When People Are BIG and God is small

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It was 1997 when Ed Welch published his book, of which the post is titled after. Of all the books that Ed has written, this is by far one of my favorites.

Below is an outline that we’ll use this Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, to begin this bible study for our church family. If you’ve never read anything by him, this would be a first great read. Follow this link for a bio of him:

https://www.ccef.org/about/people/ed-welch

“The opposite of love for others is an inordinate love for self; ‘love for self’ is simply fear of man. The reason why we are incapable of loving others as we ought is because we fear them, that is, we have an unhealthy reverence for them more than God.

  • Are you over-committed? Do you find that it is hard to say no even when wisdom indicates that you should? You are a “people-pleaser,” another euphemism for the fear of man.
  • Do you “need” something from your spouse? Do you “need” your spouse to listen to you, love you, respect you? Think carefully here. Certainly God is pleased when there is good communication and a mutual honor between spouses. But for many people, the desire for these things has roots in something that is far from God’s design for his image-bearers. Unless you understand the biblical parameters of marital commitment, your spouse will become the one you fear. Your spouse will control you. Your spouse will quietly take the place of God in your life.
  • Is self-esteem a critical concern for you? This, at least in the United States, is the most popular way that the fear of other people is expressed. If self-esteem is a recurring theme for you, chances are that your life revolves around what others think. You reverence or fear their opinion. You need them to buttress your sense of well-being and identity. You need them to fill you up.

Are you always second-guessing decisions because of what other people might think? Are you afraid of making mistakes that will make you look bad in other people’s eyes?

  • Do you feel empty or meaningless? Do you experience “love hunger”? Here again, if you need others to fill you, you are controlled by them.
  • Do you ever lie, especially the little white lies? What about cover-ups where you are not technically lying with your mouth? Lying and other forms of living in the dark are usually ways to make ourselves look better before other people. They also serve to cover our shame before them.
  • Are you jealous of other people? You are controlled by them and their possessions.
  • Do you avoid people? If so, even though you might not say that you need people, you are still controlled by them. Isn’t a hermit dominated by the fear of man?
  • Do you fear that others may disagree with you or not admire you? Do you intimidate others into agreeing with you? The endless jockeying of egos in the corporate board room is an aggressive version of fear of man.
  • Have you ever been too timid to share your faith in Christ because others might think you are an irrational fool?

Fear of man is such a part of our [fallen] human fabric that we should check for a pulse if someone denies it . . . God can fill you with his love, so you don’t have to be filled by other people.”

I’m looking forward to this study because I want to love God more and fear man less. Ed will pastorally walk you through scripture, showing you how to do this.

 

Starting 2019 like this . . .

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Almost always mildly satisfied with my prayer life, I often turn to someone for encouragement. Tim Keller wrote his book, “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” (published in 2014), and this is my first book to read this year because I want to do better at praying and having a devotion with Cheryl. For our devotions this year, we’ll use the Keller’s, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs.”  

Do not admire me for what appears to be a strong spiritual walk with God. Hardly! I struggle with the same ups-and-downs as any believer does with prayer and devotion with a spouse. But if this post encourages you to do better, then mission accomplished.

Might I give you a quote to help you as it did me; Tim begins his book on prayer like this:

“In the second half of my adult life, I discovered prayer. I had to. In the fall of 1999, I taught a Bible study course on the Psalms. It became clear to me that I was barely scratching the surface of what the Bible commanded and promised regarding prayer. Then came the dark weeks in New York after 9/11, when our whole city sank into a kind of corporate clinical depression, even as it rallied. For my family the shadow was intensified as my wife, Kathy, struggled with the effects of Crohn’s disease. Finally, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. At one point during all this, my wife urged me to do something with her we had never been able to muster the self-discipline to do regularly. She asked me to pray with her every night. Every night. She used an illustration that crystallized her feelings very well. As we remember it, she said something like this:

Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine – a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No – it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.”

Tim then says,

“Maybe it was the power of the illustration, maybe it was just the right moment, maybe it was the Spirit of God. Or, most likely of all, it was the Spirit of God using the moment and the clarity of the metaphor. For both of us the penny dropped; we realized the seriousness of the issue, and we admitted that anything that was truly a nonnegotiable necessity was something we could do. That was more than twelve years ago, and Kathy and I can’t remember missing a single evening of praying together, at least by phone, even when we’ve been apart in different hemispheres. Kathy’s jolting challenge, along with my own growing conviction that I just didn’t get prayer, led me into a search. I wanted a far better personal life. I began to read widely and experiment in prayer. As I looked around, I quickly came to see that I was not alone” (pgs. 9-10).

And neither are you. May the Lord be your joyful pursuit this New Year!

“Away in a Manger” needs a diaper change.

Image result for away in a mangerThe song was published in 1895 by William J. Kirkpatrick. Here is the second verse:

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus! look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.

It can be shown throughout the last 2,000 years that people, even well-intentioned people, have made one or both of two errors: either minimizing the full deity of Christ, or his full humanity, or both. Scripture however, is non-negotiable: Jesus is both fully God and fully Man at the same time (if you would like scripture on that, or even a discussion with no scripture, please respond – it would be my pleasure to serve you). And that means that he needed his diaper changed because that’s what babies need. Speaking of needing a change, so does the second line of the second verse of “Away in a Manger.”

At our church, we sing it like this:

“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, The little Lord Jesus, What crying he makes.”

Why the change? Because Jesus was fully human – and that’s what babies do when they’re startled by bellowing 1,400 pound cattle standing over them! Let us never exalt Jesus so far above his humanity that he can’t know our needs. Also, let us never dethrone Jesus so far down from his Deity that he can’t meet our needs. Read your bible and keep the full tension of mystery and beauty in the God-Man!

