Luke’s Story of Christmas (Luke 2:1-20)

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Someone said to me recently: “Of course, I’m a  Luke 2 traditional Nativity kinda guy.” My (rather mean) response was, “I’m a traditional Mark 1 Christmas kinda guy.” Because, of course, Mark doesn’t mention Christmas at all. But the Luke comment is apposite. Luke sets out the stall of his presentation of the story of Jesus like a straightforward historian who has examined all the available sources and put everything “in order” (as he puts it) and consequently, much of what happens in our “traditional nativity” plays comes from his gospel account.

I use the word “much” because though Luke draws the main outline, we insert slices of Matthew into the mix too, with a few bits of stray much later additions. So, for example, we have the shepherds from Luke’s story, plus the Magi from Matthew’s and we add the totally bogus info from a Victorian hymn about “three kings”!

One of the problems is that we miss the story that Luke is attempting to tell. For he has a particular voice, and to be faithful readers of the Bible, it’s important to listen.

For a start, in total contrast to Matthew’s narrative, which tells the story from Joseph’s point of view, Luke tells it from that of Mary. It’s a daring choice of stance, in a day when women were not even permitted to bear witness in a court of law. And yet, it is part of the whole story of Luke’s gospel presentation, to show the role of women and their importance and value within the kingdom of God. And, even by itself, just here in the birth narrative, it’s a powerful counterpoint to Matthew.

It’s not that one is right and the other wrong. It’s that together they produce harmony and balance. And that’s what we miss when we just tell our standardised nativity narrative and miss the nuance. We make a Happy Meal when God has prepared an A La Carte Gourmet Special.

But there’s much more. Take a look at Luke 2: In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while  Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register…”

The opening words “In those days” bring notice of a pivotal dramatic moment. The scene is set in Galilee, not Rome and Jerusalem, in  the power bases of Gentile and Jew. Luke loves pulling surprises.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And don’t miss the point of the bald birth announcement. He is firstborn – he fulfils prophecy, which confirms Mary’s announcement and so claims the one thing Joseph has to offer – the first son’s birthright as a member of the house of David.

And Luke carefully crafts the birth of Jesus  to parallel that of his cousin John to make another point:  we are enabled to experience the intimacy of  family and the inner workings of a devout Jewish community celebrating John’s birth. That’s the microcosm. But the other side -the macrocosm-  is  expressed by comparisons to the universal and cosmic responses to Jesus’ birth by angels and shepherds…. That is to say, redemption is not merely for one ethnic group, but for all creation. It’s “glad tidings” to the ends of the earth.

No words are wasted and no side issues are cluttering up Luke’s narrative drive. Instead Luke shapes the political context with the promise of Israel’s deity. Sacred confession is mixed in with societal conflict. So the announcement of the arrival of prosperity is not made to the governor or the Emperor, but to peasant shepherds; not to elected officials, but hired hands. The Upside-down kingdom is being inaugurated.

The Governor’s census locates the birth in Bethlehem, but rather than a demonstration of Quirinius’ control, Luke narrates this as the achievement of God’s promise from Micah 5:2. All the echoes of politics and religious culture merge as the listener negotiates the promise of good news between the Greco-Roman world’s imperial cult and Isaiah’s vision of the coming of the Lord to bring salvation and establish his dominion of peace.

In a time of political posturing and an inequitable economic system, the gravitas of the impending promise is laid against the existing chaos. How wide will this the peace spread? Who will receive its benefits? Luke blurs the holy with what is ordinarily human, to announce the presence of God with us. As we retell the story today, we have to think about that – think about the powerful juxtaposition of God and politics, oppressive power, refugees, borders and God’s panorama of peace. It’s as ugly and as relevant as that. As G.K. Chesterton put it: “Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”

And Buechner struck the same note: “For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.”

For we are homeless too,  till we find our home in Him.

