Monday, December 24, 2012

New Beginnings


It is apparent at this point that we all have made it through the end of the world…whew. :-) We can now count on “business as usual”.  For the Mayans, they consider this a time of “new beginnings.”  I think this is an appropriate theme for today.  We are going to consider some "new beginnings."  This time of year, people focus on the birth of Jesus.  Today, we care going to consider how Jesus got here…that is, His lineage.  Now, this is not for everyone…some folks would just as soon read Leviticus as go through the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. But, genealogies are important, and we should spend some time discerning some of the important pieces of information from them…particularly Matthew’s.  Matthew was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, a Jewish tax collector by trade…and probably not a friend of Simon the Zealot before they both became acquainted with Jesus.  His gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is one of four eyewitness accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, and it is written primarily to the Jewish people…but it is for all of us to understand.  This is exemplified in part by the fact that Jesus’ family tree begins with Abraham, the father of Israel, the nation of the Jews.  Matthew opens his gospel with a careful account of the birth of Jesus Christ and the events that accompanied it.  The virgin birth of Jesus, by Mary, through the Holy Spirit is a central doctrine for those who are Christians.  We know that Jesus was born in the flesh, but His was a situation that was surrounded with questions and concerns. 

Genealogies were very important for the Jews, for without them they could not prove their tribal allegiances or their rights to inheritances.  Anyone who would be claiming to be “Son of David” would have to prove it.  It was necessary for Jesus to establish His rights to David’s throne.  So, this list of names is a vital part of the gospel record.  It is also significant that the genealogy shows that Jesus is indeed a part of history…it is truly "His-story." All of Jewish history prepared the way for His birth.  God, in His providence, accomplished His great purpose in bringing His Son into the world.  The genealogy also illustrates God’s wonderful grace.  It is unusual to find the names of women in Jewish genealogies, especially since names and inheritances came through the fathers.  Yet, in this list, there are four references to women from Old Testament history…Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.  Each of these women would seem to represent some form of marital irregularity, but each one was vindicated by God’s blessings for their faith.  (Not that a child being born to a betrothed virgin is irregular :-)...we can certainly see the reason for the connection). What it signifies is that Jesus came through human heritage…and although that heritage was imperfect, He was perfect.  It also reveals that it would require more than human pedigree to make Jesus the heir to David’s throne.  This is why His divine heredity is so critical.

Finally, the fact that Matthew omits some names from his genealogy shows that he is not as interested in a chronology, but a theology of Jesus’ ancestry.  In vv.16, 18, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus’ birth was different from that of any other Jewish boy named in the genealogy.  He points out that Joseph did not “beget” Jesus, but that Joseph was “the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”  It is important to note that betrothal was significant to the Jewish people at that time, being equivalent to…that is, having the same authority as…marriage.  The significant exception was that the man and woman did not live together.  The man and woman were recognized as husband and wife, and at the end of their betrothal period, the marriage was fulfilled.  If somehow a betrothed woman became pregnant, it was considered adultery.  But, the Lord revealed the truth by His angel to Joseph so that he would not punish or divorce Mary when he discovered that she was with child (fulfills Is. 7:14).

Jesus was the most unique of all children ever born.  Being eternal God (John 1:1, 14), He existed before Mary and Joseph or any of His earthly ancestors.  If Jesus had been conceived and born just as any other baby, then He could not be God.  It was necessary for Him to enter this world through an earthly mother without the need of an earthly father.  So, by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary, a virgin (Luke 1:26-38).  Some philosophers, and even some religious leaders, have sought to discredit this virgin birth, yet it is Biblically accounted, true, understood and accepted by faith and foundational to Christianity.  Jesus came to mankind to be Savior…Jehovah is Salvation, Christ…God’s anointed One and Immanuel, which describes who He is…God with us.  Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.

