Where Did This Change Come From?
Seven strange little coins. If you do the basic math, sixty-four Euro cents. That's what I had in my pocket when I landed in Delhi, India, with absolutely no idea where they had come from.
Let me backtrack just a bit.
In January 2006, I traveled to India with a good friend of mine. Our reason for travel was to join with eleven others from across the United States for a two-week trip to India with Central India Christian Mission. While our specific goal was to be involved in the dedication of the church building that our church had raised funds for in 2004, our general duties were to help and encourage the mission and the people in any way that we could.
My friend (whose name is withheld because of our differing views of the facts) had worked out the flight from the US to India, via Amsterdam, and had calculated that if we slept from Detroit to Amsterdam, then stayed awake on the next flight to Delhi, our bodies should adjust to the ten and a half hour time difference and be ready to sleep again after we landed.
My question: "How in the world are we going to sleep on the flight from Detroit when it's only 5:30 PM?"
His answer: "I've got something that will help us sleep." (At this point I should probably mention that he's a doctor, so it was legal.)
My response: "I don't take medicine very well."
His rebuttal: "Don't worry. It'll be alright. Trust me."
So, when our flight left Detroit, we took the "sleep aid" in preparation for our Transatlantic snooze. However, almost as soon as we were in the air, the flight attendants brought us dinner... and here's where the discrepancy in our stories comes in.
His account: "You (that'd be me) told me (that'd be him), 'Hey, we just ate a meal. I think I should take another.'"
My account: "He told me, 'We just ate a meal. You should take another.'"
Now, regardless of whose recollection is more accurate (and knowing me, I'm pretty sure his version of the story is the correct one), the end of the story is the same.
I took another.
And, as a result, I have no memory of Amsterdam.
Now, I understand that there are a number of people who are in the same boat - they don't remember their time in Amsterdam either - but I'm guessing their reasons may be a little bit different than mine.
Thirteen years later - still nothing.
I was told later that there was a question as to whether I was even going to get off the plane, and that when I did, I would have made a great "walker" on the AMC show. I was also told that while in the airport on our layover, I got a massage and I took a shower.
News to me.
Oh, and apparently, I bought something. What I bought, I have no idea, but obviously I spent some money there because I've still got the change.
It will probably be the only time in my life when I have change without knowing where it came from.
Because you see, change, and now I'm speaking about "the act of becoming different" as opposed to "coins," change doesn't just happen.
That's one of the main reasons why we make resolutions, right? We know that the change we want to see, for it to really happen, we must do something.
To that end, I personally have set a few goals for 2019. Now, the goals are not really the goals, but hopefully measurable ways to get to the goals.
This year, some of my "goals" are to...
1. Read 30 books
2. Walk/run/walk 365 miles and ten 5K's
3. Maintain my weight within in a five-pound window
4. Have lunch with a non-Christian friend at ten different hot dog joints
5. Stop biting my fingernails
6. Start/finish some of the home projects that I have neglected
7. Be more thankful
So, fifteen days into the new year... now's a good a time as any to take stock:
1. Nothing yet (but I'm in the middle of three)
2. 18 miles and one 5K
3. Every day but January 1st (so I'm cutting myself some slack)
4. Had one lunch and some very tasty hot dogs - please pray for me and my influence
5. To date, I have been able to get my protein from other sources. I now have this weird white stuff on the end of my nails that seems so foreign.
6. See #1
7. ??? (I know I'll be thankful when this post is finished!)
Here's the thing... and I will try to wrap up this lengthy treatise. Thanks so much for staying with me this far.
When I make a list of goals, I tend to think that I'm the one who's in control. In other words, if I do the things on the list, then I will see the results I want.
Maybe... but the reality is, for most changes, I have no control.
Oh sure, I can crawl out of bed at 4:30 AM to walk/run/walk in the cold January air, but ultimately, I don't even have control over waking up that morning, much less the health that is required for me to get up and move.
I can eat what I believe are healthy foods, but I still have no real understanding of metabolism and thermogenesis (Googled it!), much less any control over them.
