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Mothers of the Bible — Elizabeth (Part 2)

When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way. Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy: “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant— the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.
Luke 1:57-80

Dear God, there are several parts of this story and Elizabeth’s experience I want to look at.

And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony.

First, the friends and relatives were excited for her and they were giving glory to you for this wonderful thing. What a great time! And then for them to all gather at the bris to celebrate must have been such a joyous occasion. And I am sure this made Elizabeth’s day. I can’t imagine the years and years (decades and decades?) of disappointment. The seeming fruitlessness of her life. And now she had a baby and she got to celebrate with her friends and family. A mother’s heart just full of celebration and thankfulness!

They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him.

Uh oh. Now she is going to have some conflict. This is her baby and they are telling her what to do. How did this make her feel as she held her child and the others were telling her she was doing it wrong? And then they decided that what really mattered was Zechariah and his opinion. Of course, Zechariah had already told her that Gabriel said they should name the boy John, so he will go on to confirm what she said. It just must have taken a little bit of luster off of the moment. Isn’t it interesting when others try to insert themselves into our lives with unsolicited advice? Then again, how often do I do that?

He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way.

I love how “awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills.” Not just their friends and neighbors, but everyone knew that this child was special–a literal miracle baby–and that there was a prophecy about him. Of course, it’s only natural for them to ask themselves, “What will this child turn out to be?”

So how hard was it to raise John the Baptist (JTB) in this environment. Whereas Mary and Joseph pretty much got to raise Jesus without too many people knowing about the prophecy (this is an assumption on my part), JTB started about a celebrity. How much unsolicited advice did Elizabeth and Zechariah get over the years? How much judgment did they receive when JTB just got stranger and stranger? Did they feel pressure to parent him differently? Did they spend most of the rest of their lives on their needs looking for your guidance and help?

Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday. I bought her a card that is one of those “For my daughter” cards. I don’t normally like those, but in this case the sentiment was perfect.

Remembering the first time I saw you, I can still feel that jolt of love and amazement at what a miracle you were. And now here you are, just a quick blur of birthdays later, all grown-up and still a miracle! I’ve loved watching you discover your talents and grown into your gifts…sharing with the world the light that’s been shining inside you right from that first day.

She won’t fully understand those words until she has a child of her own. I wouldn’t have understood it at her age. I might have rolled by eyes at the schmaltziness of it and moved on. But I do, indeed, remember the first moment I saw her. In fact, I was the first person on earth to physically see her. No one wants the best for her more than I do. My wife might match my fandom of my daughter’s life, but she certainly can’t exceed it. Of course, it was a challenge to know the right thing to do as a parent. It still is. I guess that explains why my wife and I have spent so much time praying for our children, both individually and conjugally.

Father, help me to ignore the world and how it sees my children or judges my parenting decisions. Help me to simply look to you, trust in you, and rest in you. Help me to hear you. Help me to see with your eyes. Help me to hear with your ears. Help me to love with your love. And do it all so that your kingdom might come and your will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2020 in Luke, Mothers of the Bible

 

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Mothers of the Bible — Elizabeth (Part 1)

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”
Luke 1:5-7,24-25,39-45

Dear God, maybe this comment is more about Mary that it is Elizabeth, and I’m going to hold off on Mary and Joseph until they end of this series (they’re obviously the best parents in the Bible, after all), but it is so nice that you have her Elizabeth and Zechariah. You gave her a safe place. And the angel told her about Elizabeth being pregnant so she’d know that Elizabeth will understand what’s going on. Elizabeth will believe you. She’ll believe you because she’s living in the midst of her own miracle.

For those first seven or eight months of conceiving and pregnancy before Mary arrived, I wonder what Elizabeth’s communications with Zechariah were like. Did Zechariah write down what Gabriel told him for her to see? I’m sure he did. Did they talk about it, with Zechariah writing his part down? I’m sure they did. Did they pray to you? Did they dream of what this would look like? Were they filled with hope and joy? Did they mistakenly dream of power and might for their child? I’m sure they never imagined him living in the wilderness, wearing animal skins, eating bugs, and eventually being beheaded. No, they didn’t need to know that about him. As with me, you kept them on a need-to-know basis. They needed to know their child’s relationship and connection to the Messiah. They needed to know to not cut his hair (I still don’t know why that was a thing except to maybe help John the Baptist [JTB] have a constant reminder that he was set apart for you). Knowing what they knew helped prepare them to raise this boy, but it also gave Elizabeth the intuition and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that she needed to recognize what you were doing through Mary.