What God does “for us” always arises out of a covenant to be “with us” always. God with us is not a political promise to provide “for” a balanced budget over the next decade. God is with us in the present now: “with” those in poverty, the forgotten, and oppressed. Like the shepherds, we are witnesses to the presence of God among us.

And when we see what God is doing, we are summoned to replicate, to go and likewise do. Luke prepares us for such corresponding behaviour by demonstrating the hopes of Israel in the drama of the birth of both John and Jesus. He draws the parallels, underlines the normalness of it,  claims a constant supernatural imprimatur and flags up the inclusive nature of the divine promise that extends goodwill to all. With this narrative move, Luke expounds John’s ministry as focused on Israel while Jesus’ ministry fulfils Israel’s universal purpose.

The ancient story Luke recorded is dramatised in the church’s witness today. We must become ready to understand that our celebrating the birth of Jesus in this global seasonal holiday extends the drama narrated by Luke. The story continues in our lives and in our witness.

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Christmas according to Matthew

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To make a conservative guess, there is perhaps a short generation separating the writing of Paul’s letters (and the Gospel of Mark) with the writing of the Gospel of Matthew. Whereas Paul never mentions Christmas, apart from the tiny reference in Gal 4:4,5 (“born of a woman, born under the law…”), Matthew has a great deal to say.

But he tells the story from a very particular perspective.

Of course, everybody recounts facts from their own point of view. It’s impossible to do otherwise. If four people witnessed a traffic accident, they would offer four points of view, depending on the point from which they viewed the accident.

There are three things that strike you about the view of Jesus’s birth from where Matthew was standing. It was a male-dominated perspective. It was rooted in Judaism. It took dreams and prophecy very seriously.

There’s much more to say, but in brief, these three factors are strongly present in Matthew’s narrative. For a start, he tells the entire story from inside Joseph’s head (if I may put it that way). Joseph is described as dikaios which means “righteous.” But it means a whole lot more than moral or “fine upstanding citizen.” It means that he was rigorous in following the codes of the Old Testament. He was an upholder of the ancient traditions. This makes it all the more challenging for him when he begins to encounter God in a series of dreams that force him way out of his comfort zone, into new situations to protect what God is doing in Mary. The dreams lead him to marry Mary, despite the possible stigma of her pregnancy; to take the child to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous intent; and to return to Nazareth after Herod’s death. Every dream (like those of Joseph in the Old Testament) is designed to protect and prosper the people of the covenant.

And it is this sense of covenant and history that gives rise to the most remarkable part of Matthew’s Christmas: the telephone directory. Actually, it’s a long list of forty two names that sketch the story of Israel from Abraham to Jesus. The original readers would have perhaps known it by heart. But to us it often remains unread.

And that’s a pity.

The genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham – the man to whom God made three big promises. Those promises were land, people and God’s presence.

God kept those promises by giving a son to Abraham (people), bringing the Israelites to Canaan (land) and by establishing first the tabernacle and then the temple amongst the people (blessing).

Have you ever realised that Jesus actually fulfils all these promises in an even better way? Through his sacrifice, Jesus brings us into the promised land of eternity with God. He also brings us into God’s family, and forms bonds between us and other Christians – our family. Finally, when we accept Jesus, we are brought into God’s presence – both now with the Holy Spirit and for eternity in the new creation with God.

Rahab: God uses all types of people

Do you remember the story of Rahab? Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. When the Israelites approached Jericho, in the promised land, Joshua sent some spies into the city to scope out the competition. But the Jericho authorities discovered the spies were there, and attempted to capture them.

However, Rahab hid the spies instead! Despite her profession, God used Rahab to bring the Israelites victory over Canaan. And of course, Canaan became the land where Jesus was born and died and rose again. Plus, Rahab ended up being the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth.

David: the promised king is coming

One of Jesus’ most famous ancestors was the second king of Israel, David. In many ways, David was an ideal king: wise, humble and a good leader. But then he messed up in a big way. He slept with someone else’s wife, then murdered the husband to cover up his sin.