I can have a monthly meal with a friend and ask God to use me in his life, but in the end, He is the One Who changes hearts... not me.
In fact, looking back over my list, keeping my fingers out of my mouth may be the only thing that I really have complete control over (which means I'm doomed!)
As I referenced in a recent sermon (or is it upcoming? This snow/ice has got me so mixed up!):
[Jesus said] ... apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)
Kind of humbling, isn't it? And yet, so very encouraging!
When God led John the Baptist to call each of us to "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8 ESV)," He knew that we could never make those changes on our own, not completely.
That's because God and God alone is in the change business. He calls us to be a part of the process... He allows us to be a part of the process... but in the end, He is the only One Who can do more than we could ever even ask for or imagine... around us, and in us.
That's the kind of change we want.
That's the kind of change we need.
And there's no question where that kind of changes comes from!
August 21, 2017 … the first time since 1979 that a total solar eclipse was visible in the United States.
In 1979, the previous US total solar eclipse, I was 13 years old and although I recall it being a topic of discussion in school, we were far enough away from it that I don’t recall it being a big deal. The path of totality was in the Pacific NW and Canada, nowhere near us in Charlotte, NC. The one before that, I was only 5 and didn’t care about such things.
But in 2017, I did care. In addition to being an amateur, wannabe astronomer/meteorologist, Greenwood, SC was directly in the path of totality. Greenwood, SC? Where’s that and who cares? My son, Bryan, attends Lander University which is in Greenwood, SC. As for where it is … it is in between Promised Land and Ninety-Six, SC (map). Hope that helps.
Several months prior, we had made plans to go. This would be perfect. Later, the news would tell of hundreds of hotel reservations that were cancelled so that they could re-rent the rooms at exorbitant rates. This happened to a California family who made their reservations a year in advance at a Franklin, NC Microtel. We would have no such problem – we would have a place to park, a place to set up … viewing the eclipse was going to be a breeze. We were going to have to make a 2:30 drive (and my wife was going to have to skip a work day at her recently acquired new job), but it was going to be worth it.
I was smart enough to look on line and order some eclipse viewing sunglasses for the whole family and some eclipse filter sheets for the cameras (and again, the price would sky-rocket as the date approached - score 1-point for me!). However, that was about the extent of my preparation.
I took with me four “cameras:” my digital camera (camera 1), my phone camera, my iPad camera, and my old, 35mm film SLR Fuji camera that I hadn’t used in years. It was kind of a last-minute thought, but the film counter still showed 20 or so exposures left on the roll (I realize that some of you are Googling, “film camera” because you have no idea what I am talking about). It uses actual film … that you have to take to Walmart or CVS or somewhere and have sent off to be developed, sometimes it takes a week or more before you see your printed pictures. It is the same technology Fred and Wilma Flinstone used (another Google opportunity for some of you). But my Fujica had a history of taking good pictures and I was familiar with it, albeit rusty.
That morning we loaded up the car with my four cameras, two tri-pods (one I had gotten cheap at a garage sale), the eclipse glasses, a blanket, cooler, etc. – you get the idea. We arrived about 45 minutes before the eclipse was to begin, located our son who had scouted out a quite place on campus, away from the planned school activities. It was where several of the professors had also planned to view the eclipse, away from the maddening crowds.
We staked out our spot and I began to set things up … one of my tripods, the one I bought cheaply, was missing a critical part. Essentially, I only had one tripod. And I had not brought any mechanism to mount either my phone or my iPad. But I had planned to at least have my two cameras mounted on tripods, but now I couldn’t do that with my 35mm … but it didn’t really matter because …
I had NO FILM in my camera! I thought I did. The counter was in the middle, so I thought I had film in there, but when I got home and rewound the film and opened the back … nuttin!
To make matters worse, I had not practiced at all taking pictures of the sun with the special eclipse film needed to cover the lenses. I was out there on the Lander University lawn with tape and scissors trying to secure the film over the lens. I had no idea what I was doing.
Meanwhile, like “sands through the hourglass,” time ticked away … and the first “flickers” of eclipse shadows became visible.
