Archive for December, 2011
In the beginning of Luke and Matthew’s gospel there are telling of one of the more famous stories in the history of humanity. The story of Christ’s birth has been broadcast on national television, sold millions in theaters, and has permeated the political realm with controversy. However Mark does not include the typical Christmas story, instead he begins with John the Baptist, acting like a prophet.
John the Baptist speaks to the people about the Messiah, a great man of God who would be so much greater than John that John would not be able to undo his sandal straps. Here we need a little bit of cultural context. First off, sandals in Jesus’ day look much like those pictured on the right. They were not flip-flops, but sandals that required intricacy in tying and untying. Second, those of us who live today, especially in America, can take clean streets for granted. We live in a society dominated by automobiles, not donkeys, sheep, and goats. The roads in Jesus’ day was covered in fecal matter from a variety of animals. In Luke seven a woman is reprimanded for washing Jesus’ feet. Washing of feet was an important honor, because all of the dirt and poop that would get on one’s feet from walking around. Third, it was the duty of the host to provide a slave or hired hand to unstrap the sandals from a guest as they would walk in the door. In verse seven John is saying that not only is he not the Messiah, there is someone who makes John the Baptist look like an unworthy slave. Of course this man was Jesus Christ.
It’s not surprising to me that people thought that John was the Messiah. The Israelites had not heard from the Lord in 400 years, and all of the sudden here is this new breed of preacher who is coming to preach repentance of sins. Rich and poor were coming to him, he was starting a social movement. We know that John was powerful enough to draw the ire of Herrod, who ultimately had him beheaded. However John knew that his mission was inadequate. He knew he couldn’t bring around the kind of awakening that Christ would. John’s power was confession and forgiveness, which was given to him by God, but he knew that Christ would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John could only dunk people, Christ could and would send the Spirit to live with them. (more…)
I personally enjoy reading the English Standard Version of the bible because of the clarity of the language and sentence structure. One such verse is referenced at the beginning of Mark, when Mark writes about a prophecy given in the book of Malachi. Malachi wrote that God would send a messenger to the people of Israel to prepare the way of the Lord. According to the ESV as we see in verse two of Mark chapter one: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way.” This messenger was John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was the cousin of Christ, born right around the same time as Jesus was. John’s ministry began before Christ’s. We know that John was the son of a priest, but was not a priest himself. John was not exactly cut out to be a proper preacher. John did wear the robes of the priest, he wore camels hair. John did not spend time in study, he scavenged for study. Yet, Jesus called John the greatest man yet to live, because John believed before he saw, and was eventually executed for his faith.
In Mark 1:5 we see the first part of John’s ministry had to do with the confession and forgiveness of sins. John baptized rulers, rich people, poor people, and craftsmen. He called the people to confess their sins and then be baptized to reflect the release from their sins. He was a traveling preacher who went all around Judea and Jerusalem telling people to confess their sins. This ministry of confession was nothing new, God had instituted a system in which sins were confessed onto sacrificial animals before they were slaughtered, but the other part of John’s ministry was forgiveness. John did not just stress the confession of sins, but the forgiveness of sins.
Today we can see that in society we have places where people can go to either confess sin certain sins or be forgiven. Take for example the show Dr. Phil, where Dr. Phil discusses “issues” that people have. Whether it is a small child that backtalks or an adult that is glutenus, Dr. Phil works towards confession of the sin with a plan of repentance, like respecting parents or not eating as much. However he cannot guarantee forgiveness. However there is a part of our society that deals with forgiveness. If you talk to unbelievers about karma many will say they are trying to get rid of their bad karma so the universe will deal them a fair hand. They are in essence asking for forgiveness, for atonement for their evil deeds. Of course both of these are distorted views. (more…)
God really threw us a bone with the bible. Proverbs 1:20-23 says that wisdom is literally standing on the street corner saying “Hello! I am right here, if you want me come on over.” Today there are millions of bibles printed in thousands of languages. Wisdom abounds. The bible even says that it is full of wisdom, but we do not believe it. We go seeking wisdom in places where it does not exist and then lament when we aren’t any more wise after our search. Being in the bible is vital to becoming more like Christ. Despite what people may say the bible is incredibly relevant and speaks to most of the problems that happen in our lives. Studying the bible may seem like a daunting task because it is so large and does not appear to be exciting. This articles will look at helpful principles to consider when planting roots in the word.
