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A blog by Bishop Emeritus Donald N. Bastian
Updated: 1 day 7 hours ago

Re-post: Do Christians Worship One God or Three?

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 11:00

Muslims charge that Christians worship three gods. Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses make the same accusation. The word, Trinity, offends them.

Even some Christians are vague about what Trinity means because it seems mysterious. Mysterious indeed: God reveals himself first as one God, and, at the same time, as three Persons in one Godhead.

When God addressed Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3) Moses’ world reeked with many gods and he knew that. Yet, Moses did not ask, “Which God is this now?” From the beginning, it was revealed to him that there was only one true God for all to reckon with.

Listen to the Shema of the Old Testament: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). In that ancient world teeming with gods, the Old Testament holds Jehovah to be “the Sovereign Lord” (Hab. 3:19).

The New Testament continues the claim. During Jesus’ forty-day fast, Satan tried to entice him to worship him. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Lk. 4:8).

At the same time, Scriptures show that this One God manifests himself in three persons, and this reality is repeatedly set forth.

After the resurrection, Jesus’ Disciple, Thomas, worshiped the risen Savior. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” If this declaration had been false but Jesus had accepted it, his acceptance would have been blasphemous.

Instead, later the Apostle John reinforces Thomas’s declaration. He testifies of Jesus, “the Word was God,” period (John 1:1).

But what about the Holy Spirit? In the early church, when a couple named Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive Peter over a gift of money, Peter saw through their ruse. He said to Ananias, “… you have lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). Then he added, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).

It is not possible to lie to a mere influence. The Holy Spirit is obviously more than a feeling. He is “personal” in several respects. He is God, the Spirit.

So, Jesus, at his baptism “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove” and heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my Son whom I love” (Matt.3:16, 17). In that moment we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in one event of revelation.

During the first four hundred years of the early church, the church fathers wrestled with these affirmations made in both Testaments. To give them order, they formulated this precious truth under the title of the Trinity.

They said, God is one in “essence” and three in “persons.” He must be worshiped without dividing the essence or confusing the persons. God the Father rules over all; God the Son is our Redeemer; God the Spirit is our sanctifier.

The hymn our congregation sang to conclude worship on a recent Sunday morning included the following words:

 

Laud and honor to the Father,

Laud and honor to the Son.

Laud and honor to the Spirit,

 Ever Three and Ever One.

We sing this 700-year-old hymn in praise to our God who is revealed to us as the Three-in-One – the God who creates, redeems and sanctifies us.

If this truth still mystifies you, remember that it is in our worship of the God who is three-in-one that we come closest to grasping the reality of this great mystery of the Christian faith.

When we pray, “Our Father which art in Heaven” we worship the one and only God. When we say of Jesus, “He is Lord and Savior,” we acknowledge the one and only God. When we entreat the Holy Spirit to guide us, we entreat the one and only God. Three persons in one Godhead!

Let us worship God!

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Christian Hope: A Counter To Spiritual Anemia?

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 11:00

I know the symptoms of anemia. You feel tired all the time, weak, lacking energy. You are alive, but life is a burden.

The cause of anemia, I’m told, is not enough red blood cells in the bloodstream to carry oxygen throughout the body. Serious lack of energy may be noticed before any other evidence of the deficiency.

Is there a parallel condition we could call spiritual anemia? A person may be a believer but may have limited faith energy and may lack rooted confidence in the hope Christians have of a life everlasting.

The short supply isn’t red blood cells but rather it is Spirit-delivered Christian hope. 

Christian hope means more than wishing for good luck such as: I hope the sun will shine on our family picnic. Instead, it is a “confident expectation,” a certainty, for the future that we cannot presently know or see.

It is founded upon something we do know as believers — that God raised up Christ from the dead and he will raise us up also!

Saint Peter shows us how fundamental this word is when he writes to beleaguered Christians of the dispersion: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … (1 Peter 1:3)

Not a theoretical hope, or a fanciful hope, a living hope!

The gospel songwriter, Eliza E. Hewitt caught this certainty of the Christian hope and the energy it plays back into our present circumstances when she wrote:

Let us then be true and faithful,

Trusting, serving every day;

Just one glimpse of Him in glory

Will the toils of life repay.

Paul reminds the Christians in Ephesus that, before their conversion to Christ, they were without God and without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:12). In spite of adequate resources, an abundance of this world’s excitement, and pagan religious affiliations, none of these spoke a sure word of hope about the life to come.

When we are believers but feel spiritually anemic — that is, we are short on the energy the Christian hope provides, and we have only an inner uncertainty about the promise of everlasting life — there is something we can do about it.

