Centerstage

It is silly, really.  But I still can’t seem to help myself.  I keep trying to be on centerstage. I keep wanting to be the star of my own story.

But when I do that, I am being a thief.  I am trying to steal something that rightfully belongs to someone else.  I am a glory robber.  Someone else is the true star of my story.  He is the only one who deserves to have centerstage and he deserves to have it to himself.

When he was born, an entire host of angels announced “glory to God in the highest.”  And when he appears in the final book of the Bible, about a hundred million angels are said to have sung:  ” Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”  (Rev. 5:12).  So on this day, in particular, let’s agree to get out of the way and let the savior have the stage to himself.

May you all have a merry and blessed Christmas!

 

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All in

The Lord is the stronghold of my life.”  Psalm 27:1

It is common advice not to put all of your eggs in one basket.  When it comes to investing, I suppose that is good counsel.  Diversify.  Spread the risk.  Hedge your bets.

But when it comes to life itself, I recommend just the opposite.  I think the wise thing to do is to put all of your eggs in one basket.  Have only one plan.  Have no Plan B.

That is what King David did.  He talked about it all the time.  He had a simple plan that he applied to basically everything– trust in God.  If enemies attacked, he trusted in God.  If he needed direction or advice, he trusted in God.  The more that it seemed silly to do so, the more insistent he became about doing it.

In Psalm 27, he said, “The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”  This was David’s secret.  He was radically insistent about putting all of his eggs in just one basket.

Paul was the same way.  In 2 Timothy, he described his suffering (which was quite considerable) in this way: “For this reason I also suffer these things, but  I am not ashamed; for I know  whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to  guard what I have entrusted to Him  until  that day.”

The funny thing is that those who risk everything on the faitfulness of God are the ones who enjoy the most remarkable peace.  They know whom they have believed.  They know who is the stronghold of their life.  They are all in with God and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Woe to you, Mayberry! (Part two)

It occurred to me that there was something further that should have been said in my previous post entitled, “Woe to you, Mayberry!”.  In that post, I reviewed the shocking statements made by Jesus about the cities in which he had performed so many miracles.  I just started to say that they were not kind words.  But that is the part I left out.  They were kind words.  They were harsh, but they were not mean.

God didn’t come to earth in the flesh just to make sure that we knew how mad he was at us or how bad we are.  Jesus didn’t take the time to berate the cities of Galilee just to get it off his chest or to vindicate himself against his enemies.  His bitterly sharp words to them were not him blowing off steam, but one of the most sacrificially loving things he did during the course of his ministry.  They were irrefutable proof of his great love for those he was speaking to then and for those like you and me who he knew would read his words over the next several centuries.

How can that be?  Well, first of all, his words were true.  He wasn’t telling them anything other than something that they desperately needed to know.  His words were calculated to shock and offend because he wanted to awaken sleeping and deceived people who were not conscious that they were in grave danger.

He could have kept his mouth shut and been a lot more popular.  But Jesus boldly spoke bitter words in order to save people.  Jesus was tortured to death for saying such things.  Moreover, he knew he would be.  But he said the things he said because he was practicing the most courageous and sacrificial kind of love.

 

Woe to you, Mayberry!

God tells us straight out that his thoughts are much higher than ours.  They aren’t a little different.  They are way different.  So we really shouldn’t be surprised when he surprises us by the surprising things he says.  (Surprisingly, I think that actually made sense).

One example is in Matthew 11.  Jesus says:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.  Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you!”

To directly contradict what I just said a few sentences ago, if that doesn’t surprise you, it should.  Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were fairly non-descript fishing villages in close proximity to each other at the north end of the Sea of Galilee.  They were not centers of debauchery or decadence.  To the contrary, it can be safely assumed that they were communities wherein “church” attendance was high (although their church was called a synagogue).

Mayberry is probably not a bad modern metaphor for them.  They probably had their own version of Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife, even an Otis or two, but their jail probably didn’t get much more traffic than the one in Mayberry.

If they were Mayberry, the other three cities were Las Vegas — Sin City.  It would have been difficult to name three cities more known as centers of flagrant sinfulness and idolatry than Tyre, Sidon and Sodom.  Yet Jesus says that in the end, Vegas fares better than Mayberry.

Why?  Well, it helps to know that these three Galilean cities were the primary locations of Jesus’ ministry.  Between them, they witnessed the feeding of the five thousand, the healing of blind men, the casting out of demons and even the resurrection of the dead.  Several of Jesus’ disciples, including Peter and Andrew, were from Bethsaida and Jesus made Capernaum his home after he left Nazareth.

There is no indication that the ordinary citizens of these towns were hostile to Jesus.  In fact, the Bible makes clear that they constantly brought their sick and lame to Jesus’ door to be healed.  But when it came down to choosing what to do about Jesus, they remained indifferent.  They did not repent, that is, they did not radically change the direction of their lives in recognition of who Jesus was.

Jesus makes a devastating statement about this.  He said if Sodom had seen what they had seen, it would have repented.  These three Galilean cities’ guilt was worse not because their conduct was more vile or immoral (it wasn’t), but because of their indifference despite the enormously greater light which they had been privileged to receive.  Ironically, this meant that the light that could have been the means of their eternal deliverance had instead only intensified their guilt — all because of their unbelief.

Their “semi-righteousness” had become the worst thing for them.  Semi-righteousness won’t cut it.  Semi-righteousness and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee on judgment day.  It only serves to deaden our senses and make us unable to see our desperate need for the real thing.

Here is a sobering closing thought worthy of our reflection:  In what culture has there been greater light and less repentance than our own?

Susan’s request

My wife has requested that I write about something she has observed.  Having learned SOMETHING in the last thirty years, I am going to comply.  She wants me to write about the absence of the availability of religious themed Christmas cards.  I don’t know about this from personal experience because I am generally of the bah humbug persuasion.  To me, the last thing I want is more mail and I figure I can’t be the only one.