As totality grew closer, I realized that I had no plan for how I was going to use my cameras. I knew I did not want to spend the short time during the total eclipse (a little more than a minute) looking through viewfinders; I wanted to enjoy it with my own eyes.
So while the eclipse was happening, I was taking pics with one camera, switching to another, back again, clicking my old-fashioned film camera … and then my batteries died in my digital camera (my #1 camera). I had more, but there I was in the middle of the eclipse, changing batteries. I wanted to shout at the sky, “Can you pause that for a minute while I get ready?” but that was not going to work.
The total eclipse was AMAZING! Seeing the sun’s corona is indescribable. My pictures do not do any kind of justice to it.
When it was over, my wife and son started playing “piggy-back” and they were laughing and it was so cute … I had messed with the settings on my digital camera and iPad so much that the images were too dark, I just grabbed the film camera, quickly changed the settings and shot out the rest of the roll of film – or so I thought (I was almost excited about those as I was of eclipse!) Of course, I had no film in that camera and so I have no pictures of them goofing off. I could have just kicked myself!
Probably even worse than no film - and much higher on the "no-excuse" scale - was that I wasn't familiar enough with my digital camera to know how to change/manipulate the settings to get a better picture. I was just scrolling thru menus looking for stuff and buttons to change the aperture, exposure, etc. I did find the menu where you change those things, but I had no idea at all what I was doing. I had not read ahead; I had not practiced; I had not adequately prepared.
I can hear you now, “How could you be so dumb, so … ill-prepared?” (well, that’s a long list for another day).
The point? I guess if you want to travel to Ohio or somewhere in 2024 to see the next one, you can learn from my mistakes. But really, I told you this story because we can easily do the same thing with Jesus.
If you are reading this blog (and have made this far), there’s a pretty good chance you know who Jesus is and are one of His followers. You know that He hears and answers prayer; that He speaks to us through His Word; that Sunday worship, communion, hearing the Gospel preached, being in fellowship with other believers is critical to our spiritual health. But often times we just shrug them off.
But then an eclipse comes; a health crisis, a job loss, a tragedy, a loss, a life-changing, life-altering event. You can’t say, “Hey! Can you pause this for a minute while I get ready?” Life moves with a relentless pace; time does not wait. And in the middle of our eclipse, instead of knowing how to handle it, we’re fumbling with settings, trying to change the batteries, realizing we don’t even have film in our camera … simply put, we are not prepared.
And (allow me to “up the stakes” even more), those “sands” are running through our hourglass. One day, the last grain will drop; either we will die, or Jesus will return, but either way, we are going to face eternity, ready or not.
I know my skills as an eclipse photographer do not qualify me as an expert on preparedness. But when it comes to eternity, I suggest you listen to what John the Baptist had to say (Matthew 3:1-12), repent and be ready, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
Almost twenty-five years ago, my predecessor at Reidsville Christian, Robert Forrester, retired, and in doing so, handed me, a twenty-eight year-old kid, the reins of the church (has it really been that long?). At the same time, he also left behind quite a few volumes from his personal library. While many of them have since found their way into our own church library or been donated to other ministers, I kept one book for me, for one reason and one reason only: Page 69.
Let me try and explain. The book is Christ in the Fine Arts, published in 1938 by Harper & Brothers Publishers. It is an anthology of the life of Christ as portrayed through multiple mediums of art - pictures, poetry, music, and stories.
Confession time: I got that information from the book's introduction. Quite honestly, I couldn't really tell you what the book is about... because I've never read it. In fact, I'm not so sure that I've ever even ventured past page 69.
You ask, almost in a hushed whisper, "Do tell. What exactly is on page 69?"
The answer is the artwork that's pictured above - Rest on the Flight into Egypt, which was painted in 1879 by French artist Luc Olivia Merson and is currently hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (the hyperlink will give you a great close-up view).
Now, just so there's no misunderstanding: I don't normally "go" for art museums. In fact, when we were in Washington D.C. over the last couple springs, while the rest of my family hung out in the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum, I was out on the National Mall, Munzeeing (another obsession for me to explain another time).