We can turn to those Scriptures that reinforce our confidence in the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and meditate on our promised resurrection too. These scriptures will stimulate a formation of spiritual red blood cells, so to speak, and restore our energy to love God and serve him in this world.

One such scripture recounts the conversation between Jesus and Mary when she was in the throes of grief from the loss of her brother, Lazarus (John 11:25).

He said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Then he followed with the question to Mary that all people of faith must be prepared to answer: Do you believe this?

Photo credit: tanjila ahmed (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Good Decisions Don’t Just Happen

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 11:00

Who doesn’t want to make good decisions? After all, our lives are shaped largely by the sum of the decisions we make.

Many of our decisions are routine and without moral significance: What shall I wear to work in the garden today? Then there are the big ones. If a proposal of marriage should come on Valentine’s Day, should I accept? Consequences either way would be long term.

Our grandson, Zach, once told me of a talk he heard on wise decision-making given by a doctor at a meeting of the Christian Medical Fellowship. What impressed him about the talk was the common sense of the doctor’s outline.

He identified two reference points for making life-shaping decisions — “righteousness” and “wisdom.”

Righteousness, the doctor said, equips us with an unshakable standard. The Ten Commandments in the Bible are a base for facing life’s most critical issues, and that standard, we find, is already written into our consciences.

For example, we are to have no other gods but the true God — the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to reverence God’s name; to show honor to our parents; and we are not to steal, or bear false witness. Issues like these are not negotiable.

According to the doctor, a second element is needed in decision making and that is wisdom. This is the application of common sense in accordance with our grasp of the above deeply rooted standard of righteousness.

We apply the two together to the specific decisions we must make. For example, God’s righteousness tells us we are not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly (Psalm 1). In the light of that instruction, wisdom helps us to choose our friends wisely.

Wisdom allows us to maintain our commitments to righteousness while we wrestle with the endless variables of life. In doing so our solid footing does not give way while we tread through the process of deciding.

The doctor’s point that appealed most to Zach was this: when we take righteousness seriously as a fixed point but must make a decision unguided by chapter-and-verse, we can go forward confidently and carefully apply the best wisdom we have.

And when we go ahead, Zach continued, with the best wisdom at our disposal, we are saved from the paralysis of second-guessing ourselves. We remain staunch while we decide.

All of this reflects the wisdom of master decision number one: to follow Christ wholeheartedly. When we stay close to him we stay close to his righteousness and his wisdom.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — He is the righteousness of God to us and he is (at the same time) the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Photo credit: Richard Elzey (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

The Battle of the Christian Heart

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 11:00

On a visit to the Philippines, I spent part of a weekend with Pastor David Yardy in Manila. His was a newly-established church, attended by about 100 mostly young converts, many of whom were professional people.

At a steamy Sunday morning service one young man stood and spoke of his struggle with lust. At first, this seemed unusually candid to me, because during my time as pastor of a college church in the United States, sins like lust were usually confessed in private during times of counseling and prayer.

As the young man in Manila spoke I wondered how the young women present would see him from then on. However, Pastor David responded skillfully. He stood and quietly acknowledged the confession, explaining that this was among the struggles a new Christian would experience in his/her desire to be inwardly pure. He spoke clearly of the way to victory in Christ.

There was a refreshing honesty and deep seriousness about sin in that congregation that day. These Christians had recently come to faith in Christ and there was no impulse to conceal the realities of the old life.

The pastor was well aware that God willed his newborn children to be victorious not only over outward and more public sins such as stealing and lying, but also hidden “heart” sins. Pastor Yardy’s ministry was in accord with what the Apostle Paul wrote to Christians long before: So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).

In that letter the Apostle Paul identifies eighteen sins of our fallen natures, and they can be divided into four groups.

Sensual sins: immorality (fornication, or sex outside of marriage), uncleanness (inner defilement produced by harboring salacious thoughts), licentiousness (a reckless disregard for public decency).

Religious sins: idolatry (whatever we allow to dominate our affections can create an element of worship, whether of possessions, status or even the world’s values), witchcraft (the use of magic in the calling up of evil spirits for information or advice).

There are interpersonal sins: enmity (hidden feelings of unbrotherliness), strife (inclination to create division or conflict), jealousy (causing rivalry with or even hatred of the fortunate), anger (hurtful rage), selfishness (self-absorption, egocentricity), dissension (open hostility), party spirit (divisiveness, wilful breach of relationships), envy (secret desire to deprive another of what he/she has), murder (hatred which could grow to the taking of another’s life).

And there are vulgar, coarse sins marked by loss of self-control: drunkenness and carousing.

What a cesspool of evil! Sins from this catalogue are often the cause of inner bondage, or at the root of conflict in families or Christian communities and organizations.

