December 26, 2006

How to Read the Bible...

Below I urged you to consider taking up some plan for reading the Bible daily in 2007. I hope you have done so…and are gung-ho to start next week. If you are, you are a lot more likely to benefit from the reading (and keep at it) if you have, not only a plan for what you are going to read, but how you are going to read. What should I do every day as I’m reading? What am I supposed to get out of this? Good questions. Let me give you a few practical tips for getting the most out of your daily Bible reading…

1. Make an Appointment. Do you usually plan important events in your day? I’ll bet you do. Almost all of us employ alarm clocks, calendars, to-do lists, and Post-it notes to make sure that we get done those important tasks. Should we be any less diligent in making sure we get to our daily Bible reading? Do whatever you must—planning a time, setting aside a space, writing yourself a note—to make sure you get to the word.

2. Have a Plan. Don’t just skip around the Bible. Skipping around makes it too easy to skip a day, a week, a month of reading—because there is no plan or goal. So have a plan of what you want to read, and in what order. See the previous entry for ideas.

3. Pray First. Begin each time of reading by praying that God would open your eyes to see, your mind to understand, your heart to believe, and your will to obey His word. And if you get stumped or distracted in the middle, pray again!

4. Read Slowly. Julia has been reading a children’s book (The Brothers’ Promise, Frances Harbor) where one of the characters says this about reading his Bible: “When I pray, I talk fast because I am speaking to God, but when I read, I read slow, because God is talking to me!” Good wisdom from a fictional character! Give yourself enough time to really hear God! And select your reading plan so that the passage is short enough to do so. For some of you this may only be a chapter a day—that is OK! A slowly read, well-digested piece of bread is better than a whole bowlful of beans eaten so hastily that they do not digest!

5. Read for the Original Meaning. The Bible was not written as a nebulous, ‘What does it mean to you’ kind of book. Every passage has one definite meaning. And the Bible was not written to Americans living in the 21st century. It was written mainly to ancient Jews living in specific religious, political, and cultural contexts. You must not divorce the Scriptures from this original context and just glean something catchy off the top. Just because the LORD told Mary “you’ll conceive in your womb and bear a son” doesn’t mean that He is saying that to you! So, before you ever seek to apply a passage to yourself, ask: What did it mean to those who originally read it? Need help with this? Get Ken Easley’s Holman Quicksource Guide to Understanding the Bible.

6. Apply the ancient meaning to your modern situation. If this passage meant this for the ancient readers…what is it saying to me in 2006-2007? Is the passage…Pinpointing any particular of my sins? Giving commands that apply to me? Teaching things about God I need to understand? Giving promises I need to lay hold of?

7. Look for Jesus. As part of your search for the original meaning and personal application, ask: How does this passage point to Jesus? Does it…Show our sinfulness and need for the Savior? Contain a prophecy of the coming of the Savior? Draw a picture of the Savior (like the ram in the thicket)? Consist of direct teaching about the Savior? Show how we should respond to the Savior? Remember that Jesus taught that all the Scriptures speak of Him!

8. Summarize the entire passage in a sentence or two. If you’ve really gotten the passage, you should be able to summarize it briefly—It’s meaning; It’s personal application; It’s pointing to Jesus—hen you’re through reading.

9. Pray about what you have read. Talk to God about it—especially the personal applications. Praise Him for His character revealed in the passage. Thank Him for how Jesus shines forth in the passage. Confess sins brought to mind by the passage. Ask for His help believing and obeying what you learned from the passage.

Surely there are other things to do…but here are the basics. Happy reading!

Wow! That's in the Bible?

‘I never noticed that before’ someone recently told me. She had been reading the book of Genesis and noticed for the first time that, after Adam and Eve sinned, God had covered them with animal skins—the first animal sacrifice; and a foreshadowing of the One who would give his life once and for all to cover our sins. ‘I’ve read that passage dozens of times,’ she said, ‘but never saw that before.’

Isn’t that great? Even for an experienced Bible reader, the word of God is always living and active! There is always something new to learn. That’s not because the word changes. And it is definitely not because, as so many people say: ‘Two people can read the same passage and get two totally different things out of it.’ No, No. The Bible, and each of its passages, has one concrete meaning. But each time we go to it, we do have the opportunity to notice things we skimmed over before; to discover personal applications we had ignored before; and, for some of us, to read portions of the Scriptures we’ve never read before—talking donkeys, ladies driving tent pegs through people’s heads, and prophets walking around naked as a sermon illustration! There is a lot in there that some of us have never seen!

