Is Jesus Really the Reason for the Season?

 

Christmas is on us again!   And so, it is the time of year to get and receive gifts, spend time with family and friends, and yes, fight the annual cultural battle over what the season is about.    Every year we debate ‘happy holidays’ vs. Christmas vs. X-mas and so forth.   But this year ought to be viewed as a golden opportunity!   For this year, we have the opportunity on Christmas day to speak with our presence.   Each year Christians lament the secularization of the holiday, but I suspect, that like the frog in a kettle, we have been far more acculturated than we suspect.   And when the Holiday falls on Sunday it begins to show.   Is it really about Christ, or is it our family and relaxation?   What will you do when your Congregational time of worship conflicts with your traditions and customs (or meal…)?   Do we make the Glory of Christ our priority , or do we assume that God would want us to spend time with family – to the neglect of His worship?

I think that we often set up false dichotomies that pit God against things of value.   Our families, customs, and traditions matter, but should be  pursued in a Godly manner.   It is shortsighted and foolish to pursue them independent of God, as if He is not THE giver and sustainer of all of them.   I encourage you to some self-examination when tempted to critique the world for ‘neglecting’ God this season.    Will we demonstrate our love of Christ by adjusting our lunch time, present opening, travel arrangements, etc. to make time to worship?

We argue that Christmas is about Christ, so here is our opportunity to show it.   Intentionally plan to publicly worship on Christmas,    Attend services as a family.   Invite a lonely brother, sister, or neighbor to join you.  I know, it is extra work, so plan for it!    If ‘going to church’ takes too much time to get dressed up, then come as you are!  I suspect God will be far more honored by our glad worship than our absence.

Let our worship of Christ be what gives context to family.   Let the gift of Christ be what motivates and conditions our giving…of grace not works, or expectation of reciprocity.    Let the Father who sent His ONLY begotten son govern our generosity to those who haven’t earned or deserve it…   Taking time to worship well, to make God the priority, is foundational for enjoying the blessings we have received from God.   When we let those blessings preempt the foundation, we do harm to the very things we claim to enjoy from God.

So instead of spending our time worrying about whether the world uses the right words for our celebration of Christ, let’s see this Christmas as an opportunity to gladly worship the reason for the season!

Posted in Uncategorized

Hannah fulfills her vow

1 Samuel 1:21-28 (ESV)
21 The man Elkanah and all his house went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice and to pay his vow.
22 But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.”
23 Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son until she weaned him.
24 And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. And the child was young.
25 Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli.
26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord.
27 For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him.
28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

      In this passage there is a clear progression shown. God grants Hannah a child, Hannah’s intention to fulfill her vow, her fulfillment of it, and the result. This passage is a marvelous encouragement to trust God, not circumstances, and not our own ‘wisdom’ or knowledge. They all play a role in prudent and Godly living, but Godliness, and His will ought to be primary.

In this passage, God in his Grace grants Hannah’s plea to be remembered. Despite her barrenness she is finally able to bear a son, her shame is removed and she has gotten her request. This is where people often reveal the true nature of requests of God in their lives. It would be nice if every request made of God was because we know His power, goodness, and desires. But the truth is that many requests are made on the wrong basis. James states in James four that “3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James states this because it is self evident that many requests of God similar (in form at least) to Hannah’s have gone unfulfilled. Until we see our own sinful nature’s tendency to use God, we often fail to see the mercy in God’s refusal to give us what we want. In this case Hannah was genuine in her submission to God, and her allegiance to Him was not built on her ego or appetite. This is demonstrated by her dedication of Samuel and the follow through!

When God blesses us, how we respond reveals a great deal about our character. Hannah has her child, and if she followed the pattern of most, she’d praise God and never set foot in the temple again. Yet instead, she does bring Samuel to be committed to serving God at the temple. Her faith in God is tremendous. Eli’s son’s reputations and Eli’s failure to do anything about it do not commend the temple as good place to allow your child to be raised! Yet Hannah’s confidence is in God’s ability to preserve Samuel and protect him – even more than her own ability.

