Dearest fellow Christ seeker! – – In my search for Christ, I discovered some clues to the significance in his life in a deeper study of Luke’s Gospel, which I thought I’d share with you, “O most excellent Theophilus.”
Mary (Mariam) was a virgin in Nazareth, and Gabriel is sent from God to her. Suddenly this one who has stood before the face of Yahweh is speaking to her!
Gabriel’s first word is a very common greeting in those times, “Hey! May your days be well! Great to see you! Rejoice!” all summed up in “Greetings” My that english word can be a bit of a let-down, but in the original it’s a joyful salutation. It’s like “Heyyyyyyy!!!” with a big smile.
Then he calls her “highly favored.” It’s like In The Matrix, Dozer greets Neo with great excitement and anticipation for what is about to take place. The common solemnity of this occasion is enough to excite some people to fear, but here, this first word from Gabriel to Mary is very a version of: “Hey, you super-special person!”
The Lord is with you. He is not trying to calm her down yet. He is pointing out what David recognized is the source of the fullness of Joy. “The Presence of the Lord.”
These three parts of his salutation are awesome. It’s about to be some very good news. And earlier in the chapter we got an example of what happens when people don’t believe when an angel is telling them good news. Cousin Zacharias has been silenced now for over 6 months rather inexplicably, because this same angel delivered some super special news, and he didn’t believe him. Mary’s response however is very human and humble. She is doing two things. She is deeply perplexed through and through, and she’s also pondering what kind of visit this is.
Then Gabriel unloads on her a super-duper bombshell of a lifestory.
Now, just to reveal: as I studied each verse, I wondered “What it would mean if he had just stopped there?” What was the significance of everything Gabriel told Mary. Since it was divine communication, kept treasured forever in the heart of a human concerning the salvation of all humanity and the world, I figured it be worth looking into.
Don’t be afraid.–Mary needed to be calm enough to hear this.
You have found favor with God–It always starts with God’s grace!
Behold you will conceive in womb–Life will start
And you will bill bear a son–Life will be born
And you will call his name Jesus–The child shall be named.
He will be great–this will be his quality
And He will be called the son of the Most High–The child shall be named again.
And the Lord will give him the throne of his father David.–He will inherit David’s Kingdom
And he will rule over the house of Israel forever–He will rule in this kingdom forever
And of his Kingdom there will be no end.–And there won’t be a time when he stops ruling, or when his kingdom falls apart.
These insights stand out to me from these poetic lines from Gabriel’s word.
The Lord is compassionate of our frailty. He knows we can’t hear or remember anything He said if we are afraid.
God’s Grace is what shone on Noah before it described him as righteous. It is His way to begin with the face of God’s gracious favor being turned in the direction of an individual through whom he would bring about His salvation. In these moments we glimpse the mirth of God who is glad at the beauty and effectiveness of His plan.
Jesus’ life is outlined here from “Conceived, born, named . . . to given a throne, ruling, and never-ending. Each piece is important, and each piece speaks to something special that God is doing.
The middle section is “He will be great and be called son of the Highest One.” There any many high ones, but this child will be son of the “Highest One.” Also, He is called twice, did you notice? First his name is called “Jesus” then he will be called “Son of the Most High.” A mystery, but is this just common parallelistic repeating in the scriptures or is there an intentional pattern here?
In any case, dear Laughing Son of God’s Grace, there is a lot of joy packed into these verses which overuse and traditional limelight can really make hard for our eyes to see.
Merry celebration of Jesus’ Birth! Which probably happened right around this time of year btw!
Through translation and the molten nature of meaning in language, I have recaptured in my imagination something pleasantly sober the way even the hardest truths can be. No matter how hot the fire burns or how brutally it breaks down constructed things to irreducibly simple forms, it still brings warm life to the cold and reminds us of deep things intrinsic to human existence.