Only the enablement of the mighty Spirit of God can help us conquer the sinful nature. And his help is only possible if we are willing to acknowledge the reality of these darker exertions as elements of our fallenness. They cannot be educated out of existence. They cannot be disciplined into good behavior. The Apostle Paul’s remedy is much more radical. 

He writes: Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). The sinful nature must be put on the cross and by faith and the use of Christian practices kept there. These practices include honest confession of the reality of heart sin, association with healthy-minded Christians, daily Bible reading, prayer, regular communal worship, and pastoral counsel if needed.

As Saint Paul exhorted long ago: live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:16).

Photo credit: Claudio Ungari (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is Holiness Optional?

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 11:00

The God who freely forgives sins is also the God who in turn calls us to be holy. God instructed Moses: Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy, because I the Lord your God am holy.

In the 19th chapter of Leviticus where this is found, many specific requirements of holy conduct are listed. Not every one of them remained an issue after Messiah came, but the command to be holy as God is holy did. We see this in the New Testament where Saint Peter, quoting from Leviticus, exhorted the church: But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: be holy for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16).

At the very outset of Leviticus 19 God declares his holiness: I am holy. Then, 15 times we have his repeated declaration: I am the Lord. The two declarations belong together: I am the Lord and I am holy.

The word, holiness, means “to set apart.” That God is holy reflects his “otherness.” He is not merely an enlarged or improved version of mankind. He is utterly pure, perfectly just, righteous, loving, and in this passage his holiness is the quintessential attribute of his being.

In Christian experience, therefore, seeking and demonstrating the holiness of God is not optional, it is fundamental: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

Consider four features of his holiness in Leviticus 19 that the whole assembly was expected to display as his chosen people — features that are relevant today.

The passage begins with this command: Each of you must respect his mother and father (Leviticus 19:3). That is, the holy nation was to be characterized by wholesome family life. While later in the chapter God’s people are commanded to love their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) children loving their parents is not the first issue in family life; it is children of all ages giving parents their due respect or honor.

Second, holiness is reflected in a strong sense of compassion for those with special vulnerabilities: Gleanings for the poor were to be left when God’s holy people reaped their land (Leviticus 19:9,10). Wages were to be paid promptly so a worker’s family would not suffer deprivation (Leviticus 19:13). Special care was to be shown for the deaf and the blind (Leviticus 19:14).

Third, God’s holiness was to prompt a keen morality in his worshipers; there was to be no stealing, lying, deceiving or the taking of false oaths (Leviticus 19: 11,12). Likewise, meticulously honest measurements were to be used when doing business (Leviticus 19: 35,36). God’s holiness quickens the conscience, and holiness and moral integrity belong together.

Fourth, God’s holiness forbade the heathen practice of seeking guidance through divination or spiritism or sorcery (Leviticus 19: 26, 31). These were superstitious practices used by heathen neighbors to manipulate or communicate with their gods. To be holy meant to be separated from superstitions, trusting only the faithfulness of the one true God.

In summary, the Old Testament issues much more than a promise of the forgiveness of sins, as amazing as that is. It issues to all believers a clarion call to be holy as God is holy.

Holiness, as all other blessings from God, is a gift of God’s grace in response to faith. But the yearning God places in us for his holiness is manifested by the honesty of our seeking — by our searching of the Scriptures, our faithfulness to the church where the Bible is taken seriously, and particularly our confession of heart sin and impurity as the Holy Spirit makes them known to us.

Our part, without merit, is the setting ourselves apart — consecrating ourselves. Then follows the promised results to those whose faith is in Jesus: since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

 

Photo credit: ideacreamanuela2 (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Is God’s Mercy Really Boundless?

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:00

If you know someone who thinks their sin history is so dark that they are beyond God’s mercy, suggest to them that they ponder the story of King Manasseh of Judah (2 Chronicles 33).

Manasseh was the most wicked of the kings in the lineage of King David.

God had declared that his own name, Jehovah, would endure in Jerusalem forever but Manasseh wantonly defiled his holy temple there. He built pagan altars in the courts of the temple for the worship of all the “starry hosts,” and he covered the land with altars to Baal, the fertility god of Judah’s neighbors.

Following the practices of heathen nations, Manasseh sacrificed his sons in a monstrous religious rite, burning them in the valley of Ben Hinnom.

Here’s the chronicler’s summary of the extent of his evil: Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites (2 Chronicles 33:9).

The nation followed Manasseh’s lead and God’s anger was provoked. As punishment, Jerusalem fell to the Assyrian forces, and they captured Manasseh, put a ring in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles, and took him far away to Babylon.

Eventually, an unexpected word came from that distant land. The chronicler tells us, In his distress, [Manasseh] sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers (2 Chronicles 33:12).

