Christianity 201

December 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, these two were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” In other words, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

August 10, 2016

Men and Women Given Equal Time in Luke’s Gospel

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 NLT

Creating them male and female, he blessed them and called them humans when he created them. – Genesis 5:2 ISV

Popular Christian author Rachel Held Evans highlighted this 2014 article for us yesterday. I guess, given the topic, it was something which resonated with her. But there’s no denying that the pairings found in Luke’s writing are there, and remember also, Luke isn’t making these stories up; the men/women balance is found throughout Christ’s teachings.  Click the title below to read this at source, the blog New Life, based in New South Wales, Australia.

Male-Female Pairs and Parallelism in Luke’s Gospel

by Marg Mowczko

I’ve been reading through the gospels lately. In Matthew’s gospel I was reminded of Jesus’ extraordinary counter-cultural teachings, I saw that we are all welcome to work in his vineyard, and I learned that Jesus had many female followers.

Male-Female Pairs of People in Luke

While reading Luke’s gospel I was struck by how the author often presents his material using gender-symmetrical pairs of people.[1] For instance, in Luke’s infancy narrative we have the male and female protagonists of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, and Simeon and Anna.[2] Later, Luke pairs the Twelve with the women disciples who travelled with them (Luke 8:1-3).[3]

Male-Female Pairs of Parables in Luke

Luke also presents a few of Jesus’ parables in gender-symmetrical pairs. In these parables, Jesus intentionally addresses the women in his audience, as well as the men, and he incorporates activities from everyday life into his stories that both sexes could identify with. Yet, in each of the paired parables, Jesus gives essentially the same message.

These gender-paired parables include:

  • The parable of the mustard seed (the seed was planted by a man) and the parable of the yeast (the yeast was used by a woman) in Luke 13:18-19, 20-21.
  • The parable of the lost sheep (the sheep was searched for by a male shepherd) and the parable of the lost coin (the coin was searched for by a woman) in Luke 15: 3-7, 8-10.
  • The parable of the persistent (male) friend and the parable of the persistent (female) widow (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8)[4]

Male-Female Pairs to make Points in Luke

Gendered pairs are found in other sayings of Jesus recorded in Luke. For instance, Jesus mentions the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper in order to make a point (Luke 4:25-27). In Luke 17:34-35 Jesus mentions two men on a couch (or bed) and two women grinding at a mill to make another point (cf Matt. 24:40-41). In Luke 11:29-32 Jesus uses the examples of Jonah and the Queen of Sheba as signs.

Jesus’ Male-Female Audience in Luke

Gender pairing in Luke's gospelJesus’ intentional inclusiveness in his teaching is further highlighted by the use of “complementary discourse”.

Jesus addressed mixed groups using “complementary discourse”: a term used to refer to the repeating of statements twice (changing the gender each time) in order to make application to each sex. Although such was completely out of step with the grammatical norms of His culture, Jesus frequently spoke using the following pairs: “men and women,” “husbands and wives,” “fathers and mothers,” “fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law,” “sons and daughters,” and “sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.” In Luke 12:53 Jesus refers to “father against son … and mother against daughter.” To the crowds He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters— yes, even life itself— such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).[5]

Male-Female Pairs in the other Gospels

The other gospel writers also use gendered pairs, but to a lesser degree. For example, the work of men and women are mentioned side by side in Matthew 6:26 & 28, 24:40-41, and Mark 2:21. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, recorded in John chapter 3, is followed by Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman, recorded in John chapter 4.

Luke’s Reason for Male-Female Pairs

Luke “gender-paired” people, parables, and points in order to highlight an important principle concerning gender. Ben Witherington observes that in Luke’s gospel, men and women are shown as being equal recipients of God’s grace and equal participants in the community of Jesus’ followers.[6] Luke’s agenda was to show that Jesus not only valued, respected, and elevated women, but that women are equal with men.

Witherington suggests, “When Luke wrote his gospel, it is likely that the very reason he felt a need to stress male-female parallelism and Jesus’ positive statements about women was that his own audience had strong reservations about some of Jesus’ views on the subject.”[6] Sadly, it seems that some Christians – despite  Jesus’ teaching and Luke’s writing – still have strong reservations concerning the equality of women with men in the community of Jesus’ followers.