Consider the earth, with only the surface inhabitable, and yet beneath an entire world un-trodden by man’s body, where only his dreams and musings may go. Understanding goes deep with a person deeper than their body, but it also comes forth from within a person in ways that effect their tangible livelihood. There are lightnesses of understanding which men contemn, and there are depths to which some men go that many who go there seem stuck upside down with their bottom sticking up in the air: completely un-comprehensible to the surface mind. The lightness does the heart good, like the sea air does the deep-sea diver’s lungs good. But the Ordinary alone is not enough to maintain a profitable life. The ordinary life in which we live– that layer of reality in which we move around, make decisions, and react with decisions and chance far greater than our own control– is ruled by other layers of reality. And the deepest layers are the Highest layers. Let me lay out these layers as I see them.
-1. Humor. Humor is the level of understanding to which one person goes, to make another person exert greater understanding than himself. It makes the ordinary feel that he is indeed sane, and this fool who prates on and on makes him who is listening feel that he is sound. It is the humble gift God has given humanity to encourage and comfort the world with its ever-precarious, ever sobering, ever deepening conditions of decay and uncertainty and trouble. Well-crafted humor is the very fragrance of understanding rising up from the vents of that which is deeper than us. But, when used effectively, humor raises us to great heights, then either sets us down again, or plunges us into the deeper understandings into which we must dive. O the thrill of the hammer swung backward through the air, only to rush forward to drive the nail home once more! O the exuberant and silly breath we take to dive once more to the depth of understandings!
0. OrdinaryReality. The realm of the real and clear. Here far is far, and near is near, a spade is a spade, and a cigar is a cigar. Do not read between the lines. Words are sufficient. Listen to what is said. Read what is written. See what is shown. Many find this simple life good. It is. And yet the corruptions beneath the surface have far too often twisted the surface to that which is not simple. Look around you at the dishonesty of man’s hearts. A simple weight well-calibrated is true and good. It is the plethora of dishonest weights that make this level of understanding a dangerous ground. “Don’t believe everything you read” say the wise, and wizened. Solomon also said, “The simple believe every word, but the prudent consider their steps.” ~Prov 14:15.
1. Joy— Ah the pledge of good faith! There is truth beneath the surface! The Promise of a better surface life comes from digging a deep foundation and a roomy storehouse where the temperature is cool year round. Such cools calm the temperamental flares of heat which spring from a lack of reserve. The deep waters of life flow beneath the surface, and cool water is a nourishment to every soul seeking shade and sweetness in this broken desert of life. A man of understanding carries within him an oasis in any desert! He is the happiest of fellows to embrace the streams of truths that water all of the plants up on the surface. Indeed, for many this results in a nerdy withdrawal from all things surface and ordinary, and thereby leaving those without refreshment feeling abandoned, ignored, and deprecated. Nevertheless, these ordinary folk gain the hearty laugh of staring at people up-ended, bottoms in the air seeking some sort of treasures and refreshment that would otherwise be bought with a great cost underneath the hard sun.
2. Weight— The pledge is sweet, and the collection of waters tastes good, but there is too much water to carry around with a person. A man’s canteen, strength, stomach, and mind can only handle so much. Eventually, the immovable and inescapable nature of what is understood leads many to shy away from the responsibility which is thrust upon those who have understood it. Not only are there many who are in need of the life here in encased, but the one who knows of it comes to see the real predicament at the surface. The pressure and weight of all the understanding comes to sober the one once drunk with the pleasure and raucous laughter of understanding, and he comes to see his own face in the water, and in that face recognize his own makeup of water, and his resemblance to the owner and supplier of all the water in the world. These are those who are stuffy and self-absorbed and feel impregnated with the grand self-importance of that which they hold, lest they give way to the deeper levels of understanding which require greater courage.
3. Sorrow–Fingernails grind on a chalkboard, and a bone fallen out of joint is a deep pang of something wrong in the world. Understanding brings grief, that depth of the weight of all the world crashing down on broken supports. Seeing people in reality slip off the edge into oblivion unnecessarily just because the scales are tipped out of favor of real justice. It is heartbreaking to know not only the problems for so many, but the connection of the problems to other problems both cause and effect, and to see this web of impossibility, like the web created by a mirror shattered and fragmented from some point of impact. Understanding in people who face the deep underbelly of the world have one of two directions they can go now. It is too thick to explore here, you cannot go left and right. You can return to the surface with your sorrow you have learned, and boast over your understanding as deep as you went. You laugh at those who revel in new discoveries, because you have forgotten the pledge of good faith, and have seen heartbreak the more understanding you have grown. You can return jaded. Or you can go down deeper.
