Friday, April 30, 2010

Why Was Mary so Young?

I am not Catholic, but I do think Mary was exceptional. I want to show you why, but to do so I need to mention Moses and Gideon. All three of these individuals have something in common: they received special messages from God.

While tending flocks in Midian, Moses saw a peculiar site. A bush was burning nearby and being quite bored with the usual bland desert scenery he let his curiosity get the better of him. God had a message for Moses that day and you can read about it in Exodus chapters three and four. Moses believed that God was calling him to a special task, but he did not WANT to do it. He tried everything he could think of to get out of it, and I wonder if I would have done differently had I been wearing his sandals.

Gideon also received a message from the Lord. You can read this fascinating story in Judges chapters six and seven. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and somewhat ironically said, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." Mighty warrior? Gideon didn't think so, but as he was patient with Moses, the Lord was patient with  Gideon. After putting forth some of the usual objections, he devised a rather unique test for God--a fleece test. It went like this, Gideon would put out a sheep skin on the ground and examine it in the morning. If the fleece was wet and the ground was dry then he would have his proof. God acquiesced. The next night however, Gideon was not satisfied, so he asked God to reverse the results for the next night. I think he was looking for a false positive much like a teenage girl taking her third pregnancy test. But, again God played along. Finally, Gideon went to battle.

Now we turn to Mary. She was by far the youngest of the three, and for that reason could be thought somewhat nieve. Regardless, she had a particular faith that is astonishing. She trusted God, plain and simple. I believe one of the most remarkable verses in the Bible is in Luke chapter one: "'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.'" To be honest, this is a shocker. But, I am no longer as young as she was then.

Theologians differ slightly on the supposed age of Mary when she received this message, but it seems she was not older than sixteen and could have easily been as young as twelve. I have a theory that God chose such a young person to bear such a huge responsibility because anyone older might have responded like Moses or Gideon. I think this is something all adults should find sobering. Did not Jesus say that those who wanted to see the kingdom needed "faith like a child?" (see Matthew 18:3)

Simple trust in God can easily erode over time. Subtly we replace it with rationality and personal experience, and lose our ability to simply do what we know God says to do. Do you object to this? In First Corinthians chapter thirteen and verse eleven Paul said that when he was a child, he thought like a child, but when he grew older he put childish ways behind him. But, he was not talking about faith, he was talking about love.

I am not advocating checking our brains at the door whenever we sense the Lord's leading. Far from it. What I am saying is that we need to guard ourselves against unconscious faith atrophy. The best cure I know for this kind of malady is simply spending time with kids. Try it and see what happens.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Dream

Matthew 21:42

"And can it be a dream, that in the end man will find his joy only in deeds of light and mercy, and not in cruel pleasures as now, in gluttony, fornication, ostentation, boasting and envious rivalry of one with another? I firmly believe that it is not and that the time is at hand People laugh and ask: 'When will that time come and does it look like coming?; I believe that with Christ's help we shall accomplish this great thing. And how many ideas there have been on earth in the history of man which were unthinkable ten years before they appeared? Yet when their destined hour had come, they came forth and spread over the whole earth. So it will be with us, and our people will shine forth in the world, and all men will say: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner-stone of the building.'"

So said Father Zossima in Dostoevsky's Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov. It was published in 1879. The quote is from page 292 in the Barnes and Nobel Classics edition.

There will be a day when this dream becomes reality, but the Scriptures tell us that it will not be ushered in by any human efforts. The world is a ship adrift and sinking at sea with no land in sight. So it will remain until the return of Jesus Christ. His appearing alone will right the ship and guide it safe to shore. Our charge to keep is faithful service until then. He as commissioned us as salt to preserve and as points of light piercing the darkness (Matt. 5:13-14).

How then shall we respond to this? For myself I will pray thus, "Lord, make me as bright as possible. Let the light of truth, love and mercy radiate through me (2 Corinthians 4-5). Let me pursue the joy that can only be found by relinquishing my position at the helm of my life. I want you to be the captain of my soul."

See Isaiah 11, Matthew 24 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 and Revelation 19-20

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Isaiah 1:18

I know you, you know me, but what does that make us? Facebook has changed the meaning of the word friend and we are all victims. Some people I know have more than five hundred friends of this sort and it makes me wonder what happened to the word acquaintance? You are probably aware that to combat this problem Facebook invented "Top Friends," an application I refused to accept. What does that mean anyway? 

I have always envied my wife's relationships with her friends. They have a sense of longing for each other that spans the many miles that separate them. Each year they plan two or three "Girl's Weekends" and try their best to stay connected. They remind me of something C.S. Lewis wrote: "Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, 'sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.' 

