This Sunday we will also be continuing in the Story. We will be focusing on the truth that Jesus is Lord. He is not an ordinary man. There is no other person in all of history who is like Jesus. There’s a couple of questions that I’d like to pose to you that come from the book “Exploring the Story” by Adam Barr. Think about these as you prepare to come to worship this Sunday.1. C.S. Lewis commented, “You must make your choice. Either this man [Jesus] was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” How does this chapter of the Story substantiate this quote from Lewis?
By Jeremy HoekstraThis Sunday we are on Chapter 15 of The Story which means we are about halfway through our journey this year. I think one of the greatest things that we can see thus far is that there are common themes that keep appearing: God speaks and things happen. Humans wander from and rebel against God. God welcomes humans back. We can see some consistencies in God’s character through this as well. God has a desire to be in relationship with his creation particularly with his greatest creation: humans. God is powerful and creative. God is just. God is merciful. As we look toward the New Testament, we can see that these are still apart of God’s character. God does not change. He is the same...from everlasting to everlasting. This week we’ll be taking a look at “God’s Messengers” or the prophets. Chapter 15 opens with a man named Elijah (which interestingly means "The LORD is my God"). Probably the most famous story that Elijah is a part of is the challenge against the god Baal. Altars of wood are built and the real god will set one on fire. Elijah is so confident in God that he even drenches his altar with water. And sure enough, Elijah prays and God responds by sending down fire and setting that thing ablaze! Baal is no where to be found. Our God is the one, true God. There is no other like him. Human beings are notorious for making false gods, though. We’ll make a god out of anything: money, food, status, other religions, other people, the Detroit Pistons...(did I say that?). It’s easy to do. But there really is only one God who is true, good, powerful, just, holy and worthy of our adoration and praise. That is the God of the Bible. As you prepare to come to worship this week, take stock of your life. Are there other gods that you serve? Are there things that are getting close to being gods in your life? If there are, confess those to the true God and declare him as the only God of your life. And take steps towards removing those false gods from your life. A good place to start is by asking for forgiveness and asking Jesus and the Holy Spirit for help. Then maybe confide in someone and ask them to help you and to hold you accountable. You won’t be able to do it on your own. But with the work of God and the support of other people those false gods don’t stand a chance. Much like Baal in the story we’re reading this week.
Christmas is here and gone…in many ways, so quickly. I know, I know – the music in the malls and all of the marketing that grabs a hold of one Christmas theme or character or tune, and the ubiquitous Christmas music (again, of whatever form) in some ways goes on and on.
But for the worshiper of God and the believer in Jesus, Christmas seems to come and go quickly. I was pulling my garbage can out to the curb last Tuesday morning (December 27) and looked off to the front porch of a home not far from mine, and was rather astounded to see a Christmas tree all wrapped in its disposable white plastic wrapping. That quickly, we’re past it!
All of which is to invite you to slow up a bit…still. Whether all of your Christmas decorations are already packed away or not, linger a bit near the manger and consider the wonder of what God did in sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Wonder at what God did when the Word became flesh!
On Christmas Day at First Covenant Grand Rapids, I sought to draw connections between Solomon and the Temple he built and the Incarnation of the Son of God. I just discovered a blog reflection on the very same theme from Christmas Eve 2011. Don Sweeting is a long-time acquaintance of mine, being a number of years ahead of me at both Deerfield High School and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. A Presbyterian church pastor, he is president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL…and a thought-provoking writer. Take a look at his reflections on Glory in the House: Solomon Sheds Light on the Incarnation.
At Christmas time, for followers after Jesus, and believers in who he was and is and what he did, the stories surrounding his conception and birth are loved and beautiful and mysterious and powerful. We really do love to hear Matthew 1: 18-25, and the story of the magi in chapter 2. We revel in the conception announcements of Luke 1 to barren Elizabeth and virgin Mary. And we are specially taken with the vivid yet simple description of all that surrounds Jesus’ birth in Luke 2.
But when Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth, he doesn’t begin with the angel’s visit to Joseph. Rather, he begins, in a most Jewish, Chronicles-like way, with a genealogy. With a family tree. With a select (because it is not complete) list of names. Some are familiar; many are not. But why?
