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I am the gardener at a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico. I have been a gardener most of my life. It started when I was five years old and my kindergarten teacher gave me and my classmates a Styrofoam cup with dirt in it. Then she gave us each a pumpkin seed which we planted in the dirt. Five months later I had four large pumpkins growing in the front yard of our little house in Denver and ever since then I have been a garden lover.

The Bible talks a lot about gardens and plants, from the first couple of chapters of the Bible to the last couple of chapters of the Bible. I especially like the first garden story found in the Bible in Genesis 2:8,9 –

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

I read an article in the magazine Christianity Today a few years ago that has always stuck with me. The article was about making gardens in prison. It was also about Nelson Mandela. Most people know that he led protests denouncing the abuses of white power against the oppressed black people of South Africa, and because of that he was put in prison for 27 years. He was finally let out of prison and a few years later became the president of South Africa. What a lot of people don’t know is that while he was in prison he planted a garden. It brought him some measure of hope and peace and what he felt like was a little bit of freedom and strength. The article is about both about Mandela and about the verses above:

Early rabbinical scholars saw in these verses everything that is necessary for shalom or what some people call comprehensive flourishing. First, they saw order. The garden was not random or accidental; God planted it. It had purpose and intent. This is what differentiates a garden from an verdant jungle–there is a gardener orchestrating it. Second, they noted that the beauty of the trees is listed in the verse ahead of their usefulness. Beauty is necessary for human flourishing. We crave it in our spirits as it draws us toward the beauty of God. Finally, the garden contained every tree that was good for food. There was an abundance of resources to meet every physical need.

Order, beauty, and abundance—these are what we need to flourish. And yet these are not the qualities we often experience in our fallen world. Instead we face an uncrossable sea between the world we desire and the one we occupy. We can see in our imaginations the world as it should be—the future New Jerusalem, the garden city of God—but it does not match the barren wilderness we experience in the present. Between today and tomorrow lie the cold waters of reality.

How do we cross the gap between our vision and our reality? We plant gardens. We work to cultivate a small piece of the wilderness of this world so that it reflects what we know the world ought to be. When we do this successfully, it brings hope—a small taste of freedom, as Mandela discovered.

I think one reason God made the Garden Of Eden was to be an example to us of what he wants our lives and our world to be like. I think he wants each of our lives to be little gardens of Eden, full of order, beauty and abundance that will impact our dark, broken world. Our lives can be changed from chaos, ugliness and lack, to order, beauty and abundance if we choose to follow him, cooperate with him, love and trust him. It takes time, patience and endurance, but it can happen by the grace of God. And the world can be a happier place.

This was the first sunset of the year viewed from Union Zapata, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Here at the home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico, we take turns giving the devotional every morning. Our Pastor passes out a calendar at the beginning of every month with everyone’s name on it, the day they are to share and what passage of the Bible they are to talk about. This month, naturally, all the passages were connected with the birth of Jesus. The passage I ended up with was Luke 2:13,14, where the great company of the heavenly host appeared and proclaimed to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

As I pondered this marvelous event, it struck me that a grand gathering of angels glorifying God on earth had never occurred before nor since. And what a sight it must have been to behold for those shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. As I looked at these verses in their context of Luke two, I began to realize that it was incredibly significant on many levels. And this is what I decided to share with the staff and children here at the home.

In verse 9, one angel appears to the shepherds and announces the birth of a Savior, the Messiah and the Lord. Wow! If anything deserves an angelic choir filling the night sky with glorious song, that does! Not just one divine gift to humanity, but three!

Think about it. First a Savior is born. I imagine the shepherds knew a little bit about the necessity of a Savior. They, like David, probably saved their sheep on more than one occasion from predators seeking a tasty meal. They had also been under the thumb of Roman Emperors for lo these many years. Emperors who imposed their taxes and their will on the Jewish people. They longed for a Savior to set them free from the foreigners oppressive grip as a sheep longs to be saved from the jaws of a wolf.

Second, the Messiah was born! The Messiah that God had promised Israel through the prophets in ages past. The Messiah that would lead his people to freedom, power and glory. A leader in the mold of King David and King Solomon, conquering neighboring enemy nations and bringing renown to Israel once again. It had been over 400 years since the last prophet spoke of the promised Messiah and many of the Jews had given up hope, but here he was at last, the Christ child, the Messiah, had been born in Bethlehem.

It would have been enough to just have a Savior. It was splendid that not only a Savior was born, but also the Messiah had come. And it was incredible, that not only was this newborn baby Savior and Messiah, but also the Lord as well.

When the shepherds heard the word Lord, they undoubtedly thought of God in all his dignity, glory and majesty as described by their holy scriptures. Perhaps they thought that the Lord of glory had forgotten about his people since it seemed such a long time ago that he had shown his glory and power to his chosen ones. And now, with the sky teeming with angelic hosts, the keepers of the sheep were assured that not only had God not forgotten about his people, but had come to live as one of them.

It was an amazing night for the shepherds, and for all the people of Israel, who desperately needed a Savior, Messiah and Lord.

We are a lot like those shepherds. We too, desperately need a Savior, Messiah and Lord.

We need to be saved from our sins. The angel Gabriel told Joseph to name the baby boy Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Mt. 1:21) All the pain and problems, shame and suffering, trials and tribulations that we encounter in this world come because of sin. Sometimes we suffer because of other peoples sin; most often because of our own sin. But we rejoice in Jesus the Savior who knew no sin, yet became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21).

We also need a Messiah, a leader, someone we can trust and follow. Someone who always tells the truth. Someone who cares about us and will take away our burdens, give us rest and lead us in the kingdom of God. Jesus is that leader, and all he asks of us is to give up everything and follow him. (Luke 14:33)

And finally, we really, really need God in our lives. A personal God who knows our struggles and dreams, our pain and our desires. Again, we find this God in Jesus, the babe in the manger. John writes in chapter one that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. .. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…(vs 1,14) The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is God (chapter 1) and that he is able to empathize with our weaknesses and has been tempted in every way that we are tempted, but did not sin.” (4:15) He identifies with us, leads us and empowers us to overcome sin, and forgives us when we fail.

I concluded my devotional by inviting everyone this Christmas, to remember the angel’s message to the shepherds, and not focus so much on Jesus, the baby in the stable, but on Jesus the Savior, Messiah and Lord. Only by looking to him and living for him can we enjoy the peace and joy that the angels promised (Luke 2:10,14) and that God freely gives to all who trust him.

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