He had been so wantonly wicked that one might expect the Lord’s response to his entreaties would be: You’ve crossed the line of no return. There’s no hope for you!

Instead, the chronicler writes: And when [Manasseh] prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God (2 Chronicles 33:13).

The Lord’s mercy to Manasseh was boundless, beyond our comprehension.

For Christians, such incomprehensible mercy points us to Jesus. He was the lamb slain from the foundations of the world (Revelation 13:8) so that his sacrificial death might pay the penalty for the sins of the world from Adam forward. God’s wrath against sin was appeased and, at the same time, God’s mercy towards the penitent was displayed. As Charles Wesley wrote centuries later:

He breaks the power of canceled sin

He sets the prisoner free;

His blood can make the foulest clean;

His blood availed for me.

Upon Manasseh’s return to Jerusalem after his release from Babylon the forgiven king took up the hard work of undoing his previous evil and setting Judah in order. He got rid of the heathen idols, destroyed their altars, and improved the protection of his people. He also spoke out as God’s man and exhorted the people of Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel (2 Chronicles 33:16).

Was Manasseh a rare case of undeserved mercy? When God gives the most sinful of us a glimpse of our sin history and we humble ourselves like Manasseh did, his boundless mercy is given and his grace sets us on a new course.

What is the sign that Manasseh’s mercy was received? With a new heart and hands he worked to undo wrongs he had committed and to live henceforth under the sovereign rule of Judah’s God.

 

Photo credit: Matthias Ripp (via flickr.com)

Categories: Churchie Feeds

Strength for the New Year

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:00
Even youths grow tired and weary, And young men stumble and fall; But those who hope in the Lord Will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, They will run and not grow weary, They will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30,31

 

Photo credit: Don Wise (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

God Knows

Mon, 01/01/2018 - 11:00

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,

“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God;

That shall be better to you than light, and safer than a known way.”

May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all.

Minnie Haskins (1875 – 1957)

Photo credit: fruity monkey (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Christmas Greetings, And a Personal Note

Mon, 12/25/2017 - 11:00

Christmas Greetings to my readers near and far! This is a season of both joy and hope — joy that Messiah has come and hope that through him the long term future is assured.

A shared note: This week Kathleen and I have celebrated our 70th Christmas together.  Seventy years ago, on December 20, 1947, we stood side by side under a homemade arch in a simple cottage on North Street in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  There, we exchanged marriage vows.

We were only 21, and unsophisticated by today’s standards, but the conservative religious backgrounds from which we both came, and the generally positive attitude toward marriage permeating society at the time gave us cultural as well as Christian standards to live by.

Those solemn promises we made under that arch before God and to each other — for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health — we believe made us husband and wife in the sight of both God and man.

We enter our 71st year together knowing that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ guided us faithfully through the past 70 years.  And we are confident that He will guide us in the uncharted days ahead.

On several occasions people who learn of the long span of our marriage have asked Kathleen, “What’s the secret?” Her one-word answer has always been the same: “Respect.”

That may at first sound too simple for anything so complex as the “total shared union” marriage turns out to be. The Bible calls it appropriately a “one flesh” union which must mean it involves a shared identity, family responsibilities, resources, sleeping quarters, opinions, successes, and on and on. In a sense, two become one. If respect is lacking, each of these areas of life can become a source of conflict.

We know that after a commitment to mutual respect is made, lots of details are left to be worked out as the relationship grows. Every marriage has its moments of stress, disagreement, disappointment, misunderstanding. The key to a strong, satisfying marriage is to retain respect as the umbrella under which adjustments are made, opinions reconciled, and misunderstandings corrected.

Mutual respect is a good cornerstone on which to build the day-to-day ins-and-outs of this shared life. In a strong marriage there’s much more than respect involved in the relationship, but there’s never less. Disrespect, whether occasional or constant, gradually chokes out love.

The Apostle Paul had it right when he summarized his simple instructions to what may have been a congregation of first generation Christians in the pagan city of Ephesus:  

…Each one of you (husbands) should love his wife as himself, and wives should respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:13 CEB). That requires respect shown in both directions for sure.

A blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year to all!!

Photo credit: Kenneth Lu (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Joseph Struggled over Mary’s Pregnancy and How God Comforted Him

Mon, 12/18/2017 - 11:00

Luke tells the Advent story from the perspective of Mary the Virgin (Luke 1:26 – 38). Matthew gives greater attention to the way Joseph got the information and how he dealt with it (Matthew 2:18 – 25).

Joseph was engaged to marry Mary. Engagement in first century Israel was like a first phase of marriage, and much more binding than it is today.

