What a task! Imagine knowing that your child – and first one, at that – was destined to be your people’s long-awaited Messiah. No guinea pigs to hone your parenting skills – just BAM, right out of the chute. When I consider the responsibility involved of raising my own children – all very special in their own right, but ultimately rather normal – I’m sometimes taken aback. I can’t imagine the being told that my first child was GOING to become the President of the United States, the next CEO of GM, or Billy Graham – you get the picture. I’m sure I’d find the prospect rather intimidating, to say the least. I expect that Mary and Joseph had similar concerns. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I suspect that this is at least part of the reason behind a young Mary going to visit her pregnant relative – Elizabeth, the wife of the priest – Mary needed insight as to what it would mean to be the mother of the Messiah!
While I’m sure they weren’t perfect – what first time parents are – the last half of Luke 2 gives some parenting insights that any Christian parent would do well to heed. In short, they ensure that the young Jesus is well established in their faith in God and the standards/expectations of their people/community. Continue reading Parenting Points – Advent Reflections from Luke→
Why bother? I mean really – no one liked shepherds. They’re dirty, rough, people – largely rejected by society and rather unrefined. Yet, God decides to send a personal birth announcement to these men rather than the “movers and shakers” in Jerusalem (well, apart from the signs surrounding the temple priest Zacharias, Elizabeth and the birth of their son John). These are the ones we would expect to be overlooked in the “strategic planning.” So, aside from the obvious “God cares about everyone” (something we dare not overlook), can we learn anything from the fact that God inspires Luke to include these societally irrelevant figures? Despite the fact that these were simple, uneducated men, despite the fact that they lacked refinement, these men are an example of how we ought to respond to the Word/proclamation of God. These were hard-working men. They worked long hours. They took shifts on the late night watch. But rather than rolling over and saying “A baby? That’s nice. Catch me in the morning” these men ACT on what they heard. Lets look at what they did in response to their visitation. Continue reading Mere Shepherds? – Advent Reflections from Luke→
Its not the way I would have gone about it. Lets be honest, which of us would? Entrusting the birth and raising of Messiah – the Mighty One of Israel, the Light of the Gentiles – to a young, unmarried, teen-aged girl!
Think about it? Could Mary possibly understand what she was getting herself into, let alone understand the implications of raising the Messiah? At one level, its clear she needed help. I presume at least part of the reason for her traveling across the better part of Palestine had little to do with mere family obligations to a relative. Rather, I assume she was at least somewhat overwhelmed with what she had agreed to and needed the insight of Elizabeth, wife of the priest, a faithful servant of God. And, if we’re honest, as we look at Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting (Luke 1:46-55), its clear that Mary’s understanding of her son’s purpose is not quite in alignment with what God had in mind for the moment. Far from the Suffering Servant come to free mankind from the tyranny of sin, it seems Mary (understandably) understood her son’s purpose as God’s means to free her people from the tyranny of Rome and to establish Israel’s primacy in the world. Yet, despite her inexperience and incomplete understanding of God’s program, He chooses her! Continue reading Just a Teen? – Advent Reflections from Luke→
Few passages in Romans have gotten more press in recent years than 1:18-32. ‘Hate-mongering’ fundamentalists use it to prove God’s hatred of all varieties of sinners, especially homosexuals. Those of more ‘enlightened’ persuasions use it to illustrate just how out of touch Paul, the Bible, Christianity is with today’s world – with the goal of either illustrating why we need to ‘re-imagine’ the passage or simply throw it (the passage or Bible) out entirely. Most ‘polite’ Christians probably simply wish the passage wasn’t there. But, for better or for worse, it is. And, while the outside world is free to do whatever it wants with it, anyone professing to be a somewhat devout Christian has to find a way to deal with it. And so, here we are…
In tackling this passage, and the content contained therein, I want to do a few things. First, I want to consider the passage within the context of the larger argument of which it is part so that we can determine what is actually being said within the context of Romans. As I do this, I want to take a little time to consider the cultural/theological backdrop assumed in the passage. Then, I’ll attempt to consider the implications for our situation in the here and now. Let me state up front, this will not be a comprehensive look at the topic. Let me also state that over the years I have had regular interaction with a good number of self-identified homosexuals. My contact with the individuals in mind has been very positive. We’ve partaken in very lively and respectful conversations on a myriad of topics. And in terms of personal character, life ambitions, productivity, and personal piety these particular homosexual individuals are just like anyone else I’ve known – no better, no worse. Let me also state, this is a serious matter that cannot be addressed in a brief statement. It deserves careful and serious thought. So, be warned, this is a very long article and will need to be read carefully and fully to pull the pieces together in a meaningful way. Continue reading Does God Really Hate… Romans 1:18-32→
I’ve often wondered why Luke devotes so much precious space of his gospel to the parents of John the Baptist. While I’ve seen a few theories, most aren’t satisfactory. The best (and most likely) ones play off the parallel with a barren Hannah and her son Samuel, the last of the judges before the kings and eventual kingmaker to David. Whatever the reason, I’m convinced that there must be a purpose beyond incidental detail. If nothing else, there ought to be something we can take/learn from the brief biographies that are included.
