Advent Attitudes: Expectation

Advent 2

Be an optimist: expect God to keep His promises.

(Please read Luke 2:21-40 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for my research.)

          The Reader’s Digest published an article last year explaining why September Is the Most Popular Birth Month in America, and These Are 3 Fascinating Explanations.  It was written by Brandon Specktor.

“According to real birth data compiled from 20 years of American births, mid-September is the most birthday-packed time of the year, with September 9th being the most popular day to be born in America, followed closely by September 19th.  The week and a half between September 9th and September 20th contains nine of the top ten birthdays in America, with the top three being 9/9, 9/19, and 9/12.

“The least common days to be born are, incidentally, all holidays: 12/25 rounds out the bottom, right after 1/1, 12/24, and 7/4. Strangely, in the 20 years analyzed above, there were even fewer births on each of these holidays than there were on February 29th, which only only appeared on calendars six times between ’94 and ’14.

“Why is September such a popular time to come into the world?

  1. Winter is for lovers.Turn the great clock back 40 weeks from September 19 and you’ll find yourself in the December holiday season. This makes sense: Many American students and laborers take time off around Christmas. [I suspect mistletoe is a factor here, too!]
  2. Our bodies crave winter cuddles.
  3. Every day is a popular birthday.The actual differences in birth numbers between common and less common birthdays are often within just a few thousand babies. For example, September 19th, has an average birth rate of 12,229 babies. Meanwhile, Christmas day has a birth rate of just 6,574 babies.”

https://www.rd.com/culture/september-popular-birth-month/

What have we learned?  Christmas is great time for beginning new things.  God the Father began a new thing with the birth of Jesus, who is God the Son.  Advent is a good time to conceive of a new, more godly way to live.  Forget about Santa’s “nice list,” it’s a great time of year to get on the “nice lists” of family, friends, and neighbors.

Our second Advent Attitude is that of expectation.  From the children building with excitement about presents to the maturing believers having a sense of anticipation growing of worship and family traditions,  This season is all about our expectations of what’s coming and our preparations to enjoy it.

  1. Simeon’s expectations were met by Jesus (25-35).

He’d been expecting the CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL.  What’s not obvious in English translations is the “Consolation” is a person, not a thing.  It was a title used to refer to the Messiah, the person God would choose to free His people.  (See Isaiah 25:9; 40:1-2; 66:1-11.)

In having this expectation Simeon was not unusual.  We read an example of this speculation at work in Luke 3:15: THE PEOPLE WERE WAITING EXPECTANTLY AND WERE WONDERING IN THEIR HEARTS IF JOHN MIGHT POSSIBLY BE THE CHRIST.  Of course, John the Baptist was

not the Christ, he was the herald, announcing the coming of the Messiah.  He positively identified Jesus as the Christ.  This verse indicates that there was a popular belief that the Messiah was coming.  Lots of people were, like Simeon and Anna, expectantly looking for Him.

Simeon was especially qualified to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Luke notes three qualifications:

He was RIGHTEOUS.  He was a good citizen and a good man.

He was DEVOUT.  This term refers to someone who fears God and is careful to keep God’s law (see Deuteronomy 2:4 and Isaiah 57:11).

The HOLY SPIRIT WAS UPON HIM.  His appearance at the temple at just the right moment and his recognition of a little peasant baby both came about by the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Before we note the particulars of what Simeon said about Jesus, let’s note what a leap of faith this must have been for Simeon.  His eyes saw a baby.  The Spirit said the baby was the Redeemer.  He followed the Spirit into the temple and into the revelation of the child’s true identity.  Simeon made four public comments and four private ones to Mary.  Publically, he said:

“You have kept your promise.”  This was something Simeon took very personally.

“Now I can die happy.”  I think this comment either sounds like an older man or someone who is making an exaggerated statement because he’s so happy.

“I have seen YOUR SALVATION.”  Popular expectation sought a political/military savior, but God planned for salvation from sin.

“PREPARED IN THE SIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE.”  (See Revelation 7:9.)

“A LIGHT FOR REVELATION TO THE GENTILES.”  Popular expectations for the Messiah probably didn’t concern themselves with the Gentiles, so this is another extraordinary mark; a sign of the Spirit’s leading.

“GLORY FOR YOUR PEOPLE ISRAEL.” God will keep His promises to His people Israel.

Simeon’s private predictions to Mary were not good news.  He said Jesus was

“DESTINED TO CAUSE THE FALLING AND RISING OF MANY IN ISRAEL.”  In his first letter Peter picked up on this and referred to Jesus as a STONE that caused men to STUMBLE and FALL (1 Peter 2:8).

“A SIGN THAT WILL BE SPOKEN AGAINST” predicted not only the verbal abuse Jesus suffered but includes the rejection of His teaching and His crucifixion as well.

All this because He would reveal THE THOUGHTS OF MANY HEARTS.” It is human nature and sin nature to resent exposure of one’s faults and sins.  But it was not so much that Jesus knew their hearts and exposed them as much as by their own choice to reject Him that they revealed the sad, sinful condition of their own hearts.

“A SWORD WILL PIERCE YOUR OWN SOUL TOO.”  This warning must’ve been something she pondered, just as she had the shepherds’ words, but she probably did not “treasure” it as she did in verse nineteen.  The word SWORD refers to a large and brutal weapon.  The word carried a more emotional impact.  The warning came to pass in Jesus’ arrest and death by crucifixion.

  1. Anna’s expectations were met by Jesus (36-39).

Anna had expected THE REDEMPTION OF JERUSALEM.  This was a pious way of referring to every Jew’s hope that their nation might be set free (redeemed) from servitude to Rome.  The city of Jerusalem and the temple within the city were the focal points of the entire nation and were used to refer to the entire nation.

Anna was especially qualified to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Luke noted three qualifiers.

She was a PROPHETESS.  This title does not necessarily mean that Anna was given revelations of the future.  It more likely meant that she was a teacher, probably of women, there in the Court of Women.

She was a resident of the temple courts, spending her days FASTING & PRAYING.  It would have been unusual for anyone but a priest to have quarters on the temple grounds, so this indicates Anna held unique status as a PROPHETESS.

She was VERY OLD.  Luke’s language is a little ambiguous, but it’s most likely she was 84 years old when she encountered baby Jesus.  In a time when the average life expectancy was mid-40s, 84 is a very ripe old age indeed.

Anna became a witness.  We see her exercising her witness in two ways.  SHE GAVE THANKS TO GOD, just as the shepherds had done earlier in this chapter.

SHE…SPOKE ABOUT THE CHILD to everyone who looked forward to God saving His people and especially Jerusalem.  Anna may’ve been part of a group known as “Quiet in the Land,” people who were looking forward to the coming of God’s Messiah.

Be an optimist: expect God to keep His promises.

          In Luke’s account, Simeon and Anna appear AFTER Jesus’ birth.  Even so, they are two great biblical examples of people who have the attitude of expectation.  For YEARS they kept up their expectations of the coming of the Messiah, just as God had promised.  Can you imagine their great joy and deep satisfaction when God revealed the Messiah to them?  Maybe their first reaction was surprise.  A baby?  “Well, OK,” they may have thought, “everybody’s got to start somewhere.”

Notice that Luke implies that both Simeon and Anna were senior citizens.  It’s likely each of them had lived a significant portion of their lives with the attitude of expectation.  And then, God revealed His plan was not a man but a baby.  Wow!  Mind blown!

Here’s the thing: it seems very likely to me there was a moment after the excitement wore off a bit that they realized they might not live long enough to see this baby grow to manhood and accomplish God’s plan.  After all their years of waiting, God kept His promise, but they would not see the results.  In fact, as history tells us, it would be another THIRTY YEARS before Jesus began His ministry.  It’s likely both Simeon and Anna were long gone.

At first, this thought is frustrating.  All those years of waiting rewarded with only a glimpse of the one for whom they’d been waiting.  But you don’t get any sense of disappointment or frustration from Luke’s account, do you?  No, Simeon and Anna both demonstrate profound delight, a joy that burst forth in worship and witness.

They are an example to us of how the Advent Attitude of Expectation is supposed to work: when God answers our prayers, He often does so in ways we had never anticipated.  When He acts, can be sideways or backwards of what we expected.

