Gift Horse In Mouth

As I write this today it is Christmas Eve.  For some it a is a time of celebration of the Christian faith taken for granted as a reality.  Others see it as a cute celebration of what amounts to a fairy tale.  Still others are somewhere in between of whatever it means to engage with such a proposition; they remain skeptical.

There is a fine line between skepticism and cynicism in matters of faith.  With the former there is an honest inquiry into what may be divine that can lead to a fuller collaboration for the parts that may become clear over time while there is some intellectual honesty that not all will be clear.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God….he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” If the inquiry is honest and they come out on the other side as believers collaboration, not coercion, is in the process.

Where the later comes in, cynicism, there is not a matter of collaboration but one of demanding God make sense with little or no mystery.  This approach taken to its conclusion is asking God to coerce into what is seen as a hypothetical truth and cuts free will off at the knees.

And on this case in point, even religious people are not immune.  Zechariah was a priest at about the year 0 and he had his hangup when it was communicated to him that he and his wife were to conceive John the Baptist.  His response was not a welcome one to an angel of the Lord in the house of the Lord speaking to him, a priest, a servant of the Lord.

Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

How shall I know this? —- A very loaded challenge.  Zechariah puts out the reasons in natural law that God’s miraculous power is doubtful to overcome.  Second, Zechariah presumes that he is entitled to know that the initiator of this promise expected to put down a deposit of good faith.  Appropriate for a business transaction in the world or a salesman pitching wares at his house.  But it is not his house.  It is God’s house and God’s economy of doing things and not man’s.  If one looks at the behavior of skeptics, especially religious ones, that mistake is done often.

But now you will be speechless …will be fulfilled at their proper time—- God does not coerce us to reason things out but proposes us.  God does force us to ponder.  Sometimes we get a wake up call in tragedy, suffering or a well reasoned argument to lift up our minds and hearts to God that transcends our dominant five senses and our many more assumptions.  In those moments or seasons we blink, we breath, we pace or look longingly at the top of a tree swayed by the wind.  And then we harden our hearts and turn to shallow distractions.  Or maybe we do not.

which will be fulfilled at their proper time—- But this attention getter would be fulfilled in two contexts that are worth knowing for the seeker of God.  One is that Zechariah needed to conceive in his heart this child of promise before he had a marital embrace.   But for the day he would hold his son it would be a matter of seeing him as a gift and not an entitlement.  In fact, John means “Yahweh has shown favor”.

God will click things together in his timing and his way.  We have something better than Zechariah in that we can choose to be silent and go slow.  To inquire of God is to hear his voice in our hearts and often over a period of time.  A sharp sense of his voice and his will for our lives is the exception and not the rule.  To forget this is to look at the existence and even grace of God like a gift horse in the mouth and making a donkey of ones self.

Today as I post this message it is Christmas Eve.  By all means, seek God with your mind.  But remember God, in Jesus, seeks you always.  Respond wisely.

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It’s A Wonderful “Wasted” Life

Old Woman SmileNobody wants to waste their life.  By wasting ones life I mean not grasping those dreams that are natural to the gifts you have and of the desire of the heart.  For some people they see their life as wasted because a tragedy has come upon them.  For others they see their life as wasted because they gave up time for someone or something that was not worth it in the sense that there was no return on the investment.  This could apply to toxic relationships or to addictions that for too long are on the same day to day level in priority as eating, sleeping, breathing and shelter.

But sometimes there is a perspective from the outside in when observing someone that has lived below their means and far from the gifts and amenities that could so be grasped.  Someone goes to jail for months or years because of a righteous cause in standing up for the oppressed.  I heard of a monk who did not have the money to redeem a slave along with the slave’s brother and so took the slave’s place.  What “a waste” if one looks at that with classist values.

But what about God’s point of view looking at unselfish sacrifice?  Is it a waste or an investment with a return far above earthly riches?  Such is the case for an old widow named Anna.  The view of the author and, by extension God, becomes quite clear and beautiful in shedding light on the subject.

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,  and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.  And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

There was also a prophetess—  As the story pivots from old Simeon, who prophesied, to Anna it is mentioned that she is a prophetess.  I perceive this as an emphasis for several reasons.  One is that Luke frequently writes with narratives that create gender balance.  If you see the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain you must also notice the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus.  Second, Anna seems to have provided  a testimony of the nature of God and his plan of redemption by her past lifestyle of dedication that then launches her to declare things in words.  It is like talking the talk is worthwhile only when you have walked the walk.