A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judaea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her. Elizabeth was filled wit the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and y our child is blessed.”

What a great affirmation for Mary! I’m sure she was scared. She knew the angel mentioned Elizabeth so she “hurried” to Zechariah’s house. But now, how will she tell Elizabeth what is happening with her? How will she explain? Well, she didn’t have to. What a gift. You used Elizabeth’s motherhood of JTB to grow her in a new way and make her available to Mary in a way she never would have been before.

Father, you certainly stretch me through my children. You love others through me because of what you have taught me as a father. You have taught me lessons I’d have never otherwise learned. You continue to show me new aspects of who you are through them. And just as Zechariah and Elizabeth had no idea what JTB’s and Jesus’s futures looked like, I have no idea what the futures of my children or even my wife and me will look like. But you have shown me what I need to know for today. You have given me good work to do today. Help me to have eyes that see and ears that hear. Make me slow to speak and discerning.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2020 in Luke, Mothers of the Bible

 

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Fathers of the Bible — Zechariah (Part 2)

When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son. And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. When the baby was eight days old, they all came for the circumcision ceremony. They wanted to name him Zechariah, after his father. But Elizabeth said, “No! His name is John!” “What?” they exclaimed. “There is no one in all your family by that name.” So they used gestures to ask the baby’s father what he wanted to name him. He motioned for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s surprise he wrote, “His name is John.” Instantly Zechariah could speak again, and he began praising God. Awe fell upon the whole neighborhood, and the news of what had happened spread throughout the Judean hills. Everyone who heard about it reflected on these events and asked, “What will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was surely upon him in a special way. Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy: “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago. Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant— the covenant he swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live. “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.
Luke 1:57-80

Dear God, I think you used all of those months of silence for Zechariah to prepare him to parent John the Baptist (JTB). He was ready to go. I would imagine he might have spent those months studying and reading. He might have been looking at the prophecies to try to figure out what this boy would be like and what being like Elijah would be all about.

It’s interesting that his prophecy starts with Jesus. That’s what makes me think he spent a lot of time studying the texts and prophecies. The closest Gabriel gets to talking about the Messiah during his visitation is when he says, “He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.” Everything else Gabriel says is about John, according to the text. So when Zechariah starts prophecying about Jesus he doesn’t necessarily get it correct. For example, “Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.” (Luke 1:71) But he knows the Messiah is coming.

Then he turns his attention to JTB: “And you, my little son…” I love that little bit of adoration for his child that is thrown into this. He doesn’t know exactly what this will all look like. He doesn’t know how he is going to parent this child. As the years go by, I’m sure he’ll be confused and wonder if it was all a dream because this kid is just a little weird. And I don’t know if Zechariah lived long enough to see JTB living in the wilderness, but I’m sure that gave rise to questions as well.

Father, I’ve often said that you keep us on a need-to-know basis and we very rarely need to know. Help me to live into that spirit. Help me to meet each situation, ask your counsel, and listen for your still, small voice. I don’t need to know how all of this will turn out. In fact, it’s probably better if I don’t. But whatever happens, I pray that you will find me faithful in the midst of it.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2020 in Fathers of the Bible, Luke

 

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Fathers of the Bible — Zechariah (Part 1)

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old. One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying. While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out of the sanctuary, wondering why he was taking so long. When he finally did come out, he couldn’t speak to them. Then they realized from his gestures and his silence that he must have seen a vision in the sanctuary. When Zechariah’s week of service in the Temple was over, he returned home. Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for five months. “How kind the Lord is!” she exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”
Luke 1:5-25

Dear God, I was going to do Zechariah all at once, but there’s too much good stuff here. I’ll do this visitation and pregnancy first. I’ll come back and do Elizabeth in a couple of days. Right now, I want to focus on Zechariah and this angel visit. I had two main thoughts when I read this part of the story:

  1. He and Elizabeth had seemingly done everything right their entire lives, but I’m sure they felt like you were not honoring who they were and what they did (as is evidenced by Elizabeth saying, “[The Lord] has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” Just living faithfully day to day. What a witness!
  2. Even when our faith isn’t enough, it won’t get in the way of your plan. You’ve got it covered. When he questions Gabriel, Gabriel didn’t take it back and say, “Never mind.” No, Zechariah didn’t have to have enough faith in that moment. He just had to be the kind of man that you needed to raise John the Baptist (JTB).

As I type all of this, I’m now starting to wonder what those 10 or 11 months until John was born were like for Zechariah. Did he try to write down everything Gabriel said so he wouldn’t forget? Did he think about what kind of person JTB would be? Was he intimidated by the thought of raising a prophet that would have the spirit and power of Elijah? Maybe you needed him to have those months alone with his thoughts. Maybe he spent most of that time in prayer, preparing for his new role as father to the prophet.

Father, you can do all of what you want to do with me or without me. I can be all yours or I can lose all my faith, and you will have it covered. I can do the right thing for the rest of my life and never see the fruit of it and that can be okay. There is a great peace in all of this. I am making a lot of decisions right now for the clinic where I work. I’m doing my best to listen to you. To hear your still small voice. Now, help me to talk less and listen to you more. Help me to put my head into a space that is still and can hear your voice. Do it all so that your glory might shine and that you might use my life to make this crisis count.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2020 in Fathers of the Bible, Luke

 

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Parents of the Bible — Herod & Herodias

When Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has come back from the dead.” For Herod had sent soldiers to arrest and imprison John as a favor to Herodias. She had been his brother Philip’s wife, but Herod had married her. John had been telling Herod, “It is against God’s law for you to marry your brother’s wife.” So Herodias bore a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But without Herod’s approval she was powerless, for Herod respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him. Herod was greatly disturbed whenever he talked with John, but even so, he liked to listen to him. Herodias’s chance finally came on Herod’s birthday. He gave a party for his high government officials, army officers, and the leading citizens of Galilee. Then his daughter, also named Herodias, came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests. “Ask me for anything you like,” the king said to the girl, “and I will give it to you.” He even vowed, “I will give you whatever you ask, up to half my kingdom!” She went out and asked her mother, “What should I ask for?” Her mother told her, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist!” So the girl hurried back to the king and told him, “I want the head of John the Baptist, right now, on a tray!” Then the king deeply regretted what he had said; but because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner to the prison to cut off John’s head and bring it to him. The soldier beheaded John in the prison, brought his head on a tray, and gave it to the girl, who took it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came to get his body and buried it in a tomb.
Mark 6:16-29

Dear God, for a short time I debated whether or not to include Herod and Herodias in my “Parents of the Bible” series, but I decided that we see them interacting with their daughter and making decisions with her as their parent so I guess they count. You put them and their story in here for us so let’s see what we can learn from them.

Herod

Here is a list of what we see Herod do in this story:

  • He takes his brother’s wife.
  • He didn’t necessarily want to arrest John the Baptist (JTB), but he did it at the behest of his wife.
  • JTB made him uncomfortable by presenting Herod’s sin to Heron any chance he got, but he “respected John; and knowing that he was a good and holy man, he protected him.”
  • This part is interesting. I saw a movie about Jesus one time that showed this story. It had an adult daughter dancing seductively for her father, him getting turned on, and then making a foolish, drunken vow to her. While that could be an interpretation, that’s not what the story says. It just says his daughter “came in and performed a dance that greatly pleased Herod and his guests.” That’s it. She could have been a 10-year-old that he was proud of. His vow was stupid, but it wasn’t necessarily made out of lust for his daughter. It could have been simple pride in her.
  • He makes a foolish vow, but “because of the vows he had made in front of his guests, he couldn’t refuse her.” We’ll come back to that.
  • He had JTB’s head given to the girl.