The final verse in chapter 1 closes with the statement that ‘he worshiped the Lord there’. While it is ambiguous as to who ‘he’ is, I believe it is Samuel. It seems a natural statement about God’s preservation of Samuel and Samuel’s genuine allegiance to God. It is a reminder that worship is ultimately not determined by the outward circumstances of life. Worship is an expression of the inward heart and mind, and it can be expressed anywhere! Here, Samuel worships, appropriately at the temple, but unexpectedly, as the temple is run by Eli and his depraved children!
As an encouragement I would challenge people to approach God because of who He is- and trust God to be true his nature, give God our obedience even when difficult and give Him our worship in any circumstance.

Posted in 1 Samuel

Psalm 119 – Inconsistency in Obedience…

5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!

I know that a struggle in any sport is that of consistency.    We all have experienced a great game or moment of success in something.     The key to consistent, or steadfast, success is practicing what leads to great games until our standard is raised consistently.   There are, unfortunately, many obstacles to this, bad habits must be overcome and unlearned, health must be able to support the activity, busyness can interfere with time to practice, and distractions from living can often interfere.  That is just to name a few.   These difficulties are also issues in spiritual growth, or in ‘keeping your statutes’ before God!    This verse is a cry to God for the consistency that we will always wrestle with.   Most of the opposition to spiritual growth and consistency is found in the many things that distract and interfere with practicing what is right.   But it is pride when we presume that we are able apart from God’s strength to master his commands.   Even the greatest athlete has to have the humility to learn that they could lose everything they have trained for in a simple car accident, a slip on the ice, an unexpected illness.     As Christians, we should have a humble and realistic view of our own obedience that honestly admits that we NEED God to maintain a steadfast keeping of His commandments.   We are simply not in ourselves able to do so.   So strive for obedience, but trust in Grace, for the strength to obey, and mercy when we fail.

Posted in Psalm 119

1 Samuel 1:9-18

Hannah has been suffering from her infertility indirectly, and directly from Peninnah’s  aggressive provocation.    She has to make a decision on how to respond to life’s circumstance and how she is treated.   It is here that good theology really makes the difference.  Many people talk a big talk about loving God- but don’t actually see God as Sovereign, all powerful and good.   Many people see God only as a benign means to their ends!    And because of their low view of God they end up taking matters into their own hands, or becoming bitter at what they perceive as God’s inability to help them.    Here Hannah could easily become embittered and frustrated.   And in truth she has a profoundly emotional reaction!  But her emotions are poured out in the context of worship.  She goes to the temple and although under tremendous anxiety she prays from the position of  one who belongs to God and seeks God’s blessings, because of God’s nature.

It is this request and the beliefs that motivate it that separate what she does from attempts to ‘bargain’ with God or to manipulate God!    She does not withhold anything on condition of God meeting her request.   She is already God’s servant here – the same word that will be translated ‘slave’ in the New Testament.   Too many people attempt to make God ‘prove’ His strength before they will honor God – as if God needs something from us!  Hannah makes her vow BECAUSE God is in control…this is no bargain but a plea for mercy.  And if answered she will simply continue giving God His due!   She understands that she is here because God has placed her at that time and place for a reason.   It is entirely under God’s control and as such she sees God as the only one capable of saving her.

It is important in life to see Hannah’s example and understand that having an emotional reaction to life is how we are designed.     But what we do in that reaction is shaped by our beliefs.    We, like Hannah, should be cultivating an awareness of the sovereignty of God so that when we encounter sorrow of the soul of such magnitude, it is to God we turn.   And we do so because we know that God has an amazing love for us that is described well in:

Romans 8:32 (ESV) He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God will go to incredible lengths to love us – so may God help us trust fully His power, wisdom, and goodness in every circumstance!

Posted in 1 Samuel

1 Samuel 1:3-8 The Sovereignty of God

 

1 Samuel 1:3-8 (ESV)
3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.
4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters.
5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.
6 And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.
7 So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat.
8 And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

 

            This passage illustrates responses to the sovereignty of God in Elkanah, Hannah, and in Peninnah, but with significant differences.   They are each aware of  the sovereignty of God, but they each respond in different ways to God’s sovereignty.   In fact,  I believe how they act reveals a great deal about their character.  

            In Elkanah’s situation we see a man who regularly leads his family to worship God.   The yearly progression to the tabernacle at Shiloh is an indication that it was  God, and His worship,  that lead him to faithfully continue in his yearly visits there.   An assumption that can be inferred is that the yearly pilgrimage was the culmination of local obedience.   Most likely there was a saving and planning for this act of obedience and worship on a long term basis.   His perception that worship was primarily to God is especially apparent from the mention of who was serving at Shiloh.   Phineas and Hophni were not mentioned to let the reader know how good the music, preacher, or fellowship were!   They were the pinnacle of Israel’s descent into immorality, and yet Elkanah goes anyway.  

