Archive for December, 2011
This week I posted a brief review of N.T. Wright’s latest release, titled Simply Jesus. In the concluding chapter of the book Wright made one of the best statements on worship that I’ve read in a long time. Check this out:
“All kingdom work is rooted in worship. Or, to put it the other way around, worshipping the God we see at work in Jesus is the most politically charged act we can ever perform. Christian worship declares that Jesus is Lord and that therefore, by strong implication, nobody else is. What’s more, it doesn’t just declare it as something to be believed, like the fact that the sun is hot or the sea wet. It commits the worshipper to allegiance, to following this Jesus, to being shaped and directed by him. Worshipping the God we see in Jesus orients our whole being, our imagination, our will, our hopes, and our fears away from the world where Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite (violence, money, and sex) make absolute demands and punish anyone who resists. It orients us instead to a world in which love is stronger than death, the poor are promised the kingdom. and chastity (whether married or single) reflects the holiness and faithfulness of God himself. Acclaiming Jesus as Lord plants a flag that supersedes the flags of the nations, however ‘free’ or ‘democratic’ they may be. It challenges both the tyrants who think they are, in effect, divine and the ‘secular democracies’ that have effectively become, if not divine and at least ecclesial, that is, communities that are trying to do and be what the church is supposed to do and be, but without recourse to the one who sustains the church’s life. Worship creates–or should create, if it is allowed to be truly itself–a community that marches to a different beat, that keeps in step with a different Lord.”
What do you think of Wright’s words on worship? How do his words on worship compare or contrast with your weekly experience of corporate worship?
My first exposure to N.T. Wright came through a graduate school class on the atonement. As we discussed the implications of the resurrection of Christ, Bert Dominy quoted a profound statement made by Wright in his book Jesus and the Victory of God. “The cross of Christ was not a defeat reversed by the resurrection,” Dominy said. “The cross of Christ is the victory of God revealed by the resurrection.”
A decade and a half have passed since that day, and throughout these years I have purchased and read most of Wright’s works. This habit has proved to be expensive, given the frequency of Wright’s publication releases, but I have yet to regret a single dollar spent.
This morning I concluded one of Wright’s recent releases, titled Simply Jesus. This is an outstanding book that makes three important contributions to one’s understanding of Jesus and his first century context. First, Wright explains with great clarity the environment and culture of the first century world where Jesus walked. He helps the reader understand the incarnational ministry of Jesus in a day when Roman rule flexed its muscles and Messianic expectation was at a fevered pitch. These insights help color and shape the words Jesus spoke and gives one an idea of how his words must have fallen upon the ears of the original hearers.
The second important contribution the book offers is a simplified version of his exodus motif. For years Wright has maintained that the best way to understand the gospels is to read them in parallel with the Old Testament story of the deliverance of the children of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. It’s a helpful bit of insight that will give the Bible student a deeper appreciation of what the purposes of God in the world are all about.
Finally, I was impressed with Wright’s concluding assessment of what Jesus and the Kingdom of God means to today’s church. His final chapter details with great clarity what he believes to be Jesus vision for the church in the world. It is passionate, provocative, and compelling. I won’t go into further detail simply because I could never give justice to Wright’s words. Suffice it to say, this final chapter was the most inspiring (non biblical) text I read in 2011.
If you’re a fan of the life of Jesus and would like a challenging read, I recommend Simply Jesus. Don’t worry about being able to comprehend it. Rather, worry about being able to apprehend it. It could change your life.
Of the many benefits I received through completing my Doctor of Ministry program, none had a more profound impact than being exposed to the writings of Fred Craddock. Craddock’s story is interesting. He was a New Testament professor that was called upon to teach homiletics. Without any advanced training in teaching preaching, Craddock undertook the responsibility as a humble learner. No one has been more surprised than Craddock that he would become one of the most influential voices on the topic of preaching in the 20th century. I poured over the pages of his monographs, and had the privilege of conducting a two hour phone interview with him in 2003.
His latest release, Craddock on the Craft of Preaching, is yet another creative contribution to the field of preaching. Lee Sparks and Kathryn Hayes Sparks have transcribed tapes from Craddock’s lectures and seminars and put them in a book format. Each chapter highlights some of Craddock’s most profound insights on preaching regarding preparation and delivery. One of the things that sets Craddock apart from other writers on the subject is the amount of attention he gives to understanding the audience. Those chapters alone are invaluable and make the purchase of the book worthwhile.
I would recommend this book to those who are veterans in the pulpit who are in need of some encouragement. Craddock is not trendy as far as the 21st century pulpit is concerned, yet his principles are timeless and refreshing. If you’ve not read Craddock before, I would suggest you begin with the book Preaching. If you have read Craddock before, then your experience will be enriched by this volume. I believe that this is the kind of book that you’ll highlight and refer to time and time again.
In many ways, Joseph is the forgotten man of Christmas. We gloss over his role, giving him little consideration for being the man he was. We find not one single quotation from his lips in the gospel record. But without question, his life spoke then and continues to speak now. So far I have posted three things that I believe Joseph would say to us if given the opportunity. By way of review, those things include:
1. God may call upon you to make a commitment that can only be fulfilled by His grace;
2. In God’s Kingdom, you are part of something bigger than yourself; and,
3. To obey is better than sacrifice.
If I were to add a final lesson to be learned from Joseph’s life it would be that your life counts. We may not pay a lot of attention to Joseph. We may neglect to notice the role that he played or the significance of his contributions. But that doesn’t mean his life didn’t count!
