This will be my first blog concerning Thanksgiving so please forgive me if I ramble a bit. Also please forgive any grammar mistakes. The intention is to be as if two friends were talking about Thanksgiving and what it means to them.
When I think back on this past year and the many blessings that the Lord has bestowed on myself and my family it is hard to know where to start. There is a story of man who decided it was time to end his life. He went to a cliff and intended to throw himself off. Before he could do it a voice told him that before he jumps take a moment and thank God for all the wonderful blessings that He bestowed on him during his life. After several hours, and realizing he had just scratched the surface, the man walked away from the cliff realizing just how wonderful our God is and how gracious He is in what he has provided materially and spiritually for all His children.
I am not walking towards a cliff, far from it. But like the man in the story I do forget the blessings that God has rained (pouring rain, not a sprinkle) down upon me. Here in these paragraphs I will catalogue a few of the greatest blessings He has bestowed on me.
1. My wife and two children.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within our house, Your children like olive plants around your table. Psalm 128:3
House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers, But a prudent wife is from the LORD. Proverbs 19:14
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth. Proverbs 5:18
I do not know where I would be today without my wife, son, and daughter. My wife is my constant, stalwart companion. She is by my side and encouraging me through the darkest day and the sunshine on my heart when we are apart. When Adam was created it was written that it was not good that Adam was alone and needed a help meet (Genesis 2:18). The life I have spent with my beloved has proven this over and over. Where I am weak she is my help. Where I am confused she is my guide. Where I tend to leave this world a bit (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia) she keeps my feet firmly planted on the soil. Thank you Lord for the most perfect soul mate.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5
All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. Isaiah 54:13
What a fantastic privilege but what a heavy responsibility. When my son came into the world some 24 years ago I thought I was at least a little prepared for what was ahead of me. I had babysit neighbor's children from 3 weeks old up to 10 years old. I had changed diapers, made formula, taken temperatures (so thankful for the "new" ways to take a baby's temperature versus the "old" ways). I really thought I was set and had a pretty good foundation for taking care of children. WRONG.
Not to say that it didn't help. But it was different when you were on duty at all times and just couldn't hand them back to the parents and go about your own life. But as I read the Scripture and looked into his (and eventually his sister's) tiny face I could not imagine anything or anyone more wonderful. The first time my daughter, now 21, climbed up in my lap and said, "I love you daddy" I did not think the tears would ever stop. Today they still amaze me (though we are past the crawling up in the lap stage). They still in their own way can be such great joy (and I must admit at time aggravation) to my heart.
What would like be without my wife and kids, I don't even want to think of it. Thank you Lord for such a gracious gift as these three people you brought into my life.
2. My job
I have to be honest at first I really didn't like my job. No, that is not correct. I really, really hated my job. I hated every moment I had to be there. I hated getting up in the morning and going. The only joy I received from my job was a paycheck and going home. Not Christian at all, but I am being honest.
But it was a good job. A very good job that was actually a career and not just a job. There was many good things about it but I was so miserable that I would not even given the good things the credit they deserved.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, Colossians 3:23
It was so hard teaching this and realizing what a hypocrite I was for my behavior.
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23
I wasn't working hard. I was barely doing what was required of me and on many occasions doing everything I could to get out of doing what I was assigned. I should have been thankful for what I had been given but all I could be was miserable.
Then something happened. I really can't say when or exactly what it was that happened. But something changed. What I wrote in the paragraph above, take the exact opposite. I began to tolerate what I was doing. Not enjoying, but tolerating it. I could come to work with a half-smile on my face and not looking at the clock all day. Then we had a major change in our office. Our director and assistant director retired. After interviewing an HR director from another college was transferred over to be our new director. The office atmosphere changed with his presence. Suddenly we had a boss that was fighting for us not fighting to protect their job. He managed to get raises and promotions for us. It was amazing what a change could come over an office when someone will fight for you. A few weeks after he started I called in sick and his response, "Do you need to be put on the church's prayer chain?" Now I knew why I was beginning to come to work. Why I suddenly wanted to do my job to my best ability and even go beyond what was expected of me.
