giving Jesus his due

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Matthew 2:1-12

Traditionally we have the wise men, three of them in keeping with the gifts mentioned, when there were likely more, arriving at the manger, at least in paintings and in our manger scenes. They were actually magi: perhaps into a kind of astrology as we note the star in the story, and religious priests. And likely coming around two years after Jesus’s birth.

What is noteworthy for this post is how the magi were coming not just to see for themselves what their reading of the stars seemed to indicate, but to honor the special one born to be king in some special way. This was either worship, or something close to it, in acknowledgement of a one over them (see Mounce, NET Bible footnote 17). Perhaps paying homage, which was due only to superiors, normally to kings, or to divine beings. And they had their gifts in hand, which likely were a big help to “the holy family.”

This speaks to me in reminding me what our lives should be all about when considering Christ and God’s gift in him. Yes, we receive that gift gladly and the promise it brings, but in turn we live lives of gratitude in response, seeking to worship and serve our Lord Jesus.

Christmas isn’t just about the good we get, and then simply enjoying it. It’s about that, but much more. Our response of faith, hope and love is crucial. The reception of this great gift doesn’t leave us unchanged. We endeavor to respond to that love in God’s grace given to us by a changed life. First honoring the God who gives and is in that Baby. And continuing that day after day as we seek to follow him.

In and through Jesus.

a thought for 2019: simplifying life

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There is no question that life is full of responsibilities. And it becomes worse if we buy into all our society insists is necessary. Like things people supposedly need. So that our infrastructure is built on that, big houses, etc. And on top of that the US economy is built on consumer debt. So that people put themselves in a bind from which they cannot easily escape. Thankfully, especially when people are younger they can begin new practices to get out of debt, and then avoid it or at least minimize it. And make better decisions financially, not driven by expectations of others.

What we do and refuse to do can help, but no matter what, we will be faced with difficulties and necessities we will have to deal with. One basic: Paul tells us that if someone does not provide for their own, they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). There are indeed certain basic responsibilities we all have.

The problem Martha had, and all too many of us along with her is taking the weight of the world, her world on her shoulders. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on in the narrative. Martha maybe could have scaled down and prepared something simple enough so that she too could have at least listened to the Lord’s teaching, if not sitting at his feet like her sister Mary was. Interestingly enough, it’s Martha’s complaint which occasioned the Lord’s response. She felt a pressure that she need not have felt. And maybe that helps us toward the point the Lord in his response was making.

It would have been fine for Martha to continue serving as she was inclined and surely gifted to do and do well. That in itself was not wrong. The problem was the expectations she had accepted or placed on herself. Really beyond anything God would have or actually did expect as Jesus’s words make clear.

Our Lord tells Martha that she is worried and upset about many things. Then he says only a few things are needed, or only one. That Mary had chosen what is most essential, and that it wouldn’t be taken away from her.

I think for 2019 this may be telling at least many of us that we need to simplify. Perhaps scale down. Maybe let a good number of things go. And learn to cast all of our cares on God, who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22). To quit being driven, and instead to learn to follow in step with the one whose invitation remains open:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

 

incentive to godliness: leaving the past behind

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:1-11

Peter wrote to Christians who had once lived what scripture calls fleshly, sinful lives. The list he gives is obvious, and today is no different. Pornography for example is a huge market, and many it has taken down. Of course there are other sins maybe more acceptable to society at large, but nevertheless destructive as well. Usually especially to relationships, and also simply to one’s well being.

Peter’s words alluding to Christ’s suffering, and then saying we should arm ourselves with the same, in a kind of bodily way, so it impacts how we live seems I suppose Catholic to many of us. So be it. Peter points back to their wild, reckless past as an incentive to live differently in the present. And in the face of ridicule for doing so. In so doing, they will be following Christ, living out that following. And to do so, Peter is suggesting, again, that they’re to arm themselves with a mindset which embraces suffering in the body. Actually what might be spoken of here is the refusal to do what one is tempted to do in the body. We realize that the rest of the letter speaks of suffering in terms of persecution for their faith.

This incentive to live godly lives because of past ungodliness might be especially helpful to younger Christians. But it should provide incentive to us all. It actually puts us in a sphere of life and experience where we live bodily for something else entirely. Not to indulge ourselves, but to deny ourselves. Not really to deny our humanity, either. The New International Version adds “evil” to “human desires” to make that clear (click link above to compare with Greek, and other translations). But in doing so, it maybe to some extent loses a certain sense of what this scripture is saying. Yes, strictly speaking Peter is not telling those Christians that they can’t eat and drink and marry, etc. But what the passage does seem to be saying is that a Christian should live not for the fulfillment of legitimate human desires, but rather for the will of God. That such an attitude is a necessary fortification to not drift into what actually is evil. And important even, in us fulfilling God’s will in our lives.

