Friday, November 29, 2013

Jesus: The Christ

How often do we use the word "Christ" without really thinking about what it means? You've heard the joke about the person who thinks it is Jesus' last name, right? Christ is not a part of Jesus' name, but rather a title that was rich in meaning to the Jews who believed in him.  "Christ" is the Greek word for "Messiah," and both of them mean "Anointed." Someone who was anointed was set aside for a particular purpose. There were three different types of people who received anointing in the Old Testament, and Jesus is the final fulfillment of all of these roles.

From the beginning of the Mosaic age, priests were anointed to their office (Exodus 28:41 and others).  This anointing set them apart for God's service.  The basic job of the priests was to make intercession to God for the people.  They were the ones to offer sacrifices to God for their own sins and the sins of the nation.  They were a kind of intermediary between the people and God.  Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, where the presence of God was, and then only once per year (Leviticus 16). 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Eye

What are you afraid of?  Bats, witches, zombies?  Or the more mundane-heights, mice and snakes?  Me, I'm scared of a hymn.  Now don't laugh!  There's this song that we used to sing at church when I was in college. It was called, "Watching You."  

We really loved that church. Surrounded daily by professors, PhDs  and professionals, we enjoyed our weekly visits to the tiny country church.  We were by far the youngest members-the pets of an aging assembly of saints.  It was a wonderful place to be.  Till that song came up.  

Can you imagine a giant eye in the sky peering down at you?  Watching you every moment, haunting your most private thoughts, staring at you on the front steps as you kiss your boyfriend good night? If you're not having flashbacks to Nazguls and the Eye of Sauron on Mount Doom, you're obviously less nerdy than I am. To really understand how terrifying it was, you have to imagine the mournful, country twang that turned the chorus into something wandering hobbits might have sung.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jesus: the Branch

Imagine a dried up stump. Or a city devastated and uninhabited where the voice of children playing or the sound of the wedding march is unheard.  This is the image of Jerusalem while her citizens were in exile (Jeremiah 33:10-12). The city God chose for his holy temple was a ruin.

What could God say in this situation?  What promise could he make or renew that would make a shred of difference?  The punishment of exiling an entire country was breathtaking.   A nation whose backstory is their freedom from captivity sent back into captivity by their God-the entire book of Lamentations is dedicated to the horror of it.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Word of God

Recently I was reading Immeasurably More, by Casandra Martin, the book we are using in my Ladies Bible class.  I came across this quote: "In God's immeasurably more, we live by a different standard.  A standard is a measuring tool. It is an authority or principle by which we test what is true.  The standard becomes our model and pattern." My first thought was, "Yes, our standard is the Bible." Then I read a few lines down. "Our standard is Jesus." The more I studied, the more I realized that we were saying the same thing.  Jesus IS the Word of God. (John 1:1-14). 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sing the Name of Jesus

Why do we sing?  James says we sing for joy (James 5:13).  We sing to keep our minds focused on what's true, noble, and just. (Philippians 4:8).  The Psalms teach us to sing for the praise of God.  But in a recent post, Dene Ward  pointed out that we also sing to teach ourselves.  

As moms and Sunday School teachers we know that.  We sing the books of the New Testament under our breath to find Philemon. I'd never remember the sons of Jacob, all the names of the judges or the apostles without those little ditties.  Passages like Philippians 2 record what were most likely the earliest Christian teaching hymns - a gospel retelling predating the Gospels themselves.  In a more modern expression "The Wise Man Built his House upon a Rock" and "Jesus Loves Me" teach some of the deepest Biblical truths in the simplest child-friendly language.  

We may be less familiar though with teaching hymns for adults.  One of our Christmas carols falls in that category.  "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is a translated 8th century Latin teaching hymn.  It dates from a time when art and music were two primary ways that Christian education was done in an illiterate society.  

The Carol lists 5 different prophetic names of Christ and then explains one of the amazing things that the advent of Jesus into the world means.  For example the first verse

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Emmanuel is the name identified by Isaiah that the virgin will give to her child (Isaiah 7:10-16).  It means "God with us."  In an amazing turn of events this prophetic name did not indicate that God would once again dwell in his tabernacle or his tent (after he left so spectacularly in Ezekiel 10) but rather that the Son of God himself would come to live in Israel.  For the first time since the garden of Eden men would walk with God not metaphorically but side by side and hand in hand.  

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The day-spring means the place from which the day springs in other words from the East or as it is sometimes translated, "The Sunrise." Both Malachi and John also use the imagery of Jesus as the "sun."  Malachi calls him the "Sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2) and John identifies the New Jerusalem as not needing a sun in the sky because the Lord is the light (Revelation 21:23, 22:5). Yet it was Zacharias who originated this name at the end of his prophetic song. 

Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, To guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79 quoting Isaiah 9:2)

The lyrics to the song are a paraphrase of Zacharias' prophecy. The rising light of the Son/Sun will send the shadows fleeing.  It's an image designed to bring hope.  It brought me back to Lamentations 3:21-23 

This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.  The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.   They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 

Which each new sunrise God's compassion floods the world.  With one amazing Sunrise, the mercies of God defeated darkness and death forever.  That's a reason for rejoicing if I've ever heard one.