Through the course of time, each of us have made contributions to the Kingdom that have gone unnoticed or unannounced. That doesn’t mean our lives didn’t count. Each one of us serves as an important character in God’s broader drama. People may never notice or appreciate what you have brought or continue to bring to the Kingdom. But your life counts. You are important and you matter very much to God. Though no one else sees your labor of love, God sees it all. 2 Chronicles 16:9 reminds us that “The eyes of the Lord range to and fro around the Earth seeking those who’s hearts are committed to Him.”
Never forget that you are never forgotten.
So far from the Christmas story we have observed some important principles. Joseph, the silent teacher, reminds us through his actions that God may call upon us to make sacrificial commitments that can only be fulfilled through His grace and strength. In addition, Joseph underscores the fact that in God’s kingdom we are all part of a broader drama; we are part of something bigger than ourselves. What else does Joseph teach us?
The story continues beginning in verse 22, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’ When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:22-25, HCSB).
Unlike the wise men, Joseph had no gift in his hands. Unlike the shepherds and the angel, Joseph had no song on his lips. All he had was obedience in his heart. Time and time again the Bible reminds us that “to obey is better than sacrifice.” The thing that makes Joseph’s role in the Christmas story significant is that he obeyed. When God spoke and told him to take Mary as his wife, he obeyed. When God spoke again and told him to take Mary and the baby to Egypt, he obeyed. When God spoke a third time and told him to take the baby back to Nazareth, he obeyed.
Obedience is more valuable than all of the gifts and songs we can offer. To obey is better than sacrifice. Our obedience may involve gifts and songs and acts of service. But those things can not become substitutes for obedience.
So far I’ve pointed to three valuable lessons from Joseph and the Christmas story. I have one more important principle that I’ll post this week. In the meantime, reflect on the life of Joseph as you continue in the Advent season.
This week I’ve been posting reflections from Joseph’s unique perspective on the nativity. Joseph is a silent character in the Bible, having no quotations attributed to him. If he were to have spoken regarding his experiences, what would he say? Here’s the next excerpt from the text, “But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:20-21, HCSB).
Every winning team has important players that live in relative anonymity. Last season the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl. Can you name the quarterback? Can you name the starting offensive right guard? We just witnessed the St. Louis Cardinals come from nowhere to win the World Series. Can you name the All-Star first baseman? Can you name their middle relief pitcher? We begin to mature in our faith when we realize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are participants in the broader work of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not about you or me or even us. It’s about Jesus. If Joseph clarifies our understanding on any given point, he helps us to see that in God’s Kingdom we are part of something bigger than ourselves!
If Joseph were given opportunity, what might he say about his role in the Christmas story? The first thing he might say is that God may call upon you to make a commitment that can only be fulfilled by God’s grace. Check out Matthew 1:18-29, “The birth of Jesus came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly” (HCSB).
God asked Joseph to do something very difficult. Joseph was a good Jew, one of only five people called “righteous” in the entire Bible. He practiced his faith with duty and devotion. There were no skeletons in his closet to be revealed by the media. But his life plans were interrupted by four words from Mary that none of us ever want to hear: “We need to talk.” Joseph was faced with a hard decision as he stood right at the crossroad of character and reputation. You know the difference. Character is what we really are, while reputation is what others say and think we are. On one hand Joseph was a man of character that loved God and wanted to please him in every possible way. On the other hand, however, Joseph was a man living in a culture steeped with blame and shame. The birth of Jesus would be scandalous. Whispers regarding the legitimacy of Jesus birth would follow him all the way to the cross.
Joseph’s life is a testimony that God is not afraid to ask us to do things that we cannot do on our own. He asks us to do things that can only be accomplished by His grace and strength. What hard thing is God asking you to do today that is impossible unless God gets involved?
One of our family traditions is to read the Christmas story with our family before we open presents on Christmas morning. As we read the story from Matthew and Luke, our children divide up the characters in our nativity scene and put the figures in place as they appear in the narrative.
Nativity scenes are interesting. They vary in size and cost. The most elaborate one I’ve seen was in a shop in Jerusalem. Each figure stood about 10″ high and was carved out of olive wood. If memory serves, the pricetag was around $1,500.00.
Think about your nativity scene for a moment. Flanking the manger on one side are the shepherds. They are rugged and romantic characters who would be cast in Hollywoood by guys like Matthew McConaughey. On the other flank are the wise men. They are sophisticated and digified, holding the gifts that in all likelihood were used to finance Jesus’ two years in Egypt. Around the front edge of the setting are barnyard animals. Sheep, goats, perhaps a cow. They calmly lounge there like domesticated pets. Your nativity may have an angel, full of elegance and grace, serving as a tangible reminder of God’s superintendence of the whole event. Next to the manger is the virgin Mary. She looks so peaceful and mature one can hardly believe she was no more than 14 years old at the time. At center stage is the baby Jesus, lying in that feeding trough. He is the centerpiece, appropriately so.
Finally there is Joseph. Now Joseph is a curious figure. He’s the husband, but not the father. He’s always added to the scene, although we sometimes wonder what he really brings to the table. It’s as if he’s an after thought whose presence merely brings some kind of symmetry to the setting. If you read the Bible carefully, you’ll find that Joseph is not attributed with a single spoken word. He’s a thinker and a doer. The strong silent type if you will. But in all honesty, he’s kind of the forgotten man of Christmas.
If Joseph were to speak to us today from his experiences on that first Christmas Day, what would he say? That’s the topic of this week’s series of posts.