Rather than be like a kid who opened a present to find a socks instead of a baseball glove, we can follow Anna & Simeon’s path and be delighted with what God did.  By faith we can trust and assume His gift is far above what we had asked for or thought about, much better for us anyway.

So I’m asking you, in these days of Advent, ramp up your expectation of what God is going to do, but then don’t be disappointed when it’s something different that what you expected.  Faith says it will be better.

RESOURCES:

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Darrell L. Bock

Thru the Bible, J. Vernon McGee

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Risky Business

Please read Matthew 25:14-33 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

risk

After counting the cost, faith takes risks.

          Freakonomics is a franchise of enormously successful books authored by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  The books enjoy worldwide popularity because they ask more pertinent questions and arrive at unusual answers that they substantiate with hard numbers.

For example, in one chapter of the book they ask, “If crack dealers are so rich, why do they live at home with their mothers?”  The answer, it turns out, is that gang membership, like many legal businesses, enriches the people at the top of the organizational chart, while it impoverishes people at the bottom.  They calculated that a street dealer in Chicago made just $3.30 an hour.

Why do they live with mom?  Because at that rate of pay, it’s an economic necessity.  I mention this because even though a study of risk versus benefit of crack dealing falls heavily on the risk side, there are people lining up for those jobs.  This is a horrible example of ignoring the risks and misperceiving t benefits, with tragic results.

Our subject this morning is risk.  Why are churches so averse to risk?  How should people of faith look at risk versus benefit when making a decision?  This is not merely a mathematical equation, but also pays attention to spiritual factors that can’t be expressed on a balance sheet.  For us, the bottom line is discerning the will of God, arriving at a shared understanding of what God wants us to do.  After determining a direction, we rely on God to supply us with courage and perseverance to follow through on our decision.

Jesus addressed the issue of risk in the parable of the Talents.  Whenever we look at a parable, the question we must ask is, “What is the one main point of the parable?”

THE ONE MAIN POINT OF THIS PARABLE: The risk-takers pleased their master; the safe-player did not.

  1. The “$5 and $2 Servants” did bear fruit.

We’re not told HOW they did it, but the results speak for themselves; the first two servants doubled their master’s investment.  By means of contrast with the single-talent servant (whom I’m referring to as the “Dollar General”), we can infer that the $5 and $2 Servants were not WICKED or LAZY like the $1 Servant had been.

Two facts support this interpretation.  One, verse sixteen plainly tells us that the $5 Servant put the master’s money TO WORK.  Money at work is money at risk.  You’ve heard “you have to spend money to make money?”  Investing money or exercising it as capital to fund a business venture both require some risk of loss.  You simply can’t do business without it.

Two, the fact that they GAINED money implies that they were willing to take some measure of risk and used the master’s money to make more money.  Success comes to those who take risks; those who refuse all risk will never know success.  This is true financially and in every other aspect of life as well.

The two servants received the same reward and the approval of their master.  The servant entrusted with $5 made $5 and therefore earned more money than the servant who made $2.  However, the master made no distinction between their rewards.  Both servants received the same reward and the same commendation.

The reward both the fruitful servants received was a promotion: “YOU HAVE BEEN FAITHFUL WITH A FEW THINGS; I WILL PUT YOU IN CHARGE OF MANY THINGS.”  This makes it sound like the master was testing the servants to see if he’d rightly evaluated their abilities.  As verse fifteen states, the master apportioned his money to each of the three servants ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY.

Therefore, he believed the $5 Servant was the most ambitious and talented one. The master therefore put greater trust in him.  The $2 Servant was not as ambitious or talented, but he still merited the master’s trust.  However, the master suspected the $1 Servant was unreliable and didn’t put much trust in him at all.  The master’s judgment was vindicated in all three cases.

The servants who pleased their master received the reward of a promotion and an enthusiastic commendation.  The master said, “WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT!  COME AND SHARE IN YOUR MASTER’S HAPPINESS!”  He called them GOOD AND FAITHFUL servants, commending their character and achievement.  Notice the master goes beyond mere business and makes a personal invitation to join him in the HAPPINESS a successful business brings.

  1. The “Dollar General” refused risk and was unfruitful.

We are told exactly how the unfruitful servant failed his master: he just buried the money.  He was unwilling to take any risks.

In fact, he was so “risk averse” that he didn’t even entrust his buck to a bank, where it might’ve earned a few pennies of interest.  He protected his master’s money but that was not the purpose of this little exercise.

He said he was AFRAID: his master knew better.  He might’ve very well been AFRAID, but that’s hardly a good excuse (he may have been afraid of failure or rejection, these are genuine fears and/or excuses we have all experienced) and the master saw through it immediately.

Whether he was sincerely afraid of his master or not, the Dollar General attempted to shift the blame for his fruitfulness from himself to his master.  He complained, “YOU ARE A HARD MAN,” and effectively said, “You expect others to make money for you.”  This is what the redundant lines, “YOU…HARVEST WHERE YOU HAVE NOT SOWN” and “YOU…gather WHERE YOU HAVE NOT SCATTERED SEED.”

The master was unwilling to accept fear as an excuse and was unwilling to accept the blame for the Dollar General’s failure.  The master threw the Dollar General’s own words right back in his face.  He exposed the fallacy of his excuses by saying, “If you were really afraid of me, you should’ve at least deposited the money in the bank, but you didn’t even do that!”

The master condemned the $1 Servant.  He exposed his true motives: wickedness and laziness.  It sounds to me like the WICKED servant resented his master’s wealth and power.  That was why he was willing to insult his master and be defiant at the time of reckoning.

The master also condemned the Dollar General as LAZY.  He didn’t want to bother with the bank or anything else, he simply made sure he didn’t lose the dollar entrusted to him.

In verse 30, the master condemned the $1 Servant as WORTHLESS.  These are three strong words of condemnation.  We must not gloss over the severity of the master’s condemnation and use them to motivate ourselves – if necessary – to avoid deserving similar condemnation from our Heavenly Father, our true Master.

The unfruitful servant also suffered two stiff penalties.  One, the TALENT he returned was taken away and given to the ten-talent servant.  In this way, the master encouraged fruitful service.  He said, “FOR EVERYONE WHO HAS WILL BE GIVEN MORE; HE WILL HAVE AN ABUNDANCE. WHOEVER DOES NOT HAVE, EVEN WHAT HE

HAS WILL BE TAKEN FROM HIM.”

Two, while the fruitful servants were welcomed into the master’s HAPPINESS, the unfruitful servant was thrown OUT of the master’s presence.  He was thrown INTO THE DARKNESS; darkness being a symbol of sin in the Bible.  He was to be cast out of the master’s presence, into a place WHERE THERE WILL BE WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH; signs of extreme regret, anger, and despair.

When taken in tandem with the other parables in Matthew 25 and Jesus’ introduction of them with the words AT THAT TIME (verse one), this part of the parable is clearly a warning of Judgment Day, when all of us will be called to account for how we used the resources God entrusted to us.

After counting the cost, faith takes risks.

Typically at this time of year, we inventory what God has done FOR us and are appropriately thankful.  When did you hear someone being thankful for what God has done THROUGH them?  When are we grateful for what God has done WITH us?

God has not called us to be “risk-averse.”  There is no virtue in seeking a “risk free” life; indeed, there is no such thing.  Risk is part of life; it is unavoidable.  What we can do is attempt to minimize risk or manage it, taking on risk in order to accomplish more.  We need a change of mind and heart on this point: we need to consider risk to be a tool we use to determine and do God’s will.  If we never do more than we know we can do, we will never experience what God can do

To help motivate this mind-set, I will close by telling you about three churches I knew in a state in which I have previously served, all of them closed.  Without ever running out of money, they ran out of people and ceased to be a church.

In one church, a single family ran off the rest of the congregation.  The church never officially closed, but now it’s only used for family functions.  They even put new carpeting in the sanctuary after they stopped holding worship service.  Today it’s a doll house; a plaything for the family that makes up the membership.

Another church ceased operations, selling their building.  It became a restaurant and bar.

A third became a hay loft; you can see the bales of hay through the windows.