But, seasoned veteran or first-time reader, every time we go to the Bible, there is the chance for the wow factor! Why? Because God reveals Himself most clearly through this Book—and whenever we see God, we inevitably say ‘Wow!’ So let me urge you, as I do our congregation every year at this time, to get yourself into the Bible on a regular basis. Give yourself the chance to experience the wow of encountering God on a daily basis. Here are a few suggested plans…

The Old Testament in a year. If there was ever a place where we might experience the wow factor, it might be the Old Testament. First, because many of us are so unfamiliar with it. And second because the stories are so amazing—filled with the miraculous, the ironic, the majestic, and even the humorous works of God. If you committed to read two chapters a day, you could read the Old Testament by the end of 2007.

The New Testament in a year. I think it helps to take the New Testament slowly. There is so much to mine—sometimes from just a single sentence or two with its clauses, sub-clauses, and so on. So if you just read one chapter a day, you could have the New Testament read by early fall, and still have several weeks left to study one or more of its books more in-depth.

The meditation method. Take a single book with which you are more unfamiliar and resolve to read it through twenty time consecutively—whether you read a few verses at a time, or a chapter a day, or the whole book in one setting, or any combination of the above. It may be very beneficial to just swim in the waters of one single book for several months or the whole year…and then tackle another one when you finish.

The whole Bible in three years. If you studied a chapter a day, you could read the whole in just over three years.

So…what is the blogger going to do? I think I will read through the Old Testament this year…and at the same time practice the meditation method with some book from the New. Maybe Hebrews or Acts. What about you?

Christmas Poem, 5

Lost Sheep! That’s who the Shepherd’s for!
Considering why God chose to reveal Christ first to shepherds (Luke 2.8), and what they may have felt like that night.

With moon hung low behind the trees
Josiah bent his creaking knees,
And with a low and muffled groan
Sat down, his back against a stone.
His face was old, his cheeks were drawn.
His eyes were dim, his hair was gone.
And like a leather shoe, his skin
Was tough and creased, but gentle when
He smiled—especially round his eyes
Where flesh was pinched like when one ties
A goatskin tight with corn silk twine—
A bottle filled with fresh red wine.
The skin will harden, dry, and crack—
Yet house the best wine in the rack.
That was Josiah—great in years,
His wrinkles carved by many tears.
But inside beat a heart of flesh
Where tenderness and zeal could mesh.

He’d wield his rod to guard the sheep
And tell old yarns to beat back sleep.
The rest of us would squeeze in close
Like lepers, for a healing dose
Of truth and grace from ‘Siah’s lips.
His tales came in like mighty ships
From distant lands, with golden yields—
And yet he’d never left these fields.

He was a shepherd, just like we,
Who for a measly beggar’s fee,
With flute to while the hours away
Would work all night and sleep by day;
And come home with a muddy gown;
And keep his home at edge of town.
He smelled like sheep, and like his dog.
He’d been banned from the synagogue.
O yes—he was a pious sort—
But ‘unclean’ by the high priest’s court.
Our shepherds’ task is crude and mean.
Some Sabbath’s he would not be seen
At meeting time because a sheep
Had crumpled in a broken heap,
Or hurled itself upon a rock,
Or cut itself off from the flock.
So like the other shepherds he
Was spit on by the Pharisee.
And because he could not afford
A Paschal Lamb to give the Lord
(Or sometimes to have meat for dinner)
He was an outcast and a sinner.

Yes, he watched sheep, but they weren’t his.
They took them for the Temple ‘biz’—
The priests—so they could line the folds
Of priestly garments with pure gold.
A pawn in a religious game,
Still, ‘Siah called upon the Name.

Straight from the Bible, all his tales—
Of parting sees and giant whales,
Of milk and honey from Gods’ store,
Of kings when they go out to war.
But all the yarns that he would spin—
One thread ran through time and again—
The story of a coming King
Who’d ride in while the people sing;
Who’d love the shepherds and the thieves;
Who’d forgive ev’ryone who grieves
For sin—religious or out cast;
Who’d blot out all our filthy past;
Whose blood, just like a Paschal Lamb,
Would satisfy the great I AM.
We all, like sheep, astray in sin,
But God would lay it all on Him!

‘For us?’ we’d say. ‘How can this be?
For us and not the Pharisee?’
‘For all,’ he said, ‘who turn from vice
And trust this Shepherd’s sacrifice.
For Pharisees with vain conceit;
For shepherds with their dirty feet;
The harlot with her painted face;
For heathen of the Gentile race.’

We’d laugh. He’d heard our boastful lies.
He’d seen us walk with bloodshot eyes
Back into town at dawn’s first light,
So drunk we could not see aright.
He’d heard us lash our razor tongues
And watched us fill our desperate lungs
With smoke of hash and pride of life,
And how each man would treat his wife.
And most—he knew the synagogues—
How they saw us as hollow logs,
Twice dead, uprooted, worthless waste.
We were not of religious taste.
And yet he’d tell us all the more:
‘Lost sheep! That’s who the Shepherd’s for!
His lambs He’ll come and gather in—
Even the ones who’ve strayed from Him!’

