The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: December 2016 (page 1 of 2)

New Year 2017

What does a new year mean to the One with whom “one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8)?

Peter uses that phrase answering critics who claim Jesus’ Second Coming is so long-delayed, who can believe he’s coming at all!  Peter’s phrase implies God doesn’t experience time as we do.  For him, then, it’s not New Year’s Eve.

But wait!  (Sounds like a $19.95 TV commercial.)  The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia boggles our brain a bit more . . .

Eternity is best conceived, not in the merely negative form of the non-temporal, or immeasurable time, but positively, as the mode of the timeless self-existence of the Absolute Ground of the universe.  Eternity, one may surely hold, must span or include, for God’s eternal consciousness, the whole of what happens in time, with all of past, present or future, that lies within the temporal successiohttp://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/eternity/.

Got that?  In other words, God’s doesn’t merely experience time differently; he exists in timelessness.  Yet, he’s aware of all that happens in time—past, present and future.  I take that to mean God knows it’s 2017 eve, but it’s not a new year to him.

Disappointingly, we can’t know what, if anything, the new year means to the year-less God, because, as far as I know, Scripture nowhere addresses the question.

So we’re left to speculate.  Does God rejoice today knowing the sinners who will come to repentance and faith in 2017? Does he grieve over the evil we’ll do to one another in the new year?  If Jesus will come again in 2017, is the Father excited?  If Jesus won’t come in the new year, is the Father anticipating greeting his children who will come home to him through death?

For us, the new year means making resolutions (we’ll probably forget before the first month ends), looking at blank pages of a new chapter of life (which we’ll “mess up” with some things we’ll regret), or celebrating with a party or fireworks or time with family (leaving us heavy-headed the next day).

To that we’d be wise to add praying  Psalm 90.  It’s the only one written by Moses and the source for Peter’s phrase—“with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day”.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.  You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:  in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.  For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.  Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

A sobering psalm.  Moses sees himself—indeed all humans—in contrast to God.  This “from everlasting to everlasting” (a far more fascinating phrase than the word “eternal”!) God “return[s us] to dust”.  New Year’s Eve reminds us our bodies are a year nearer to “dust.”

It also reminds us we “are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:  in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.”  How can I be 73 when just last year I was dating my sweet-16 Lois?  The years of our life are “soon gone”.

Further, it reminds us of trouble.  We wish for the new year to be “better” than the old.  And it may well be.  But it won’t be trouble-free, not in this fallen world.

It’s also a staggering psalm.  Look what Moses writes about God contrasted with our frailty and transience.

God has been God since before creation and will be forever.  In other words, when man “showed up”, God already was.  And when we’re gone, God will still be. 

And he holds my life—and yours—in his hands.  He may choose to cut my life short (he hasn’t).  He sees my secret sins and could justly destroy me (instead he has mercifully saved me through his Son).  Happiness depends on him, though he sends misery too.  The new year will bring what the Sovereign Lord wants.

Instead of making resolutions (or at least in addition to), we’d be wise to pray this psalm.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.  You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:  in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.  For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.  Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Pray that and we’ll bow humbly before our “from everlasting to everlasting” God who holds our life in his hands.  Further, we’ll remember our transience and his mercy to us in Christ that turns his anger from us.

Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

Pray that, and we’ll remember Jesus is coming again—maybe this new year.  Instead of languishing in the mire of our problems or seeking satisfaction in things that can never satisfy, we’ll be seeking his steadfast love to fill our soul, so we can rejoice and be glad in him.  And, asking for his powerful work, we’ll be reminded of Christ’s resurrection and the gift and gifts of the Spirit.  And we may see him finally answer a long-asked “impossible” prayer, especially for our children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

We’ll work in the new year.  And while most of it will be important, it will also be passing.  Praying this prayer will call us to work that will be establishing, lasting, even eternal.  It will call us to speak and behave in ways that reveal and honor our Lord.  It will call us to lead our children to faith and disciple them in following Jesus.  It will call us to serve in our church and bear witness to our neighbors.

No, we really can’t know what the new year means to our “from everlasting to everlasting” Lord.  But we can begin 2017 with what we do know—that by going to him in prayer in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can “taste” his eternal life that will one day be fully ours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Apostle, Pastor and Church

Pastors aren’t apostles.  They’re functionally different.  But both are leaders in Christ’s church.  And the relationship between leaders and church is crucial for proclaiming the message of the church.   What  the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church, pastor and church must hear today.

The Corinthians have turned anti-Paul.  He doesn’t measure up to their worldly-wise standards.  By opposing him, they’re rejecting his apostolic authority and the gospel he teaches.  In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul attempts to bridge the gulf between the church and himself.

First, he asserts that apostles are God’s servants whom the church shouldn’t judge (4:1-5).

Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself.  I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

“Servant” is the Greek humayretays.  It refers to one who acts under the authority of another to carry out his will.  Paul urges the Corinthians to think of apostles as servants of Christ.

Stewards” is the Greek oikonomos. It refers to one charged with running  someone else’s household.

“Mysteries” is the Greek mustayrion.  “God’s mysteries” refers to things that God has kept hidden, but now revealed (in Christ).

Trustworthiness is a necessary virtue for stewards. Paul urges the Corinthians to think of apostles as God’s stewards.

Paul emphasizes he is a servant of Christ and steward of God.  Therefore, the Corinthians shouldn’t sit in judgment (anakrino) of him.  When the Lord comes, he will carry out judgment.