I suspect these churches were populated by “dollar disciples” like the Dollar General in Jesus’ parable.  As a result, none of them survive to our time as houses of worship.

What this age and this culture demand are daring disciples; people who will take on risk in order to have a witness and a work in our community.  There is nothing less than survival at stake.

One OR Done

Please take a moment apart from your busy-ness to read Ephesians 2:11-22 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

ichabod

One of the best meetings I ever attended was at an elementary school.  The principal had called a meeting to discuss how our community might to meet the needs of a family whose poverty was causing the children to fail in school.  I had been invited to attend because the mother had identified me as her pastor.  I was to bring to the table whatever means our church could offer to support them.

What pleased me so much was the positivity of the meeting.  Without any pretense, compliments and praise and gratitude flowed like a river.  It was contagious; I found myself looking for praise-worthy things so I could join in the fun of being positive.

The other thing that set this meeting above all others was the focus of the group.  We all wanted to help.  School faculty and staff, counselors, social workers, and I were compiling all the forms of assistance we could offer in order to keep t kids in school.

Afterward, I was hit with a pang of jealousy.  It occurred to me that in all the meetings I had attended for church functions, I had never attended as pleasing a meeting.  It was a secular meeting in a secular place, joining people who may have had little or no agreement about God but it shone above all the meetings that supposedly had those advantages.

It may help us to know that God expects us to be in unity and gives us all we need to experience it.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and set forth God’s standard.

  1. Without Christ we are separate from God and from one another.

The Ephesians were Gentiles when Paul wrote these words; GENTILES AND UNCIRCUMCISED, EXCLUDED FROM CITIZENSHIP IN ISRAEL (11-12) but because of Jesus, that distinction no longer mattered.  Where birth, ethnicity, and nationality once divided the saved from the unsaved, Jesus came to save everyone.  Contrast these strong words describing division with Paul’s promise in v. 19 that all who believe in Jesus are FELLOW CITIZENS.

Before Christ, being Gentile meant you were WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD (12).  Without Jesus, people have to live in the present without HOPE for the future or God’s grace to forgive their past sins.  To be hopeless and godless is horrible; it ought to frighten us into having faith instead.

  1. Jesus acted to make us one. (He did five things.)

ONE = Jesus sacrificed Himself.  God did it THROUGH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST (13) and THROUGH THE CROSS (16).  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for every person’s sins.  Since it has been bought at so great a price, we show our gratitude when cherish our unity and protect it, rather than toss it.

TWO = He became OUR PEACE (14+15) and HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE (17).  Unity brings peace and is threatened when the peace is disturbed.  Jesus’ presence gives us peace.

These verses agree with Matthew 5:9; “BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS, FOR THEY WILL BE CALLED SONS OF GOD.”  God’s children are characterized as being peacemakers.  They will make sacrifices and have courage in bringing people together.

THREE = He DESTROYED THE BARRIER, THE DIVIDING WALL OF HOSTILITY (14) and HE PUT TO DEATH THEIR HOSTILITY (16).  On a historical level, this is another way of describing the Jew vs. Gentile dynamic.

On a personal level, we know that unity cannot be found when people have divided into opposing camps.  Unity brings people together, destroying barriers/walls, not putting them up.

FOUR = He abolished IN HIS FLESH THE LAW WITH ITS COMMANDS AND REGULATIONS. (15)  This verse parallels Paul’s earlier teaching about the BLOOD of Jesus and the CROSS: Jesus’ physical death abolished the Law by meeting all its demands.  He was the perfect sacrifice for sin and thereby brought an end to the need for any sacrifice for sin.

As the Law is part of what kept Gentiles and Jews separated (the Jews had it, the Gentiles didn’t), this verse parallels vs. 11+12.  Jesus’ sacrifice made this division inappropriate, bringing us all together in one family and citizens of one kingdom (v. 19).

FIFTH = He IS THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE …IN HIM THE WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER. (21)  (We will talk about this later.)

  1. Descriptions of our unity.

The first benefit of unity is obvious: unity brings us together!  Paul wrote, YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT NEAR. (13+17)  No matter what measure you use to describe the distance, it no longer exists.  The worldly things that ensure separation lose their significance in Jesus and are no longer a reason for keeping us apart.

God’s unity effectively makes us ONE. (14+15)  This verse reminds me of the statements made in the Bible about marriage (see Genesis 2:24 & Mark 10:7); the two persons becoming one.  Ideally in married life, the partners are to think and act as one.  So it should also be in a church. This is Jesus’ PURPOSE: He has worked to make us unified.  We are to receive it, then avoid breaking the unity God gives.

Jesus brought us together so that IN THIS ONE BODY (His) He aimed TO RECONCILE BOTH OF THEM TO GOD. (16)  Unity is both the product of and the means to reconciliation.  Jesus’ greatest purpose is our union with God.  That must happen first. Then, the degree to which to which we have union with God, we will experience unity in our church.

A second benefit of unity is that it empowers our prayers.  In Matthew 18:19 Jesus promised, “I TELL YOU THAT IF TWO OF YOU ON EARTH AGREE ABOUT ANYTHING YOU ASK FOR, IT WILL BE DONE FOR YOU BY MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  Here in 2:18, Paul explained how we have that kind of power in prayer: THROUGH HIM WE HAVE ACCESS TO THE FATHER BY ONE SPIRIT. (18)

The word ACCESS refers to prayer.  It is having a means of communicating with a king.  As Romans 8:26-27 teaches, the Holy Spirit facilitates prayer.  Even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit makes prayer happen; effective communication with God occurs.

The third benefit to unity is belonging: We are a holy nation, the Kingdom of God.  As Paul expressed it here: YOU ARE NO LONGER FOREIGNERS and ALIENS, BUT FELLOW CITIZENS.  And YOU ARE…FELLOW CITIZENS WITH GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD. (19)  CITIZENS have a responsibility to respect one another in civility and keeping the law.  More than that, Christians are GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD; having relationships deeper than citizenship.

Put another way, we are God’s temple, the people among whom He dwells.  GOD’S HOUSEHOLD is BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE  APOSTLES AND PROPHETS. (20)  Paul also referred to A CORNERSTONE in vs. 21, which is the most honored part of a building because it is a symbol of the actual and moral foundations on which the building was built.  In ancient times, it was also the first part of the building erected.

The rest of the building was measured and built around the fixed point of the CORNERSTONE.  In these senses, Jesus is the origin and the most honored part of the church.

In verse 21 Paul wrote that the Church people are A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD.  Similarly, in 1 Peter 2:4-5, Peter described the Church as being made up of LIVING STONES.  Just as it takes many bricks to create a structure, every church is made up of several individual persons coming together.  A stack of bricks is not a building.  It is only when the pieces are put together with Jesus they become a place on earth fit for God.

Paul expressed this truth a third way in verse 22: YOU ARE…A DWELLING IN WHICH GOD LIVES BY HIS SPIRIT.  God created the Church for many different reasons.  However, we must remember that necessity is not one of those reasons.  He does not need a place to live but He wants a people in a place that give evidence to the world that He exists and He loves all people. To be a church we have to do more than maintain physical property; we have to BE the people of God in this place.  We have to cherish and protect the unity God gives us.

You’ve heard the expression “one and done” used in sports.  When teams compete in a single-elimination tournament and are eliminated by losing their first game, we say they were “one and done.”

I want to suggest a variation on that slogan that puts the importance of unity in its biblical perspective.  Based on this passage and others, I say “One OR Done.”  This means that we are ONE as a church or we DONE being a church.  A local body of believers that perpetuates disunity has ceased to be a church and has become something else, something less than what God has commanded.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth every sacrifice, every effort, every slice of humble pie or crow we have to eat to maintain it.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth defending against every pretender, peace-breaker, and offender of the cross.

Unity is received, not achieved.  We partner with God when we protect our unity because without it we cannot be a church.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

 

RESOURCE USED:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Continuous Thanks

Take a moment to read Ephesians 1:15-23 in your Bible translation of choice, then peruse the following as an informed reader.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare my remarks.

thanks

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Ten years ago, Robynne Boyd wrote an article for Scientific American magazine entitled “Do People Only Use 10 Percent of Their Brains?”  She attempted to refute a widely-accepted modern myth that even the smartest human beings only use 10% of their brain’s potential.