I include what is the second paragraph in the translation above, because Peter puts that together with the call to live differently. It is to be done so in Christian love with acts of service.

Our lives are lived bodily. What we do and don’t do are important. We live bent on doing God’s will. When we fail, of course there’s always confession and repentance, and if need be for a serious enough offense, restoration. This passage indeed points to reformation, to a changed life, completely different than the world not only accepts, but often celebrates. We seek to follow Christ in a different way. Finding our fulfillment, including as humans, in that. In and through Jesus.

blessed to be a blessing

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”[d]

Galatians 3

There is no doubt that through faith in and baptism into Christ that we are all blessed. But what was the good news to Abraham? That all nations would be blessed through him. And greater is the one who blesses, than those who are blessed (Hebrews 7:7).

Abraham was blessed by God to be a blessing to others. He is the father of us all in not only being the source of blessing through the children which came through him, ultimately fulfilled in Christ, but also in being the example to us of faith, so that we’re to walk in his steps. I take it, not only in receiving the promise, but in seeing that promise extend to others. So that ultimately, we’re to be like Jesus, who did not come to be served, but to serve, and of course to lay down his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

That is why we’re blessed in and through Jesus, to be a blessing to others. And “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Something we’re to keep in mind to live out in and through Jesus.

being willing to take second fiddle and serve

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Luke 22

I have never seen this connection before, and I like how the NIV in its paragraph divisions, brings all of this together in one paragraph. During the Last Supper, of all places, after Jesus told them that one of them was about to betray him, they began to argue with each other over which of them was considered to be greatest.

Jesus pointed to himself as the one who took the place assigned to servants; the more important, or considered greater people, sitting at the tables, being served. But that, because they had stood by him in his trials, he would give them a kingdom in which they’ll sit down and eat and drink, as well as sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

The ways of the world easily rub off on us. We need to take care that we neither lord it over others, or expect them to serve us. Instead we need to appeal to them, and serve them. We especially need to be sensitive to those who have been hurt, and who might easily misunderstand our actions and words. But we also need to be open to the need for rough edges to be taken off of us.

I’m afraid that the world sometimes rubs off more on us, than our way in Christ rubbing off on the people of the world. We end up imitating what we admire. We need to learn to see the beauty of Jesus, and come to value that. And then see everything else in that light. Certainly that’s the way of humility and service. And in God’s grace by the Spirit, Jesus himself can live in us and help us. In fact, because of that, we can become more like him.

That is the key, but at the same time we need to be aware, and when need be repent and become like the little children of the Father in the kingdom, loving and serving each other, and the world, in God’s love, in and through Jesus.

Where is Jesus?

Sometimes we simply need to get away from it all, to be free of the pressing duties and even the concerns of life. To simply relax and enjoy, to be at peace. In that to seek the Lord indeed. But to have some amusement and fun, now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that.

During Jesus’s busy time of ministry, he had times when he would want to simply get away with his disciples and rest, although he couldn’t escape the people. He was known to get up early at least some mornings and get away to have communion in prayer with his Father. Yes, we need times like that. We need a certain kind of stillness and solitude.

But more often than not, we’ll find Jesus, and God in him in the pressing duties of everyday life, and in the difficult things which come our way. We can grow weary and tired over that, and we do need some breaks now and then. But more often than not, that’s where we’ll find Jesus, and God in him at work.

And so while we need to take care of ourselves, we also need to look for Jesus. Where is Jesus? What would God be doing in and through Jesus today, even through us who are in Jesus, in whatever humble way we can serve, even if only by being present?

no need for praise

Whatever God calls us to do we simply need to do and keep doing it regardless of what the effect seems to be. And certainly including whether or not any one expresses appreciation for what we have done.

There is the need for those in the church to both recognize and affirm the gifting one does have, no doubt. And it is an encouragement to know if someone is helped by what we do, or more accurately what God does through us. So there is that balance.

But the last thing we should be looking for or expecting is praise from people. In fact when God is at work the most there may be the least possibility of that. God’s working does not always bring comfort with it. Oftentimes quite the opposite to be sure.

In the end we want to be praised by the Lord as those who were good and faithful servants, doing his will, using what gifts he had given us. We realize that anything short of that is high and dry, indeed empty.

