Monday, December 31, 2018

Page 69

Almost twenty-five years ago, my predecessor at Reidsville Christian, Robert Forrester, retired, and in doing so, handed me, a twenty-eight year-old kid, the reins of the church (has it really been that long?). At the same time, he also left behind quite a few volumes from his personal library. While many of them have since found their way into our own church library or been donated to other ministers, I kept one book for me, for one reason and one reason only: Page 69.

Let me try and explain. The book is Christ in the Fine Arts, published in 1938 by Harper & Brothers Publishers. It is an anthology of the life of Christ as portrayed through multiple mediums of art - pictures, poetry, music, and stories.

Confession time: I got that information from the book's introduction. Quite honestly, I couldn't really tell you what the book is about... because I've never read it. In fact, I'm not so sure that I've ever even ventured past page 69.

You ask, almost in a hushed whisper, "Do tell. What exactly is on page 69?"

The answer is the artwork that's pictured above - Rest on the Flight into Egypt, which was painted in 1879 by French artist Luc Olivia Merson and is currently hanging in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (the hyperlink will give you a great close-up view).

Now, just so there's no misunderstanding: I don't normally "go" for art museums. In fact, when we were in Washington D.C. over the last couple springs, while the rest of my family hung out in the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum, I was out on the National Mall, Munzeeing (another obsession for me to explain another time).

However, there is something about this painting that has stuck with me over the last two and half decades. I just can't seem to shake it. I've asked myself, "Why? Why has this canvas made such an impact on me... especially when all I've really seen of it is a black and white picture in a book?"

I've come up with a few possible reasons.

First, while I grew up in the church and have heard the story about Jesus' birth and eventual escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-17) countless times, I don't believe it was until I turned to page 69 that it dawned on me that the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Sphinx would have been on the Egyptian horizon as Mary and Joseph made their trek. Now, since they were both constructed 2,500 to 3,000 years before the birth of Jesus, of course they were there, but that thought had never even entered my mind... not until page 69.

I'm not so sure what that says about my I.Q.

But a second reason is the picture itself. Scroll back up to the top of this post and click on the "Museum of Fine Arts in Boston" link. Take a look for yourself.

Go ahead, I've got time. I'll wait.

Oh, it's too much trouble for you to scroll up? Well then, just click here.

Did you look? Okay, now, look at it again... this time closer.

Do you see it? Do you feel it?

Do you sense the weariness of Joseph and Mary? Joseph lies by the dying fire in a protective stance, and yet, he looks exhausted. Mary cuddles the baby Jesus to her as she leans against the Sphinx, her legs dangling off the side. The darkness of the sky seems to envelope them both.

To me, it's an image that is so different from the traditional nativity scenes that depict the wide-eyed couple as they gaze upon God's gift, the Babe, while the bright star shines down upon them all.

No, this looks more like real life.

Real life can be dark. Real life can be lonely. Real life can be exhausting.

Real life can be the call in the middle of the night that you weren't planning on getting, with news that you never wanted to hear. For Joseph, the news was simply, "You've got to go... now!"

I personally would have had a very hard time with that sort of news. Assuming that I could have even just gotten up and left, I still would have had a ton of questions:

"How hard is the trip going to be? Where will we stay? What's it going to be like? How long will we be there? What about the language barrier? Will there be anybody there that we know?"

I could go on.

That's because I'm a Planner... a Planner with a capital "P," but sometimes real life can make a mockery of our plans.

In fact, there are times throughout the Bible when God seems to intentionally mess up people's plan... and yet, if they choose to follow His plan, it ends up being a really good thing.

That's because God always has a better plan.


Trust me, I really need to remember that as I move into a new year... as I make plans as to where I want to go and what I want to do. Even if God chooses to lead me into the desert, I wouldn't be the first, He knows exactly what He's doing, and He has promised that He will not leave me there alone.

In fact, in the middle of the darkness, He offers rest.

This is the way God put it: 'They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!' God told them, 'I've never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!' (Jeremiah 31:2, The Message)

The same God Who gave rest to His children as they left Egypt also gave rest to Joseph and His family as they entered.

And He will give rest to us as well.

