Archive for the 'Devotional' Category

People everywhere are up in arms… over something somebody said… that one time. People everywhere are in agreement… with something somebody said… at that one event. Despite the cultural milieu of post-modernity and post post-modernity, we have this tremendous knack for seeing (at least some) things in black and white. Lines are drawn. Sides are taken. You’re either for or against something, there is no middle ground. And you must make up your mind, especially about the things I find important.

You Are Wrong Some of the Time
Obviously you wouldn’t state your case, or even hold the position you do about a given subject if you did not believe that you were right. But you can’t be right all of the time. If you were, you’d be omniscient. You are probably right about quite a bit that you speak on, but if you haven’t spent a lot of time with your subject material, don’t be surprised when others tell you that you are off base. I witnessed a group of individuals talking about how stupid an all electric car would be. Why? Because the raw material consumption and pollution output to manufacture and deliver batteries for an electric car is greater than the consumption and pollution from a gas powered car? Because the cost of electricity plus the initial cost of the vehicle provides no financial savings over keeping your gas powered car? Because the network grid is unstable and worn out in many places and won’t be able to viably sustain an extended fleet of electric vehicles? No. Their complaint? Because after driving to the restaurant, who would want to run an extension chord up to the building so that you’d have enough power to get home.

Not only can you be wrong in the views you hold to, you can also be wrong about the other person’s views. Often when we receive a message (audibly or visually), what we take away from that message, and what the person sitting next to us takes away can be very different. It’s one of the funniest and scariest things for preachers when talking with their listeners after a sermon to hear the words, “I like it when you said… .” The reason this can be funny and/or scary is because half of the time, what proceeds from their mouths after that phrase was never said by the preacher. In fact, it may not have even had anything to do with the subject of the sermon.

The Person With Whom You Disagree May Be Right Some of the Time
We’ve talked here in the past about charitable reading. Lately, this has been getting confused with being a “fanboy” for some individual. I remember the first book by John Piper that I read, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.” It was for a preaching class in an institution that had some major theological disagreements (as do I) with John Piper. The teacher of the course did not have us read the book because he agreed with everything Piper said. I know for a fact that he did not agree. He had us read the book because Piper had some good things to say, and because it brought up some important issues for preachers to think about.

If you only surround yourself with messages (and the people that communicate them) that you completely agree with, then you are in fact doing what Paul condemns in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” So that I’m clear, I am not saying that we should only read people we disagree with and surround ourselves with people with think are wrong about the essentials. However, if you regularly read/listen to somebody’s teaching and you find yourself shouting in agreement, but not cut to the heart, there’s a good chance that verse applies to you.

Being Wrong Doesn’t Make A Person Evil
Being evil makes a person evil (and wrong). I wonder if at any time in our lives as we grew old enough to debate with somebody that we made the connections: I like puppies – I disagree with that person – that person must be wrong – that person must hate puppies – that person is evil. We seem to be especially adept at drawing such conclusions when it comes to politics and religion. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart gets much of its material from people arguing (often incessantly and stupidly) their political or religious position by attacking their opponents (instead of the views that their opponents hold).

It isn’t just in politics and religion that we almost instantaneously vilify the people we disagree with. I recently read a post about IE 9 (Internet Explorer version 9) that gave 5 reasons why the blog author still didn’t think it was a good web browser to use. There were some illogical arguments, some irrational points of view, and some inflammatory language. It also brought up some interesting and valid points. I’m not unbiased, but I could still see that there were parts of the article to consider and parts to throw away. And yet the comments in response to the article were just as, if not more emphatic on the other side of the authors point of view, to the point of demonizing the author. The comments seemed angry and spiteful, as if the blogger had attacked them personally.

Should we even talk about these things? Absolutely. When we do, Christ must be the foundation for our relationships with others and our communication with them. Where you live, where you use to live, the jobs you’ve held, your education, tragedies you’ve experienced, life events, family members (your life history) all plays a role in how you perceive and understand what is communicated. I think it’s time we let Christ play the greatest role in how we communicate. May you read and listen with patience, understanding, and charity and may your words, written and spoken, be full of gentleness, self-control, and grace.

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The following article is a guest post from a friend of mine, Len Winneroski at Manna and Coffee. Enjoy!

