Monday, December 31, 2012

I Have a Weight Problem...and so do you!

 “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, Looking unto Jesus…” Hebrews 12:1-2

         On the last day of the year, most of us are thinking about, if not talking about, so called “New Year’s Resolutions.” And in a majority of cases, weight will be on the list somewhere. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance the weight on the scales lies heavier on our conscience than the weights the writer is talking about here in Hebrews. Granted, they may be one and the same, but not necessarily. A number on the scales may or may not be a consequence of gluttony, the only part of weight that constitutes sin. But, as I say, they may be one and the same. Here’s something to remember: All sins are weights, but all weights are not sins; but both have to be laid aside. This is the truth of the verses.

         An easy way to think of the difference between weights and sins is that sins are always wrong, anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances, no matter who commits them; while weights may be a blessing or a curse, depending on the individual or the circumstance. For instance, Jesus said, “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee…” (Matt. 5:30). Yet there’s nothing sinful about the hand (or the eye). They can be, and many times are, instruments for blessing and good. There are hundreds of things in life like this that could never be called wrong, yet to some of us they become burdensome and hindering in our service to God. Sadly, the real ambiguity of it may make us hesitate, saying, “I shouldn’t feel so bad about it; so-and-so does it all the time, and look how blessed he (or she) is.” But it’s not just great sins that ruin lives, it’s also “little” weights that stop us dead in our Christian tracks. Life can become such a drag that we relegate ourselves to the sidelines, letting others, perhaps less qualified, run the race.

         But, you say, that’s all well and good, but what can I do about these “little foxes that spoil the vines”? (Sg of Sol. 2:15). The formula is found in the text: Lay aside the weights and look to the Lord. Once God has revealed to you a weight in your life (and never let others make this judgment for you, and vice versa), lay aside the offending weight, purposefully, looking unto Jesus, the great Emancipator. Mark it down, as long as you look at the weight, you’ll never have the heart to lay it down; and it will never seem so dear as when you resolve to relinquish it. But take heart! the One who laid aside the splendors of heaven to redeem the world is able to pry loose the most clinging shackle in our lives.

         So, will you admit you have a “weight” problem; and will you take the challenge with me to lay aside the weight and look to the Lord? God only knows what you and I may face in the coming year, and we need to be spiritually fit for it. By God’s grace, we can run the race…all the way, where the One who made it all possible will be waiting to welcome us over the finish line.

         Happy, Holy New Year! 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Great Thief

“Whoso is partner to a thief hateth his own soul…” (Proverbs 29:24)

         To “diss” someone is to speak critically or disrespectfully to him or her. And the prefix “dis” negates or reverses the word attached to it. For instance, to disjoin is to become separate, no longer joined. One preacher of yesteryear I sometimes read after has suggested that “dis” is the great thief, stealing the joy from good things in life. Here are several that come to mind:

         When we discourage someone, we rob him or her of something desperately needed if one is to survive an ever more frightening world: courage. We may think we’re only making him or her face reality or saving them from being disillusioned, but in many cases, we’re only instilling gloom and fear of the untried.

         Dishonoring the truly honorable does not steal their honor, but it does chip away at any honor of which we ourselves may be worthy. Jesus told the Pharisees of His day, “[Y]e do dishonour me”; and Paul tells us that engaging in illicit sex is to dishonor one’s own body (Jno. 8:49; Rom. 1:24).

         When you or I avoidably disappoint others to which we have a moral or pre-arranged obligation, we have snatched away any hopes or anticipation they may have placed in us. When this happens repeatedly, the loss is irreparable.

         I could go on, of course, but I think I’ll just say that perhaps these, and other “dis-virtues” you or I may display come from our own discontentment. We have allowed old Satan to steal our contentment in the Lord, and this has discolored all of life. Wouldn’t you say it’s true that most of the time when we’re lacking in spiritual graces it’s because there’s little grace in our own hearts? I know that’s true in my own life. Disobedience in our hearts will always translate into disapproval of others.

         I agree with the old preacher: “Dis” is the great thief. What has it stolen lately from you…or me?


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Man

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.  John 2:4

            Many who comment on these words of our Lord have sought to soften their apparent sharp effect, as though we must take it upon ourselves to depict Him in the best possible light. I hardly think that to be necessary, however. In the first place, we know Jesus never said anything out of malice, for there was no malice in Him; nor was He—the very Word of God—lacking in vocabulary skills. It’s only because such words in our own mouths would spring from a sinful heart that we cringe when we hear them spoken by the Lord. Our Savior, even in rebuke, always spoke in love.