Dr. Len Broughton was a medical doctor before God’s call came for him to be a minister. As a medical student, he rejected the virgin birth of Christ. Later on, he began to practice medicine out in a country town. One Sunday, he decided to go to a church meeting. The doctor would say shortly thereafter, "that country preacher knocked more skepticism out of me in half an hour than that which I had received during all of my years at medical school." This is how he did it. In his sermon, he said, "if there is anyone here troubled about the mystery of God becoming man, I want to take you back to the first chapter of Genesis and the first verse. The opening words are… 'In the beginning, God…'". I felt like he was looking directly at me when he said, "let me ask you this: Do you believe that God was in the beginning? Do you believe that before the beginning began that God was?" I said to myself, "yes, I do believe that." He proceeded, "if you believe that God was ahead of the beginning, you believe the only mysterious thing in the universe." Dr Broughton considered, "if I can believe that, God knows that I can believe anything else the Bible says. I had gone to school and traveled through the mysteries of reproduction and cell formation. I now believed the One supreme mystery of the mysterious universe… 'In the beginning, God'…and the greater mystery included all lesser mysteries."

What has happened in recent decades? People have quit believing “the mystery.” The philosophies and theories of man have more so become the standard by which men measure themselves. (And we see how well this has been working in our society).  I thank God that He saw fit to introduce “the mystery within the mystery”…the birth of His Son, born of a virgin. We are all part of a grand genealogy that began with our father Adam and flowed through Abraham, David and down to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was all intentional…it was all critical for us. Far be it from us not to accept God’s mystery as it is…the mystery of birth, the mystery of His life. Praise the Lord for a day when we can magnify the precious life that God has given us.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A House Decided


One of the greatest things that we can do as human beings is spend time with family.  Besides husbands and wives, no place is it more important than parents spending time with their children.  Sports has always been an important part of my life…and I am thankful that it has become such for my son.  I enjoy our times playing Madden football, although I can barely hang with him…and this is with him playing on the “all-pro” level and me on “pro.”  Even more than this, I enjoy going to football games of the real life variety.  My own times with my dad were important.  He loves to tell fish stories, but the thing is…most of his are true.  One story he reminds me of on a regular basis…and I can verify as true…is one time, when I was about Ian’s age, we were raking in the perch on a lake, and I getting bored from the lack of sport.  Deciding to exercise some “ingenuity”…I started pulling some foam rubber off of my seat cushion and proceeded to catch even more fish.  True story.  We had fun.  Families are supposed to do so. 

Another story of a different sort…it was a Sunday morning and a father sat in his recliner reading the newspaper.  He said to his son, who was reading the comics section, “It’s time to put down the comics and get ready for Sunday school.”  “But, Daddy, aren’t you going to go with me?”  “No, I am not going, but I want you to hurry up and get ready.”  “Dad, did you go to Sunday school when you were a boy like me?” “Yes,” replied the dad, “I went every Sunday.”  Walking away sadly, the son said, “I bet it won’t do me any good either.”  Unfortunately, this story is played out in too many homes.  One Old Testament father said…”Not so in my house.”  How important it is for fathers and mothers to be…not only the leaders of the family…but, the spiritual leaders of their families.  It is God’s plan…one we must take seriously.   

God’s leader following Moses is Joshua.  And Joshua makes it clear to anyone would listen to him as to his allegiance (24:15).  He could not be neutral, nor could he be divided in his mind. He makes a decision to serve the Lord, the God of Israel, when many others are chasing after the idols of the day.  If the people, like Joshua, are going to serve the Lord, it is because they are going to respect Him, obey Him and worship Him only.  This would mean giving up any idols that are going to keep him from his goal…and to challenge his family to fix their hearts on the Lord, devoting their lives to Him.  All of this comes at a price…it comes from having hearts focused in the right manner and on the right things.  It is to be focused on being Jesus to one another…on living grace and love with one another.  It is a yearning to develop a heart that “wants to” worship the Lord and not simply settle on some “have to” worship Him.  Like the young man in the story, our young people will know if our hearts are fixed in the right direction, because the truth of the matter is that our kids are…by and large…going to grow up to be  “very much like us.” 

