Fighting for Joy through Devotional Time

Isaiah 55:1-3a
“Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.”

This year as a church, we’ve been focusing on joy. So I am a little embarrassed to admit that also this year, I’ve struggled to feel joyful. Instead, the circumstances in my life in the last few months have brought out more shame, insecurity, and sin that needs to be weeded out. And anxiety and depression feel like deep waters always on the brink of bursting through a weary, old dam. Continue reading Fighting for Joy through Devotional Time

What Does “Son of God” Really Mean?

All of the Gospel writers explain Jesus as the “Son of God.” Mark 1:1 says, “the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” John was written partially to a large Greek audience, whose Greek gods were often fornicating and siring illegitimate children. So using “Son of God” as the first and primary explanation of the identity of Jesus may have seemed problematic. So John says, “in the beginning was the word.” In Greek the logos, which we translate “word,” was something that was co-eternal with absolute reality, was built into the logic of creation, and was the absolute mind of all true divinity. So that may have seemed like a better idea as an introduction for John than “Son of God.” But John still uses this title as early as John 1:34, and ties it to the idea of him being the “Lamb of God” in John 1:36.

In Matthew, the disciples call Jesus the Son of God when he calms the storm, but he doesn’t say it explicitly about himself until his trial (as a dramatic climax) in Matthew 26:63-64. Then the title is repeated three times in Matthew 27.

Luke’s gospel starts with the miraculous origins of Jesus, and then he is called the Son of God in Luke 3:22 by the voice of God. Immediately following that, Luke includes the genealogy that shows that Jesus is the son of Adam, the son of Abraham, the son of David, and the son of Zerubbabel, and is in the proper line of the Son of Man, who is the Son of God and the Messiah King. This factthat he is the Son Godis then the first thing challenged by Satan in the temptations of chapter 4. Jesus isn’t called the Son of God again until Luke 22:70.

So, although all of the Gospel writers claim that Jesus is the son of God, all of them take great pains to fill out the concept to avoid misunderstanding. And this was rightly done. Continue reading What Does “Son of God” Really Mean?

What are moms good for?

by Dietrich Gruen

This Mother’s Day I invite you to reflect on whatever legacy your mom has passed along to you, while I do the same.  The vignettes I share will spark similar thoughts of your own mom, I hope.

Mary Gruen first celebrated Mothers’ Day as a new mom in 1950, the year she gave birth to me. That, of course, was her first legacy to me—life, but she also passed along the legacy of faith.  I came to faith in college February 27, 1971, when I experienced a “second birth” at the height of the Jesus Movement, amidst the Vietnam War protest era.  When calling home to say, “I found Christ,” my mom had a testimony of her own to share with me, then added, “I have been praying for you, for this God-moment, six years now.”  So it is my mom who preceded me and interceded for me in matters of faith.

How about you, were you raised by a mom who prayed for you every day, or are you praying that way now?

Mary Gruen also gifted me and led me into a life of serving others, sharing the love of God.  She was a throwback to that era of stay-at-home moms who were fulltime volunteers—in the school (president of the PTA), in scouts (den mother), in her church (treasurer, newsletter editor, quilter), in the neighborhood (community organizer), and in retirement (hospice volunteer). I got to see love-in-action, and grew up secure in that love and learned to find and give love to others in this world.

We all grow up learning what our parent models for us. How about you, what did you learn from the way your mom lived?  And if you are a mom, what are your kids learning from who you are?

The mothers we learn from need not be our own.  When asked, “What makes you keep on going and giving as much as you do?” Mom would always harken back to a life-changing meeting with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.  Mother Teresa, upon greeting her guests, took Mary’s hand in both of hers, saying, “I don’t want your money.  When you return home, I want you to look about you.  When you look, I want you to see.  And what you see, I want you to do something about.”

Mary Gruen did just that, adopting the poor as her life’s calling, serving in places and doing ministry eerily similar to me…. With the Lower Cape Cod Outreach—a nonprofit much like Middleton Outreach Ministry, where I served as its Executive Director (1997-2008)….  In a walk-in medical clinic and drove the elderly on appointments—much like I am doing now as a medical driver with Richwood Transport!  Mom was also a hospice volunteer, holding the hand of 25 residents as they died.  I would do the same, beginning with holding her hand at her death; six years later I entered hospice ministry myself, as a chaplain with Generations Home Care & Hospice.

Moms do not create either monsters or angels, but provide the conditions—the physical and spiritual and emotional DNA—for what God will do.  Moms of all types—midwives and grandmothers, career and stay-at-home moms, praying moms and task-master moms, nannies and nurses, school moms and den mothers—all those women God will use to shape us.  Those who bring us into the world, those who raise us in the home, in the faith, in school, on the athletic fields, who work us and pray for us—God gave us the moms (and dads!) we needed to shape us into the person we’ll become.

And we are still becoming.  God is not finished with any of us.

The Genealogy of Jesus

 

Some people may be aware of the fact that the genealogies in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are not identical to each other. If you look closer, they are not even in harmony with each other. Matthew works forward and Luke works backward. When you align the genealogies, you’ll see that Matthew starts with Abraham, and where that genealogy meets with Abraham in Luke’s Gospel, they are harmonious through 13 generations. At that point, Luke’s Gospel follows David’s son Nathan, while Matthew’s Gospel follows Solomon in the line of kings. They split for 13 generations, where they come together with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, around the time of the exile. Then they diverge again until meeting again with Joseph.

