December 1, 2016

Chronological Christmas

 
Luke and Matthew don't contradict each other but they may contradict the way you remember the Christmas story.

How well do you really know the Christmas story? Not that I want to wreck your nativity scene or your children's Christmas pageant, but the angels, the shepherds, and the wise men were never in one place at the same time. When we try to remember the Christmas story we usually have ideas jumbled together from songs and shows rather than from a careful study of Scripture. And, even when we try to study Scripture it can be difficult to figure out how Luke and Matthew fit together. 

The narratives of Christ's birth in Luke and Matthew are complementary to each other. They don't contradict each other but they each provide unique elements of the whole story. If you want the full picture, you need to read both accounts together. This is my attempt to put all of the passages together for you in chronological order. 

A Harmony of Jesus' Birth Narratives:

  • Luke 1:5-25 – The angel Gabriel promises the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth, despite their old age. Zechariah is stuck mute.
  • Luke 1:26-38 - “The Annunciation” – At least six months later, Gabriel appears to Mary in Nazareth and announces to her that she will conceive a son as a virgin by the Holy Spirit. He will be called Son of the Most High and will reign on David’s throne forever.
  • Luke 1:39-56 - Mary visits Elizabeth in Judea. “The Magnificat” is Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55. Mary stays with Elizabeth about three months and then returns home. Although Mary may have stayed until John was born, I think that it makes more sense that she left shortly before the birth and the onslaught of visitors.
  • Matthew 1:18-25 - Joseph learns that Mary, who is betrothed to him, is with child. She would have returned from Elizabeth's home three-months pregnant. An angel tells Joseph in a dream that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph takes Mary as his wife.
  • Luke 1:57-80 - John the Baptist’s is born and Zechariah gives a prophecy sometimes called “The Benedictus.” (John's birth may have happened before Mary arrived back in Nazareth and the events of Matthew 1:18-25.)
  • Luke 2:1-7 - Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea for the census. Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem.
  • Luke 2:8-20 - Angels visit the shepherds and then the shepherds visit Mary and Joseph and the baby.
  • Luke 2:21-24 - At the end of eight days Jesus is circumcised and named.
  • Luke 2:22-24 – After forty days from birth, Mary and Joseph take the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present and dedicate him to the Lord.
  • Luke 2:25-38 - At the temple, the family is visited by the prophets Simeon and Anna. Simeon’s words are sometimes called “The Nunc Dimittis.”
  • Matthew 2:1-8 - Wise men from the East come to Jerusalem searching for the newly born king. Jealous, King Herod secretly asks the wise men to tell him exactly where they find this child.
  • Matthew 2:9-12 – The wise men visit Jesus at a house in Bethlehem. The wise men are warned about Herod in a dream and depart another way. This may have taken place several months after Jesus was born. We assume Mary and Joseph were staying in Bethlehem with relatives.
  • Mathew 2:13-18 - Enraged, Herod orders the slaughter of all boys two-years and younger in the Bethlehem area. Joseph is warned in a dream to flee to Egypt, which they do. 
  • Matthew 2:19-21 - After Herod’s death (4 BC) the family returns to Israel, possibly to Bethlehem briefly.
  • Matthew 2:22-23 & Luke 2:39-40 – The family moves back to Nazareth in Galilee where Jesus is raised.


November 23, 2016

Fear God



#1 The Fear You Need
The fear of the Lord is the good fear you need.


#2 God is Unsafe
God is more like a table saw than a cotton ball.


#3 When People Are Big and God Is Small
The fear of God and the fear of man: whichever is heavier to you will control your heart.


#4 Learning to Tremble
Why don't we fear God like we should and how to change that


#5 Don't Be Afraid 
The fear of the Lord is the good fear that cast out all other fears.


May 26, 2016

A Turtle and a Chipmunk

I rescued a turtle this morning as I was driving out of our neighborhood. I stopped the car, picked him up from the road and put him on the grass on the other side. Part of his shell had already been damaged, so it was a good thing that he was spotted by a decent person like myself who stops to help turtles. I got back in my car with a warmed heart. Then, less than ten seconds later, as I was still congratulating myself on my benevolent nature, I ran over a tiny chipmunk.

My heroism lasted literally less than ten seconds. The little guy darted in front of my Kia, doubled back, and went under the wheel. The only thing I could do was look back in my rear view mirror to confirm that he was goner.
 
What did this all mean? I stopped to rescue one animal and because of that I end up getting another one killed. Was there a deep lesson to be learned here? Could I use this story in a sermon to illustrate some profound truth? I thought, probably not. The only point from all of this is that animals should be more careful on the road.
 
Then I realized, I am an incompetent savior. If the world depends on me to make everything right, then the world is out of luck. If my self-image depends on me being the hero in every story, then I am out of luck. I am not a competent savior, but I know someone who is.


April 8, 2016

Well, This Is Done.

 
Finally. My dissertation is printed and I have the official diploma in hand. Will this mean that I will have more time for blogging? That is hard to say. My church, family, and teaching have a way of using all my time and more. Still, I think there is something beneficial about putting content down in writing as a permanent resource for others. I hope that I will find time to repackage more of my teaching for this blog. Nice intentions, but, we will see. 

But in the meantime, for anyone who might have been wondering what my dissertation was about, here is a copy of the official abstract (i.e., summary). It isn't exactly light reading, but for those who are inclined... enjoy! 