I guess my big thing for Herod is that he simply allowed his pride to impact his parenting. What will others think? That was a teachable moment for him with his daughter. We can’t ask for illegal and immoral things and expect to get them. But to say that to her in front of his guests would have been too much for him to swallow. In relating this to my own life, I can see where I might allow what others will say/think to influence my parenting decisions. Yes, this is part of Herod’s cautionary tale.

Herodias

Ah, Herodias. Her actions all come back to a very familiar motive: Shame. I won’t speculate as to what her role was in being Herod’s wife instead of Philip’s. But JTB’s rebukes obviously bothered her more than they did Herod so I’ll assume (and it’s a fairly big assumption) she felt some responsibility and guilt over it.

Then her daughter, perhaps unwittingly, gets involved. She does something that pleases her father, she is granted a huge favor and she doesn’t know how to respond. “Mom, what should I ask for?!? Servants? A city? Gold? Jewelry?” Then Herodias (the mother) sees an opportunity. She’s been trying to get Herod to get rid of JTB for a long time, but he’s refused. She didn’t have that much leverage over him. But now her daughter did so she used her daughter for her own gain. All to deal with her own shame.

I’d like to think I’m above ever doing anything like that, but am I? Have I ever used my children to get my way with my spouse? Just this week, I saw a divorced couple using their children to get back at each other. I’d love to judge Herodias ruthlessly for thinking of herself and her own wants/needs before her child’s, but I know I’ve done it and I’ve seen nearly every other parent do it as well.

Father, I’m glad I didn’t skip over these two parents I could seem myself in them as much as I have seen myself in any of these other biblical parents. I am sorry for the times when I put my own needs ahead of my child’s. Maybe it’s even as simple as a need to be liked by them instead of making a hard decision that will be for their best but cause them to be angry with me. Maybe it’s doing something mean out of revenge for a hurt they did to me. Guilty, guilty, guilty. I am guilty and I am sorry. Help me to be better.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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Second Sunday of Advent

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!Clear the road for him!’”John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
Matthew 3:1-12

Dear God, having grown up in a church that didn’t really observe the church calendar (Advent, Lent, etc.), I’m still figuring out the different Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas and what they mean. It was my wife, who grew up Episcopalian, who first taught me about some of these things. I had hear the word “Advent.” I had hear about “Lent.” But I didn’t really have any idea what they were about.

So now I’m here on the second Sunday of Advent. I’m preaching later this morning and it’s apparently time to talk about John the Baptist. I prayed through the verses above earlier this week as part of my preparation for this sermon. Now it’s time to make sure I have what you want me to say crystalized in my mind so that I can give someone this morning the message that you have for them. So what is that message?

Much like earlier in the week, what has stuck with me from the passage is the people who came to hear John. What were they looking for? What did they find? I think they were looking for happiness. But happiness is a pretty vague term. The Declaration of Independence calls the pursuit of happiness one of the unalienable rights you endowed to us. I doubt even they could have articulated it. They just knew their souls were unsettled. They were not at peace. Word had gotten to them that there was this weird guy out in the wilderness preaching and dunking people in water (he called it “baptizing?”). Now those people were telling their friends that they were experiencing you and life in a ways they never had before. They were happy.

There were other people, of course, who were watching. They were the people who were worried because they had never been able to give people happiness before. Why? What was the difference in the Pharisees’ teaching and John’s preaching? A few words come to mind: grace, mercy, love. John expected no less of the people than did the Pharisees. He expected them to repent and sin no more. But he added something that I don’t think any of them had ever seen–a symbolic cleansing. Come and be bathed as an outward expression of true repentance. Don’t just ask for forgiveness. Turn and sin no more. Abandon yourself. Humble yourself. Let go of yourself and live! Let me say that again–Let go of yourself and live! 

Father, as I finish my outline and get ready to be your ambassador, move beyond my weaknesses. Move beyond my failings. Use me despite how evil and selfish I can be. Use me beyond reason. Yes, I guess I’m asking you to work a miracle this morning. Use this vessel to reach that one person who needs to hear about the happiness you have in store for them.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2019 in Matthew

 

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The Baptism of Christ — Matthew 3:1-2, 11-17

IMG_1695
The image above is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-ups by Ned Bustard. While not all of the images in the book were created by Bustard, this one happens to be. It is called “Baptism (after Otto Dix).”