It is freedom to let go of the desire to receive any praise from anyone, in my case for teaching or preaching well, or whatever. We want to do well and be a blessing in the Lord to others. But the focus should never be on the servant but on the one that is served. Any good is all from God who alone deserves all praise.

May the Lord continue to free us from being moved either by praise or criticism from people, as long as we are faithful in Jesus by the Spirit to God’s calling to us.

Pilgram Marpeck on the highest joy of a disciple of Jesus

Our highest joy shall be that, in heaven, our names are written in the Book of Life (Luke 10:20). To show, with unwavering faith  and certain hope, love toward the neighbour, and thus prove our love of God, is and shall be our highest joy. Not the work, but love itself, to serve and to be a guardian of the salvation of all the elect of God is heavenly joy.

Pilgram Marpeck quoted by Marlene Kropf & Eddy Hall, Praying With the Anabaptists: The Secret of Bearing Fruit, 106. From The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck (Classics of the Radical Reformation), translated and edited by William Klassen and Walter Klassen, 437.

doing well where we’re planted

Years ago I heard a preacher say that if the Lord would have called them to be a dairy farmer (or something of the like), they would have wanted to be the best dairy farmer they could possibly be, to the glory of the God. That has stuck with me over the years. I don’t do what I really want to do in life, and that’s been true for a long time. I did not get Bachelor and Master degrees to be working in a factory. I am a reader, love to teach, and actually love to pastor, and am a bit of klutz when it comes to using my hands, unless it is a job I have to do day in and day out. Then the degree of athleticism I have helps, and added on to that my parents’ ethic of hard work from sun up to sun down so to speak.

I hope I don’t share this to toot my own horn. Actually at work we are a team, and we mesh together pretty well I think, with all our strengths and weaknesses. The point I’m wanting to make is that in Jesus we are called to bloom where we’re planted. I think this is a big part of the work of the Spirit of God in our lives. Whatever we do we’re to do to the glory of God.

Many of us don’t do what we had really hoped to do. The question becomes: Are we learning to do well the task at hand? And another pertinent, and in fact important question: Are we learning to do what pleases the Lord? And related: Do we know what he has called us specifically to do? Our work and our lives should have the mark of Jesus on them. Everything should be a witness of our faith, how we live, with all the tussles that come with that.

Is there a time to move on and do well elsewhere? Of course there is, though the younger generations seem much more accustomed and acclimated to that than does my generation. We need to work hard, “with all our hearts,” in whatever we’re called to do, And thoughtfully, as those serving our Lord.

And so we want to be the best we can be in whatever we do, in God’s eyes. Together in Jesus in this for the world.

preach the word

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

If there’s one thing I want to hear from a sermon (or when I preach one) I want to hear the word of God proclaimed and taught. And whatever text we are in, I want to hear that text, and nothing more and nothing less. For those of my generation, I’m not referring necessarily to “expository preaching,” that is, going verse by verse, line by line, and sometimes almost word by word. For some that might work well as at least one of the main ways they share God’s word. It can be delivered in a number of ways, with always an accent on reading the text and actually letting the text speak for itself.

Too often we might import this or that idea, or better, a teaching from some other part of scripture into the text. We need to let the text speak as it does, if we are going to hear it as it is, and receive the needed word from God.

I appreciate that our church uses a lectionary which, if I remember right takes us through at least most all of scripture every four years. We need all of scripture, the entire witness, whether we can make heads or tails of it or not. We need to let each part have its say. And taking in the whole, we may end up with some kind of coherent understanding of the message of God in Christ. Of course scripture leads us to Christ. If it doesn’t do that in our preaching, then we are missing the boat. Breaking the bread of life means helping the hearers feed on Christ. The Spirit is present in the preaching to bring us into the presence of Christ and God’s will in him.

I am thankful to be part of a church where the pastors do this. Any of us may falter here and there, somehow bringing something that is not helpful into the mix. But God  knows our heart, and if its our desire and prayer for his word to get through, in spite of ourselves, and by the filling of the Spirit (yes, we need to be dependent on the filling of the Spirit both in our preaching and for the hearers, that the Spirit would minister to each of them), God will speak through his word.

We are told earlier in the same letter quoted above:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

That must be our aim. We who teach or proclaim God’s word (or our pastors, I’m not a pastor by the way, though I think I’m still one at heart to some extent, and I still do preach and teach a bit) must aspire to be servants of God, people given to the ministry of the word and prayer. That will certainly keep us humble as before God and people we endeavor to share nothing of ourselves (even when we may share from our own lives) wanting to hear nothing except from God in and through Christ. As we together in Jesus seek to live out God’s will in and for the world.