Lent – Week 5

 

Hopefully this will shock none of you despite the fact that the Chapel asked me to blog for our entire congregation during the season of Lent, but I am not a Bible scholar. I’ve read the Bible (all the way through with a reading plan in 2012, and hopefully this year, too), but I don’t claim to understand all that I read. When I got to Matthew 24; the part about the desolation of the Temple, everyone running for the hills, and woe to the pregnant and nursing mothers, I thought, “Wow. I am really in over my head here right now.” I don’t know enough to interpret this level of depth, and I certainly don’t want to pretend I know how, so I just won’t.

That being said, here is what I can relate to: I’ve known destruction. I’ve known hopelessness, and life that has become so devastated by sin that the relationship is unbearably sad and painful to maintain. I’ve known the grief and gut-wrenching hurt that comes from the decision that there’s nothing left to do but run…it’s not as if you stayed there’d be anything left to salvage. But while running, I prayed constantly, fervently, knowing that behind me sin was causing something once beautiful to turn to ruins. And tragically, after that destruction there was nothing left but ash and a shadow of what had previously stood.

Now, as time has passed, I can joyfully say I’ve also seen the other side. I’ve watched life built from the ash, with time, care, peace, and new understanding. I’ve experienced the sheer elation of rebuilding a relationship that I would have once called both excruciating and futile. My heart is so full of joy and pride at this newness that sometimes I really feel it might burst – something I never believed would be possible. I’ve cried more happy tears in the last year than tears of anguish in the previous several years combined.

People: destruction when it heralds renewal, while still painful and scary, is incredible.

Having had that experience, if “the renewal of all things” (v. 19:28) that Jesus says comes after a time of great judgment is even better than the renewal I’ve seen, then I can say with all honesty that I welcome the destruction.

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Patience

Today’s scripture and N.T. Wright’s commentary on Psalm 130 impressed on me the importance of patience. The Psalmist starts out distressed but remains hopeful for the eventual redemption. Too often in my life, patience is a word I use in place of anxiety, hesitation, or annoyance. When I have to wait on things, I’m waiting in apathy, not wanting to move forward. Sometimes, I’m confused, not sure of the right step. In other instances I’ve grown disinterested or frustrated because of the problem and it’s refusal to fix itself. However, the Psalmist does not grow disheartened despite the dismay around him.

I don’t know what kind of season you are in. You could be extremely happy where everything is going your way. You could have recently lost a loved one or having difficulties at work or at home. Personally, I’m in a season where exciting things are happening but there are still some important issues up in the air, some ambiguities that require patience. This Psalm levels that playing field. If the Lord marks our iniquites, we all fail and are in the most miserable position possible; but if the Lord forgives, then no matter our failings, we are blessed with great fortune. So, let us be considerate of our sins, thankful for Christ’s sacrifice and patient for the redemption of Easter.

Tim Latham

 

Saturday Post

Mankind is so broken that we oppress one another on an everyday basis. Since sin entered the world, man has been corrupt. From Cain to King David to the Pharisees and especially to the present day, we are corrupt. In my opinion, the Pharisees are probably the most frustrating characters of the Bible that I have learned about. These “men of God” were suppose to be the teachers and leaders to the Israelites. Even Jesus told the crowds that “the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat” (Matt. 23:2). Instead of loving and encouraging their people, they oppressed them with excessive rules without helping them live by them. Despite the anger that burns against hypocrites like the Pharisees one fact that I heard at CBA day with the Chapel Student ministries will always amaze me:  The ground is level at the foot of the cross. As pastor Travis Simone once said, “You will never come across a person in this world that Jesus did not die for.” This truth reminds me of my place in God’s Kingdom. I am no better than the beggar on street, I am no better than the Israelites who consistently turned away from God after entering the Promised Land, I am no better than the Pharisees who put their peers down. It’s very sobering to be reminded that I deserved that fate that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross. I think N.T. Wright paints a beautiful and accurate image of what occurred when Jesus sacrificed himself so that we could be saved. The author of the devotional writes, “As we go through the next four chapters of Matthew’s gospel…we are watching two different scenes: God’s judgment on his rebellious people, and Jesus standing in the way, offering to take that judgment upon himself.” How awesome is that? Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Matthew 22 focused on vs 1-14 Parable of the Marriage Feast