Application cuts two ways. One, the church is not to judge the pastor.  That doesn’t mean don’t evaluate his ministry on biblical grounds.  Nor does it mean don’t try to build him up where he is lacking.  It means don’t stand against him, don’t reject or oppose him. Far too much harm has been inflicted on churches by members who just didn’t like the pastor.  Better to peacefully leave the church than stir up hostility.

The second “cut”:  the pastor must see himself as God’s servant and steward of God’s hidden things revealed in Christ.  He must cultivate humility and faithfully preach and teach the Word.  A proud pastor corrupts the message of the cross and, while “prosperity” sermons may attract listeners, they ignore gospel truth.

Next, Paul identifies the marks of authentic apostles (1 Corinthians 4:6-13).

I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, “Nothing beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.  For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.

The Corinthian church is anti-Paul and pro-Apollos, who apparently is a more captivating speaker.  Whatever the saying “Nothing beyond what is written” means, it’s clear its purpose is “that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.”

“For who sees anything different in you?” is an interpretation challenge.  Dr. Gordon Fee says it probably means something like, “Who in the world do you think you are anyway?  What kind of self-delusion is it that allows you to put yourself in a position to judge another person’s servant?”

Paul goes rhetorical in his next two questions.  Everything they have is a gift from God, so why boast as if they’ve achieved “wisdom” and earned spiritual gifts

Paul’s irony cuts to the core.  “Already you have all you want . . . become rich . . . become kings!”  Possessing the Spirit, the Corinthians have become triumphalists. “Triumphalism is the belief that the overt and consummate victories that we will experience in the age to come are available to us now.” This boasts “visible and irreversible victories in the present that result in a life free from persecution, suffering, or demonic assault. It’s the notion that since I’m a ‘child of the King’ I have a right to live in financial prosperity and complete physical health . . . [It] belittles those whose ‘lack of faith’ has resulted in a lingering, daily struggle from which Jesus came to deliver them.” (http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/the-dangers-of–triumphalism—2-cor–2:14-)

Finally, Paul draws a series of sharp contrasts between his view of apostleship and theirs.  Picturing apostles as “a spectacle to the world”, Paul may have in mind the triumphant Roman general who parades his ravished captives as he marches home. Apostles, Paul argues. are like that–a “spectacle . . . like the rubbish of the world.”  This, Paul asserts, is true apostleship and true Christianity in the evil world.  To the triumphalist Corinthians, Paul is faithless and weak, living below the standard of “King’s kids” who possess the Spirit’s power.

We, of course, reject triumphalism and what is called today “the prosperity gospel”.  But in practice we live much closer to it than to Paul’s “spectacle” gospel.  Belief in the message of the cross hasn’t left us hungry or thirsty or homeless or beaten or reviled or slandered.  Should we simply thank God for that or consider if our crucified-Christ following is too lukewarm to evoke hostility?

Third, Paul issues his apostolic admonishment (4:14-21).

I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.  I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me.  For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church.  But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant.  But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.  For the kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power.  What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

Though he’s written “hard” words, he grounds them in a father-children relationship.  Paul is their “father through the gospel”, because they came to believe through his preaching.  They are his “beloved children.”

From that image he makes a passionate appeal: “be imitators of me”.  For Paul this means two things.  One, imitate me by returning to the message of the cross.  In other words, look at life through the eyes of the crucified Christ, not through the eyes of human wisdom or misplaced triumphalism.

Two, imitate me by living like the crucified Christ.  That means don’t act as if the Spirit’s gifts make you superior to others and immune from suffering for Christ in this evil age.

* * * * *

As I review this long exposition, I see several “take-aways”, all having to do with the pastor and the church.  I’ll comment only on the most powerful for me–Paul’s risky exhortation to the church:  “Imitate me”.  Preaching is comparatively easy; living a life consistent with the message of the crucified Christ is hugely challenging.

Pastors, you must live such a life so that the people to whom you preach can follow Christ as they follow you.  This means living like a humble servant and trustworthy steward.  It means responding to offenses as Jesus did and embracing suffering for him as a normal part of living in an evil age.  And it means loving the people as a father his children.  Christ calls us to this for the sake of his church and his glory.

Church, we must pray for our pastor to be worthy of imitation and follow him as he follows Christ.  We must look to him as model of the message of the cross.

Only then will the church be the body of Christ that glorifies him and makes him known to a world that so desperately needs him.

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“Fools”, Everything Is Ours!

“I’m a Calvinist.”  “I’m an Arminian.”  “I’m a Pentecostal.”  “I’m a Baptist.”  Sounds a bit like the Corinthians. “I follow Paul.”  “I follow Apollos.”  “I follow Cephas.”  “I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12).

It’s not wrong to identify with a theological system or denomination–unless we say it boastfully and denigrate another.  (“I’m a Charismatic not a frozen Episcopalian!” or, “I’m a Calvinist not one of those falling-on-the-floor Charismatics!”)

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-3:17 the apostle Paul reproved the Corinthians for their fascination with human wisdom which elevated one preacher over another and led to division in the church. Now in 3:18-23 he starts to tie the threads together to conclude his correction.

You should not fool yourself. If any of you think that you are wise by this world’s standards, you should become a fool, in order to be really wise.  For what this world considers to be wisdom is nonsense in God’s sight. As the scripture says, “God traps the wise in their cleverness”; and another scripture says, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are worthless” (1 Corinthians 3:18-20, GNT).