As we have been going through The Story over the past few months as a church – from Creation to where we are now, on the precipice of a divided kingdom – every few weeks in Sunday worship we watch a re-cap video. A way of summing up the story so far, quickly.
That’s what the genealogy in Matthew is. It is not our first way of doing a recap. But it’s an effective one, especially when we know the story behind the names. The genealogy of Jesus is, in many ways, shorthand for the whole Old Testament.
Christopher Wright is an Old Testament scholar and missionary leader, who serves as the International Director of the Langham Partnership (known as John Stott Ministries in the US), and is a key leader in the international missions world, particularly through his involvement with the Cape Town 2010 Lausanne meetings. Chris visited with us at First Covenant several years ago, and preached on Sunday morning. In his book Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Chris reacts to Matthew’s genealogy with this question: “Why can’t we just get on with the story?” He answers it like this:
Because, says Matthew, you won’t understand that story -- the one I am about to tell you -- unless you see it in the light of a much longer story which goes back for many centuries but leads up to the Jesus you want to know about. And that longer story is the history of the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians came to call the Old Testament…The Old Testament tells the story which Jesus completes.”
Just the fact that Matthew starts the story of Jesus, and introduces his words about his coming and his birth with the genealogy, is a reminder of why we are working through the big story-line of the Bible this year – because you won’t understand the story of Jesus unless you see it in the light of this much longer one.
Dr. Chris Wright, Langham Partnership’s International Director, is an Irishman who lives in London, with his heart firmly planted in the Majority World! Chris, with his wonderful wife Liz alongside, has pastored a local parish church, taught at a top seminary in India, served as President of a key Christian college, and authored 20 books. Chris was Chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group from 2005 – 2011, and Chair of the Statement Working Group at the Third Lausanne Congress, 2010, which produced The Cape Town Commitment. He is also Chair
Solomon is remembered for many things – wisdom, wives, and being in many ways an astounding person overseeing a nation that was at its most astounding. The Queen of Sheba said, when she saw it all…and talked to Solomon himself – “I haven’t heard the half of it!”
But King Solomon, from early on in his public life (and presumably in his private life as well) showed signs of less than full devotion. Scripture warns us in multiple places of not being double-minded, or trying to keep our eyes on more than one ultimate thing. Check out Jesus’ words in the last half of Matthew 6, or James’ words in the beginning of James 1.
I’ve appreciated the reflections of Philip Graham Ryken on this king. Ryken (writer, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and current president of Wheaton College) has just written a book, King Solomon, that is subtitled: The Temptations of Money, Sex, and Power.
Ryken describes Solomon – and in the process, he writes about us:
…while it is true that Solomon was a king after David’s heart, a man who loved the Lord, it is also true that he had a wandering heart that loved money, sex, and power. The warning signs of Solomon’s tragic downfall are present from the very beginning of his story, which is not just black and white, but colored by shades of gray.
In other words, Solomon was a lot like us. He loved the Lord, as every Christ does. But he also had some other loves in his life – sinful passions that had the power to destroy his spiritual leadership. He did not love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6: 4). So while there is some truth to the view that his life started out spiritually positive before ending up negative, the deeper trust is that, like every believer, he was always as much a sinner as he was a saint.
We face the same struggle. In the famous words of Martin Luther, each of us is simul justus et peccator – at the same time both righteous and a sinner. Through faith in Jesus Christ, and on the basis of his perfect life and atoning death, we are perfectly righteous in the sight of God. Yet for as long as we live in this sinful word, we will continue to struggle with remaining sin. This means that the warning signs of our own tragic downfall are present right in our hearts.
What sinful desires have the power to destroy your life the way money and sex and power divided Solomon’s kingdom? We too are tempted by the purchase of money, the pleasure of sex, and the seduction of power. We face these temptations every time we reach for a credit car, get on the Internet, or start figuring out the best way tog et what we want out of other people. To resist these temptations and live by the love of God, we need the spiritual wisdom to choose what is right.”
That realization sends me back to James. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1: 5-8).
Solomon prayed for wisdom. God answered his prayer. But somehow in his life, he forgot the ABCs of wisdom, which he himself once knew: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9: 10).