When a man and woman were pledged to marry, their engagement was sealed by a public ceremony. Matthew gives us a sense of the firmness of the relationship between engagement and marriage: First he writes that Mary “was pledged to be married to Joseph (v.18). But in the next verse, though nothing has changed, he refers to Joseph as Mary’s husband (v.19).

Moreover, to break an engagement required the signing of divorce papers. And if the male should die during the engagement his pledged bride was regarded in society as a widow.

Then at the appointed time (sometimes after time allotted for the groom to build a house) the marriage itself would be celebrated with a flourish and the husband would take his bride into his home where the marriage would be consummated.

Imagine Joseph’s shock when word reached him that during their engagement Mary was found to be pregnant. Questions must have raced through his mind. There are indications that he struggled with the question: How shall I cancel my sacred pledge? 

To characterize Joseph, Matthew uses only one descriptive word: He was a “righteous” man. That meant he was a serious practicing Jew; a respecter of God’s law; a religious man set on doing God’s will. Society would not likely have looked down upon him if he had divorced Mary in a very public and humiliating way.

But his righteous character had a compassionate counterbalance. Though profoundly disappointed, his love for Mary was protective. He decided he would divorce her quietly so as to cause her as little humiliation as possible.

At that point, an angel appeared to him in a dream to help him through his quandary.

The angel addressed him as Joseph, son of David — David being Israel’s most honored King from whose line the Messiah was expected to come to Israel. 

The angel said, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus (meaning Jehovah the helper) because he will save his people from their sins.

Matthew adds the following words from the prophecies of Isaiah made 700 years earlier: A virgin shall conceive and the son she bears will be called Immanuel — God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

Jehovah the helper? God with us? Joseph would need those words. There were to be hard days ahead as he took Mary into his house to live out the pregnancy. Though the community would not understand, he was resolute both as a righteous man and Mary’s protector.

His name shall be Jesus! That’s what the angel announced. He will be Immanuel — God with us!  That’s what the prophet Isaiah prophesied!

Advent brings home to us afresh those words. In the birth of Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit and the obedience of Joseph and Mary God came into the human family. In the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus is with his people to this day. And to this day he has the power to save us from our sins.

Jesus! God with us! Savior! Oh blessed Christmas!

Photo credit: Barta IV (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

When Mary Meets an Angel — What Then?

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 11:00

The Annunciation by John William Waterhouse, 1914. Public Domain.

In Saint Luke’s compelling story of the Virgin Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel, the chief actor is God himself. (Luke 1: 26.)

It is He who sends his angel to Mary with a specific message. And, even though myriads of angels appear elsewhere in the Scriptures, only two — Gabriel, and Michael (Jude 9) — are named. This suggests Gabriel’s great elevation.

Mary lived in a little town called Nazareth in Galilee. She was committed to be married to a man named Joseph who was a descendant of Israel’s ancient King David.

In those biblical times marriage could be solemnized at an early age. One historian suggests that Mary might have been as young as 14.

If the Eternal God would send an elevated angel with an understandable message for a fourteen-year-old, the message must have been really important. So it turned out to be.

As Gabriel appeared to Mary he greeted her, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (CEB)

Rejoice indeed. But that was not her first impulse. Gabriel’s words troubled her greatly. She puzzled over them; what could they mean?

The angel addressed her fear, “Don’t be afraid.”  He then gave Mary his message — a message never delivered before and never to be heard again: “You are going to be the mother of a son, and you will call him Jesus” — the Messiah.

Gabriel went on: “Your son will be great and will be known as the Son of the Most High.” The Most High? That’s the Almighty God. That’s the Sovereign over all creation. The angel continued, “the Lord God will give him the throne of his forefather, David, and he will be king over the people of Jacob forever. His reign shall never end.” (JBP)

Mary asked the obvious question: “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1: 34).

Gabriel, answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most high will overshadow you. Your child will therefore be called holy — the Son of God.” (JBP)

These words sound like the echo of Genesis 1:2 at the moment the Creator called all creation into being: “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said….“ (Genesis 1:2). This birth was going to be unique — a miraculous act of God.

Once, Gabriel referred to the eternal God as “The Lord” and twice as “The Most High” and then, as “The Lord God,” ending his part of the conversation with the assurance that “… Nothing is impossible with God.” God was the authority behind Gabriel’s message.

But in this exchange the Virgin Mary was far from passive. Once she understood, she declared, “I am the Lord’s servant.” There was no long struggle; her heart was already obedient to the Lord and she responded quickly and with great freedom of spirit.

Luke tells us nothing about Mary’s heritage, or her physical appearance, or even her location. The issue was her willingness to be God’s servant in his great miracle.

She concluded with: “May it be to me as you (Gabriel) have said.” In effect: I’m ready for whatever the Lord wants.