Greek culture was famous for its philosophers.  It boasted men like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and more.  But, warns Paul, think you’re wise by this world’s standards is to deceive yourself.  Real wisdom demands become a “fool”.

How does one become a fool?  By believing the message of the cross which is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18).  Let’s admit it:  that the way to life is through a crucified Jewish Messiah does sound foolish.

Compare that to the wise-sounding 5th century B.C. Greek philosopher Epicurus. “Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here.  And when it does come, we no longer exist.”  Wise-sounding perhaps, but worthless in the end, because it doesn’t lead to God.

Don’t read much Epicurus?  Here’s worldly wisdom that does affect us.  In 2005 sociologist Christian Smith and his team interviewed 3000 American teenagers.  What they discovered Smith dubbed Moral Therapeutic Deism.  He identified its five core values . . .

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/moralistic-therapeutic-deism-the-new-american-religion-6266/#IBcL7XkDSS5zZkDz.99

This “wisdom” permeates our culture.  Let it seep into our thinking and it will morph our understanding of God and negate the gospel.

This is why Paul quotes from Job 5:13 (“He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away”) and Psalm 94:11 (“The LORD knows the thoughts of man; he knows that they are futile”).  God catches the world wise in their wisdom; they end up trapped by their own futile thinking.

We mustn’t fool ourselves by feeding on the world’s wisdom, or by allowing it to seep into our thinking.  Fools we must be, trusting our lives to the message of the cross.

No one, then, should boast about what human beings can do. Actually everything belongs to you:  Paul, Apollos, and Peter; this world, life and death, the present and the future – all these are yours, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God (1 Corinthians 3:21-23, GNT).

The Corinthians are boasting about which “wise” preacher they belong to.  But Paul claims, “ . . . everything belongs to you.”  All preachers.  They’re not orators to be exalted; they’re servants, all of whom the church can learn from.

Then Paul goes “out there” on us.  “Everything belongs to you”—even this world, life, death, the present and the future.”

C.K. Barrett, in his First Corinthians commentary observes . . .

Paul’s thought has moved on, by a natural transition, to the general sovereignty of the church as the people of God.  It is in Christ, and in the community that is in Christ, that humanity recovers its lost lordship, and because Christ is the Lord over the world, over life and death (through his crucifixion and resurrection) and over both this age and the age to come, that his people are no longer the servants of destiny and corruption, but free lords over all things.  Thus the Christian lives in the world, but the world does not dominate his attitude to life—in other words, he does not think in terms of the wisdom of the world.  He is subject to the vicissitudes of life, and ultimately death . . . but none of these experiences can separate him from the love of God . . . (p. 95,96).

“Everything belongs to you” because everything belongs to the crucified-resurrected Christ.  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . “ (Matthew 28:18).  And “you belong to Christ”.

Paul is thinking eschatalogically.  “ . . . if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12).  This is the Christian’s inheritance, secured in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

And “Christ belongs to God”.  Dr. Gordon Fee comments . . .

[God is] “the ultimate reality, the one who possesses all things and outside of whose ultimate control lies nothing” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 155).  Thus he can give all things to whomever he wishes, and he gives it to those who belong to the crucified Christ.

Question:  Why boast about our denomination or theological system?  Two reasons.  One, we think our choice reflects our wisdom.  But when we’re subtly boasting, “I’m a Calvinist not one of those Charismatics”, we’re repeating the sin of the Corinthians.

Two, boasting is a cry for significance.  It’s important to feel important, that we’re not a dust-mite in the span of the universe.  So we tie ourselves to a denomination or theological system that’s significant in our circles.

To us, as he did to the Corinthians, Paul warns, “Let no one deceive himself.”  Instead, let’s humble ourselves.  Let’s admit that our wisdom is human wisdom and it leads us away from God.  Let’s cling only to God’s wisdom—the message of the crucified Christ.  He “has become for us righteousness, sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). In him, for us “fools”,  everything is ours.

One day that will cease to be a faith-statement.  Our own two eyes will see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Christmas Prayer

Lord Jesus,  thank you for coming to us and for us.  My mind can’t conceive of you emptying yourself and taking the form of a servant.  You who were God the Son from eternity, glorified by the heavenly beings, humbled yourself.  Not just to be born of a woman and laid in a feeding trough.  But throughout your life on earth you humbled yourself by serving the sick, the demonized, the lost.  You allowed the authorities to demean you and, in the end, to kill you.  For us.  You were forsaken by your Father to bear our sins away.

Now every good gift we enjoy–everything from our families to chocolate (!)–comes from you and through you.  The love that we share around the Christmas tree is your gift too.  The presents that we give are tokens of our love for each other, but also tiny expressions of your love to us.

We realize that not everyone enjoys a Christmas of peace.  In the Middle East Christians are homeless, wounded, facing death.  In America, as well as around the world, many of your people suffer critical or chronic illnesses.  Many are lonely, without their beloved.  However close you may be to them, nothing today replaces the love they’ve lost.

Christmas is one day out of the year’s 365.  You bless us; we rejoice.  But the joy of our ordinary days is always mixed with sorrow.  Joy is fleeting; the pains of life in a fallen world crowd in.  “Peace on earth”,  internationally and individually, slips through our fingers like sand.