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 (NIV)

Some of my friends are crazy about sushi. Sushi is vinegar flavored rice that is usually topped with fresh, thinly sliced raw seafood. The raw seafood is called sashimi, which is a Japanese word that means “pierced body.” Sushi is usually eaten with soy sauce that is mixed with wasabi paste. Not all sushi contains raw fish, but this is what normally comes to mind when people think about sushi. To be safe, raw sashimi should be frozen for at least 24 hours before it is thawed and prepared. It takes some skill to prepare raw seafood and it is best when it is eaten within a few hours after preparation.

As I was thinking about the fresh, raw appeal of sushi I couldn’t help but think about how truth is a lot like sushi. There is something so fresh, raw and real when someone speaks truth into your life. For me the Bible is spiritual sushi. Hebrews 4:12 says, “for the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” There are many times that I have been reading the sacred and living Word and felt like God has literally grabbed me by the back of my neck and reached down into my soul.

When you are really looking, you can find God’s truth all around us. There is truth in the sunrise and sunset. There is truth is in a baby’s smile and in a lovers embrace. There is truth in tears and there is truth in laughter. All of these truths point to ultimate Truth. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Isn’t that what we are all looking for, direction, truth and real life?

When God speaks a truth into our lives we should rejoice. How many times has God spoken truth into my life and I did not eat it immediately? I let the truth sit on the plate and just stared at it until I convinced myself that it smelled bad and that it was just not really that appetizing. God doesn’t want us to be afraid of truth. Jesus told us that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Next time that you think about sashimi and sushi, think about Christ’s “pierced body.” Spiritual sushi.

Dear Lord, please forgive me when I am too full of myself to hear your Word to me. Please help me to be courageous enough to love the truth and humble enough to listen, trust and obey.

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Twelve Galilean guys spent three focused years with Jesus himself and still didn’t show up for the prayer meeting on the most important night in history. – Heather Zempel, The Reason Your Discipleship Process Is Frustrating

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Introduction

We have a tradition here at Prophets, Priests, and Poets of writing what we call a group post at special times during the year. We have traditionally reserved these posts for such days as Valentine’s Day and Halloween and Election Day and Boxing Day, but this year we decided to do one at Christmas. Maybe I should leave the humor to Brendt.

What we have here at PPP is a collection of writers who are loved by Jesus and who love Jesus and His Scripture–both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures. We find comfort and joy and hope and blessing in God’s Word and believe, sometimes differently, that there is coming a day when God will put the world to rights. We are among the millions, perhaps billions, of the hopeful who, combined, sing a chorus of praise to God with every stroke we make of a pen.

In his collection of sermons called Secrets in the Dark Frederick Buechner has a sermon he simply calls ‘The Birth.’ This sermon is a colloquy of three shorter sermons, each spoken by a ‘famous’ person from the birth narratives of Jesus found in Luke and Matthew. First we meet an innkeeper. Then we meet a Wise Man. Finally, a Shepherd speaks to us. It is the Wise Man’s words I am mostly interested in for he speaks a word that I hope defines what this group post is meant to represent.

“‘And now, brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him is the only life?’” (13)

Ask yourself this terrible question as you read this colloquy from us. We base our thoughts on the words of (mostly) the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah. Be blessed this Christmas in Christ.

Isaiah 8: Jerry

My focus is on chapter 8, but chapter 8 actually reaches backward and begins in what we call chapter 7: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” is where it begins (Isaiah 7:14). But if we press the issue a little more, we see it actually begins thus, “When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Peka son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it” (Isaiah 7:1). We see the Ahaz concerned with the water systems, making alliances with foreign kings, and refusing God’s provision of a sign in the face of an imminent threat, so God will give Ahaz a sign anyhow: God with us. God will ‘come down’ among his people, he will suffer with them, he will be with them.

Then, later, the very king Ahaz had decided to trust is the very king who would bring about the downfall of Judah and carry them off to exile. The land of milk and honey would become a land of thistles and thorns. At that time, the only cry that can be made will be, “Immanuel!” Still, God with us; God with them.

In chapter 8, then, we hear of the rising tide of opposition: mighty floodwaters would rise against Judah and it was the Lord’s doing. The prophet laments, “It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, Immanuel!” Yet there is hope: “God is with us” (8:10). “Devise your plans”, shouts the prophet to the enemies of Judah, they will now stand! God is with us.”