The angelic messenger vanished: mission accomplished! In time, Mary was God’s agent to provide a Savior for the world. We honor her greatly for accepting with humility her part in the drama of the world’s redemption.

CEB, Contemporary English Bible; JBP, JB Phillips Paraphrase

 

 


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Let Advent Heighten Our Love for the Gospel

Mon, 12/04/2017 - 11:00

It’s the longest book in the New Testament, written by the only Gentile contributor to that sacred collection. Some would say it is also the most beautiful literary work found there.

Luke, a long-time companion of the Apostle Paul (Acts 16:10-11), is its author, and he is a first century doctor by profession (Colossians 4:.10-11.14).

But in our skeptical times, critics question the trustworthiness of Luke’s claims. Are they real history? Confidence in his message has loosened its hold even on some believers.

Luke almost seems to anticipate our skepticism. And so, he begins his message with the longest sentence in the New Testament, carefully crafted to lay the groundwork for everything he wants to say.

To help you feel the seriousness of what he claims I’m going to break down that original sentence into several even shorter sentences as follows:

(To Theophilus, to whom he is writing): Remarkable things have happened among us. Many have believed and attempted to draw up an account of these events. Their accounts were handed down to us by people who were first-hand witnesses. They were people who gave themselves to spreading the word. Not just they but I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning. I feel compelled to write an orderly account of it all. This is for you, most excellent Theophilus. You have already had basic teaching of the faith. But my purpose is to be sure you feel the certainty of what you have been taught.

Theophilus may have been a Roman government official and a relatively new convert to the faith. Here, in his Gospel account, Luke goes to great lengths to enrich his faith by giving him a fuller grounding in the historical facts and claims of Our Lord Jesus Christ as his diligent investigation has uncovered them.

Here, I want to point out the first and last miracles Luke reports.

The first miracle, recorded nowhere else in the New Testament, has to do with an elderly priest named Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, both of them from Israel’s priestly line. They were childless and while Zechariah was ministering in the temple the angel Gabriel came to him and announced that, in spite of their great age, he and Elizabeth would have a son, to be named John.

In spite of Zechariah’s great piety, he did not believe Gabriel’s message, and for that disbelief he was rendered speechless for several months until after the promised miracle was fulfilled. The son born to them became none other than John the Baptist.

The second miracle is the one with which Luke closes his Gospel (Luke 22-24). It is the greatest miracle ever — Jesus’ resurrection! Although he suffered disfiguring brutality brought about by Israel’s religious rulers and carried out by his Roman executioners, nevertheless, on the third day he was raised from death as promised in the freshness and vigor of resurrected life.

In the telling of these two miracles after careful investigation — the miraculous conception of the herald of Jesus’ coming, John the Baptist, and the astonishing resurrection of Jesus — Luke is faithful to his declared purpose. He has done his research.

To be blessed by his account it remains for us to read his report with eyes of faith, embrace it, rejoice over it, and sing again the song of personal resurrection promised every believer.

Photo credit: Luz Adriana Villa (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

If Jesus Was Really Human — So What?

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 11:00

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, by William Holman Hunt, 1859

St. Luke says little about Jesus’ development from his nativity through his childhood other than giving this terse summary: And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

Christians believe that Jesus had two natures, the divine and the human. Skeptics often ask dubiously if Jesus was fully human. The reality of the human side of Jesus’ nature is affirmed in four key markers of healthy human development found in this sentence.

Wisdom is a word with many applications: it means good judgment; prudence; the ability to foresee consequences and the self-discipline to respond appropriately; even when to speak and when to remain silent; etc.

Stature in this case has to do generally with physical development. Normal children have a passion to grow up. I remember as a young lad backing up to the kitchen door jam where I asked mother to make a pencil mark to show my growth from time to time.

I recall a driving goal to grow up to the full stature of manhood, with no particular height specified. God had put the passion there. It was so also with Jesus in his humanness — Luke notes that he grew physically toward manhood.

In favor with God: Here, Jesus’ earthly parents led the way. Their concern was that their son develop well spiritually. This was evident when, at twelve years of age, they took him with them on a five-day walk from Nazareth to the temple in Jerusalem for Passover.

In favor with man: As an expression of his human nature Jesus developed socially. The Gospels show this to be so in abundance by the essence of his teachings, his wise response to opposition, his attractiveness to humble people, and in his obedience to his parents (Luke 2:51).

Some might fault Luke’s account for telling us so little about his childhood, saying a good biography deserves full details about the subject’s earliest years.

But Luke’s account is not a biography; it is a Gospel, requiring a different form. The Gospel puts together the story of how and why Jesus came, and the achievements of his time on earth, majoring on the purpose of it all. Thus little about his childhood, but five chapters to cover mostly the events of a little more than one week — telling of his crucifixion and resurrection.

