Practical Proverbial, about Santa Claus, 19 December 2017

Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.   Deuteronomy 26:11.

It’s the week before Christmas and, if we’re having an honest conversation about Santa Claus, we need to face some facts about the world we live in.

We each know people who are having a tough time this year.  One friend of mine is struggling to give her kids and grandkids the kind of happy Christmas she never had when she was growing up, and she feels she’s failing.   Another friend of mine is struggling with the recent diagnosis of a terminal brain tumor.   Yet another confesses her broken-heartedness on her first Christmas as a single mom following her divorce.   One of my sons-in-law is deployed overseas, spending his first Christmas away from his wife and daughter; his wife and daughter are very much missing Dad.  Another friend of mine is struggling with schizophrenia.  One of my classmates is being buried today after her untimely death last week.  I’m losing my house.

And we’re supposed to rejoice over all this?  Actually, yes, and it really isn’t that difficult to do.

Think of “A Christmas Carol”, of Scrooge’s overnight transformed heart.   Or the Santa Clause movie where Tim Allen brightens up the teacher’s holiday party by using a little Santa magic.  Consider the lines of excited kids lining up to see Santa.   Or the bell-ringer wearing a Santa hat who wishes you a merry Christmas when you drop a few coins into the red kettle.  Rejoice.   Rejoice, already.   God gives us the basics but so much more.   If you don’t believe that, go do some Santa watching at the mall.   Reject the crass commercialism and just watch the little kids.   Watch how they anticipate, and how a kind old man spends some time with them to listen and love a little.   Then rejoice already.   Rejoice on days good and bad alike because the same Christ Child, born on Christmas Day, reflected by a character we call “Santa,” is Lord of all.

In it all, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.   You know it, the Christmas hymn.   According to Wikipedia, the words to the hymn come from the 1700s while the medieval dirge to which they’re sung comes from France of the 1500s.  Yet I love the song.  It is actually one of the more hopeful ones you’ll hear this Christmas because the refrain constantly reminds us to rejoice over how Jesus Emmanuel has ransomed us from ourselves.   How “Emmanuel” actually means “God with us.”   How He is with us now.

Rejoice, too, because one of Emmanuel’s representatives here in our world is that jolly fat man in the red suit.   That attitude of giving selflessly is cause enough to begin the rejoicing.   The heart that gives is the heart of hope, and in the face of real adversity we need more of that hope.   Only Jesus can truly give that hope, but you, me, and acting like Santa can share it.   That’s what keeps the world going around.  The people of 1500s France knew it.  The magi knew it.   Moses knew it when he penned Deuteronomy.   And the men who play Santa at the mall know it.

I’m not trying to be Pollyanna concerning the hard condition in which we find ourselves.   Living can hurt.   Yet the very real antidote to being crushed by this world is letting ourselves be lifted up by God instead.   Loss, death, and pain still happen, but they cannot defeat a heart focused on giving through rejoicing.   Indeed, the only way to persevere through those things is with that rejoicing heart of Jesus.   In hard times, that may be the only gift we can get or give.  Like the song, so much of our lives is sung in a minor key.   How much better it is, then, to consider the smile of Santa’s face, the touch of Jesus’ hand, and the fresh day today to rejoice one moment at a time.

For further reading: Matthew 25:29.

My Lord, I rejoice at Your wonder, at how You provide for us and love us.  Help me to persevere through adversity today.   And ease the pain of those who are struggling right now.  Love and nurture them, Lord.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 26 September 2016

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  Hebrews 2, verses 2 and 3.

What does that mean?  It sort of seems like two different thoughts ‘smushed’ together.

My NIV concordance says that “the message spoken through angels” references God giving the Commandments to Moses at Sinai.  Some reading from Deuteronomy tells that “myriads of angels” accompanied God in giving Him praise when He revealed His law to Moses (who then shared it with the world).  A little online research corroborates that opinion.  What about the rest of the verses?

Yesterday at church the theme was “good enough.”   Pastor Mark talked about how we, as people, constantly strive to prove we’re good enough.   Every religion on earth is a choice between following Jesus or not.   If you aren’t following Jesus, then you’re doing something, anything, to prove you’re good enough.   Good enough for Allah, good enough to reach nirvana, good enough to prove your worth, good enough to make up for things you’ve done, just good enough:   that’s the point of all faiths other than following Jesus.  You’re either a following Christian or you aren’t.

I don’t say this to denigrate other faiths.   It’s just a fact.   If your faith isn’t put in Jesus, you aren’t putting your faith in the only one who can save you from your sins.  You’re striving to do something, most likely to prove you’re good enough to rise above the wrongs you’ve done.   And be real:   everyone does something wrong.   Wrong equals sin.   We all sin; we’re all thick with sin.  There’s nothing we can do to undo the consequences of those sins, both against other people and, as believers, against the righteous justice of God.   If you aren’t following Jesus, you’re doing something to overcome those sins.  THAT point segues directly into verse 3, where the verse talks about salvation.