Last week I got an email from a pastor in California who is following – a bit, and from a distance – what we are doing with The Story. This pastor, with a connection to our congregation through marriage, has lead a church plant in the LA area. I was curious what I would find online about him, and so googled for a moment or two, and came across an interview with him. In response to a question concerning people or books or what have you that have had a significant influence and impact on him, bookwise he responded “Easily Spiritual Leadership by Oswald Sanders.”
J. Oswald Sanders, a native of New Zealand, was a missionary statesman, specifically a leader of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (once named the China Inland Mission), and a writer and preacher. He lived from 1902 to 1992.
Reading Joseph’s reference to that book lead me to grab my father’s old and underlined copy. I started reading the first couple of chapters, and was immediately struck by how relevant it was to read Sander’s words on leadership in conjunction with reading The Story, and particularly the portion dealing with Israel’s hunger for a king. It is important to not make characters like Saul and David into cartoons or stick men or symbols. They were both very real and very complex leaders. Still, I couldn’t help but think of the two of them, as I found on page 21 Sander’s columns and comparisons on Natural and Spiritual leadership. What do you think of this?
Natural leadership and spiritual leadership have many points of similiarity, but there are some respects in which they may be antithetical. This is seen when some of their dominant characteristics are set over against one another.
Self-confident Confident in God
Knows men Also knows God
Makes own decisions Seeks to find God’s will
Originates own methods Finds and follows God’s methods
Enjoys commanding others Delights to obey God
Motivated by personal Motivated by love for God and man
Part of what it means to have a heart for God is to center your life around God. A leader who centers on God is very different from one who does not.
Consider your own life, and any leadership roles you have or leadership tasks you live out. And consider whether your heart is a heart for God by making use of Sander’s characteristics. Take a look…and think…and pray.
At First Covenant this year, we are reading and experiencing The Story – a book that seeks to reproduce the big, overarching story-line of the Bible. Some weeks ago, as we were reading the chapter titled “Wandering” – which details the experiences of God’s people as they wandered between Egyptian slavery and Promised Land blessing – I was reading in a commentary on the biblical book Numbers. Iain Duguid teaches at Westminster Seminary in California. I especially appreciated his words from near the beginning of his book. See if this does not still present a challenge, struggle and danger in our own lives today:
What are the chief temptations of life in the wilderness? The first temptation is surely the danger of losing the plot. The people of Israel were constantly tempted to doubt that there really was a Promised Land ahead. All they could see with their eyes was the barrenness of the wilderness. All they could hear with their ears was the howling wasteland around them. All they could taste on their tongues was the hunger and thirst of the wilderness. The wilderness was very real, and the obstacles in terms of opposition and lack of resources were very visible, while the Promised Land seemed very remote. Life must often have seemed to be a succession of completely unrelated and random events that were getting them nowhere. They surely felt as if their whole lives were slipping away from them in one meaningless round of unsatisfying experiences.
Isn’t that somewhat like our lives? The surface structure of our lives often appears chaotic and random, just one frustration after another, like the surface narrative of the book of Numbers. You wake up, you go to work, you go to home, you go to bed. There is never enough time to get everything done, never enough money to meet all your commitments, never enough of you left for yourself or to give to others. Events that God could so easily have orchestrated to make your life more straightforward regularly become tangled and twisted. This life is often a chaotic wilderness.
So what is life all about? Sometimes we are tempted to believe that the wilderness we see is really all there is: that when all is said and done, there is no guiding purpose or meaning this world. Our lives appear as meaningless as the game of cricket is the uninitiated: days full of incomprehensible activity that at the end of them accomplish exactly nothing. Yet the deeper structure of the book of Numbers points us in a different direction. On the surface our lives may seem to wander from one place to the next, driven apparently off-course by our grumbling and sin and the vicissitudes of fat3e. Yet under and through and behind it all, there is a guiding hand, a divine author, who holds the whole grand narrative in his hand and brings it around to the ending he himself has written for us. There is a story line to our personal stories, an intricate plot that will, after all of life’s twists and turns, end up with him bringing us into the place he has prepared for us. That is the reality to which we need to firmly hold.”