However, there is something about this painting that has stuck with me over the last two and half decades. I just can't seem to shake it. I've asked myself, "Why? Why has this canvas made such an impact on me... especially when all I've really seen of it is a black and white picture in a book?"
I've come up with a few possible reasons.
First, while I grew up in the church and have heard the story about Jesus' birth and eventual escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-17) countless times, I don't believe it was until I turned to page 69 that it dawned on me that the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx would have been on the Egyptian horizon as Mary and Joseph made their trek. Now, since they were both constructed 2,500 to 3,000 years before the birth of Jesus, of course they were there, but that thought had never even entered my mind... not until page 69.
I'm not so sure what that says about my I.Q.
But a second reason is the picture itself. Scroll back up to the top of this post and click on the "Museum of Fine Arts in Boston" link. Take a look for yourself.
Go ahead, I've got time. I'll wait.
Oh, it's too much trouble for you to scroll up? Well then, just click here.
Did you look? Okay, now, look at it again... this time closer.
Do you see it? Do you feel it?
Do you sense the weariness of Joseph and Mary? Joseph lies by the dying fire in a protective stance, and yet, he looks exhausted. Mary cuddles the baby Jesus to her as she leans against the Sphinx, her legs dangling off the side. The darkness of the sky seems to envelope them both.
To me, it's an image that is so different from the traditional nativity scenes that depict the wide-eyed couple as they gaze upon God's gift, the Babe, while the bright star shines down upon them all.
No, this looks more like real life.
Real life can be dark. Real life can be lonely. Real life can be exhausting.
Real life can be the call in the middle of the night that you weren't planning on getting, with news that you never wanted to hear. For Joseph, the news was simply, "You've got to go... now!"
I personally would have had a very hard time with that sort of news. Assuming that I could have even just gotten up and left, I still would have had a ton of questions:
"How hard is the trip going to be? Where will we stay? What's it going to be like? How long will we be there? What about the language barrier? Will there be anybody there that we know?"
I could go on.
That's because I'm a Planner... a Planner with a capital "P," but sometimes real life can make a mockery of our plans.
In fact, there are times throughout the Bible when God seems to intentionally mess up people's plan... and yet, if they choose to follow His plan, it ends up being a really good thing.
That's because God always has a better plan.
Trust me, I really need to remember that as I move into a new year... as I make plans as to where I want to go and what I want to do. Even if God chooses to lead me into the desert, I wouldn't be the first, He knows exactly what He's doing, and He has promised that He will not leave me there alone.
In fact, in the middle of the darkness, He offers rest.
This is the way God put it: 'They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!' God told them, 'I've never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!' (Jeremiah 31:2, The Message)
The same God Who gave rest to His children as they left Egypt also gave rest to Joseph and His family as they entered.
And He will give rest to us as well.
That's the last reason why I like this painting so much - it's name: Rest on the Flight into Egypt. I mean, it almost seems like an oxymoron - rest as they're running - but it's just the sort of thing that God specializes in.
This next year, wherever we find ourselves, whether it's a part of our plan or not, when we find ourselves looking for a place to rest, may we meet up with the God Who is already out looking for us!
Songwriters have made fortunes – well deserved, I might add – on the truth that Mary and Joseph were humble, obscure, run-of-the-mill, peasant-type first century Jews. They were not wealthy (c.f. Luke 2:24 with Lev. 12:8); not aristocratic, prominent, or remarkable in any outward or measurable way (by human standards). Songs like, Mary Did You Know?, Joseph’s Song, A Strange Way to Save the World and Breath of Heaven all remind us that Mary and Joseph were just as fragile and humble as the Baby they would care for.
But that’s Standard Operating Procedure for God. He has – and continues – to entrust the greatest things to the “least of these.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 reminds us that God put His “treasure” inside of us, jars of clay. Nothing fancy. Nothing super-strong or unbreakable. But plain, ordinary, fragile and certainly flawed.
Why would God do that?