The sign of Immanuel was given in the face or rank unbelief—it was no kingly piety that prevented Ahaz from asking for the sign: It was unbelief. It was his way of saying, “Uh, that’s OK Lord, I have the king of Assyria. It’s all good.” The sign of Immanuel was also given in the face of imminent disaster—a rising tide of persecution and devastation to the people and land of God. Your Land, Immanuel; God with us.

The sign was ironic: a brave king facing national devastation receives a sign he did not want in the form of a child. The sign was devastating: a God who loved his people and the land would watch as his people and land were swept away by pagans who neither feared God nor cared about people. Yet the sign was hopeful: when all was said and done, ‘God with us’ was the cry of God’s people (8:10). “Nothing devised against Immanuel’s people can succeed” (J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, 94). The sign lingered in the memory of the Jewish people…God with us….

Then, one day, along came an angel who said: “This is the one who is Immanuel” and he pointed to Jesus who would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:23). So Matthew and the angel take Isaiah’s words and say to anyone reading and/or listening: Jesus is God with us.  All that Isaiah had said was about God, Matthew and the angel say is about Jesus. But that’s not the best part of it at all!

By the time we read through all of Matthew’s chapters and eavesdrop on private conversations and watch from a safe distance as Jesus does things that cause many great consternation and others great joy, he says this to his disciples, some of whom were doubting (much like Ahaz did): “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:17-20).

There in the midst of failing faith, in the midst of a turned upside down worldview, in the midst of death and resurrection—there, surrounded by those who were at the same time hopeful and hopeless—there in the midst of uncertainty and relief, Jesus too says: I am Immanuel; I am God with you. Of all the ‘I am’ statements Jesus ever made, this one is especially poignant. All those promises Isaiah’s God made to his people, Jesus says he is the fulfillment of. So go ahead and let the world scheme, let the nations rejoice, “nothing devised against Immanuel’s people can succeed.” God remembered his promises to Judah and brought them forward to us.

So where are you? Broken? Bruised? Beaten? Faithless? Uncertain? Upside down? Doubting? Facing a flood of adversaries? “O Come, o come, Immanuel!” What else can you say? Jesus is the realization of Isaiah’s words, the fulfillment of the sign in the most complete sense, and the only hope we have when faced with a crisis of any proportion. And, the best part? This is not mere Christmas hope!

He. Is. With. Us. Always.

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Isaiah 9: Christian

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity.

Isaiah 9:6-7

Isaiah has quite a few passages we love to quote at Christmas time.  It’s filled with prophecy that announces the coming of Israel’s salvation.  It also has some key verses that we can connect to the birth of Jesus – “For a child is born to us.”  Of course, we don’t go digging around trying to make every prophecy a prediction about Christ.  We have Matthew’s testimony about how Jesus fulfilled certain prophecies.  But the major themes found in Isaiah, even if we only take the prophetic passages that speak about Jesus, don’t focus on the birth of Jesus.  The focus is on the actions of the one who will be born.

Things will be different when he comes.  His presence will be a shining light in a land of deep darkness (Isaiah 9:1-5).  Life will be better under his rule.  It all sounds too good to be true.  It sounds like the perfect place to live.  And it never ends.  There won’t be some other country that overthrows the new King.  His government won’t collapse because of financial instability, citizen unrest and upheaval, or a military coup.  Peace is it’s defining characteristic.

The really amazing thing is that the Jewish people looked forward to the fulfillment of these prophecies.  They had hope that one day, God would send His anointed one to rule as their King, to protect and defend them, to provide for them, to bless them.  I think that’s amazing not because they had hope, but because they were looking toward the future that we are now living.  Our King, not a baby Jesus, but the Lord Jesus Christ, reigns in glory with fairness and justice.  His people, who are aliens in this world, live in his peace.

Before Him there was darkness.  Before Him there was sin and evil.  Before Him there was oppression.  Before Him there was cruelty.  Before Him there was the grave.  Before him there was death for all eternity.  Before, I did not know Him.

Things are different now.  With Him there is light.   With Him there is righteousness.  With Him there is justice.  With Him there is mercy.  With Him there is resurrection.  With Him there is life for all eternity.  The King has come.  Praise the King!