With that in mind, Luke’s simple four-point description of Jesus’ human development explodes with meaning. Jesus was not a phantom, an angel in disguise, or a failed prophet. He was fully God and fully man — God in human form.

As an ancient creed says: he was as much man as though he had never been God and as much God as though he had never been man. The New Testament glories in this certainty.

Jesus’ mentoring of his disciples across three years had revealed him to them as authentically human. As they grew to understand the deeper truth of incarnation they saw him as the co-equal Son of God the Father who came in human form.

But they had seen more. St Peter, when called to answer Jesus’ question ‘Who do you say I am?’ answered, You are the Messiah of God (Luke 9:20) Still later, Thomas blurted out, My Lord and My God! (John:20:28).

That’s how we should worship Our Lord this Advent. He is God Incarnate! The Gospel is clear and convincing. But this Incarnate God is also fully human and thus our brother, and he comes near to us in our times of need as our high priest (Hebrews 2:17).

 


Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Tomato Soup and Psalm 23 Fill out the Menu at Our House Daily

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 11:00

When we sit down for a bowl of our favorite tomato soup we know we are in for a moment of pleasure. We never tire of tomato soup at our house.

Kathleen’s friend, Betty Johnston, from Tennessee gave her the original recipe more than 20 years ago.

We’ve gone back to this soup on occasion through the years but recently, along with a suitable side dish, it fills out the need almost daily for one of three healthful meals.

This morning it was time to make a fresh two-or-three-day supply, and I was pressed into service as a greenhorn chef. All my family and friends know that cooking has never been my thing.

I was not totally new to the procedure, however, because for some time I have chopped up the cabbage out of consideration for Kathleen’s right shoulder. Replacement surgery a few years ago helped her greatly, but she has to be careful.

This morning’s activity was nevertheless a huge step forward for me. It was my first time to make the soup from start to finish. That is, to wash, chop, assemble, cook and store.

Kathleen supervised every step closely and here is the sequence I followed:

1. Get out the big pot that holds several quarts of liquid.

2. Lay out on the counter the chopping board, then the freshly washed cabbage, several stalks of celery and three or four onions. Also have at hand two cans of Aylmers tomatoes (labeled no salt, and prepared with Italian spices). And don’t forget the hot sauce to add the zing

3. With Kay looking on I chopped the cabbage until the results nearly filled the cooking pot. I then chopped and added the celery and tear-jerking onions.

4. After adding several cups of water I carried the pot to the stove and cooked the vegetables until the cabbage was limp. Then I added the two cans of tomatoes and several squirts of the hot sauce and mixed it all well and let it cook.

5. The final step was to let the mixture cool and then puree the results about half a quart at a time in the blender, pouring the results into containers to store in the refrigerator.

Here’s how this delicious soup fits into our daily menu: After a nutritious smoothie for breakfast and a noon meal of meat, vegetables, salad, and dessert, for our evening repast this soup comes into play. We usually add a protein, like a cheese sandwich or poached egg.

In troubled times such as ours you may ask who should care about matters so mundane as recipes and food cooking procedures? Especially about so modest a dish as tomato soup.

My mind turns toward the end of the 23rd Psalm where  the author addresses this line to the Divine Shepherd: “You prepare a table before me …”  even when my life may be in danger.

Every repast reminds us that this Shepherd God we serve is all-provident and deserves our heart’s gratitude even for a humble dish of tomato soup.

 

Photo credit: Erik Forsberg (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

Re-Post: Keeping Daily Prayers Alive and Fresh

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 11:00

Prayer is a discipline that enriches our awareness of the Living God and his care for us. Prayer is therefore bedrock for living adequately as believers.

Through the years I have kept distraction at bay, and centered my prayer using the five classic elements of prayer as follows.

1. ADORATION. The Virgin Mary began, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46, 47). That’s adoration. Taking our lead from the Psalmist we may say, “O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty,” and then let the reality sink in (Psalm 104:1).

Words of adoration, when thoughtfully offered to God, take us into the inner sanctuary of worship. This exercise can concentrate the mind and bring under control our scattered thoughts. The Book of Psalms gives many examples: (Psalm 108:5; 104:33; 145:1; 138:1,2; 111:1; 104:1; 103;1; Psalm 66:1,2).

2. CONFESSION. In a collection of prayers that John Wesley published before he was 30 years of age, he gave this helpful pattern: “Heal, O Father of mercies, all my infirmities (_____), strengthen me against all my follies (____), forgive me all my sins (_____). Wesley left the blanks so that anyone using this prayer could personalize it. However we fill in the blanks, confession must be a part of every honest prayer.