At Christmas, we wrap presents with pretty paper and shiny bows … and no matter how beautiful the packaging, we know the real gift, what matters most, is what is on the inside.
Whether our wrapping is pretty and shiny or plain and wrinkled, what really matters is the Gift God put in us.
May we all take time this Christmas season to ponder God’s incredible gift of Jesus to us – not just 2018 years ago, but that still today, we, like Mary, carry inside of us the Holy One of God.
Have you ever seen two people (probably pre-teen girls, but we won't go there) make a promise to one another, then seal it by linking their pinkies together to make a "pinky swear" or "pinky promise?" That's one thing I don't believe that I've ever experienced, but I do understand the concept.
Did you know that this little gesture originated in Japan with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia? Supposedly it was the highest seal of all oaths, with the understanding, "If I don't keep my promise, you can cut off my pinky."
That really makes me glad I've never "pinky swore" before.
I mean, that seems a little extreme.
Until I read (Genesis 15:7-21) about God's willingness to "walk" between butchered birds and animals and basically say to Abraham, "This is what'll happen to Me if I don't keep My promise to you."
But He did.
And He has.
And He will.
Every single time.
In fact, the Hebrews writer tells us that "God can't break His word! (Hebrews 6:18, The Message, emphasis added)
And while that may not be the first thing that we think about when we read Matthew's genealogy, that's exactly what he's saying. Not only does God use all kinds of people, but He also keeps all of His promises!
God promised Abraham, "I'm going to bless the world through your family." (Genesis 12:2-3)
God promised David, "I'm going to put your descendant on the throne forever." (2 Samuel 7:9-11)
And with the New Testament's very first verse, Matthew lets us know, “God keeps His promises. He said the Messiah would come, and He has!”
"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." (Matthew 1:1)
Now, from our vantage point in history, we might catch ourselves thinking, "Okay, great. Jesus is the Messiah. God kept His promise. Gotcha."
But would we really be that flippant if we were living during the "waiting?" I mean, it's always easy to look back, but living "through it" is something completely different.
Yes, there were prophets, men who spoke on God's behalf. He would send them to His people from time to time to remind them, "I know that things look bad right now, but just remember: The Messiah is coming. I promised!"
But then, four hundred years before Jesus was born, nothing. No prophets. No revelation. Nothing but... silence.
What would that have been like? How would we have felt about God and His promises then?
"Has He forgotten? I mean, it's been four hundred years... did He change His mind? Where is He?"
And David’s lineage? If you look at Matthew's genealogy in verses 6-10, it starts out strong:
King David... King Solomon... we might even recognize King Uzziah and King Hezekiah... maybe even King Josiah.
But then, in verses 12-16, seriously? How many of us have ever heard anything about Jeconiah, Shelatiel, Azor, and Mathan?
Famous kings... unknown kings... and then, no kings at all... just people.
Sure, we all know Mary and Joseph's name now, but who were they back then?
Joseph wasn't a king. Mary wasn't a queen. They weren't rich or powerful or influential. In the eyes of the world, they were just two nobodies, engaged to be married, living in a little hick town called Nazareth... just a small town, filled with poor people, all who were simply trying to make it.
"Just a small town girl..."
If we're honest, that is what Matthew's genealogy looks like. It looks like God forgot.
When it's been two thousand years since He first made the promise...
When there have been four hundred years of absolute silence...
When the kingly line has dwindled away through barrenness, civil war, slavery...
When hope seems lost...
When it feels like God has forgotten...
"and Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." (Matthew 1:16)
And it all happened at just the right time. (Galatians 4:4)
I'll be the first to admit it: Sometimes God seems slow. Sometimes it even looks like He has completely forgotten.
But He hasn't. He never has before, and He's not going to start now.
Here's something to think about: It's been another two thousand years since God made another promise, this one that Jesus is coming to this Earth a second time. He's coming back!
Today, I think we probably find ourselves in the same place that the people of Matthew's day were.
Now, I don't believe that our problem is that we've become hopeless and weary and tired of waiting. Instead, I would guess that our problem is more likely that we've all-together forgotten about the promise itself.