Jeremiah 31: Tim

Consider these two verses:

The priests will enjoy abundance,
and my people will feast on my good gifts.
I, the LORD, have spoken!”

And:

But now this is what the LORD says:
“Do not weep any longer,
for I will reward you,” says the LORD.
“Your children will come back to you
from the distant land of the enemy.

Want to know what verse comes between these two? Its one you’ll recognize if you’re familiar with the Christmas story:

This is what the LORD says:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

Those verses aren’t exactly peanut butter and chocolate. They’re more like chocolate milk and pickles at 3AM. Jeremiah 31.15 is quoted by Matthew, describing the massacre of the innocents. And it’s easy to let that verse sit there, a bitter edge to the Christmas story. But in the larger context of Jeremiah, and the Christmas story itself the bitterness lasts only awhile before God sets right what has been wrong. Jeremiah 31 is a prophetic utterance, not about bitterness, but about a savior who will restore the relationship between humanity and God.

The two major remembrances of the Church calendar are Christmas and Easter. One the birth of the savior signaling a light had begun cracking the darkness and the Resurrection the singular act that defeated death and sin.

The work of God is a work of joy that has washed away bitterness, even the bitterness of a people lost, and infants murdered.

Isaiah 32: Nathanael

“Behold, a king will reign in righteousness . . .” (Isaiah 32.1a ESV).

This prophecy is just one of many pointing toward the day when the promised Messiah would arrive and usher in His kingdom. The coming King would fulfill the covenant that God made to Abraham. And He would be a faithful mediator in a way that Moses could not be. He would be a blameless King in a way that David was unable to be.

This King will rule and reign in righteousness over a kingdom that has no borders. His kingdom cannot be overthrown. No coup can succeed against it. It subverts other kingdoms without taking them over. This kingdom is so far above earthly concepts of a kingdom that its King, when describing it, had to resort to parables that began with the phrase “The kingdom of God is like . . .” for there is no human language that can explain it and no human intellect that can comprehend it.

But the thing that jumps out the most about this prophecy in Isaiah is the second half of the verse. “. . . and princes will rule in justice” (Isaiah 32:1b). The children of this King, His royal heirs, will be known by how they rule. They will be fair. They will be just and virtuous. They will be honest. They will rule in direct correlation to their submission to their King. Once we surrender our lives to the Him, we realize that He calls us to a unique mission. We are to go forth and draw others to Him. External force cannot be exerted. Reconciliation, not domination, is the goal of this kingdom.

Isaiah goes on to describe the manner in which the children of this servant King will rule: “Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land. Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed, and the ears of those who hear will give attention. The heart of the hasty will understand and know, and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly” (verses 2-4).

The method in which we rule will be directly affected by the influence and authority we allow the King to have in our lives. The degree to which we surrender to His reign will dictate the manner in which we rule. The King made it very clear in an analogy how much His children depend on Him. He said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15.4-5 ESV).

Behold, a coming King will reign
And rule in righteousness
Whose advent was of old ordained
Before this world was formed and framed.
To liberate the oppressed.

His children will rule with justice,
Each prince and each princess;
They’ll be a healing hospice,
A peaceful place of solace,
To those lost and in distress.

Each will be like a safe haven
From the wind and storms,
To all who feel the sting of sin,
Every one be welcomed in
Where love restores and transforms.

Each will be like a refreshing spring
In the dry and barren desert,
From the scorched ground bubbling,
Causing the parched tongue to sing,
Quenching more than thirst.

They are the great Rock’s shadow
In a hot and weary land,
To the orphan and the widow,
To those overcome with sorrow.
They extend their King’s hand.

Then eyes will see, ears will hear,
Truth will be disclosed.
Emmanuel, God draws near,
Dispelling any doubt and fear
With the love songs He composed.

The fearful heart will understand
And know love’s sacrifice.
The stammering tongue will proclaim
In clear tones Messiah’s name,
The King of kings, Jesus Christ.

Our King is a suffering servant, not a dominant dictator. And so, as His princes and princesses, we must be willing to follow His example.

Isaiah 40: Chris

Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

In this time of remembrance and recognition of the coming of our Messiah, one of the words that most comes to me is “Compassion”.