We need you to come back, Jesus.  We believe the good news, not only of your birth, but of your resurrection and your promise to return.  Only then can all the promises, all the hopes and dreams that you have kindled in our hearts, be realized.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

And on this Christmas, around the tree, among the presents, in the midst of family gatherings, come and be our unseen guest.  Sanctify our celebration with your presence.  Imprint our minds, so easily diverted to the “stuff” of the holiday, with your good news.  We–the best of us—are depraved sinners.  In ourselves we are without hope and without God in this world.  Forgive us, please.  We embrace the terrible shadow of the cross that hung over your manger.  Enable us to celebrate today in ways that honor you.  And to live all our tomorrows in ways that make much of you.

You, the baby in the manger, the criminal on the cross, are today the risen King.  We recall the wonderful story of your birth.  And we wait for you to come back for us in glory.

“Thank you” sounds so small.  So do the finest orchestras and choirs that sing your praise.  And so do our lives by which we try to do your good will and engage in what the Scripture calls “spiritual worship”.

But for now, it’s all we have.  Our “treasures” are tiny.  But like the wise men, we offer them to you.  You are worthy of so much more.  But we give what we have.  And from as much as we are able, we reach to the bottom of our hearts, and say “Thank you.”  Until that day when all the heavenly beings, all the redeemed, and all the new creation  sing your praise with music more wonderful than we dare to imagine.  Thank you, Jesus.

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Christmas: Atmosphere of Wonder

We feel it, right?  The feeling of wonder “in the air”.  (Of course, also in the air is that agitated feeling of too much to do and too little time to do it.  Still, the music, the lights, the gifts, the goodwill make it a unique time of year.  One, as some Christmas songs say, we wish could last year round

What fuels this feeling?  Something more than music, lights, gifts and goodwill.  I believe it’s this:  the heart of Luke’s Christmas Story.  That’s what makes us all feel like kids again in the magical land of Narnia.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town (Luke 2:1-3).

As he’s done before (Luke 1:1-4), Luke grounds his full-of-wonder story in eyewitness history.  The birth (the heart of the story) happened at the time the Roman Caesar Augustus issued a census decree (for taxes, what else?).  Everyone had to return to his ancestral town to register.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child (Luke 2:4,5).

It’s about a three-day walking journey from Nazareth south to Bethlehem.  Mary accompanied Joseph because she was pledged to be married to him.  And Mary was expecting a child.

Luke thus shows us a couple “under the thumb” of the Roman emperor, making an arduous journey much like we see refugees or immigrants making today.

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:6,7).

Little wonder so far, no?  The census-decree is just more government-speak.  The journey to Bethlehem, though movies make much of it, Luke doesn’t.  Here’s just another poor couple dominated by a dictator forced to comply.  This scene climaxes most Christian Christmas movies.  Luke tells it like a just-the-facts reporter.

What he’s showing us, of course, is the humble poverty of the parents.  Mary laid her firstborn in an animal feeding trough, because Bethlehem’s inn had no room for them.  That’s what poor people, trapped in a crisis, do:  they do what they can with what they have.

But the mood of the story is about to change . . .

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:8-15).

Shepherds happen to be nearby watching over their flock through the night.  This is where the story becomes Narnia-like, where wonder breaks out.  The Lord’s angel suddenly appears to them.  And the Lord’s glory shone in the night surrounding them.  These simple working men, unesteemed among their fellow Jews, were shocked afraid.  Never had they seen such a sight.

The angel tries to calm their fear.  He brings “good news of great joy that will be for all the people”.    

He’s making a birth announcement.  This very day in nearby Bethlehem, a Savior has been born.  He is Messiah the Lord.  Jewish shepherds must have been electrified.  Messiah!  He will save us from all oppression! He will rule over us and bring us peace!  Can it be true?

The angel expects them to see the child for themselves.  So he gives them a sign by which to identify him—swaddling cloth-wrapped with a feed trough for a bed.  That will be him!

Suddenly a great heavenly choir appears praising God.  Whether their words are spoken or sung they must move the shepherds’ souls: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

After the choir disappears and the shepherds can breathe again, they decide to go over to Bethlehem “and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  Jewish shepherds.  What do they know?  Maybe it was mass hallucination.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was real . . .

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:16-20).

The excited shepherds hurry their search. When they find him, they tell the parents what the angels had said. And apparently afterward they told whomever would listen.  “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”  The Greek word translated “wondered” is thaumazo.  It means whomever the shepherds told marveled; they were astonished at what they heard.  Finally, the shepherds get back to their sheep.  There, when all that has happened “sinks in”, they glorify and praise God.

Now what about this Narnia-like, full-of-wonder feeling that envelops us at Christmas?  Does it arise from the music, the lights, the gifts, the goodwill?  In part.  But the spring of it all (I believe)) is this story.

Sure, most don’t believe it really happened.  Many vaguely do, but they don’t believe it has anything to do with their lives in the “real” world now.  But remember, the angel said this news is “of great joy that will be for all the people”.  Maybe only a few believe it.  Only a few understand it.  But this story hangs in the air at Christmas.  Consciously or not, we all breathe it in. It makes us wish, even subconsciously, that it were true.  It makes us long for a Savior, a Messiah, who will free the oppressed and usher in lasting peace.  It makes us want to believe in the unbelievable.  That’s the atmosphere of Christmas.

Please, let’s not be too calloused to believe it.  Let’s dare to be like children!  What’s “in the air” is true!  Read the rest of the Gospel to learn the whole story!