I like many men have difficulties in the area of friendship. Oh, I have friends, but I don't spend time with them. We don't call each other on the phone very often and I sometimes am far too satisfied with reports from conversations our wives will have with each other. I might try giving the excuse that having young children makes getting together difficult, but Amy's example nullifies that rationale. Perhaps it's my extreme tendency toward linear thinking that gets in the way. I live in a world that's easy to get lost in. 

What I am looking for can best be summed up by the words of Isaiah 1:18.  In it the LORD says, "Come now, let us reason together." To that I say, "YES, PLEASE!"

There is hope. Within the past week I've had some great conversations (and by that I mean that my thinking has been challenged on subjects that interest me). One was with my mom. She knows me so well. She asked, "Jason, what five books are you reading right now?" My heart leaped, and I could have fallen over. It wasn't surprising because she asked me, it was because anyone asked me at all. The only people who have asked me similar questions are dead and gone. But, I know they were not the only ones of their kind.

Come now, let us reason together.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Joy of Work

A recent popular song on Christian radio says, "Come to the Father you who work, and you'll work no more." Something inside me wants to shout "Yes!" when I hear it, and at the same time, "No!" I don't know what percentage of the American work force enjoys their work, but from the conversations I have it can't be more than half. For those who are in a job that is a bore, or stressful, or disagreeable for any reason I'm sure this song is comforting, but it's not really true.

God made work before the fall and he did work himself in the act of creation (Gen. 1-2). Adam's job was to tend the Garden of Eden. He was both a laborer and manager. But, after the fall (Gen. 3) work became bent like everything else. Work was never intended to be what it has become for so many of us. Work is good in and of itself. One of the greatest human pursuits is to find satisfaction in some labor of love.

In a spiritual sense there is work to be done for the kingdom. Jesus instructed his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Luke 10:2 ) Paul  taught that the building up of the community of faith we call the church would only be accomplished "as each part does its work" (Eph. 4:16). Elsewhere he reveals that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he has prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10).

The perspective that helps me most is found in Colossians 3:23. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." This applies to work of all kinds. If I love the Lord--especially as a response to the love he has shown me--and I work for him, my work becomes a labor of love. There is therefore no work that cannot be redeemed and turned to joy as long as the work itself is ethical. For example, I don't think working in an adult bookstore qualifies as a labor of love for the Lord!

In his book, "Why America Doesn't Work," Chuck Colson claims we have lost what has been known as "the Protestant work ethic." It basically is the principle I just laid out in the preceding paragraph. Only by recovering a sense of Christian purpose and duty will we again find joy in our work as God intended. And, since we spend so much time working it might not be a bad idea to find a way to enjoy it!

Do you work? If so, why do you do it?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Resolutions, Oscar Wilde, and the Wii

Romans 6:6-7

So, how are those resolutions coming? You know, the ones you made back in December for 2010. I know, I know, it's painful to think about them. That's why so many of us aren't brave enough to even set any. Oscar Wilde said that, "Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account." Ouch! I guess it's hard to expect any different from a total hedonist. But, what is he saying here?

The sad philosopher here seems to say that men are bad and any attempts at goodness will turn out bad. Do you agree? Many do, and the result is a lack of resolutions. It's as if to say, "Why try when I know I'll fail?" You may be nodding as you look at your current resolution list. I can almost hear you thinking, nope, I didn't do that; nope, failed at that one too; why did I ever think that I could do this in the first place?"

Wilde is right to say that we have no goodness in and of ourselves. Any goodness within us is grown there by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:16). His problem was that he kept trying to overcome his wickedness by toil and sweat. Incidentally, he finally gave up trying and succumbed to all kinds of temptations.

I have a Wii fit. Whenever I turn it on it comments on my faithfulness to my workout routine. If I've neglected exercising it may mock me playfully by pretending to forget my name, or it will show my "mii" (a character you create to represent you) sleeping. What I love about the Wii fit is that it never yells at me and tells me that I'm a loser for forgetting to turn it on lately. In an upbeat voice it encourages me to adjust my goals and get going again. Why can't people be like this?

Whether you have fallen flat on your face with your eating resolution, or failed to gain victory over an area of sin in your life, it's important to remember the grace and forgiveness of God (1 John 1:9). Also, take encouragement from this reminder Paul gave the Romans:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
So, dust yourself off. Failure is a stepping stone to victory for those who overcome that self-pity look we wear sometimes. Take this moment to get back on track. Pray. Adjust your expectations and get that determined face on. The masses of humanity may be powerless over sin, but not the Christian!