David’s failure as the king demonstrates that no human could possibly be a perfect king. But, at the same time, during David’s reign, God tells the prophet Samuel to tell David, “When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13)

David was an imperfect king, but a perfect, eternal king was coming.

Exile: God is faithful no matter what

Several generations after David, the Israelite people were constantly sinning against God and rejecting his rule. So, God gave them over to the Babylonians, who took them into exile.

However, as the genealogy of Jesus demonstrates, the line did not die out during the exile. The people returned to the land of Israel and, four centuries on…

Joseph and Mary: parents of Jesus

The birth of Jesus was a miracle – he was the child of the Holy Spirit, carried in the womb of a young virgin and adopted as the son of an anxious but righteous man.

From his great-great-great-great-great-great… (you get the idea!) grandfather, Jesus’ life and death were planned. For the whole history of the world, and the whole history of this family, God knew how he would redeem unfaithful Israel, and the rest of the world.

And that’s why you shouldn’t skip the genealogy! It’s full of the disreputable, the outsiders and the problem-people. In fact, the family Jesus came from anticipated the family he came for!

So Matthew tells the Israel story -the covenant tradition. He tells the Joseph-story and it’s a model for how Christian husbands should act and lead their families in godly dependence. And in chapter 2 he flags up a totally opposite perspective. Herod (as a non-Jew) represents evil power and political chicanery that would stop at nothing to destroy what God is doing. The “thief” (usurper) comes to steal and to kill and to destroy.

But God – that familiar phrase – But God is on the move. He speaks in past prophecy and present dreams, (“A virgin will conceive”…. “Bethlehem…” “Out of Egypt….“). God is not deflected from His mighty purposes by the vicious bullies who dominate political life.

This is Matthew’s Christmas. It reflects the Messiah whose story it begins -a righteous Jewish man of the royal house of Judah who stands in the very centre of all the ancient prophecies and brings them into being…

 

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CHRISTMAS READINGS: “The Time was Ripe” (Gal 4:4-5)

 

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“The time is ripe” is one of those phrases we inherit from the imaginative genius of Shakespeare (in Henry IV). The Biblical version is in Galatians 4: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

The fascinating thing about this verse is that it’s Paul’s total contribution to Christmas. Isn’t that interesting? Other than this snippet, Paul makes no reference to Christmas in his letters at all. So, quite clearly the first generation of Christians (Paul is writing in the early fifties) didn’t celebrate it.

In fact, there’s no reference for centuries. In 336 A.D., the Western Church chose December 25 to celebrate the coming of Christ into the world. In English, this day was known as “Christ’s Mass” which became “Christmas.” The Eastern Church chose January 6. The day was named Epiphany, meaning “appearance.” Eventually the period from December 25 to January 6 became known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Most of what we call “Christmas” stems from Hollywood advertising campaigns in the late 1930s plus a few of Charles Dickens’ cheesier fantasies.

Consumerism and guilt-trips.

But there is a vitally important kernel of truth that the early church did pass on! This is it! So don’t “Bah Humbug” too quick. Paul refers to three essential ingredients that make Christmas important. Let’s go beneath the icing:

  • The season is God’s GO. It’s the time of His sending. And He sends so that we can be sent…
  • The sender is God. Christmas is God’s YES. Someone said “Jesus is God’s way of refusing to give up his dream for the world.”
  • The son is God’s BEST. Christmas declares it as a metaphor for how He wants us to be before Him. “God sent his Son…that we might receive …sonship.”

The word “season” is vital in the purposes of God. “When the set time had fully come” suggests a delicate precision, an orchestration of events. You just “know” when the time is right.

I remember an art teacher helping us to “know when to stop” in the application of paint to a canvas.

So how had the “set time fully come“?

Oh, in a hundred ways. David Jeremiah’s book Why The Nativity? marshals the evidence:

What was it about the vast Roman Empire that was so ideal for the coming of Christ?