I've enjoyed this Christmas carol for a long time but I didn't really pay much attention to the words.  The soaring music on the other hand kept my attention. I have heard a sermon or two (you probably have as well) on how important it is to understand and pay attention as we sing.  In Colossians Paul indicates that the singing is a kind of teaching, a kind of admonishing, and a matter of the heart (Colossians 3:16).  "O Come O Come Emmanuel" manages all these things.  We can learn about the names of Christ; we admonish one another to rejoice, and we should feel the joy that the coming of Jesus brought and his coming again will bring into our world!

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Name above all Names

"In Jesus name, Amen."  I say it; you say it; my 5 year old says it.  But what on earth does it mean and what's the point?  Peter and John knew things about the name of Jesus that I think we might have forgotten. 

The church was just weeks old, and Peter and John were on their way back to the temple. They were walking into the Beautiful gate when they met a son of Abraham begging alms from the passersby.  Peter looked at him and said, "In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene rise and walk."  And he did.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Having Enough Oil

Parables: Learning to do the will of GodThen the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, "Behold, the bridegroom ! Come out to meet him." Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the prudent answered, "No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves." And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, "Lord, lord, open up for us." But he answered, "Truly I say to you, I do not know you." Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

There are two schools of thought on this parable.  One is that the five wise virgins are those who are believers, and the five foolish are not.  The other is that the five foolish virgins are believers, but are disqualified from the kingdom of heaven because they were unprepared.  I am willing to admit that I may be wrong, but I lean toward the latter interpretation, and I'll tell you why.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Making God Powerless

Jerusalem Tomb of the Garden
Have you ever thought of how powerless we can make God? It's the only explanation for some really strange pieces of scripture.  When we withhold our belief, we limit God's ability to bless us. 

This all came to mind when I was listening to "Today in the Word" a radio show/podcast that Melissa recommended.  I caught a sermon by Tony Evans.  He was going over the raising of Lazarus and mentioned the line by Jesus, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"  I've always found that part of the story puzzling.  Jesus told her to remove the stone; Martha replies that Lazarus stinks by now; and Jesus responds, "If you believe you will see." 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Give Thanks to the Lord

This morning I read Isaiah chapter 12. It talks about thanking Him for what He's done: "Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name. Make known his deeds among the peoples" (Isaiah 12:4). He's been with me and my family through some very difficult times the last few years. 
Two years ago my son was burned very badly on his face and back. Although there is a significant scar on his back, you can hardly tell on his face today. I give thanks to Him for healing my son and for carrying us through these tough times. We were surrounded by His family who blessed us immensely during those difficult times. Thank you Father. Please take a moment today to tell what He has done in your life. 


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Families are the Best

StateLibQld 1 68979 Portrait of the Ferner family, 1905
Family can be the best...

At holding grudges: "Well! I still remember that Thanksgiving when you took off with your boyfriend instead of eating with us!"

At gossip: "I heard that your cousin Michael is out of a job again.  He is going to be the death of your Aunt Susan."

At despair: "I gave up years ago.  You're never going to change.  Why do I even try?"

At blame: "Mom, you're the reason I'm miserable. How was I supposed to learn how to have a happy marriage with you and Dad always yelling at each other?"

At envy: "Don't tell me how to feel!  With your house in the suburbs, dog and 2.5 kids, I don't want to hear it!"

Okay, maybe not the best.  But I bet yours isn't the worst either.  Just look at Joseph for example!   First his mother Rachel was bitterly envious.  She fought a lifelong cold war with her sister Leah with weapons fashioned from the people they loved (Genesis 29-30). Joseph's father, Jacob, whose very name means deceiver, honored him openly as the best-beloved child, setting up the envy and hatred of his brothers that was destined to change the course of his life. (Genesis 35:26, 37:3)

The best of his brothers were Reuben and Judah who decided for their father's sake that Joseph shouldn't DIE while the other eight plotted his death.  Reuben left him in a pit thinking he'd come back later and pick him up before he died of exposure, and Judah came up with the bright idea of selling him instead of committing murder!  These were the best of the lot.  The other eight just wanted the bragging little twerp to die (Genesis 37).

And yet God was working.  He brought Joseph through, despite slavery and a prison stay.  He showed Joseph his favor by using him as a tool to save not only the entire population of Egypt from famine but the children of Israel as well. Then he brought those same brothers back around.

For vengeance, right?  Don't we wonder, when the brothers came begging for grain, why Joseph didn't have them all summarily executed? Surely there's a family member or two you've quietly imagined the wrath of God barreling down upon. No?  Just me? 

