Little Miss Mary, Perhaps not so Saintly?

At Christmas time, second only to fame of baby Jesus, is that of the virgin Mary. In fact, in many instances, she’s not even the runner up, but the main character celebrated in the Nativity. As the story goes, the perfect, serene, pious, humble virgin drew God’s attention. Because of her near perfection, He chose her to bear His one and only begotten son. But where do we get this idea?

As I read through Luke 2 and Matthew 1 this year, a couple things struck me as off kilter from my usual Christmas perceptions. First is Mary. What do we know of her prior to the angel’s visit announcing her conception of Jesus. Absolutely nothing! Imagine what her life must have been like. What if Mary wasn’t gentle? What if Mary hadn’t been fully submissive to her parents? What if Mary once slipped an apple in her pocket as she passed a fruit stand in the market? What if Mary felt guilty about a few little white lies? What if?

Previous people had found favor with God:

Noah, who ended up passed out, drunk and naked in his tent had found favor with God. (Gen. 6:8)

Abraham who lied because he didn’t trust God to care for him, found favor with God. (Gen. 18:3)

Moses, a murderer with a fierce temper found favor in the eyes of God. (Ex. 33:12)

So what of Mary? Perhaps she wasn’t so saintly. I don’t mean to disparage her, but I do think that Christendom must be wary, lest we idolize a mere human, on whom God decided to bestow favor. Did you catch that?

God decided to bestow favor. God’s favor came, not in response to anything Mary had done. I wonder if that’s why God didn’t tell us all about Mary’s life prior to become Jesus’ mother. It wasn’t important to God that Mary be perfect. He was sending Jesus to be the sacrifice for all of Mary’s failures – past, present and future. None of her little white lies, temper tantrums, disobedience or failures would ever be able to count against her.

Mary found favor because Jesus found favor.

Consider this New Year’s resolution: I will cease to work to earn God’s favor. I will stop tallying my good and balancing it against my bad. I will stop groveling before the throne of God. I will instead boldly yet struck by awe, revel in God’s favor because of Jesus.

What Have You Done?

What have you done?

Pathetic creature!

What have you done

All clothed in dust.

Marred and scorned

And shell of life.

What have you done?

Shedder of blood

Rent of innocence.

Now split to die,

What have you done?

Now I am done.

Have done away with all you did.

What have I done?

Sweet shedder of my own blood.

What have I done?

But love you and clothe you.

I healed you and died.

What have I done?

But mend the innocence of creature

Hemmed with Creator’s blood.

What have I done,

But comfort you.

What have I done

But rescue you?

There’s nothing for you to do.

Dirty Little Lives

If anyone was defiled by Jewish standards, it was Jesus. And He did it on purpose! He touched dead people, he touched spit, he touched lepers. Jesus spoke with Samaritans and mocked the self-righteous, “spot-less” Pharisees. It wasn’t hard to find law-dirt on Jesus.

The Mosaic law commanded that the Israelites avoid many kinds of foods, contaminations and unclean objects. And then Jesus came along.

“And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him.’” Mark 7:20 What a paradigm shift! So much for avoiding all the bad stuff, the bad stuff is in me!

A quick look at the Greek word for “unclean,” as used in Romans 14:14, reveals that it is the same word as is translated “defiled” in other contexts such as, Mark 7:14-22. This dirty little word: is from the root word, koinos. In English, this means to “be stripped of specialness, made common.”

Jesus said in Mark 7:14-22, that what defiles a man, or strips him of his specialness and reduces him to the common, is what comes from inside. In this case, the inside or heart, refers to the “capacity of moral preference, mind, character, inner-self, will, the intention.”

So what is the cure? What is the solution? How do I survive my own toxic emissions? There are a several verses that give a clear answer.

First: Romans 10:9
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

And then, if you believe in Jesus: 1 John 5:20
“And we know that The Son of God has come and he has given us a mind to know The True One and to be in The True One- in his Son, Jesus The Messiah. This One is The True God and The Life Eternal.”

And finally, if we have been given a mind to know Jesus then: Titus 3:3-7

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

The solution to living in a common or defiled life is to let Jesus live His life through you. By believing in Jesus, we are given a new mind and heart and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is then Christ in us, that regenerates us and renews us and makes us anything but common.

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” 1 Peter 2:9.

One Thing For Sure

It is not my desire to ignite controversy. But, I’m going to do it anyway (:

Isn’t that what blogging is for: to strike up dialogue, probe opinions and make you think?