But even having said this, I’m nostalgic and reminiscent this time of year. Enjoy!

 

A bogus marriage and implied pre-marital sex in “Winter Wonderland”

Image result for winter wonderlandWe’re so used to lyrics that we rarely stop to listen to them. Years ago I listened a little closer to one of the most famous Christmas songs ever written. In 1934, Richard B. Smith produced his “Winter Wonderland” – a song that he did not intend to become a Christmas song. Here are the lyrics that I focus on, with my own plausible comments in italic brackets:

In the meadow we can build a snowman
Then pretend that he is Parson Brown [the local pastor]
He’ll say, Are you married? [a good question coming from a pastor]
We’ll say, No man [at least they’re being honest]
But you can do the job
When you’re in town [a bogus marriage ceremony by a pretend pastor who is a snowman built by the couple]
Later on, we’ll conspire [Merriam- Webster: “make secret plans jointly to commit an unlawful or harmful act”]
As we dream by the fire [get a chaperone!!]
To face unafraid
The plans that we’ve made [because we need a clear conscience]
Walking in a winter wonderland [yea right!!]

 

Take away: listen to what you’re listening to. 

And now that I’ve poked fun at a favorite Christmas song, I’ll put away my cynical interpretation and just enjoy it . . .

 

Santa Clause is a Legalist

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 You may not know who Haven Gillespie is but you do know the song that he published in 1932:

                                    You better watch out, You better not cry

                                    Better not pout, I’m telling you why

                                    Santa Claus is coming to town

                                    He’s making a list and checking it twice

                                    Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice

                                    Santa Claus is coming to town

We grew up hearing those words but have you ever paused long enough to contemplate the doctrine that is taught?  “Don’t cry, don’t pout!  Santa has a nice list and a naughty list.” The subtle implication is if you’re on the nice list you get presents.  If you’re on the naughty list you get a lump of coal.

But this raises two questions:  How does Santa know so much about me and how can I get on the nice list and receive presents?

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

He knows if you’ve been bad or good

So be good for goodness sake!

Oh!  You better watch out, You better not cry

Better not pout, I’m telling you why

Santa Claus is coming to town

These words sound innocent perhaps because of the tune that accompanies the lyrics. The song has a light-hearted, bouncy melody that is typically sung with a cheerful voice supported by the high octaves of young girls and boys.  Or perhaps the song presents itself as innocent because of the image that is associated with it.  I mean, what is there to be alarmed about when you see a jolly, well-rounded, red-cheeked old man who laughs and plays with children.  But if we will slow down enough to hear the message, turn the music off and ignore the jolly old man, I believe we will find that the message is not so innocent: “If you want presents, you have to do enough good things to stay on the nice list”

We’ve heard this before from so-called-preachers: “If you want to receive the inheritance, the blessings, – the presents, you have to perform nice things.  And here is a list of the nice things – now, don’t pout, don’t cry – just do the right things.” That’s legalism!  The message that you can present yourself acceptable to God based on the merits of your good works is a message that is found in religions, songs, books, cultures, and just about anywhere where man thinks about God apart from grace. But Santa is not the real problem – the real problem is the heart of man that wants to get on God’s nice list by doing enough good things so that he may boast not in the cross of Christ but in his own self-reformation.  Men are legalists because they think God is a legalist.  Mankind loves to make a list of do’s and don’ts outside of the Bible, making some things legal and some things illegal. Then, based upon the track-record of living a “legal” life, you get the goodies and the illegal person gets the shaft.

The true Christmas message is that Jesus Christ loved you, knowing all your badness.  And by faith in his work, not mine, I receive his forgiveness of my sins. And if that is how I came to be in a right relationship with God, because of the grace of His free love, then how could I ever think that God would now deal with me on the basis of my performance in the flesh.

Jesus loved you when you were naughty and not nice.  This truth ought to motivate you to renounce any misrepresentations of God that you have begun to believe.  Your heavenly Father loves you with a love that was not dependent upon any good thing in you or that you would ever do.  Your heavenly Father loved you so that you would be holy and blameless in his sight.

Look at Galatians 1:15b “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace . . .”

Paul states that God separated him for a holy purpose when he was born. All the naughtiness of Paul’s life came after God set him apart and before God saved him, and called him by grace to display Christ in his life.  For Paul it must have been a wonderful thing to say in Gal. 2:20 that “He loved me and gave Himself for me”.  He loved me – the blasphemer, he loved me – the murderer, he loved me – the persecutor, he loved me – the violently arrogant man, he loved me – the lawless, insubordinate, self-righteous man.

The good news for us is not that we were good enough to transfer ourselves from the naughty list to the nice list so that we could receive good things, but as Paul says in Colossians 1:12-14, we are “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.  He has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 

If you are thinking to yourself, “I haven’t been good enough to come to Christ”, you are the one that Christ will receive.  Those who think that they are too good to come to Christ will not find Him.  But those who say,  “I have been so bad I can’t get off the naughty list no matter how hard I try,”  Jesus says to you,  “I know everything that you have ever done – come to me,  though your sins are many and your heart is stained with years of guilt I will make you white as fresh snow.”

Suggestion: Sing a New Song because Jesus is not a legalist but a Lover!

He knows that you should be sleeping (when you’re awake)

He knows that you should be awake (when you’re sleeping)

He knows how terribly bad you are

But he’s good to you for His own sake

Oh! You ought to cry out,

“Mercy for Me”

Shout it out loud

“Grace Set Me Free”

Jesus is not a legalist

But a lover