The gospel of Matthew was primarily written to reach the Israelites. This is why he emphasizes Christ’s Kingship and authority. Christ had been confronted in Chapter 21 by the chief priests and elders while he was teaching at the temple “ By what authority  are You doing these things? ”  He stumps them with his answer and goes on to relate the three parables as evidence of His authority.

In the third parable Jesus taught that  the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet arranged and  prepared by God. The King sent His servants to the wedding guests, but they were not willing to come. He sends a second invitation telling  them about the preparations He has made for the wedding.  They responded in three ways. Two made light of the invitation and went their own way, one to his work and the other to his own interests. The others seized the King’s servants, and harassed, and killed them. The King  in his anger sent his armies to destroy  the murderes, and burn up their cities.

At first reading, Christ is reprimanding the Jewish people for refusing God’s invitation to be His people.  They are taking the privilege  too lightly, being caught up in their own affairs. They have even killed God’s messengers, like John the Baptist.

Coming from  a long, proud Christian tradition, this part of the parable could also be about me. Often we tend to take our privilege of the knowledge of God for granted. We consider His Will more lightly than our own work. Our own interests and daily activities may keep us too busy to acknowledge Him.

Mr. Wright comments on how this parable has been argued to be too harsh for our gentle savior. Yet it is clear evidence of Jesus’ kingship.It would have been shocking to his first century listeners. “ … if the king himself had invited you to the wedding of his son… well, then you would be planning for months what to wear, what gift to bring, how to make sure everything was right on the day.”

In the second part of the parable the King told his servants that those who were invited were not worthy. He sent his servants to the highways to call whoever was found. Christ is speaking of the world outside the nation of Israel that will be invited to join in communion with Him.

I find it interesting that the highways are mentioned, because who would be on highways.  Are these people who were curious and may have hoped to see the wedding festivities from afar; or were they on their way to the kingdom even though they had no knowledge of the King?

The third part of the parable is about the wedding itself. The King notices a man who is not dressed appropriately, and asks him why.I have heard that in biblical times the King’s wedding  guests  would be given a special garment.  It was expected that they would wear it for the occasion. The King  is angry because the guest has doubly insulted Him. The guest has declined His gift, preferring his own inadequate garments. In today’s world, it would be like being invited to be a part of the Presidential wedding party and opt not to wear the outfit that matches the bridal party. Naturally the insulting guest is bound and thrown out.. The poorly dressed guest is one who has heard Christ’s call; and is attracted by what God provides  without repentence. He can not let go of his old nature, or put on the garment of salvation.

If we hear God’s call and appreciate His goodness, we must also prepare ourselves. We need to be clothed with His righteousness for the Banquet we will one day have in His presence. Forgiveness and salvation are God’s free gift. We have to give up the tattered rags of our old nature that block the Holy Sprit  from clothing us in heavenly garments. “All are welcome, but all must dress appropriately.”

William Tyndale’s Gospel

Woodcut from John Foxe's  The Book of Martyrs. William Tyndale (1494-1536) cries out, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes."

Woodcut from John Foxe’s The Book of Martyrs. William Tyndale (1494-1536) cries out, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

Are you willing to “go the extra mile” for someone?

If you know what I am talking about, you might know that this phrase,
go the extra mile“, comes from the Bible (Matthew 5:41). But
did you know how this phrase became part of the English language?

William Tyndale (1494-1536) was an energetic scholar, a real brainy
guy, kind of like his fellow yet modern Englishman, Tom Wright, who
wrote our study book for Lent on the Gospel of Matthew.