Personally, I didn't wake up this morning wondering if Jesus might come back today.
But He might.
Do you know why? Because God keeps all of His promises.
He always has.
He always will.
Every single one. Every single time.
I'm My Own Grandpa!
Maybe you've heard the song, sung by, to name just a few, Ray Stevens, Willie Nelson, and Guy Lombardo. It has been performed on television by some of the greats, including Hee Haw's Grandpa Jones and the all-Muppet Gogalala Jubilee Jugband. Originally written in 1947 by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe, it was inspired by a book of Mark Twain's anecdotes.
And it might just be a true story.
Throughout the 1800's, U.S. newspapers published stories about men who claimed to be their own grandfather. The names, cities, and dates never matched up, but they all contained the same sequence of events, as set forth in the song's lyrics:
It's many, many years ago
When I was twenty-three
I was married to a widow
Who was pretty as can be
This widow had a grown-up daughter
Whose hair was red
My father fell in love with her
And soon these two were wed
Ultimately, through a series of births and complicated marriages, the narrator became his own step-grandfather.
Can we all agree? True or not, that is one messed-up family!
But, maybe no more so than Jesus' own family.
The New Testament begins with, of all things, a genealogy. As I recently read:
"For most Christians who read the Bible casually or devotionally, Matthew's genealogy - the very first chapter of the New Testament - is one of the dullest passages in all of Scripture."
While for years I (like most of you, I'm sure) have just skimmed through it to get to the "good stuff," over the last month, I have discovered that the first seventeen verses of Matthew are the "good stuff!"
My teaching this coming Sunday (12/16/18) is on this genealogy, but for the next couple weeks, I also want to write a blog post about what I believe are the two main lessons that this genealogy has to teach us:
1. God uses all kinds of people.
2. God keeps every one of His promises.
God uses all kinds of people. Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus. I mean, just look who is included in Jesus' family tree:
- Abraham... yes, he is called the "Father of Faith," but his wife Sarai was taken away not once, but twice into different kings' harems because Abraham lied to them that his wife was his sister (sounds like the song, doesn't it?) so that they wouldn't kill him on account of her beauty. (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18) He was also that kind of man.
- Isaac... ditto. (Genesis 26:6-11)
- Jacob... like father and grandfather, another liar and a deceiver, a dirty rotten scoundrel! (Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-41)
- Judah... you know, Matthew could have just said "Judah, the father of Perez, and Perez the father of Hezron," but instead, he wrote, "Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar," explicitly pointing out the incestuous relationship between Judah and his daughter-in-law. (Genesis 38:1-30)
- Rahab... she was not just non-Jewish and a woman, which would have made her appearance in any genealogy improbable, much less the Messiah's, but she was also a prostitute. (Joshua 2:1-21)
- David... finally - somebody good and honorable. A man after God's own heart... but that's not what Matthew singles out. Instead, he turns the spotlight on David's affair with Bathsheba. "David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah." Uriah was one of David's mighty men. (2 Samuel 23:8-39) He was a man who risked his life for David repeatedly, but one day, David saw Uriah's wife bathing... and he wanted her for his own. So, he had Uriah killed and took her to be his wife. (2 Samuel 11:1-27)
Messed-up stories that Matthew intentionally highlights to let us know us know that God chose to bring the Messiah through messed-up people. It was deliberate. Matthew could have "skirted around" the sordid details, but he didn't. Rather than hide the embarrassing, God does the very opposite.
Or, as Rodney Reeves wrote:
"Matthew didn't offer a sanitized account of Jesus' pedigree. He relates the story of Israel's hope, the royal line of David, warts and all."
In addition, Matthew's list includes women. It includes Gentiles. The very ones who, according to the Law, would have been excluded from entering into God's presence not just because of what they did but also because of who they were, are now included. In God's family, there is no wrong sex, race, or color.
When it comes to the genealogy of Jesus, God invited liars, prostitutes and adulterers. Those involved in heinous sins like incest and murder, Jesus welcomed them into His family. He doesn't excuse them, but He does include them. He owns them. He is not ashamed of them.