But still we’d drink and still we’d cuss—
‘Messiah will not come for us’
We’d say. ‘You know not where we’ve been.
For all you’ve said, we’re still unclean.’
Besides, if this Messiah comes
He will not waste His time with bums
And rabble here in Bethlehem.
He’ll ride into Jerusalem!
He’ll visit Kings, and eat with priests
Not with us and our mangy beasts!

Our friend would stretch a leathered smile
Across his face. ‘A little while
And you will see that you are wrong.
And then you all will join my song!’

But scoff we did with all our might.
Until one cold and gusty night
We sat and felt the wind grow still
The way the wise men say it will
Before a storm—and we grew stiff.
And then, as though a giant rift
Had torn through heaven’s starry scroll
Like lighting, but without the roll
Of thunder—just a blazing light.
And angel dressed in dazzling white—
His waste cinched with a golden band,
A burning scepter in his hand—
Appeared.

We fell down on our faces.
And, like that light, flashed all the places—
Raunchy, lewd—that we had been,
The lies we’d told, our boasting wind.
And on our cheeks, like guilty blood,
Now hung the grass, the urine, mud,
And filth left by a hundred sheep.
It symbolized how poor, how cheap,
And how unclean we beggars were.

The next few moments were a blur.
All we could do was burrow down
Our faces further in the ground
And wait for him to wield his rod
With all the wrath of holy God
And crack our ribs and break our teeth
Like wolves who’d come to play the thief.

We lay in slop what seemed like years
Until he said, “Push back your fears!
I did not come here to destroy
But to announce a baby boy;
And with good news of joy and mirth
For all the peoples of the earth!
Tonight in David’s little town
Of Bethlehem, amid the sound
Of sheep, of oxen crunching hay—
And in such mire as you now lay,
A Savior’s born for Pharisees
And men of state with high degrees—
But also for the harlot cheap,
And for the men who watch the sheep!”

So Come to Christ! Come one, come all.
Come not, though, to a lavish hall,
But to a manger filled with straw.
Come you who have not kept the Law.
Come to a cross and see the cost
Christ paid to rescue all His lost
And wayward sheep, so far astray.
Come all you sinners, come today!
Christ has flung wide the heav’nly door!
Lost sheep! That’s who the Shepherd’s for!

December 22, 2006

A Freebie

Okay, this isn't technically a Christmas poem...but it is about Jesus! So I'll throw it in for free with your annual subscription! I'll post this year's Christmas poem (#5) on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

The Disciple’s Song
Based on 1 John 1:1

1. What Was from the Beginning
As darkness hovered o’er the deep
And earth was still a miry heap;
Before the Dippers hung in place
Or moon was lit with manly face,
And man had not from clay been wrought
And paradise was just a thought;
Before the dawn by sun was kissed
Our blessed Christ still did exist.

Before the devil scoffed His might
And led his angels in their flight,
Or left his tracks on virgin sod
And bade man shake his fist at God;
Before man’s fall was yet fulfilled,
Before His blood must needs be spilled,
Before all flesh in sin was damned,
Christ waited, slain, the precious Lamb.

When Abram lived in ancient Ur,
Where nomads dressed in cloaks of fur,
God plucked him up like desert rose
And led him to the land He chose.
He promised him a mighty clan
While Abram still was just one man.
Before his offspring God did bless,
Through faith Christ was his righteousness.

It did not take the fall of man,
Nor promise made to Abraham,
Nor God’s creation turned to vice—
He always was and is the Christ.

2. What We Have Heard
Our hands were blistered bloody red
From mending nets where fish had fled.
Our temples beat like warring drums.
Our ears were filled with seaside hums
Of market slang and bickering
And haughty laughs and snickering.
But then above the deaf’ning noise,
A gift of God: The Master’s voice.

The beauty of “Come follow Me”
Made boats and nets and fish and sea
Seem like a chasing after wind
Given the chance to follow Him
Whose words could sting like whirling sand
“Gouge out your eye! Cut off your hand!”
and even harsher phrases said,
“Repent or you shall all be dead.”

But harshness always dripped with grace
As sweet as honey to the taste.
A word could meet a beggar’s need
Or splint a bruised and wilting reed.
That voice robust with sovereign might
Became a salve for blinded sight,
A balm for leper’s rotten skin,
A flood to cleanse the stain of sin.

This word that caused out hearts to burn
Will never shade, nor shift, nor turn.
We testify to what we heard—
The Son of God, the Living Word.

3. What We Have Seen with Our Eyes
He grew up as a tender shoot.
He wore no jewels, nor sash, nor suit.
His clothes were of the working trade—
Sturdy, clean, and slightly frayed.
A carpenter with hands rubbed raw
From gripping hammer, adze, and saw.
This Nazarene, a faithful son
Was also the Anointed One.