Tyndale was bothered that his typical neighbor was not able to read
the Bible in their native English language in the 16th century. So he
went about learning ancient Greek and Hebrew and began translating the
Bible into English. Unfortunately, the political and religious
establishment of his day opposed his efforts, so he took it all
underground, fleeing to mainland Europe to complete his work. To his
critics, he announced, “If God spare my life, before very long I
shall cause a plough boy to know the scriptures better than you
do!
” He kept pumping out Bible translations until he was arrested
and burned at the stake for his crimes.

But before he was killed, Tyndale had completely transformed much of
the English language with many of his unique turns of phrases and
idioms. Ironically, almost a good 90% of the famous King James
translation of the Bible from 1611 is all a result of William
Tyndale’s masterful mind. As I have been reading the Gospel of Matthew
these weeks, I come across these classic phrases we use in everyday
language:

salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13)
eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38)
signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3)
all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26)
they made light of it” (Matthew 22:5)

So am I telling you this so that you can simply win some round of Bible Trivia? I sincerely hope not.

The point is that William Tyndale had an incredible passion for the
spread of God’s Word. His faithfulness to God’s calling on his life is
continuing to have an impact on generations of English speaking people
whether they know Jesus or not, hundreds of years after he lived.

Can you read the signs of the times today? We are living in
an increasing Biblically illiterate culture. Do we as believers have
such a desire for God’s Word that it just pours forth from our daily
speech, transforming the world around us?

Are we teaching our children to feast on the words of Holy Scripture,
or do we acquiesce to the lyrics of Lady Gaga that saturate their
minds instead?

We need more people like William Tyndale with a passion for God’s
Word. Tyndale challenges me to incorporate Scripture more and more in
my daily life. I hope that we will not make light of the task
that God has set before us. With Jesus, all things are
possible
when we fill our hearts and minds with God’s Word.

Painting Jesus

Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple

Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple by Jacob Jordaens, c. 1650

Left to your imagination, what would Jesus look like?

In Matthew 21:1-22 we see Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, with an adoring crowd shouting joyfully and laying palm branches on the road. They shout “Hosanna!” which is a Hebrew expression for “Save!” and an exclamation of praise.

If you would like to get a sense for the setting of the Palm Sunday processional, here’s a brief video on the Golden Gate in Jerusalem that documents an extraordinary archaeological find.

One theme throughout the Gospels is that Jesus is on a mission, and that mission includes the fulfillment of prophesies made centuries before He appeared on earth. In this case, the parade was foretold by the prophet Zechariah—who prescribed a donkey for the processional. Not some big chariot, not with a military escort as a show of power, not on the elbow of a king, not on a great horse, but on a donkey—as a display of humility.

If you’re painting a portrait of Jesus, it’s best to leave out the opulent and accentuate the meek. From cradle to grave Jesus is all about humility. God values humility. So much for prosperity theology.

But Jesus hasn’t come for a parade celebration. The great healer soon makes it clear there’s a new sheriff in town. His mission includes taking on the “den of robbers” and overturning tables and benches at the temple, as prophesied in Jeremiah 7:6-16. This is angry Jesus. Not some glad-handing pitchman. Not some pious religious official decked out in priestly habiliments. Not some mild-mannered milquetoast.

Wrapping up today’s devotional verses, in Matthew 21:18-22 Jesus gives us an object lesson in power. In wilting the fig tree Jesus demonstrates power over living things and the consequences for being unproductive. He teaches that if we have faith and do not doubt, our belief will be rewarded through prayer. (There are lots of people trying to cash in on that promise without fully appreciating the qualifiers.)

Among the many things that impress me about the trustworthiness of the Gospels—and Matthew’s Gospel in particular—is the picture they paint of Jesus, and specifically how far off this picture is from something you and I would expect to find in classical heroic literature. In heroic literature the good guy answers questions directly. With Jesus, most questions directed at Him are answered with questions. One of my favorite Bible expositors, Michael Card, says plainly in Part 2 of this video that Jesus disappointed practically everyone who came to Him. That’s a provocative statement, but hear Michael Card out. Everyone wanted something from Jesus, and He frequently gave them something other than what they asked for. He spoke in parables, which confused them, and most often when they questioned Him, He would respond with a deeper, more directed question that got to the heart of the matter. He seldom gave them exactly what they asked for immediately. He was full of rebukes. Not a picture of a classical hero, but a trustworthy picture of God in the flesh.