And He is not ashamed of us either.
So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11 NLT)
God uses all kinds of people... which means, God uses even me.
To be honest, that's a lot harder for me to believe than even someone being their own grandpa.
But this one I know is true.
And I learned it from a "boring" genealogy.
This Page Intentionally Left Blank
Have you ever gotten to the end of a book (or movie, TV series) and turned the page expecting “more” only to find that it ended? I’ve read a few books, one very recently – a crime-drama where all along they were developing a second plot-line/story – but at the end, they didn’t resolve it. The bad guy was not caught; the good guy didn’t bring him to justice. I flipped back and forth several times expecting there to be a glitch (I was reading via my Kindle), as if there were pages missing. There were not. It was most unsatisfying … so unsatisfying, I can’t wait until my next vacation so I can buy the next book in the series and see if they resolve it!
That’s kind of how the Old Testament (OT) ends. God’s people return from exile to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. There is some drama involved there, but then the OT just ends. Well, actually, it ends with the threat of a curse (“utter destruction” – NIV and ESV). And then, Heaven goes silent.
What Happened on that Page Between the Old and New Testament?
9 We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long. Psalm 74:9 (ESV)
Unless you are a history buff or a Bible Geek like me, you probably don’t think much about it or even care. But when we read the New Testament, it is helpful to know the context of the day. A lot changed in Palestine that shaped the landscape where Jesus lived and died.
The Old Testament ends (Ezra and Nehemiah appear 15th & 16th in order but record events at the close of the OT era, along with the prophets Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi) with The Remnant of Israel returning to a decimated and desolate land. Although they have the blessing and backing of a foreign king, they are just a rag-tag group trying to reassemble some semblance of a nation … which they fail to do.
The final words of the OT are an ominous “thud” and threat (see Malachi 4:5-6), and God goes “silent.” For the next 400 years, no prophet hears from God; no words are heard from Heaven; no angel appears with a message. (1) The people wait … and forget. It is helpful to grasp this extended silence so that the dramatic revelation, beginning with Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25), and entrance of Jesus onto the human stage can be appreciated.
There are a lot of changes that take place on the global and local level during the intervening years. When the NT era opens, Rome has “custody” of Judea. There is good and bad in that; the good is that there is law and order and Israel has some autonomy, at least they are permitted to maintain their religion and customs – but they could not mete out the death penalty, which is why they needed Pilate’s (2) permission to crucify Jesus. There is a universal language, “Greek,” including a Greek translation of the OT Hebrew Scriptures (The Septuagint) and the Roman roads made travel much easier. These made the transmission of the Gospel to the known world much easier than it would have otherwise been in ancient times.
Other changes included synagogues popping up in most towns (Jesus would speak in several synagogues during His ministry);
Rabbinical commentaries and schools of thought (Jesus was considered a Rabbi and His teaching methods, though more authoritative than the others, was not strange to the people of that day); and the development of the Pharisees and Sadducees, religious factions that were more concerned with acquiring and using power than they were with being good shepherds of God’s people. This explains some of the tension and contention between Jesus and the “religious leaders” of His day.
The ultimate result was that the common person was spiritually dry; oppressed, depressed, confused, apathetic and they just “existed.” Rome kept a heavy thumb on them through taxation, laws and a military presence. The Pharisees or Sadducees (depending on which group had the power at the time) offered no spiritual hope or help, but rather placed even heavier loads on the people.
It was into this spiritual, hopeless vacuum, this “darkness” (Isaiah 9:2) that Jesus was born. The people were in desperate need of good news (the Gospel), of hope, of healing. They wanted a political leader who would throw off the Roman oppression and improve their physical condition. For the most part, they weren’t even thinking about or concerned for their spiritual drought. This made Jesus’ message both needed and intriguing to them. This is also why they didn’t glom onto Jesus’ message but rather stayed on the fringe for the most part.