That's the last reason why I like this painting so much - it's name: Rest on the Flight into Egypt. I mean, it almost seems like an oxymoron - rest as they're running - but it's just the sort of thing that God specializes in.

This next year, wherever we find ourselves, whether it's a part of our plan or not, when we find ourselves looking for a place to rest, may we meet up with the God Who is already out looking for us!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Pinky Promise?

Have you ever seen two people (probably pre-teen girls, but we won't go there) make a promise to one another, then seal it by linking their pinkies together to make a "pinky swear" or "pinky promise?" That's one thing I don't believe that I've ever experienced, but I do understand the concept.

Did you know that this little gesture originated in Japan with the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia? Supposedly it was the highest seal of all oaths, with the understanding, "If I don't keep my promise, you can cut off my pinky."

That really makes me glad I've never "pinky swore" before.

I mean, that seems a little extreme.

Until I read (Genesis 15:7-21) about God's willingness to "walk" between butchered birds and animals and basically say to Abraham, "This is what'll happen to Me if I don't keep My promise to you."

But He did.

And He has.

And He will.

Every single time.

In fact, the Hebrews writer tells us that "God can't break His word! (Hebrews 6:18, The Message, emphasis added)

And while that may not be the first thing that we think about when we read Matthew's genealogy, that's exactly what he's saying. Not only does God use all kinds of people, but He also keeps all of His promises!

God promised Abraham, "I'm going to bless the world through your family." (Genesis 12:2-3) 

God promised David, "I'm going to put your descendant on the throne forever." (2 Samuel 7:9-11)

And with the New Testament's very first verse, Matthew lets us know, “God keeps His promises. He said the Messiah would come, and He has!”

"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."  (Matthew 1:1)

Now, from our vantage point in history, we might catch ourselves thinking, "Okay, great. Jesus is the Messiah. God kept His promise. Gotcha." 

But would we really be that flippant if we were living during the "waiting?" I mean, it's always easy to look back, but living "through it" is something completely different.

Yes, there were prophets, men who spoke on God's behalf. He would send them to His people from time to time to remind them, "I know that things look bad right now, but just remember: The Messiah is coming. I promised!"

But then, four hundred years before Jesus was born, nothing. No prophets. No revelation. Nothing but... silence.

What would that have been like? How would we have felt about God and His promises then? 

"Has He forgotten? I mean, it's been four hundred years... did He change His mind? Where is He?"

And David’s lineage? If you look at Matthew's genealogy in verses 6-10, it starts out strong:

King David... King Solomon... we might even recognize King Uzziah and King Hezekiah... maybe even King Josiah.

But then, in verses 12-16, seriously? How many of us have ever heard anything about Jeconiah, Shelatiel, Azor, and Mathan? 

Famous kings... unknown kings... and then, no kings at all... just people.

Sure, we all know Mary and Joseph's name now, but who were they back then

Joseph wasn't a king. Mary wasn't a queen. They weren't rich or powerful or influential. In the eyes of the world, they were just two nobodies, engaged to be married, living in a little hick town called Nazareth... just a small town, filled with poor people, all who were simply trying to make it.

"Just a small town girl..."

I digress.

If we're honest, that is what Matthew's genealogy looks like. It looks like God forgot.

When it's been two thousand years since He first made the promise...

When there have been four hundred years of absolute silence...

When the kingly line has dwindled away through barrenness, civil war, slavery...

When hope seems lost...

When it feels like God has forgotten...

"and Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." (Matthew 1:16)

And it all happened at just the right time. (Galatians 4:4)

I'll be the first to admit it: Sometimes God seems slow. Sometimes it even looks like He has completely forgotten.

But He hasn't. He never has before, and He's not going to start now.

Here's something to think about: It's been another two thousand years since God made another promise, this one that Jesus is coming to this Earth a second time. He's coming back!

Today, I think we probably find ourselves in the same place that the people of Matthew's day were. 

Now, I don't believe that our problem is that we've become hopeless and weary and tired of waiting. Instead, I would guess that our problem is more likely that we've all-together forgotten about the promise itself.

Personally, I didn't wake up this morning wondering if Jesus might come back today.

Did you?

But He might.

Do you know why? Because God keeps all of His promises.

He always has.

He always will.

Every single one. Every single time.

