The Joy of the Incarnation
The hymn, “O Come all ye Faithful” brings the familiar refrain of “O come let us adore Him” which reminds us of the shepherds coming to worship Christ. The word "adore" seems more appropriate when we think of the Christ child. However, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines adoration as:
The act of paying honors to a divine being; the worship paid to God; the act of addressing as a God. Adoration consists in external homage, accompanied with the highest reverence. It is used for the act of praying, or preferring requests or thanksgiving, to the Supreme Being.
Let us practice adoration of Christ all year round, where we worship Jesus as God, both treasuring and meditating daily on His Person and work.
The hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel” fills our hearts with a warm awe since the birth of Jesus Christ is the greatest sign that “God is with us”. At the incarnation, God the Son entered into human form so He could become a sympathetic High Priest, and so He could live and die as the second Adam from above. We can bask in the profound meaning of Emmanuel all the year round though, because just before Jesus ascended to heaven, He assured his followers with this promise:
“and, lo, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
Remember, Jesus said that where two or three are gathered, there He is in the midst of them (Mt 18:20). Jesus remains now and always “God with us”!
We associate "Joy" with Christ's incarnation partly because of the hymn “Joy to the World". Truly, the birth of Jesus Christ brought joy to His parents and to God the Father who sent His angels to fill the heavens with singing just as they did at creation.
However, we often confuse joy with happiness, and get an annual jolt of happiness during December, especially when the decorations go up. Then, like a sugar rush that charges through the body and leaves just as quickly as it came, we get sad when family leaves and the decorations go back in the box. As Christians, we cannot allow our spirit to go up and down just because of lights and warm decorations. God wants us to have a constant source of joy - our salvation!
Isaiah 12:2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation. 3 Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.
Unity in the Church
Unity in the church has been perverted in definition to allow for tolerance of false doctrine and practice. Unity has become getting along, despite differences. This is not the unity in scripture. They had the same doctrine and practice and not just “major doctrines.” The standard was scripture, everything God said. With this new unity, the false one, the better person, the elevated person, is the person who tolerates the most error. He sees something wrong and he embraces it. Not disagreeing or agreeing to disagree is the highest value in the false new way. This is not biblical unity, but it is what men are left with, and it has become accepted in churches.
I understand that not everyone will agree on everything all the time. However, that is the standard, and anything less should be rejected. For certain, where the Bible doesn’t speak either explicitly or implicitly, there is liberty. Discord shouldn’t come from areas where someone has liberty. However, where God speaks, there needs to be same mind. The Bible itself is plain. It can be understood, even by children. Acceptance of anything less than the truth is not in accordance with God. He is the standard. Not only has He told us what He wants to believe and do, but He’s given us the grace and strength to do it. Let us rather help one another and bring each together according to the Word of God. This is the sanctification that Jesus prayed for in John 17. Jesus Himself was the perfect example by always submitting to the Father and then praying for us to be sanctified in the same way.
God Created Motherhood
When God created Eve, He created motherhood. He expected the woman to bear children, after the curse of sin bear them in pain. Then came the first two children, two sons, in Genesis 4. An initial message of deliverance was that Eve was the mother of all living, that mankind would survive because of the grace of God, despite sin entering the world and death by sin. The woman’s seed, her offspring, would bruise the head of the serpent, the promise of salvation for mankind. Motherhood weaves its way through Genesis with the covenant with Abraham and then the childlessness of Rebekah. The fulfillment of motherhood for her was the provision of God. The story continues in similar fashion until we get to the promise of a virgin being with child in Isaiah 7:14 and then the fulfillment with Mary in Bethlehem at the beginning of the gospel accounts. When Jesus describes His care for Israel and Jerusalem before His judgment on the nation, He compares Himself to a mother hen desirous to protect its chicks. From another perspective, God’s Word in regular fashion calls on children and sons in particular to hear the instruction of a mother, to let her teaching and warnings keep them from an early death and spiritual destruction. Hearken to the voice of thy mother when sinners entice thee. A mom seems to have more at stake with her children because so much of her success in life seems to be wrapped up in her children. She is often willing to go to further lengths than all other persons for the survival and then thriving of her children.
