Life can subject us to adversity—the bad news. Christ is able to subject even adversity to his gracious will—the good news. God destines the Gospel message and the disciple’s life to exist in perfect tension, his word inspiring our life. The obedience we render as his messengers automatically impacts our life, with service and faith merging into an indivisible bond.
The best part of Christianity remains its last part, when the Master comes down from Heaven with a Mighty Shout and a Shattering Command, trumpets blasting and angels scattering to gather all the dead and all the changed living.
Until then...the best part of the Christian life is his message incarnated in us. He didn’t make his message great so we could be small; or his message triumphant that we would be conquered. He didn’t make his Gospel pure Gold, than leave us slag heaps from the refinement.
He didn’t make his message FIRE but believers CLINKERS! He didn’t empower his message as Spiritual Renewal projects to leave us Podunks! Jesus didn’t come full of truth and grace to have us living a lie in disgrace.
Indeed, he won’t have us proclaiming his message without actualizing it. Or teaching grace that leaves us spiritually impoverished. He won’t create brilliant teaching but leave his converted disciples unimaginative, unprepossessing saints.
True: Jesus never pours his sacred oil into unclean vessels. Equally true, he always pours precious refined olive oil, not crude oil, into clean vessels. End Part IV
Where Peter Tchaikovsky thought that inner peace couldn’t be FOUND, Jesus offered it as a GIFT when we belong to him. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” John 14:27.
Why do we fruitlessly seek peace of mind until we find—which never happens—when we can accept it as Christ’s free gift to all believers?
Isaiah 53 tells us that we are healed by Christ’s wounds, encouraged by his sufferings and forgiven by his sacrifice. We’re always confident, then, against temptation since Jesus pulverized Satan. But we’re never, ever, less confident by Christ’s conquest of Satan. We always take Joy from Christ’s Sorrows, but never, ever, take sorrow from his Joy!
Like him, other Bible personalities positively impacted others by first being impacted by GOD: Abraham, Moses, David and Deborah, but four of more. And each one possessing a personal life equal to his belief system. So Paul could say to the Corinthians, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” I Corinthians 11:1. And to the Philippians, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice” 4:9. That’s called life and doctrine in equilibrium!
It’s possible that Frank Lloyd Wright had been scarred for life by having his wife and her two children hacked to death by a shingling ax, their bodies incinerated by the killer’s arson. While Paul could have claimed being scarred by all the grief he encountered serving Jesus...he wasn’t. For...beyond all he suffered he gained immeasurably greater grace from Jesus.
Do we want to be victims of what our humanity can’t stand, or examples of Christ’s Presence that makes us “more than conquerors” of all we encounter? End Part III
Using Joseph, son of Jacob as our paradigm, understand that Jesus builds in us a vigorous, attractive life through his word. It’s seen in two ways.
First, a Life That Honors Life’s Circumstances as God’s will for us at that time. We see them as the means of deepening our discipleship and witness. Even when we don’t understand or explain WHY we’re subjected to them.
With Joseph, we believe that God ordinarily allows only the circumstances that develop greater faith in us ONCE they’re accepted as God’s will. THEN...adversity that breaks lesser faith only bolsters strong into redoubtable faith.
Second, A Life Capable of Emulating Christ’s Message. Christians don’t live under the curse afflicting so many gifted people. WHO put the best of themselves into their work, leaving only the beggarly for their personal lives. Frederick Chopin, incomparably skilled pianist, couldn’t find peace within himself. He found himself unable to cast off thoughts that poisoned his happiness. He could only “groan and suffer and pour out” his despair at the piano. Internet, 10/30/19
I’ve read the same tortured conflicts in Frank Lloyd Wright, Peter Tchaikovsky, Ludwig von Beethoven and Leo Tolstoy. People of genius in the arts who found their personal unity fractured by perplexing contradictions. Tchaikovsky, for example, defined happiness as what one pursues but never accrues. A human longing for happiness finds a mindless Fate interfering. End Part II
In the first century, people and animals could have the owner’s brand burned into their flesh. The apostle Paul used the practice to teach the futility of circumcision in qualifying a person as God’s child. Paul experienced the brand of Jesus on his body, Galatians 6:17. II Corinthians 11:22ff mentions some: three beatings, one stoning, five floggings, three shipwrecks, and one 24 hour period adrift at sea. And none of them included the mental and spiritual stress suffered as an apostle of Christ starting and pastoring churches.
These references could have been the marks of Jesus on Paul. We know for sure, however, what the marks were NOT. They were NOT the tattoos so popular today. Paul observed the Bible injunction against putting tattoos on the body Leviticus 19:28. Precisely because ancient pagans marked themselves with symbols of their deities. Hebrew faith, and Christian faith after it, distinguished Christians from unbelievers by the impact of God’s Spirit on their mind and heart.
The Spirit marks prove that the Christian faith is both Doctrinally pure—what we believe; and Practically persuasive—what we personally live I Timothy 4:16. Too many disciples believe it doesn’t matter what they believe about Jesus so long as their life honors Christ. Understand, however: God put both doctrine and life in equilibrium and didn’t give us the right to upset that balance.
When in balance, doctrine and life will build in us: the grace of Astaire and Rogers exchanging dance steps; the eloquence of Coleman and Garson exchanging dialogue; the passion of Bogart and Bacall exchanging glances.
End Part I
If we’re looking for something, we’re likelier to find it than if we don’t know it exists. Simeon looked for God’s Messiah and, at God’s behest, recognized and honored him when he appeared, a 40-day old boy.