A couple of things to point out:

  1. This doesn’t look like a simple error. It would be one thing if in the long list of names there were a couple that were off. That is not the case here. These two lists follow almost entirely different genealogies from the time of David, and they have completely different numbers of generations.
  2. Biblical genealogies leave out generations—sometimes numerous generations. For example, the amount of time spoken of between Obed and David is a few hundred years. There was pretty certainly more than three generations in that time. This is a variable that can be very difficult to account for.
  3. There are three main theories for why these diversions exist.

Continue reading The Genealogy of Jesus

An Introduction to Luke

Luke 1:4 says “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” This is the purpose of Luke’s gospel. He sought to create an even more comprehensive record of the life of Jesus than those that existed before. He also sought to corroborate the record of Jesus, claiming that he had investigated everything from the very beginning of Jesus’ life both with traditions that were handed down word for word and by testing those with eyewitnesses who were still living. R.C. Sproul says that this is an “orderly account”; it’s not chronological, but is thematically ordered in a way that is loosely chronological. It is also possible that what Luke includes and doesn’t include is based on what he was personally able to confirm with eyewitnesses, including seven episodes that do not exist in any other Gospels.

Continue reading An Introduction to Luke

Embracing your lot and toil

In the sermon on Sunday, February 4, I attempted to explain that as humans we crave meaning, and that Ecclesiastes teaches we must learn meaning from the bottom up like creatures, rather than from the top down like gods. Hopefully the reason for this is self-evident: we are creatures, not gods. Recognizing and embracing this reality is essential in our pursuit of virtuous freedom, which is a key element in our fight for joy.

One of the main themes of Ecclesiastes is that human life is “meaningless.” Yet it doesn’t mean meaningless in the way we normally use that word. When we say meaningless, we usually mean “without any meaning,” but that is not what Solomon means. The Hebrew word translated “meaninglessness” is a word that literally means “vapor.” If everything is vaporous, that means that it is insubstantial and temporary.  Consequently, if life is insubstantial and temporary, then pursuing it as though it was ultimate and eternal is foolishness. It is to pretend life is something that it isn’t. The word we used to use for this was “vanity.” And if you look at an older translation of the Bible, that is precisely how the word is translated.

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Think about it. What is the opposite of spiritual substance? Vanity. To treat what is insubstantial and temporary in life as though it is ultimate and eternal. You might reasonably think that the solution for this is to trust in God, and that is Solomon’s solutionbut not in the way we might think. He argues that the ultimate meaning of many of the things in our lives are not revealed by God, nor discernible by science, philosophy, or human reflection. He even goes so far as to say that we long for these ultimate meanings, yet we can’t reach them. He calls this the “burden God has laid on men” (Ecclesiastes 3:10) and he tells us that this frustration is for our healing and maturity. He says that “God does this so that men will revere him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).

I think that means something like this: if we understood the meaning of everything from beginning to end, we would think that we were part of eternitythat we are ourselves the ultimate meaning. He says at one point when discussing wisdom that “God made man upright, but we have gone after many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). That is, we are not good enough for ultimate wisdom. We are idolaters who seek to ourselves be gods. Therefore, if we were able to figure out all of ultimate meaning it would destroy and damn us.

So God withholds it. He frustrates our idolatrous desire to understand all things in order to feel good about our lives. He allows us to believe in himself as a person, and then forces us to grapple with our creature-hood by embracing the ordinary. The vocabulary he chooses for this is our “lot” and “toil”: the real situation of our daily lives (lot) and the work of our daily purpose (toil).

We start with faith by believing in the God who holds in himself ultimate meaning. Life may be full of vaporous vanity, but God is substantial and completely worthwhile. Still, our faith in him does not give us access to all of his knowledge and therefore all of the meaning we desire. God calls us to discover our meaning from the bottom up, trusting him to reveal himself in the midst of our lot and toil. This requires enormous faith,  because he is demanding that we find meaning in precisely the thing we wish meaning would allow us to escape.

It is only in embracing our lot and toil that we will find satisfaction and happiness in the things that actually make up our lives as creatures. God claims that it is in this experience that we not only find joyful satisfaction; it is also where we find knowledge and wisdom. The pursuit of anything else is the pursuit of vapor. And the pursuit of vaporous vanity will never produce substance.

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Can I do this work any faster?

You might wonder if that means we can’t study, reflect and learn our way into satisfaction, wisdom and meaning. I think we can, so long as we do it while embracing the toil and lot of our real lives. In fact, this is precisely what the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes is. It is a series of reflections on what makes up our real lives and how we should engage with those things as creatures rather than as gods or idolaters.

There are a number of examples of how to embrace our lot and toil in the book of Ecclesiastes, and in this sermon, I talk about nine of them. I am not saying that there are only nine parts of our lot and toil discussed in the book of Ecclesiastes. These are just nine examples I have pulled out to demonstrate how we can combine study and reflection with the practice of daily embracing our lot and toil with joyful satisfaction.

I encourage you to listen to the sermon for these nine examples. Then, read the passages and reflect on them by journaling about how they specifically relate to you embracing the realities of your own real life. Don’t just think theological and philosophical thoughts. Think intensely personal thoughts focused on daily repetitive application. Some of those thoughts should be hurtful and humiliating. They should reveal how unsophisticated our sin often is. Some will also be a beautiful as we realize how much we have overlooked all that we have to be thankful for. Yet you must also trust that God is with you in every step of finding satisfaction in the lot and toil of your vaporous life under the sun. It is not only he who gives you this life, but is also he who “lengthens your days like a shadow” into eternity (see Ecclesiastes 8:13).


Edited June 1, 2018: Originally, I had promised to write nine blog posts about each of the nine examples of embracing our lot and toil throughout Ecclesiastes, but have yet to be able to get to writing these. Since I cover each of these examples in a sermon and haven’t followed up with the blog posts, I suggest listening to the sermon and reading them in the Bible for yourself.