Wednesday, December 19, 2018

God Chose Humble vs. Proud

Proverbs says that God does not have the time of day for the proud and arrogant, but he is ready to show grace to the humble (Prov 3:34). That was demonstrated in the Christmas story. When you think of Christmas, do you think of the nativity scene in Bethlehem? Even though we are 2000 years removed from that stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born, the Christmas story is still a story of beauty and wonder. The narrative of Christ's birth is so riveting because it is fixed in history with an actual place and real characters.

When God sent his mighty angel Gabriel to deliver the message of the coming Messiah, he did not go to the proud of Jerusalem but instead to the humble of Galilee. A similar thing happened in the life of Abraham Lincoln. As his second term approached, a letter from an eight-year-old girl arrived suggesting he grow a beard because it would help him get re-elected. Rather than being offended, Lincoln answered her letter personally and thanked her for her suggestion. He told her, that should his campaign ever come to her town, he would like to meet her. The adults in the city were excited to hear about the possibility of the president’s visit, and they prepared for it with enthusiasm.

When Lincoln’s campaign did travel in the direction of the town, a strange thing happened. The train broke down just shy of reaching the town, so the president went on foot to find the little girl. The town was practically empty because everyone was at the station waiting to see Mr. Lincoln, except the little girl. When Lincoln introduced himself at the door, the maid was speechless, but the little girl and her playmate welcomed him in as if they were expecting him. He drank pretend tea and had an excellent visit with them. Lincoln’s campaign train went right through the town without stopping! It went right past all the waiting politicians and local dignitaries and all the hype. For Lincoln had just come to visit with and say thank you to an eight-year-old girl.[i]

The angel Gabriel, who brought the exclusive announcement of the Savior's birth, ignored Judea and came to Nazareth, a town not even named in the entire Old Testament.  Gabriel entered the humble home of Mary who was only an ordinary teenager with no significance to her life—that is to the world, but not to God. She had been chosen for a special calling from God, and that was to be the mother of our savior.

The Lord comes to needy people, those who realize that without him they cannot make it. Mary knew she needed God, and God saw her heart. That is why he ignored the big shots in Jerusalem and sent Gabriel to this hole-in-the-wall place.

The angel told Mary that she would become pregnant and give birth to a son. Her conception would be supernatural, and the child would be great—he would be the Son of God. Gabriel told her to name him Jesus, and he will sit on David’s throne forever (Luke 1:28-32). What an incredible message the angel delivered! Mary readily accepted the message and asked that everything happen as the angel had said (Luke 1:38). What faith! What acceptance! What humility! No wonder God overlooked the proud and sought out the humble to deliver the Christmas message. He still does that today too!

[i] Conrad Hyers, And God Created Laughter, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987).

Thursday, December 13, 2018

God’s Tuner

Elizabeth and Zechariah had the conversation many times, but they never found an answer to their question. Why had they never been able to have children? Most likely, people had judged them for their barren condition, especially Elizabeth, and many had been rude to her, saying hurtful things.

Disappointment is that moment when all the negative emotions rush in on us and overwhelm us. The things we had hoped for have not been realized, and what we have is not what we wanted. We immediately feel a sense of failure and diminished self-worth. We feel helpless and useless, and we think we cannot go on. Zechariah and Elizabeth remained faithful to God in spite of that overwhelming disappointment. Ultimately, they experienced God's intervention as God answered their prayer and gave them a son.

Zechariah was one of over 8,000 priests living in Israel at the time of Christ’s birth. Some 56 priests served in the temple each day, and Zechariah was chosen by lot to make the incense offering—a privilege of a lifetime. When he entered the Holy Place, he was startled to see an angel of the Lord standing there, and he was gripped with fear (Luke 1:11-12). The angel was Gabriel, the same angel that had appeared to Daniel 500 years earlier (Dan 8:16). Gabriel on both occasions announced the coming of the Messiah and the events surrounding his arrival.

Gabriel delivered a message from God for Zechariah and Elizabeth. He told them their prayer had been heard—a prayer they had been praying for decades. He announced to them that Elizabeth would have a son and they should name him John. He foretold John’s ministry to Israel would be a ministry to families. John would turn parents’ hearts toward their children and toward God. He would prepare people for the coming of the Lord (Luke 1:13-17).

Nathanael Olson was a Wyoming sheepherder who wrote Toscanini, the famed conductor in New York City. “Dear Mr. Toscanini,” the sheepherder wrote. “Each Sunday night I enjoy listening to you conducting the orchestra in New York City. It is lonely out here. My only comfort is my battery radio and my old fiddle. Winter is coming, and then I won’t be able to get into town. My batteries will be dead by spring. This means that soon my only comfort will be my fiddle. However, it desperately needs a tuning. Would you be so kind as to sound the note “A” next Sunday night so I can be sure my fiddle is up to standard pitch?” Toscanini’s announcer read this letter over the radio the following Sunday and said: “Now ladies and gentlemen, for the man in Wyoming, here is an ‘A.’” The pianist sounded the note and listeners visualized what was happening over 2,000 miles away—a lonely man busily tuning four strings to match the pitch being sounded in New York City.

In many ways Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, John, would be God’s letter “A” sent from heaven to tune our hearts for the coming of the Messiah. In this world it is easy for our hearts to get out of tune—we need people like John to point us toward heaven so we can be ready to receive God’s greatest gift—Jesus!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Deadly Temptation

Adam and Eve had the most significant opportunity for happiness and fulfillment, and they blew it. Their home was Eden; it was a perfect place where everything functioned in harmony. They enjoyed an intimacy with nature, with themselves, and with God that was unimaginable to us. However, when God created these first two people, he gave them volition—the ability to choose to obey or disobey.

Moses described the first couple as “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Gen 2:25). That is an astounding statement that Adam and Eve knew no shame or guilt. They may have lived in this state for thousands of years before the Fall. Then came the deadly conversation with the Devil and the lethal consequences. Moses describes them after the Fall in these words: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Gen 3:7). What a contrast between the two verses. They now realized they were naked and their innocence was gone. That realization is the same one that every man realizes when he leaves his wife for another woman. It is the same realization that a woman has who has defrauded her company. It is the ugly, dirty feeling that this is not as good as I thought it would be.

The deadly conversation between the snake and Eve lured Eve to think that she could be like God. Moses says it this way, "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). Sin has a lure that entices—it gives promises that enthrall the mind, but the lie is that they are empty promises. The temptation was one that promised Adam and Eve that they could make their own rules. That is the temptation of our culture. “I will make my own rules and chart my own course, and I will decide what is right and wrong.”

The deadly temptation could have only been averted by standing on the Word of God. Adam and Eve could have defended God’s Word that was being assailed by Satan, but instead they rejected it. The same thing happens to us today. While we helplessly stand by, the world mocks our faith and ridicules our beliefs. The most dangerous thing about our society today is the rejection of God’s Word. It is happening all around us, with the changing of the definition of marriage and the changing of the meaning of what it means to be male and female. The rejection of the idea that young men and women can live sexually pure until marriage is a lie that is accepted even by many Christians. Only in complete obedience to God’s Word will Christians be able to be salt and light. In our rejection of the Bible, we lose our saltiness.