Winning Them And Keeping Them
I didn’t coin the phrase, something I’ve heard like, “you keep them the same way you get them,” speaking of church growth methods or how a person comes into a church. The thought is to motivate a church and its members not to “get” people into the church in ways that one would not be able to “keep” them, because “keeping them” is the point. My beef with the phrase is that it still sounds like pragmatism, that is, it’s still about getting them and keeping them. What scripture presents is that it matters how you get them, whether you keep them or not. The Bible indicates that you, you yourself personally, are not getting anyone. God is supposed to be getting them and then He gets the glory for it. Using carnal means for getting people is not God getting them, but “you” getting them, which isn’t God’s will, because He doesn’t get the glory from that. With this explanation, you can’t keep anything that you didn’t get in the first place. God keeps them because He got them and if it is He that gets them, then He really got them. Sure, you want your church to grow, because more worshipers of God will glorify Him. You care about people, so you want them to be in a Bible preaching and practicing church. That is love: love for God and love for others. It matters if a church is built up, grows in size, but not at any cost. It has to be in a way that still brings glory to God. God has also told us how He wants it to occur and that is through the gospel – alone.
I don’t know when it was that I first heard the terminology, open-minded. I found it first used in English literature in 1819 in a book titled, Solitude, by Johann Georg Zimmermann with the following sentence: “How frequently do we observe, even in persons of rank and fortune, who reside continually on their own estates, a haughty manner and arbitrary disposition totally incompatible with that candid conduct that open-minded behaviour, . . . . !” It was used a little over a dozen occasions in total up until the 20th century, so uncommon. Now whole books have been authored on open-mindedness, which might be tell-tale. The Economist in 1892 reads, “What is wanted is not a mixed body of advocates, each eager to show the goodness of his own particular case, but a jury of impartial, uncommitted, open-minded men, who have no prejudices one way or the other; who will hear the evidence fully, and who will report upon it on its merits.” The first dictionary in which it arises is The Century in 1895. I don’t think that being open minded advanced as a desired trait in relations to modernity. The opposite seems to be “narrow minded,” which is viewed in a negative way. Can someone be both narrow minded and open minded? Do the two contradict? You can’t learn without open-mindedness, it seems, and you’ll be easily swayed toward error without closed-mindedness. The two ideas themselves don’t contradict. However, an unwillingness to change, that is, to recognize, admit, and then believe the truth is closing the mind, no matter how narrow it is.
AB 2943 and Churches
AB2943 passed the California assembly this week, 50-18-10, so overwhelmingly. The exact wording in it is the following: “Existing law prohibits mental health providers, as defined, from performing sexual orientation change efforts, as specified, with a patient under 18 years of age. Existing law requires a violation of this provision to be considered unprofessional conduct and subjects the provider to discipline by the provider’s licensing entity. This bill would include, as an unlawful practice prohibited under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual. The bill would also declare the intent of the Legislature in this regard.” The bill later says, “The task force concluded that sexual orientation change efforts can pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.” It also read, “Contemporary science recognizes that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is part of the natural spectrum of human identity and is not a disease, disorder, or illness.” Based on how the law is interpreted, which would be normal as I’ve watched it, this would make evangelism or at least pastoral evangelism of the stated categories to be illegal, and the writing of biblical or theological books to help those categories as also illegal, essentially taking away freedom of speech and of religion. I’m writing this to inform you. There are many assumptions being made that offend God, reject truth, and infringe on God-ordained rights.