Before our eyes He fed a host:
Five thousand men, two fish, five loaves.
With gentle hands He felt at ease
To bounce the toddlers on His knees,
Or tickle them and watch their grins,
Or wipe the crumbs off of their chins.
He was a Shepherd for His flock;
A gentle, kind, but solid Rock.

This Man the leaders put to test.
With blackened hearts they tried their best
To lasso Him with Moses’ Law,
But in Him they could find no flaw.
And when He did not take their bait,
A story they did fabricate—
“He does not do as Caesar said!”
“O Pilate, we would have Him dead.”

And so we watched His form be marred—
In cowardice, watched from afar.
On that good day we saw God’s grace,
Eyes fixed on Him who took our place.

4. What Our Hands Handled
This one who washed our sinful feet
Was now wrapped in a corpse’s sheet.
But mangled flesh and strangled screams
And bloodsoaked garments filled our dreams.
But then burst Mary in the room—
“I have been to the Master’s tomb!
He is not dressed in fun’ral shroud.
I kissed His hand. He spoke out loud!”

Alive, He came to us that night;
And robed in garments glorious white.
Our hearts whose light had been so dim,
Burst open wide to worship Him.
We bowed our knees with trembling souls
To kiss His feet—and felt the holes
Where flesh was to that wood affixed
And blood with rust and splinters mixed.

Unworthy men touched hands and side
Where God’s own wrath had been applied.
Those wounds in hands and feet and head,
Our nightmares while his frame lay dead,
No longer red like aged wine,
But firm and white, as healed by time.
This truth now touched our fingertips—
“Death could not hold Him in its grip!”

Our hearts were filled with holy hush.
The One whom God was pleased to crush
With Roman lash, and stake, and sword
Was in our arms, the risen Lord.

December 21, 2006

Number 4...

The Not-So-Wise Man
Pondering how it was that the magi in Matthew 2 knew that the star in the east was the herald of the birth of the Savior…and how this pagan set of astrologers became worshippers of the Lord.

My name is Shar-Ezer the great.
I made my fame by staying late
Out on bald Babylonian peaks
Where all is black and star-light leaks
Through tiny pinholes in the sky
And makes men ask the question “Why?”

Night by night I’d march through town
All regal in my magi’s gown
With ox-cart full of shiny tools
That proved me smart and others fools.
I thought that science made men wise
And opened up the blind man’s eyes.
And thus I thought with mounds of books,
With telescope and nightly looks
At heav’nly sights most eyes can’t see
That I should be impressed with me.

So I would stay out late at night,
‘Scope fixed on planets in their flight,
Observing comets, moons, and stars
Like fireflies trapped in ancient jars—
“My jars.” I thought I’d roped them all
And hung the dippers great and small.
I fancied that the heav’nly sea
Was poured out by the likes of me.

But then, one night, all science failed.
The stars of Betelgeuse all paled
And from a land who knows how far
Arose a new, uncharted star!
And, breaking all the rules I knew,
I watched it dance across the hue
Of midnight blues and sunrise pink.
It seemed to call my name and wink
And bid me gaze, bow down, and come
Follow.

My heart banged like a drum.
What could this be? My mind was vexed.
Had I missed something in the text?

I hurried home and scanned the pages
Of all the wisdom of the sages.
But nothing quenched my newfound thirst.
I think this was the very first
Time I realized that I was small.
And that I did not know it all.
This ‘wise man’ had to swallow pride
And load his donkeys for a ride
To that old shack on Prophet’s Hill
To seek one who was wiser still.

Old Kaphtor’s face was thin and gaunt
With leather skin and eyes that haunt
Young fools like me, so tall and proud.
“Behold, He’s coming with the clouds”
He said.

“Who’s coming?” I replied.
“The One whose star has made you ride
These thirty miles out to my place.
You’ve seen the star. It’s in your face.
And you must ride through deserts wild
To gaze upon that lovely Child.”

Kaphtor was of a dying breed—
The old magi who trace their seed
To prince Daniel the ancient Jew
Whose words, they say, always came true.
His power to interpret dreams
Made him a fav’rite of the kings
And made him all the wise men’s prince.
And so there has been ever since
A school of men who read his words
And trust his God like helpless birds.
A magi class who serve the LORD
And work for no earthly reward,
But share His truth with all who seek…
Whose hearts are teachable and meek.

“What child?” I said. “What do you mean?
Can you explain this star I’ve seen?”

His glance forced me to hang my head.
“Swallowed your pride?” at length he said.
“And now you’re fin’lly asking why?
Young magi, look up at the sky.
A thousand stars that you can name;
That let you play this wise man game,
Parade through town and make your boast
That you’re the man who’s charmed the host
Of heav’n.”