INSCRUTABLE PROVIDENCE:
THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINE CONCURRENCE AND THE THEOLOGY OF CHARLES HODGE
  
ABSTRACT
This dissertation will discuss the doctrine of concurrence within the larger doctrine of providence. Although concurrence was once a key component of the doctrine of providence, it was difficult to maintain in a post-enlightenment theological and philosophical context, even for a Reformed thinker such as Charles Hodge. Although Hodge labored to explain the older formulation of this doctrine—especially as articulated by Francis Turretin—Hodge found concurrence problematic and did not commend its use. In addition to shifting philosophical sensibilities, concerns regarding pantheism were a significant reason why some nineteenth-century American Calvinists distanced themselves from concurrence. Nonetheless, Hodge’s theology stands largely in continuity with Turretin and the echo of this doctrine continues in his theological system. For Hodge, the concept of the “efficient presence of God” functionally stands in the gap left by the absence of concurrence. Hodge sought to articulate a system of providence that affirmed God’s exhaustive sovereignty but avoided fatalism or mechanical theories of necessity. As with Turretin, Hodge did not believe that contingency—correctly understood—was antithetical to the Reformed understanding of the sovereignty of God. Within the order of second causes there may be events that are not necessarily determined by other causes within that order. For Turretin, the doctrine of concurrence is what allowed contingency to be possible without violating the principle of sufficient reason. 

Despite the difficulties involved with this doctrine, this dissertation will demonstrate that concurrence—or Hodge’s similar concept of the efficient presence of God— remains valuable for constructing a healthy model of providence. Concurrence allows us to affirm the reality of secondary causes (thus avoiding pantheistic errors) without reducing everything to secondary causes (thus avoiding deistic errors). Although we should acknowledge Hodge’s critique of concurrence, when properly understood the benefits of concurrence outweigh its problems. Concurrence fits with the Biblical witness and allows us to credit God for acts of ordinary providence. In addition, concurrence can be understood according to an author-story model utilizing the scholastic distinction between God’s scientia necessaria and scientia voluntaria. Rather than multiplying difficulties without benefit, the doctrine of concurrence remains valuable and should be retained.


November 25, 2015

The Best Portion

The correct answer is pecan pie. At least, that would be my answer if you asked me what portion of pie I would like to be served at my Thanksgiving Day meal. Because I am an adult, I will probably get some say-so in whatever portion of the food items get put on my plate. If you’re a kid you might have your portion chosen for you and handed to you on a plate. You might like your portion, or you might wish you had a better one.

Since this is Thanksgiving, I can’t think of a better time to consider some of the godly wisdom from our Puritan forefathers. The Pilgrims were Puritans after all. And although Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) lived about a century after the original Puritan settlers came to New England, I believe his words are especially appropriate for us as we consider what we are most thankful for.

Below are excerpts from Edwards’ wonderful sermon, “God the Best Portion of the Christian.” His main point is that of all the things we could ever want for our ‘portion’ in life, the best we could ever desire is God Himself. No other good thing, on earth—or even in heaven—compares to Him!
"Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee." -- Psalm 73:25

. . . the psalmist takes notice how the saints are happy in God, both when they are in this world, and also when they are taken to another. They are blessed in God in this world, in that he guides them by his counsel. And when he takes them out of it, they are still happy, in that then he receives them to glory. This probably led him, in the text, to declare that he desired no other portion, either in this world or in that to come, either in heaven or upon earth. — Whence we learn, That it is the spirit of a truly godly man, to prefer God before all other things, either in heaven or on earth . . .

Now, the main reason why the godly man hath his heart thus to heaven is because God is there; that is the palace of the Most High. It is the place where God is gloriously present, where his love is gloriously manifested, where the godly may be with him, see him as he is, and love, serve, praise, and enjoy him perfectly. If God and Christ were not in heaven, he would not be so earnest in seeking it, nor would he take so much pains in a laborious travel through this wilderness, nor would the consideration that he is going to heaven when he dies, be such a comfort to him under toils and afflictions. The martyrs would not undergo cruel sufferings, from their persecutors, with a cheerful prospect of going to heaven, did they not expect to be with Christ, and to enjoy God there. They would not with that cheerfulness forsake all their earthly possessions, and all their earthly friends, as many thousands of them have done, and wander about in poverty and banishment, being destitute, afflicted, tormented, in hopes of exchanging their earthly for a heavenly inheritance, were it not that they hope to be with their glorious Redeemer and heavenly Father. — The believer’s heart is in heaven, because his treasure is there . . .

If God were not to be enjoyed in heaven, but only vast wealth, immense treasures of silver, and gold, great honor of such kind as men obtain in this world, and a fullness of the greatest sensual delights and pleasures; all these things would not make up for the want [lack] of God and Christ, and the enjoyment of them there . . .
Edwards also has some powerful questions in the “application” section at the end of the message.  Here are two to think about:
If you could avoid death, and might have your free choice, would you choose to live always in this world, without God, rather than in his time to leave the world, in order to be with him?
Were you to spend your eternity in this world, would you choose rather to live in mean and low circumstances with the gracious presence of God, than to live forever in earthly prosperity without him?
Finally, consider this beautiful application:
Application: First, hence we may learn, that whatever changes a godly man passes through, he is happy; because God, who is unchangeable, is his chosen portion. Though he meet with temporal losses, and be deprived of many, yea, of all his temporal enjoyments; yet God, whom he prefers before all, still remains, and cannot be lost. While he stays in this changeable, troublesome world, he is happy; because his chosen portion, on which he builds as his main foundation for happiness, is above the world, and above all changes. And when he goes into another world, still he is happy, because that portion yet remains.
May God give you a hunger and a desire for Him above all else. And may God feed your soul along with your body this Thanksgiving! 

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