all sunflowers follow the movement of the sun, however this is only true of young sunflowers not yet in bloom. At dawn the budding flowers face east and move west throughout the day in a rhythm synchronized by the sun, called “heliotropism”. When in full bloom the mature flowers continuously face east to draw the most warmth from sunlight.

The Heliotropic Effect is a recent hypothesis that suggests societies, cultures, organizations and individuals work towards the most positive images they hold of themselves. Like sunflowers, people are drawn toward the light of positive affirmation, encouragement and gratitude. This is thought to be a healthy mindset, however, the foundational basis of self-focus may lead to inflated egos, perfectionism and hypocrisy if not balanced.

In fact, this modern hypothesis has its roots deep in the truth of God’s Word, but with a significantly different focus. Followers of Jesus Christ desire to look toward the perfect Son of God, to derive their identity and purpose from His positive image, not their own.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Cor. 3:18 NIV )

A person with an unveiled face has no barriers between himself and God. His position before God is restored because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of His own perfect life, taking the place of our imperfect lives. So without the veil of sin, in a right standing before God, we can reflect His glory by becoming more like Him as we soak in His life-giving Spirit. In His inspired Word, God reveals the image He wants us to emulate in the person of Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God is gradually transforming us to be more like Jesus. He instills in us the desire to look toward His Son as our model of a life pleasing to God.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is. (1 John 3:2 NLT)

The Heliotropic Effect hypothesis falls short because of its emphasis on self realization. Appreciative Inquiry founders, who coined the theory, say, “Like a plant that grows in the direction of a light source, individuals and groups strive to grow towards the positive image they hold.”  No matter how hard we strive, we cannot make ourselves perfect. But by turning our faces to the Son, like a sunflower, we are imbued with the gift of reflecting His perfect likeness to the world around us.

Bring the Boy to Me

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The desire of a parent to do whatever it takes to protect and care for their child is a primal one.

Submerged

 

Beneath the sea there is a rock, created when darkness was over the surface of the deep. Myriads of sea plants and creatures have touched the surface of the rock over the eons but never changed it. Currents have swirled, earthquakes trembled, yet the rock endures, immovable.

When calm weather smooths the sea far above, sometimes shafts of sunlight reach down to illumine its craggy face. Darting fish shadows dance across it, sea grasses stroke green fingers along its stony skin, and it remains constant. Just as it does when storms lash the sea with wild winds and rain. Thunder claps, subdued beneath the surface, are more felt than heard within the chaotic churn of the sea. Surging currents sweep loosened debris and marine life helplessly along, reducing visibility to green murkiness. The rock is a shadowy, immutable presence in the middle of the turmoil.

The love of God is a rock submerged beneath the ever-changing currents of our lives. No matter what may be occurring on the surface, God’s unfailing love remains a steadfast foundation beneath all that tosses us about. Does this bring you deep comfort, as it does me?

Years ago when my life was a storm of hardships, this image of a rock beneath the surface of the sea came to me as a gift, I believe, from God. Knowing my love of the sea, He placed this picture in my mind of His unchanging love for me. I remember as a child ducking under the sparkling waves at the ocean’s edge. It was a different world beneath the surface, where gravity was suspended and sounds muted. Grasping the rocks on the bottom to keep myself from popping to the surface, I opened my eyes in the green, opaque beauty of the undersea world. I couldn’t see the rocks before diving but I knew they were there, just as later I knew without a doubt that God’s absolute love was the rock beneath my unsettled world, even when my troubled spirit could not sense Him.

“Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the Rock eternal.” ( Isaiah 26:4 NIV)

The world tends to portray love as a soft, often fickle emotion, capable of inspiring great passion that can soon fade. It cannot compare to God’s enduring love demonstrated ultimately in the giving of His Son. Jesus Christ willingly took the plunge from His home in heaven, submerging Himself in our sinful world yet never sinning so He could offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for us. He is the bedrock of our living faith and the perfect expression of God’s love.

“As you come to Him, the living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.”
(1 Peter 2:4-5)

Beyond the Garden

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A garden offers up its secrets generously, whispering renewal in scent, color, fruit and loam. A quiet garden, when listened to carefully, teems with stems stretching, buds unfurling, roots reaching deep; a symphony of life discerned below the surface of hearing. When I walk in a garden, some primal echo of perfection and innocence resonates within me.

“The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.”(Genesis 2:8 The Voice)

In the song of soughing breezes in tall aspens, Eden beckons.
Cool grass beneath bare feet marks a path to Paradise.
The very breath of Heaven sighs from sweet roses.

In a garden I begin to remember a place of utter delight. And just when that ancient memory stirs within, death overshadows. I see the weeds, smell the decay, know the serpent of sin hides beneath the leaves, waiting to deceive. In the cool of the day God walks in the garden of my soul, calling, “where are you?” Naked and ashamed, I have permitted perfection to be marred. But not beyond hope. Because there was another garden.

“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41 NIV)

In the shadow of the hill on which Christ was crucified grew a garden belonging to a rich man in whose own tomb the body of Jesus was laid. From the stark, sun-baked heights of Golgotha, Jesus was brought down to the cool, clean air of a garden grove. By law He should have been given a grave with criminals outside the city. Instead He was returned to a garden, much like the place where the ancestors of those who crucified Him were created.

The kernel of his dead body was pressed into the tomb, like a single seed into dark soil. For days it laid buried. Then a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life shed the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. And because of the death and resurrection of this sacred Seed, many will live to know perfection in eternity.

“Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

In a garden, the cycle of life/death/life speaks to me of deeper truths. When the earth appears lifeless in frozen midwinter I remember the garden in summer, alive with flowers, trees and birds, and know I have been given the sure promise of new life with Christ. Someday the dead shell of my body will be laid in the ground, but my spirit will thrive forever in a place of perpetual bloom. Paradise found because of a singular Person given in perfect sacrifice.