3. PETITION. To petition means to implore or to beseech. Often our prayers of confession lead naturally to petitions for mercy, grace, forgiveness, or strength to obey. Petitions may also have to do with our infirmities, follies, or sins. Or they may arise out of daily needs, however large or small.

Keeping current in this way makes for soul health. George Buttrick wrote, “No situation remains the same when prayer is made about it.”

4. INTERCESSION. This means praying for others — family, friends, associates, neighbors, distant ministries, civic leaders. The efficacy of intercession is one of the profoundest mysteries of the spiritual life. Its effects are often imperceptible but in God’s time come home to us as real.

Intercession saves our prayers from becoming merely “want” lists. It stretches our horizons. James Hastings wrote, “It would not be unfair to estimate a person’s religion by the earnestness by which he longs for the welfare of others.”

5.THANKSGIVING. This aligns with adoration as follows: In adoration, we worship God for who he is; in thanksgiving we praise him for all his benefits. It is good to let our spirits soar in daily thanksgiving.

During this part of our prayer, it is good to remember the smallest mercies alongside the great and grand ones.  And when we pray we give thanks above all else for the gift of redemption through Jesus Christ, the greatest blessing of all!  He is our salvation and we walk with him as Lord!

Photo credit: Stephen Platt (via flickr.com)


Categories: Churchie Feeds

How Aging Takes You By Surprise

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 11:00

I was a college pastor, 37 years old, when a student from the campus across the street came for an appointment. She talked out her problem and we had prayer.

As she got up to leave, she said with a warm smile, “Thanks very much for seeing me; I thought it would be good for me to talk to someone middle-aged.”

Me? Middle-aged? It was a brand new and entirely unexpected thought. I pondered it for some time after she left.

I’m not middle-aged, I thought. I am young. Not that much different from the hundreds of students I preach to every Sunday.

But the truth slowly sank in and from that time to the present, people here and there have managed to keep me conscious that the aging process is real.

For example, I was holding a church conference in Western Canada when I was in my early 60s.  Crossing the conference grounds from the lodge to the meeting place, singing to myself, I saw Maurice coming toward me.

He stopped, put his hand on my forearm, and in a most solicitous voice said something like, “At your age, you shouldn’t be walking and singing at the same time.”

On another occasion some time later my wife, Kathleen, and I were driving across Michigan on I-94. It was late afternoon and time to quit for the day, so I pulled into a motel and went inside.

I asked the usual questions: Do you have a nonsmoking room for two — preferably on the main floor? The desk clerk studied his charts and then, smiling as if he had found the right match said, “I can give you a handicapped room. Fully equipped.”

It was another jarring moment. I wondered, Do I look that infirmed?

But the coup de grace came later that summer, from the boss of a roofing crew replacing the shingles on the house next door. I asked him to look at the roof of my house and give me his opinion.

We walked together to my driveway and he stood for a few moments looking up. Then, he said pleasantly, “You won’t be around to replace those shingles.”

Many observant seniors are aware of the subtle social changes that begin to manifest themselves as age creeps on: Sales clerks seem to show diminished interest in giving service; con artists treat the aged as easy prey for their schemes; people in a group may ignore the comments of the elderly.

Growing old is not for the humorless. I’ve been collecting funny stories about aging and loss of memory for some time now. This is not politically incorrect because my stories are about me and my own age group.

One story my wife and I both enjoy is about the elderly couple driving out to meet friends for a social evening. She says to him, “Honey, you try to remember where we’re going and I’ll try to remember who we are.”

Admittedly, there is a less pleasant side to growing old. Strength begins to wane, degenerative diseases show up, creaks and aches become regular companions.

Perhaps worst of all is the subtle anxiety, always just under the surface, about what the future will hold in this high speed new world.

The Psalmist’s prayer takes on new meaning for us: “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (Ps. 71:9).

In my experience, that sort of response is the right one. We can allow faith to take us by one arm and hope by the other as we walk, perhaps a little less briskly than before, down this pilgrim path.

Faith says in one ear, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11).

That verse doesn’t need to apply only to our future resurrection. It can also mean that even the closing years of this life can be infused with special energy from God’s Spirit.

And hope says in the other ear, “Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory” (Rom. 5:2, NLT).

In the meantime, the people of God — the church — can do a wonderful thing for those in their midst who are of advanced years. It can counter today’s tendency to diminish and devalue the aged.

I think of this when I read one of my at-present favorite chapters in the Old Testament, Leviticus 19. It sets forth a summary of how God’s chosen people were to live out His holiness in community.

One verse says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:32).

(A version of this piece was first published in Christianity Today)

 

Photo credit: Garry Knight (via flickr.com)


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