A couple of quick, random facts for this last Tuesday of 2013:
Archive for December, 2013
When I was young, I assumed that I would be a teacher. A professor, more specifically. I would charge through the academic gauntlet, completing my doctorate and sharing the wisdom of the ages with younger, eager devotees.
Or it could be Bri. Or Bree. I assume it’s spelled like the cheese, but who knows, really? All I know is that I’ve been seeing this young lady once a week for the last six months. Every Sunday almost without exception, as the sun is just creeping up over the mountains.
Date: Second Sunday after Christmas, January 5, 2013
Texts: 1 Kings 3:4-15; Psalm 119:97-104; Ephesians 1:3-14; Luke 2:40-52
Context: What matters most when a child is educated? What information is most pertinent to their health and well-being and success? Educational models and standards change every few decades, yet Scripture points to wisdom grounded in the Word of God as a standard of education and wisdom that never needs to be revamped or updated. Seeking wisdom from God is indeed the most important aspect of any person’s knowledge and education, regardless of their age or vocation.
1 Kings 3:4-15 —Solomon is described as exceedingly wise, but his wisdom is not an innate attribute or the result of education, but a gift from God. Solomon’s humility in seeking wisdom from the Lord is the model for our lives as well. Whatever we think we know, whatever we have achieved or received, we are to wait on the wisdom of the Lord, knowing that any other gift or ability or achievement pales in comparison with aligning our wisdom with God’s. At a moment when Solomon might be expected to exalt himself, he humbles himself, and we learn that those who are humble in the Lord need never be ashamed!
Psalm 119:97-104— Psalm 119 is an acrostic, where each section of the psalm begins with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet. The odd-sounding headers for each section are the different names of Hebrew letters. But the psalm is unified around an exaltation of the Word of God, which is indeed what all the psalms are. We immediately pick out the wisdom theme in verse 98, and verse 99 points towards the Gospel lesson in Luke 2. But what infuses these verses is joy and delight—delight in the wisdom gained through the Lord’s Word. This is often something that gets lost in exhortations to read the Bible and engage in Bible study—we come to these endeavors as privileged, invited guests of God. Our time in His Word should improve our lives by making us wiser and by showing us the proper way to live.
Ephesians 1:3-14 — This passage has led to great confusion, primarily because of some of the wording Paul uses. Words translated as predestined have led some Christians to profess that God ordained at the dawn of creation who would and would not be saved. Lutherans reject this interpretation of this passage because it flies in the face of passages in Scripture which clearly indicate that the Lord desires that all would be saved, and opens up the possibility of salvation to everyone. Predestination theology is not a necessary interpretation of this passage, and relies on inserting an idea or thought into the passage that isn’t there: and not others. “he predestined us (and not others)”, “even as he chose us (and not others)”. This thought is not in this passage though, and doesn’t need to be either!
What is Paul talking about then? God has chosen all people from the foundation of the world—intending that all should be holy and blameless. Sin has muddied the waters, and now not all people accept this choosing or recognize it, preferring to live their lives on their terms rather than God’s.
Paul’s main thrust here is that the blessings in Jesus Christ are not new, but have been part of God’s plan from the beginning. Jesus is not God’s Plan B to deal with Genesis 3 and the Fall into Sin—Jesus has been the plan from the beginning, just as God has known (as opposed to determined) from the beginning who would receive faith in Jesus Christ to salvation. In Jesus we are blessed with salvation according to the wisdom of God, so that God might be praised and glorified in all things.
Luke 2:40-52 — This is the only passage in Scripture that relates anything about Jesus’ childhood. Jesus grows normally as a human child, but also He is blessed with the favor of his heavenly Father, so that He is wise beyond his years.
Is Jesus disobedient in vs.43-47? Not necessarily. Jesus gets caught up in the discussion and debate with some of the finest minds in Israel. Is his response disobedient in verse 49? Not necessarily—certainly Jesus does belong in his Father’s house, and Mary and Joseph of all people should have known to look for him there. He does not reject their authority as parents, as He returns with them to Nazareth. It is this same Temple that Jesus will continue returning to throughout his life, and that He will visit for the last time to cast out the moneychangers. The Temple of the Lord is to be a place of learning about the Lord, seeking his wisdom, rather than as a place for commerce and exploitation of one another.