Only Jesus has atoned for your sins.   Only Jesus can save me, you, or anyone from the eternal consequences of our sins.  God is perfect and just and righteous and all love.   He made us to love us and for us to live in perfect harmony with that love for all time.   Yet, to maintain that just, righteous, perfect love, God can’t tolerate our sins.   He gave us the free will to follow completely or sin.   Being a loving parent, He allows us to choose what we do, including the consequences.  But to maintain His perfection He can’t allow our constant imperfections to taint Him.   If He did, He wouldn’t be perfect, He wouldn’t be God.  That can’t be allowed, and let’s keep it real:   we wouldn’t really want it.

I am not perfect and I’m not just or righteous on my own.   I can’t atone for myself.  I can make some amends for the wrongs I’ve done to God and other people, but in truth I can’t atone for everything.   As an absolute, if I can’t atone for everything then I really can’t atone for everything.   I’m not God.  Neither are you.  We can’t save ourselves from the punishment we deserve:   damnation and separation from God.

Jesus did.

He did and He did it as fully man and fully God all at the same time.   It’s a mystery, THE mystery of the ages, how Jesus lived, died, and atoned for all sins.   He took on Himself the eternal damnation that even the least of my sins deserves and He made it right.   He made unclean man right and righteous again so that we can again live in the harmony with God that God originally intended.   The truly good news of all history is how He saved us from the eternal consequences our sins deserve.   All of Scripture is God testifying through men how He did this.   Those twelve men who Jesus taught during His ministry here inspired dozens, then hundreds, then millions of others to share this good news with others.   The Bible does this.   Pastors, ministries, whole lifetimes do this.   Even our words here together do this.   It’s all because of what Jesus did those thousands of years ago.   On my own, I’m not good enough.   Jesus is and with Him, He made me good enough.

What do two verses really mean?   As it turns out, quite a lot.

For more reading:   Deuteronomy 33:2, Romans 11:22.

Lord Jesus, I follow You.   Thank You for saving me, for forgiving me, for doing what I can’t.   Help me to live in ways to share this message with the world.

Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 8 September 2016

For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” Hebrews 1, verses 5-6

There is comfort in knowing some of the intricacies of faith that contribute to its rich history.

These first two verses do some heavy hitting in the early church.   The Gospels tie Jesus and His lineage to the Jewish Patriarchs (Luke takes it all the way back to God Himself through Adam), but these verses in Hebrews tie Jesus directly to God the Father through the Psalms.   That matters.

According to the NIV, Psalm 2 is heavily messianic; I encourage you to read it.   In it, the Lord speaks to His people in song saying both “you are my Son” and “you are my son in the line of King David.”   Remember that Jewish men were instructed in the synagogues on the Torah and the Psalms.   The Psalms were hymns they sung, poetic verses they memorized and carried all their lives. Psalm 2 is traditionally credited to King David as the writer.   Thus, a tie to Psalm 2 is one that early churchgoers would have easily understood and absorbed, especially since the author then ties it to (what were at the time) contemporary eyewitness accounts from Matthew and John, as well as the (then) contemporary writings of Paul to the church in Colosse.

As if that wasn’t enough, the reference from 2 Samuel (which is the story of King David), then also ties Jesus directly to King David.   Of David, the book said “you will be my son” who would be punished on behalf of the people for wrongdoings.   As Jesus was a direct descendant from David – something that may not have been fully understood at the time Hebrews was written – the author is, thus, tying the Son of God to the revered royal lineage of Israel’s most famous warrior king.

Pretty heavy indeed.   Here’s a bit more heaviness for you:   so what?

I mean, so what?   What does this matter to us today?   Jesus and David have been dead for thousands of years, many centuries.   Why does that matter?

Really.

It’s been over 200 years yet people are still quoting Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.   It has been decades and we’re still quoting John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.   If for only historic reasons, it matters that, centuries ago, ancient writers used (already) ancient texts to tie Jesus of Nazareth – someone of their own time and day – to Jewish tradition and royal lineage.   Doing so helps us today understand the religious, social and even political impacts that the new Christian faith was having on the world at the time.   That helps us to better understand how things came to be.

Yet move beyond that to matters of your own heart in the here and now.   Your faith is a supernatural thing.   Having faith in this Jesus is highly illogical, something that the world dismisses because it requires putting trust in something you can neither see nor feel.   Yet you can sense it.   You can sense the very real peace and clarity that come from expressing faith in Jesus Christ.   You can’t touch it, but you can know it’s real.

Even though this is so, you and I still experience moments of questioning.   It’s natural; it isn’t abnormal; it isn’t even condemned by Jesus, who restored Thomas’ faith after logical doubts threatened to cloud his continued belief.  Having occasional questions or doubt doesn’t make you un-Christian:   it makes you a normal person. It is growing that doubt into dereliction of faith, rejecting God, that is a sin, not occasionally questioning or doubting His purpose or movement in our lives.   Even Jesus doubted, screaming “My God why have You forsaken me” as He was dying on the cross. In moments of question and doubt, it helps to know there are corroborating proofs, independent evidence, supporting what you believe.   It helps to know there were other people who did the same, men like King David and the author of Hebrews, who sang both praises and mourning through the Psalms, as expressions of the faith they had in God.

For more reading:   Psalm 2:7, Matthew 3:17, 2 Samuel 7:14, John 3:16, Colossians 1:18, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 97:7.

My God, thank You for weaving these intricate histories into my faith in You.   Thank You for the deep proofs, then subtle meanings, that come with believing in You as my only Savior.