She quoted neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who said, “It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time.  Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.”

Boyd added; “Although it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not concurrently firing, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, like the body’s muscles, most [of the brain’s regions] are continually active over a 24-hour period.

She also quoted John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN as saying, “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-people-only-use-10-percent-of-their-brains/

Don’t you feel better about yourself already?  We’re all more brainy than the “Ten Percent Myth” gave us credit for being.

While we’re in a myth-busting mood, let’s tackle another.  There’s a belief among church people that is said in a couple different ways: either “Church is as good as it gets,” or “Church will never be as good as it was.”  That’s a myth.

Look around for a moment and thank God for all He’s given us.  But don’t think for a moment that it’s as good as it can be.  Don’t think that in some “good old days” the church was just as good as it could be.

The truth is that our experience of what the Church is supposed to be like is only 10% or less of the rich grace and power God has given us.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and said virtually the same thing.  We’ll see how Paul praised them for what they had achieved and then pointed out how much more was available, just waiting for them to claim it by faith.

  1. Paul’s perpetual praise.

Paul began, FOR THIS REASON in verse fifteen.  For what reason?  For all the things God has done for us.  Here we review the blessings God bestowed as Paul listed them in Ephesians 1:3-14:

– The heading is this: God has blessed you with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING (3).

– The first item on the list: God chose you (4 + 11).

– The second item: God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

– Third: God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

– Fourth: God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

– The conclusion: God sealed these blessings with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

Looking back on that list, Paul was mindful of what God did for the church and through the church, (in its local & global manifestations).  Similar to the outpouring of praise in that section, in this section, Paul wrote a sentence of thanksgiving 169 words long.

He started with the words, EVER SINCE I HEARD ABOUT YOUR FAITH.  This  means Paul had received a report of their spiritual maturity and it pleased him so much, he continued to thank God for the Ephesians.  This happened frequently in Paul’s letters; seven of them begin this way.

Here in Ephesians, he cited two specific thanksgivings.  First, Paul was thankful for their FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS (15).  They demonstrated belief in the Lord and faithful acceptance of all His blessings and teachings.

He was also grateful for their LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS (15).  By Scripture and experience we know FAITH and LOVE become real as they are manifest in good works.  The SAINTS refers to other believers.  The Bible affirms that “Charity begins at our church home.”

This good news prompted perpetual praise in Paul and since then, he wrote, I HAVE NOT STOPPED GIVING THANKS FOR YOU (16).

  1. Paul’s perpetual prayer.

REMEMBERING YOU IN MY PRAYERS (16).  This is a summary of the things for which Paul prayed when his prayers centered on the church in Ephesus.

Prayer Request Number One = for them to know God better (17).  Knowing God better requires learning at least two things, as Paul elaborated.  First, we must know GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (God the Father).  As we learned in our study of 1:1-14, Jesus Christ is the most important person in the plan of God.  God the Father is able to provide us with salvation because God the Son was obedient, even to death on a cross (see Philippians 2:8).

Second, we must know that God deserves to be glorified (THE GLORIOUS FATHER, v. 17).  Part of the glory of God the Father is the salvation He has created for His people.  The Resurrection of Jesus is the supreme moment of God’s glory.

We come to know these things by means of the gift of the SPIRIT.  The channels for the Spirit’s work in us are WISDOM and REVELATION (see Colossians 1:9).  By WISDOM it is meant, as we frequently observe, the FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM (see Psalms 111:10).  True WISDOM comes from God and is a Spiritual Gift.

REVELATION is similar to the MYSTERY of 1:9 in the sense that God has, through the Holy Spirit, revealed His plan of salvation.  God’s chief means of revelation is the Bible.

Prayer Request Number Two = Enlightenment (18).  Paul prayed enlightenment might come to the Ephesian believers through the EYES OF YOUR HEART.  If that expression sounds confusing in English, you may be glad to know it’s even more confused in original language (Greek).  Regardless of how we sort out the words, the important thing is the purpose of this enlightenment: it was needed in order to know (be assured) of three things:

Assurance Number One = THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU.  God calls His people to a hopeful view of the future, one that puts Jesus Christ at the center of the new creation.  HOPE is a key part of our faith.  Today’s woes are reduced when we look past them to tomorrow’s blessings.  HOPE is not wishing; it is a settled conviction that everything God promises will happen.  It is an anchor for the soul according to Hebrews 6:19.

Assurance Number Two = THE RICHES OF HIS GLORIOUS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS which is, surprisingly, about God, not us.  The words RICHES and GLORIOUS are frequently used to describe the majesty of earthly kings (like Hezekiah; 2 Chronicles 37:27.  Note this is INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS, not “for” THE SAINTS.  Frequently in the OT, the people of God are referred to as His “inheritance.”  Paul wanted the Ephesians to think of themselves in this way.  We must as well.  We are God’s prized possession.

Assurance Number Three = HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER AT FOR US WHO BELIEVE.  The people of Ephesus were notorious for being involved in the occult.  This is why they would be concerned with knowing God’s power, particularly that He is more powerful than their false gods & spirits.

In fact, the two can’t be compared at all; God’s POWER is INCOMPARABLY greater than anything manifest in idols (see 2:7; 3:20).  The Greek word translated into English as INCOMPARABLY was used in a number of ancient inscriptions and documents that have been discovered in Ephesus.  Paul was using the words of the false teachers and magic-users to contradict them!

Prayer Request Number Three = to experience God’s power (19-20).  It is good thing to acknowledge God’s POWER; it’s something more to experience it personally.  God’s power IS LIKE THE WORKING OF HIS MIGHTY STRENGTH (19).

The Greek word for WORKING describes POWER being wielded; God’s power being used to benefit His people as opposed to potential power.  It describes activity and function, more than explain the source of power.

The three Greek words for POWER, might, & STRENGTH occur all together in only one other place in all of ancient literature; a Jewish text that reads more like a magical spell than a prayer.  That text commanded angels to supply victory in all their endeavors.  Paul did not endorse casting spells, prayer to angels or any nonsense like that.  He put the power of God on a higher plane.  God’s power was at its height in Jesus.  Paul wrote of two specific times in v. 20.

The first instance in which God’s power was particularly evident was at Jesus’ Resurrection: WHEN HE RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.  The physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the first and most central doctrine in the Christian faith.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said that if there is no Resurrection, our faith is FUTILE and we are still dead in our SINS (1 Corinthians 15:17).

The second instance was at Jesus’ Ascension: WHEN…HE SEATED HIM AT HIS RIGHT HAND I/T HEAVENLY REALMS (see Acts 1:1-11).  The right hand of the king was always the place occupied by the second most powerful person in the kingdom.  Historically, this was Jesus being glorified to the ultimate degree after He humbled Himself to the ultimate degree; death on a cross.

Prayer Request Number Four = To know Jesus’ preeminent place (21-22).  God the Father revealed through Paul that God the Son is FAR ABOVE ALL RULE AND AUTHORITY, POWER AND DOMINION (21).  Paul is saying that Jesus place is superior to all His enemies combined.  Put all the earthly and demonic powers together; they still can’t compare with Jesus’ power and authority.  These terms were familiar to Paul’s Jewish readers as the Jews used them to distinguish between good and evil angels.  These terms were also familiar to Paul’s Gentile readers as they were used for spiritual powers in magical texts of the day.

Another expression of Jesus’ preeminent place is, FAR ABOVE…EVERY TITLE THAT CAN BE GIVEN NOT ONLY IN THE PRESENT AGE BUT ALSO IN THE ONE TO COME (21).  Paul is saying there are absolutely no exceptions.  There’s nothing in the physical or spiritual worlds that is not under Jesus’ authority.  People who put stock in magic (like the Ephesians) believed that if you could name something you have power over it, so the TITLE/name is important.

Continuing on this theme, Paul wrote that GOD PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET (22).  This promise is declared in PSS 8:6 + 110:1.  It will be fulfilled on the occasion of the Second Coming.  Paul made the same point several ways: Jesus is in charge!