Do you see a man who excels in his work?
He will stand before kings;He will not stand before unknown men. Proverbs 22:29
I do not expect to stand before human kings but one day I will stand before the King of Kings and before my brothers and sisters in Christ and I am thankful that I have learned my lesson on work.
3. My ekklesia
I have been attending church since I was 9 years old. I have met men and women that have inspired me in my learning and in my teaching. I have regularly attended 3 churches in my life. They have been full of wonderful people. Many of them "hard-core, I love the Bible" Christians. I have been given opportunities to teach but unfortunately they have been few and far between. When I first began at Tyndale Seminary in 1992 under Dr. Mal Couch within a few semesters he saw something in me that needed to be cultivated. He began by allowing me to co-teach, with copious direction from him, and then releasing me to teach on my own. What a fantastic training ground and time to develop my knowledge of the Scripture and how to present it.
A few years ago I received a call that I would rank as one of the top events of my life. Dr. Lacy Couch inviting me to come out and teach a group of believers who had studied under Dr. Couch. For me this was the equivalent of being asked to speak from the podium of Charles Spurgeon (if you don't know this name look it up. This is another man to learn under. Unfortunately we have very few in our time like him). Scared, nervous, shaking when I stepped up and began my lesson. By our breaktime that was all gone. This wonderful group made me feel like I had been with them forever. They made my wife and children feel at home. It was so wonderful to see and talk with Lacy.
There are few events in my life that I am more thankful for than being with these fellow believers. When we say brothers and sisters in Christ I know it is true of all of them. I love each and every one of them and I so thankful that God allowed in His providence for the group of us to be brought together.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. John 13:34
4. So many other things
What a wonderful God who gives us so much to be thankful for. As the story in the beginning said, our list could go on for a long time. What else am I thankful for: My mother and my brother, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, my grandmother-in-law (99 years old and loving the Lord every minute of it) food that fills my belly (good food- vegetables, not so good food- donuts), a Bible for every room in the house, a house, a car, clean water, clean clothes, a library in my house to do my studying, a bed to sleep in at night, air conditioning (a necessity in Texas), and so on, and so on.
Now therefore, our God, we thank You and praise your glorious name. 1 Chronicles 29:13
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15
And whatever you do, whether in word of deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17
How to end this, Lord God thank you for all that You have bestowed on me. Not just in this Thanksgiving season but all the time. Let me use the skills and abilities You have given me for Your glory and for the edification of my family in Christ. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Friday, October 11, 2019
Christmas. What a magic word. Believers and unbelievers alike have a little more happiness in their hearts and a bit more spring in their step. Around the world preachers are adjusting their typical sermon schedule and will spend several weeks telling the story from all angles they can find. In smaller churches children typically take on the role of Joseph and Mary for the annual Christmas play. Larger churches have older adults take on the roles of Joseph, Mary, the angels and others. Megachurches do their best to outdo one another for their annual Christmas play. One church has real animals, another has angels on wires flying through the stage, while another has the ultimate light and music show for the attendees.
We love it and for good reason. This is the beginning of the greatest story ever told. We learn about the humble beginnings of our Savior and the culture He grew up in. At least that is what we should be learning. Instead as time has progressed we have added to the Christmas story and brought into our Christmas plays words and actions that are not in Scripture. For a Biblically illiterate society this can be devastating.
Let’s look at some of the more commonly made mistakes in Christmas plays:
The 3 Wise Men
We do not know how many wise men came searching for the Christ Child. The Scripture says:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Matthew 2:1
As we notice the Scripture does not give us a number. The Scripture mentions wise men, two or more. Typically if there was only two the Scripture might use the word “both” which indicates it was probably three or more. Why do we assume that there were three wise men? When we read of their gifts we discover that there was three recorded gifts given:
11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11
There could have been many more. These three were the most significant and that is why they are the only ones mentioned.