Endnotes

[1] Luke continued to pair men and women in his account of the Acts of the Apostles.

[2] Mary must have been the original source for much of the Luke’s material in his infancy narrative. The prominence of Mary and Elizabeth and their speeches in Luke’s opening chapter has led Richard Bauckham to label Luke 1:5-80 “a gynocentric text”. Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2002) 47.

[3] Kathleen Corley notes, “As in Mark, women as well as men make up the number of those Galileans who witness Jesus’ entire ministry (Luke 23:59: Acts 10:37-39) and travel with him as he preaches and teaches from town to town.” Private Women, Public Meals: Social Conflict in the Synoptic Tradition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993) 110. Jesus had many female followers.

[4] The parable of the persistent widow is not located alongside the parable of the persistent friend, so some pair the persistent widow with the penitent tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The parables of the new fabric patches and the new wineskins (Luke 5:36, 37-38) which I haven’t listed above, were spoken to the (male) Pharisees and the teachers of the law; but the parables could be a considered a gendered pair as sewing was traditionally regarded as women’s work, and the making and handling of wine was regarded as men’s work. Derek and Diane Tidball, The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, (2012) 175.

[5] Deborah M. Gill and Barbara Cavaness, God’s Women—Then and Now (Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 2004, 2009) (Kindle Locations 1257-1263). In a footnote of this book there is this statement: In “Appendix IX. Jesus’ Rhetoric in the Cultural Milieu,” of Gynecomorphisms in the New Testament [Gill’s Honors Thesis, Assemblies of God Graduate School, 1979] Gill lists 45 examples of Jesus’ use of complementary or coupled discourse instead of collective masculine address in the Gospels.

[6] Ben Witherington, Women in the Ministry of Jesus: A Study of Jesus’ Attitudes to Women and their Roles as Reflected in his Earthly Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 52.

March 2, 2016

The Gospel of Luke and History Matters

••• by Clarke Dixon

[click this link to read at Clarke’s sermon blog]

Many people assume that while religion might affect history, history does not affect one’s religion or lack thereof. In other words, religion is all about spiritual concepts and morality quite apart from anything that has happened. It is very often assumed therefore that theology has more to do with philosophy and science than with history. But history is very important in seeking truth, especially “religious truth.”

Take for example the our monotheistic belief in a Creator God. If God exists and is Creator, then we should expect an historical event, however long, namely, creation. Interestingly in laying out a history of our universe science points us to a beginning point, often referred to as the “Big Bang”. The history of there being a beginning fits well with the religious claim of there being a Creator. There are those who do not like the religious conclusions the historical event of a beginning leads to, so suggestions are made that perhaps there might be more than the universe we know of, perhaps a “multiverse” or something like that. Such appeals by scientists to believe “there must be something greater” sound almost religious don’t they?

Another example can be found in the religion of Islam. If the Koran is to be trusted as what God wants to say to us and Islam is to be held to be true, then revelations to Muhammad by God must be historical events. If that is what happened, then we should all become Muslims. On the other hand if what really happened is that Muhammad was making it up, or suffering from some sort of delusions, then no one should be a Muslim. Religious truth depends on what really happened in history.

The same kind of thing can be said of Christianity. If we are to believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior, then the events of history ought to support the beliefs of our religion. If Jesus did not die and rise from the dead, then I ought to be more a fan of Jesus than a follower, as one writer put it.

The interesting thing about the Gospel of Luke is that it begins with an appeal to history:

1 Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)

Notice the words that are connected with history, like “events,” “eyewitnesses,” “investigating everything carefully from the first,” and “orderly account.” The writer here is looking to help encourage the reader, Theopholis, to “know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” Notice that he is not looking to do so through an appeal to ideas, or concepts, or philosophy, or a discussion on how to live a good life. The appeal is to events, things that have actually happened.

How does the writer know what has happened? While the Gospel writer does not identify himself, the earliest records of such things all point to the writer being Luke whom Paul called “the beloved Physician” in Colossians 4:14. This Luke was very often a companion of Paul and would have had plenty of time and opportunity to rub shoulders with the eyewitnesses of the events described in the Gospel. Though too long a discussion for today, there has been no good reason to doubt the early records on the authorship of Luke. Therefore, while those of us who are Christians believe Luke is inspired by God in the first place and therefore to be trusted, even those who do not believe have good reason to stop and consider what Luke has to say. Far too many people don’t give the Gospels fair consideration out of a belief they were written too late to be of benefit in sorting out history. But history itself points to their value in knowing what the eyewitnesses had to say.