Without living in the clear and present reality of Christ’s sacrifice and your depravity, powering through the bible will do you no good. In my freshman year of high school we had to read sections of Genesis and Exodus to search for themes. The teacher pointed to the cycle of life as the major theme of the texts that we read. With all due respect to that teacher, who was one of my most favorite in high school, the bible is all about God’s glory. If you take a section of God’s word and do not see an aspect of his glory then you are not reading the bible for its intended purpose. That said, a new Christian may go for many sections without really reading about the glory of God. Sometimes in our spiritual infancy we miss things and do not understand sections. If you are committed to Christ then you should seek help with your questions. God is a big God, and in all of eternity no naturally conceived man has ever understood him.
If you find you have trouble consistently reading the bible then you should find out how you learn and then absorb the word of God that way. I am much more an auditory learner, so my Ipod has a few books of audio bible, several songs that use scripture, and sermons from various pastors on various texts. Reading the bible is incredibly impactful for me, but I have been walking and struggling with bible study for a long time. Remember that until the modern age most people didn’t read, so most of the bible had to be given to them through their ears. Accompany your auditory study with some written study. Read and listen interchangeably. I would say that the most intimate version of bible absorption is through reading, but it is a skill that has taken time to acquire. Do not feel as though you have to read the bible religiously. (more…)
It is kind of ironic that Christmas has become a holiday about extravagant gift giving. The commercials featuring new Lexus’s (or Lexi), jewelry, televisions, and other such goodies simply show how far Christmas has wandered from its original meaning and intention. Christmas is not about giving extravagance. It’s about one man who left behind extravagance to be a gift. On the very first Christmas the God entered into this world, leaving behind heaven. I have never seen heaven, but I can imagine that a world without sin and its effects is a lot more appealing to live in than this present creation. However that did not stop Jesus. He came to this earth leaving behind all he had to save us.
Before earth Jesus was a king. Many theologians believe that early incarnations of Jesus include the being that appeared to Joshua and wrestled with Jacob. Both of these appearances were described as awesome. The man that wrestled with Jacob dislocated his hip with a touch. The man that appeared to Joshua was decked out in full battle armor. Jesus has lived forever in the past in this sort of glory. However when he came to the earth he left behind all the pleasure and power of heaven to be with us. He left perfect communion with the Father and the Spirit. For love, Christ left heaven to die for us, so we could know him and be in paradise with him.
So Jesus came as a baby. He was born to a teenage girl, probably no more than 16. She was a virgin and her fiancé had a problem with her pregnancy as one would imagine. However God had put his mind to rest through a dream. Of course not everyone in their hometown had the same dream, so one can imagine that the wedding of pregnant Mary and Joseph was filled with a few snickers and snide comments whispered throughout the party.
Towards the end of Mary’s pregnancy the ruling Romans sent a decree throughout their empire for a census. Joseph had to return to his home town of Bethlehem in time for the census. Driving an incredibly pregnant woman around can be extremely difficult, but Joseph did not own a car. No he had a donkey, so Mary had to ride a donkey to Bethlehem very late in her pregnancy. After three days the couple arrived in Bethlehem. Joseph looked for a room for his very pregnant wife to rest in. Bethlehem was so crowded that there was no place for them to stay. (more…)
I imagine that when the last Twilight movie comes out there will be lines and lines of people at thousands of different theaters all paying incredible amounts of money to see Twilight in 3D. I also predict “Edward” will be trending on Twitter, and that more than 25% of American facebook status’ will have something to do with Twilight. There will be trailers, and websites dedicated to the trailers. Bloggers will blog about the premiere. The actors and actresses will be all over late night shows, morning news programs, and different celebrity magazines. In short, it will be epic. There will be so much anticipation and hype that people will not be able to contain their excitement. The franchise will make more money, and Harry Potter will continue to be the cultural icon that it is.
The depth at which people will be excited is a reflection of the excitement that the Maji had when they set off on their journey to Jesus. The bible describes the Maji as men from the east. They were astrologers, who knew that something big had happened because there was an incredibly new and bright star in the sky. They set off in search of what the star meant. It was a long journey for them, meaning that they were probably what we would call Arabians, or maybe even Mongolian or Chinese. In any case it was a long journey for them. They must have been quite excited to see the newly born king.