Matthew 3:1-2, 11-17
1 In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

11 “I baptize with[a] water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”
13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”
15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.
16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened[d] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

Dear God, when I think about this story it always makes me wonder where baptism came from and why it all of a sudden appeared with John. And why did Jesus need to be baptized? It’s really interesting.

But today isn’t about wrestling with that question. The point of this series is to take an artist’s interpretation of this story and see if there is something she or he saw that I missed. In this case, Ned Bustard (and Matthäus Evangelium) did some interesting things that I’m noticing here:

  • The first thing I noticed was that the Holy Spirit, as represented by a dove, seems to be funneling through the water in John’s hand. The image makes me think about your Holy Spirit entering the world through us through our baptism.
  • John is wearing his trademark animal skins for clothes. No shoes, of course, but that leads me to the next point.
  • He is not in the water with Jesus. It would have been easy for the artist to put John in the water with Jesus, but John is intentionally drawn as standing on dry land. I’m not sure how to interpret this except to say that this baptism is all about Jesus.
  • Visually, the artist depicted John as being completely dry. The lines that make up his body run in every direction. Up, down, crisscross, diagonally, etc. On the other hand, Jesus is drawn under the water  as represented by the water flowing over him. Except for his specific facial features, nipples, abdomen, and belly button, everything else is drawn vertically and seems to represent the water flowing over him.
  • John is just using his hand and seems to be getting a lot of water to pour from that method. This again leads me back to the idea that there is more than just water flowing over Jesus, but it is your Holy Spirit flowing through the water that is pouring from John’s hand.
  • Jesus’ face looks sad, and John looks very serious. I don’t know why the artist chose these facial expressions. Perhaps the artist was thinking about what was about to come in Jesus’ live over the next 40 days?
  • Jesus is clean-shaven with a nice haircut, and John has long hair and a beard. This certainly shows a difference in the style of the two men.

I intentionally didn’t read Bustard’s description of this piece until after I had gone through this exercise. Here is what he had to say about it:

Baptism (after Otto Dix)

Dix (1891-1969) was a German artist, painter, and print maker know for his harshly realistic depictions of the brutality of war; but his post-World War II work was largely religious in nature. This linocut is based on Baptism of Jesus, a lithograph from Matthäus Evangelium. Art historian James Romaine observed that the Holy Spirit is funneled through the hand of John like a sieve, baptizing Jesus in both water and in the Spirit. About the Bible, Dix is quoted to have said, “You have to read every single word. For the Bible is a wonderful history book. There is great truth in all of it. Most people don’t read the Bible, but reading the Bile, reading it as it is, in all of its realism, including the Old Testament: It’s quite a book. Quite a book, you even say it is the book of books…simply magnificent!”

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Reading Bustards description reminded me of something I noticed, but forgot to mention. I am a believer in both the baptism by water and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I think there is good evidence for it in not only the book of Acts, but in my life as well. This image shows that both water and the Holy Spirit were involved in Jesus’ baptism, with Bustard’s interpretation making that point a little more obvious than the original.

Father, help me to remember today that I am covered in your water, in your Holy Spirit, and in Jesus’ redeeming blood. Help me to remember that I am not only covered by these things, but filled with them as well. I am no longer my own. I am a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come. Help me to remember that.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

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Peter and John — Matthew 17:1-13

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:1-13

Dear God, in my series on Peter and John, here’s a story that specifically contains both of them (plus James).

I love that Peter can’t stand an awkward moment without just saying something. Previously, we saw Jesus walking to them on water, but instead of just watching everything play out he decided he needed to get out there too. In this case, he couldn’t just sit there and wait until he was needed. He couldn’t imagine that he was there to just take it in and use the knowledge and experience later. He figured he and the other two must be there for physically utilitarian purposes. He didn’t understand and couldn’t imagine that you were using this as a moment to be leaned upon later in his life.

