The Nativity Story

“There is no ‘moral of the story’ to the nativity. The shepherds, the parents of Jesus, the wise men—are not being held up primarily as examples for us. These Gospel narratives are telling you not what you should do but what God has done. The birth of the Son of God into the world is a gospel, good news, an announcement. You don’t save yourself. God has come to save you.”

-Tim Keller, from Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ

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Proverbs 18:24

“For we may promise ourselves a great deal of comfort in a true friend.” – Matthew Henry

A couple of months ago, I finished a book by Erick Erickson titled “Before You Wake”. Erickson is a talk show host out of Atlanta and conservative commentator. The book essentially consists of ten letters that include a mix of advice, both practical and spiritual, and other words of wisdom designed for Erickson’s children. One of the “letters” is actually a chapter full of his favorite recipes (!). The beauty of these letters is that they apply not just to children but everyone. I especially liked his final chapter, which included odds and ends of things that he wanted his children to know, but wouldn’t necessarily stand alone as a full chapter. Here are some examples from that chapter that resonated with me:

“People are sinners. They are bound to disappoint. Forgive them when they do, but never expect to be forgiven.”

“Take long walks alone, turn off the music, and talk to God. He’s ready to listen.”

“Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Do not expect fairness in this world and do not expect unfairness in the next.

“It is vastly easier to be dismissive of someone than it is to understand them. That does not make it right to dismiss them.”

These types of quick hits from Erickson that made up the final chapter was probably my favorite section of the book. It also caused me open up Proverbs and I found myself at the familiar words in chapter 18:

A man of many companions may be ruined,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
– Proverbs 18:24 (WEB)

Erickson’s book was sent to me by my dear friend Buffy. When I was first thinking about transitioning into librarianship from IT support about twelve years ago, Buffy was one of the main people who inspired me to do so. Her blog was where I really first benefited from her wisdom and learned what it might be like to work as a librarian, and this was long before we became friends. Since then she has continued to inspire me with what she does on a daily basis as an educator and I’ve tried (however faintly) to incorporate how she thinks and what she does into my own practices. More than all that, though, Buffy is a like-minded soul. We were raised in the same time period with similar values and it has been great for me to know someone like her who can sympathize that there is a way to do things in this world, and certain things are right and certain things are wrong. There is simply too much gray now where there wasn’t before, regardless of what this world tries to tell us each day (which was a main theme of Erickson’s as well). We’ve also talked often about what it’s like to be a person of faith and to follow Christ in these days. I have gone through some ups and downs and major life events over the last few years (with another one on-deck!) and Buffy’s encouragement and prayers through these have been invaluable to me.

So while I really enjoyed Erickson’s book and learned a great deal through it, I am even more thankful for the friend who sent it to me. In commenting on Proverbs 18:24, Matthew Henry remarked that “we may promise ourselves a great deal of comfort in a true friend”. I have found this to be the case with my dear friend Buffy, and thank God for her.  I can think of few people who I treasure more as a friend!

1 Timothy 1:15

“Ah! I might sometimes imagine I was too bad to be forgiven. My own heart sometimes whispers that I am too wicked to be saved. But I know in my better moments this is all my foolish unbelief. I read an answer to my doubts in the blood shed on Calvary. I feel sure that there is a way to heaven for the very vilest of men, when I look at the cross.”

-J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

Ephesians 1:5

“The fact that we can call ourselves sons of God is a miracle of God’s great love to us. Love that goes upward, from the heart of man to God, is adoration. Love that goes outward, from one heart to another, is affection. But love that stoops is grace, and God stooped to us. This is the most stupendous fact of the universe. It reveals to us that our God is love.”

-Donald Grey Barnhouse, from The Love Life

Love Came Down at Christmas

“It’s very easy for us to look at our sin and feel ashamed. It’s easy for us to see our weaknesses and feel worthless. And then we wonder whether God really loves us.

“Or perhaps we view his love in a formal kind of way. God forgives us, but we find it hard to imagine that he takes any delight in us. Perhaps we think that at best he tolerates us.

“But here is the measure of his love: ‘Even death on a cross’.”

-Tim Chester, from The One True Gift

The Spirit of the Age

“The world can no more fulfil a man than a triangle can fill a circle. We are to resist its temptations: the fact that ‘everybody is doing it’ can easily weaken the Christian’s resolve to take a stand on many issues, but temptation in any form must be resisted at every turn. We are to repel its pressures: in a permissive society there are very real pressures to go along with the majority and to abandon the lonely pathway of submission to biblical absolutes, but they must be resolutely turned aside as siren voices.”

-John Blanchard, from Truth for Life, p. 111

What Shall I Do?

As he was going out into the way, one ran to him, knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” – Mark 10:17 (WEB)

I’ve been journeying through the Gospel of Mark this year, spending about 3 weeks a chapter before moving on. I’m now in chapter 10, and have been camped out in the passage about the rich young ruler. Over the last few weeks, I’ve looked at the commentaries and listened to a bunch of sermons on this passage. I’m not quite sure why I’ve fixated on it the way I have but a few things come to mind.

There is perhaps no greater question that a human being can ask than the one that this young man asks of Jesus here. He was obviously someone who took great care in many things of his life and you can probably imagine him having a quite orderly way about him. He knew the Scriptures, being quick to answer Jesus that regarding the commandments, “Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth” (10:20). Unlike some of the comments and sermons I’ve seen and heard on this verse, I picture this young man being in earnest when he said this, rather than boastful or arrogant. Jesus Himself saw something different in this young man, as we are told in the next verse, “Jesus looking at him loved him”. I can picture a faint smile on Jesus’ face when hearing this reply. But Jesus saw in him what He sees in so many of us. There is often something (and often more than one thing) that is so part of our identity that we can’t see ourselves living without it. In this man’s case, it was his wealth for sure, and quite possibly also his ruling status. It’s speculated that at that time he was a ruler in the synagogue. One of the first things we are asked when we meet someone new is “What do you do?” This answer appeared to have meant everything to this man. And he simply wasn’t ready yet to let it go.

In his Confessions, Augustine famously said in prayer to God, “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet.” I think in the back of his mind, this young man was thinking along these lines. He cared enough about his soul that he sought Jesus out to ask him, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” But Jesus, sensing that this was another who was “not far from the kingdom of God”, saw the last stranglehold on the man’s life would be his toughest to let go, “…and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions” (10:22).

The Bible is silent on what ultimately happened to this man. I see glimpses of hope that this man came to the end of himself eventually and placed his trust in Christ later on. We can’t know for sure of course. But regardless, this story is one that is worth our deep reflection. In Luke 5, we read the accounts of Peter, James, John, and Levi, as they encounter Jesus in the flesh as this man did. Their response, however, was different – “… they left everything, and followed him” (v. 11 & 28).

God knows there are things in my life that are so ingrained that it will take nothing less than the power of the Holy Spirit to purge them for good. At times, they feel like a death grip. I’ve asked, as the rich young ruler did, “what shall I do?” and yet, like him, have not always liked the answer that God has given me. But Jesus does not settle for rearranging the furniture of our lives. He levels the structure and builds in His own way. This is unsettling. However, for those of us who, by His grace, have been called to Him, can be confident that He also looks at us and loves us. He is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).