When they arrived in Judea, the Roman province where Jesus lived his life, they went to see the King Herod in his palace. A prince becomes king and princes are not born in mangers but in palaces. So the wise men went to see the baby prince in the palace. Herod was puzzled, because there was no new babies in Herod’s house. The wise men turned from the wisdom of men and started to follow the star.
The star led them to Bethlehem, a suburb of the capital of Jerusalem. There they found a baby and a mother and father. They knelt and worshipped the king bringing him extravagant gifts. They prayed to him and called his mother and father blessed. (more…)
Fatherhood is an institution that has taken a beating over the past few decades. From ancient times there have been negative dynamics between men and their sons. Ancient Spartans would torture their sons to make them strong. Ancient Egyptian fathers rarely showed affection to their children. Many ancient Japanese boys did not see the face of their father until their fourth or fifth birthday. Today there remain some of those dynamics, but it seems that the new negative relationship of choice for dad’s is the absentee father. This is when a dad simply leaves the woman that he has had a kid with and goes back out into the world to live a life separated from his children. This is a catastrophe. The problem is that father’s that abandon their children are likely to end with little income. Their children are likely to fall into rebellious sins. Many sons of absentee fathers are themselves absentee fathers. A lot is made of these dads that have left their home, but if we were honest with ourselves we would say that our cultural image of a father is not a good one. Watching popular television one can see that dad’s are generally absorbed by work. They get into some nasty situations and are saved by their wives. They usually don’t care about their children, unless they need them to do something for them. This is not a good example for young dads.
A good biblical example of a dad is Joseph. Joseph was a simple man. The bible says that Joseph was a carpenter, so he was a hard and capable worker. He was engaged to Mary, which meant that he was old enough to pay the wedding fees. While Mary was probably younger than sixteen, Joseph was probably older than 25. He was from Nazareth, and had probably had his eye on Mary for a long time. While this may seem odd to people from our day, in Jesus’ time a man had to be established to get married. Joseph had been working a long time to get engaged, and now he was.
It is a good thing for men to work hard and find a good girl to marry. Many absentee fathers were never married to the women that they had kids with. If you are a guy out there today who is trying to lead a holy and fruitful life, be objective when it comes to women. Don’t go running after the first dime piece (pretty) who has billions of dimes (is rich). Does she love God like Mary did? From what I have been told and from what I have seen a relationship with God covers a lot of holes in a marriage that develop as part of our natural sin nature. If she does not love Jesus it can be a disaster that may lead you to leave your home.
From watching engaged man I have observed that engagement is a time of excitement and anxiety. I can image that Joseph was looking forward to starting his life with Mary. I can imagine that as the days grew closer to the day they would wed it would be harder for Joseph to concentrate on his carpentry. I bet the older carpenters made a few jokes about the smile on his face and the spring in his step. Of course then God came onto the picture and everything changed. Mary comes back from an extended stay at far away relatives and she is pregnant. All of the sudden Joseph feels incredibly ashamed. How could he have fallen for a girl who would cheat on him after they were engaged? He was probably incredibly hurt. The bible says in Mathew 1:19 that Joseph was a just man, and that he just wanted a quiet divorce. The other option was stoning, so he could have had her stoned. He could have ended it then and there. But Joseph was a just man. (more…)
In an age that has too many bad parents and too many bad kids the story of Mary has many applications to our culture. Mary was just a girl from Nazareth when she was visited by an angel. The angel told her that she was to bear the savior of the world as she was hanging out in her house. Bright man, bright light, pretty intense message for a girl who was no older than 16, don’t you think? It is interesting to see that Mary just says, “it will happen as you have said.” In today’s culture a pregnant teenage girl is really no big deal. Most people view it as sad because of the potential future of the teenage girl that has been jeopardized. In Mary’s time and in Mary’s culture a teenage pregnancy was legally punishable by stoning to death. Mary was also engaged, bringing greater dishonor to her family. In ancient Israel virginity on the part of the woman was required for marriage. Even if the woman was not stoned there would be a mark left on the woman in the form of her child. This would keep her from marrying; sentencing her to poverty or prostitution. Yet, Mary’s response was: it is going to happen just the way you said. She acted in complete faith and total trust that God would provide for her.