 Merry Christmas!

 

Baby Jesus resting on a manger with light from the star filters through window Stock Photo - 63774215

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What I’ve Learned Lately

I’m 73 and still learning.  Got Primary Lateral Sclerosis and still learning.  By “lately” I mean at my age with this disease in the last month or so.

In the Sermon On the Mount, Jesus asks his followers why they worry about food and clothing.  Instead, they should “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to them” (Matthew 6:33).

Then he urges, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34).  Tomorrow’s worries, that’s what Jesus is addressing.

From this we get the familiar:  “Just live for today!” and “One day at a time” and other such slogans.  When I was younger and healthier “do not worry about tomorrow” usually evoked one of two responses.  “Sure, no problem.”  Back then I lived under the illusion that I had things pretty much under control.  I could “control” tomorrow just like today.  No problem.

Or, “But I have to plan.”  I justified worrying about tomorrow by being responsible for the future.  But I was conveniently discounting Proverbs 16:9–“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”  And worse, I was assuming that my plans would “work out”.  (That’s because, at that point in life, they mostly did.)

Now “do not worry about tomorrow” has taken on a whole new dimension.  At 73, I’ve never known more clearly that “we’re not guaranteed tomorrow”.  And with this disease, “Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  I’ll spare you the details, except to say I’m wheelchair-confined (so physical activity is severely limited), retaining water in my feet and legs (which ache from the pressure) and finding myself generally weak (a weakness I can feel).  Other symptoms plague me, but this isn’t a pity-me party.

I’d like to say that my faith has grown or I’ve become wiser. But I have to confess:  mostly I’m too troubled with today to worry about tomorrow, too weak to take on tomorrow’s weight.

It’s liberating not to worry about tomorrow, I guess.  “I guess” because even in weakness, my stubborn, sinful nature rises up:  How bad will I suffer before I die?  Will I become bedridden?  Will my mind my affected so I can’t read and write?  How will I bear Lois’ grief if I die first?  See, I’m stronger (in a wrong way) than I think.  And even in weakness, I find faith and obedience as hard as walking on these legs.  How I need God’s mercy and grace!

And the bigger issue:  Can I today seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness?  You’d think that should be a snap.  But usually I find myself seeking first God’s healing.  Which raises an ominous question:  Is healing an idol?  Do I love good health more than our Lord?  Can I be content in him if my condition gets worse?

Now, contentment in him.  That’s a high mountain to climb.  Especially when I find myself blaming him.  My reasoning runs something like this:  God is sovereign; therefore, he has sent or allowed my illness.  Conclusion:  my illness is his fault.  More:  If part of God’s purpose in this condition is my spiritual growth, what’s the point?  I’m too old to still be growing.  Besides, when I see Jesus I’ll be instantly made like him.  Even without suffering, the end result would be the same.  So contentment in him is a high mountain for me to climb when he’s “wasting me away” in my body.

I’m ashamed.  So many others waste away so far worse.  This is a pity-me party after all!  But, you see, that’s how I sometimes think.  How I need God’s mercy for my sin and grace for contentment!  This too I have learned lately.

And this:  despite my foolish thinking, my heart remains soft to our Lord.  I can’t listen to the accompanying song without tears and without my body fairly trembling in worship to him.  So I wheelchair up to the manger.  Slide down to the ground and wobble onto my knees.  Without tottering over,I try to raise my hands.  I can’t.  But that’s okay, because my heart is worshiping.  Inside I’m worshiping as much as my eyes are raining tears.  He knows I love him.  In spite of all my doubts and questions and anger and depression, he knows I love him.  And I know he loves me.  This too I’ve learned lately in ways I’ve never known before.

 

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A Community Where the Spirit Lives

Most Christians know the church isn’t the building.  But not as many know the church is a community indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, how we treat the church is of utmost importance.

The mid-1st century A.D.  Corinthian church members to whom Paul is writing are divided over preachers.  They base their preference on “human wisdom (Sophia)”.  Which preacher stands above the others in philosophy and rhetoric?  By this time, Paul, having left Corinth for Ephesus, languishes at the bottom of the preference-list, because his speaking is unimpressive and in person he’s weak (2 Corinthians 10:10).

Paul answers his critics . . .

DIVIDING IS UNSPIRITUAL BEHAVIOR

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?

The problem, says Paul, doesn’t lie with him, but with them. They have the Spirit, but don’t behave as those who do.  They disagree and fault Paul, who preached only gospel-basics, because, like babies, they couldn’t “digest” more.  Their divisiveness proves him correct.

Our common sharing in the Holy Spirit (“ , , , all [were] baptized by one Spirit into one body . . . and all were given the one Spirit to drink”–1 Corinthians 12:13) should unite us.  Too often, however, we quarrel and divide.  Thus we act like children, especially when we dispute over leaders, because . . .

LEADERS ARE SERVANTS

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.  For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

Corinthians are exalting one preacher over another.  But leaders are only servants.  Like farmers.  One plants, another waters.  But growth—that is, faith as the Lord assigns—comes from God.  Make much, then, about God, not his servants!

Leaders are also like builders.  Builders are servants who, like farmers, “get their hands dirty”.  And the building belongs to God, not the servant-builders.

Our culture makes it hard for a leader to think like a servant. People respect you.  Your word is usually final in decision-making.  Dozens of eyes look to you when you preach.  The really successful churches are “mega” and the pastor a celebrity.  Leaders easily clothe themselves with self-importance.  Here’s what the Spirit leads you to do:  take off the “royal robe” and put on the servant’s shirt!  The gospel of the crucified Christ is at stake in the leader’s demeanor.