If you were to paint a portrait of Jesus, capturing all these qualities and values, there’s just one more thing to remember—this is paint-by-numbers. Jesus had to fulfill hundreds of prophecies. And as exemplified in Matthew 21, these prophecies are very strict plumb lines that we should hold up to examine Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. As Lee Strobel points out in this video, mathematician Peter Stoner determined the odds of any one person in all of human history fulfilling just 48 ancient prophesies pertaining to the Messiah are one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion. That’s an astoundingly specific fingerprint!

 

 

 

Tuesday Post

There are many different challenges parents face in raising kids. One that I have faced has been in sports, when my kids have been a part of a team but they have had to sit on the bench. I know how badly they have wanted to get in and how hard they have practiced. I hate to see them have to watch the whole game from the bench. I think they deserve a chance.

In Matthew 20 Jesus tells the parable about the workers in a vineyard. The landowner hires several people throughout the day but at the end of the day they all receive the same wages. The workers who were hired earlier in the day started grumbling to the landowner because they thought they deserved more than the people who came at the end of the day. The landowner reminded them that they agreed to work for a certain price and that is what they received. Jesus begins (at end of chapter 19) and ends the parable by saying, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

The workers felt entitled. I think we can all relate. It seems to be the norm these days. Our culture screams to us, “you deserve it” in many ways. Feeling entitled is a dangerous place to live because it is the opposite of how Jesus tells us to live. It affects our relationships when we start to think we deserve something from someone else. It really affects our relationship with God. The opposite is also true. When we humble ourselves, it changes our relationships for good and we can see how He uses us to build His kingdom.

Jesus really is entitled.  He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet He is constantly talking about humility. It is interesting that right after he tells them this parable He tells them they are on there way to Jerusalem to Jerusalem where He will be betrayed and handed over to death. He wasn’t just telling the disciples this is how they should live, He was showing them.

This week when I find myself grumbling because I don’t have something that I think I deserve, I hope I can get beyond the superficial and see that I am really grateful that I don’t get what I deserve because of His grace. I will be praying for humility, which isn’t a hard prayer to pray, but it is a hard lesson to learn. I want to lift others up before myself, because I trust Jesus knows what is best for me, and He does not ask me to go to places that He hasn’t been.

Monday Post

About a year into our marriage, my husband accepted a job at Hampden-Sydney College, located right around Farmville, VA. At the time, the only thing I knew about Farmville was that it was a popular facebook game, but it was about to become our reality, not our fantasy world. For the first year or so that we lived there, I would describe it to people by saying, “It’s so small and rural that there isn’t even aTarget!” You see, we had spent the last year living in Arlington, where we paid to rent 500 square feet more than double what we paid in Farmville to rent our three bedroom house. The culture was all about how much money you made, what the next trend for restaurants or clothing was, or where you were heading for vacation next month. It was a bit of a culture shock to for me to move to Farmville, where if I needed to buy pretty much anything, I had to drive to Richmond.

The years we spent in Farmville were probably the most un-materialistic years of my life to date. We didn’t make very much money, but since there wasn’t anything to spend it on, it really didn’t matter. Despite that though, we were rich. We had our house, our cars, our cell phones, our cable tv…all the things we consider “necessities.” Even at that point in my life, though we didn’t have much to get rid of, if I had been asked to give up everything: our shelter, the food in our pantry, my pictures and computer, all to follow Jesus, I’m not sure I could have.

The story about the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 hits very close to home for me. Whenever I read this passage, I feel exactly as the disciples were described to be: astonished (v. 25). How is it possible? How could I get rid of everything and live day to day relying on God for food and shelter and other needs? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I feel called to do that – it would be burdensome for our family and our friends, but if I were called to that, could I?

