My Name is Joseph (Part 3)

You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

It didn’t take me long to decide what to do.  For the several nights Mary came by every evening to try and see me.  I just had my father send her away – I thought I would see how she liked it for a while.  After about a week of this I sent word to her house that I would be divorcing her.  It would be a private ceremony, just us and the Rabbi, and then I’m sure Mary would just move away.  It would be quick and easy and best of all, over.

That was the first night that I actually slept well.  Now I know what I’m about to tell you may sound crazy, but I woke up the next morning with an entirely different aim in mind.  I had the strangest dream that night – except it wasn’t like a dream because it was more real than that – it was more like a vision.  I’m not sure who it was that told it to me, but I remember the message clearly: “Do not divorce Mary, for her child is from the Holy Spirit.”  And then he told me what to make this kid – Yeshua.

I’ve never been so conflicted.  First of all I didn’t and still don’t understand all the implications of that dream.  I mean, this angel – or whatever he was – called me Joseph son of David, which I’ve never been called, and then he said that there was something special about this little boy.  So what was I supposed to do?  Was that dream real?  Was it from the Lord?  Or was it just bad wine from the night before?  It was pretty radical if it was real – that meant the Lord was asking me to become unrighteous.  He was asking me to give up my reputation and go against the laws of my community.  On the other hand, if it wasn’t real, then I would be taking on the responsibility of someone else’s child.

What can you do in a situation like that?  You believe you have heard the voice of the Lord but it makes no sense to do what he has said.  It defies logic.  I mean He might as well have told me to move my whole family to Egypt!  But I guess we all face that decision someday.  So what could I do?  I didn’t divorce Mary that day.  In fact, when I talked to her, she told me that she had a dream almost exactly like mine!  And believe it or not, she told me that she had actually not even, you know, been with a man.  I know, crazy right?  But it was sane enough for us to believe.

So against the advice of my father we continued our marriage.  I with I could tell you that it was smooth after that.  I wish I could tell you that our families fell in line and supported the decision we had made.  I with I could say that we were not persecuted and that people didn’t whisper when we walked by.  But I can’t.  The day of our wedding was the worst.  Usually the wedding happens about a year after the engagement begins and it can be a week long celebration, but not ours.  Ours was quiet.  Nobody from the community wanted to come.  My mother was a basket case – she cried through the whole thing and then went home right after.  Mary and I ended up just having a quiet meal at home together.

Things didn’t get better, either.  People stopped coming to my father’s shop.  My mother could barely go to the market without being publicly disgraced.  Mary wasn’t even on speaking terms with her parents.  We finally decided that the best thing for us to do would be to move from Nazareth.  Maybe we could get a fresh start.

That’s really what we were thinking when we went to Bethlehem.  Now that was an ordeal.  Have you ever tried to make a 4 day trip with a pregnant woman?  Let me tell you – the bathroom stops alone are enough to drive you nuts.  That’s where my son was born – in a cave on the side of a hill in Bethlehem.  And that’s the story of how our family began.  Life was a little better in our new town, but we still got the looks when we walked down the street.  We feel judged a lot of the time.  And sometimes, if I am honest, I would have to say that it’s hard not to be angry at God.  I was convinced that this is what he wanted from me, so where is the blessing for my obedience?  Is my reward the disapproval of others?  Is my reward a tarnished reputation?  What about all the names that people call me and I know they will call my son?  Is that our reward?

But in those moments when I feel angry, I catch a glimpse of my son – my little boy.  I realize that this – my relationship with Jesus – is what really matters.  And it’s like just for a moment everything that I once thought was profit – my own righteousness, my reputation, my job – I now consider loss.  In fact, I consider all things as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of just knowing this little boy.  And I’m not alone in that.  I see in his eyes that he wants to know me, too.  He loves me – not because I am a great guy, or have flawless righteousness, or because I am a great carpenter, but just because of who I am.  And somehow, when I’m with him, all those things I’ve lost don’t seem to matter that much.

Because what I have is better. Much, much better.

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My Name is Joseph (Part 2)

Part 1 is here.

That day is crystal clear to me.  She had sent word about a week ahead of time that she would soon be on her way, and I started to get excited.  Sure, I wanted some answers about why she had left, but more than anything, I just wanted my wife back.  It was a Friday that she came home.  I remember because I had made a mental list of things that had to be done before sundown because sundown signaled the start of the Sabbath.  I was going over the list in my mind as I approached my father’s house, and there she was.  She was sitting on the gate of the house and I stopped in my tracks.  I saw her before she saw me, so I just stood there for a moment.