So what does Luke say has happened? I am condensing things very much, but if we were to read Luke straight through from beginning to end we would find that Jesus’ birth was unique to say the least, being born of a virgin. Jesus’ teaching was also unique and had a very keen appeal to justice and equality. In his teaching Jesus also pointed to his own unique nature, to the point of being considered blasphemous. He was continually an annoyance to the religious leaders. He was continually a sought after person by the average person for he performed miracles while still being very down to earth about it. He taught in parables and had much to say about the Kingdom of God and how people should act in that kingdom. He eventually annoyed the religious leaders to the point that they engineered his death at the hands of the Romans. But he rose from the dead, appeared to the disciples, showed them how he fulfilled the Hebrew scriptures, and he said:

46 Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)

Even Jesus here is appealing to accurate history: “you are witnesses of these things.”

What has happened in history should affect how we make history; it should affect our response to God. The things that have happened ought to affect our religion and religious views. We see this happening with the disciples as we read the final words of the Gospel:

52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:52-53)

The Gospel concludes with the idea that all the events Luke had carefully investigated and recorded led and will lead people who know about them to worship Jesus and to an experience of joyful celebration before God.

Luke teaches us to not begin with the question “what religion should I believe or practice?” Rather we begin with the question, “has God done anything that we should know about?” Does history record anything for us to consider? Yes, Luke along with the other Gospel writers have recorded some very important history for us. From Luke’s careful recording of history we learn, not so much what religion to practice, but that God is real, and God’s love through Jesus Christ is real. What will the history of your life reveal about your love for Him?


Click back to previous Wednesdays for Clarke’s overviews of Mark and Matthew

All scriptures: NRSV

February 28, 2015

“Jesus Rejoiced in the Holy Spirit”

Each time you read the Bible there is something new waiting for you that you’ve not noticed before. If you migrate between translations this happens more frequently, a word or phrase suddenly strikes you and have to simply stop reading and think about it.

While reading Michael Card’s book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement (IVP), I was struck by  Lk. 10:21. The NCV is one of many translations that uses the phrasing I chose for today’s post title:

21 Then Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the people who are wise and smart. But you have shown them to those who are like little children. Yes, Father, this is what you really wanted.

The NIV uses

 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said…

Although this is not one of the ‘trinitarian’ verses in scripture, the Holy Spirit is mentioned. If like me, the phrasing was unfamiliar to you, perhaps you were raised on the KJV which omits this:

21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said…

but the phrase hagios pneuma is there.

The occasion is the return of the 70 (or 72) from their mission trip and report that demons were subject to them. Jesus’ full prayer is:

My Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I am grateful that you hid all this from wise and educated people and showed it to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that is what pleased you.

My Father has given me everything, and he is the only one who knows the Son. The only one who really knows the Father is the Son. But the Son wants to tell others about the Father, so that they can know him too.  (CEB)

So while the verse isn’t, you can see that this passage actually is expressing all three persons of the Trinity.

Card points out that this missionary report is much different than when The Twelve were sent on a similar journey:

We are not told if the first mission of The Twelve was successful or not, but the failures that surround them before and after their first mission are not cause for hope.

We also know from Luke 9:49 there was confusion when they (the disciples) went out on their own:

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” (NIV)

So to return to our key verse, Jesus rejoices in the report of the larger group. Matthew Henry takes particular note of the phrase “in that hour;”

It was fit that particular notice should be taken of that hour, because there were so few such, for he was a man of sorrows. In that hour in which he saw Satan fall, and heard of the good success of his ministers, in that hour he rejoiced. Note, Nothing rejoices the heart of the Lord Jesus so much as the progress of the gospel, and its getting ground of Satan, by the conversion of souls to Christ. Christ’s joy was a solid substantial joy, an inward joy: he rejoiced in spirit; but his joy, like deep waters, made no noise; it was a joy that a stranger did not intermeddle with. Before he applied himself to thank his Father, he stirred up himself to rejoice; for, as thankful praise is the genuine language of holy joy, so holy joy is the root and spring of thankful praise.