My oldest son and I were talking today as we were wrapping gifts, and we happened upon the topic of stories which could bring tears to our eyes. The written word is sometimes hard to infuse with the passion and weight it truly deserves. Even so, I told him of the one passage in Scripture which still brings tears to my eyes – with the first time being five years ago when I read it as part of my first time reading the Bible from cover to cover.

When the Old Testament comes to a close, even though the children of Israel have returned to Jerusalem and set the foundations of the Temple. But even so, their longing for a Messiah is a palpable, bottomless ache. The prophecy of Isaiah 40, which pointed to the return of Israel from Babylon, also held for them a deeper, more fulfilling promise.

And this deep yearning comes to the fore in the story of the Essene, Simeon, in the Temple:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

And I can see this man, whose patience had been lifelong, hoping for the comfort promised by God through his prophet, 700 years before.

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

And so it is, this old man, whose only heart’s desire is to see the Messiah, is given the privilege of blessing him at the time of his circumcision. He was able to hold the Creator of the universe in his hands and offer a blessing to Him and to his mother and adopted father.

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

And it is in Simeon that we first feel the full weight of the joy at the coming of the Messiah, and the first contemporary glimpse at Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”. And so it was, this Good News, came to us about 2010 years ago, and whose story we tell and cherish today.

And it brings us such great comfort and joy.

Isaiah 61: Phil

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor

It is after reading this passage from Isaiah that Jesus sat down and proclaimed that this Scripture was fulfilled in your hearing. There are some commentators who believe that the reason those listening had such a negative reaction to Jesus’ claiming this passage was fulfilled was not simply that He was claiming this passage was talking about Him, but, rather, Jesus stopped in the middle of a sentence. Of course, in Isaiah 61, verses 2 & 3 continue to say:

and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

So, perhaps the reactions of those in Nazareth hearing this proclamation was not so different than what ours would be today. When we read Scriptures about God offering blessings, both physical and spiritual, there is a natural desire to claim those for ourselves – especially if we find our identity as His chosen people. It is human nature to hold on to and to grasp as much as we can for ourselves and those in our inner circle. As Christians, as members of a certain church, or as Americans (or any other nationality), we tend to see our tribe as more important than other tribes. So it’s not surprising that when Jesus neglected to mention the part of this passage that talks about God exacting vengeance on Israel’s enemies that the Jews got upset.

But, the truth remains – Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This favor extends to all mankind, and it’s not any greater for one group over another. We are all favored. Republicans, Democrats, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists drug-addicts, perverts, pastors, drop-outs, atheists – none of these people are so far gone that they are beyond the reach of God’s love for them through Christ. The wonder of the incarnation is in the fact that despite our constant unfaithfulness, the Father remains faithful to us. It is a wondrous thing to ponder.

In closing, I quote John “Golden Mouth” Chrysostom from the first Christmas sermon ever preached from 386 AD.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Amen. Let us observe the feast!

Conclusion

Eugene Peterson wrote, “Too many of us spend far too much time with the editorial page and not nearly enough time with the prophetic vision. We get our interpretation of politics and economics and morals from journalists when we should be getting only information; the meaning of the world is most accurately given to us by God’s Word” (his emphasis; Run with the Horses, 54).

I’m glad we conducted this experiment this year, this slow march through the prophets. These ancient words enlighten our minds, stir up our hearts, animate our imaginations, and give energy to our hands and feet. We see God in the grand and in the mundane. We see God in poems and in sermons. We hear God roaring and we hear him weeping. We see him triumphing over his enemies and bending over his beloved. This is the God who came near! This is the God announced by the prophets and shown to us in Jesus. This is the God whom we serve and love, the God who serves and loves.

One of the disciples demanded of Jesus on the night of his betrayal, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus responded, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

In other words, “I am enough for you.”

Our hope, in this post, is that you have heard from the prophets, listened for the voice of God, and  seen the Lord Jesus and that in so doing, you will have a renewed determination to be what you were born to be in and because of Jesus.

appendix A – better late than never: neil

since I did not get my assignment in on time, it must be added to the end. so, in that vein i’ll reference the very beginning of the story.

genesis 3:
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel. – god

at first glance this looks like nothing more than a promise that snakes and people will forever not get along. yet as history proved – it was the first prophetic utterance that would culminate in the Christ event. What is truly amazing is that nothing in this chapter took god by surprise. He, they, were ready to respond. Theologians have speculated as to how and why he created adam and eve knowing they would sin. Believers have debated the order of decrees and decisions – and will continue to do so.

what remains is this promise.
a promise repeated to a man named Abraham.
a promise repeated to a nation called Israel
a promise repeated to their most famous king named david
a promise repeated until fulfilled in jesus the christ.