Sometimes God gives us some pretty difficult circumstances to swallow. Sometimes it is hard to move across the country to pursue a God given opportunity. It is hard to watch your friends grow slowly distant after high school and into college. It’s hard to have a relative that is fighting in a way. Yet, sometimes this is what God has for us to deal with. God does not leave us up a creak without a paddle, and his grace is sufficient to help us in any and all circumstances. God gives us communities to help us in our time of need.
The very first thing that Luke says Mary did after learning that she was pregnant is run to the only person who would understand. Her aunt Elizabeth had recently, and miraculously, become pregnant with John the Baptist. The bible says that as Mary was greeting Elizabeth the baby in her womb lept. Elizabeth instantly knew that Mary’s baby was from God because her baby was from God. When we face uncertain situations we should go to people who can understand our situation. Now, while no other virgins have gotten pregnant, there was a person in Mary’s family who had became pregnant because of a miracle. If you are going through a hard time reach out to those in the church. If you are struggling with an addiction join a recovery group at one’s church, or seek a believer that has gone through an addiction. If you are having a hard time with a young child, or an older one, seek out other parents that have been there and done that. Isolation does not help, and when God gives us a community we should reach out and connect with them.
Another lesson that we can learn from Mary is found right after the biblical account of her visiting Elizabeth. She sings a song of praise to the Lord. She thanks God for her new responsibility and praises his name and declares who he is. In times of struggle it is important to sing to God and remind ourselves of who he is. In the bible when Jesus was facing temptation he quoted verses. When we face temptation we should look to the bible as well. When we take time to stop and consider who God is and what he has done in our lives we can regain focus on better things. We are not citizens of this world, so our eyes should be on heavenly things. We need to be even keeled in our view of the things of this world and of heaven. We need to responsible and mindful of our duties on earth, but we cannot allow ourselves to become too focused on how hard this life is. We need to remember who God is and what he has done for us.
Sometimes in life things are not easy and they are not certain. In this economy it is hard to know if you will have a job next month, or next year. Sometimes we sin and the consequences of that sin makes things uncertain. Innocent or guilty God still offers us peace. In the end of her trials on that night in the manger all of Mary’s faith produced good fruit. She married her man and gave birth to the perfect son. When we trust God we are not trusting that God will make a situation in the way that we want it, we are trusting that God will make things better in his own way. Trust in the Lord, and I promise that things will get better for you eventually.
“And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Luke 2:20, ESV
The shepherds in Luke 2 had had a wild night. They were just minding their own business in the middle of some field in the Roman occupied Palestinian wilderness when all of the sudden they saw an angel and bright light. This was before electricity and light pollution, so the sky was either pitch black or barely lit because of cloud cover. All of the sudden the lights come on, and there is an angel right there in the midst of the sheep and shepherds. Sheep were yelling and scattering, and the shepherds were probably freaking out as well. Then the angel tells them to calm down, and that the baby Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, and that he was lying in an animal’s feeding trough wrapped in rags. The shepherds were slightly puzzled until the next amazing thing happened. An entire choir of angels starts belting out praise to God. The light was lit up by the glory of God, and all these angels were just praising his glory. Then the angels left. The shepherds probably sat for a moment trying to understand what had just happened. Then all of the sudden one of the shepherds gets up and states that he is going to Bethlehem to check it out. Eventually all of the shepherds went to Bethlehem to see the baby king.
I have often longed for purpose. I have looked for purpose in relationships, in things, and in tasks that I need to do. However all these things fail me and for a time I feel that my life doesn’t have clear direction or purpose. I am sure that the shepherds felt like I did. The job of herding sheep was not exactly “sexy”. It did not come with any big perks, and left almost no room for promotion. One could not become a shepherd, save up some money, go to community college, and then get a better job at another company. Another famous biblical shepherd, David, was a shepherd because he was the littlest and youngest boy. He was the lowest of the low so his job was to care for the sheep.
At some point we all experience what it feels like to be stuck in a rut. We are neglected, unappreciated, or just left completely alone. From the mother who’s kids never call to the high school senior trying to figure out what to do with his life we have all felt the feeling that we are just not good enough. Like shepherds we feel like we will always be behind, and that when we die we will just be forgotten. Things are not designed to be this way.