Henry’s phrase in the last sentence, “he stirred up himself” is interesting, because he was working from the KJV, which we’ve noted omits the reference to the Holy Spirit. Still, it is interesting to consider Henry’s wording.  I would like to spend more time on this phrasing, however…

What is the application to us? The IVP New Testament Commentary notes:

The theme of rejoicing continues as Jesus turns back to the disciples and blesses them. They should feel happy and honored because they are seeing things that the prophets and kings longed to see (1 Pet 1:10-12). This passage emphasizes that what Jesus is doing is what the saints of the Old Testament had hoped to see. Many great saints of the old era did not get to experience the blessing, but Jesus’ disciples are blessed to be a part of this new era. The statement recalls 7:28: the lowest person in the kingdom is higher than the greatest prophet of the old era.

Sometimes we think how great it would have been to see Moses perform miracles before Pharaoh or watch Elijah defeat the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. Jesus says that the situation is in fact the exact reverse—they long to see what we experience, because to know God and life through Jesus is what they had wished to experience all along. In effect, Jesus says, “Count your blessings, for they are many and have been desired for centuries.”

That ought to make us rejoice in the Holy Spirit.

March 28, 2013

Playing With Time

As some of you read this, it’s already Good Friday. This particular blog is set up to post articles between 5:00 and 6:00 PM EST (New York time) but with readers all over the world, I realize that many readers are already “in” a particular day when this gets seen.

But in many respects, we’re all guilty of a greater measure of playing with time when it comes to Good Friday. The reason is simple. We already know how the story ends. It’s entirely impossible for us to approach Good Friday not knowing that Resurrection Sunday is just around the corner. We don’t have to read ahead because we’ve previously read the whole story.

But it wasn’t like that on that overcast day at the foot of the cross. In play-script form, The Voice Bible reads:

John 19:29-30 The Voice

29 A jar of sour wine had been left there, so they took a hyssop branch with a sponge soaked in the vinegar and put it to His mouth. 30 When Jesus drank, He spoke:

Jesus: It is finished!

In that moment, His head fell; and He gave up the spirit.

It’s so easy to miss what those standing around the cross at that moment must have felt.

The second way we play with time — going backwards instead —  is in the way we’re able to trace back all the prophecies Jesus gave concerning himself. The disciples are dejected and grieving His death, and we read this in the 21st century and we want to scream at the pages, “Look, go back to page ___ and read what he says about how The Messiah must suffer and die! It’s all there!”

You get a sense of this in Luke 24; and again, we’re going to defer to The Voice translation:

Luke 24 – The Voice

13 Picture this:

That same day, two other disciples (not of the eleven) are traveling the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. 14 As they walk along, they talk back and forth about all that has transpired during recent days. 15 While they’re talking, discussing, and conversing, Jesus catches up to them and begins walking with them, 16 but for some reason they don’t recognize Him.

Jesus: 17 You two seem deeply engrossed in conversation. What are you talking about as you walk along this road?

They stop walking and just stand there, looking sad. 18 One of them—Cleopas is his name—speaks up.

Cleopas: You must be the only visitor in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about what’s been going on over the last few days.

Jesus: 19 What are you talking about?

Two Disciples: It’s all about the man named Jesus of Nazareth. He was a mighty prophet who did amazing miracles and preached powerful messages in the sight of God and everyone around. 20 Our chief priests and authorities handed Him over to be executed—crucified, in fact.

21 We had been hoping that He was the One—you know, the One who would liberate all Israel and bring God’s promises. Anyway, on top of all this, just this morning—the third day after the execution— 22 some women in our group really shocked us. They went to the tomb early this morning, 23 but they didn’t see His body anywhere. Then they came back and told us they did see something—a vision of heavenly messengers—and these messengers said that Jesus was alive. 24 Some people in our group went to the tomb to check it out, and just as the women had said, it was empty. But they didn’t see Jesus.

Jesus: 25 Come on, men! Why are you being so foolish? Why are your hearts so sluggish when it comes to believing what the prophets have been saying all along? 26 Didn’t it have to be this way? Didn’t the Anointed One have to experience these sufferings in order to come into His glory?

Clearly, Jesus’ later teachings about his impending sufferings weren’t registering. Or perhaps it was a case of serious denial. Verse 21 is translated more commonly in a form like “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (NIV)  The verse captures most accurately the sadness felt by those two followers.