And then he smiled at me.
“A million more you’ll never see,
And moons a thousand lives away.
So gather up your toys and play
And wonder at the starry night.
But know this—It was not your might
That hung Orion in its place
Or lit the moon with manly face.
You did not give the stars their names.
Nor do they shine to speak your fame.”

I wept. My tears he humbly dried—
And with them wiped away my pride.
“I’m glad you came to call,” he said.
“We’ve quite a journey just ahead.
You’re just the one to go with me.
Ready, at last, to bow the knee!
The old man Daniel had it right.
He told us that one moonlit night
We’d see the “star of Jacob” rise
And that the wisdom of the wise
Could not explain the gracious hand
Of God who would become a man.”

“The message of the star in heav’n?
‘For unto us a son is giv’n!’
He’s come! I’ve waited all these years!
He’s come to wipe away our tears.
He’s come and washed away your pride.
He’s come to gather up His bride.
He’s come to set the captives free.
He’s come to see us bow the knee!”

“Now what?” I asked. His eyes grew bright,
And glassy looked into the night.
Then trembling lips began to sing:
“We go to find our newborn King!”

December 20, 2006

Christmas Poems, Part 3

Simeon: There’s Always Wheat among the Tares
Inspired by the story of Simeon in Luke 2:25-35
Dedicated to Sherman Cating

Young Mary bounced along the trail,
And as she walked she did not fail
To ask her Papa many things—
“Where do the blue jays get their wings?
Why are the clouds so fluffy white?
When will the city be in sight?”
“You have so many questions dear—
Jerusalem is very near.
We’ll be there in one half an hour.
Just look out for the watchman’s tower.
And then we’ll reach those ancient walls
That wrap around the temples halls—
The home of Him who makes birds fly
And paints His clouds upon the sky.
We’ll see the priests parade around
With pomp and might and flowing gowns;
But also peasants in their prayers.
There’s always wheat among the tares.”
“What does that mean, Papa?” she said.
“I thought that wheat was used for bread?”
“That is a happy question dear.
I think it’s time for you to hear
How God ensures that there will be
A remnant who lives faithfully.
When all the world is doomed to hell,
God keeps a few who serve Him well.
Great-grandpa Sim was such a man.
Perhaps He’ll help you understand.

“Great-grandpa grew up in an age
When all the wisdom of the sage
Was ‘Work, work, work, with all your might,
And God will count your deeds as right’—
When all the boys went off to schools
And learned to think their fathers fools
For waiting on the LORD to send
A Savior for the nation’s sins.
But what a mercy from the LORD—
Great-grandpa Sim could not afford
To leave His father’s shop and tools
To go be ruined in the schools!
But zealous as he was to learn,
He let his midnight candles burn
So he could stay up late and read
Of all the rules that he must heed.
But as he read he did not find
A God so cruel and so unkind—
But One who understood our frame,
A God who knew us all by name
And loved us even though we’d sinned
And promised all our griefs to mend.
He learned that life was not a fight
To try and do ev’rything right.
Instead He found in God’s great grace
A sweet and quiet resting place.

“So papa, what was His reward
For trusting only in the LORD?
Did God make him a famous man?”
“No dear, God had a better plan.
God gave great-grandpa two rewards:
First, He chose him above the lords,
And priests, and yes, above the king
To be part of the inner ring
Who’d see God’s great Messiah first—
Who came to free us from the curse.
He told Him he would rest his eye
On God’s anointed e’re he died.”
“And did God keep His promise?” “Yes.
But not in ways that you might guess.
God led him to the Temple gate—
but not to see some head of state,
And not to see a rebel wild,
But to behold a little child.”
I know it seems a little odd—
It doesn’t seem like mighty God
would pin our hope of future joy
on just a helpless baby boy—
But Mary, when our faith is right
God will not let us walk by sight.
My child, if we wish to be wise,
We’ll have more of great-grandpa’s eyes”

“And as for his other reward,
Hear what great-grandpa told the LORD
That day inside the temple’s gate:
LORD, you no longer have to wait.
Release your bond-servant in peace—
I’m ready for the wedding feast!
The faith has fin’lly come to sight
I’m holding in my arm the light
Chosen to save the Gentile race
And restore Israel to her place.
I’ve kissed the hand of God most high.
And I am not afraid to die
!’”

“Papa, your story’s not complete.
What’s all this got to do with wheat?”

Her Papa sighed, and then he smiled—
Such questions from a little child!
“Great grandpa’s day was like a field
Which gave a weak and sickly yield.
The crops were overrun with weeds—
those men relying on good deeds.
But grandpa Sim knew He was dust
And in God only did he trust.
And so I say he was like wheat
Which, when it’s rare, is doubly sweet!”