She never left the temple— By the time we get to this line, we see her life in the temple as all she had.  For her to be widowed after seven years and then go into the temple implies that she was barren and without children from that marriage.  There was no law against her being remarried and I am not aware of a practice of kidnapping women and being forced to live a nun-like existence against her will.  She chose God’s temple to be her all in all.

but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer— And here we see the beautiful note of her will and where she chose her will to be centered.  She was a worshiper.  As I contemplate the infancy narratives which drawn open hearts to worship God in Christmas, we should remember that worship to God is best in simplicity.  Though not everyone is called to live a dedicated religious life, those who do it shine a light to God that illuminates his glory and in the hearts of those who see it and are open.

And coming forward at that very time— This makes the scene very much church though they did not know it as such.  She steps in on the coat-tails of Simeon’s  prophesy that carries with it glory and suffering.  She comes in as a second prophetic speaker in this spontaneous congregation of Jesus and is a second witness (like the Pauline pattern of 1 Corinthians 14) to confirm that this was far more than a circumcision of baby boy but the sneak peak of the Messiah.

she gave thanks to God—- If we blink we will miss it.  If she did not have an attitude of worship of those years it would be “Thanks for nothing!” but instead it is a matter of knowing that all those years of service to God mattered and she knew supernaturally what for in someway as she saw the New Temple held by parents in the Old Temple (cf. John 2:18-22).

and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem—- This is rich too.  God’s message is one of hope but is to be discerned supernaturally.  Once discerned and internalized how does one not declare it to those who you are in contact with?

The message of this story is that God care about you.  He wants to be your hope but to experience the superabundance of grace one needs to be where God has called them, worship with all of life and leave the payoff to God.  It could be five years in, at the age of 84 or in heaven.  But the point is that if you gain Christ, you gain everything.  Anna’s five minutes in the presence of Jesus was enough.  Is it yours?

Falling On The Sword

02-Simeon

I have often wondered where the thorns are for the roses in our lives.  For some who are looking for meaning there is an expectation that meaning and destiny needs to be forged into something that is only sweet and God forbid bittersweet.

 “The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce)[ so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:33-35).

Here is where the bittersweet comes in.  In what was written by Luke previously could be reduced to a nice Christian Hallmark card of a sweet old man who holds and blesses sweet baby Jesus who would grow up to be a sweet blessing for the world.  Do those perceptions still hold true? Yes but not by themselves.  The Good news has to have the hard news on its coattails.

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him— It is an important starting point in being a disciples of Jesus, which is what Joseph and Mary would amount to, in being amazed.  I am not talking about goosebumps.  They come and go in if we rely on those for our turning points in the Divine we will be putting God into a performance position.  God is not our clown but where his thinking is above our thinking it will inherently blow our minds.

and Simeon blessed them—-  If there could be any last anesthetic for the hard news of being a disciple of Jesus it is that God intends to bless you.  He wants to bless the world and will preface words and deeds with that bias.

Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel—- This is notable when we consider that Simeon has now directed his comments to only Mary the mother who would likely be the only one of those two when Jesus would come into his ministry.  Mary is a humble young woman in a backwater town but of great significance as we have seen in the eyes of God.  Being full of grace as we can see in the original Greek as a past and completing act she stands as an icon of God flipping over the paradigms that the carnal mind would be predisposed to.

and to be a sign that will be contradicted—  Jesus would be intertwined with the message of the cross.

but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).

It is fitting that Mary get this message.  She had been told “The Lord is with you” and Blessed are you among women” which historically were military conquest phrases.  Through Jesus who she had born the universal message of the Cross through the Church would rock the world.

and you yourself a sword will pierce—- But first Jesus and the cross would rock her world.  For some who have seen the Passion of the Christ they come away that it could also be of Mary’s passion in seeing her son die on the cross.  Her hope was in God but her heart was broken that her son would suffer.  But for the good of the world would she still cooperate with that?  In a way she did later when she brokered the logistics for Jesus to start his ministry in changing water to wine.

so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed— This is important because Jesus in the gospel brings in many turning points who encounter the message and what it calls for.  This “sign” would change everything in conversion because the word of God exposes those things that are and are not of God and necessitates our own turning points.

“Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart”  (Hebrews 4:12).

As Christ is experienced in the fullest, much is illuminated.  The soul and spirit is the psyche of our lives versus the God-life that is given to us.  The joints and marrow is about our means of accessing life and fulfillment.  Are the means ordered or disordered?  And as for reflections and thoughts of the heart, that is the crux of treasuring in our hears the baby Jesus, the Nazarene Jesus, The Risen Jesus and the Coming Jesus.  We must always remember, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).