The Romans themselves were part of the answer. For the first time in history, the Mediterranean world—the cradle of civilization—was unified. Alexander the Great, a Greek, had been the first to bridge so many nations, but the Romans had built a foundation that would last longer. They had constructed the famous Roman roads (“All roads lead to Rome”) that would allow messengers to travel safely with news and ideas, as Paul and the first missionaries would do. Ships, too, had come of age. Egypt and Italy, Syria and Spain—so many nations shared the “highway” that the Mediterranean Sea had become. Here was yet another means for the message of Christ to spread far and wide.

There was also the Pax Romana—the “Roman peace” that endured from 27 BC until AD 180. Jesus was born in the same generation in which it began, and it meant a relatively calm environment for the lower regions of Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Egypt, and northern Africa. In a city such as Jerusalem, for example, the Jews were allowed to preserve their own faith and customs. The Romans were permissive about religions as long as there wasn’t any trouble and the Jews paid a punitive tax—fiscus Judaicus.

Stability and relative tolerance opened the world to the spread of a new idea; roads and shipping lanes made it happen quickly and efficiently. But there was another key factor: language.

The Romans had taken efficient control of much of the known world, but they were still overshadowed by their Greek predecessors in one respect: For many years, people almost everywhere continued to speak Greek. Hellenic Greek happened to be one of the most beautiful and articulate tongues the world has known. It seemed custom built for the ideas that distinguished Christian life and thought. Would the world have learned Hebrew in order to consider the claims of Christ? It’s hard to imagine. But the shared language, Greek, made it possible for Paul and others to travel to many countries and tell people the good news of the gospel without cumbersome translation.

We consider all these factors, and still we are left with an unlikelihood. After all, many other ideas were present in the world of the first century. All of them had Roman roads and peace at their disposal, along with the Greek language. But no other idea was capable of toppling the greatest empire in the history of humanity.

Consider this: An obscure teacher from a small town in a ruined country changed the world – after his death. On the Friday of his execution, his followers largely abandoned him. Yet within a generation, he was worshiped in many foreign countries. Within three centuries, his faith was the official doctrine of the empire. And today, 2.1 billion men, women, and children follow that same teacher who was put to death as a criminal.”

Truly, it was the perfect moment in history.

And if the time was right on a macro-scale of world politics, it  was also right on a micro-scale in its human and Jewish context. Jesus was “born of a woman , born under the law.” In these bald terms, Paul says precisely what was necessary, and he tells us something vital about incarnation: that it means restriction. God “emptied himself.” “God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.”It means first a physical restriction (“born of a woman“) and second a social restriction (“born under law“).

It’s like a pattern of ever decreasing circles, until you arrive at the centre, where Jesus is.

And what for? Paul is explicit. God narrowed himself down into one precise prison cell, so that we might be freed from the law, and eventually freed from the restraints of a sinful humanity.

It’s that parabola. He comes down so that we can go up. C.S. Lewis put it with characteristic brevity: “God became man so that might become a son of God.” 

This verse reminds us how.

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“The Full Force of Christ…”

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A key to dramatic spiritual growth is to recognize an amazing paradox: By accepting and actually embracing our limitations, we allow ourselves to open up to the knowledge, experience, and resurrection power of Christ.

Imagine experiencing the full force of Christ.

Though he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you...” (2 Cor 13: 4)

Throughout the letter we call 2 Corinthians, Paul contrasts the apparent and the real, the fake and the true, and the need to discriminate between the two. The main area of discussion has been the context of power and authority. Paul is dealing with a pastoral issue and has had his pastoral authority challenged. In this verse he draws a parallel: on one side is the apparent weakness of Christ on the cross and the real power of his resurrection glory. On the other side is the apparent weakness of Paul himself, which only hides the truth of God’s power in him. You may see Clark Kent, but it’s Superman beneath that mild-mannered exterior.

