A Torn Veil – Christmas Prayer

Lord Jesus, so many times I have not recognized You in my life. The veil is thick, so thick, between earth and heaven, between flesh and spirit, between you and me. Or at least that is how it seems.

But the veil has been torn. And You have entered the world so that all could enter in. Thank You that no longer is the Spirit of God hidden behind a thick curtain for only one person to behold once a year. No, with Your sacrifice all are ushered directly into the presence of God through You, His Son.

Thank You for taking on the veil of flesh so that the veil between God and man could be removed.

***

This reading is taken from Finding Christ in the Carols, inspired by lyrics from well-known Christmas Carols. Available for only $2.99 this month, this devotional will help you find refreshing moments of devotion and reflection during the busy holiday season.

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A Colony of Heaven

“In the world the Christians are a colony of the true home,” said Bonhoeffer. Perhaps Christians should work harder toward establishing colonies of the kingdom that point to our true home. All too often the church holds up a mirror reflecting back the society around it, rather than a window revealing a different way.

If the world despises a notorious sinner, the church will love her. If the world cuts off aid to the poor and the suffering, the church will offer food and healing. If the world oppresses, the church will raise up the oppressed. If the world shames a social outcast, the church will proclaim God’s reconciling love. If the world seeks profit and self-fulfillment, the church seeks sacrifice and service. If the world demands retribution, the church dispenses grace. If the world splinters into factions, the church joins together in unity. If the world destroys its enemies, the church loves them.

That, at least, is the vision of the church in the New Testament: a colony of heaven in a hostile world.

What is the True Agenda of a Christian?

In recent history, the main leaders of the civil rights movement (Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young) were clergy, and their stirring speeches showed it. Churches black and white provided the buildings, the networks, the ideology, the volunteers, and the theology to sustain the movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. later broadened his crusade to encompass the issues of poverty and opposition to the war in Vietnam. Only recently, as political activism has shifted to conservative causes, has Christian involvement in politics caused alarm. …

Stephen Carter offers good counsel about political activism: To be effective, “gracious” Christians must be wise in the issues they choose to support or oppose. …

What about today? Are we choosing our battles wisely? Obviously, abortion, sexual issues, and the definitions of life and death are issues worthy of our attention. Yet when I read the literature produced by evangelicals in politics I also read about gun rights, abolishing the Department of Education … and term limits for Congress. … Too often the agenda of conservative religious groups matches line for line the agenda of conservative politics and does not base its priorities on a transcendent source. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Who is My Enemy?

Jesus did not let any institution interfere with his love for individuals. Jewish racial and religious policies forbade him to speak with a Samaritan woman, let alone one with a checkered moral background; Jesus selected one as a missionary. His disciples included a tax collector, viewed as a traitor by Israel, and also a Zealot, a member of the super-patriot party. He praised the counter-cultural John the Baptist. He met with Nicodemus, an observant Pharisee, and also with a Roman centurion. He dined in the home of another Pharisee named Simon and also in the home of an “unclean” man, Simon the Leper. For Jesus, the person was more important than any category or label.

I know how easy it is to get swept away by the politics of polarization, to shout across picket lines at the “enemy” on the other side. But Jesus commanded, “Love your enemies.” …

Who is my enemy? The abortionist? The Hollywood producer polluting our culture? The politician threatening my moral principles? The drug lord ruling my inner city? If my activism, however well-motivated, drives out love, then I have misunderstood Jesus’ gospel. I am stuck with law, not the gospel of grace. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

What Is the Christian’s Main Responsibility in Today’s World?

How can Christians dispense grace in a society that seems to be veering away from God? The Bible offers many different models of response. Elijah his out in caves and made lightning raids on Ahab’s pagan regime; his contemporary Obadiah worked within the system, running Ahab’s palace while sheltering God’s true prophets on the side. Esther and Daniel were employed by heathen empires; Jonah called down judgment on another. Jesus submitted to the judgment of a Roman governor; Paul appealed his case all the way to Caesar.

To complicate matters, the Bible gives no direct advice for citizens of a democracy. … We can hardly ignore the government when, by constitutional right, we comprise the government. And if Christians make up a majority, why not proclaim ourselves a “moral majority” and fashion culture in our own likeness?

When some form of Christian consensus held sway in the United States, these issues were less urgent. Now all of us who love our faith and also our nation must decide how best to express that care. …

I believe that dispensing God’s grace is the Christian’s main contribution. As Gordon MacDonald said, the world can do anything the church can do except one thing; it cannot show grace. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

Which Kingdom Are We Focused On?

I agree fully that [abortion and homosexual rights] are important moral issues which Christians must address. But when I went through the New Testament I could find very little related to either one. Both practices existed then, in a different and more egregious form. Roman citizen did not rely principally on abortion for birth control. The women bore their babies, then abandoned them by the side of the road for wild animals or vultures. Likewise, Romans and Greeks also practiced a form of same-gender sex; older men commonly used young boys as their sex slaves, in pederasty.

Thus in Jesus’ and Paul’s day both these moral issues asserted themselves in ways that today would be criminal in any civilized country on earth. No country allows a person to kill a full-term, delivered baby. No country legally permits sex with children. Jesus and Paul doubtless knew of these deplorable practices. And yet Jesus said nothing about either one, and Paul made only a few references to cross-gender sex. Both concentrated not on the pagan kingdom around them but on the alternative kingdom of God.

For this reason, I wonder about the enormous energy being devoted these days to restoring morality to the United States. Are we concentrating more on the kingdom of this world than on the kingdom that is not of this world? The public image of the evangelical church today is practically defined by an emphasis on two issues that Jesus did not even mention. How will we feel if historians of the future look back on the evangelical church of the 1990s and declare, “They fought bravely on the moral fronts of abortion and homosexual rights,” while at the same time reporting that we did little to fulfill the Great Commission, and we did little to spread the aroma of grace in the world? – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?

What Happens When Religion is Confused with Politics?

I see the confusion of politics and religion as one of the greatest barriers to grace. C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of ungrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.

Those of us who live under the strict separation of church and state may not fully appreciate how historically rare that arrangement is … Baptists, Puritans, Quakers, and other splinter groups had made the long voyage to America in hopes of finding a place that did separate church and state, for they had all been victims of state-sponsored religious persecution. When the church joined with the state, it tended to wield power rather than dispense grace. – Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing about Grace?