4. Surrender— The point of impact, where the real world we live in was shattered like that mirror is the brokenness of humanity which must be acknowledged and dealt with at the source of the problem: me. G.K. Chesterton understood this when asked in a Newspaper, what is the problem with the world.” He responded with these two words, “I am.” This is the moment to which Understanding leads a person: will you seek to preserve your life, or will you lose it? Here again, the man who has understood– who has “stood under” the reality of life and seen it’s fractured-ness and fractals and fractions–has two choices. He can lose self in annihilation or an inglorious manner that utterly rejects the goodness of understanding he learned at the beginning. Or He can entrust himself to the wise One who led him down this far on his journey of understanding, and commit the unpardonable sin against self: surrender to someone greater than yourself who requires your all with no caveats, no reservations, and no exit strategy. This is the “Lose yourself” that Jesus spoke of when he said, “He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel will find it.” It is a risk. It is very much like death. It’s like giving up, except it’s more like “Okay God, you win. I won’t keep fighting you anymore. I will actually submit to you, and accept that You are the Savior and not me.” This is the decision to which your journey deeper into understanding has been leading. There is Reality, Joy, Responsibility, Sorrow, and ultimately Surrender of self to the One who has proved how worthy He is through his impeccable track record.
This is the end. Of the old life. Of the New life This is the beginning.
“There are depths of love that I cannot know, til I cross the narrow sea. There are heights of love that I may not reach, til I rest in peace with Thee.” ~Fanny Crosby
Understanding brings a person to the core of all that is, and he discovers the need to surrender, and once there is surrender, suddenly, from the very core of a person’s existence to which Understanding has led, a life is born anew. A life that is never-ending because it is begun by the One who is Never-ending. A life that is not your own, but belongs to the One who truly owns all things. A life that is set not on a broken platform, but the deepest possible foundation: to the core of reality itself: The Maker, the Word, and the Resurrection. This is where Understanding can bring a person, but only with humility, love, grace, and courage–honesty with self and God. He is there at the center of the layers of reality. And in His presence is the FULLNESS of the joy the understanding of which one found hints at the beginning of his journey. He is there, eagerly awaiting those who will take up their cross, and lay down their lives for His World-saving cause.
These are the Depths of Understanding as I have seen it. And I hope that God gives you the heart to go to this depth with Him. Remember: “He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” ~Hebrews 11:6.” If you find yourself at any point of this journey and you have stopped short of the Self-Loss Surrender that leads to life, go back to the last point you found yourself, and seek God. After all, “He who seeks God understands all things.” (Prov 28:5)
The Bible is a rare book which embraces its reader’s heart with love. It knows its reader and it receives its reader with the same knowing love Jesus had when he spoke in parables. Our heart’s deepest questions are not just answered, but they are loving accepted and left unanswered until our fears are laid to rest by the testimony of God’s faithfulness, and then we find that the answer isn’t just in the Bible, but the answer is out there seeking the questioner. The book is like its author: loving, truthful, humble, and wise. Through the book, the reader comes to know what the Author knows about the reader, and then invites and excites gratitude to the Author for how well the Author understands, searches out, and resolutely stretches out its arms and his hands to bring the willing heart into right relationship with Himself. When reading it, one wonders, is it a book or is it a person? The Bible is obviously a book of books, but the Author’s love and truth so saturate every page that the Word– the message, the thought, the meaning– of the book come alive in the heart– as alive in the heart as the Author of both the heart of the reader and of life itself. O that every student of the Bible would learn the Bible’s ways of embracing the heart of the reader with all its questions, doubts, and fears, and of showing them knowing love that invites them to be saved!
Recently, a friend of mine told me that he believed the church should prioritize Paul’s teachings over Jesus’. Another friend told him that can’t be right. After all, if Paul learned from Jesus, we should prioritize Jesus’ teachings right? I believe this is a wonderful question and I believe the answer can be found by comparing the Old Testament Law and Prophets.