            An important part of  understanding worship in our earthly environment is understanding why, and who it is for.   Neither then, nor  today, was the music for our enjoyment – it is for God’s exaltation!   The fellowship isn’t to make us feel loved, it is to love others as an expression of Christ in you!   Even the preaching isn’t meant to ‘tickle’ our ears…it is meant to remind us of the need for God’s truths to be central to our living.   In short, we worship God, first and last.   When we consider church attendance the Christian should not even wrestle with, ‘should’ I publicly worship.   Given the greatness of God and His sovereignty public worship ought to be a given!

            In addition to faithful worship we need to consider the Elkanah’s generosity to his wife Hannah.   The translation favored by most, is not the only way of rendering verse 5.   The alternative translation is used by the RSV:    “5 and, although he loved Hannah, he would give Hannah only one portion, because the LORD had closed her womb.”    In both translations, there is reason to believe that Elkanah is perceiving God’s sovereignty.  Either Elkanah loves his wife, and provides generously for her, even though she is childless, or he is generous to her because she suffers not by fault, but by providence.   In either case, there is a stark contrast being illustrated.   Elkanah’s generosity and love is obvious for his wife, but ultimately insufficient to address her grief.   He treats her as best as he knows how, even with generosity that acknowledges her as worthy of  his love and affection – regardless of whether she is productive or beneficial to him.   His generosity is contrasted with Peninnah’s belittlement of Hannah as an example of encouragement.   Yet, even his edification is not enough for Hannah.   And regardless how much Elkanah – or any of us want to ease another person’s pain, or heal their wounds – there  is grief that can only be addressed by God.

            This brings us to Peninnah.   Unfortunately, truth about God, acknowledged and believed, does not make one act Godly.  Peninnah is said to treat Hannah the way she does because she also sees God’s sovereignty.   The problem is that Peninnah sees the suffering and state of Hannah as an opportunity for self advancement and as a weakness to be exploited.   Sadly enough, this is common in life, not just then but also today.   Many people are tempted to see the  difficult conditions of others as a presumptuous opportunity to judge others by usurping God’s role!   People assume to know the mind of God when they take a circumstance outside a person’s control, and use it as a means to deliberately inflict pain.   God’s choice to allow another to suffer is NEVER a reason for us to add to their suffering.    We are called to love even our enemies.   Yes, people will sin and suffer for it, but our  job is to be living witnesses of God’s grace.    We are co-sinners teaching repentance where necessary, and encouragement when able.   When Peninnah glorifies herself at the expense and pain of another, she misses the nature of God while attempting to use a single attribute of God as self justifying.

            Finally, Elkanah asks a rhetorical question that is obviously answered NO!   He is not sufficient and never can be.   Hannah has a grief over her situation that can ultimately be answered only by God.   In fact, each of us needs to understand that our value comes from God; our justification and salvation come from God; our purpose and meaning come from God; ultimately, our joy and comfort in grief are to come from God.   There truly is only one who offers what we need.  Not always what we want – but exactly what we need and more.   The hard part of this lesson is seeing our own weaknesses honestly.    We are often  unable to supply what we would like to in another’s life.  But, instead of allowing our inadequacies (and sin) to lead us to belittling others for our advancement, allow them instead to do to us what they did to Hannah.   Hannah we will see responds by seeking God’s strength.   Tremendously important to our faith is an understanding of the Sovereignty of God and how it relates to our suffering.   Understood from the standpoint of self-righteousness and arrogance (as in Peninnah), it can cause incredible strife.   Seen from humility and confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness (as in Elkanah), it is incredibly comforting.   Because then we understand the messages of  Romans 8:28, 1 Peter 1:3-9 and Ephesians 3:14-21.  So your homework is to look them up:)

 

Posted in 1 Samuel

Getting underway

Well, here we go again, this is try two!    If successful I intend to start regular contributions to this site and linking it to both the church site and eventually to an audio sermon site.  But first I have to actually use this successfully.   And since try number one appears to have been eaten by the internet and vanished, we will see how this one goes.

Posted in Uncategorized