See in our dark night God’s glory shines through. He gives us purpose and he gives us freedom. He shakes up our perception of reality and changes what we want. Instead of deadbeats in a dead end job living a dead end life we can be excited because he gave us a purpose. If he has not shined through for you ask him to. Ask him to make your life exciting again. See God satisfies. He is drink for the thirsty that causes our souls to never thirst again. Like the shepherds God can and does break the monotony to reach out and save us.
If you are tired of the same old holiday season, do you long for some excitement and fulfillment in your life? Spend the next year in the word and ask for God to show you amazing things. Give a crazy amount of time to volunteering at a local church or charity. Write a love song to Jesus, ask if you can pray for a stranger in need. Ask Jesus to satisfy you. Ask him to change you. See the shepherds left behind everything they knew to pursue something that they were told was glorious. This holiday season don’t become complacent. If you have seen the glory of God then be radical in your response. If you have not seen the glory of God ask. God may not send angels, but he has a way of showing himself when someone really wants to know.
The bible is the word of God, and it is a 66 volume guide to who God is. The focus of the bible is God. The bible spans about ten thousand years of history within the actual text but it is filled with prophecies that will come to pass in eternity present. The bible is vital because it is the representation of God in our age. During Adam’s day Adam walked with God. From the fall to the birth of Christ God revealed himself through prophets that called his people to repentance. When Jesus came he was the final prophet and left behind the Holy Spirit to encourage us in our walks. The Spirit inspired several other books. All the books of the bible were written by about 70 A.D. and since the Spirit revealed the last book to John the scriptures have been set, or canonized.
The bible you have in your hands today is the product of thousands of years of writing and rewriting texts. Many modern scholars attack the bible based on the sheer amount of time that it took to collect the entirety of scripture and the fact that the bible that we have today went through so many hands. The bible originates from God, who in his infinite wisdom saw that the best way for him to present himself to the majority of the people in the world was through written word. The ancient Israelites, and modern day Jews, had five books in their bible. The Torah is a collection of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The other books of the Old Testament are viewed as histories of the Israeli nation. However, upon studying this book it is plain to see that the Old Testament is the history of God’s glory revealed through the Israelites.
At synagogue the Jews would come to here the Rabbi read from the scroll which contained the Torah at the very least and more scrolls with testaments of the prophets and the kings of Israel as the synagogue rose in prominence. Scrolls were hard to produce because every single one had to be copied by hand. In an age where one could not pop some paper into an inkjet printer copying a fifty chapter book like Genesis was quite the chore. Added to the pressure was the fact that these were the words of God. From the very earliest transcribers to the monks during the Middle Ages, great reverence was shown to the word of God. The way that the priests and monks would check for accuracy is they would train their pupils to copy the bible following a set pattern so that every single copy would be essentially the same. Then they would go through the texts and spot check. They would go to a certain word of letter on a page. If that page was wrong it was thrown out and the monk of young rabbi would have to start again. It was an honor to copy the bible, but it could be a very tedious job. (more…)
“I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friend, every one of them.” 3 John 13-15, ESV
To end 3 John, John gives a last fond farewell to the people in the church that he is writing to. John writes like someone who is ending a letter to their children or grandchildren. There is a lot of affection in his voice, there is tenderness in his tone. He is ending a heartfelt letter to a church that is in transition.
John was an apostle. He had walked with Christ, he knew Christ personally. The power of Christ had led to the creation of the church and the church had grown to the point where there were issues that needed to be taken care of. Through Christ a family of Christians had begun, and now there were problems that John, a patriarch of the family, was called upon to handle some issues. But he loves his family, he served his family, and he would die because of the person who began the family. He would go on to die, separated from his family, on an island called Patmos.
3 John speaks to the environment of the church. We as Christians are a family. We are brothers and sisters. We have big brothers and little brothers. We love little sisters and big sisters. We are called to serve each other. Sometimes there are tiffs, sometimes our siblings move on, but through thick and thin we stick together and love each other, because Christ loves us first. Please don’t forsake the words of 3 John. Please be in peace with those who are truly in the body. Serve them with grace as you have been served with grace through the sacrifice of Christ.