LEADERS MUST BUILD CAREFULLY

 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

Paul claims to have founded the Corinthian church “like a skilled master builder.”  No boast, because he was enabled by the grace God gave him.  Now that he’s left, “someone else is building” on the foundation he laid.  Paul warns:  choose to build with care, because if your building doesn’t line up with Jesus Christ crucified, God’s Judgment Day fire will burn up what you’ve built.

Corinthians were caught up with “wisdom”–human philosophy about where we’ve come from, how we can know truth, what we should value and how we should think—delivered by polished orators.  Now, with the Holy Spirit, Corinthians presumed to possess superior human wisdom and preferred preachers with superior oratorical skill.  Relying on those traits was like building with wood, hay and straw.

Preachers today are pressured to build big churches and speak with spellbinding skill.  The message “how to be happy” builds bigger churches than “Christ crucified”.  The pastor who dresses in the current style and speaks like a talk-show host attracts more listeners than a suit-wearing, arm-waving preacher-man.  And if the pastor can find a “great” contemporary worship “band”, he’s got it made.  But the church is “the community of the Spirit”.  And the Spirit always leads us to the crucified Christ.  Leaders who rely on the Spirit build with “gold, silver and precious stones.”  What they build will stand in the Judgment.  But those who rely on what’s popular are building what will burn.

Divisiveness among members and reliance on inferior “building material” are especially egregious because . . .

THE CHURCH IS GOD’S HOLY TEMPLE

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:16,17).

Paul defines “God’s temple” as the people among whom “God’s Spirit” dwells.  The church is a community of the Spirit.  “God’s temple” means not only that the church belongs to God, but that the church (the gathered people) is indwelt by God (be means of the Holy Spirit).  Significantly, for “temple”,  he uses not hieron (the temple as a whole), but naos (the inner sanctuary where God dwells).

Destroy God’s temple by divisiveness or by building with teaching contrary to that of the crucified Christ and, Paul warns, “God will destroy [you]”.

The church isn’t only “a community of the Word” where people gather to hear the Bible preached.  The church is “a community of the Spirit” where people gather to enter the presence of God the Holy Spirit.

When we enter the sanctuary (“meeting room” demeans what God intends), we should be careful to foster a sense of unity, never divisiveness.  And we should actively seek the presence of the Spirit as we worship.  For he always leads us to the crucified Christ by whom we are saved from boastful pride and sanctified in humility like our Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas: Getting Ready

Prince Caspian grew up in a great castle in Narnia with his uncle and aunt, the king and queen.  His parents were dead.  So was “Old Narnia”.  That was when animals could talk and Aslan the great lion came to help his people.  The “New Narnia” was under the king’s control, so he wanted it to remain.  But young Caspian was destined to restore what once had been (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 2, C.S. Lewis). 

Luke’s Christmas story reminds me of Narnia and Prince Caspian . . .

The Birth of Elizabeth’s Boy

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”  Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him (Luke 1:57-66).

“What is this child going to be?”  People throughout the Judean hill country were wondering about the old priest Zechariah’s boy, “For it was plain that the Lord’s power was upon him.”

How that was plain is part of the wonder of Luke’s Christmas story.  We remember an angel had promised Zechariah his old barren wife would bear a son who was to be named John.  When Zechariah doubted, the angel struck the priest dumb.

Now IT’S TIME, Zechariah!  Elizabeth gives birth to a boy.  Neighbors rejoice.  Then comes circumcision and the naming.  Neighbors assume he’ll be called Zech, Jr.  But Elizabeth says, “His name is to be John.”  Nonsense, think neighbors.  Nobody in the family is John.  They appeal to Zechariah.  (Why they “made signs” isn’t clear.  Had the old priest been struck deaf too?)  Speechless Zechariah wrote: “His name is John.”  An act of obedient faith.  That’s what the angel named the promised boy.  Instantly Zechariah started praising God.  (Don’t you wonder what he said?)

Just an unusual circumcision, right? An old barren women gave birth.  Who knows how nature’s trick allowed that?  Parents insist on giving him a non-family name.  A little tradition-breaking.  After nine months, Zechariah suddenly speaks.  A coincidence that it happened just after he wrote “John.”

Neighbors, though, “were all filled with fear” and asked, “What is this child going to be?”  They knew they were witnessing an unusual event.  It was plain to them “that the Lord’s power was upon [John]”.

But that’s not all.  The Holy Spirit who had filled Elizabeth three months earlier when Mary visited, now filled Zechariah . . .

 Zechariah’s Prophecy

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear  in holiness and righteousness before him all our days (Luke 1:67-75).

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel (Luke 1:76-80).

The prophetic claim is stunning:  God has come and redeemed his people. Messiah has been raised up to save them from their enemies.  It’s a show of mercy that fulfills the covenant made to Abraham 2000 years earlier. Abraham’s descendants will be enabled “to serve [God] without fear in holiness and righteousness . . . all [their] days.”

Zechariah continues his prophecy, now over his son.  John isn’t Messiah, but a prophet to “prepare the way” for Messiah.  He will preach about Israel’s sins and how she can be forgiven, how God’s tender mercy is about to shine upon a nation living in death’s shadow.