Just as Lord Byron prepared to succeed as a poet before publishing Childe Harold in 1812. Suddenly, at 24, he had become famous. Beacon Lights of History, 153.
Just as Allen Dulles prepared between WWI and 1940. An understudy in intelligence in WWI, he gained many contacts. When William Donovan looked for a man to head the OSS from Switzerland in WWII, Dulles’ name headed the list.
May 26, 1805...William Clark gazed westward from a high summit. He saw the Rocky Mountains, blanketed in snow, shining brilliantly in the sun. They were still far away, but the sight filled Clark with a sense of accomplishment. AND...a sense of dread...because of the difficulties these mountains presented to the passage westward. Reflecting on that great, snowy barrier caused soberness. But, since he refused to anticipate evil he accentuated the positive of his sighting.
In 1993 National Geographic photographers shot 1,683,000 frames in 46,769 rolls of film. The magazine published 1,408 pictures that year. That meant each photographer had only a .001% chance to be published. National Geographic, 8/95, p. 64. Nevertheless, only those taking and submitting qualified to be published.
The point is: we must prepare NOW to be ready for tomorrow. For God may call us to serve him there. And only if we have prepared can we be ready to bring glory to Jesus.
Which leads to a question: what if we prepare to serve and God doesn’t call? (For God always has the right to accept, reject, use or ignore any service we offer.) What if we labor without reward; remaining nameless while persevering in our chosen service?
THEN God will call us HOME where...everything we learned, witnessed, taught, preached or lived about Jesus Christ will immediately be put to use in his eternal kingdom! Nothing that praises Jesus now will be removed by death. While everything that fails to praise him SHALL BE! Fini
Simeon proves that preparation remains more important than age in God’s service. It may have occurred to him that time slipped away while he waited for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Nevertheless, he continued to serve while he waited.
This writer remembers the quotation attributed to young Abraham Lincoln. It was posted on the south wall, under the windows as I recall, as you came down the stairs of our then-high school. “I will study, and get ready, and some day my chance/time will come.” It did.
Young people don’t face a particular challenge preparing to serve. It’s when increasing age finds us continuing to prepare that challenges us. Winston Churchill faced that. Born in 1874, he served in politics from his youth. More often than not, he proved a failed, nearly-always controversial, often anonymous personality. But when the English needed a leader superior to Hitler in 1940, they turned to 66 year old Winston! He never stopped preparing.
In a sermon 1939, C.S. Lewis talked about the frustration of never getting finished with projects; once one was completed, another appeared, and all the while we get older. He suggested a simple solution: work faithfully each day and leave the future in God’s hands. Whether or not we work today, trusting God for the future, he alone controls the future. The only day we have under our control is TODAY—which Jesus made the time frame in which we deny ourselves and carry our cross for him. End Part III
Simeon’s benediction proved Christ’s wholesale, total authority. Second, it proved that God granted him a great privilege. He would not die until he had seen Israel’s Messiah. A promise which embodies a powerful spiritual truth: preparation to serve God, not age, determines our usefulness to him. As an infant, Jesus ruled: angels adored him. As a 2 year-old, aristocrats bowed before him. For it didn’t take a crown to make him a king.
A young man grew up in West Tennessee’s backwoods. He didn’t go to grammar or high school. He showed up at a Christian college when a grown man. With unruly red hair; front teeth missing; a worn sweater held together by safety pins. He later graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Doctorate in English. Before he enrolled he had read: not a few; not a score; not hundreds, but thousands of books of all kinds, including the Bible. He proved that it didn’t take a Doctorate to make a scholar.
So there was: 10 year old Samuel; 12 year old Jesus; 17 year old David; and 969 year old Methuselah. Everyone a spiritual powerhouse for God. Proving that it didn’t take a special age to make a useful disciple.
We can personally experience, or fail to experience, God whatever our age. As we can see, or fail to see, spiritual potential in others, because we have or haven’t prepared to be surprised by God’s Joy!
That’s especially true in discipleship. Anyone, at any age, of any educational or economic status, can serve God. Preparation is the key. End Part II
The consecration of Jesus by Joseph and Mary reveals two powerful truths through Simeon. The first is the Authority even then residing in the 40 day old infant. Six words in Luke 2:27 forecast the singular nature Jesus carried throughout his ministry: “Simeon took him in his arms....” Do not minimize the old man’s action, prompted by the Holy Spirit. He could have spoken his benediction while Mary held Jesus in her arms.
But no, for a specific reason he removed him from parental to God’s control while offering his benison. Because, wherever we see Jesus in ministry, it’s always God the Son working out God the Father’s will through the empowerment of God the Spirit—the Great-Biblical-Three-in-One. Never one person more or less.
Mary never weighed in on a decision. Joseph never did. The disciples never did. The Jewish leaders never did. The politicians and military men never did. Jesus alone on God’s behalf made all the decisions.
Leaving this warning to humanity, including all its churchmen: Jesus didn’t reserve for himself all the decisions THEN to let us NOW determine: what’s essential to church life, and what’s irrelevant; or what constitutes acceptable behavior; or what determines our acceptance to him.
Let us be forewarned. While people can believe what they please NOW, ONLY God decides what’s acceptable to him at Judgment and beyond. Every teaching, belief, practice and observance in Christendom that isn’t found in God’s word will be pulled up by the roots and incinerated Matthew 15:13. Let us take care to build on the foundation Jesus laid only what survives the fires of judgment I Corinthians 3:10-14. End Part I
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