I felt my chin start to shake and the tears form in my eyes.  My tool belt slipped from my hands and fell to the ground and then she looked up and saw me.  In that split second, I wondered what her reaction would be.  Did she leave because of me?  Did she not want me any more?  But all of my doubts were soon gone, because when she saw me she grinned from ear to ear.  We walked toward each other and then we embraced.  I know, I know – it’s too far physically, but in that moment, I don’t think either one of us cared.  And suddenly I knew that everything was going to be okay.  I had so many questions to ask her, and I had so many things to tell her.  I wanted to tell her how much I had missed her and how much I did love her.  I wanted her to know that I never wanted her to leave again and I would always be there for her.  I wanted to hold her and tell her that she could confide and trust in me.  But before I could say any of those things, she pulled away from me.

That’s when I noticed it.  She was looking down at the ground and the sun was at just the right angle for me to see the brightness in her face.  She looked beautiful and yet somehow different.  It wasn’t the girlish kind of beauty that I was first attracted to but a more mature – an older beauty that I now saw.  I was 7 years older than she was and suddenly I felt like a child.

She said to me, “Joseph, I want to tell you the reason that I have been away.  It is a wonderful reason, but it may be difficult for you to hear.”  I wasn’t worried about what she would say.  Not right then.  So I assured her that she could tell me anything and that the important thing was that we were together again.  And then she said 2 words that literally took my breath away: “I’m pregnant.”

I can’t describe what it felt like.  My head felt dizzy.  All the breath went out of me.  I couldn’t process what she had just told me.  She was pregnant?  How could she be pregnant?  Who was this person?  This is not the Mary I thought I knew.  How could she have been unfaithful to me?  Then it all started to make sense – her father’s shame, her distancing herself from the situation, the lack of news.  I felt like such a fool.  And all the while she had the nerve to stand there smiling like this was a good thing.

Did she not understand what was happening?  She was an adulteress!  She had gone behind my back and ruined herself with another man.  She had ruined everything – our life together, our future, her reputation, my reputation, my family’s reputation – what would our neighbors say?  What would my father say?  And still she smiled.  I dropped her hands and started to back away.  I said, “You’re what?  How… how could you?”  She wasn’t smiling any more.  She started after me and said that if I would only give her a chance to explain – but I would hear none of that.  I didn’t want to see her.  I didn’t want to know her.  These last few months had been nothing but a lie.  All I wanted to do was to get as far away as possible from the situation, and so I did.  I ran.  I ran until my legs started to hurt and my stomach got a pain in the side.  And after I stopped running, I started to cry.  I felt angry – who was she to think that she could make a fool out of me?  I felt betrayed – who was this other man who could not control himself?  But most of all, I felt hurt.  And ashamed.

I stayed out very late that night.  When I finally came home my father was waiting for me.  I thought about trying to hold it in, but I told him everything.  He responded just like I knew he would.  Father always raised us to respect the law.  The law was what separated us from the other nations.  The law is the means by which God blesses and curses.  And on this point, the law was very clear – I had to divorce Mary.  It was not even an option – in fact, most Jewish communities demanded a divorce in the case of adultery.  To not divorce her would be illegal, not to mention compromising my own personal righteousness.  I mean, think about it – if I married Mary, then it is as if I condone her actions.  Not only that, but I will be branded as unclean for the rest of my life.  She’s already going to carry that reputation around – why should I go down with her?  It’s not my fault she got pregnant.

So, as father said, I basically had 2 options.  I could either seek a public divorce or a private divorce.  If I went public then Mary would be disgraced before the whole community, and technically, she could be stoned even though nobody really did that any more.  And part of me really wanted that.  Was that really so wrong after what she had done to me?  Part of me wanted to see her have to explain her conduct in front of everyone.  I wanted people to come up to me and shake my hand and congratulate me on my own purity.

But in the end I decided that the best thing to do was to divorce her quietly.  I don’t know why I decided to do it; maybe it was because it would give Mary a chance in life if she moved out of Nazareth, maybe it was for the baby.  Probably it was mostly because even though she had hurt me so badly I still didn’t want her to be mad at me.  But whatever the reason, this option would allow me to maintain my personal righteousness and save Mary from so much humiliation.