I have been reading Christ’s Prophetic Plans, by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue. I picked it up just after re-reading Hank Hanegraaff’s Apocalypse Code, so my thoughts are tangled, my opinions mangled and the only thing I remain certain of this that JESUS IS LORD AND I WILL SPEND ETERNITY WITH HIM IN HEAVEN! Whew, at least that’s settled!

Caught between these two eschatological view points, each espoused by biblical scholars that I deeply admire, I have digging in unusual places (Google) for better illumination on each opinion. I have ferreted out audio and interviews with MacArthur, R.C. Sproul and Sinclair Ferguson. I have read about John Newton Darby (often regarded as the founder of Dispensationalism) and read about Margaret MacDonald (a woman whose entranced, hysteric mumblings have been regarded at different times both as extra-biblical and demonic.

This reading leads one into discussion of the rapture, the tribulation, the essence of salvation and the distinction of the nation of Israel. While I firmly believe that we are called as Christians to “… you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:15) I confess that I remain unresolved on three of these issues.

If one accepted Darby’s view of the secret rapture… Benjamin Wills Newton pointed out, then many Gospel passages must be “renounced as not properly ours.”…this is precisely what Darby was prepared to do.

Too traditional to admit that biblical authors might have contradicted each other, and too rationalist to admit that the prophetic maze defied penetration, Darby attempted a resolution of his exegetical dilemma by distinguishing between Scripture intended for the Church and Scripture intended for Israel…

The task of the expositor of the Bible was, in a phrase that became the hallmark of dispensationalism, “rightly dividing the word of truth”.

From “The Roots of Fundamentalism:
British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930” (1970)
by Ernest R. Sandeen, University of Chicago Press
ISBN 0-22-73467-6, p. 65-67

Makes you think, huh?

It bothers me that as I read both view points, I find the authors of each, demeaning the others. Not only do they espouse a different opinion, but like politicians defending their platforms in an election year, they mock the opposing view. While we study and strive to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and wait expectantly for Him can we not remember,

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:1-3

Paul reminds us:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

“And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.’ Jew and Gentilef are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” Romans 10:8b-13

Do Something… or die

I grew up with the understanding that evangelism is important – people need to know that Jesus is not only the assurance of eternal life, but that He makes this life worth living. In the throes of my eating disorder, I was absolutely ready and willing to kill myself, check out, be done with it all. If not for Jesus, who gave me an underlying assurance of hope and peace, I would have died. If starving had not stopped my heart, I would have done it intentionally.

It wasn’t so much that Christians are always saying, “suicide is a sin,” I mean once I’m dead, what do I care? But it was something about this Jesus, something about His companionship in my pain, that made me want to try life one more day, one more day at a time.

Then I married a soldier. My personal soldier isn’t very vulnerable, and it’s been rare when he let me in his private fears. I did notice a heightened sense of mortality and sobering responsibility when he was deployed and in command. He felt the burden of not only his soldiers’ lives but their eternity. He places a great burden on the Army chaplains to do their job boldly and with an acute awareness of the personalities and needs of their audience.

His most recent assignment has been at Arlington Cemetery. Again, a place and situation where he is daily faced with death and often looks into faces of people who clearly have no hope. What then? Can we allow the very men and women who are willing to die for our freedoms – can we allow them to enter the battlefield without having done everything possible to offer them the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ?

I am an avid reader of Table Talk Magazine. As a subscriber, I was recently made aware of an opportunity to arm our military chaplains with unique resources to share the gospel during deployments and in garrison. Given the recent assaults  on religious freedom in the military, fully arming chaplains with useful resources is both helpful to their efforts and encouraging to them personally.

Here is an opportunity, presented by Ligonier Ministries through their chaplain support program, to care for the souls of soldiers. It’s time we did more than verbally espouse our support for the military, fasten yellow magnets to our cars, or shake a soldier’s hand at church. Care more. Do more. Do something!

GIVE HERE. 

Memorial Day.

AMemorial DayPrayer
By Rev. Dick Kozelka (ret)
First Congregational Church of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN.

Eternal God,
Creator of years, of centuries,
Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history —
How shall we speak to you
from our smallness and inconsequence?
Except that you have called us to worship you
in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties;
You have lifted us up with your lovingkindnesses.
Therefore we are bold to come before you without groveling
[though we sometimes feel that low]
and without fear
[though we are often anxious].

We sing with spirit and pray with courage
because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness
of things’ going meaninglessly well.
God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully [as it seems]
in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion those who have died
serving their countries
in the futility of combat.
There is none of us but must come to bereavement and separation,
when all the answers we are offered
fail the question death asks of each of us.
We believe that you will provide for us
as others have been provided with the fulfillment of
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

This poem was taken from U.S. Memorial Day.org, quite a valuable resource that I didn’t know existed. I confess, that even as an Army spouse, I can’t wrap my mind, let alone words, around the significance of Memorial Day. All my life it has simply signaled the beginning of summer, cookouts, water skiing – the good life.

