The Effort to Remember

May 27, 2016

My wife does not allow me to go to the grocery without a list, if there are more than two items on that list. She knows from experience I may or may not remember everything on the longer list. Remembering is not easy. It takes effort. I sometimes joke that my phone and laptop are the halves of my brain which actually remember things. I set appointment alarms and write task lists. It takes effort to remember.

The effort to remember is the reason for Memorial Day. It is a national holiday to honor those who have died in military service. It is a reminder that our freedoms are not free. Some have paid the ultimate price. It is appropriate to remember. But even with a national holiday, it takes effort to remember. It would be easy to grill out, enjoy recreation, and take advantage of Memorial Day sales and still not remember why we have a day called Memorial Day. There is a reason that human beings write histories and create memorials. It is too easy to forget.

The effort to remember is also the reason for the Lord’s Supper. There is a reason why Jesus instructed the apostles: do this in remembrance of me (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24). People forget without memorials.

Jesus instituted a very simple memorial. He took two very common things: bread and fruit of the vine. He gave them meanings.

This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me…. This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:24-25, ESV)

I suspect that I need this weekly memorial more than I realize. It is a time of reflection and examination. In this simple act, we as community proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. This reminder within the fellowship of the church helps me stay on course in my daily walk, because Christianity is an ongoing relationship:

  • I need to pick up my cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23).
  • I need to continually consider myself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).
  • I need to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13).
  • I need to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

Memorials serve an important purpose. Make the effort to remember!

A Significant Step

May 20, 2016

Congratulations to our graduates! The word graduate has an etymology that comes from the Latin gradus meaning degree or step. You can see the idea of degree or step in graduate meaning successfully completing an academic course of study and graduate meaning mark out degrees or steps for measurement as in the Pyrex measuring cup in our kitchen. To graduate is to take a significant step in life.

Most students can’t wait for graduation to come. Eager anticipation awaits this next step, which to the student may feel like it was a long time in coming. To parents it may feel like time has moved past them too quickly. They have just turned around twice. My mother tells the story of when she and my Dad dropped me off at college. She said, “You couldn’t get rid of us fast enough,” and they drove away with my mother in tears. And I’ve now been on the other end driving away from a college and watching my wife in tears. Graduation is not only a transition for the student but for the parents as well.

The next step for high school graduates is usually college, trade school, the military, or the work-a-day world. This next step has its challenges. Your parents have provided you with external discipline. If parents are doing their job correctly, you are supposed to be internalize this discipline. They are supposed to be training to let go. You may not have them to wake you up in the morning or remind you to get ready for church. My prayer is that you are ready to stand on your own.

The next step may bring challenges to your faith. The reality is that faith always faces challenges. My encouragement to you is simple: there are good answers to these challenges if you will seek them. The process will make your faith stronger.

When I was in college, John Lennon’s song Imagine was released: “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people / Living for today …” It was an anthem for a secular viewpoint. Opposition to faith is not new. Many people believe that modernization and technology will inevitably bring about a decline in religion and maybe its extinction. Today, many are proclaiming that the secular outlook has won the “culture war.”

Rodney Stark in his book, The Triumph of Faith, notes that the opposite is true if we look worldwide: “the popular notion of an increasingly secularizing world is not merely wrong but actually the opposite of what has been taking place.” Faith isn’t losing. The Christian worldview provides intellectually satisfying answers if you will seek them. As you take this significant step, guard your faith, because it will guard your life in this world and the world to come.

Why Did So Many Jews Reject Jesus?

May 13, 2016

The first thing to note is that there were believers who were part of the Sanhedrin: Nicodemus (John 3:1, 4, 9; John 7:50; John 19:39)  and Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57, Mark 15:43, Luke 23:50, John 19:38). That is two out of 71 members of the Sanhedrin. We have no idea whether others could have been converted after Jesus’ resurrection. Further, Acts does note priests becoming Christians (Acts 6:7). So there were those in positions of leadership who did become Christians. But I think it is safe to assume that the majority did not. So why not?
A large part of the ruling class was made up of Sadducees. The Sadducees as a sect of Judaism did not believe in the resurrection, spirits, or angels. Since they had wealth and power, they were primarily concerned about the maintenance of the status quo. So I think their reasons for rejecting Jesus were largely political. They didn’t want anyone upsetting things with the Roman Empire. They wanted to continue in their positions of prominence. Pride and possessions got in their way.
For the Pharisees and the rest of Judaism, politics also plays a part in the rejection of Jesus. It is just the politically opposite side from the Sadducees. This side wanted revolution and ultimately got it. They wanted to kick the Romans out and have Israel be in charge of Israel. This would lead to the First Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73), which included the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and the Bar Kochba Revolt (about AD 132-136). Jesus was offering them a kingdom, but not the kind of kingdom they wanted. I think this played a significant part in the rejection of Jesus.
We must also consider Paul’s statements in Romans 10 and 11. Paul writes: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” (Romans 10:2–3 ESV) Ignorance of scripture and spiritual pride played a part.
Paul reminds his readers that a “remnant” out of Judaism did in fact respond to the gospel and were saved (Romans 11:5), but Paul does note a hardening:

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” (Romans 11:7–8, ESV)

The question then is how does hardening work, whether in the case of Pharaoh in Exodus or the Jews of the first century? I take as a given: “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). People are morally responsible for hardening their own heart. Yet, there is some sense in which God hardens hearts. I think it is in the fact that God presents us with his saving acts and a choice. The condition of our heart determines whether we will respond favorably to God or reject God. As the saying goes, the same sun hardens clay and melts wax.

They are very human tendencies: materialism, ignorance of scripture, and spiritual pride. God and his saving acts in history present all of us with a choice.

A Special Mother

May 6, 2016

It’s mind boggling: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14, ESV). The Son of God “emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men and being found in the appearance as a man” (Philippians 2:7). All of that meant being born as an infant to a human mother.

Have you or your spouse ever tried to think of who you would like to raise your children, if both of you were to die in an accident? Selecting someone is a difficult and awesome task, because you not only think of the physical needs of the child, but the emotional and spiritual needs as well. That leads me to believe that Mary had to be a very special mother to have the privilege of giving birth and raising the Messiah.

We know so little about Mary, but the few glimpses of her that we have are revealing. She was a woman of faith. When the angel, Gabriel, announced to her that she would give birth even though a virgin and that “nothing will be impossible with God.” She responded in faith, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV). Consider the risk! She was engaged, but not yet married. To fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 involved an incredible burden. Can you imagine Joseph’s first response? But God was with her. An angel of the Lord appearing in a dream convinced Joseph.

We see glimpses of Mary practicing her faith. Mary and Joseph appear in the temple for the appropriate offerings following Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:22-24). Mary would have been ceremonially unclean the first seven days following the birth, and then Jesus would have been circumcised on the eighth day. After that she would continue for 33 days as days of purification. Following the days of purification, they would travel to Jerusalem with the newborn. Later, when Jesus is twelve, we see the family traveling to Jerusalem for Passover. Mary practiced her faith.

Mary’s hymn of praise (Luke 1:46-55) betrays a great familiarity with God’s word. Many note comparisons with Hannah’s prayer (1 Samuel 2). God’s word was treasured in her heart.

Mary did the mundane and daily tasks of raising a child: preparing meals, washing clothes, sweeping the floor, and giving the care and comfort that only a mother can give. Mothers shape character and instill principles to live by in those teachable moments. Mary’s spiritual concern shows her to be a special mother. She demonstrates the most important quality that any mother can have.

Today is a great day to say thank you to your own special mother!