The Preparation

That circumcision may have been a big “celebration” in that Judean hill town.  But it was a small town, one house and one family.  Just an eight-day old infant.  Yet he was destined to spearhead the Messiah’s restoration of, not only Israel, but of the whole creation.  “For . . . the Lord’s power was upon him.”  This, too, is part of Luke’s wonder-full Christmas story.

However, we’re not simply meant to marvel.  As we await Messiah’s second coming, we must prepare his way (as grown-up John the Baptist exhorted crowds who came to him at the wilderness edge).  That means humbly confessing our sin and bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). Repentance fruit:  sharing clothing and food with the needy, not abusing people in your power, being content with what you have (Luke 3:9-14).  In other words, live the way you want Messiah to find you when he comes.

Doesn’t sound so wonder-full, does it!  But, you see, this is how we’ve been made to live.  And Messiah’s mercy makes such behavior possible!  So, the question at the end of this part of the Christmas story isn’t “Do we see the wonder?”, but, “Are we preparing for Messiah’s coming again?”

If we are, then we’re not just hearing the wonder-full Christmas story.  We are playing a living part in it and the glorious restoration it brings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas: A Taste in “Little Lives”

If you’re “anti-Santa” songs, ignore this one.  If you’re not put off by them, listen at blog’s end.  I’m not celebrating Santa, just Christmas.)

A “wonder” is “a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar” (Oxford Living Dictionaries).  If you’re a Christian, you know God does some pretty wonderful works!

Sometimes God’s wonders are like visiting Narnia—C.S. Lewis’ magical land in The Chronicles of Narnia.  (If you haven’t read them, check out  https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_2_15?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=the+chronicals+of+narnia+books&sprefix=The+Chronicals+%2Caps%2C447&crid=31866FBVFXH1X.)

Nothing Narnia-like about Mary visiting Aunt Elizabeth. Mary has   been promised a virgin birth, the promise backed up by the news that old barren Elizabeth was six months pregnant.  So we expect Mary to see for herself.

Of course, the message-bearer was an angel.   So, as Mary makes her visit, we’re not far from a Narnia-like Christmas story.  And, as we read about it, we realize we’re back “through the wardrobe” . . .

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. (Luke 1:39-56, NRSV)

When young Mary enters Zechariah’s house, she greets Elizabeth.  What happens next is wonder-full.   Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, her baby moves in her womb, she is filled with the Holy Spirit and answers her guest . . .

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

We expect Mary to respond something like, “Elizabeth, how did you know?”  Well, how did Elizabeth know?  Apparently nobody called on her cell phone with the news.  As far as Luke tells us, nobody but Mary knew about the angel’s visit. Elizabeth didn’t know.  She spontaneously and wonderfully spoke words the Spirit gave her.

Mary’s response, too, is wonder-full.  Author Luke doesn’t claim Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps she was.  Or maybe she was filled with God’s Word, because what has been called “The Magnificat” (a Latin word meaning “it magnifies”) echoes words childless Hannah prayed when she bore a son named Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10).

 Look what Mary spontaneously praises the Lord for . . .

His mercy toward her in her humble condition.  “ . . .for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”  Mary thus takes Elizabeth’s pregnancy and words to confirm the angel’s message to her.  And she affirms that God the Mighty One whose name is holy looks with favor on the lowly who fear him. “ . . . . the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”  Consequently future generations will call her blessed. “ . . .  from now on all generations will call me blessed”. 

Mary spontaneously praises the Lord for his faithfulness to his promises revealed to Abraham and his descendants.  “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  This young Jewish girl, with no outward sign of being pregnant, believes the angel’s message that she will give birth to the Messiah.  And the Messiah will finally fulfill all God’s promises and purposes spoken to old Abraham.  So certain she is of “the great reversal” her son will bring about, she speaks of them in the past tense!

Now we might attribute Mary’s words to emotional women caught up in the moment.  Just like we unemotional people “know” there’s no Narnia-like new eternal creation waiting just “through the wardrobe” of this world.  But Luke testifies this is actual history, (Luke 1:1-4).  And, when we read the rest of the Gospel, we discover the words of these two women are true.  Mary does give birth to the Messiah.

This wonder-full meeting of these women lays before us a choice. Either to dismiss this as two emotional females chattering about their unexpected pregnancies.  (Unexpected pregnancies do happen, even to old barren women and young teenagers!)  Or to believe that these women, one old and one young secluded in a little house in the hill country of Judea 2000 years ago, are speaking Holy Spirit words about the most wonder-full work God was about to do—a “great reversal” of world order that would dethrone evil and exalt his people forever.

Well, I choose to believe the latter.  Even now, God is working toward that “great reversal”.  But you know what else?  Along the way, in Jesus’ name, God still does wonder-full works for us hidden in our little homes or church buildings.  We’re not suffering emotionalism.  God still works wonders for little people.

The video song’s chorus starts with these words . . .

“I wish it could be Christmas every day,
When the kids start singing and the band begins to play“

 One day, when Jesus comes again, it will be.

Until then, God may turn an ordinary day into a taste of Christmas by working a wonder in our little lives!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Secret Wisdom

So, are we fools?  Is the cross-message nonsense?  Are its preachers idiots?  No.  No.  And no.  We who believe in Jesus Christ have received God’s wisdom.

Of course, our popular culture doesn’t prize wisdom.  That’s obvious from bestseller lists, college classroom lectures, and the following from “Psychology Today” magazine . . .