I think Zacharias often gets a bad rap for finding Gabriel’s announcement to be a bit much to swallow (1:13-18). First, both he and his wife, Elizabeth, are very old(1:7,18). The likely inference being that age had made conception a biological impossibility (menopause is past, and the little blue pill hasn’t been invented yet). Secondly, after years (perhaps decades) of trying to conceive – only to be disappointed month after month – to risk hope once again was more than Zacharias could bear (let alone subject his wife to). The reality is, faced with the same situation, there’s not a man I know who would have retained his voice – well maybe one or two, but my opinion of them is not very high (pig-headed fool(s) is the term that comes to mind). Rather, I think this passage describes a couple of extaordinary faithfulness. Continue reading Faulty Faith or Great Faith – Advent reflections from Luke→
That’s how long the silence lasted. For centuries, generation after generation of Israelites believed that they were unique among the nations because God’s presence was with them (Ex 33). God’s presence among them was made evident through the place of His dwelling (the tabernacle and temple of Solomon), and through His powerful deeds (the signs and words of the prophets). Even after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, Israel knew her place before God was secure because the prophets still spoke – until Malachi left the scene. Certainly God still worked among His people, but where was His voice? Where was the reminder that a Deliverer would come to re-establish David’s throne? Alexander and his armies stormed through – and while God spared them from destruction, where were His spokesmen to rally their spirits? A short-lived independence, followed after a time by Roman occupation – still God is silent. 400 years, where is Messiah, where is God’s voice? Maybe God has forgotten, or worse, abandoned them. 400 years, until an old, faithful priest has an experience that leaves him speechless …. after which, nothing would ever be the same again.
In this advent season, we not only recall the faithfulness of God in ages past, but in light of His past faithfulness we rekindle hope for His return and his promise to transform ALL His good creation to its intended glory. May the certainty of this hope begin to crystallize in your heart and mind this Christmas season.
When I was young, I was taught the importance of delayed gratification – “don’t spend all your money on snacks, save it up until you find something you really want.” Of course, whenever I asked how I’d know when it was time to spend, the answer was always the same, “you’ll just know.” Its an important lesson that applies to many areas of life – education, skill development, money, love …. and Bible reading – especially Romans. Often, the thing we need to do is suspend coming to personal conclusions on the text until later (at times much later) while the author (in this case Paul) further develops his argument and brings us to his conclusion. Usually, in our present day “bottom line first” culture, I want to know up front what Paul is getting at – only Paul stubbornly insists on slowly building the argument up over several pages. I ask, “What does this mean?” Then, I remind myself to be patient, keep reading (slowly if needed) and I’ll get there. Its only after we’re at a place to take in the argument as a whole that we can say with certainty what Paul was getting at back there. So, lets take a moment and try to see (very briefly) how Paul’s first major argument in the book is pieced together….
So, here’s Romans. After a brief introduction (which also serves to hint at later content), Paul’s first argument begins at 1:16 and runs through roughly 5:11. Chapter 5 continues as a transition into his second argument which then runs through chapter 8. Chapters 9-11, form the third main section. While Chapters 12-(most of) 15 form Paul’s 4th and final section. The balance of 15 and 16 conclude the letter. One may quibble about precisely where in chapter 5 the transition is made from section 1 to section 2, etc, but these sections are generally agreed upon as forming the basic structure of the book. Each section arrives at a main point that gives context for the many powerful passages and sub-arguments that precede it and the necessary ‘working out’ that generally follows (the main point is a lens or grid through which to properly view the rest of the material). In building each section, Paul asks the reader/hearer to hold the threads of several ideas up at once before eventually weaving them together to arrive at his conclusion to the matter. Its important not to press the arguments of the individual threads too far, as often they can be used to argue precisely counter to the point Paul is trying to make. But, Paul is careful to keep us from doing that – so long as we keep reading to see where he wants us to go before we jump to our own conclusion. Its like my junior high teachers would say, “be sure to read the whole passage before answering the question.” Continue reading How is it that God is faithful? – Romans 1-4→