             Jesus, along with His disciples and His mother, Mary, were attending a wedding in Cana of Galilee. After awhile, it became apparent that the wine had run out before the guests had. They were facing a social emergency of sorts that threatened to bring the festivities to a halt. We learn that Jesus had not yet performed any miracles (v.11), yet His mother immediately turned to Him, suggesting that He should come to their aid. If nothing else, this seems somewhat presumptuous. I can’t presume to know what was in her mind, but I do know what it’s like to be a mother. And I know how tempting it is to seek to display your children’s abilities or talents, no matter their age—or yours. J

            It is now that Jesus calls His mother, “Woman,” for the first time, not to put her down, I think, but rather to simply hold her at bay. When it came to His ministry on earth, He could not, nor would He ever, answer to her, or anyone. It may be that his statement, “My hour is not yet come” is a reference to His Crucifixion, where He would, once again, deal with her as a mother. Having said all this, I must confess that I have to smile when I read on in the chapter that after He made sure she knew her request carried no official weight, Jesus did do what His mother asked of Him.

We read in Matthew 12:46-50 of another occasion when Jesus reminded Mary (as well as His half-brothers) that He did not come into the world to establish earthly relationships but so that sinners such as you and I could enjoy a Heavenly relationship with Him. As He said, “[W]hosover shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

            The Son of God spoke one more time in recorded Scripture to His mother. Before the birth of her Baby, she had praised God, her Savior; and on this dark, fearful day, her own Son became her Savior. I cannot begin to understand what she must have felt as she watched Him die on the Cross, for I know that when my own children are wounded, I bleed—or so it seems.

The Apostle John relates that it was at this time, when the sins of the world lay upon Him, and the agonies of hell engulfed Him, Jesus remembered the woman who had borne Him (Jno.19:25-27). He relinquished her to the care of John Himself, showing that, though she no longer held any claim on Him, He still claimed her. God the Father had said of Him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). He was a good Son to His Heavenly Father; and He was a good Son to his earthly mother.

            Mary had other sons who could have taken care of her after the death of Jesus. Why did our Lord entrust her to the keeping of John, who took her home with him that day? We always assume it was for Mary’s sake, but might it not have been for John’s, he who was called a “son of thunder”? Might he not profit from her ability to temper fire with the everyday life? Jesus gave to the disciple “whom he loved,” the mother that He loved.

            To catch one last glimpse of Mary, we will need to travel to Jerusalem, and a house with an upper chamber. There, in that upper room, you will see her praying with the disciples and others (Acts 1:14). She is never singled out again in Scripture for any special recognition. That would not have been seemly or Scriptural; nor would she have wanted it. The God-Man they had all known when He walked this earth, was now their Savior and King, Who would one day come again in power and glory. As Paul said, they would never know Him again “after the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16). All earthly relationships were now fused into the brotherhood of the saints.

            Mary’s relationship with her Son has given me new insight to my own with my sons. There is a delicate balance to be maintained if the boy you nurtured is to become a man and a leader in his realm of responsibility. Still, there must have been a reason why God did not remove Mary from Jesus’ life after she had fulfilled her purpose in His birth. The Bible seems to indicate that she outlived Joseph, and we know she was there till Jesus returned to Heaven. I’m glad she was, for His sake, and for mine. I do not worship her, but along with Elizabeth, I do praise her—Mary, the mother of my Lord.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Mission

 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. (Luke 2:33)

            Have you ever been just a little disappointed with some of the things Mary did and said as a mother? Does it sometimes seem that she didn’t always understand or appreciate the things Jesus did? Well, you’re not alone. I was reading an old Scottish minister of the 19th century, named George Matheson, who helped me with this. Once we understand Mary’s role in the life of our Lord, we can appreciate her more, I think.

For instance, as a Christian mother, what do we consider to be our primary role? Would it not be to teach our children Spiritual things and prepare them for Heaven? But in Mary’s case, her Child came from Heaven, and it was she who should be guided by Him. Once she had fulfilled God’s purpose for her as the vehicle by which He would bring His Son into the world, her mission changed. To quote the old minister:

“I hold that mission to have been, not the guidance of His spiritual nature, but the guidance of His outward or physical nature. She was sent, not to stimulate the spiritual or the higher life, but to prevent the higher life from making Him forget His physical or lower needs”.

            God the Father had provided all that was needed for the Divine Christ Jesus; His mother would minister to the needs of the Man Christ Jesus—the One of Whom the Old Testament said, “The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up” (Psl. 69:9). Jesus told His disciples on one occasion that He had meat to eat that they knew nothing about (Jno.4:32); but, as a mother, Mary would see that her growing Boy had the food He needed to keep His body healthy. The Son of God had no need to be instructed in spiritual things or inspired to fulfill His mission in life; but He was reminded that a twelve-year old boy is still a responsibility to his parents. He had no need to learn obedience to His Heavenly Father; but being subject to earthly parents was an acquired skill (2:51; Heb. 5:8).

            Mary must have received her first inkling of what lay ahead when she and Joseph took the Baby Jesus, her first born male, to the temple to offer a sacrifice according to Old Testament law (2:23). It was Simeon who, after prophesying concerning Jesus, turned to Mary and said, parenthetically, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (2:35). And, later, it was in the temple again, when Jesus was twelve years old, that Mary would come face to face with the reality of the limitations of their mother-son relationship.