Here’s Peterson’s paraphrase: “You who have been demanding proof that Christ speaks through me will get more than you bargained for. You’ll get the full force of Christ, don’t think you won’t. He was sheer weakness and humiliation when he was killed on the cross, but oh, he’s alive now—in the mighty power of God! We weren’t much to look at, either, when we were humiliated among you, but when we deal with you this next time, we’ll be alive in Christ, strengthened by God.”

We have this treasure in jars of clay.” We have a tendency to forget the treasure and to focus on the jars of clay aspect, and so to dwell on our weaknesses and inadequacies. But that’s not the whole story. Obviously, we don’t pretend that we aren’t weak and inadequate – on the contrary, we have to be entirely upfront about our own sinfulness and failure. It’s silly to pretend otherwise.

But those very weaknesses prove something vital. When Paul himself came face to face with a “thorn in the flesh” which exposed his own weakness (2 Cor 12: 7-10), the Lord gave him the secret: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is is made perfect in weakness.” His strength is all we need! It cannot be otherwise. If we could manage by ourselves, we would only brag about it. “Therefore, most gladly will I rather boast in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Ron Hall put it this way: “There’s somethin’ I learned when I was homeless: Our limitation is God’s opportunity. When you get all the way to the end of your rope and there ain’t nothin you can do, that’s when God takes over…”

So we don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of the truth in the folks with whom we’re working. We’re not here to nitpick each others’ failings, or to boss people about, or to be bossed about! “The authority the Master gave me is for putting people together, not taking them apart. I want to get on with it, and not have to spend time on reprimands.”

But here’s the thing: the two sides of this have to be kept together. I have to know my weakness so that I can experience his sufficiency and strength. In my life, I find I can manage being either triumphalist and optimistic or gloomy and full of a sense of moral failure. But the Bible calls us to live in both realities -sin and grace- simultaneously.

With two amazing exceptions: the sin no longer defeats us because it itself has been defeated at the cross. “There is now therefore no condemnation!” And the triumph doesn’t inflate us and make us proud because it is not our triumph but his!

It’s a recipe for humility, and not arrogance.

But don’t go thinking, as you witness our humility, that we are wimps. “We shall live with him by the power of God toward you...”  We are empowered, and authoritative. We speak and act with the authority of the Most High. “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor 2: 1-5)

That’s the point! I can’t depend upon human wisdom for I have none. I can’t depend upon human resources for I am beset with weakness and fear. But I can live by faith in the power of God and in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit.

And that is worth something! Don’t miss out when God starts to move! There can be no restrictions on that. When people say “The Sky’s the limit!” they forget that that just isn’t true! The power of God is infinite and we’re with Him.

And that’s about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure. Greet one another with a holy embrace. All the brothers and sisters here say hello. The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

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Going after God’s “More”

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I believe that God gives you hopes and dreams in a size that’s too large, so you have something to grow into. Honour your desire for a new life. Say yes to the small inklings of interest and curiosity that present themselves each day. Choose joyful abundance in your heart and be unbounded, free, and relaxed. Be relentless with your choice and you’ll make your mark.

Listen to this:

Exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations…” (2 Cor 12:7)

This is how Paul describes himself before the pinprick of that darned “thorn in the flesh” burst his bubble. The word translated “above” here is usually translated “beyond.” Its huperballontos. It carries the effect of pouring a quart into a pint pot. There is just no way that that is going to fit! There was simply too much revelation! There was so much that I couldn’t contain it – I was virtually spilling over with the wonder of all that I saw and experienced of God. God will overflow your cup, so grab the biggest one you can find.

Paul’s words reminded me of John Wesley’s famous comment: “It is hard indeed to find words in the language of men, to explain the deep things of God.”