December 19, 2006

Christmas Poem #2

Let them Say what they will Say
Reading between the lines of Matthew 1.24 and wondering what may have gone through Joseph’s mind as he committed to obey the Lord and take Mary as his wife.

Young Joseph wandered out of town.
He trudged the quarter mile around
The hill, and through the fields of grain
To think. What did he stand to gain
Or lose by marrying this girl
With inner beauty like a pearl—
But outwardly a broken reed,
A flower choked out by a weed?
Sixteen, unmarried with a child…
Joseph could hear the raw and wild
Tongues wagging now in Nazareth.
This marriage seemed to be the death
Of Joseph’s honor. It would take…
And leave his reputation in its wake.

Could he obey God through the pain—
That awful cursing of his name?

Just then the wheat seemed bent in half
Like cruel children when they laugh
At some poor soul been made a fool
Out on the playground after school.
He knew that kind of laugh. He’d heard
The young men snicker at the word
Of some poor lass who’d gone astray
And had a baby on the way.

He’d listened as the women talked,
And watched them as they’d sneered and gawked
At pregnant girls and called them tramps.
He’d heard them gossip ‘round their lamps,
And how they called men rogues, and said
Almighty’s curse was on the bed
Of any man who sinned like that…
Who without marriage did begat
A child.

And what would be at work?
He knew sarcastic smiles would lurk
Around each corner of the shop.
He knew crass jesting would not stop,
But only gather strength if he
Told these coarse men about his dream.
He’d have to let them point and grin—
With poison fingers, filled with sin
Like snakes protruding from their arms
With only hopes to do him harm.
They’d never listen to his side.
But only bite, and quip, and chide!

Then, on his face he felt the wind
Blow softly by, then pause and bend
To plant a kiss upon his cheek.
The way his mother used to sneak
Into his room when day was gone
And kiss the forehead of her only son.
He wondered what she’d think of this.
He wondered if he’d get a kiss
When he broke the news. Or if he’d
Get a stern warning he should heed.
He wondered if her heart would joy,
Or if she’d scold her little boy.

So in the house young Joseph went.
And tried his best to give no hint
That anything was wrong. But wise
Old mothers see it in the eyes.
“What’s wrong my son” his mother asked.
“Nothing” he answered through his mask.
“Nothing? Then why such a long face?”
At this he gave a strong embrace
And cried. He wished he might have died
And stilled the bruising of his pride.
At last he lifted up his head
And told his mother all the angel said.

To his relief she did not scold
But believed him. And bowed her old
Head to pray and to thank the Lord.
“Why do you shudder at this word
My son?” she asked. “The Lord has blessed!
He has done more than I had guessed.
He’s sent Messiah to my son.
You’ll shepherd the Anointed One!
Why do you fret?”

“What will they say?
What will the local people say?
They’ll mock and scorn my name and yours.
And number Mary with the whores.
The reputation we have earned
They’ll set on fire just like a burned
Up corn field. And naught will be left!”

“Come. Come outside my dear Joseph”
She said, and led him to the field.
“Why does our corn-patch always yield
A crop my son? Do you know why?
Does corn seed fall out of the sky
Like manna from the Lord on high?
Or is it that some corn stalks die?”
And even when the crop burns down,
Still, kernels fall into the ground
And grow.

My son this is your place.
Some men will slap you in the face
And ugly words will sear you heart.
But this is just God’s work of art.
He’s making you a dying corn
So His salvation may be born.

A seed that lives and is not sown
Is destined to remain alone.
But if the seed falls to the ground
It scatters blessing all around.

So hand the Lord your feeble life
And take young Mary as your wife.
And when the gossip makes you bleed…
Know God is making you a seed.
So let them say what they will say.
Yours is to die and to obey.”

December 18, 2006

Christmas Poems

Between now and Christmas, I will post all five of the Christmas poems I have written over the last five years. Hope you enjoy and are moved. Here is the first...

A Research day in Nazareth
Comparing Luke 1.2 and 2.19, and imagining how Luke may have gotten the information he shares regarding the birth of Jesus.

Three decades after Jesus died –
Since Christ our Lord was crucified –
I did decide to write a book
About our Lord; and so I took
A quill and ink and parchment scroll
And made my way to ev’ry soul
In country far and wide who knew
And could give me a closer view
Of Jesus’ birth and life and death –
This carpenter from Nazareth.

I met with Peter, John and Paul.
And then I made my way to all
Those tiny towns in Galilee,
And to Gadara by the sea.
And Nazareth was my last stop;
As I arrived I thought I’d drop
Dead from riding in the heat.
But in the square I found a seat.
I waited there for quite a while
Until at last an aged smile,
Spread wide across a leather face,
Said ‘come and sojourn at my place.’