Being a wise spiritual leader, Joshua knows that people are going to worship something or someone…whether they realize it or not.  This is because humans are incurable religious…we are going to devote ourselves to something.  And if the Jews did not worship the true God, they would end up worshipping the false gods of the wicked nations in Canaan.  Joshua’s point – you can’t do both!  In v.21, they affirm to Joshua at this time that they want to worship and serve only the Lord God of Israel…and they gave their reasons.  Joshua also understands that it is easy for people to promise obedience to the Lord, but that it is quite something else actually to do it.  His strong words are meant to curb their overconfidence and make them consider their own hearts. Then Joshua said, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD." "Yes, we are witnesses," they replied.  "Now then," said Joshua, "throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel." And the people said to Joshua, "We will serve the LORD our God and obey him" (vv. 22-24).  The Lord never wanted Israel to be “a house divided,” but, as Joshua proclaims…”a house decided” concerning the Lord.

“Build me a son, Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.  Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of his deeds; a son who will know you…and that to know himself is the foundation of the store of knowledge.  Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high, a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who reach into his future, yet never forget his past.  And after all of these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously.  Give him humility so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength.  Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’”  General Douglas MacArthur

I pray that my daughter will grow into a woman who values the thoughts and opinions of people she respects, but also, one who knows her own mind, and trusts herself sufficiently that she feels able to take an unpopular stand. I hope she is always sure enough of her own value that she won't rely exclusively on the approval of others, or define herself by who she knows or what she wears. I pray that my daughter will recognize and respond to the feelings of others around her -- especially those in need of compassion.  I pray that she will always value people over things, deeds over words, and the voice of her own conscience over the consensus of the crowd.  I pray that she remains loyal to her family, and to her friends -- that she is open to new friendships, but that she never takes her old ones for granted. I hope she will be for her brothers (as I pray they will be, for her) someone they can always turn to, who knows them and loves them with unconditional love. And I hope she will always feel that there is no problem so large, no deed so terrible, that she cannot share it with her father and with me.  – Joyce Maynard
Conclusion:  Application -- Determine to lead your house for the Lord.

“Believing children” do not just happen…they are developed, grown.  If we want our children to be devoted to the Lord, then we must first be devoted to the Lord and his ways ourselves.  In a world that offers more distractions than ever in order to keep this from happening, it is going to require some serious commitment, not to mention some sacrifices in order to make this happen.  We decided before our children came into existence that our primary task was to train them to be Godly, spiritual people…that it was a matter of eternity.  We knew that many other things were going to be important…but not matters of eternity.  Our commitment to spiritual concerns had to be the primary focus.  We have a great responsibility to our children, and grandchildren, to please the Lord, to help our family and friends to remain unstained from the idols of this world.  It does not matter that several thousand years separate us from Joshua’s time…because the principles remain the same.  We should take a cue from him and seriously, spiritually determine that our families will seek to serve the Lord.  And it is not always the big things, like Sunday school and worship that will make the greatest difference.  It is a daily family devotional time.  It is a trip to the fishing hole or the football game…the trip to the mall or lunch at an eatery. It is preparing ourselves to be the best spiritual parenting people that we can be.

Blessings, Don

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Points of Light


I believe that shots of the earth like the one below...that show the lights of populated areas...are remarkable.  This is the first one that I have seen that is a composite of the whole earth.  Enjoy!

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Peace of the Action


As seen in this portion of the Ephesian letter (2:11-22), Paul is working with the Gentiles.  Most of the Ephesian believers are Gentile converts, yet they understand that much of God’s program in the Old Covenant involves the Jews.  The Jews are not kind to the Gentiles.  Many of the Jews believe that the Gentiles need to become Jews first before they can be acceptable to God and to them.  God made the difference between the Jews and Gentiles from the time of Abraham…not that the Jews might boast in how great they were, but in order to be a blessing and a help to the Gentiles.  The Jews might have been different nationally, ritually…but morally, they are the same as the Gentiles.