Of course, I’ve always thought that the main reason for the transfiguration experience was to encourage Jesus as he continued his road to Jerusalem. I would love to have heard that conversation. I’m sure it focused around Jesus hearing affirmation and encouragement from them. I wonder if Peter, James and John were truly able to keep it a secret until after the crucifixion.

Then there is John in this story. We aren’t told that he says anything while Moses and Elijah are there. He was probably in awe. Maybe he was talking with Peter and James. Maybe that’s where the shelter idea came from, but Peter was the one who said it. Either way, he was certainly more reserved in his response than was Peter.

Finally, in the trip down the mountain they asked about Elijah. It doesn’t tell us who actually asked it. It probably wasn’t Peter since Matthew seems to like to tell us when it’s Peter talking. Presumably it was either James or John who asked it. But this shows thought of trying to make sense of all of this, connect the dots, cross the t’s, and dot the i’s. While Peter is seemingly completely in the moment, the asker of this question is trying to step out of the moment and look at things from a big-picture point of view.

Father, I am interested to see how all of this plays out. What is it about Peter that I need to look at adding to my life? What is it about him that I already have that I need to discard? The same for John. What can you teach me about my place in the body of Christ by studying these two men and contrasting them against each other? Teach me through this process so that I might become the man you need and want me to be.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2018 in Matthew, Peter and John

 

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Emails to God – Confronting Heresy (John 1:14-18)

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

Dear God, why am I afraid to answer the door to a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon? Why am I nervous about defending my theology to them when theirs is so obviously flawed? I talk about wanting to be a better evangelist, but I won’t even speak out when a heretic comes to my door. What’s up with that?

I was driving to my house the other day when I thought I spotted some Jehovah’s Witnesses about a block from my house. My first set of thoughts were, Get to the house, close the garage, close the blinds, and don’t answer the door. Pretend like I’m not home. But my next thoughts focused around the conversations I have had with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons in the past and the apologetics I have gotten into regarding defending Christianity against their heresy. Could I remember them? Should I meet the challenge at my door?

As it turned out, they never came, but I know that, if they had knocked on my door, I would not have opened it. I would have remained silent until they went away. Is that really the example I want to set for my children? Is that really what you are calling me to? Do you not want them to know the truth, and would you not want to use me to deliver it to them when given the chance?

Father, there are times when I feel so pathetic in this area. There are things about my personality that are great, and there are things that I cannot stand. This area falls into the latter. Please remind me of this moment. As I read this passage and the truth about who Jesus was, is, and is to come, help me to find my confidence and faith in it, and help me to be at peace in the knowledge that, at your core, you, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one God, and I am your servant.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in John

 

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Emails to God – Testifying to the Light? (John 1:6-8)

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

Dear God, what does it mean to give witness to the light? I had someone yesterday ask me a good question: “What are your thoughts on the Great Commission and its meaning for your life?” Hmm. Once upon a time I would have said that I think it is important—that people need to understand the light that is in you, submit to it, and embrace it.

Now, however, I find myself a little more worn down by the gray areas in life. I can’t tell if I am just getting to know you better and understanding a deeper sense of what the Great Commission means, or if my zeal and fervor has been watered down and I have opted for an easier way out. I do know that spending money on foreign missionaries, or even local missionaries, for them to do this as their living seems more and more odd each year. I almost used the word absurd, but it doesn’t seem absurd—just odd. The young man I was visiting with yesterday who asked the question has a degree in computer science, but is choosing instead to be a part of a church that will have him raise his own support and meet with people on campus. I cannot imagine a day that my “work” included meeting with two or three people individually, leading a small group once or twice a week, and then organizing a mission trip every once in a while—all the while making about $48K per year (or about $23 per hour at a 40-hour per week job).

So, back to my initial question—what does it mean to give witness to the light? I suppose for me, right now, it means that I need to be a part of reflecting your presence to those around me. I don’t seem to be doing that much in the way of proselytizing, but I know that those who come into contact with me can see you in me. At least I hope they do.

Father, help me to simply know what to do as your servant minute-by-minute today. Help me to live fully aware of you and the light about which I am to testify. Help me to represent you well, and for others to give you glory through their interactions with me. Help me to decrease as you increase, and use me in whatever way you will regardless of what it means to me.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in John

 

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