But now and then, Wesley attempted to describe those “abundance-of-revelations” moments:

“With Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing in instant prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, `We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”
Journal, Jan. 1, 1739)

“Many more were brought to the birth. All were in floods of tears, cried, prayed, roared aloud, all of them lying on the ground.” (Journal, July 28, 1762)

“When I began to pray, the flame broke out. Many cried aloud, many sank to the ground, many trembled exceedingly.” ( Journal, September 8, 1784)

There’s a wonderful passage in Matthew 7 that gives Christ’s encouragement to us to seek and ask for the good things of God, to go after more:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:7–12)

This is one of the most motivating passages in all the Bible to reach out for God’s “More.” It’s an argument that runs like this: Even bad dads give good things to their children when they ask. God is not a bad dad. He’s the best. Therefore, much more will he give good things to his children when we ask. I love that argument. Jesus really did want us to feel hopeful when we pray. He is trying to overcome our skepticism about God’s generosity. Paul described the thorn in the flesh -sure- but don’t forget the preceding “abundance of revelations”! Don’t you want all that God has for you? If not, why not?

There’s another reason why this is so encouraging. He says that a good dad gives “good things” to his children when they ask for what they want. He does not say that he always gives these little children precisely what they ask for. What father ever does? Or ever would? We love our children too much for that.

I wouldn’t give my seven year-old a chain-saw, for example. He wouldn’t be able to handle it. The time will come for that. Maybe when he’s eleven or so?

I wouldn’t give my four year-old a mouldy biscuit just because he wanted it. I want “good” stuff for him. I want the best.

So when Jesus says he will give good things, he means that. Only good things. And only he knows ultimately what is good for us. And notice, when he says dads don’t give stones when asked for bread, he does not say dads always give bread. Just no stones. And when he says, dads don’t give snakes for fish, he does not say dads always give fish. Just no snakes.

The point is this: God ignores no prayers from his children. And he gives us what we ask for, or something better (not necessarily easier), if we trust him.

One more point: The word “so” at the beginning of verse 12 means that verse 12 is an inference from this teaching on prayer. “So” — since God always gives you what you need when you ask — “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” In other words, because God loves and cares for you so much, you will be able to care about others the same way you care about yourself. Which means that confidence in prayer is one of the keys to love.

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.

 

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Coming into God’s Solution

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“It is true that I am an ordinary, weak human being, but I don’t use human plans and methods to win my battles.  I use God’s mighty weapons, not those made by men, to knock down the devil’s strongholds. These weapons can break down every proud argument against God and every wall that can be built to keep men from finding him.”

This is the paraphrase of our key text (2 Cor 10) in the Living Bible. It reminds us that though we are responsible, we are not powerless. God has given us all we need.

Once we learn to replace lying thoughts with God’s thoughts from the promises in the Bible, we can pull down those strongholds and cast down those “imaginations” that seem to always defeat us. We don’t fiddle around or treat them dismissively. We identify them and confront them, just as if we saw our little child reaching to pet a dangerous dog.

We simply refuse to allow contact.

We step in and deal with the threat. It’s up to us. God has given us the power to tackle potential threats and He expects us to do it. Christ died that we might have that authority, and He expects us to use it. And so, we will.

We have all we need in Him. We have “God’s mighty weapons,” and not mere “human plans and methods” for this warfare in the thought life. We come to each battle in the authority of the word of God, cleansed by the blood of Jesus and bearing the name of Jesus.  We have those three undefeatable resources: “It is written;” “It is finished” and “In His name.

We are not fending for ourselves.

And when we stand up to fight, heaven stands with us. But we must decide to stand! So, do so!

  • Rise and challenge the strongholds.
  • Cast down those imaginations.
  • Condemn every tongue or thought that rises against you.

Refuse to allow negative, destructive, devilish thoughts to linger in your mind to meditate on them. Refuse to allow contact.

I have been a working pastor for thirty years now, and am all too familiar with situations where sin has destroyed lives, like a divorce ripping a family apart because of one lying thought that has been allowed house room.

