Heaven in the Real World
Waiting, Part 4
1. Ground your faith in real evidence
(This is a look at how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. Three are mentioned in this text.)
Matthew 2:13–15 (ESV) 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
2. Apply the gospel to the world’s greatest pain
Matthew 2:16–18 (ESV) 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
3. Embrace weakness and obscurity
Matthew 2:19–23 (ESV) 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Friday, December 20, 2013
Sometimes in an argument we say outrageous things so as not to give up a bit of ground, rather than having an honest conversation about an issue.
Unless you’ve been on some other planet the last few days, you know that Phil Robertson was indefinitely suspended by A&E from the reality show Duck Dynasty, after Robertson’s honest and at times graphic interview with GQ magazine. I’ve read more about this than necessary in the last few days and from many perspectives. Russell Moore argued in his response that no one should flip out when someone says or does something they disagree with. Our country is supposed to be about an honest and free exchange of ideas. It is evidence of a weak argument when we resort to fear and intimidation to get people to do what we want. A good friend of mine calls this arm waving, saying figuratively, “It’s bad, it’s bad, it’s really, really bad,” with no substance to our argument. Rather, Jesus disciples need to be those who think well and argue fairly showing love and respect for those with whom we disagree.
What troubles me about those who seem to want to shut down the Phil Robertson’s of the world is the unfair argument that portrays anyone who does not believe that homosexuality is normal, and does not support gay marriage, is ignorant and bigoted. Those arguments are not honest. They are emotionally charged arm waving without real substance. Those who make these arguments must rely on a form of bullying to attempt to silence the arguments of those with whom they disagree.
Those who make those arguments imply that my position is impossible. My position is that God’s word provokes me to love and I do love. I don’t always love well. It’s true I have no idea what it feels like to grow up believing that I am fundamentally different than most other people on the core issue of what gender I am attracted to. But I’ve worked hard to understand this in conversations with persons all over the map on this subject. I’ve also done a fair amount of reading from those arguing from a position of a full embrace of everything for which the LGBT community is arguing.
I believe that a fair reading of the Bible demands that homosexual behavior (but perhaps not the attraction) be placed alongside many other things that the Bible calls sin. It is not a worse sin than the kinds of sin I am more susceptible to, but it is sin. Others obviously disagree, but it’s not fair to call this position hate. Our country desperately needs to calm down the rhetoric on all sides and talk about these subjects with grace.
That is made far more difficult because these are painfully personal and delicate issues. We must proceed with grace, love, compassion, and acceptance as friends and coworkers and neighbors and fellow citizens. We don’t require of any other person that we agree on everything to be able to be friends, good neighbors, and respectful coworkers. Let’s work as God’s people to become known as those sorts of folks.
Phil Robertson perhaps should have known better. As Al Mohler said in his remarks on this issue, all publicity is not good publicity. Giving an interview to GQ was likely going to put him in an awkward position to say the least. But that’s easier to see in hindsight. Our family has enjoyed watching several episodes of the show, and I’m grateful for the simple expression of faith in Jesus they express.
What does any of that have to do with Christmas? Not much. But there is a character in the Christmas story who demonstrates himself to have become, long before we meet him in Matthew’s gospel, the kind of person who will say or do anything to get what he wants. That’s the approach used by people at times on both sides of many such arguments as discussed above. All of us are tempted and have been guilty at one time or another of exaggerating our position to get people to see things our way, but persisting in that leads ultimately to a person becoming a shriveled up human being toxic to everyone around them. The path to being a fully alive moves in a very different direction. We will explore that path Sunday at Bethany Place.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Next weekend The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens in theaters around the country. Our family was obsessed with The Lord of the Rings movies as they came out in the last decade. We read all the books and then were usually at the theater opening day, bought the DVD’s the day they came out, and got the extended DVD’s as gifts when they became available.
I wasn’t as impressed with the first Hobbit movie that came out last year but still plan to see the new one. Gollum, a character that appears in both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books, was previously a human by the name of Sméagol. He is so enamored by a ring in his brother’s possession that he kills him for it. Then he becomes obsessed with it and doesn’t want to let it out of his sight.
This ring has “unique” qualities and over time, Sméagol’s obsession with the ring causes him to become less and less human. By the time he shows up in the stories, he’s more animal than human. He’s isolated and alone, incapable of normal human relationship. After losing the ring to Biblo the Hobbit, he can think of nothing other than getting it back.
Though Tolkien was a Christian, I don’t think he meant for these stories to be an allegory of the Christian faith, but there are tremendous parallels. Gollum represents the extreme form of what happens to us when we sin. Sin gradually corrupts our ability to do good, let alone be good. Our culture believes it’s more important to be free than to be good. Only God through the gospel can make us good. But when we put something in the place of God and worship that, not only are we not good, we cease to be free and become enslaved to the thing we worship. The only thing that can make us truly free is worshiping God from a heart reborn by God’s grace. What follows from that is a life of risk taking obedience, not being in control and not knowing all that obedience will mean. That results in an aliveness that is part of what the Bible means by eternal life. Eternal life was never just about time but is what Jesus meant when he said “I have come that they may have life and that they may have it abundantly.”
Sunday at Bethany Place I’m continuing the message series “Waiting,” walking through Matthew’s version of the Christmas story. This week we will explore the story of the wise men. In the story are four categories of people, some fully alive and some dead, even as they live. The message title is, “What Makes a Person Fully Alive.” You can see the outline here. I can’t wait to share with you this passage. I believe our hearing it, believing it, and it shaping us will make us more fully alive. It will counter the undertow of our culture which tends to deaden us and is destroying our ability as a people to innovative, to think, and be creative.
Who Is Really Living?
Waiting: Christmas 2013
(You can read a preview to the message here.)
(You can read a preview to the message here.)
How do we nurture the kind of spiritual alertness needed to pursue God and his work in the world rather than getting stuck in our small ways of looking at God and his work among us?
1. See how easy it is to miss what makes us alive
Matthew 2:1–6 (ESV) Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”
2. Identify dead ends
Matthew 2:7–8 (ESV) 7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
3. Pursue delight in what brings life
Matthew 2:9–12 (ESV) 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Questions for reflection and further discussion
- What contrasts to pursuing real life do you see in this incident?
- What implications do you draw from the willingness of the Magi to travel such a great distance to see Jesus?
- What characteristics can you list revealed in the actions of the Magi that are desirable?
- What does this incident reveal about the nature of authentic worship?
- How do we nurture the kind of spiritual alertness needed to pursue God and his work in the world rather than getting stuck in our small ways of looking at God and his work among us?
- The Magi were foreigners apparently having little or no advantage from the stories or scriptures of the Old Testament, yet they found Jesus and worshipped him. The Jewish religious leaders with all their background in the Hebrew scriptures missed Jesus. What are the implications of this?