Jesus is preeminent because GOD…APPOINTED HIM TO BE THE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING (22).  In Paul’s day, this word HEAD meant “origin;” the HEAD produced the body.  As it does in our own time, HEAD also referred to the leader or ruler of a group.  In both uses of the term, Jesus is the HEAD of His BODY, the Church: our origin & our leader.

Prayer Request Number Five = To know the Church’s place in relationship with Jesus Christ (22-23).  The four-fold description of Jesus’ preeminent place in vs. 21-22 has an expressed purpose: FOR THE CHURCH. (This is a measure of God’s grace; we who deserve it the least benefit the most.)

Paul developed this relationship in his two-fold description of the Church.

First, the BODY to Christ’s HEAD.  Paul used this metaphor in four of his letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Ephesians).  The diversity of the parts (individual believers) is joined together in service to the one HEAD.

Second, Jesus is THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY (23) and the Church is supposed to be THE FULLNESS of Christ.  When people see us, they’re supposed to see Jesus in the FULLNESS of who He is!

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Wouldn’t it feel great to have someone address you with the praise and thanksgiving the Apostle Paul expressed in this letter?  Let’s summarize and review Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus so we can use it to pray for each other.

#1 = Pray we will become more aware of the power God makes available to us.  This will not happen only or chiefly in Bible study, but is something we learn and appreciate by personal experience.  Until we embrace change and take risks to attempt things only God can do, we will not see His power; we will only be certain about our limitations.  This is why so many church folk get weary and depressed, losing confidence in the future of the Church.

#2 – Pray we will stand in His strength alone.  The culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity.  Elements of our culture are trying to squeeze everyone into their mold, preaching the new orthodoxy of “political correctness.”  They more we resist that squeezing, the more we will need God’s power to stay faithful.

#3 – Pray we will partner with God and with each other to remain in Christ.  Jesus is the fixed point of all creation.  We identify with Him and hold that His resurrection is the source from which all life worth living flows.  Our hope is not founded on our own cleverness or repeating the apparent success of past generations.  Instead, our hope is in Jesus Christ.  We look ahead to see Him waiting for us at the finish line of history.

These truths are the most real thing in all the world.  God forgive us when we live our daily lives as if they don’t matter or aren’t real at all.  By prayer and practice, they become a greater part of how we live.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Bart, Interrupted

Bart Ditched His Bible and He Wants You to Do the Same

A review of Jesus, Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman

Bart

From the Top, the Bottom Line

Bart D. Ehrman has thoroughly researched the Bible and he is thoroughly convinced is a merely human invention.  On that basis, he ditched his Bible and became an agnostic (officially a “doubter” that there is a God, functionally an atheist) and he wants you to do the same.  Jesus, Interrupted is nothing more or less than the “science” of historical criticism warmed over and plated in a way to appeal to the widest possible audience.  The book is not worth your time.

Meet Bart

Dr. Bart Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of – get this – Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  If an avowed agnostic directing a department of religious studies sounds oxymoronic, you may not need to read the rest of this review.  You already get his schtick.

Visit his website and you’ll find Dr. Bart is a media darling.  If Oprah were still dosing out daily secular culture, she would have Dr. Bart on the show as a regular.  Not content to poison the waters of academia (he says that nearly all the experts agree with him anyway), Bart has set his site on the general public.  It is his method to make this one-sided academic as folksy as possible so that more of us bumpkins will follow his lead.  All that’s necessary is that you trust Dr. Bart implicitly when he says this is this and that is not what you thought it was.

He claims that his aim is not to tear down anyone’s faith, but his use of language, repetition, and his one-sided, single-minded propagandizing give the lie to that claim.  Whether his real motive is to increase his fame, enlarge his followers, please his dog Billy, or what I don’t know.  I do know that nobody goes to all this trouble for some selfless “Dragnet”-like presentation of “just the facts.”  There is no reason to trust someone who possessed faith and recanted it (see 1 John 2:18-19 and 1 John 2:26-27; 5:10-11; 2 John 7-10).

Bart, Interrupted

If, for now, the reader hesitates, wondering if I am oversimplifying or overstating my case, let me offer the subtitle of the book; “Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them).”  No, I’m not making this stuff up.  When you get beyond the cover, that kind of thing is repeated several times each chapter.  Unless I missed something on Dr. Bart’s website, none of his degrees are in history.  Just keep that in mind as he identifies himself as a historian.  Now we’ll take a look at some of the details and see if there are answers to Dr. Bart’s rhetoric.

  1. Dr. Bart’s Thesis. “My thesis here is that not only is the Bible a very human book, but that Christianity as it has developed and come down to us today is a very human religion.”  (p. 226)
  2. Dr. Bart’s Personal Application. “The Christian claim that their religion is also divinely inspired is a theological view that historians have no way of evaluating; historians don’t have access to God, only to what happens here on earth and in front of our eyes – or in front of someone else’s eyes.  I personally do not accept this view any longer (though I once did); but as you will see in the final chapter, the historical findings I am discussing here do not necessarily lead to my personal agnostic conclusions.” (p. 227)
  3. Dr. Bart’s Main Points. Why you too should not believe the Bible is the Word of God.

a. The Bible is just a human book because we don’t really know who wrote these books. Under intense scrutiny experts in language and history find differences in books attributed to the same author.  Dr. Bart helpfully supplies a number of reasons why someone would write a book claiming to be someone else.  He concludes that this kind of duplicity is damning evidence of the unreliability of the Bible.  That suits his case, but does it really matter?  Is it impossible that God could inspire someone who wrote under a pseudonym?  Comments like these delve into minutiae, constructing mountains out of molehills.  Even if we give them this point, does it make any real difference?

b. The Bible is just a human book because we don’t like some of the things written there. This is the most convenient part of the opinions of Dr. Bart and his fellows; find something disagreeable almost everywhere they look.

Generally speaking, people with Dr. Bart’s point of view are Modernists who haven’t got the memo.  They think the scientific method is all that and a bag of chips.  So, let’s start by assuming an evolutionary frame of mind: what’s new (and incidentally trendy) is better.  Only things that bow to the idol of reason or can be observed by the five senses are true: everything else is opinion, not fact.  The short list of things cut down by this perspective include the non-scientific, extrasensory, and politically incorrect. Misogyny.  Homophobia.  Miracles.  Divinity (the supernatural, not the fudge-like stuff grandma made at Christmas).  Prophecy.  Inerrancy.  Infallibility.  Inspiration.  Capitalism.

c. The Bible is just a human book because the selection of the canon was done by the Church. Dr. Bart’s opinions rely on viewing these complex issues through a single lens; a “scientific historian” one.  A modern, Western, scientific historical one.  A viewpoint that looks like his.  Put on your cardigan and suit coat with the leather elbow patches.  A scraggly beard and glasses would help.

d. The Bible is just a human book because other ancient writers said so. As non-Christians, what would you expect?  People outside the faith aren’t going to credit it as true.  If Christianity competed with their worldview, they’d ignore it, decry it, or minimalize it.

e. Because the Bible is just a human book, we’ve entirely missed the point on Jesus; he actually was just an “apocalyptic Jewish prophet.” Yeah, try that on for size.  Is anyone else seeing this as a conclusion strikingly similar to Muhammed’s take on Jesus; “just another prophet?”

4. Dr. Bart’s Methods.

a. “I’m a doctor, trust me.” Bart D. Ehrman wants to spare the reader the tedious work of studying these matters (a worthy goal) and independent thinking (an unworthy goal).  He may sincerely believe he’s giving us the benefit of his lifelong search for the “historical Jesus,” but he repeatedly resorts to the equivalent of “just take my word on this.”