That which you tolerate will eventually dominate.

When one continual thought lingers it becomes a stronghold, it allows others, like it, to also dominate the thinking. This leads to negative action and all the misery and heartache that inevitably follow.

It is essential to recognise the scale of the warfare that swirls around us. Marriages, families, children -especially children- face a terrible onslaught every day. Young people slide into addiction, self-harm, and suicide. Relationships are poisoned and broken. Churches are divided, ministries wrecked and the Gospel discredited.

And every day, countless believers experience mental and spiritual torment, suffering pain, disease, and physical sickness. We have become engulfed in a slough of low expectation.

But the claim of the Bible is that there is a solution. The battle of the mind is won when hearts are made new.

“Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and believing is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” – Titus 1:15

The point is that God has a different way of approaching problems to the world. The world says: “Get the circumstances right and life will be perfect. Perfect bank balance, perfect health, perfect family, perfect teeth… and you get perfect people.” Right? Dead flat wrong. God says: “The problem is not around you but inside you.” It’s like a doctor treating the wound but not noticing the infection. The problem is beneath the surface. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You make the cup clean on the outside but the inside you are full of dirt.”

But once you get the inside right, the outside follows. It’s an astonishing principle, that in an important sense: Everyone is the creator of their own world. A rotten apple is disgusting to me but delightful to a worm. Our natures are different, so we see things differently. To the generous all things are rosy, to the tight-fisted everything is suspicious! We all wear spectacles, you see – You know that expression: “rose-coloured spectacles”– we each look at the world in a way determined by the tint of the spectacles that we wear. She looks at the river and says, “Time like an ever-rolling stream” and I look and say: “Look at that rusty bicycle!” We’re two people. We see things differently, depending on what’s inside us. Even our moods create changes. Get up on the wrong side of bed and you groan and sulk all day. Get up in love and you bounce for joy. Your heart paints your world for weddings or funerals, depending on your disposition. And your heart creates a difference. Some go through life like Uriah Heep, finding deceit and treachery all around.

The truth is that you unerringly detect the vice with which you’re most familiar!

Love, on the other hand, “keeps no record of wrongs”! It “hopes all things, believes all things.” It believes the best of the world around it, and discovers it too.

I’m not saying, “It’s all in the mind”, just that there is a spark of God in every heart that responds to God. The light that lightens everyone has come into the world and it cannot be overcome by darkness. And when you see God’s world aright, things come into a pattern of rightness, but when your life is disordered and conflicted, everything seems out of joint.  The same world that Ecclesiastes described as “Vain…empty…meaningless” God pronounced “very good.” What makes the difference? The difference lies within.

The world you complain of as corrupt and impure, as meaningless, is not God’s world, but YOUR world.

But the opposite is true too. A pure heart changes those around it. I’ve seen it in my life with my wife and even more so in my life with my Jesus. Jesus gathered people around him and they were changed in the process. He gave them new names like the promise of a new nature. Zacchaeus spent half an hour with him and was radically –financially- transformed! When Jesus is lifted up, He draws people to Himself. This principle runs through life. Even in you. Even in me.

We don’t need a new world, we need new hearts. 2 Cor 5:17 declare that “If anyone is in Christ then he’s a new creation!” Brand new. Slate clean. And it changes the world.

And this is the essential truth – it’s the starting grid for tackling those strongholds. Without that assured experience of being “in Christ” then all I have said can only be interpreted as “Try harder.”

But “with Christ all things are possible.” And real victory comes by filling our minds with the mighty creative thoughts found in the Word of Almighty God.

Begin, today. Set the clock. Take your Bible and write out the promises of God. Fill your heart and home with all that God has for you. Gather that knowledge and “Grace and peace [will] be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”  Think about your physical health, moral victory, family peace, financial prosperity, and all the other things you desire in life. Base these thoughts on definite promises of God. Think them…talk them…act on them! This is what the Lord meant when He stated, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov 23:7).