Now I know what you’re thinking: is your own personal righteousness really that important?  Maybe it should not be, but I’m just asking you to try and understand my culture for a minute.  We live our whole lives based on honor and shame.  If I didn’t have my honor, my own personal integrity, then I wouldn’t be able to shop in public.  Some merchants wouldn’t sell their goods to me.  Most people would refuse to buy the stuff that I make.  Being shamed would affect every area of my life.

It just wasn’t worth it…

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My Name is Joseph (Part 1)

You may or may not know that I have a 10-year-old son.  In English, his name is Joshua; the Greek translation is Jesus.  Both of those sound pretty good, but I think I like best of all the sound of the original Hebrew name: Yeshua.  Yeshua does pretty much the same things that all 10-year-olds do.  He likes to run and jump and play.  He makes silly noises that sound like bodily functions.  He likes to wrestle and throw the ball around.  And I know that every father thinks that his kid is the best, but Yeshua really is.  I’m just so proud of him – and I know that he is going to do great things in life.

Of course he is going to do great things in life – look who his mother is!  I wish all of you could know my wife and what an extraordinary woman she is.  She is beautiful and patient.  She loves her God more than anyone I have ever known.  She loves her family and is fiercely protective of them, and she is a wonderful mother.  There’s so much that goes into having children, and she remarkably handles every piece of it.

And I never get over the fact that she loves me.  She makes me feel important.  She makes me feel important when we’re never going to be rich.  I mean, I have an okay job, and I can put food on the table, but our life will never be extravagant.  We will always live pretty much hand to mouth.  And I’m not a really important person in the community and I never will be.  But overall, I would say that we are a very happy family.  I know that none of this sounds very extraordinary or amazing in any way, and to be honest, it’s not.  It’s only amazing when you know the way that our family started.

What I have told you about us up to this point, many of you probably already know.  Great wife, wonderful child, that’s all very clear just from observation.  But what you may not know is that my wife was actually pregnant before we got married.  Yeah, I know, you never would have guessed it looking at us, but it’s true.  So now you know – we are not the perfectly righteous, completely obedient, wonderful Jewish couple that we appear to be.  But I’m asking you to reserve judgment until you hear the whole story.

I’m not exactly sure how marriage works in your culture, but in our culture, it is a year long process.  At least.  That in itself is not easy for an 18 year old.  I mean, I have needs!  But anyway, back to the marriage.  There are two stages in a Jewish marriage and the first stage is the betrothal period.  This begins when my father would go throughout the town and surrounding towns and find me a young girl, usually about 11 years old, who would be my wife.  I remember the day that it all happened.  I was outside in the shop working on a chair for some neighbors when my dad burst into the house.

“Joseph!  Joseph!” he yelled.  “I’ve found her!  And son, you will love her.  She is beautiful.”  Well you can imagine my excitement, and my nervousness.  I mean, I trust my dad, but you know – seeing is believing.  As it turned out, she was from Nazareth, too, so later on that night I went out for a walk.  Now I knew that I couldn’t be alone with her yet – heck, I really wasn’t even supposed to be in her presence yet, but I went out looking for her house anyway.  I just wanted to see her.  And so I crept around through the courtyard and eventually found her home and I waited there until I got one good look.  I was not disappointed.  She was beautiful.  In fact, I must confess, all I could do when I saw her was to think back to the Song of Solomon – you know the parts I mean.

The next morning the marriage preparations were in full swing and about a week later we had our first ceremony.  Now this was not the official marriage ceremony, it was more like a pre-nuptial ceremony.  This would officially begin Mary and I’s life together.  Even though after this ceremony we would be called “husband” and “wife”, we still couldn’t, you know, be together.  In fact, the best we could do is spend a little time alone together at my dad’s house.  I remember that day well – the rabbi was there and my dad gave the traditional gift of livestock to Mary’s family to unite our families.  Her father gave us some money that we could use to start our family in about a year, and then it was time for me to give my gift to her.  Through the giving of my gift, I would symbolize my commitment to our relationship.  I didn’t know what to give to her.  I thought about when my forefather Isaac gave expensive clothes and jewels to Rebekkah to begin their marriage.  I sure couldn’t do that – I mean, who was I?  Just the son of the local carpenter.  So I did what I do best – I made her something.  It was a little plaque to put over our doorposts that had the shema written on it, and I decorated it with some ornate wood on the sides and it looked pretty good.  She seemed to like it anyway.  I just wanted her to know that I was going to base our marriage on the law of the Lord from the very start.