Would some statistics or facts help or harm his position?  He frequently resorts to generalities “lots, many, most” that could just as easily be oversimplification or exaggeration.  Dr. Bart does offer examples of passages that support his views, but he also claims that there are “lots” more of these in the Bible.  How about a list?  Generalized, exaggerated, inflated statements like these typically betray someone trying to sound more knowledgeable than they really are.  (Ooops.  Was that ironic?  Am I trying to do the same thing to Dr. Bart that he’s done to the reader?)

b. “Eight out of ten doctors of religious studies in liberal universities agree with me.” OK, I am clearly overstating this to make a point.  Since when does orthodoxy equal popularity?  When a writer appeals to popularity as a basis for authority, reasonable discourse is less possible.  Again, it’s the kind of thing you write if you want to sound authoritative without actually supplying evidence.

c. “People who believe in divine inspiration are biased, ignorant, and unsophisticated.” This is implied, not stated, but it’s a mood that clings to the book like cigarette smoke to a bowling shirt.

d. “I can trace my philosophic lineage back to Schweitzer and Bauer and they lived a long time ago.” Albert Schweitzer became a Unitarian and denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Walter Bauer’s thesis (one that Dr. Ehrman seems to embrace) was that one version of Christianity triumphed over the others and won the title “orthodox” (correct belief).  You can – as “historians” often do – blame Constantine for that.  The fact the other Christian beliefs existed is, to Dr. Bart, a sure sign that a human process was at work and orthodoxy is just a human invention.

e. “Let me remind you.” There is a sentence that is rephrased but appears often in this book.  It is the same assertion made in the subtitle; the Bible is just not trustworthy.  It is the same old “full of errors and contradictions” stuff that people spout just because they’ve heard it from somebody in authority.  That kind of repetition is pedantic, propagandistic.

5. Where I agree.

a. If you define “historian” as a guy like Dr. Bart, then I agree with his contention that such people are unqualified to judge the supernaturality of anything. However, he uses that as a point for rejecting anything of the divine, so I guess he thinks maybe he is qualified after all.  I suspect it is a rhetorical device for avoiding discussion of anything he doesn’t want to discuss.

b. When someone claims as a statement of faith that the Bible is “inspired in its original autographs (first copies),” that is a cop-out. We simply do not have the original documents.  It’s not a great leap of faith to say, “We believe God inspired the original authors, but these copyists we’re not too sure about.”  Make a statement about the Bible in your hands or say nothing at all.

c. Bible interpreters DO need to do more of what Dr. Bart calls “horizontal reading,” making comparisons in biblical passages. “Vertical reading” is very much akin to cherry-picking and taking quotes out of context.  Every Bible study and sermon needs to examine the text in literary, cultural, and historical contexts.  More horizontal reading will lead to less error and be less prone to eisegesis (interpreting from preconceptions first).

d. There are things in the Bible that require, at least, some mental gymnastics to fit together and fit in a systematic theology. The Bible itself seems to offer resistance to making easy generalizations.  Exceptions and challenging passages are numerous.  However, in my experience, they rarely – if ever – amount to much.  For example, how did Judas die?  Who cares?  I have struggled to harmonize the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection.  It can be done.  Is it important?  Not really.

e. Introducing us to some of the books that did NOT make the canon (were not included in our Bible), Dr. Bart supplies good reasons for their NOT being included, though he does not say that. Some of the stuff in this non-canonical works is just goofy.

f. “In traditional Christianity the Bible itself has never been an object of faith.” (p. 225) There is a line that is crossed when knowledge of the Bible becomes the primary or sole means of salvation.  It is a line drawn by the beholder, but it’s there just the same.  The object of our faith is Christ; the Bible is one means Christ has been revealed to us.  I try to refrain from “bibliolatry” as I call it.  If this is Dr. Ehrman’s point, then I agree.

6. Where I disagree.

a. Despite his claims to the contrary, Dr. Bart does want to persuade the reader to adopt his opinion. Generously, he allows you to make up your own mind how you apply it to life or faith.  That does not change the fact that his aim is to create a new orthodoxy and is trying to make it as appealing to a mass audience as possible.  (After all, who wants to be “unsophisticated” or “unscientific?”)

b. Proving that people had something to do with the Bible does not prove its unreliability as a written revelation of God. It proves that historically, people were involved.  Dr. Bart won’t even speculate that God might’ve been providentially involved in a process that can be historically described.

c. Dr. Bart has exercised his imagination in providing an alternative and thoroughly secular view to the development of the Bible and Christianity. Take the same set of facts and look at them from a theological viewpoint and other explanations arise.

d. When is Dr. Bart going to apply his critical expertise to the Quran or the Bhagavad Gita? When are other sacred writing exposed to this withering scrutiny?  How would this kind of prickly expose be received by Muslims or Hindus?

e. What you won’t find Dr. Bart discussing are the facts that the Bible was penned by nearly 40 authors over a period of 1600 years. It would be a statistical impossibility to achieve the internal integrity shown by the Bible.  You won’t find the same level of consistency in the Quran, Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita, though they are all reputedly written by a single person.

f. If 90% of the Bible (as a completely arbitrary figure, giving Dr. Bart too much credit) is self-consistent and 10% is not, it does not make sense to write a whole book about the 10% and claim it discredits 100% of the book.

g. I don’t accept Dr. Bart’s viewpoint as solely conclusive. I don’t trust him and view his generalizations, simplifications, and exaggerations with suspicions.  Indeed, our modern predilection toward viewing the scientific method as being THE test of truth is self-serving.

h. Portions of the Bible identify itself as inspired. For example, Peter viewed Paul’s writings as Scripture (see 2 Peter 3:15-16).  Dr. Bart speculates that Paul did not write his letters thinking of them as Scripture because he nowhere asserted such a claim.  That’s merely an argument from silence.  If historians find God inaccessible, what makes him think he can access Paul’s mind?  I would think a disciplined historian would not make unproveable assertions.

i. People who want to find fault always do. If Christianity had emerged whole cloth and Scripture was easy to harmonize, then people like Dr. Bart would still cry foul.  Imagine four people on the corners of an intersection.  Their accounts of a traffic accident occurring in their midst would not agree in all the details and significant differences may occur.  Does that make the witnesses liars?  Could not the explanation of the accident that accounts for the greater portion of the witness accounts be assumed to be an accurate portrayal of the accident?  Look at all the commentary on JFK’s assassination.  Is there no way to evaluate all that evidence, mitigating biases, to come up with a rational explanation?

He cries foul because, given some factoids and imagination, he can trace the development of the Bible and Christianity as a merely human set of actions (a conspiracy?).  The presence of what I call “human fingerprints” and a historical paper trail do not disprove the role of the supernatural in what we call orthodoxy today.  This is political correctness and modernity masquerading as scholarship.

j. Textual criticism and historical criticism are not methods of study that inevitably lead to Dr. Bart’s conclusions. That’s called bias, Dr. Bart, and that’s the charge you lay at the feet of the church fathers.

k. It’s counter-intuitive to contend, as Dr. Bart does, that a theology was formed and then sacred writings were cooked up to justify them. A simpler explanation is that the theology was received by writings that were later regarded as sacred.  Whether the canonizing councils always did right and for the right reasons merely proves their humanity, not their inaccuracy.

l. “Amazingly, virtually every time a new document is found, it is ‘heretical’ rather than ‘proto-orthodox.” (p. 215) Please don’t be distracted by the jargon; Dr. Ehrman’s point is that archaeology typically disproves the Bible.  Here’s another of those generalizations I told you about.  Dr. Bart wants us to take his word on this.  Here’s why; the movement of historical criticism of the Bible predates the establishment of the science of archaeology.  Germans like Schweitzer and Bauer were skeptical of the historicity of the Bible because, in part, there was so little evidence to examine.  But then people started digging stuff up.  Archaeology was born.  For example, no contemporary records for the existence of Pontius Pilate had been found and skeptics famously insisted the Bible was wrong on that point.  Then a monument was unearthed bearing his name.  Ooops.  Did any of those “experts” recant?

I will commit the same kind of gross generalization Dr. Bart does and say my perception is that the findings of these digs consistently uphold the Bible as an authentic statement of ancient history.  I wonder if there is any reliable statistical data to support either of us?  What Dr. Bart perceives is no doubt the bias of the people he’s read.  Me too, probably.

Throw out the whole point.  What difference does it make if historical evidence can be found?  The very nature of faith is that it operates independently of secular and physical evidence.  Who agreed that reason and/or the human brain and senses should be exalted as the final authority?  That kind of idolatry serves the skeptics, so they insist on it.  Phooey.

m. Dr. Bart is fairly transparent in writing that for him personally, the sticky wicket of Christianity is not claims of divine inspiration of the Bible, but the problem of suffering.  The existence of evil and suffering is a deal breaker.