And once you know the truth, act upon it!

Reflection

Lord, we come before you, with a new sense of expectation rising inside. Once we see this for ourselves, the truth cannot be unseen. So, Lord, help us now to see it clearly, and to claim all that you have for us.

We claim only what you have promised! We claim victory in the battle of the mind because we’ve seen the reason for defeat.

And we have found the way to change things.

Enable and empower us to enter a new freedom, a new victory, and a new joy in your presence.

Amen

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Accepting Responsibility

Image result for what you do comes from what you think

“You may believe that you are responsible for what you do, but not for what you think. The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think.  (Marianne Williamson)

So, guard your thinking! 

Satan’s primary attack is in the mind. He begins his battle in our thoughts and thought-processes. Few believers make much of this, even whilst acknowledging it as obvious. It seems that we are content to just let it happen.

Consequently, our guard is down much of the time. We allow the media a field day in the making and shaping of our minds and the minds of our children. A decade or so back, a Nielsen Report concluded that American children age 2-5 watch an average of 32 hours of TV per week.

If anything, it sounds like a low estimate.

And a normal adult is bombarded with media images, TV, radio, internet, in an unstoppable media Tsunami of news and views 24/7. Theoretically, the adult is more discerning than the child, but the filter can quickly get clogged. Even our own thinking can get cluttered and confused:

“Sometimes we have thoughts that even we don’t understand. Thoughts that aren’t even true—that aren’t really how we feel—but they’re running through our heads anyway because they’re interesting to think about.

If you could hear other people’s thoughts, you’d overhear things that are true as well as things that are completely random. And you wouldn’t know one from the other. It’d drive you insane. What’s true? What’s not? A million ideas, but what do they mean?”  (Jay Asher)

The Bible speaks of “the weapons of our warfare” which are to be utilised in day-to-day intellectual war-zones in the battlefield of the mind. 2 Cor 10:4 suggests that the area of our thoughts is a battlefield and the warfare begins in our thinking processes before spreading into other areas of our lives like a computer virus, affecting the whole.

That powerful phrase in the old Authorised Version – “Casting down imaginations,” – translates as “We pull down thoughts (Romans 2:15), and bring to nothing hostile deliberations, resolutions, plans, calculations, and the like, raising themselves like fortresses against Christ.

We are responsible ourselves for dealing with a whole raft of negative nonsense, pulling out the rubbish as if you’re de-cluttering an attic.

There’s stuff that’s redundant and useless, past its sell-by date, and not worth keeping. It’s just cluttering up your head-space and preventing clear thought.

But that word “imagination” is very telling. The Bible tells us that we have “the mind of Christ,” which suggests a new model of thinking. An Old Testament picture of that comes in the poetry of David in the book of Psalms, and the statement: “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.” (Psalm 101:3)

Wicked imaginations are from the devil. We are to pull down Satan’s strongholds and cast down his thoughts, which produce wicked imaginations. 

The antidote is also there in the book of Psalms: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord.” (Psalm 19:14).

The meditation of our hearts—or our thought lives—should be acceptable to God. Win the battle in your mind and you will rejoice every day of your life in the victory God gives you over the enemy.

But this is more than a call to “Try harder” (though that call is never redundant and always apt). The only way to counter that “evil imagination” is to provide alternative content.

 

 

Reflection

 

Paul’s point in Phil 4:8 was the provision of alternative content! : “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

It’s a total replacement diet.

This is not a diet supplement, as if you can eat all that junk food, add sprouts and be virtuous. On the contrary, it’s a total replacement diet. Instead of feasting on gossip, lies and innuendo, you are nourished on truth and honour, goodness and kindness. Instead of feeling slightly sick and headachy because you’ve over-indulged in malice, cruel jokes and unforgiveness, you learn to drink the clean clear water of grace and honesty.

And it tastes wonderful.

 

 

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