And just as the candlelight spread in last evening late late service… the gospel has spread, and will spread, until his glory covers of earth as the waters cover the sea.

Merry Christmas from the writers of Prophets, Priests, and Poets.

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magiI’m frequently surprised at how easily people can miss the point of something, whether it’s a song, play, short statement, article/post, or a passage of Scripture.  We all have times that we are distracted by something else.  There are also times when we aren’t thinking the same way that the communicator is and so we can miss the point.  But I understand those things.  What actually surprises me is the ongoing ignorance of what matters, of what is at the heart of any given instance of communication.  Some people go for years having never grasped the great themes of movies like The Dark Knight, or books like The Chronicles of Narnia, or passages of Scripture like much of Paul’s writing.*

For the past 20 years at least, preachers and others who study the Bible regularly have been reacting against the culturally common portrayal of the nativity.**  Songs and nativity sets alike have been bashed and bruised.  Stable?  I think not.  Silent night?  You obviously don’t have children.***  Three Kings?  Let me count the ways that one is wrong.  No, seriously, let me count them for you.  Three?  Says who?  Kings? I see Magi.  At best you can call them wise men.  There the night of the birth?  Maybe the night of the birth of their second child.  We aren’t told for sure when, but over the past couple of decades we’ve been led to believe that Jesus was more likely a toddler (or at least a much older infant) than a newborn when the Magi showed up on the scene.  But the more I think about these things, the more I think that these reactions are a distraction and possibly even inaccurate themselves.

I’m all for Biblical accuracy, but I think that at times, we’ve missed the point.  We get so busy correcting the minor details that we’ve lost sight of the larger story arc.  This is especially ironic considering where and how Matthew placed the visit of the Magi in his telling of the greatest story ever told:

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,  “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem.  He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared.  Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!  They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

Matthew 2:1-15 (NLT)

Probably one of the more simplistic reasonings for placing Jesus as a toddler when the Magi arrives is founded in Herod’s command to kill every boy 2 years and younger (based on the time of the star first appearing to the Magi), as the text tells us.  I think that in part, this assumes that the star appeared upon the birth of Jesus, and not sometime before.  But we aren’t told, and even Herod doesn’t assume that.  He’s not taking any chances so he’s having every boy who was born in the area of Bethlehem, from the time of the appearance of the star until now, killed.

But even very intelligent scholars debate the timeline of this account and how it can/should be harmonized with Luke’s record.  Quite a few scholars place the appearance of the Magi after Joseph and Mary return to Nazareth after presenting Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:39).  The reasoning is that Mary and Joseph went to Nazareth to get their belongings and essentially move to Bethlehem.  After their escape to Egypt, they intended to return to Bethlehem upon their return  but out of fear of Herod’s son, went to Nazareth instead.  I’m okay with that.  All of this to say that we aren’t exactly sure when some of these events took place.  We don’t know when the star appeared.  We don’t know the length of time they were in Egypt.  We aren’t even sure exactly when Jesus was born (not only time of year, but the year itself).  The timing is even possible that the Magi showed up within days of Jesus’ birth.  Certain points of view will hold more sway than others based on the amount of contextual evidence, but we just aren’t sure.

For Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of the O.T. promises of a King sent from and by God, who was of the line of David and who would save Israel.  These events surrounding the Magi play an important role in Jesus’ fulfillment of those prophecies/promises.  The Magi are used by God to provide for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus while still fulfilling the scriptures.  Much more devotionally and theologically can be said about the Magi, their visit, and their gifts, but greater theme being woven by Matthew is that Jesus is the one.  The one who was prophesied, the one who was promised, the one they’ve been looking for.  Jesus is King!

*Paul has a way of writing where he is communicating on two, sometimes three levels.  There’s the surface level (which is often unoffensive), and then the deeper point he’s trying to force.  Philemon is a great example of this.

**Chris Lyons wrote a series of excellent posts in prior years explaining in depth many details that help give us a more accurate view of the nativity and how and why those things matter.  I don’t think such things are unimportant, on the contrary, I find them to be very helpful.