I find this disappointing because it is a superficial complaint, even an excuse too-frequently offered.  Some people can’t (or won’t) reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with a god who is perfect in love or power.  Because bad things happen, god must either be imperfect or the whole thing is an exercise in wishful thinking.  This is the objection that grounded the faith of Charles Templeton, a close friend of the late Rev. Billy Graham.  In the 1940s, Templeton and Graham were in a kind of competition to establish ministries as mass evangelists.  It wasn’t so much that Graham won the race as Templeton chose to drop out.  He witnessed atrocious suffering and lost his faith, becoming a notorious atheist. Obviously, Billy Graham kept faithful to his faith and went on to impart it to countless others.  (This is merely an example.  I do not offer it as a proof of anything.)

There are many things that can be offered in answer to this problem.  As many of them are derived from the Bible, one wonders if Dr. Bart would receive them at all.  There is not space enough to address this issue here, so instead I encourage to read his Bible and to reason it out as well.  Quite simply, there is evil in the world and it creates suffering in its wake.  God allows suffering as a worldly outcome of free will and utilizes it, redeeming it, as a means of refining our faith.  An image of god that is only pleasant is another exercise of imagination and a “straw doggie” set up because it is easy to knock down; another rhetorical trick.

 

A Forever Kind of Love

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

Please read Psalm 89 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to research my remarks.

Picture the usual Christmas scene and focus on the husband and wife opening their gifts to each other.  This is one of those moments in life when something funny is bound to happen.

The husband pointed to an ill-wrapped package and said, “Open that one next.”

The wife picked up gift and unwrapped it, opening it to find one of those obnoxious singing-and-dancing robot Christmas trees. She is a bit shocked, remembering how just days ago she had pointed out how much she hated those things when she and her husband were shopping together.

Holding it at arm’s length she said, “Weren’t you listening when I said I thought these were the most annoying things ever?”

“Open that other gift,” the husband said, pointing to a long package that is even more poorly wrapped and is very heavy.

His wife set down the robotic Christmas tree as if it were radioactive.  She opened the second package to reveal a sledgehammer.

“Is this for what I think it’s for?”

The husband replied, “And you thought I wasn’t paying attention!”

<Adapted from https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-christmas-jokes/ on 12/21/17.>

We pin a lot of hopes and waste a lot of time trying to both please and surprise one another with Christmas gifts, don’t we?

One person wrote about how her dad got her mom a DVD of her favorite movie.  That would’ve been a thoughtful gift, except the DVD was a rental and they didn’t own a DVD player!

When calamities come, one question that springs to mind is “Why?  Why did God allow this to happen to me?”  The worst calamity to ever befall the OT people of God (Judah) was to be taken over and taken captive by the Babylonians.  This psalm is one of many examples of songs lamenting this terrible circumstance.

The psalm writers were not shy about expressing these questions, even accusing God of neglecting them.  They pleaded for an end to their suffering and leaned on His promises to encourage their hope.  This morning’s Psalm is an example of this way of attempting to renew the hopes of the captive Jews.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the dynasty of David (Psalm 89:1-4).

In verses one and two the LORD is worshiped because of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS.  These words occur seven times in the 52 verses of this psalm.

Eternity is bound up in this song; it is meant to be “The Song that Never Ends.”  We see this in the use of FOREVER and THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS; this worship is as eternal as HEAVEN ITSELF.  In Hebrew, the word translated as FOREVER is an indefinite length of time.  It is not exactly the same as the New Testament idea of eternity.  For example, in Romans 11:29, Paul wrote GOD’S GIFTS AND HIS CALL ARE IRREVOCABLE.  This assures us that God is not going to suddenly change His mind.  Our salvation is secure.  Here we see the idea that eternal means “unchanging.”

The LORD’s GREAT LOVE, a constant (faithful) LOVE.  So faithfulness is another aspect of things eternal.

These divine virtues they have been ESTABLISHED…IN HEAVEN ITSELF. The idea implied in the Hebrew is that the psalmist is creating a record of God’s faithfulness that will be preserved for future generations.

The appropriate human response is to praise God for His perfect love.  The words SING and DECLARE cover the two main ways we humans use our mouths to praise God.  The phrase WITH MY MOUTH meant “aloud” or “loudly.”  The joy of being in God is not supposed to be something we contain.  It ought to be too wonderful for us to conceal or hold inside; it ought to flow out of us, revealing God’s LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to our family and community.

The rest of this song gives us examples of other reasons the LORD is worthy of worship.

Vs. 5-13 = God’s power over creation.

Vs. 14-18 = God’s moral power.

Vs. 19-29 = God’s Son will be imbued with power.

Vs. 30-45 = God’s wrath against sin is mitigated by his covenant LOVE and FAITHFULNESS to keep His part of the covenant.

Vs. 46-52 = Worship includes pleading to God for mercy and relief from His discipline.

Verses three and four explain one aspect of His LOVE and FAITHFULNESS: His eternal covenant with David in which God established the dynasty of David forever.  (See also vs. 26-29.)  King David is referred to as the LORD’s CHOSEN ONE and His SERVANT, emphasizing the special relationship they enjoyed.

The title CHOSEN ONE refers to the way God always works.  He chooses us first.  He makes His plans and attempts to work them with our cooperation.  The emphasis is never on our qualifications, but on God’s choosing and empowering.

The title SERVANT refers to David doing his part of the covenant-relationship; doing God’s will.

The COVENANT God swore with David was to establish an eternal dynasty, having one of David’s descendants reign over God’s people for all eternity.  The fulfillment of this promise was realized in Jesus, who was a member of David’s royal family and because of His victory over death, Jesus Christ will reign as King for all eternity.

We are to feel secure in this promise.  The psalmist expressed that feeling of security in a couple different ways: he used the words STANDS FIRM (2) and ESTABLISH (4) to assure us of this trustworthy foundation to our faith.

  1. The forever love of God is found in the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel (1:1-17) is there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David and went back only as far as Abraham.  The purpose behind that family tree was to show that Jesus is related to all Jews.

The genealogy of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel (1:1-17) is also there to prove that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, was of the line of David.  But Luke’s version goes all the way back to Adam, with the purpose of showing that Jesus is related to all people.  Some people also think that even though Mary’s name is not used by Luke, these ancestors Mary shared in common with Joseph.

The love of God the Father for Jesus, God the Son, was expressed three times in the New Testament.

The first was at Jesus’ baptism by John (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22), where the voice from heaven said, “THIS IS MY SON, WHOM I LOVE; WITH HIM I AM WELL PLEASED.”

These words were repeated by the voice of our Heavenly Father at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36), with an addition, “LISTEN TO HIM.”

In John 12:20-50, Jesus taught some Greeks about eternal life and prayed, “FATHER, GLORIFY YOUR NAME.”  The heavenly voice responded, “I HAVE GLORIFIED IT, AND WILL GLORIFY IT AGAIN.” Jesus explained that the voice spoke so that the people there would realize that His immanent death would provide salvation for all people.

God’s love is eternally expressed in Jesus Christ.

In an article entitled “Keep Close to the Heart of Christmas,” Bible Teacher and Pastor John Piper put Christmas in perspective.

“Now, I think this is as close as we get to the actual description of the event of the incarnation — of the divine nature, in some way, uniting with the human nature in the womb of Mary. We know from numerous texts in the New Testament that Jesus was God, very God, who had a divine nature. He had a real divine nature. Colossians 2:9 says that in his body there was ‘fullness of deity.’

“And we know that Jesus Christ also had a human nature. Paul says, ‘There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2:5). So he was a mediator between God and man because he was a man. So we know that Jesus was a God-man. There were two natures, the divine nature and the human nature, in this one person — Jesus Christ.”

<Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/keep-close-to-the-heart-of-christmas on 12/21/17.>

On this last Sunday in Advent, with Christmas Eve just hours away, we reach the climax of our struggle to keep Christmas centered on Christ.  Too soon, the day will be over and we’ll wonder why we got into such a fuss again this year.  We’ll vow to do better next year and probably fall back into old habits instead.