Before they came to Christ, the Gentile Ephesians worshipped Diana (or Artemis).  Some of them believed they could worship Diana and Christ…and that it would all be the same.  Paul says – no way!  The Jews were a “special nation”…but not so the Gentiles.  They did not have a covenant for themselves.  They were aliens and strangers and the Jews never let them forget it.  The Gentiles’ philosophies, religions were empty and powerless to help men face life and death.  They were, as a whole, without God.  The nations had many gods (see Paul in Athens, Acts 17), but they didn’t know the One True God.  The Gentiles were included in God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3)…and this ultimately would culminate in their having hope through Christ Jesus. 

Although the Jews, Gentiles might have different purposes, these differences are erased in Christ’s reconciliation or “bringing them together again.”  There is not a significant problem for the church until Peter is sent to the Gentiles (Acts 10).  Then there is enmity (Acts 11-15).  Are the Gentiles supposed to become “Jewish Christians”?  No.  The enmity was taken away.  The law that separated the Jews and Gentiles is taken down…Christ destroys the wall and makes peace.  The big picture is what really needs to be considered.  Not only did the Gentiles need to be reconciled to the Jews, but both Jews and Gentiles need to be reconciled to God!  It is not a question of a Gentile becoming a Jew in order to become a Christian, but the Jew admitting he is a sinner like the Gentile.  Jews and Gentiles both have access to the same God through the new covenant brought by Christ Jesus.  Israel was God’s chosen nation, but they rejected their redeemer and suffered the consequences.  The kingdom was taken from them and given to “a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof…” (Matthew 21:43).  The new nation is “spiritual Israel”, the church.  Sin divides mankind, but Christ unites people by His Spirit.  All believers, regardless of national background, belong to a “holy nation” with citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3).  God does not dwell in a house made with hands, in temples or church buildings…but He lives in the lives of His believers (1 Corinthians 6:19), who are His temple (1 Corinthians 3:19). What a glorious plan in order to bring “oneness” and “peace.”

Joel Jongkind shares this -- In the latter part of the gospels, the disciples were in quite a state when they were gathered in the upper room. Their Lord and friend had been crucified, and the authorities were after them. They sat and wondered what to do next. Some of them were ready to go back home. And suddenly, Jesus was with them, and they heard His wonderful words, "Peace be with you."' Sometimes we too doubt and worry; sometimes we have a feeling of anguish in our hearts. We sit and wonder, or we lie in bed and worry, and we pray about it, or we go to church to worship, or we pick up the Bible and read those wonderful words, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28 NKJV) Or we hear Jesus' words, "Peace be with you."  The word "peace" has been used a great deal over the years. Every time we turn on the television, we hear people “talking about peace” in places where there are wars and uprisings: in the Middle East, in Syria in particular lately, and in a number of African countries as well. There are a lot of negotiations, but there does not seem to be a lasting peace.  Before one war is over, another one has started. There seems to be no end to it, and we have learned nothing from history; there is no lasting peace. But inner peace is for all of us to have and to hold through faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. We know that the triune God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- is our source of lasting peace, and then, it does not matter what might happen in our lives, for we can be at peace through faith, and we will have peace in our hearts.”

It is interesting to note that religious history is not a record of man starting with many gods (idolatry) and gradually discovering the One True God.  Rather, it is the sad story of man knowing the truth about God and deliberately turning away from it.  God called the Jews beginning with Abraham that through them, He might reveal Himself as the One True God.  Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, but their light burned dimly.  Today, we…spiritual Israel, the church…are not all that unlike the Jews and Gentiles as it relates to our ideals, philosophies and the like.  We all come from different places, have different backgrounds.  The message of grace and reconciliation is just as important today as it has always been…maybe it is even more important as it relates to one another, given the great differences between people…especially those in our fellowship.  But, the goal is not any different for us than it was for early believers.  In spite of our differences, we find ways to submit our spirits to the Spirit of God and when we do so, we are able to be at peace with God and with one another.  And this has value beyond what any of us can really truly appreciate individually…but it is good. Keep working at allowing the “peace of Christ to dwell in your hearts.”

Blessings, Don