Monday, December 10, 2018

I'm My Own Grandpa!

Maybe you've heard the song, sung by, to name just a few, Ray Stevens, Willie Nelson, and Guy Lombardo. It has been performed on television by some of the greats, including Hee Haw's Grandpa Jones and the all-Muppet Gogalala Jubilee Jugband. Originally written in 1947 by Dwight Latham and Moe Jaffe, it was inspired by a book of Mark Twain's anecdotes.

And it might just be a true story.


Throughout the 1800's, U.S. newspapers published stories about men who claimed to be their own grandfather. The names, cities, and dates never matched up, but they all contained the same sequence of events, as set forth in the song's lyrics:

It's many, many years ago
When I was twenty-three
I was married to a widow
Who was pretty as can be
This widow had a grown-up daughter
Whose hair was red
My father fell in love with her
And soon these two were wed

Ultimately, through a series of births and complicated marriages, the narrator became his own step-grandfather.

Can we all agree? True or not, that is one messed-up family!

But, maybe no more so than Jesus' own family.

The New Testament begins with, of all things, a genealogy. As I recently read:

"For most Christians who read the Bible casually or devotionally, Matthew's genealogy - the very first chapter of the New Testament - is one of the dullest passages in all of Scripture."

While for years I (like most of you, I'm sure) have just skimmed through it to get to the "good stuff," over the last month, I have discovered that the first seventeen verses of Matthew are the "good stuff!"

My teaching this coming Sunday (12/16/18) is on this genealogy, but for the next couple weeks, I also want to write a blog post about what I believe are the two main lessons that this genealogy has to teach us:

1. God uses all kinds of people.
2. God keeps every one of His promises.

God uses all kinds of people. Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus. I mean, just look who is included in Jesus' family tree:
  • Abraham... yes, he is called the "Father of Faith," but his wife Sarai was taken away not once, but twice into different kings' harems because Abraham lied to them that his wife was his sister (sounds like the song, doesn't it?) so that they wouldn't kill him on account of her beauty. (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18) He was also that kind of man.
  • Isaac... ditto. (Genesis 26:6-11)
  • Jacob... like father and grandfather, another liar and a deceiver, a dirty rotten scoundrel! (Genesis 25:29-34; 27:1-41)
  • Judah... you know, Matthew could have just said "Judah, the father of Perez, and Perez the father of Hezron," but instead, he wrote, "Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar," explicitly pointing out the incestuous relationship between Judah and his daughter-in-law. (Genesis 38:1-30)
  • Rahab... she was not just non-Jewish and a woman, which would have made her appearance in any genealogy improbable, much less the Messiah's, but she was also a prostitute. (Joshua 2:1-21)
  • David... finally - somebody good and honorable. A man after God's own heart... but that's not what Matthew singles out. Instead, he turns the spotlight on David's affair with Bathsheba. "David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah." Uriah was one of David's mighty men. (2 Samuel 23:8-39) He was a man who risked his life for David repeatedly, but one day, David saw Uriah's wife bathing... and he wanted her for his own. So, he had Uriah killed and took her to be his wife. (2 Samuel 11:1-27)
Messed-up stories that Matthew intentionally highlights to let us know us know that God chose to bring the Messiah through messed-up people. It was deliberate. Matthew could have "skirted around" the sordid details, but he didn't. Rather than hide the embarrassing, God does the very opposite. 

Or, as Rodney Reeves wrote:

"Matthew didn't offer a sanitized account of Jesus' pedigree. He relates the story of Israel's hope, the royal line of David, warts and all."

In addition, Matthew's list includes women. It includes Gentiles. The very ones who, according to the Law, would have been excluded from entering into God's presence not just because of what they did but also because of who they were, are now included. In God's family, there is no wrong sex, race, or color.

When it comes to the genealogy of Jesus, God invited liars, prostitutes and adulterers. Those involved in heinous sins like incest and murder, Jesus welcomed them into His family. He doesn't excuse them, but He does include them. He owns them. He is not ashamed of them.

And He is not ashamed of us either.

So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11 NLT)

God uses all kinds of people... which means, God uses even me.

To be honest, that's a lot harder for me to believe than even someone being their own grandpa.

But this one I know is true.

And I learned it from a "boring" genealogy.