Monday, December 30, 2013

The Paradox of God-Centeredness

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16 NIV 2011)
In the Bible, a mystery is not a secret but a revelation, something that God has made known in Jesus Christ. Godliness is holiness, or piety, or the “fear of the Lord.” Godliness is God-centeredness.

What Paul is about to tell us here is something he describes as “beyond all question,” or, as the NKJV has it, “without controversy.” The Greek word is homologoumenos, which has to do with confession. In other words, it is something about which the early Church was quite in agreement, a confession of faith, straight up and orthodox. Paul is likely quoting a creed or hymn that was already in circulation in the Church.

So, what is this mystery, the revelation about God-centeredness of which Paul speaks? It is a confession of the gospel. It is the proclamation of the good news, encapsulated in six short statements. But it is the first statement that I want to particular consider today. This is where the mystery begins: He appeared in the flesh.

The mystery of godliness is the mystery of the incarnation, that God appeared in the flesh. As John the Evangelist put it, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14). This is what we celebrate in the season of Christmas, and is why Jesus is called Immanuel, “God with us.” This is where the gospel begins, for it is as a human being that Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world and was taken up in glory.

In his letter to the Jesus believers at Philippi, Paul speaks of the mystery of godliness this way:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So the great mystery is also a paradox, for it turns out that God-centeredness is gloriously centered on a man — Jesus the Messiah, God become flesh. He is the one we believe and confess, and in Him we learn true godliness.

(See also Divine Humility, Divine Greatness)

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Joseph Pondered

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. (Matthew 1:18-20)
In Luke’s telling of the Christmas story, when the shepherds came running and found the baby Jesus and revealed what the angels had announced to them in the field, Mary “pondered” all these things in her heart (Luke 2:19). In Matthew’s account, we learn that Joseph had some pondering of his own, a pondering of a different sort.

Joseph was “betrothed” to Mary. Legally, it was more binding than what we would today call an “engagement,” but they were not yet living together as husband and wife, as the marriage had not yet been consummated. But one day, while he was making his plans and preparations, Joseph suddenly learned some very disturbing news: Mary was pregnant — and Joseph was not the father.

Joseph was shattered. The life he was preparing would now not take place. His dream was irreparably broken. He turned the matter over and over in his thoughts, his head in hard tension with his heart. He was bewildered. Had Mary betrayed him? It certainly seemed that way to him — he had not yet realized that the child she carried inside her was of the Holy Spirit.

Now he considered what he must do. The choice before him was not whether to continue the marriage. It was a foregone conclusion that he would not. Could not. The only decision was whether he would allow Mary to be subjected to public disgrace. But he was a “just man,” a man who understood something about covenant love, and he was not willing for her to be openly shamed. So he would divorce her quietly. Just sign the papers and walk away. But while he was pondering these things, he had a dream. An angel of the Lord came to him and said,
Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:20-23)
Then Joseph woke up and did as the angel of the Lord told him — he took Mary as his wife, just as he had planned. But everything was different now, and that would be okay. Because now he realized that this was part of a much bigger plan. Not his own plan, but God’s. A plan that meant great healing and forgiveness for his people — and for the world. Mary gave birth to a son, and Joseph called his name Jesus. God with us in a new, and redemptive, way.

And that was something for Joseph to ponder the rest of his life.

Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Knowing My Brother Now in a Different Way

My sweet brother Gary, now with Jesus.

This past week, on Monday, December 2, my brother Gary went to be with Jesus. Though we grieve his absence here, we rejoice that he is now experiencing the pleasures of God in a much more profound way. Here are the remembrances I gave at his memorial service on Friday.

I want to share with you about how I know my brother Gary. I was born on his fourth birthday — he got no cake that year. We are exactly four years apart, and I have always felt a special connection with him from that. But I did not realize how strong that was for me until this last birthday, just a couple of weeks ago, when Gary was in that hospital bed, in a coma — and it was so very precious to me that we got to be together on that birthday.

How I know my brother Gary. Growing up, Gary and I shared a bedroom. He was my first roommate, and I was his. We got along together pretty well when we were little, and he was my first playmate. As we grew older, the four years between us began to show, as his interests became different from mine. I became the pesky little brother, and I remember Gary chasing me out of our room many times — especially when he had his friends over (he was a popular guy).

How I know my brother Gary. I know him in his music. I was there when it began, when he first learned to play and sing and write songs (he came a long way). I learned to sing and play, too, in large part because of him. We never really played together, though, our styles were so different, but I heard him and he heard me, and we sang on each other’s CDs.

How I know my brother Gary. In know him in his faith, with its many ups and downs, and the difficult years when he was trying to find his way, and my heart broke for him because he was so unhappy. And I know him in his faith when he began to find peace and healing. And then Gary found Jan. His years with her were the happiest, and his music — and his faith — blossomed in new directions. I know him in the happiness of his last years, which were the very best.

How I know my brother Gary. Now I will know him in a new way. Through his son, Emile. Through his wife, Jan. Through our father and mother. Through our brothers, Greg and Jon. Through all who know him and love him, and through all whom he knows and loves — for he knows and loves us still. And we will know him through each other.

But even more than that, I will know him when I worship and when I pray. For he is now with Jesus. I will know him in my baptism, and at the communion table, the Table of the Lord. For we both belong to the body of Christ. So I will know him in our faith, and I look forward to the resurrection, or when I go to God — whichever comes first — when I will know Gary once again face to face.