Travis talked about being “wholly dependent” on the Lord this past Sunday – that the people who are wholly dependent on the Lord are those who are able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is a hard concept to wrap my head around and truly something to aspire to. All I can say for now is thank goodness that “with men, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible (v. 26).”

Name of the Game

Most of the time, if not all of the time, people want to take the easy way to success or whatever the goal may be. We want the grade without taking the necessary time to study. We want to quit and change direction when the path gets dark and uncertain. We want the championship without the 3-hour practices and exhausting conditioning drills. We want all the success and none of the challenges that come along with it. We want the love and security of Jesus without having to show it to Him or anyone in return. We want to be a part of the Kingdom without having to suffer for it and the King. This is a lazy and faithless mentality that I am sure many of us can relate to.

No one should expect to have a challenge, struggle-free life. Jesus, the Son of God himself, told us “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We have been warned that we will struggle in this world. But the struggle should not be the object of our attention, the love that God showed us. I love what N.T. Wright says towards the end of today’s devotional reading about forgiveness. He calls it “the name of the game.” Forgiveness is not a feature of God’s Kingdom, but it is a foundational act of God’s Kingdom. God saved us by forgiving us for all sins and taking our place on the cross. If the Almighty God has forgiven our sins, what valid reason do we have then to hold a grudge against one another? There is none. In Ephesians 4:1 the Apostle Paul writes, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you received.” We have been called to love each other as Christ loved us. That’s the name of the game.

Matthew 17:4-20 Faith that Moves Mountains

Temperament and God’s Position

After blogging last week I found out that in my impetuous intensity I was a week ahead of my fellow bloggers. I beg pardon to those of you that I have confused, so this week I’d like to ponder faith and God’s provision. The temperament that we are born with and how we are wired to be energized; whether we are extroverts or introverts; affects how we behave and react to the world. They can be modified by our experiences, early training; till we develop our personality. Our parents can know us very well and help guide us along a moderate road, but sometimes their temperament is the opposite of ours so we can be hard to understand; a fact that I didn’t appreciate till I had children. Isn’t it amazing how God has made us so beautifully diverse!

When we give control to Christ he gives us wisdom to see ourselves for who He created us to be and grace to gently nudge us on a road that helps show the strengths of our temperament. On most of the traits I am somewhere in the middle but my first reaction is to jump right in and my intensity and perceptivity are on the higher end. I’ve never been very competitive, and I prefer to give in than stand my ground because I am a people pleaser. I was also a perfectionist; everything I did had to be my best. Needless to say there were times I disappointed myself and self-recrimination and guilt would eat me up. Add that to my high perceptivity and I would cry at the drop of a hat. Life’s experiences and maturity resolved some of that; but I still cry at the sad parts of movies and books. Before I allowed Christ in my life, worry and guilt were mountains for me. I worked very hard and was tightly wound; constantly driving myself to be the best.  There is nothing wrong with that, but only one person can be the best and disappointments can pile up.

Faith is taking away that mountain because when I turn over my worries and guilt to Him he moves them away and gives me peace. Christ also helped me to see that he created me intense and perceptive with a quick first reaction, so I could appreciate His creation and share its beauty with others. He helps me see the green pastures he placed me in. He gave me a mission to wake others up to His magnificence. Faith in Him has given me the freedom to relax. I still jump into things but He is helping me take one step at a time. He has connected me with many people who speak wisdom into my life. I was working on a painting at the church we attended in upstate New York and couldn’t stop tweaking it. My friend helped me let go. He told me about a great master artist in ancient China who had great acclaim. People came from far and near to buy his paintings and appreciate his work. One day a new apprentice was preparing a newly completed piece for a buyer and noticed an obvious mistake and in agitation pointed it out to the master. The master simply smiled and said, “ Only God is perfect.” He always left an obvious error so that in his creativity he did not deflect glory from God. That is faith. Despite his status, he aimed to keep God first. May we gain and strive for that wisdom.