Another contributing factor concerning the number of wise men tradition says that there were three and that their names were Gaspar/Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar/Balthazar. Since the Bible does not say, in fact there is no mention of their names, there is no way of being certain if this true. Without any supporting documentation it would be wisest to keep with the Scripture.
When did they show up? All of our Christmas plays having them showing up the night of Christ’s birth typically a short while after the shepherds. Unfortunately this could not have been. The soonest the wise men could have arrived would have been the 9th day after Christ’s birth. If the wise men had shown up before then Joseph and Mary would have offered the incorrect redemption offering for Christ:
22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)
24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. Luke 2:22-24
How is this evidence that the wise men had not made an appearance?
“The proper offering was a lamb for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or dove for a sin offering; but for the poor an alternative was allowed - instead of the more costly present of a lamb, a second pigeon or dove might be brought. The deep poverty of Mary and Joseph is shown in this offering. They would never have put the sanctuary off with the humbler had the richer gift been in their power.” The Pulpit Commentary
If the wise men had come to the family previously the offering would be more than two turtledoves, the offering of the poor. Joseph would have been required to offer a lamb as the wealth the wise men gave to the Christ child would necessitate a more appropriate offering.
Lastly we read in the Scripture in our aforementioned verse:
11 And going into the house…” Matthew 2:11a
Not the manger but a house. The family was out of the manger and in a house. It would be natural that they would move from the manger into a house, most likely a friend’s house, for the first few months of the baby’s life. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says:
“not the stable; for as soon as Bethlehem was emptied of its strangers, they would have no difficulty in finding a dwelling-house.”
The question I am asked often after relating these facts is, “what does it matter? Shouldn’t the overall theme be the important point? Not nitpicking the story to death.” While I agree theme of the story is very important it is paramount we understand the story with what is given and not add in our own suppositions and traditions. If we fail at this point to read our Bible carefully and dig out every gold nugget God has given us we will begin to fall for every fake gold nugget man creates. Read, study, learn and digest what the Bible gives us, not what man does.
But let us not end on such a note. Let us look at two great lessons (there are more) we find in the wise men.
(1) Gentiles looking for the Messiah. I love how God instructs Matthew, a Jew, to relate the story of the Gentiles finding Christ. While in Luke, the Gentile, we read the story of how the Jews were looking for Christ. By looking at both Gospels we discover both Jew and Gentile looking for something greater than what this world has to offer. (On a side note, Mark and John do not contain the birth narrative. I find many life-long church going Christians automatically assume all the gospels have the birth narrative.) We were once like the wise men. We too were searching for something greater than ourselves.
(2) The wise men were very humble. A widespread joke today goes: “The children of Israel wandered around the desert for 40 years led by two men. Even in biblical times, men wouldn’t ask for directions.” The wise men were exceptions. First they needed a star to guide them and then when they entered Jerusalem they needed the advice of others on where to go. They asked for directions. They did not rest in their superior intellect, their wealth, their prestige, to get them what they wanted. When they were in need they asked for help. Then when they arrived and found Mary and the Christ Child their first actions:
“…and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him.” Matthew 2:11b
They fell before a child and worshiped Him. Before they offered Him their gifts they gave Him their worship. They understood who He was and who they were.
I love this story and I love these men. They searched for the Messiah and we should all emulate searching for the Messiah in the Scripture. We should hunt down every nugget of information about our Messiah that the inspired authors wrote for us. When we discover new things about our Messiah it should cause us to fall down and worship Him even more for what He did for us and what He is doing for us.
This is the first of a series of articles concerning the Christmas story, what is Bible and what has been added by man. If you have a moment please share in the comments lessons that the wise men have taught you and any traditions that you grew up with concerning them. Thank you for reading.
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