In seminary I learned that the Old Testament has three sections (Torah or Law, Prophets, and Writings) but the last two of those sections are exposition or explanation of the first section. One professor put it this way. “The Old Testament is the Torah and the rest of it is exposition of the Torah.” Another way to say this is that the Torah gives us the definition, the boundaries, the seed of what is to come, and the rest of the writings (The prophets and the writings, or just “the Prophets” for short) just explain how it happened in real life. Example: In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people, “You are going to go into exile, and God is going to bring you back.” (Deuteronomy 29-31). Read 2 Kings 17. You’ll see why He sent them into exile, and read Nehemiah and you will see what happens when God brings them back. Again, I will say it. The Old Testament = Torah + Exposition of the Torah.
Now if this is the case, which should we prioritize in the Old Testament? My answer is this: The Old Testament is set up in such a way that you need both of them to make sense of it. If you just prioritize the Prophets, chances are you’re not going to have much guidance to understand the plot of what’s happening. Why after all, did Elijah shut up the heavens in 1 Kings 17? (The Prophets) Because in Leviticus 26:18-20, God said he would shut up the Heavens if the people disobeyed. (The Law). If however we just prioritize the Law, then we will get lost in semantics and not know how it is rightly to be applied. Example: Leviticus 25 said you should give your land rest every 7th year. (Law) but we see in the Prophets what happened to the land when the land was NOT given rest every seventh year. (The Prophets) Within the Old Testament God does not leave us in the dark but gives us not only the seed of the tree, but also what the tree looks like when it is full grown. The seed of the Tree is God reaching out to love Israel. The Tree itself is God being faithful, and the people of God being faithless. We need both of these to rightly handle the word of Truth. We also need to use both rightly so we don’t get the cart before the horse.
Now, this wonderfully simple pattern of understanding God’s word couldn’t possibly be the pattern for the New Testament could it? What major sections of the New Testament are there? The Gospels and the Writings (History, Epistles, and Prophecy) In essence, we have a repeated pattern of the New Law and Prophets.)
Does it work the same way? Is the New Testament, the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament exposition on the Gospels? Yet again, we find that God’s Word in the New Testament not only gives us the seed, but also the Tree. It shows us the Teachings of Jesus in their powerful demonstration and the proof of their truth, and then we are given in the writings what those teachings applied looked like in historical and instructive ways. Paul applied the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6 during the sermon on the mount about worry when he wrote tot he Philippians, “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” But Jesus’ teachings about how to treat your neighbors would not make as much sense to us who are not Jewish unless Paul and Luke expounded on them for us who are the nations outside of Israel.
So then, which do you prioritize? The teachings that directly apply to the nations (The New Testament Prophets) or Jesus’ words themselves (The New Law)? I see how I would lean personally, but once again, I must keep the whole in perspective. Just as the Torah is expounded in the Prophets, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word, so the Gospels are expounded in the Writings, and both are essential for a right understanding of God’s Word. Both have a relationship that must be rightly kept in humble interpretation of each other.
But still there is one more layer to peel back, which I find rather wonderful and sobering
Now that we have a canon of Scripture, the Church is interpreting the Scriptures to the World in every culture, tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We have, in both Testaments, the pattern of the house, and now we are responsible to enforce, to explain, to bring into reality God’s Word as it is revealed through both Testaments. The question left to us is how is this Scriptural revelation of God going to brought to full expression in the world. Or to put it in another way:
What is the Kingdom of God today? Our blueprints are established, and the writings of the Prophets both old and new have shown God’s way of bringing His word to fruition. It is the power and leading of His Holy Spirit that brings God’s kingdom here on earth among his people. And this Kingdom is going to be the final testament to the nature and character of the God we serve before He comes again.
What a tremendous privilege and responsibility!
To show it visibly, I came up with this Analogy of the Testaments. Can you solve the analogy?
The rule of humor is you give two similar things one after the other, and then the third, you bend slightly to get a laugh. May the church not make God’s Kingdom the biggest cosmic joke that will make those watching to mock our God! Instead, may we be led and empowered by the Spirit to make of the church what the Spirit seeks to make of the Kingdom of God.
He didn’t know why it was laying against the kitchen wall. Kitchens don’t usually have walls, but he figured it could be fun to play with. Grown-ups all seemed to learn one way of doing something and to stick to it. He wanted to try them all!