***I don’t want to take from the Magi, but I just have to address Silent Night as well.  I’m sure the birth was noisy, and I’m sure there was crying during some of the time, and I’m sure some of the animals sporadically made various noises.  But I’m also sure that there were many hours of rest and peace and silence.  Where the beauty of the night, of the silence, of the events, of their newborn Son asleep made that the most glorious night ever.

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 We’ve been studying the book of Ruth on Sunday mornings in church. There were a few things that stuck with me in today’s study of chapter 3. All (human) credit to our pastor for these thoughts.

THE GOOD

(well, as in, good joke)

After Boaz goes to sleep on the threshing floor, Ruth goes to him, uncovers his feet and lies down. Verse 8 tells us that “at midnight that the man was startled”, woke up and saw Ruth there. The Hebrew word translated “startled” is better translated as “shivered”, which probably was caused by the fact that his feet were uncovered.

And so here we have Biblical proof that for thousands of years, women have been stealing the covers from their husbands.

THE BAD

(well, as in, bad pun)

Later in the chapter, Boaz gives Ruth a large amount of barley to take back to Noami. The New King Jimmy says that it was “six ephahs of barley”, however this is probably a translation error, as six ephahs would have equated to roughly 48 gallons, which Ruth couldn’t possibly have carried. Other translations say “measures”, and it’s probable that it was six omers, which would have been 30-40 pounds, a much more manageable amount, but still a great deal.

Thus, Boaz gave Ruth a really big omer pile. (insert rim shot here)

THE BEAUTIFUL

(no explanation needed)

As we see in verses 12-13, there is a relative who is closer than Boaz, who has first legal right/responsibility to act as kinsman redeemer for Ruth. One can see that Boaz wants to perform this act himself, but goes through the correct channels first.

There are many pictures of Christ in Boaz, but this one hadn’t hit me before. If he had chosen to do so, the “closer relative” would have acted as kinsman redeemer because of the obligation of the law. Boaz acted as kinsman redeemer because of the obligation of love.

Ephesians 2:4-5

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) …

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Just a bit of reflection… of something that I am just as guilty of as those that I see doing it.

A thought that often pops up in my mind as I read “Christian” blogs and comments when people call each other names (liar, heretic, emergent, whatever) and the response that follows – why do we care so much about our “good names”.

When I look at the Lord’s Prayer this part stands in contrast to how we react to people calling our name or character into question:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,

If we live for the honor of God’s name we cannot simultaneously live for the honor of our own name. It’s like trying to serve two gods – it’s a conflict of interests.

I cannot find one scripture where Jesus reacted to anyone who attacked his character. Whenever someone said something bad about Him, He always pointed them to the character of his Father. One example that stands out for me is the one in Luke 15 where Jesus is accused of associating Himself with sinners. He could have reacted in anger, telling them about how they where hypocrites being sinners themselves while He is holy and never sins. But instead He tells three stories demonstrating his Father’s heart for sinners.

If we confess that we have died with Christ and are raised in a new life with Him, living for His cause and not our own, our name and reputation shouldn’t be of concern. This protecting of our reputation on blogs and in comments shouldn’t be.

Now, I know this is process we grow in – laying down our lives. That is why we should also have grace for one another in this respect.

May we live for the honor of His Name alone!

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[I will find a link to this sermon and post it when I do.]

“Fear of hell will never change the fundamental structures of your heart.”

–Tim Keller, from a sermon on the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

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So, a recurring question has come up in my life over the past month or so – a question often asked by folks who are truly searching and interested in the faith. A lunch-time conversation, a good deal of reading, and a month filled with prayer and reflection (on multiple fronts) has made a number of things clear to me, but most of all:

We, as Christians, make it a whole lot harder than it should be.

[Now, while I've done the heavy lifting in the background - and I'll be willing to discuss this, and cite Scripture, in the comments - I'd like to keep this at a high, readable level, without all of the breaks, and caveats, and cut/paste efforts from BibleGateway. Yes, these are necessary for understanding what goes on "behind the curtain", but they make simple conversation pretty stilted.]

