Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Another plan

Joseph had a plan. It was not made hastily or without consideration. Matthew 1:18 tells us that he was engaged to Mary. Or to put it in old fashioned terms, they were betrothed.

Jewish betrothal was different kind of engagement from what the West experiences. It was not an easily broken relationship, but a real contract. It was initiated by the couple's parents, likely when the girl was anywhere from 12-14 years old and the man 18-24 years old. It was a legal arrangement, witnessed by two other people. Once entered into, it had the legal force of a marriage. If the man died during the year prior to the consummation, the woman was considered a widow. If she was intimate with another man, she was guilty of adultery. Mary's situation meant she was guilty of adultery.

Joseph did not plan for this. He found himself making contingencies. Legally, he was entitled to divorce her, and if he wanted, in a public manner. But Matthew 1:19 says he was a "righteous man" (NASB) and decided to do it quietly.

God intervened, sending a dream to Joseph: the voice of an angel.
"Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the child who has been conceived in her is the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son; and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (1:20)
This is an incredible message: this child is from the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but he's going to save people from their sins. That is quite a pedigree. The angel also tells Joseph that he will name the child Jesus. Joseph, in giving the son his name admits his paternity. Joseph will be Jesus' earthly father.

Furthermore, the angel tells him:
Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Behold the Virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son, and they shall call him Immanuel, which translated means 'God with us.'"
Joseph had a plan, but God had another plan; one that was established long before Joseph was alive. It was a plan foretold by the prophets. Joseph had no idea that he was destined to be part of a such a miraculous event. He thought he was just getting engaged to a girl.

Theologically, this account in Matthew is important for its Christological teaching. Jesus is a child of the Holy Spirit and the child of Mary: divine and human. It also demonstrates the sovereign control of God over his purposes. There was no way Joseph was going to foil the plans of God. That God's plans are certain can and should be a comfort to us, even when those plans are difficult.

Practically speaking, we are reminded that we, like Joseph, are part of God's sovereign working. Most of us will not be in the midst of something as fantastic as the Incarnation of Christ, but we each live in the tension between the plans we devise for ourselves and the plans God has for us. Plans we believe are of our own making often turn out to have nothing to do with us and everything to do with God's plans. And God has ways of thwarting attempts to take matters into our own hands when we don't like the plans he has for us.

I love that these truths occur in a passage which draws our thoughts to Christmas. If there was ever a time for planning and schedules and deadlines, it's Christmas in North America. We place a lot of importance on each detail of our plan: the perfect decorations, the food, the perfect gift. But if God intervenes with another plan, we will not be able to stop them. Last year, my friend lost her mother two days before Christmas. How's that for a change in plans? This year, more than one person will have the same change in plans. We best not hold our plans too closely, because over it all, God may have another plan. And in the end, however difficult it may be, God's plans are always good.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Five Star Links

Each Friday, we share links we found especially interesting or inspiring during the previous week. 


Kim:

William Varner talks about some similarities between the Proverbs 31 woman and Ruth, in his post "Ruth and the Proverbs 31 Woman."
The eshet hayil in Prov 31:10 has led translators in many directions, from the “virtuous woman” (KJV) to the “excellent wife (NASB) to the “wife of noble character” (NIV). And occasionally you will even read about a “woman of valor.” Why the diversity?

Persis:

There's been a recent crackdown in China against churches. In anticipation of a possible arrest, Pastor Wang Xi penned this letter. He was arrested on Sunday. You can read the rest of it here:
My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience
If I am imprisoned for a long or short period of time, if I can help reduce the authorities’ fear of my faith and of my Savior, I am very joyfully willing to help them in this way. But I know that only when I renounce all the wickedness of this persecution against the church and use peaceful means to disobey, will I truly be able to help the souls of the authorities and law enforcement. I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

Rebecca:

Jesus was God and he was also human—and this isn't just an incidental detail. Your salvation depends on his true humanity and true deity.


Deb:

Michael Kruger offers seven lessons for engaging with the secular (liberal) academy. Based on Oden's "journey that eventually resulted in a 180 degree turn away from liberalism and towards historic, traditional Christianity," Kruger shares some invaluable advice.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Quotes of Note


Each Monday, we share quotes we found encouraging, convicting, thought-provoking, or all of the above.

Kim:

In her book Advent, Fleming Rutledge talks about the significance of the combination of royalty stooping down to meet with her people.
Elizabeth I was a great monarch in part because the people knew that she loved them, and her processions through the countryside were specifically designed to allow them to love her in return. . . If it is true that there is unique power in the combination of royalty and stooping, then there has never been anything comparable to the errand of the Son of God. In Jesus Christ we see the One "who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be clutched at, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave' (Phi. 2:6-7). The problem with much of our Christology nowadays, it seems to me, is that we have concentrated so much on the stooping that we have lost sight of the royalty. More than half of the biblical message is thereby eliminated, for it is the combination that counts. Thus we read in Exodus 3, "Moses his his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, 'I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.'"  
The God who is so terrifying that we must hide our faces from his resplendence is the same God who has come down to deliver his people in their extremity.