If you continue reading The Voice, you find at this point an embedded commentary suggesting the writer Luke is doing his own version of playing with time; using this story a set up for something he knows is coming just a little bit past the point where this chapter resolves itself and this book ends: The Book of Acts. Acts is this gospel’s sequel. The commentators seem to feel that Luke is preparing his audience for something which, while it does not in any way diminish the resurrection — which is after all, the centerpiece of the entire Bible — is going to astound them, namely the birth of The Church.

However, it’s Good Friday, and as we place ourselves back in that particular part of the story through this Holy Day and its various church gatherings, we can’t help but know what happens next.  So with a glimpse into Easter Sunday, let’s see how The Voice ends Luke 24:

27 Then He begins with Moses and continues, prophet by prophet, explaining the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures, showing how they were talking about the very things that had happened to Jesus.

28 About this time, they are nearing their destination. Jesus keeps walking ahead as if He has no plans to stop there, 29 but they convince Him to join them.

Two Disciples: Please, be our guest. It’s getting late, and soon it will be too dark to walk.

So He accompanies them to their home. 30 When they sit down at the table for dinner, He takes the bread in His hands, He gives thanks for it, and then He breaks it and hands it to them. 31 At that instant, two things happen simultaneously: their eyes are suddenly opened so they recognize Him, and He instantly vanishes—just disappears before their eyes.

Two Disciples (to each other): 32 Amazing! Weren’t our hearts on fire within us while He was talking to us on the road? Didn’t you feel it all coming clear as He explained the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures?

33 So they get up immediately and rush back to Jerusalem—all seven miles—where they find the eleven gathered together—the eleven plus a number of others.

January 12, 2013

Pointing the Way to the Messiah

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:23 pm
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If you’re looking for some additional reading this weekend, David Kenney is in the middle of a series in the early chapters of Luke.  This one focuses on a very specific verse with significance we might overlook.  Enjoy The Truth Behind Sandal Straps.  (Link through and then click the banner to see other posts in the series.)

John says in Luke 3:16 “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals.

As you can imagine, well known Rabbis had young students who followed them everywhere and who were always willing to be the teacher’s pet. “Let me get that door for you, Rabbi.” “Do you need a napkin, Rabbi?” In fact it was a great honor if you could say that you were “covered in the dust” of your Rabbi, because that meant that you followed him everywhere.

Well, there was only one job that a disciple could not do for his rabbi and that was to take off his sandals. Untying sandals was the job you gave your lowest slave. Just think about it, you come home from working all day, flop down in your lay-z-boy, put your feet up on the ottoman and who takes your shoes off? Not you, you don’t have that kind of time. No, your lowest slave waddles over and removes your sandals.

John says, “Am I the messiah? No…, that guy, I’m not even worthy to perform the most degrading task for him.”

When we first met John, he was leaping for Joy in his Mother’s womb, next we listen to his Father lull him to sleep with a song, now John is in the desert, a young rebel preacher inviting people to repent and to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. A man whom he says is so wonderful, so glorious, so righteous, he isn’t even worthy to take off his shoes.

Does John love Jesus? Yes he does. John is preparing the way for Jesus because he knows that the road ahead will be rough. Jesus’ ministry will meet opposition, heartache, trial and death – but John loves his Rabbi and so every day, he straps on a coat of animal hair and steps into a dirty river and calls his world to change.

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

C201 is always looking for both submissions and suggestions for sources of material. Use the submissions page in the margin.

December 23, 2012

Unfulfilled Longings of the Heart

This morning our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think?  People back then did.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s).  Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is.

 


Above we read these words: ‘Everyone has something they live with.’ Maybe you’re not dealing with childlessness like Zachariah and Elizabeth; maybe it’s something more superficial, but it still eats away at you… Ever wished you were taller? Or you could change the oil on your car? Or fix a plumbing problem? If you find yourself constantly reminded of your inadequacies, you might enjoy this post.

 

November 19, 2012

The First Recorded Words of Jesus

One of the books in my possession is an early copy of what would later become The Message of Luke in “The Bible Speaks Today” series from IVP. My copy has a larger title, Savior of the World.