No, God brought the brothers back to Joseph so that through his forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace Joseph could become their redeemer.  The lamb saving the wolves from starvation. (Psalms 105) 

It's in our families that we learn service.  It's also in our families that we face our greatest hurts and temptations.  The small and mundane annoyances- toothpaste on the sink, groceries forgotten, the last piece of pie gone from the fridge again, socks on the floor-cause us to explode. The colossal betrayals, the heinous acts, the unforgivable sins-the drugs and alcohol, the adultery, the pornography, the violence- cause our families to implode. Sometimes we are betrayed. Sometimes we are betrayer. 

But whichever side of the dais we stand on, we can find ourselves in Joseph's story.  We are either the brothers hanging our heads in horror, awaiting our punishment for hurting the people we love, or we are Joseph with all the power; will we forgive or will we damn? 

Joseph had received years of God's favor and attention and apparently he learned something important because he forgave.  Can we learn to...

Replace grudges with forgiveness?  Let go of that Thanksgiving dinner 5 years ago, and be grateful for this one.  

Replace gossip with an encouraging phone call to that out of work nephew.  

Replace despair with prayer and hope.  Suddenly we believe not in our loved ones power to change but in the power of the Spirit to change them if they will only submit!  

Replace blame with confession.  Every human being OWNS his own sin.  It does no good to blame the person we learned it from instead of confessing to the God who can redeem us from it.

Replace envy with love.  Love rejoices in the good of the loved one. It refuses to compare our state with theirs.  Real deep honest love would rather they be blessed than we.  

The holidays are coming.  Families are going to be together driving each other nuts.  Old hurts and old hopes are going to collide and tears will be shed.  I hope this year is different for you.  Leave us a comment and tell us how this year can be a Joseph year in your family. 
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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Friday, November 8, 2013

More than a Mansion

Some of my favorite hymns are the ones about heaven.  From "I'll Fly Away" to "When We All Get to Heaven," I love singing about the inheritance God has for us.  After a week of seeing the sin in the world, I need a recharge. Singing about peace in the valley helps me remember Peter's inspired words: 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7)

What I'm looking forward to most is not the mansion over the hilltop or the streets of gold or crystal sea.  No, what I am eagerly anticipating is the Presence of God.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cast of Stones: A Book Review

Recently Patrick W. Carr, a popular Christian fantasy author, offered the first book in his trilogy, The Staff and The Sword, for free.  Because I'm the mother of a kid who can easily read books far above her age range, I preview books for her.  Not as many as she would like, since she can devour books in no time flat, but still I try to be careful about what she reads.  

So when a Cast of Stones began with the main character of the book, a teenage boy, Errol, lying sodden on the floor of the tavern, I was not too enthused. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Snooze Button

This morning my alarm went off.  I hit the snooze once.  It went off again.  I thought I should get up and read my Bible.  Then I thought again.  Snoozing some more sounds much better, or I could play my iPad some before I get up.  

Just as I was reaching for the iPad for one of these more appealing sounding options, James 4:17 came to mind: "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin." Ouch.  I got up, got my  iPad out and read James 4.

Monday, November 4, 2013

We are Her

In my mind's eye I can see her.  Her dark hair would have been ruffled; her clothes rumpled or missing, her face the color of sunset or perhaps as white as snow.  I can imagine why she found herself in bed with that man-she needed the attention and physical comfort, she fancied herself in love, or perhaps she was striking out in anger against a husband she had grown to hate.  

Motivation aside, being dragged literally out of bed, through the streets, and up the hill to the temple by those smug Pharisees must have been the most horrifying moment of her life.  And one of the most public.  All sin has an element of secret humiliation.  All sin is a work of darkness, it shies from the harsh light of knowledge (John 3:19-21). We don't even talk to ourselves about the worst of it; we're too ashamed.  

Standing there surrounded by the hundreds of people streaming through the temple, there was no secret to her sin.  In this crowd, she couldn't have been more alone.  Even her partner in this tango had abandoned her.  She might well have stared at the ground rather than meet the eyes of her accusers. 

We are her. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thanksgiving Reimagined

Luke 14:12-14.  Jesus has an entirely different idea of what hospitality means.

Take a moment and imagine what your Thanksgiving table might look like, if you took Jesus's words literally.  

I'm serious.

Picture your table groaning with food, the cute placemats that your kids make and the china you pull out once a year.  Now replace one familiar chair with a wheelchair.  Imagine a person with serious disability sitting there between Aunt Donna and Cousin Mark; one of them will need to help him throughout the meal.  Finally there is your husband, leading in from the living room a lady, bent and blind.  That is the Thanksgiving Jesus had in mind.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Aberration of Death

Plaenitz Rathenow Grabkreuze
Recently, someone in my church family lost a relative in a motor vehicle accident.  The young lady was only 16 years old.  The family is devastated.  Six years ago, when my husband's grandfather passed from this world, there was much weeping and mourning. He was 92.  When my sister's ex-husband died, I felt the gut wrenching pain of not knowing if his soul was secure.  Yet, when my grandfather died six weeks after being baptized, I still felt pain.  Young, old, Christian, non-Christian, death is painful.  We could argue that we are not mourning for them but for ourselves and our loss, but I think it is more than that.  Death jars us because it is wrong.