She led me to a humble flat.
A table, chair and sleeping mat
Were all she had to offer me.
But in the wrinkles I could see
A story waiting to be told
That would be worth its weight in gold.
And so I asked with ready pen
If she remembered way back when
A local girl – a virgin yet –
Was chosen to a child beget.

‘I remember well,’ she smiled,
‘The story of that blessed child.’
And with new vigor in her face
She started at that holy place
Where Mary got a message sweet
Delivered by an angel’s feet.
He came and stood at Mary’s side
And with a holy voice he cried:
“Young woman favored by the Lord
Take heed and hear your Master’s word
You will give birth to God’s own Son.
And when your labor pains are done
You’ll give the child a special name.
He’ll cure the blind and heal the lame
He’ll loose the captives and the slaves –
So name Him Jesus, ‘Yahweh saves.’”

‘And do you know what Mary said?’
She asked. I smiled and shook my head.
At that she stood up in her place
And lifted up that tired face,
And all at once began to sing
A song of mercy to the King:
“I magnify and I extol
Your beauty Lord who saved my soul.
I lift you up and I rejoice
That God would hear this lowly voice.
He’s seen me in my humble state
And pre-ordained for me the fate
That all the people east and west
From this time on will call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things,
And to His holy Name I sing.
His mercy covers far and wide
To those who fear and have not pride.
The haughty can’t escape from harm
Delivered by His mighty arm.
He brings down rulers from their thrones,
And hears the humble in their groans;
He satisfies the hungry; and
He leaves the rich with empty hand.
He draws His mercy from the well
And pours it out on Israel.
And through His Son, the precious Lamb
Makes good His words to Abraham.”

I looked at her with trembling face.
“Can you take me to Mary’s place?”
I asked, “That’s why I’m in this town.
They told me that she’s still around.”

“What do you want with her young man?
She’s old and shriveled like I am.”

“I want to know just how she felt
In Bethlehem the night she knelt
Beside her son and kissed His head;
And how she felt when He was dead.
I’d like to ask about the words
You said she sang the night she heard
That her first child would be the King;
And if she still with joy can sing,
Or if her song and hope were lost
The day they nailed Him to the cross.”

And with a tear drop in her eye
My wise old hostess did reply:
“She is still singing by His grace
And now you see her face to face.”

God’s blessings often come with pain;
His ways and works aren’t always plain.
But even when we suffer long
My friends we cannot lose our song.
Now let us magnify the Lamb
The chosen seed of Abraham
And let us never cease to sing
Of Christ the Lord the newborn King.

December 17, 2006

Manger Scenes?

Read the Second Commandment carefully...

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. Exodus 20.4-6

Now an honest question...

Is it biblical for us to have nativity scenes in our homes...seeing as how they seem to contain graven images of Jesus? I realizie we are not worshipping them...but I am honestly wrestling with whether we should even have them.

Not grinding an axe. We currently have 3 sets in our living room! Just wondering if anyone has thought through this more than me and can give some insight as to what the Bible is really saying here.

Same question could be asked of pictures of Jesus, or movies on Jesus.

Leave a comment or email me.

December 11, 2006

Here Comes Santa Claus

I had almost forgotten about Santa Claus. But there he is, around ever corner again…saying Ho Ho Ho; shaking his hips in the Garden Center at Wal-Mart; ringing his bell outside every major department store. He is hard to ignore this time of year.

In spite of the difficulty, however, Tobey and I have decided not to do the Santa thing with our kids—not simply because it isn’t true, or to avoid the big let down around age seven—but because Santa seems to detract a whole bunch of attention from Jesus this time of year. Kids—even church kids!—are so wrapped up in what they might get from ‘Santa’ that they almost forget what God Himself has given—even though they could give you all the right Sunday School answers about the meaning of Christmas!

We have a chance to really capture the Christmas season to teach our children about the wonders of the incarnation of Christ, but we are so often hijacked by a jolly old man and eight tiny reindeer! So we’ve gotten stubborn. Call us Scrooges if you like…but our kids’ Christmas (and our own) is going to be about Jesus if we have anything to say about it!

If you’re just starting out, or early enough in the game, I’d recommend the same course of action to you. I believe our kids (mainly Julia right now) are more excited about Jesus and the manger and the wise men and Christmas than I ever was. The main reason for that is because we have, by God’s grace, made an intentional effort to teach the incarnation to them. But a secondary reason is because there has been no competing story…no competing Christmas hero to deal with. So, in our little experiment, Christmas has actually been more fun without red-suits, reindeer, and elves!