Depending on our traditions, we’ve got confirmation classes, the Roman Road, The Way of the Master, and all sorts of other systematic methodologies, which lay out the “steps required for Salvation”. But when I open the Gospels, and read the words of Jesus and his Apostles, it seems a whole lot simpler than this. In fact, it seems that we miss the fact that “becoming a Christian” is the first step in a lifelong journey, and that we lose faith in God and His grace by trying to hold off Step 1 until we’re satisfied that someone is on the right road.

And that’s not the Gospel.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Daily Office

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’“ “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

I know, before I make a single stroke on my laptop keyboard that this post will not be well received. I apologize in advance to those of you who will find my struggle with this passage offensive and immature. I do not intend to offend, but I think I will.

Fact is, and I don’t think anyone will disagree with this: the lawyer asks Jesus a theological question with eschatological implications. He asks Jesus this question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus does not tell the man this is the wrong question to ask. No. In fact, the very fact that Jesus answers this question is enough demonstration that this is a valid question to ask and, to be sure, that Jesus is the right person to ask it of. Ultimately, the answers that Jesus gives all work their way back to the man’s original question: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

The theological, eschatological and practical answer that Jesus gives is simple: Love God, love people. Easy, breezy. This is something Jesus had said another time (Matthew 7:11-12). Even later on in the letters, Paul will say that love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:9-11). I think, at this juncture, we are probably all in agreement. Love is the fulfillment of the law; love sums up the Law and Prophets; love is what we must do to inherit eternal life. Love God; love our neighbors. Love. Seems a simple task, and easy requirement.

My problem is that this parable is often taught as simply a matter of defining who is a neighbor and that the Samaritan is the neighbor we must strive to be: loving those who hate us, tending those who despise us, helping those who hurt us. But this parable is not primarily about who is and is not a neighbor. This parable is spoken in the context of a theological, eschatological, question of salvation: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

When the conversation and the parable are done, Jesus simply says: Go and do likewise.

The problem I have is that Matthew or whoever wrote this Gospel, this book, wrote this story, this encounter, and this parable down after the cross even though the story happened, the conversation took place, and the parable was spoken before the cross.

Go and do likewise. To my knowledge Jesus never rescinded this command: neither to the lawyer in the story nor, since it was written down after the cross, to us.

All the commentaries I read, and have ever read, narrow this story down to this basest point: who is my neighbor? But none seem to wrestle with the real question that this particular passage of Scripture is itself wrestling with: what must I do to inherit eternal life? When Jesus said “go and do likewise” he was “this is what you must do to inherit eternal life: love God, and love like your Samaritan neighbor.” (William Willimon interprets this from the point of view of the man in the ditch, but I’m still not sure that is correct either. It doesn’t wrestle enough with how this parable answers the man’s original and secondary question.)

Please don’t be angry because I want to understand this passage of Scripture, why Jesus said it, and why Matthew preserved it. I want to understand how to better interpret this story and how to better teach it. There doesn’t seem to be, despite the exegetical gymnastics that the commentators engage in, an emphasis so much on being neighborly as much as there is an emphasis on what someone must do in order to inherit eternal life.

It’s tricky. I wrestle and struggle here greatly. I’m not trying to be contrary or difficult, but with all the emphasis we put on issues of grace and mercy and forgiveness and the cross and the resurrection, nothing seemed to change after the cross: Paul said love your neighbor; Matthew records Jesus telling us to do the same thing. Whatever else I might say, or confound, or struggle with here, one thing is certainly true. You can love your neighbor quite apart from loving God, but you cannot love God without loving your neighbor. Jesus does not define how to love God, but spends a lot of time defining how to love your neighbor. Hmm…

I don’t think we, as Christians, have struggled enough with this passage of Scripture and how it relates to the inheritance of eternal life—regardless of who are neighbor is or is not. The so-called Good Samaritan is not just someone who happens to do good deeds while he or she is on the way to McDonald’s to get a burger—as if the fact that he was a Samaritan is the main point of emphasis here. The Good Samaritan is, in some mysterious way, an example of what we must do if we want to inherit eternal life—since the emphasis in this passage is on what the Samaritan did.

Jesus didn’t say: Go and be (a Samaritan) likewise. Jesus said: Go and do likewise. Too many people are content to be mere Samaritans without any regard for how what the Samaritan did relates to his/her eternal inheritance. We should talk about what it means to do what the Samaritan did more.

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