Friday, August 24, 2018

Raising the Son of God?

What were they thinking?

I’m referring to Joseph and Mary as they watched over the baby Jesus in those first hours after the birth of the child that was now theirs, but so much more. What were they thinking about their child? What did they expect would happen next? Did the thought of raising the Son of God intimidate them?

Think about it: How do you go about raising the child that is the Son of God? How do you nurture God in the flesh? How do you teach him? How do you discipline him? How do you parent the Son of God? Would there be house rules? Would there be chores? Would there be a curfew?

As you know, the Gospel accounts tell us very little about the emotional makeup of Joseph and Mary in those hours and days and years following the birth of Jesus. The birth, itself, is stated rather matter-of-factly by Matthew and Luke, with the latter elaborating a bit by saying that Mary took the child and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Luke also says something about Mary “treasuring up these things” (Luke 2.19), referring to her observation of the shepherds coming to see the baby Jesus. She has the same mentality a while later when she observes Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve and marvels at what she has seen. Beyond this limited insight, the Gospels leave the feelings (and intimate and internal questioning) of Joseph and Mary to our imaginations.

And that analysis speaks to the beauty of Biblical narrative. The Bible is predominantly narrative. As much as 65% of the Biblical text is in the form of narrative . . . story. God has spoken to us in story.

Why? Is that the most efficient means of transferring information? Is it the best way of instructing and commanding? Wouldn’t a bulleted-listing of what’s expected been much easier to communicate and for us to digest?

Perhaps so, if the existence of humanity were merely about obeying the Creator. But our life is about so much more. It is about relationship. And relationships are built on much more than rules and procedures. They are founded and nurtured on emotions, experiences, longings, and needs that go far deeper than words on a page.

Narrative speaks to the heart of a person with much deeper resonance than a bulleted list. Stories capture moments of life and invite participation. As we read of Joseph and Mary welcoming the baby Jesus into their lives and into our world, we naturally know something of the feelings they must have had and thoughts and questions come to our minds that surely were apart of their thinking because they have been true of the human experience since Adam and Eve started us off so many millennia ago.

But Bible stories do so much more than tug at our emotions and spark our imaginations, they teach us. They show us in vivid colors the wisdom and folly of human experiences as people succeeded or failed in their actions. The narratives of the Bible demonstrate living to us in both the fortunate and unfortunate. The stories of Scripture give the black-and-white commands of God the vibrancy of color that resonates with meaning and understanding in our minds. Stories help us see with deepened clarity what it is to seek God in our lives.

Let us always cherish the stories of the Bible.

Simply Jesus

Simply Jesus.

The Gospel of John tells us, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known” (John 1.18 NIV).

To many, having a right relationship with God means observing all the rules of religion—worshiping right, speaking right, and living right. And yes, obedience to God is vitally important for us, but haven’t we missed the point when we reduce religion to what we do?

Very simply, it is Jesus who should be the focus of our attention.

Jesus came to earth to show us God . . . and to show us what it means to please God. This truth was loudly proclaimed on the mountain of transfiguration, where Jesus stood before the inner circle of His disciples, Peter, James, and John, and had the vestiges of His humanity pulled aside so that those men (and, though centuries removed, ourselves) could see His divinity. As they beheld His glorious form, a voice, the voice of the Father above, declared, “This is My Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him” (Luke 9.35 NIV).

The Father’s words are instructive and they are commissioning. Jesus didn’t come to earth simply to die and be raised . . . He came to LIVE. And He left so much for us to observe and model in His living. His words of grace, His actions of love, His faith to the Father are all shown to us not as an ideal impossible to attain, but as a pattern to honor and desire.

Simply Jesus. We can’t go wrong with this intent. We can’t err with this method of seeking God’s favor. Very simply, let us do as Mary once did and sit at Jesus’ feet, listening to His words of grace, watching His actions of love, and being inspired by His faith to the Father. And let us not merely sit, but let us do. Simply Jesus: a motto for life.

In the Dark Night of the Soul

It is said that in terms of its economic impact, depression, in its many forms, is the second most debilitating health condition in America today.  Its societal impact may be even greater considering the great stress it can put on families.  However, depression is not an illness that cannot be treated or overcome.  Medicines, counseling, dietary concerns, and other measures are all helpful tools when combating depression.  Yet, is there an aspect of depression that is a blessing?

Consider the observation of H. Mark Abbott, who speaks about depression in a sermon entitled, “Surviving Depression.”  he says, much of America “is preoccupied with therapy, with offering cures for whatever ails, including depression.  But could it be that, instead of searching for cures for everything that ails us we ought to be listening for God’s voice in all the experiences of life, even in depression?  Maybe there are some things we learn, some growth possible only through those low, dark times.”

He continues, ‘A sixteenth century monk we know as John of the Cross originated the phrase ‘the dark night of the soul.’  he described God’s work in us not through joy and light, but through sorrow and darkness.  John of the Cross taught that night and darkness may be the friends, not the enemies of faith.  He taught that God may lead us into a night in which our senses, that is, our usual ways of feeling and experiencing life, are emptied.  Thus, we have no feeling of God’s presence.

“John of the Cross described this ‘dark night’ as a time when those persons lose all the pleasure that they once experienced in their devotional life.  And there may follow a deep darkness of purifying and waiting.  But that darkness ultimately leads to a dawn in which the vision of God is deepened and enriched.”

In his sermon, Abbott argues that depression may actually be “a signal of something in our lives to which we need to pay attention.”  Perhaps an issue related to our health needs our attention: our eating and sleeping habits, our hormones, or other physical concerns.  Perhaps some deep-seeded feeling or grief or guilt or inadequacy needs to be addressed.  Perhaps it is a serious spiritual concern: a drifting away from God, or God using the time of dryness to re-orientate our lives or to give us a new commission and calling in life.

Abbott includes a quote from Elizabeth Sherrill, a woman who has struggled with depression intermittently in her life.  She says, “A crisis, when it shows us our need for help, can be good news.”