Nonetheless, she tells me it is very hard to find Christmas cards that are unmistakably about the birth of Jesus.  It would not surprise me if this is true.  Based on my recent experiences searching for birthday cards, I imagine it is easier to find a Christmas card about farting, cleavage or binge drinking  than the birth of the savior of the world.

This leads to a conclusion that is so obvious that it is hardly worth saying anymore.  The USA and God parted company some time ago.  Name something that we do in our culture just because it is what God said to do.  In everything I can think of, we have embraced that which is directly counter to what God has commanded.  This is certainly true about everything related to marriage and sex.  God says that sex is for marriage and marriage is for keeps.  We can’t even agree that they are supposed to be between a male and a female!

The worst part is that our crumbling ethic in the area of marriage and sex is only the tip of the iceberg.   That is just the part of our rebellion against God that is most visible. But it runs much deeper.  The bottom line is that we just totally ignore God .  In modern America, the real Christ — the one that died on a cross because he was deadly serious about the problem of our sin — is no longer welcome.

So all that is left to our own generation is to continue to gradually cast off the remaining vestiges of an inherited faith (seemingly unimportant vestiges like Christmas cards about Jesus).  We throw these leftover symbols away because they make us uncomfortable, much like a winter coat on a summer day.  They make us uncomfortable because they no longer fit who we have become.

Let us pray hard that that changes.

 

Wasting and renewing

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self  is wasting away,  our inner self  is being renewed day by day.” 1 Cor. 4:16.

Apologies to the multitude of followers of this blog, but some things came up that forced an extended hiatus.  I had to write three papers and then take some finals.  You know, you can really read a lot of material in a short period of time if you have to!  But now I am back in the saddle, as they say.

I finished my last final yesterday at 4:00 p.m.  When I got home, I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I hadn’t done anything but read and study for two weeks straight.  So I watched an old James Bond movie from the Sixties (one of the ones my parents wouldn’t let me see when I was a kid because it was too racy!).  While I watched, I started calculating the ages of the actors and actresses and realized that many of them were now dead or near dead.  I realized, one more time, how old I have gotten and how quickly life passes.

My life’s ambition has been to become wise.  But the older I get, the more persuaded I become that wisdom is very, very simple stuff.  It is that which is right in front of us.  It isn’t some obscure insight known only by some guru in a remote Himalayan village.  It is what is in plain view.

Nothing is more plainly visible than that we are wasting away.  Our life is being spent and will eventually hit empty.  Until we have accounted for this, we have nothing.  Once we solve this, we have everything.

In Ecclesiastes 9:3, the author says “the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.”  What I get out of this is that  typically there is a massive disconnect between how we live and the reality of our end.  If you looked at how we spent our “time, talent and treasure”, you would assume we thought we were going to live forever.

Jesus warned us about this way of living.  His catchphrase to describe this foolishness was that it meant that the end would come “like a thief in the night” — when we are not prepared for it and not expecting it.  This is what it he said of the man who kept building bigger and bigger barns to hold his stuff.  He called him a fool.

In contrast, I think the author of Ecclesiastes is saying that a wise man lives with the end in mind.  He sees his end first and then works backwards.  His end dictates what and how and why he does what he does now.  May God make us so wise!

P.S.  The first picture is of the 1960’s French starlet and siren of the silver screen, Brigitte Bardot!

P. P. S.  So is the second one!

The stench

“There will be a stench.”  John 11:39

Yep, that’s a cow patty!  After putting endearing photos of the cutest little babies you ever saw in my last post, I am now going with a cow patty.

But there is more.  That is a Christmas cow patty!  I don’t mean that it was left by a Christmas cow or by  Rudolph the Rednosed Reincow or anything like that.  I mean that it is included to illustrate something important about the Christmas story.

Stay with me here.  Let’s remember that Jesus was not born in a manger, although I have probably erroneously said that he was countless times.  After he was born, Jesus was placed in a manger —  a trough used to feed the animals.  Jesus was born in a stable.

If you have ever been in a stable, there is something universally true about all of them — they stink. They smell like horse and cow poo.  They all do.  And I am guessing that although stables and barns may have changed a lot in the last 2000 years, the essential characteristics of cow dung have remained constant.  In other words, I am pretty certain that the barn Jesus was born in smelled a lot like the barns you and I have been in.

I think that smell can help us grasp the profound condescension that is the Incarnation– the donning of humanity by the eternal God.  When we consider the humility of God demonstrated by his coming to be born in a stable, I think it is helpful to breathe in the unmistakable odor that filled the place of his birth.  It reminds us of the great gap between the heights which Jesus left and the depths to which he came.

But I think there is still a little more that can be said about that odor.  Jesus may have been born into a stinky world, but we weren’t.  God created a world in which everything was good and clean and pure.  The point isn’t just that the world stinks, it is that we stink.  The stench is our fault.  It comes from us. We are the ones responsible for this stinking mess.   It is our sin that has saturated everything with the smell of corruption, decay and death.   But praise be to God! Jesus came to conquer sin and death!

Jesus had a friend, Lazarus, who had been dead for four days.  When Jesus directed that Lazarus’ tomb be opened, he was told,  “There will be a stench.”  The Scripture does not say for sure, but I have to presume that when the stone was rolled from Lazarus’ tomb, there was an awful, awful stench.   But the same Jesus who was born in a stinky stable in a stinky town in a stinky world filled with stinky people stood before an awfully stinky tomb and commanded that there should be life.  And just as there was light on that first day when he said “Let there be light”, there was life that day when he commanded there to be life.

This Christmas, let’s give thanks to the God who was inexplicably willing to come into our stinky mess!