I’ve been thinking some about the subject of social justice. I considered a very often quoted Old Testament text, which is Amos 5:24, “But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” If you look at that verse in its context, which is not often the case with those quoting it, it relates to God’s relationship to the nation Israel. Consider the next few verses after that one (vv. 25-27, ending the chapter), “Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts.” God will bring justice, but it’s because of their false worship. Justice relates to God, breaking His laws. It’s not about equality, but about equity, two different words. Lady justice pictures it with her two scales. An illustration would be a classroom where students take a test, and when you grade it as a teacher, you give equal retribution, treat it according to the outcome. Someone got all the answers right, good grade, a few or more wrong, average, and many wrong, bad grade. You don’t give a D to everyone. Only those who missed a lot would appreciate a D for everyone. Karl Marx saw justice as giving the same outcome to everyone. That’s actually injustice in society. Marx thought history showed that the powerful, usually property owners, would uneven the ‘playing field’ to advantage themselves. The law would benefit themselves and hurt the poor, who did not or could not own property. Biblical justice treats every one the same and refused to give anyone an advantage, no matter if they are rich or poor, but including the rich. As this applies to the church, everyone is treated the same, judging everyone by the same standard.
While listening to a 24 lecture series on the history of London, I heard for the first time that I remember, the terminology, “pleasure palace.” Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII’s favorite houses. With its tennis courts, bowling alleys and lavish apartments, it was his pleasure palace, where he entertained foreign ambassadors and visiting guests. The Royal Pavillion was built in the Southern coastal city of Brighton by the fast living George Prince of Wales, later the Prince Regent and then King George IV, as a pleasure palace away from London and its prying eyes. Versailles in France was called The Place of Pleasure with its history and use. Luke 8:14 says, “And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” The word “pleasures” translates the Greek word, haydone, which is the basis for the English term hedonism. That word is not a positive in scripture. It isn’t characteristic of a believer. Including Luke 8:14, the term is used 5 times in the New Testament (cf. Titus 3:3, James 4:1, 3, 2 Peter 2:13). The world is not intended as some kind of “pleasure palace,” where we can find use for disposable income. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:17, God “giveth us richly all things to enjoy.” The Greek word translated “enjoy” is found there and in Hebrews 11:25, where Moses did not “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” It really is a matter of what we’re living for.
Wisdom and "Smarts"
Today’s pastor desk will include somewhat connected statements of wisdom. There is a major difference between being smart and being wise. There are some very smart people, who are not very wise. We should strive to be smart, but it’s more important to be wise. James said, pray for wisdom, not smarts. You need some smarts to be wise, because you have to know the right things to apply to your life, but if you know it all and you don’t know how to live it, you’re missing most of what you need. On this point, someone said, experience may be the best teacher, but the tuition is very high. It would be better to listen to someone, who already knows what he’s talking about, based upon scripture. However, until it’s tested, it’s only your opinion, not a conviction. All over scripture you will see that sin makes sense only to sin itself and then to apostates, but it should not make sense to you if you are saved, and it won’t if you’re living for the Lord—instead, sin makes you irrational, actually crazy. People locked into a sin, I’ve noticed, are impervious to scripture, logic, or facts, will always say it’s someone else’s fault, hate anyone who tries to tell them the truth, no matter how humbly nor lovingly, and will always find dire and horrendous fault with anyone who tries to part them from it.
In Titus 2 Paul gives instruction for behavior in the church. At one point, he calls it “behaviour as becometh holiness.” He calls what he is teaching the church, “sound doctrine” (v. 1) and “the doctrine of God” (v. 10), that he wants Titus to “speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (v. 15). For what Titus says, that Paul writes to him, he commands that “no man despise thee” (v. 15). On top of all this, Paul wants all this behavior “that the word of God be not blasphemed” (v. 6). The word of God would be blasphemed by not behaving in the way that Paul teaches. How big a deal is that? All of this is so important that Paul characterizes it in a very great way and brings with it a lot of serious talk. He says, “Rebuke with all authority.” That really sounds, you know, mean – to rebuke with all authority. How about, rebuke with tremendous sympathy and sensitivity? Paul was a man. Titus was a man. It was required in the qualifications of the pastor, to be a man. Acting like a man means strength, which is necessary for maintaining the behavior God wants. People are more concerned about the style and the sympathy today, then they are the actual right behavior and, therefore, call it “toxic masculinity.” It’s not true. We need strength today and a stand on what God says.