First he grabbed the handles with both hands and thrust the broomy end at his sisters to poke fun at them. They were not amused.
Then, he went into the living room and spun it around on his hands and it fell clattering to the floor as he dropped it. He tried again because it was fun! Maybe he could do it for a whole minute!
He held the stick nearest the broom between his legs and started swaying his body back and forth to move things off the coffee table with the tip of the handle.
He balanced it on his head and tried to walk through a door with each end sticking out either side. It fell backwards instantly, but after a second try he bent up his leg and caught it on his heel!
He flipped the broom so that the broomy end was up, and he parted it down the middle like hair and grabbed both clumps. He then started rotating the broom like it was a giant steering wheel and he became the pilot of a ship heading through rough seas. The wind was bellowing, the lightning flashing, the rain hailing down on him. The ship ran aground and he took his musket with him with the wide end under his arm, and the tip pointing out in front of him. He made his way to a beautiful lighthouse. He climbed to the top, and from the top saw there was another ship. A Pirate ship! He looked through the scope of his gun, and saw that they were getting ready to sail. He jumped down from the lighthouse onto the ground, and fired a shot at one of the pirates holding onto a rope. And when the man fell off, he grabbed the rope and swung up onto the deck. Suddenly, he was surrounded by bad guys, and his musket now became a sword! He fought them off, and swung his sword wide to fend off the attackers! He reached the Captain, and the captain said if he could beat him in a fight, he’d be the new captain. So, he fought the captain, and swung his sword down on his head and knocked him unconscious. The crew were amazed! The captain shook his head vigorously after a few moments, and he took the hat off the captain’s head and he became the new captain of the ship!
Now that I am exiting another stage of life, Time has locked into high gear for me. Days are an afterthought. Weeks gone in a blink. In a flash the months are past. I anticipate time will only continue to accelerate.
I know time hasn’t budged. It continues to grind at the same pace it has with a few variations of years being seconds longer or shorter. I know the change is within me. What has caused me to feel time has sped up?
I believe I have found the brake pedal and the gas pedal for time. Why do children feel like every day is an eternity, and most adults feel like it is a blur? This equation helped me find the answer:
Requirements speed up time Retirements slow it down
Ask any retired person, their days crawl by just like a child’s does. When in the working world however, our time is being poured out into the mold of those who require things of us. Our present is thinned to a narrow strip between what just happened and what is needing to happen in the next minutes.
Present time is the greatest gift we have: and the celebration of that present gift is rest. Responsibly rejecting the requirements of a person for a time, and enjoying the gift of doing nothing of required consequence allows a person to be real with themselves, and most importantly with God. This is what makes rest an act of worship which just happens to be prescribed in the Ten Commandments.
Think about it: Why do you work? Why do you do anything? Is it not a reflection of your belief about the God who you worship? If you believe God is always working, then you will never give yourself a break. If however, your design is patterned after a God who rests occasionally, should that not inform your decisions concerning your own rest?
Genesis 2:2–“On the seventh day God rested.”
The Lord has made us after the pattern of His likeness with eternity in our hearts. It is Eternity that we step into whenever we rest from our labor. The silence, the stillness, the sweet release of tension– These are the gift of God to a body worn down by time’s millstone march.
This Christmas season, take time to rest. Enjoy the gift of eternity that God has given you, and see what your heart is just waiting to release as part of the tension you have built up over time.
It’s hard to imagine a boy so happy with a 1-inch thick crooked dead tree-dropping, but for this boy, it was a key to unlock the world! It was a gun to fight off pirates, a boomerang to throw at game. It was a sword to rescue damsels. It was for drawing pictures in the dirt. He didn’t have anything else in the world, but with this stick, he felt like a king with a scepter in his hands.
One day the boy was walking by a garbage can and saw a stuffed animal someone had discarded. The boy plucked it out and made it his friend. Later that year his parents made more money, and at Christmas he got a pair of roller skates, and for his birthday the next year, he got a cool remote control car. Well, this boy was so happy with his new toys he left his stick by the back door of his house behind the window sill in it’s secret hiding spot.