            On this particular trip to Jerusalem for the yearly Passover feast, a situation arose that brought things to a head, so to speak. When the days of Passover were over, Mary and Joseph, who had no doubt come in a caravan with others, left to return home, assuming that Jesus was traveling in the company of others of the group. When they realized that He was not with any of their company, they immediately turned back and were amazed to find their adolescent Son “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions” (v. 46). After their first shock, it was Mary who queried Him, saying, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (v.48).

The reference to Joseph as His father was understandable since, I’m sure, most then considered him to be just that. But now, at this time and in this place, Jesus felt that the record needed to be set straight; for where He was, and what He was doing, was part of His Father’s business—His real Father (v. 49). Verse fifty says that neither Joseph nor Mary understood this, but God tells us in the next verse that Mary did not simply dismiss what she had seen and heard. Rather, she “kept these sayings in her heart.”

            The distance between Mary and her Son is ever widening now—not in love, but in claim. This is true of all mothers and sons, but not to the extent of this particular relationship, because theirs was unique. The son who will not step away from the authority of his parents (and especially his mother) will experience a debilitating drag upon his progress in life. He should honor them all his life, but there comes a time when he must be about “his Father’s business.” He must follow the path of God’s choosing for him, wherever it might lead. In the case of Mary’s Son, it would lead to a cross, where the spear that was driven in the side of Jesus, would pierce the heart and soul of his mother.

            We will take one last look into Mary’s story, for there are several more glimpses given of her. We will follow her into the darkest valley of her life and see her come out on the other side; for as surely as there is a valley, there must be a mountaintop.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Mystery

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.   (Luke 2:7)

            Those of us who are mothers remember well those last weeks of our pregnancy. If you were like me, you had already given up any thought of actually being comfortable; you were now merely trying to find ways to be less uncomfortable. J And the thought of having to make a long trip of eighty miles would have filled any of us with dread. Now, what if you had to make the trip, not by car, but on foot or riding a donkey? Such was the prospect for the young Mary, now carrying God’s Son in her womb, who along with her husband would be making the journey.  There had been nothing typical about this pregnancy, and the birth itself would take place under the most extreme circumstances.

            When Mary and Joseph finally reached Bethlehem, they were faced with the fact that there was absolutely no room left in all of Bethlehem where they could spend the night, and, even more urgent, where the Baby could be born. (It must have seemed to Mary that this was becoming less and less like the birth of a King.) As Joseph tried to make her as comfortable as possible in the stable where they were forced to finally bed down for the night, did her faith waver? And during the time of her labor, and especially as the pains grew harder and closer, did she cry out to God? If she did, I would not think any less of her. “But she has lived for nine months with the Son of God within her,” you say. Yes, I know, but I’ve lived sixty years with Him dwelling within me, and I still find myself doubting at times. Let’s not ask any more of this young woman than we would of ourselves.

            Later, looking into the face of her Newborn, I cannot help but think that any uncertainty that may have been in the heart of Mary was swept away. In answer to the songwriter who wondered whether Mary knew that when she touched her Baby Boy, she had touched the face of God, I have to say, “Yes.” She could not have known what lay ahead for this Child, and by extension, she herself, but she knew He had come from God to save His people from their sins. She was unaware of the price He would have to pay in order to be the Savior. There would be time enough for that realization. For now, she would hold Him close to her, and marvel at the adoration of the shepherds (v.15-16), and later, the gifts of the wise men from the East (Matt. 2:11). Luke says that she kept all these things to herself, and “pondered them in her heart” (v.19).
            Before we continue with Mary’s story, think with me a little about Mary’s experience of a supernatural birth... and our own.

            They both involved Divine choice and human acceptance. The angel was sent to a specific, chosen virgin (v.26-27), but Luke is careful to tell us about Mary’s acceptance of the will of God (1:38). Ephesians one says you and I were chosen in him “before the foundation of the world,” yet the Apostle John tells us that only those who receive Him become “sons of God” (John 1:12)

            Then, both were supernatural with no man involved. Again, in each case, it is the Holy Spirit of God who placed the seed (cp. Luke 1:34-35; 1 Pet. 1:23).

            Lastly, both births began a progressive formation of Christ within. We read in Luke that after nine months, Mary was “great with child.” The Christ Child had been forming within her all the time. Paul told the people of Galatia that he travailed for them in birth, “until Christ be formed in you” (Gal.4:19), and in Romans eight, God saved us in order to “conform” us “to the image of his Son” (Rom.8:29).

            There are many reasons why you and I may feel a kinship to Mary, not the least of which is that we have within us the same Son of God she carried in her womb. And just as the Christ Child grew and formed within her, He will do the same within us. I’d like to think my body, soul, and spirit are all becoming more and more “accommodating” to the Holy One that abides within me. I want Him to so consume me that I am “uncomfortable” in a world system that denies Him.

            Oh, dear little Mary, how blessed you were! But, oh, too, how blessed am I; for I can say with Paul, “Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). 

- to be continued -