Saturday, November 28, 2015

Thankful for Mary at Christmas

Thankful for Mary at Christmas

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38 ESV)

Do you ever stop to think about the people's whose shoulders you stand on? Even in the mundane, there is much one might learn. Just think of driving. Thank You, Lord, for the innovations of Henry Ford! Ford didn't invent the automobile –he stood on someone else's shoulders!-- but Ford did make cars possible for the masses. However, who made roads available for the masses?

From stone paved roads, thousands of years old, in Ur, which is modern day Iraq, to the ancient timber roads discovered in Glastonbury, England to the modern tarred roads which were the result of the work of two Scottish engineers, Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam, we see discovery and growth that today allows us to go far and go fast.

There is a popular rumor that links Adolf Hitler to the invention of Germany's autobahn, which added inspiration to American interstates and super-highways the world over. No one wants to think they stand on the shoulders of Hitler, do they? So, here's the rest of the story...

While it's true Hitler, and his regime, fully embraced the idea of a national freeway system, the idea was born during the days when Germany was ruled by the Weimar Republic. Why, even here in the United States, the Federal Aid Roads Act of 1916 started the process of connecting roads nationally. Of course, through the 20s, 30s and 40s, the United States grew at an amazing rate, so it wasn't until the 1950's that our federal government was able to put forth the tangible interstate system we now enjoy. So, rest easy, Hitler didn't build I-40, nor was it his idea.

Still, the idea that I can get from my driveway down to my beloved uncle's house in Wilmington in under three hours has something to do with Dwight Eisenhower's leadership in building the interstate system and Henry Ford's mass production of automobiles.

What has any of this to do with Light Steps or Thanksgiving or Christmas or Mary or anything?

Good question; it's important to think about whose shoulders we stand on, and to be thankful. Today, thank God for Mary, mother of Jesus. Thank God for using this woman to be a vessel, yes, but, for me, the larger part of my thankfulness is due to Mary's example.

What would you do if God (1) sent an angel to speak with you and (2) told you that you'd become pregnant AND remain a virgin and (3) that baby would be the Savior of the world? I think I would have keeled over in fright.

Mary is afraid, yes, but she asked, “How will this be?” Already, I am encouraged by Mary's faith. She didn't recoil at God's prediction, but did question God's methodology. Praise God, and thank God, for the example of Mary's faith! Thank You, Father, that Mary shows that I can believe in You and still ask questions.

Further, I stand on the shoulders of Mary's beautiful surrender; she said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Ah! that I might live this way, day by day, whatever God might ask of me and for everything He does require of me!

Like the roadways, I can travel the journey of faith, in part, because of all the saints gone on before me. They have shown me faith and surrender by their examples.

For all that God has done, and for all that have embraced His call and commands, this Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I am thankful, humbled and encouraged. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

In the quiet...