But what will we do when Julia and Andrew notice (as they inevitably will) that this chubby old man in a red suit seems to pop up at every turn each December? What are we going to tell them? Well, rather than coming across like scrooges (‘we don’t believe in Santa!') or pretending like it is nothing—which will only make them more interested—we’re going to tell them about the real St. Nick…

Saint Nikolas was a wealthy 4th century resident of modern-day Turkey. But when he was saved by Jesus, He determined from that day forward to give his money away to the poor. On one occasion he heard about a man who was so poor that he was contemplating selling his daughters as prostitutes just to keep them all from starving. So Nikolas secretly snuck to the man’s house by night three different times. The first two times he dropped a bag of gold through the window. But, as the story goes, the third night the window was closed. So he climbed up on the roof and dropped it through the chimney. And so the legend of Santa Claus was born.

But, you see, the real Santa Claus was not a magical man with toys galore and infinite ability to deliver them. Rather, he was an average man who met Jesus and had the attitude of generosity within himself that is so perfectly displayed in Jesus.

Isn’t that a great story? Wouldn’t it be a great story/lesson for your children to learn? And wouldn’t it provide a quick, effective, and honest way to get your children’s attention back from the man in the red suit to the Child in the manger?

December 8, 2006

Suffering?

If ye knew the mind of the glorified in heaven, they think heaven come to their hand at an easy market, when they have got it for threescore or fourscore years of wrestling with God.

Letters of Samuel Rutherford, page 51


Translation:
When we are in heaven 60 or 80 years of toil and difficulty will seem like a small price to pay for an eternity with Jesus!

December 4, 2006

The Day the Pastor got Sent Home

Last Sunday was a gratifying outcome to a year of hard work and prayer concerning our constitution—and the addition of elders to our church leadership structure. We selected Gary Vaught, Mark Wells, and Scott Harig as our deacons…and Keith Gorby, Charles Tassell, and myself as the elders. I thank God for my congregation - their patience, prayer, and unity throughout this process. I love my church family. They have been amazing!

Way back at the beginning, when I first began to put forward the idea of adopting elder-leadership, one of the advantages I mentioned was accountability for me. I needed a group of godly, well-equipped, courageous men who would be on equal footing with me—men who could and would hold me accountable if and when I sinned, misinterpreted, or just made foolish decisions. One specific example I gave was of elders in the church helping the pastor wisely organize his schedule so that he makes ample time for his family, his congregation, and his own soul. Well, it did not take long to see that this God-ordained system works! Accountability works! Elders work!

Two Thursdays ago, Tobey and the children were at home, quite sick. I was at work, plowing ahead through my normal routine—studying, preparing for Sunday. About 4:30 in the afternoon one of our newly elected leaders showed up with a sheet of paper in his hand. He asked if we could talk, and we went into my study.

He seemed a little nervous—which made me nervous! He began with prayer, then asked: ‘What are you doing here?’ I knew right away what he was getting at, even though I played dumb at first. I should have been at home nursing my wife and chasing my sick, but surprisingly energetic kids. Instead, I was up here working away as if everything was just fine at home.

As we talked, I realized the sheet of paper was a print-out of several scriptural passages which speak of how a husband should treat his wife. He handed it to me and asked me to read them all. That was important! He didn’t just come with his opinion, but with a word from God.

I would like to say that I immediately wept, went home, and apologized to my wife. I didn’t. I thanked him (I really did appreciate his concern). And I went home. But I was bent out of shape for a while because my little routine was interrupted. And thank God it was! Tobey really needed me…and the rest of the weekend went much better because I had been sent home—even if against my will!

I would also like to say that I would have responded the same way had any member of the church come to me like this leader did. But, prideful sinner that I am, I am not sure that I would have. I think it took a man whom I knew God was setting apart as one of my fellow elders to get my attention. It took someone whom I knew had spiritual authority in the church and in my life to make me obey God.

So what is the point? That I am really humble and obedient? No. I was not really excited about being sent home, you’ll recall. So what is the point? That the person who reproved me is super-spiritual? Again, no. The time may someday come when I will have to visit him with a prayer, a sheet of paper, and a kindly rebuke. So what is the point? The point is that even leaders are sinners. And even leaders need accountability and authority in their lives. That is why God gave us plural elders—because we so desperately need accountability to one another; and because having elders works!

December 3, 2006

Great things He Has Done!

Some of you have been following PRBC's year-long process of moving toward elder leadership via this blog. More importantly, you have prayed for us. Thank you! The fruit of our labors, your prayers, and the Lord's goodness is this:

We voted today, with only one dissenting vote, to adopt the new Constitution!


It will be posted to the website soon if you're interested in reading it.

The strengthened Articles of Faith and Membership Covenant also passed unanimously. Subsequently, we chose the following men as our leaders:

Elders:
Keith Gorby
Kurt Strassner
Charles Tassell

Deacons:
Scott Harig
Gary Vaught
Mark Wells

Please pray for them, and for us, as we now seek to implement what we have been praying about, studying, discussing, and agreeing upon for the last year. And praise the Lord for the spirit of joyful unity that has pervaded this whole process!