Luke reiterates that Jesus grows in wisdom, a term that no doubt Luke’s hearers would associate with the Old Testament and particularly the Psalms and Proverbs. Jesus does not come with some otherworldly wisdom. He does not come with some new teaching or revelation. Rather, He comes and is built up in wisdom through the Holy Scriptures, preparing him for his ministry ahead. This also ties in with Paul’s words in Ephesians. Jesus is not something brand new—He is the fulfillment of what God the Father planned from the beginning. As such, He is the essence and embodiment of God’s wisdom in human form.
We do not need to seek new wisdom or private inspiration and wisdom from God. We have the Word of God in our hands and in our hearts and minds already! When we are seeking God’s wisdom, this is the surest place to find it. We might hear many fine ideas and thoughts in our heads, but how do we discern where those originate? Whose voice speaks them? Is it the Holy Spirit? Is it our own wants and desires? Is it Satan seeking to mislead us? We are left uncertain. But the Holy Scriptures remain our objective source for God’s wisdom. This doesn’t mean that God the Holy Spirit can’t speak a word of wisdom directly to someone, but it does mean that we should not necessarily expect this or make this some subjective measure of holiness. God has indeed spoken to us through his Son, and the account of his Son is recorded in the Bible. What greater wisdom could we ever want or need?
I posted a month ago about how a judge has begun the process of eliminating the much-coveted tax benefits that clergy receive in America by ruling such exemptions illegal. What will follow will be some impressive number of appeals and other attempts to derail or fast-track the elimination of these benefits. It could be years before the matter is settled, but I have absolutely no doubt that it will not be settled until the exemptions are eliminated.
With the recent Thrivent announcement to reconsider their Choice Dollars® Program, the LCMS is encouraged to learn that Thrivent is beginning to recognize the serious concern its members have when their choice dollars are stewarded toward organizations such as Planned Parenthood that directly support the abortion industry and the killing of unborn children.
“We are very happy that Thrivent was willing to reconsider this issue. However, the LCMS and every one of its entities and congregations are both pro-life and nonprofit, so we certainly hope that Thrivent will continue to support such pro-life, nonprofit organizations,” said the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
LCMS members are urged to express their concerns directly to Thrivent Financial during this time of re-evaluation of the Choice Dollars® Program.
I thought that this informal essay from Scientific American was interesting. The article argues, if somewhat passively, for the mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers.
- Implied Premise: Vaccinated employees reduce the transmission of illnesses & diseases to patients in hospitals.
- Premise #1: Not all healthcare institutions have mandatory vaccination policies for employees
- Premise #2: At some of these hospitals (two, specifically) patients have gotten sick or died at institutions where a high percentage of staff were not vaccinated
- Premise #3: Many institutions are beginning to require mandatory vaccination
- Premise #4: Such institutions are not experiencing significant backlash against such policies
- Conclusion: All healthcare institutions should mandate vaccination for their employees
If you are a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work as I am, and if you are frustrated by Peter Jackson’s hijacking of Tolkien’s The Hobbit to create some new, twisted and overly-pretentious trilogy, then you might find this a worthwhile read. I certainly enjoyed it, and the irony is bitter indeed.
Date: First Sunday after Christmas, December 29, 2013
Texts: Isaiah 63:7-14; Psalm 111; Galatians 4:4-7; Matthew 2:13-23
Context: The Gospel lesson for this morning is a heartbreaking reminder of the seriousness of the birth of Christ. We attempt to sentimentalize the birth of Christ, to reduce it to Hallmark cards and sanitize it for mass consumption. But the reality of the birth of the Son of God is far more real and complex. The powers of evil move to crush God’s victor and Son while he is most helpless and defenseless, and as all too often happens, people in the wrong place at the wrong time are broken and cast aside. We must never forget that the coming of the Son of God into our world is a move of great power and intent by our God, the opening gambit to crush the powers of sin, death, and Satan forever. Satan will not sit idly by and watch his power overturned.