The boy got older, and his toys got more sophisticated. He eventually he had grown old enough to get a job, so he could buy more expensive toys: A Four-wheeler, a computer, a phone. And by this point you’d think the boy with the stick had everything he wanted. Nope. He was an adult, he had the car he wanted, the friends he wanted, and was dating a girl, but he always wanted more. Only when he had more, would he be happy.
Then one day the unthinkable happened: He was the victim of identity theft. All his money was gone, and he went back to his parents’ house empty handed. They gave him his old room, with his old toys. none of them seemed to matter anymore. He went outside and sat on the back doorstep and suddenly remembered what was to his right as he was looking out into the woods: his secret hiding place. In a moment of nostalgic curiosity he looked and saw it: his old stick he played with as a boy.
It’s hard to imagine an adult so puzzled by the memories flooding back at holding a simple 1-inch-thick crooked dead tree-dropping, but the feelings came back and this time he knew what they were. He walked back into the house with his old stick which by now had rotted through, so it would break easily, and took it to his bedroom. After a little while, he settled into the feeling he had forgotten with every new toy. He remembered.
The key to the world isn’t owning everything, but truly appreciating the one thing that is truly yours.
It’s something many people do not appreciate. On my way home from work, I was thinking about how the choir at my old church sang with a very heavy alto because there had been no change in the choir and had lost soprano members. But altos seem to outlast soprano.
There are always changes happening. If we don’t have change of something new, we experience the inevitable change of decay as things get old. Change is like weather. Weather makes our world fresh and new by precipitation and also breaks it down by erosion. Our world is not very unlike us: it is subjected to futility, and the unchanging nature of change.
We who seek to preserve constancy in this world will find it to be hardly a passive battle. The ground will keep waxing old, and we will need to dig for new fruits. The one who builds a house will need to maintain it or it will change to corruption. The one who tries to be faithful to his word will find he needs to sacrifice to keep it true.
One principle of how change works I realized on my way home from work. I will share it in parts and then as a whole.
Before change, something is okay,
Because of the principle that all is decaying, if something has been the same for a while, it is probably out of date or expired. To simply do things a certain way because you have always done them thus you will find things achieve mediocrity speedily.
but after change things get worse
Transition means that parts of the problems grown in situations left unattended by good leadership need to be cut out so that the good can be grown. It will get worse first.
So that things can get better than before
But if all the dead weight is cut out, and new vigor about the new ideas is infused (and they are good ideas) Then things will improve. Even here, this will not happen naturally.
Under a good leader.
Here’s where Trust, Integrity, Wisdom, and Value and a whole other host of dynamics come in. We who resist change are often seeking to preserve our own value both of ourselves and the things that matter most to us. What we seek is a leader who has the integrity to stay true to his word, who has the heart to recognize the things we value, and has the wisdom to cultivate them skillfully.
I believe change is a risk and what determines whether the risk is a good one or not, is if the leader is a good one or not. If he is good, if he is on the Lord’s side, if he is a servant, and is carrying his cross, trust him and follow him. If he is not on the Lord’s side, beware the effects of the changes that come.
E.M. Bounds said, “Men are looking for better methods. God is looking for better men.”
I’ve been here before
The world is sprawling around
The rush of water forcing its way
Down, around, along the ground
Inland waves sweep you off your feet
Fear of loss, and helplessness
Feeling too paralyzed to go outside.
Familiar is the feeling when I choke
A shame, a stifling of the breathing life
Situations feel insurmountable
Everything beyond my reach from my unsure footing
Each victory seems one stroke against the tide
Catastrophe feels bigger than reality
I wish I could run and hide myself somewhere.
This is what I have always known
The storm, the shame they have an eye.
One is the calm around which the winds rage
The other is that body’s light, I evade to the floor.
The fear to surge through the fiercest tempest
Only to let the ferocity shatter my frailty
Venturing to enter that gaze safely
Elihu told Job that God was here
Our heart meandering knows this home.
The screaming winds guard this safe place.
The place only the humble seek unswervingly.
As shame gives up the last ounce of covering
Naked and vulnerable just I alone remain
Staring into His gentle clear blue sky.
Ordering all powerfully
Present within our midst.
Testing the heart
I’ve been here before
The world is sprawling around
The rush of water forcing its way
Down around, all over the ground
I will wait here with Him safely
His presence my security
His eye, my soul’s calm.