In the section dealing with chapter two — appropriate to the season of the year we are approaching — author Michael Wilcock notes that there are three stories presented revolving around three key characters:

  • the angel
  • the prophet
  • the child himself

and also three sayings from each of them:

  • “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
  • 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
    30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
    31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
    32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” …
    34 …“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
  • 49 “Why were you searching for me? … Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

On the latter, Wilcock writes:

…So the first recorded words of Jesus are a statement about himself, and a claim to a relationship between himself and God different from, and deeper than, anything that has been known before. Furthermore, it is a relationship into which he is going to bring all others who are prepared to put their faith in God through him. He will teach them to address their prayers regularly to their ‘Father’ (11:2), and they will learn to use the affection, intimate name of ‘Abba’ (‘Daddy’) which he himself uses. Thus early in his Gospel, Luke introduces the great object of the divine plan of salvation, just as John does, in his own way, at the beginning of his story of Jesus: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God.”

Both these truths, that he is the son of God, and that he has come into the world so that others might become sons of God are implied in his words in 2:49. For to be “in my Father’s house” really amounts to the same thing as to be “about my Father’s business”: where  my father is, where he centers his activity, there I am always to be found as well. (Again, this is Luke’s equivalent of some of the great sayings in John: “I and the Father are one…” “The Son can do nothing of his own accord but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does that the son does likewise… I always do what is pleasing to him.”) But the Father’s work, as we have seen, is the work of salvation; so this is the work in which the Son also “must” be engaged. Thus, early in his career, does Jesus express the compulsion that is upon him to be at one with his Father in the saving of men.

So we have Luke essentially including this passage as to offer a parallel to what we normally refer to as John’s prologue.


Yesterday at Thinking Out Loud, I reviewed a Bible study resource that I believe will be especially useful for people engaged in student ministry, Christian education or who just want to be focused when leading small groups through some of the narrative OT and NT stories. You can read that review here.

 

December 6, 2011

Inauspicious Beginnings

The story of incarnation begins quietly, builds, but then the narrative hits some bumps on the road where the disciples and others are conflicted between their mental picture of what Messiahship was supposed to look like, and how events in the life of Christ were playing out. 

Yesterday at Thinking Out Loud, I used the story of the Charlie Brown Christian Special, a television program, as an illustration of something toward which the great minds of the time declared, “This will never work.”  If you’re unfamiliar with the program or the scene in question, click here.

“Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of joy which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior which is Christ the Lord…”

~Linus Luke, chapter two

For our American friends, last night was the occasion of the 47th airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. 47 years of the same show in an endless repeat. But according to this National Review story, by Lee Habeeb, the show almost didn’t happen:

As far back as 1965 — just a few years before Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” — CBS executives thought a Bible reading might turn off a nation populated with Christians. And during a Christmas special, no less! Ah, the perils of living on an island in the northeast called Manhattan.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” was a groundbreaking program in so many ways, as we learned watching the great PBS American Masters series on Charles Schulz, known by his friends and colleagues as “Sparky.” It was based on the comic strip Peanuts, and was produced and directed by former Warner Brothers animator Bill Melendez, who also supplied the voice for Snoopy.

We learned in that PBS special that the cartoon happened by mere serendipity.

“We got a call from Coca-Cola,” remembered Melendez. “And they said, ‘Have you and Mr. Schulz ever considered doing a Christmas show with the characters?’ and I immediately said ‘Yes.’ And it was Wednesday and they said, ‘If you can send us an outline by Monday, we might be interested in it.’ So I called Sparky on the phone and told him I’d just sold ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ and he said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘It’s something you’ve got to write tomorrow.’”

We learned in that American Masters series that Schulz had some ideas of his own for the Christmas special, ideas that didn’t make the network suits very happy. First and foremost, there was no laugh track, something unimaginable in that era of television. Schulz thought that the audience should be able to enjoy the show at its own pace, without being cued when to laugh. CBS created a version of the show with a laugh track added, just in case Schulz changed his mind. Luckily, he didn’t.

The second big battle was waged over voiceovers. The network executives were not happy that the Schulz’s team had chosen to use children to do the voice acting, rather than employing adults. Indeed, in this remarkable world created by Charles Schulz, we never hear the voice of an adult.

The executives also had a problem with the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. They thought the music would not work well for a children’s program, and that it distracted from the general tone. They wanted something more . . . well . . . young.