We’ve learned that Jesus Christ is the focus of both Old and New Testaments.  He gives all that is needed for salvation to all who will, by faith, receive it.  Be one of those people at Christmas and all year long.

All Good Things

Please read Psalm 85 in your Bible.  I used the NIV to prepare these remarks.

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

One part of the process of maturing is setting aside the myths and mistaken thinking that comfort and guide us when we are young and/or immature.  For example, the inevitable moment in growing up when we set aside the Santa Claus myth.

In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller tells the story of when he first realized that Santa was not real.  He was eight years old at the time and at the mall.  Needing to use the restroom, he went inside and was awestruck to see Santa himself, standing there using the facilities.  He thought it an honor to see jolly ol’ St. Nick, even though he was outside of his usual environment.

Santa finished what he came for, turned around and caught young Donnie staring at him.  He said, “Ho, ho, ho, kid.”

There were no words in young Donald’s mind and nothing came out of his mouth.   Santa shrugged & walked out of the bathroom.

After being starstruck wore off, Donald realized that Santa had left the men’s room without washing his hands.  Yuck!  He could not believe that someone with Santa’s reputation for fussiness about keeping naughty and nice lists could be so lacking in simple hygiene.  It was then and there that Donald decided there was no such person as Santa Claus and the guy with germy hands was just someone trying to earn some extra money during the holidays.

He left the restroom to join his family who were already in line to see Santa Claus.  He asked his mother to be excused.  He sat down in the lingerie department and consider the ramifications of this important decision.

(Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller, 2004, pp. 22-25.)

This process is not just for children, however.  All our lives we are supposed to continue maturing, continuing to put away the myths, superstitions, and half-truths that have made us comfortable but are wrong.

Jesus came, in part, to keep God’s promises.  He became one of us to give us the whole truth about God and set us free from the untrue things that hold us back from real life with God.  Psalm 85 is packed with “adult words” and encouraging promises.

  1. The key words in these promises.

FAVOR (v. 1).  The object of God’s FAVOR is the LAND.  The Promised Land was one of the chief points of Jewish theology, it was a sign of God’s love for His people.

Restoration (v. 1+4).   The historical object of restoration was to be returned to their LAND, to end their 70 years of captivity.

Forgiveness is named and described in four different ways.

God forgave and COVERED ALL THEIR SINS (v. 2).  True forgiveness requires some forgetting, putting away the offense.  When God forgives, He forgets completely.  We must do the same.

The psalmist pleaded with God to forgive and SET ASIDE ALL YOUR WRATH AND TURN FROM YOUR FIERCE ANGER (v. 3).  Forgiveness requires giving up one’s right to seek revenge or punish.  To truly forgive, both the forgiver and the forgiven need to humble themselves and make some sacrifices

He also pleaded with him to PUT AWAY YOUR DISPLEASURE (v. 4).  Forgiveness does not allow grudge-holding.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  This truth is expressed twice in verse five, in slightly different ways.  (Do not BE ANGRY WITH US FOREVER, and do not PROLONG YOUR ANGER THROUGH ALL GENERATIONS.)  They show a concern for the future and a desire to move forward.

Revival (v. 6).  To “revive” something is to restore or renew life; to spark vitality where life is ebbing.  This is a gift from God, another act of grace.  Asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness is the first step toward revival.  Every revival has begun with intense times of conviction of sin and repentance.

LOVE (v. 7).  LOVE is an Old Testament virtue.  It may not be as obvious as it is in the NT, but it is true that throughout the Bible, LOVE is the greatest virtue.  This verse is as accurate and abridged statement of the Gospel as you’d hope to find in the NT.  LOVE has always been God’s thing.

RIGHTEOUSNESS (vs. 11+13).  We think of RIGHTEOUSNESS in moral terms and that’s true, but not the whole truth.  The origin of RIGHTEOUSNESS is not in our moral willpower.  It comes with the Holy Spirit.  It is another grace God gives us.  The Bible says that any righteousness we can achieve is inadequate to save us.  As v. 13 makes clear, the human form of RIGHTEOUSNESS was expressed in the living and teaching of Jesus.  We follow His example.

  1. The results of the promises kept.

REJOICE IN YOU (v. 6).  Joy is supposed to be our “default setting.”  If life is characterized by anger or gloom, something must change.

SALVATION (vs. 7+9).  It is likely the original readers/singers of this psalm saw restoration, revival, and SALVATION as returning home from Babylon.  For us, SALVATION takes on a more eternal perspective.  We think of SALVATION as our going from earth to heaven.

PEACE (v. 8).  This is REAL peace, the kind that passes human understanding (see Philippians 4:7).  More than the absence of conflict, this is an emotional stability that exists in the face of conflict, a contagious positivity and ease.

HIS GLORY will DWELL IN OUR LAND (v. 9).  God’s presence is His glory and is manifest in light.  God is among His people and in the LAND.

The combined virtues of LOVE and FAITHFULNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS and PEACE become possible (v. 10).  We know it is difficult to be loving AND faithful at the same time.  God will sometimes require us to do the faithful thing and someone will feel like we’ve been unloving.  Doing the right thing will put us at odds with people doing the wrong thing, or doing nothing.  When your choice is between doing God’s will OR anything else, pick God’s way.  Be obedient to God first and let the people sort themselves out.  We have to answer to God.

THE LORD WILL GIVE WHAT IS GOOD, the LAND WILL YIELD A HARVEST (v. 12).  Whether or not we recognize it at the time, the LORD will do what is GOOD for us.  What we HARVEST depends on what we have planted (see Galatians 6:7-8).

  1. Our part in receiving these promises.

We must LISTEN TO WHAT THE LORD GOD SAYS (v. 8).  On a practical level, this means two things.  First, listen to the LORD, not the world and CERTAINLY not the devil.  Second, as James 1:22-23 states, don’t just listen to God’s word and then go out and do whatever you please.  Apply the word.

Be FAITHFUL SERVANTS (v. 8).  Pride can get in the way of being a SERVANT, but you must serve others if you want to serve the LORD.  God’s will is that we should serve each other, not be individuals unconcerned about each other, or worse, in competition with each other, or worst of all, in conflict.

TURN NOT TO FOLLY (v. 8).  FOLLY here refers to claiming to be a child of God but behaving like a worldly person, not following the way of God.  It is the worst kind of FOLLY to see the life that God offers and then reject Him.

FEAR HIM (v. 9).   FEAR of God means at least three things.  One, feeling awe for God; being overwhelmed by His glory and goodness.  Two, having respect for God; complying with His will because you recognize His authority.  Three, it is legitimate to have a healthy FEAR of God.  A healthy fear is based on knowledge that God has all power and that one day we will have to stand before Him in judgment.

Verse 11 lists two virtues and describes their different points of origin.  FAITHFULNESS is something we practice: that’s why it SPRINGS FORTH FROM THE EARTH.   To be faithful, we must make our daily decisions based on the guidance we receive from God’s word; it involves our will.

RIGHTEOUSNESS is a virtue we receive from heaven: that’s why it’s said to look DOWN FROM HEAVEN.  To be righteous, we must allow the Holy Spirit within us to guide us into the right things to say and do.

  1. Jesus was born to keep these promises.

This truth is affirmed in the Gospels.  In Matthew 1:21, an angel declared to Joseph one reason for the birth of Jesus; “[Mary] WILL GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO GIVE HIM THE NAME JESUS, BECAUSE HE WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS.”

To Mary, the angel Gabriel declared a different purpose, “YOU WILL CONCEIVE AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND YOU ARE TO CALL HIM JESUS.  HE WILL BE GREAT AND WILL BE CALLED THE SON OF THE MOST HIGH.  THE LORD GOD WILL GIVE HIM THE THRONE OF HIS FATHER DAVID, AND HE WILL REIGN OVER JACOB’S DESCENDANTS FOREVER; HIS KINGDOM WILL NEVER END.” (Luke 1:30-33).

Paul affirmed Jesus was the keeper of God the Father’s promises (see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).  He is our RIGHTEOUSNESS, HOLINESS, and REDEMPTION

Jesus is Keeper of all God’s promises, the Giver of all good things.

Don’t be content to just hear the words; be ambitious to do them.  The world needs godly people ambitious to do God’s will.