In the quiet...
In a recent article from "The Weekly Standard", Joseph Epstein writes an inquest entitled "What Ever Happened to High Culture." Frankly, I don't know that I care what happened to high culture; I mostly
find it the interest of elitist who claim things have culture simply to have something to make them feel they are different than the bourgeois. (Of course, the living-with-a-chip-on-their-shoulder middle class, in turn, calls the monetary elite "bourgeoisie", so what do I know about culture on any level? Or any form of the word "bourgeois"?)
I digress. In Epstein's article, there was an extremely gripping quote; Epstein said, "The acquisition of culture requires repose, sitting quietly in a room with a book, or alone with one's thoughts even at a crowded concert or art museum. Ours is distinctly not an age of repose. Thy rhythm of our time is jumpy."
See that? Does it grip you?
It grips me.
It grips me, not because I care about high culture, but because I care about culturing from on high. I care about the saints of God engaging with God with the expectation of God culturing the inner man. In that regard, Epstein's idea about acquiring high culture is also true of culturing the inner man. It requires repose, or something like that.
It requires quiet. It requires thought. It requires reflection. It requires articulation. It requires abiding. It requires stillness. Frankly, the sort of repose one needs to pursue inner culturing is difficult in the jumpy rhythm of our times. We have trained our senses to count as normal multiple things going on at once --many screens, many voices, many directions, much stimulus-- to the point that if we are not stimulated in every sense simultaneously, we often think there is something wrong; something missing.
Well, I call that hogwash.
Even Jesus went alone to pray! (see Luke 5:16, Mark 1:35 or Matthew 14:33 for examples)
Jumpy rhythm; that's a good way to put it. We need quiet. We need solitude --yes, that means time alone. We need to think. We need the discipline of consideration. We need the blessing of meditation. We need repose.
Mind you, this is not mere leisure. It's not finding some other thing to do; another stimuli from the world's storehouse of distraction ingredients.
I know, I know, it feels counter-intuitive to hear me say "slow down" in our fast paced culture, but don't hear me saying "slow down"; hear me saying go strong toward the right things. Be fast in running to quietness with the Lord.
Learn to contemplate.
Learn to digest a passage of Scripture.
Learn to long for God in prayer.
Learn to listen for God in the stillness.
It's not high culture our spirits yearn for, but the Most High God. It requires repose, and may we all love it. May we all learn that quality of coming apart with God, no matter where we are or how many people are around us, that we might hear Him amid the din of life's jumpy rhythm.
Consider this reading, beloved friends:
"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 119:97, Psalm 1:2, Psalm 19:14, Psalm 119:15, Psalm 104:34, Philippians 4:8, Isaiah 26:3 ESV)

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Vow taking

Vow breaking... Vow breaking is a serious matter. Some people have made vows privately, some publicly and some have only been whispered in the silent halls of our hearts. Either way, God hears all of our vows. As a matter of fact, the Apostle James said vow taking did not need to be made on anything to be binding; in other words, one does not need to "swear to God" for that vow to be sacred. One's word is enough, but, by whatever we swear, we shall be held strictly to it. James said, "But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned." (James 5:12 NLT) I believe James was reminding his readers of Jesus's teaching concerning the matter: "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.' But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil." (Matthew 5:33-37 ESV) In other words, be a person of honor who keeps your word. Give vows cautiously, after much thought. Make promises carefully; thoughtfully. IF we swear by heaven, we "swear" by God's throne room, and that most certainly is ground for much caution and care. The real heart of Jesus's teaching was to be such an honest and honorable person that we do not have to invoke God's name to be believed. The side lesson: be careful what you vow to who and by what cause.

There's plenty more to be said on the subject! Consider Solomon's words: "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words. When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear." (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 ESV)

The warning here is clear; be careful not to utter rash words or to make hasty commitments and to be careful to understand what you are saying on holy ground (and, I might contend, being as God is omnipresent, every place lays open before His

Someone might be thinking, "I will just never promise anything to anyone!" It's not that simple. We are often called to give our word! The warning is simple, be careful what you promise because you'll be held to your word by the Lord. Moses said, "If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth." (Deuteronomy 23:21-23 ESV)

Moses also said, "If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth." (Numbers 30:2 ESV) In this case, vows have to do with what we promise TO DO and a pledge has to do with what we promise NOT TO DO.

Think about how your walk with Jesus began... Are you keeping those vows? Did you ask God to help you in some way and make a promise to Him the process? Are you keeping your word?

Married? Did you make vows? Sure you did. How is that going? Did you promise to work hard for your employer? How is that progressing?

Did you promise anything to and through your local church? Are you honoring your vows?

Finding folks to keep their word these days runs in short supply. People treat many things that are meant to be forever like recyclables. We, as people, are weak; we don't commit and, often, when we do, we fail to keep our word.

Take heart! God forgives! God restores! Even the OT Law had a provision for rash vow giving and breaking: "or if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin." (Leviticus 5:4-6 ESV)

Surely, as New Testament believers, we know God is a God of much grace: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9 ESV)

We are people of promise! God is a promise keeper! Likewise, we ought to reflect His nature, will and way; we ought to be people who keep our word too!

The Psalmist has the right idea: "I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds. I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!" (Psalm 116:13-19 ESV)

Whether to God or to others, I walk to walk in wisdom, make good vows and keep my word. God, grant me to be like You, a promise keeper.

What have you promised to who? How is that going?