Isaiah 63:7-14 —God works through his Law and his Gospel. His Law crushes the sinner and destroys evil, while the Gospel promises forgiveness to the repentant and the victory of God in reconciling creation to himself. Isaiah 63 opens in a scene of violent judgment as the Lord crushes the surrounding nations in righteous destruction. Verse 7 signifies a shift—the hearer is not to fear this Lord in his righteous fury because of the relationship between this God and his people. This God has given goodness to his people, going so far as to be afflicted for and with them (v.9), a reference to the suffering of the Incarnate Son of God.
Yes, there were times when God’s people rejected him, requiring once again his righteous law to convict and condemn (v.10). Yet the Lord’s goal always is mercy, and is demonstrated in his ages-old love and care for his people, as signified in the central event of the Old Testament, the rescue of the Israelites from Egypt in the Exodus. We need not fear this God, but trust his mercy and forgiveness.
Psalm 111— This psalm of praise declares various reasons for praising the Lord, leading the hearer to engage in that very praise themselves. This psalm is used in communal worship (v.1) and begins by calling the assembled to praise God for his marvelous works of nature (vs.2-3). More than this though, God is to be praised because of his care for his people (vs.4-8), culminating in his salvation of his people under his eternal covenant promises (v.9). Our praise reaches a crescendo in this verse, before being reassured that to fear the Lord—to follow him and obey him and love him and worship him—is the source of all true wisdom. He has given us his Word that we might grow wise and understand properly, for which He alone is to be praised yet again!
Galatians 4:4-7 — Paul neatly connects the dots for the church in Galatia and for us today. The incarnation of the Son of God as Jesus of Nazareth is the means by which you and I are freed from slavery to sin and adopted by God the Father as sons and daughters of the King. We are in a new relationship with God the Father precisely because of the obedience incarnate of God the Son. We are free—and our freedom and our relationship as the children of God entitle us to an intimate relationship with him characterized by familial closeness rather than fear and uncertainty. We need not wonder at God’s intentions towards us—his intention is that we should inherit through Jesus eternal life as heirs of God the Father.
Matthew 2:13-23 —The slaughter of the innocents, as this event is called, is a powerful reminder that the baby in the manger is a real threat to the powers and principalities of this world. Satan as the prince of this world recognizes the threat that this baby poses, and orchestrates the worldly powers under his influence to try and destroy this young child. The juxtaposition of the might of worldly military power sent against a toddler, wielded mercilessly against defenseless children is a reminder that Jesus is a threat to every human and spiritual power in this world.
Are we saddened and shocked at the values we have taken for granted and held dear are now being deposed by our culture? Are we stunned to find ourselves maligned, the focus of ridicule and anger and revenge? Look no farther than this passage in Matthew 2 to see that this has always been the case. The world must hate Jesus, because Jesus comes to transform and overthrow the powers of this world. His kingship admits no peers, no equals, and certainly no superiors. He cannot be bribed, influenced, blackmailed, or resisted. He is the perfect, ultimate threat to every human being or institution that insists on maintaining their power.
We should not be amazed—but we should not give up hope, either. The children of Bethlehem are corpses, but the work of God the Father through God the Son continues, and those corpses will live again! Satan and the powers of this world could not succeed in destroying the Son of God as a child, and they certainly cannot do so today now that he awaits his return at the right hand of God the Father! Not that the powers of the world won’t try!
We should expect to be maligned, mistreated and mocked. We need not enjoy it, but we dare not resist it through the same techniques used against us. We are called to stand firm, to love our enemies, to pray for them, just as our Lord did as they mocked him, battered and nearing death by crucifixion. The world may succeed in killing our traditions and rituals and even our bodies, just as it succeeded in crucifying Jesus. But the world’s success is short-lived. Victory has already been determined in the empty tomb. We trust that our tombs as well will be empty one day. The Herod’s and other powers and principalities of this world that act in opposition to the Kingdom of God will one day stand in judgment. It is they who need our prayers, because their danger is real and not confined to a matter of a single lifetime.
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis