Shout for Joy
I trust you have had a really good year. It's over now and the next year with all its possibilities is at hand. Recently not only did I fracture my hip but I tore my shlulder apart as well. It looks as though I will be spending another three or four weeks in rehab.
So this morning I turned to scripture for encouragement. For reasons you would understand if you could see me right now I turned to the gospel account of Jesus healing the leper (Matthew 8, Mark 1, and Luke 5). This poor man had a terrible skin disease that covered his entire body. Coming to Jesus he fell on his knees and pleaded, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” His point of view was that Jesus had the ability to heal him, but perhaps not the inclination.
But how does that relate to today’s world? There is a sizable portion of evangelicalism that holds that Jesus is still healing through the agency of gifted men and women in the congregation. This may well be true but in my experience it is not something that happens on a regular basis (at least as it did in Jesus’ day). At the same time I am positive that Jesus’is universal healing ministry continues around the world. Perhaps if we were in a more needy area we would see it. In any case, Jesus, being the same throughout time, doesn’t have phases in his ministry. For now, healing, like prayer is one thing that lies pretty much outside the daily experience of most. Some day we will know and be able to join the first century believers in this aspect of the daily experience of living with Christ.
In any case, EVERYTHING STARTS OVER TOMORROW, THE FIRST OF EVERYTHING!
JOIN ME IN THE BEST YEAR OF OUR INDIVIDUAL AND CORPORATE LIVES.
1 John 4:7-21 is a remarkable section of scripture in that in its 14 verses the apostle John uses the word “love” 12 times. Nowhere else will we find such a rich discussion of the word that so perfectly expresses the heart and soul of God’s redemptive involvement in our world. Let’s listen as God speaks to us through his first century mouthpiece, the “beloved disciple” John.
Believers are to love one another because love is from God (v. 7). Since love has its origin in God it follows that all who belong to him should reflect this essential characteristic. Those who fail to show this quality obviously do not know God (v. 8) because God is love. It is simply impossible to have a personal relationship to the One who is love and not reflect it in one’s daily life. We know that God is love because he revealed this attribute by sending his only Son into our world (v. 9) so we could have eternal life. Real love is not defined by our love for God but by his love for us (v. 10). Christ entered our world and died for our sins, thus giving us the ultimate definition of what it means to love. Love has an obligation: since God loved us to that degree we are to express that same kind of other-centered concern (read “love”) for our brothers and sisters in the faith (v. 11).
While no one has ever seen God, it is true that in our love for one another we experience His presence (v. 12). We have experienced God’s love for us and know that as we continue a life of love we are in union with Him (16). As we live out our life of love it will reach its final goal on the day of judgment, and on that day we will have the confidence that love supplies (v. 17). Perfect love rules out fear, and if a person does fear it reveals that love has not yet reached its goal in that life (v. 18). We can love, that is true, but what makes it possible is God’s prior love for us (v. 18). So let us love because God is the One who loves us (v. 19). However, keep in mind that if you say you love God but hate your fellow believer you are a liar (v. 20). If you can’t love your brother whom you have seen how could you ever love God whom you have not seen? We have been given a commandment and that is that if we love God must also love our fellow Christian (v. 21).
And there you have a complete presentation of the origin, the power, and the result of genuine love. God is love. We know what love truly is as we learn more and more about God. And central to that is the fact that love is as verb. It is something God did. He came in the person of Christ and died for our sins. His love is the motivating factor as well as the source of power that leads us to love not only God, but our fellow believers for whom he made the ultimate sacrifice. Say it with me, “God is love!”
1 John 5.1-5
As John begins to drawn his letter to a close we find him using the word “love” five times in the first three verses of the final chapter. We learn that those who love the father will love the son (v. 1), that it is by loving God that we know we love his children (v. 2), and that love is the keeping of his commandments (v. 3). A question keeps coming up as to the meaning of love – put simply, is it a noun or a verb? Is love a relationship that expresses itself by loving acts or is it the acts themselves? Perhaps it is only a question of semantics, but it is worth pursuing.
Verse 3 gives us the clearest definition and it says that love is keeping his commandments. The point is clearly made by the translation in the NJB – ”This is what the love of God is: keeping his commandments.” Granted, the common point of view is that love is a relationship that expresses itself in acts of kindness, but here it is understood not as something you have but as something you do. I believe the difference is significant. Love calls for involvement, for action. To love your friend who has just had a heart attack is to get up and rush him to the hospital. It is not feeling bad about the unfortunate turn of events but doing something about it. If you were that person how would you want your friend to react?
I’d like to turn for the moment to another book written by John for help on the distinction. John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that he gave . . .” In almost every translation the little word “so” is understood as expressing the intensity of God’s love; he SO loved the world. But the Greek text rules against that and understands the verse to read, “For this is how God loved the world: he gave his one and only Son (Mounce in GEINT: cf. also the Holman Bible). When it comes to loving and giving one doesn’t produce the other but they are one and the same.
I emphasize this point because of the philosophical tendency to move from action to its cause. When truth becomes something to talk about rather than something to do, its basic purpose has been derailed. God wants us to “love another” which is not to think about the other but to do whatever is appropriate for them in the immediate context. In the case of God his love was not a tender feeling but an act – the giving of his Son to die for us. Let’s keep the emphasis where it belongs.
The two sections of Psalm 95 are quite distinct in tone. The first is a beautiful hymn of praise (1-7a) and the second a prophetic warning (7b-11). Some have suggested that what we have is two psalms that have somehow been joined. The greatness of God calls for worship that issues in obedience and the displeasure of God points ahead to a life of continuing exile – “They shall never enter the land where I give rest.”
Come let’s sing for joy to the Lord
Shout! For to God we belong;
Gather before him with thanksgiving and praise
Extol him with music and song.
Yahweh reigns as King over all
No other god is greater;
Heavens and earth belong to him
For he is their Creator.
Let us bow down and worship him
Kneel before our Master;
For he is our God, we’re under his care
Protected from any disaster.
“Do not harden your hearts like those before you
Who refused to walk in my way;
For forty years I was angry with them
Their hearts had gone astray.”
“In anger I declared this oath
To those of fickle heart;
I have no place of rest for you
No blessing to impart.”
Psalm 96 calls upon all nations of the earth to come and worship Yahweh. His mighty deeds have brought salvation and people everywhere are to worship him in the splendor of his righteousness. He rules the world with equity bringing joy to all. The psalm speaks of eschatological rule as well as his current reign over his people.
Sing a new song to the Lord, O earth
Praise his holy name;
Proclaim to all the good news that he saves
His deeds have brought him fame.
Great is the Lord and worthy of praise
Other gods are unreal;
Splendor and majesty surround his throne
Before him all others kneel.
Give praise to the Lord all you nations on earth
Bring offerings to sacrifice;
Worship the Lord in holy attire
His presence, paradise.
Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad
May the nations sing for joy;
Let creation rejoice when God comes to rule
With freedom for all to enjoy
Did Jesus weep?Many years ago when I was teaching a college freshman class in New Testament Survey, I had a student tell me that since Jesus was God there was nothing he didn’t know or couldn’t do. I pressed him a bit and learned that when Jesus was a baby he just pretended not to know since that would be hard to explain to others. The student didn’t know it, but he was involved in what theologians call the “hypostatic union” – the doctrine of the two natures of the incarnate Jesus (divine and human). It stems from the time of Athanasius (a fourth century bishop of Alexandria) and was adopted as orthodox at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In simple terms, the student didn’t want his Jesus to be like the rest of us. It amounted to a denial of the humanity of Christ.
While informed believers accept the doctrine of two natures, there is at the same time a tendency to view Jesus as essentially divine and only acting like a man from time to time. In the account of the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44) I notice several very human reactions – things that you and I might do, but not characteristic of how we might view a divine being. Jesus had heard that his dear friend Lazarus was ill so after two days he decided to go to Judea to see him. The fact that he waited two days has furrowed many a brow, but one thing is for sure, it’s more like man than God. The text says that Jesus “loved Martha, her sister Mary, and Lazarus” (v. 5). The mention of each person emphasizes his love for each one individually; the imperfect tense in the Greek text suggests a continuing state. Since Jesus was both man and God, which one did the loving? Or was it both?
Later in the account, when Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping, he was “deeply moved in spirit and visibly distressed” (v. 33). A moment later when they invited him to come and see the body, he “burst into tears” (v. 35). Once again I ask, was it God himself incarnate that couldn’t control his tears, or was it Jesus the man? I am not a theologian, but I understand that even today there is a difference in opinion on this issue between the Reformed and the Lutheran traditions. The important point for us is that Jesus cared. His concern for a dear brother taken so quickly, affected him deeply: He wept (v. 35, the shortest verse in the New Testament.)
I do not believe in sentimentality, but the way Jesus lived tells us not to fortress ourselves against an honest expression of emotion whenever appropriate. To care for the welfare of a friend facing death may move us to follow the lead of Jesus and give way to tears. While some have thought that Jesus’ tears were due to the gloomy sense of loss prevalent at the moment, I choose to understand them as the tears of “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15).
Between Christmas this year and New Years I want to repeat some of the columns that have pleased me the most, not always the way I have written them but the intrigue. First and foremost (for me) is music.
It was Aldous Huxley who gave us the memorable line, ”After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” If music had not played such an important role in my life, it would probably be best for me to stop right now and give you what Huxley says is even better — silence. However, let’s take the second best and think together about the wonderful gift of music.
Literature is full of mankind’s appreciation and enjoyment of music, whether it be the soft and tender strains of love or the cacophonous violence of evil. In a cinema, music does not simply provide an appropriate background for a particular scene, but is an integral part of that scene. Good music is less something we listen to, than it is the experience of listening itself. In some beautiful cathedra where we go to worship God, the music must be a fundamental part of that experience. It must, in a real sense, embody the One who is worshiped. Put simply, the choice of music in a particular church reveals how those in charge view God; it is a musical expression of who they hold Him to be.
Literature is full of accolades to the role of music in human history. Plato held that music is a moral law: “It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Some 2,000 years later, Martin Luther wrote, ”Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” The insight that speaks to me most movingly is that of the French novelist, Victor Hugo, who said, rather enigmatically, “Music expresses that which cannot be said on which it is impossible to be silent.” His outlook on music is not dissimilar from Zen’s view of language, which holds that truth is always just beyond any verbal expression of it.
One morning while traveling, my wife and I were visiting a distinguished musician (then retired) and his wife. Together we listened to some of his compositions through a professional amplifying system. For two hours no one said a word — we just experienced the glory of God as we listened with one another to the choir of a magnificent Lutheran church where he had served for years as choirmaster. Words cannot communicate the euphoria of that “worship service.”
It is not accidental that Christianity is the only religion that sings. Others may chant, but the message of Christ calls for singing.
Contemporary culture has a way of turning its relatively limited number of religious holidays into something they were never intended to be. For instance, on Easter, children hunt for eggs while it would be more appropriate if the figure were the other way around (God hunts for us in the incarnation). Too often the festivities of Christmas fill childish hearts with “What will I GET this year" instead of how can I GIVE and in some minor way reflect God’s giving of his Son on Calvary.
Here are a few things I am doing this year, specifically tomorrow to reactivate it’s original meaning in my life
1. Marvel at coming of the Christ child. He is only a baby but in his simple birth I see the dawning of a new eternal day of forgiveness
2. Enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of the manger. No need to stand apart because of visitor regulations.
3. Think through his life and be one of those learning for the first time that God’s long awaited kingdom is here.
4. Pray with him in Gethsemane
5. Let him wash my feet as I settle back to share the Last Supper with him.
6. Pray for him as he is hoisted onto the cross.
7. Watch the rock roll away and shout for joy!
Make your own list but enjoy reflecting with him on the events of those last 3 years. Are you having a good Christmas Day? I guarantee you will! Let others have their material needs supplied; be grateful that yours always have been and that from now on Christmas will be more of Christ. He wants it that way. Did he not say, “Come unto me?"
There was a growing problem in the Ephesian church. A faulty theology was being spread by a small group that had shifted from the truth that Paul had brought them, to “myths, endless genealogies”, and “meaningless talk” (1 Tim 1:4, 6). Paul instructs Timothy to order them to stop promoting such heresy. He notes that while they want to be teachers, the truth is that they haven’t the faintest idea of what they’re talking about (v. 7).
A first reaction is a sort of “Oh, so there were people way back then who were just like us!” Yes, there were, but here’s an important difference – they didn’t have all the advantages that we have. For instance, they didn’t have a New Testament and we do. If you go to BibleGateway.com you will discover that we have instant access to 59 translations in English alone. At that time the church was just getting underway, while we have the benefits of 2,000 years of serious Biblical scholarship. However, it is worth noting that in every period of history there has been the same tendency toward theological error. The rebel of AD 60 shares this weakness with today‘s church goer.
Paul was not satisfied with doing noting but pointing out the error of those theological wanderers. So he went ahead and told them of the three virtues that should and characterize their lives – “love, . . . a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” These three virtues create a balanced portrait of God’s intention for those who chose to be a part of his family. First, love is to be the dominant characteristic of the Christian’s life. But note that the love of which Paul speaks is not some sort of warm affection, but an active force that demonstrates what God has accomplished by sending his Son to make it possible for us to escape our sinful adoration of self. With God, love “comes from a pure heart” (v. 5).
A second part of the portrait is a “good conscience.” How wonderful that God has given us this gift. It lets us know when we are about to do something contrary to his will. We might have gone ahead and done it, but rather quietly it says, “Uh Uh, not that.” Of course you can develop the ability to keep it quiet, but at an awful price – you’re without guidance in a world calling for moral choice. The goal of the conscience is to help us in what theologians call sanctification; that is, becoming like we were intended to be, like our Father. It may seem like a very slow process, but – and here is the good news – the moment we are taken up to heaven we will be perfect!