Can you identify with that same feeling of drought when you haven’t heard from God in a long time? I can tell that these seasons of drought for me manifest in my thinking, my attitude and even my daily walk and quiet time with God. The big difference though is that I am not / should not be dependent on outside sources for my spiritual “feelings of dryness.” God has placed His Holy Spirit in each one of His children; I/we have His Word so that I/we can hear from Him any time I want. But still, some days, I feel like that lonely, blank page that separates Malachi from Matthew. But I am also reminded that tomorrow is just a sunrise away and the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ is just a page turn away.
- It could be argued that the dreams of Alexander the Great and the High Priest at the time, and the miracle of the eight-day oil supply (resulting in the Hanukkah celebration) were instances of God speaking from Heaven. Without denying that these could have happened, they were not direct revelations or messages of God to His people through prophets or priests.
- Archeologist have recently deciphered a signet ring with Pilate’s name inscribed (read this article). Critics of the Bible have long doubted the accuracy in regard to Pontius Pilate but the evidence is beginning to silence them.
I Love Pumpkin!
Almost everyone who knows me, knows this. Pumpkin spice flavor, pumpkin pie flavor... out of a gourd, out of a can... it matters not to me. I just love pumpkin. In fact, I have said in the past (admittedly rather crassly), "If dog-doo tasted like pumpkin, I'd eat it!" Thankfully, no one has taken me up on this yet.
Over the last couple months, I have consumed a plethora of pumpkin-flavored products... coffee creamer (almost daily), donuts, butter, soup, cereal, pancakes, almonds, granola, vegetable chips, ice cream, gelato, frozen Greek yogurt, pound cake, M&M's, sugar wafers, cream cheese roll, and kringle (if you're not familiar with this "ambrosia," check out the link... but be forewarned: I will not be held responsible for any future Trader Joe's road trips).
And of course, last week was the ultimate pumpkin-lovers holiday - Thanksgiving - featuring the greatest dessert known to man (at least this one), pumpkin pie.
Have I mentioned that I love pumpkin?
It is obvious that people know that I love pumpkin as well. Throughout this glorious time of year, I have received assorted gifts of pumpkin-flavored goodies (including the aforementioned kringle) from those who are willing to fuel my obsession.
So, my question to myself recently has been, "Do people know that I love Jesus as much as they know that I love pumpkin?"
No, really. Do they?
And not just because I'm a preacher, which means that I'm "supposed to," right? Do people really know?
John Bloom wrote, "God made us to wear our love on our sleeves." To be honest, my love for pumpkin has probably visibly stained my cuffs. How about my love for Jesus?
Confession time: Way too many times in my life, my faith has basically been academic. From a child, I've known all the right answers to the questions of, "Who is Jesus?" and "Why did He come to Earth?"
"He is God's one-and-only Son, Who came to die on the cross to save us from our sins."
Completely true, but also completely and utterly academic.
The times in my life, however, when that faith has actually made a difference, both in who I am and how I have interacted with my world, is when I have experienced Jesus in a fresh way... not just as a topic to be studied, but as a real Person.
That's why I am so excited about 2019 and our goal, "To know Jesus better than we know ourselves." I personally want that. I really do. I am praying that you feel the same.
Over the next year, our church families (GCC and RCC) are going on a journey through the Gospel of Matthew to allow God to make that a reality in our lives. There will be multiple opportunities and resources to help each of us know more about Who Jesus is, but none greater than the Story itself.
And that is where some of us will struggle.
I was recently reading "The First Days of Jesus" by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Alexander E. Stewart, when the following statement jumped off the page:
"People say that familiarity breeds contempt, but when it comes to Bible reading, I've found that familiarity is more likely to produce laziness. I tend to skim when I already know the story."
Most of us already know the Story, but that doesn't mean that we already know everything God wants to teach us through the Story.
Really read it.
Together, as we engage in Matthew's gospel over the coming year, may we slow down, take our time, and allow God, through its pages, to re-introduce us to His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
I promise you: It will be worth your time. And it will be so much better than anything pumpkin.
By the way, I don't think that there is such thing as pumpkin spice Doritos, but if there were, I'd give 'em a try... because I love pumpkin.
But I love Jesus more.
- Shannon Newsome has joined the group.
- Kim Kelley has joined the group.