I want to understand it with more clarity. I apologize for cavalier years and flippant “Happy Memorial Days.” Thanks be to God, that Memorial Days can be happy for those who know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, who call on the Lord with a sincere heart, who confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus is Lord.

Please visit this blog again on Wednesday for a suggestion as to how you can personally help share the gospel with men and women in the military.

Counterfeit Gospels Day 1

How did we get here? Are people basically good or evil? Is there hope in this world? What happens when someone dies? What does the future hold? Pg. 40

Those are the daunting questions posited by Trevin Wax near the beginning of his book, Counterfeit Gospels.  They are the questions considered by every individual, every age, every race…every man at one time or another. Thankfully, Wax doesn’t propose to answer them himself. In fact, that’s where he starts, the fact that no person, promise, system or story can definitively, answer these questions, except for Jesus Christ. The church holds the the answers to these questions in the pages of the Bible. Now, her responsibility is to truthfully, faithfully, boldly declare the wonderful answers to these questions.

Here Wax introduces the dilemma, the crisis in his words.

“First, we have lost our faith in the power of the gospel to change a life…We are told we need a new gospel for a new day. Bigger. Better. Improved…our churches have begun to lose their distinctiveness.”

It’s the second problem that Wax address first. New gospel, bigger, better, improved. Wax calls it the Therapeutic Gospel. How many maladies are diagnosed as symptoms of low self-esteem? Modern Americans crowd the counselor’s office in hopes of leaving feeling better about themselves. Practically everything we do is designed to answer our question, “What am I here for?” The resounding answer, proclaimed by our behavior is, “To be happy, of course!”

Think of it…why do you do the job you do? Undoubtedly, it’s either because it makes you happy, or because you hope the income it provides will bring you happiness.

Why does the average family utilize family planning? To ensure they have the financial capacity to keep themselves and their children happy.

Why do even unbelievers fill the pews on Christmas and Easter? To feel better about themselves. In fact, I wager that many rears in the pews every Sunday are capped by minds quickly salved by their compulsory Sunday attendance. Is that the gospel: Jesus came so that I could live happily ever after?

The ultimate failure of the Therapeutic Gospel is that it makes the sin (we didn’t live up to our potential), Christ (who came to rescue us because of our inherent value) and eternity (I’ll believe or do the “right” things so that I can live happily ever after) all about us. And the church kneels to accommodate  the self-centered mindset, “promising to help us along in our quest for personal happiness and vocational fulfillment.” pg. 52

How do you know if you’ve fallen for the Therapeutic Gospel? Wax says to examine your prayer life. Do you come to the Father at customary times with a list of needs and desires? Even needs presented as, “make me a better person,” fail to recognize that we will never be good enough apart from Christ’s righteousness. Or do you come in humble, Christ-centered adoration, accepting His pardon, His completion, His sufficiency, exchanging all your desires for His glory?

Ironically, I read in a separate devotional this morning…

Christians who believe what Jesus said about being the sole Mediator of redemption are often seen as narrow-minded, bigoted, and mean-spririted. Even professing evangelicals are increasingly apt to deny this foundational Christian claim: “There is salvation in no one else [besides Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts. 4:11-12)

NEVER dilute the raw truth of: JESUS ONLY FOR SALVATION, FOR HIS GLORY ONLY, for the sake of anyone’s fuzzy feelings.

Salvation on Lay Away

I almost feel like I’m cheating, this week I’m borrowing from other writers – journalists, comedians, friends. I’m sorry but I love these tidbits of thought, laughter, news, etc and there’s no sense in re-creating something that was effective the first time around.

I overheard this on the news just before Christmas. You may have too, but the radio didn’t do the story justice. The longer version (the book is always better than the movie, you know) illuminates the heart of the matter.

Then a mysterious woman stepped up to the counter.

Pretty amazing, hmm?

One more thought: Jesus is not an anonymous donor. Jesus It’s a lie that sneaks into our subconscious and leads us to treat God with the same indifference that we (sadly) often impose on other people. Jesus won’t respond to your text message, and He doesn’t need you to leave a voicemail hoping He’ll have time to listen later. Jesus is not an absent God who set the world spinning and sat back to see if it crashes like an un-manned top.

Jesus came. Jesus lived among us, sharing our blood, sweat and tears. His intimacy with us continues. Give Him your heart, let Him love you. If you want to trust Jesus and know the deepest love of your life, feel free to contact me or follow this link.