“ Psychologists tend to agree that [wisdom] involves an integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding that incorporates tolerance for the uncertainties of life as well as its ups and downs . . .Today, we turn to the internet for everything, with Wikipedia being our web-based wisdom, and Google providing the search capabilities that often surpass our failing memories . . . This raises many important questions, one of which is to what degree can we rely on web-based wisdom, perhaps at the expense of our own ‘human’ knowledge and memory?” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/metacognition-and-the-mind/201404/wisdom-ask-siri-or-ask-grandma).

Psychologists’ wisdom-definition is, well, foolish.  As is the notion of seeking wisdom on the web.  And the above-paragraph implies our only alternative to the web is wisdom found in “our own human knowledge and memory”.

Anyway, what’s the big deal?  The name of the game now is information.  That’s power.  That’s success.  Guess it depends on how you spell “success”.  The world through its wisdom does not know God (1 Corinthians 1:21).  Doesn’t sound like success to me.

Having rightly bashed human wisdom in 1:18-2:5, Paul now turns to commend God’s wisdom.

THE NATURE OF GOD’S WISDOM

 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”–  but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-10a).

Most will admit God is wise.  He must be—he’s God!  But most will understand God’s wisdom to be just superior human wisdom available to whomever searches for it.

Paul points out that God’s wisdom lies in a whole other category from “the wisdom of this age” or those whose influence shapes this age. Want proof?  The “wise” movers and shakers of this age “crucified the Lord of glory”.  Christ, who is wisdom incarnate, they executed like a common criminal—and would do the same today.

Furthermore, God’s wisdom leads to glory to which the human eye is blind, the human ear deaf, and to which the human mind cannot conceive.  Enroll at Harvard, climb the highest mountain to the wisest sage, gather as much information as technologically possible and you’ll not discover God’s wisdom.

God’s wisdom is secret, hidden.  And God reveals it only to those he gives the Spirit.  You might disagree.  Want God’s wisdom?  Just read the Bible.  It’s all there.  True.  But the human eye sees it there, hears it there and conceives it there only when the Spirit reveals it there.  This is why some of our greatest intellectuals trash the Bible as foolishness.

KNOWING GOD’S SECRET WISDOM

 The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:10b-13).

 Unless I tell you, you don’t know what I’m thinking.  In the same way, only God knows God’s thoughts.  In fact, we don’t even understand what God has freely given us.  Oh, we can read about the gift of his Son and hear it heralded again this Christmas.  But Jesus’ birth is just a sweet, sentimental story and his crucifixion a political miscalculation on his part (or some vague means for our forgiveness, whatever that means) unless we receive “the Spirit who is from God.”  Only he reveals to our sin-darkened mind the significance of Jesus’ birth and death.  Only he enables us to appreciate the value of “what God has freely given us.”

Even “charismatic” orators can’t break through our mental sin-haze.  Only words “taught by the Spirit” (the Scriptures themselves and the words of an ordinary preacher deliberately dependent on the Spirit) can “express (God’s) spiritual truths”.

And we receive the Spirit when we trust our lives to the crucified Christ and depend on the Spirit to transform us.

PEOPLE OF THE SPIRIT

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

 In some Christian circles, the Spirit is the forgotten member of the Trinity.  But not to Paul.  Elaborating on the contrast between the apostle’s message of wisdom and the wisdom of the age (1:6), Paul argues that the absence of the Spirit (“the man without the Spirit”) prohibits a person from accepting and understanding the things that come from the Spirit.  Such a person cannot discern what God is doing in the world.  Not because his IQ is embarrassingly low.  Nor because he’s half-hearted about God.  Because he is “without the Spirit.”

“The spiritual man” isn’t a superior category of Christian.  “The spiritual man” is simply a Christian, a believer in the crucified Christ, a man with the Spirit, a sinner empowered by the Spirit to accept and understand what God is doing in the world.

To say it as Paul does, “the spiritual man” is enabled to “make judgments” about (ascertain) what God is doing to save his people.  At the same time, he’s not subject to the judgments of persons without the Spirit (“the message of the cross is foolishness”) because those persons are “without the Spirit”.

Or as Paul asks rhetorically, “ . . . who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?”  The un-Spirit man cannot know the mind of the Lord.  “But we have the mind of Christ”.  In other words, we who have the Spirit can know the mind of the Lord (the mind of the crucified Christ).

Why, we might ask, does Paul emphasize the Spirit when it comes to the message of the crucified Christ?  Because for him, salvation is not only (or even primarily) “legal.”  In Romans 3:through 5 he declares that sinners are “justified by faith” (declared right with God).  That’s “legal” standing before God and his Law.  But for Paul, salvation is experiential as well.  And this transformation is affected by the Spirit.

THE CROSS AND THE SPIRIT

 No, we’re not fools.  We have God’s wisdom because we have God’s Spirit.  And we have God’s Spirit because he has been freely given us by grace through faith in Christ.  That calls us to live cross-centered.  Which is to say, humbly.  Willing to sacrifice.  Embracing suffering remembering Christ suffered for us.  And boasting only in Christ.

Does that mean we go around bragging that Christ is our Savior and Lord?  No, I think it means we praise and worship him.  Remembering we’re wise with Another’s wisdom.  Remembering we’re being transformed by the Spirit.  Remembering on that Day we won’t pride ourselves on how smart we were to get there.  But worship him who graciously saved us by the Spirit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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