Last but not least, the executives did not want to have Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. The network orthodoxy of the time assumed that viewers would not want to sit through passages of the King James Bible.

There was a standoff of sorts, but Schulz did not back down, and because of the tight production schedule and CBS’s prior promotion, the network executives aired the special as Schulz intended it. But they were certain they had a flop on their hands.     […continue reading…]

The CBS executives saw what they had as, at best, a tax write-off.

I couldn’t help but think that actually parallels the original Christmas story in more ways than one.

John the Baptist was sure that Jesus was the Messiah on the day that Jesus stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized.  But later, in the isolation of a jail cell, he wondered if had backed that wrong horse.  He thought he a flop on his hands.

Certainly there were people in the crowd who loved the miracles and the multiplication of the fish and bread that fed 5,000 men and countless women and children. But when he started turning his remarks to the “hard sayings” and spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the crowd thinned out considerably.  Having seen other Messiah figures come and go, they figured that, once again, they had a flop on their hands.

Judas Iscariot was one of the original twelve, and no doubt entered into that select group with enthusiasm and optimism.  But into the third year of apprenticeship with the this particular rabbi, dreams of political conquest and liberation from the Romans turned into disillusionment when the talk turned to a Messiah that would suffer and die. Like the parliamentarians of today who ‘cross the floor’ to join the other party, Judas figured he had a flop on his hands.

Time exonerated the decision and vision by Charles Shultz, and the events in Acts 2 showed the world that something new and exciting was beginning; that instead of a flop, the disciples had a hit on their hands.

Church history is full of examples where the “show” appeared to be cancelled. And today, there are those who complain that the Christian faith and worldview is foolishness. They have a checklist of things that they would change about the Christ story. They think we have a flop on our hands. 

But the ratings have yet to come out on that one. The ultimate scene in the play has yet to appear on stage. Stay tuned…

We do know how the above story ended, though:

To the surprise of the executives, 50 percent of the televisions in the United States tuned in to the first broadcast. The cartoon was a critical and commercial hit; it won an Emmy and a Peabody award.

Linus’s recitation was hailed by critic Harriet Van Horne of the New York World-Telegram, who wrote, “Linus’ reading of the story of the Nativity was, quite simply, the dramatic highlight of the season.”

October 19, 2010

Prodigal Son: Seeing Yourself in the Story

It seems lately, every time I turn on the computer or pick up a book or magazine, I’m reading someone’s take on the story of the wayward son.   This simple narrative is multi-dimensional; a richness and depth bubbles under the surface awaiting discovery.

Here’s blogger Michael Krahn‘s take on it which he titled:

8 Traits Of An Older Brother

In our haste to name things, we often call the parable found in Luke 15 “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but the parable is as much about the older brother as it is the younger. In fact some (like Tim Keller) would argue that it is actually MORE about the older brother.

If you grew up in the church – like I did – you are probably more like the older brother. Here is a list of traits that I can certainly identify with.

1. We think highly of ourselves

We think so highly of ourselves that we expect God to think like us instead of the other way around. Grace doesn’t work according to our logic. It doesn’t make sense to us that it does two things simultaneously:

1.     It overlooks wrong
2.    While it transforms repentant sinners

“It can’t do both – it’s not fair!  Prodigals can come back but we should never forget what they’ve done. If we do they’ll think they can do it again without consequence!”

2. We have a “good reputation”

We’re thought of (by others and ourselves) as “good”… not having major faults… not really struggling with sin. The reality is that we’re just better at hiding these things.

3. We take pride in our consistency

We’ve been here the whole time, going to church! We’ve had to sit through all the poorly performed worship songs, all the badly delivered sermons. Those prodigals need to do the same before we can see them as equals!

4. We save our freedom for future reward

Prodigals use their freedom to experience and consume. This is the path of self-discovery. Their thinking is that unused freedom is wasted freedom.

Older brothers resist using their freedom.  Instead we save it up, thinking of it as an investment that will compound like money saved inside a mutual fund, doubling in size every 10 years or so. Our thinking is that freedom used NOW is freedom wasted and that by saving and sacrificing now we’ll have more and will be able to get more later than we ever could now. Self-denial now in exchange for lavish self-indulgence later.