Persis:

My pastor started a sermon series on Leviticus, so I picked up From Paradise to the Promised Land by T.D. Alexander off the shelf. It's hard to comprehend how much blood had to be shed day after day, year after year at the Tabernacle and the Temple. I also wonder what it was like for the early believers to realize that Jesus Christ's sacrifice was once and for all.
By emphasizing that Jesus Christ as God's unique son, provided the sacrifice necessary to atone completely for human sin, the New Testament highlights two important aspects of God's character: his justice and his love. Motivated by love, God provides the sacrifice necessary to meet the demands of his own justice. It is God, in the person of his own son, who pays the price of forgiveness for human sin. (pg. 226)

Rebecca:

Graeme Goldworthy on why the Old Testament is relevant Christian scripture:
Jesus claimed that the whole of the Old Testament was about him. It has been estimated that the New Testament contains some sixteen hundred direct quotes from, or recognizable allusions to, the Old Testament. If we are interested in the New Testament's testimony to Jesus, we cannot avoid the implications of its preoccupation with the link between Jesus and the Old Testament Scriptures. The idea that the Old Testament deals with the rather irrelevant Jewish background to the Christian gospel is detrimental to the New Testament's exposition of the gospel. Jesus is declared to be the fulfiller, but we won't understand what this means if we don't understand what it is that he is said to fulfill. 
[The Son of God and the New Creation, page 37.]

Friday, December 7, 2018

Five Star Links

Each Friday, we share links we found especially interesting or inspiring during the previous week. 

Persis:

Disagreement is not handled well in today's climate. Attacking the person rather than his stance on an issues seems to be the method of choice, which is why I appreciated this post by Mike Leake - What I Learned When My Position Was Mocked.
[I]f you aren’t being fair in your critique what are you doing to future conversations with those who don’t agree? And especially what will happen as you try to interact on different and more important topics like the gospel? You might have just absolutely exposed the foolishness of socialism and liberals and secular thinking, but have you now forfeited a hearing on the kingdom of Jesus? If your argument isn’t fair, gracious, and Christ-like then you probably have. So what’d you win?

Kim:

Late to the game, but I found this post by Chuck Lawless sobering, even while I had to admit to his point. "Why the North American Church is Unlikely to Experience Revival." 

Rebecca:

This week has been a particularly busy one, so I'm late with my link, too.

I have a few friends who are dealing with family members with dementia—and it is hard! Here's a piece on speaking the truth in love to loved ones with dementia.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Quotes of Note


Each Monday, we share quotes we found encouraging, convicting, thought-provoking, or all of the above.

Persis:

This is a quote from Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf. She is a neuroscientist and reading specialist who is concerned with what screen-reading is doing to our ability to read deeply. This in turn affects our thinking and our empathy. I don't know about you, but I have definitely seen a change in my ability to concentrate when I am reading from a print book.
Do you, my reader, read with less attention and perhaps even less memory for what you have read? Do you notice when reading on a screen that you are increasingly reading for key words and skimming over the rest? Has this habit or style of screen reading bled over to your reading of hard copy? Do you find yourself reading the same passage over and over to understand its meaning? Do you suspect when you write that your ability to express the crux of your thoughts is subtly slipping or diminished? Have you become so immured to quick precis of information that you no longer feel the need or possess the time for your own analysis of this information? Do you find yourself gradually avoiding denser, more complex analysis, even those that are readily available. More importantly, are you less able to find the same enveloping pleasure you once derived from your former reading self? Have you, in fact, begun to suspect that you no longer have the cerebral patience to plow through a long and demanding article or book? What if, one day, you pause and wonder if you yourself are truly changing and, worst of all, do not have the time to do a thing about it? (pg. 96)

Rebecca:

Nancy Guthrie's Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, a collection of short essays on Christmas topics by various authors, concludes with a piece by Joni Eareckson Tada. We think of Christmas a promise fulfillment—and it is—but, as Joni writes in A Christmas Longing, Christmas is still a promise, too, even for those who live on this side of the first Advent.
Yes, the Savior has come, and with him peace on earth, but the story is not finished. Yes, there is peace in our hearts, but we long for peace in our world. 
Every Christmas is still a “turning of the page” until Jesus returns. Every December 25 marks another year that draws us closer to the fulfillment of the ages, that draws us closer to … home. 
When we realize that Jesus is the answer to our deepest longing, even Christmas longings, each Advent brings us closer to his glorious return to earth. When we see him as he is, King of kings and Lord of lords, that will be “Christmas” indeed!
Christmas calls us to celebrate a glorious event from the past, but it also calls us to celebrate a  glorious event that is yet to come.