Then there is “sincere faith”– faith that is “without pretense, genuine, without play-acting” (BDAG, p. 91). No one should wonder what Christians mean by what they say. Our faith calls on us to be a Yes-means-Yes and No-means-No kind of person. It is hard not to approve of one who has nothing to hide and tells you exactly what he thinks and believes. We are drawn to authenticity, and may it be seen in us as we live in a way that displays a “sincere faith,” “a good conscience,” and especially “a love that comes from a pure heart.” That’s what Paul “commanded” what he did, and I’m certainly not going to raise any objections!,
“Grace, mercy and peace,” just three little words, but a definitive expression of God’s redemptive work for the sake of man (1 Tim.1:2). Grace describes the gift of the Father, mercy the work of the Son, and peace the presence of the Spirit. It’s a benediction. For us in the western world, they probably sound like favorite words to use on Sunday, but in the days of Christ and in a culture quite distinct from ours, they are spiritual gifts to be given. When Paul wrote this benediction, he was certain that genuine grace, mercy and peace would descend on Timothy. The apostle seems so anxious to give his colleague a blessing that, rather than wait until the close of the letter, where such a benediction was normally found, he put it in the very first sentence.
We have encountered each of these biblical words so many times: when the church gathers to worship, in our daily devotional reading, and elsewhere. But let’s linger just a bit on each one. “Grace” has never been defined more accurately than in the well-known expression, “unmerited favor.” True, we haven’t merited anything. A line in the old hymn, “Rock of Ages” says it all – “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” That redemptive journey took Jesus, literally, “from heaven to hell,” then in triumph back to heaven. It was the ultimate “gracious” act.
“Mercy” – now there is something each of us needs. To use a simple metaphor, we were caught with our hand in the cookie bowl and God has a severe penalty for stealing. Adam probably thought he could get by with it, but he learned almost immediately that God was dead serious about sin. He learned that his own way had some bad consequences so he decided to go back, if he could, to God’s way. What he didn’t know was that God, in his mercy, had made it possible for disobedient “cookie stealers” to be forgiven. All that was necessary for Adam was to humble himself by acknowledging his miserable estate and return. He made that decision and, arriving home, found his father waiting with open arms. God is ready to receive all of us who have come to grips with the fact that “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through” and, repentant for our sins, have returned to where we belong. God’s mercy for repentant sinners is astounding.
Then there is “peace,” and by that term scripture doesn’t intend you to envision a sort of passive quietness. Behind the English word peace is the Hebrew shalom that refers to a condition of genuine wellbeing. The believer is at peace when he is aware of the deep sense of satisfaction that is his as his thoughts rise to the throne of God. It’s a “Nothing between my soul and my Savior” awareness that makes everything so beautiful. The heart is at peace, content with all that matters.
So, read once again Paul’s words of benediction for Timothy, his “true son.” Find a quiet place and absorb the spiritual blessings . . . of grace . . . of mercy . . . and, to complete the divine trilogy . . . of peace.
In chapter 3 of his gospel the apostle quotes Jesus as saying, “The one who accepts my message has demonstrated his conviction that God is truthful” (John 3: ). Truth is not something you can prove by weighing it on a scale. Truth is a vital element in the statement itself. Which brings up the issue of science and religion. Let’s approach it in a slightly different way.
There is one particular subject that seems to come up again and again in my search for understanding. It had its origins in the 10 year period in which I served as the Academic Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Western Kentucky University. During that time I sustained an usually good relationship with the dean of the College of Science and Technology. The morning break for coffee in the faculty house often had me questioning his world with questions like, “And on what logical basis can you hold that there is no god?” I would remind him that an assumption like that is philosophical and not unlike the parallel statement in Christianity that God does exist. All assumptions are improvable, but some are more satisfactory than others. (We’ll discuss that in a moment or two).
It is obvious that science deals with what can be weighed or measured in some way. It excludes from consideration all other realities such as love, hate, or friendship. But aren’t these the very subjects that are of major importance in life? One can get along with a car that is not perfectly functional, but one cannot live successfully deprived of love. So, measure the lumber and build a good house but don’t pretend there is some sort of deep satisfaction in what you can hold in your hands but is unable to respond to you.
What we call the Arts and Humanities (in higher education) work in a field that resists all mathematical calculation. For instance, a memorable poem can be inspiring, instructive, and life-changing, but it cannot be given a number, nor does it have a valence. To be true it must correspond to an appopriate measure. For a person searching for truth in the broader areas of life, qualifications are determined in ways applicable to the subject under consideration. All of this is to say that a beautiful picture is less important because it cannot be measured, or that a classical drama is less true because it cannot be weighed. Artistic accomplishment is as “true” as a well designed scientific tool. The aging concept that science is superior to the arts because it is exact is both wrong and beside the point. Each has is ways expressing perfection.
Robert H Mounce