5. We need prodigals to make us look better

Older brothers need prodigals because they provide us with an easy comparison to rise above. “Your extravagant sin makes me look better – it takes the attention off my minor faults. Thank you!”

When the father says, “He was dead but now he’s alive!” we mutter, “I wish he was still dead. It was better for me that way.”

6. We harbor unacknowledged envy

When the prodigal returns, his life is turned upside-down because he discovers that his father loves by different rules than he does. He has been out doing all the things that the older brother, in truth, would also love to be doing but doesn’t because he believes he is storing up extra grace for himself.

Is this perhaps one reason why we too react badly when a prodigal returns? Do we harbor some envy at the life of wine, women, and song (or “wine coolers, firemen, and dance music” for the ladies) they’ve experienced?

It causes us to question: What has all my self-denial been good for?!?!

7. We think God owes us

Because of this we sometimes see grace as a bit of a rip-off. Partly because we don’t think we need very much of it, but also because grace dictates that obedience can never be a way to obtain rights.

If your perception of your relationship with God is that you think you’ve earned something or that you’ve done so much good that God owes you something, you are in danger. This is typical older brother thinking.

8. We are likely to be punitive

We take a punitive position on prodigals. We say that they need to pay for what they’ve done – in essence to pay their way up to our status level. But that’s not the way grace works. If it did it wouldn’t be grace.

On the rare occasion that a prodigal returns, do they see in you a father waiting with open arms or the scowling face of an older brother?

by Michael Krahn.

August 12, 2010

The Manager Looking Out For Number One

I used a short piece from Canadian pastor Kevin Rogers from the blog Orphan Age here on April 27th, but I thought it might be good if you were to read a more typical post from his blog; this one looking at the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16


Jesus told the story of a manager who goofed up his job.  Whether the man was crooked and skimming profits for himself or had poor job performance, we do not know.  What was clear was the boss being unhappy about this particular employee.  The manager was getting fired because the boss was unhappy.

Luke 16: 1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

6” ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
” ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.  For, the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

Not strong enough to dig ditches and not wanting to end up as a beggar on the street…

How many people feel that same way?  You may be in a job that is redundant and where you have outlived your usefulness.  What are you going to do?  Perhaps someone is gunning for your position and you are faced with an unplanned career change.  It would be easy to get stuck at blaming the economy, an unethical employer or believing that you can do no wrong.

While the manager had some problems that lead to his dismissal, his final days of work showed a praiseworthy strategy that caught Jesus’ attention.

Though assessed as a poor manager of the master’s business, he decided to leave on a high note.  He gave a 50% discount on the olive oil and 20% discount on the wheat bill.  He realized that his business contacts were potential employers that would appreciate his kindness.

Where did the discount come from?  Was the manager giving up his commission or was he intentionally cutting into the employer’s profit margin?  If he was giving up his commission, he used his last pay cheque to buy a positive influence on the customers.  Not only would they remember the good deal he gave, they would think it came from the employer.  This would benefit all parties involved.

If the manager was cutting into the employer’s profits, he was doing something bad to protect his own interests.  Would Jesus praise him for this?

Blogger Anne Robertson suggests a way of looking at the ethics of this story.

Let’s say that a man is convicted of murdering his wife and is sentenced to prison.  Further, let’s say that on his way to begin serving his sentence he goes past a burning house with a child left inside.  Figuring that misery awaits him anyway and figuring that saving a baby can’t hurt his reputation, he dashes into the building and saves the child.  A pastor is watching and goes home to write a sermon.  “Why is it,” he says the next Sunday “that this murderer can figure out that saving a child is a good thing and the 16 churchgoers who were there watching the fire burn, did nothing?  This convict is smarter than all of them.  Use the opportunities life presents to you to enhance God’s reputation.  The one who risks his own life to save another is living out the Gospel.”

If we look at the shrewd manager of Jesus’ story in this way, we see a man who was clearly guilty of wrongdoing, but was able to change his focus to help others in a meaningful way.  Jesus was not disregarding the wrongs, but recognizing the futuristic thinking of a man with nowhere else to turn.  Just because you have been very bad, you are not prohibited from doing something very good.


A day later on the blog, Kevin posted more on this same passage, saying that the story and its definition of  “shrewdness” was largely intended for the Pharisees in the audience.   Continue reading that article here.