And then it was done.  We were married legally.  In fact, at that point I had legal rights over Mary.  The only way that our betrothal could be broken was by divorce, but you never think about that right after your marriage begins.  For the first couple of weeks, things were great.  Mary and I would spend time together almost every night.  We would talk about our lives and our future.  We would talk about the carpentry shop and how we might even someday try to save up enough money to open up a second store.  Imagine me, Joseph, a chain!  We were getting along so well so you can imagine my surprise when I decided to stop by her father’s house on the way to work one morning.  Her father opened the door like he was surprised to see me.  We exchanged pleasantries, but there was something wrong in his voice.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was like he almost felt ashamed.  He wouldn’t look me in the eye and he acted very hurried in our conversation.  And then he told me that Mary had left early that morning for her cousin’s house up in the hill country.  I tried to get him to tell me why she left so quickly and without telling me herself, but I couldn’t get anything out of him.  All he would tell me was that it was important for her to go away and that she would be gone for 3 months.

As he shut the door, I stood on the porch in disbelief.  Was Mary sick?  Was Elizabeth, her cousin, sick?  What was going on?  So there I was with nothing to do except wait.  So I waited, and I waited.  There was no news.  Mary’s father stopped opening the door when I came to ask about her.  No one in town knew anything.  Everyday I would get up and go to the shop and try to concentrate on work, but how can you do that?  My wife was somewhere in Judea, not sure exactly where and not sure exactly why.  Three months is a long time.  It was a long time of wondering and thinking, and of trying not to be angry.  Those months are just kind of a blur now – work and home, work and home, work and home.  Some days I was angry, some days I was hurt, but by the time it was over, all I could think of was how much I just wanted her to come home.  And then she did…

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Burping Baby Jesus

From The Best Christmas Pageant Ever:

Imogene had the baby doll but she wasn’t carrying it in the way she was supposed to, cradled in her arms. She had it slung up over her shoulder, and before she put it in the manger she thumped it twice on the back.

I heard Alice gasp and she poked me. “I don’t think it’s very nice to burp the baby Jesus,” she whispered, “as if he had colic.” Then she poked me again. “Do you suppose he could have had colic?”

I said, “I don’t know why not,” and I didn’t. He could have had colic, or been fussy, or hungry like any other baby. After all, that was the whole point of Jesus—that he didn’t come down on a cloud like something out of “Amazing Comics,” but that he was born and lived…a real person. (73-74)

Yes. That is indeed the point.

His birth was painful. It was dirty. He cried. His mom probably cried. I bet His dad did, too. And while we’re on the subject of that dad, I can’t imagine the stress of traveling with a pregnant wife only to find she’s in labor only to find there’s no place to stay the night only to find yourself hanging out with the animals.

When we sanitize this scene we miss something wondrous about it.

Jesus, Immanuel, God with us… and all the inconvenient implications that come with being a true, human baby.

God became man so that we might become the sons and daughters of God.

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Whatever Happened to St. Nicholas?

Interesting article here:

How did a fourth century heretic slapping bishop from Southern Turkey wind up being a fat, Coca-Cola-swigging American elf?

St. Nicholas was born into a wealthy Christian family in the third century. His parents died in a plague, and having inherited the family fortune, he decided to obey the radical call of Christ and give it to the poor. So he became famous for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Bishop Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned during the persecutions under the Emperor Diocletian, and after his release, attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 where he famously lost his temper and slapped the heretic Arius in the face. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. Legends grew up about his generosity, and throughout the Middle Ages he became one of the most popular and wonder-working saints across Europe.

Now “jolly old St. Nick,” aka Santa Claus, is a secular figure used to promote godless good cheer and commercial consumerism. What happened?

Read the rest here.

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Miss the Chance to Think About What You’re Singing

Christmas, maybe more than any other time, is a season where people say things they don’t mean. Sometimes this is innocuous and for the sake of politeness: “Yes, of course I need a sweater with Santa in a motor home! Thank you!” or “I absolutely don’t think it was too much for you to put a 9 foot inflatable snow globe on your front lawn. It looks awesome!”

Other times, though, it’s more surprising. Take the example of Christmas carols. These songs have some of the most deeply rich theological lyrics:

“Hail! The heav’n born Prince of peace!
Hail! The Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
‘Glory to the newborn King!’”

Or this one:

“Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face;
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.”

Or maybe this one:

“For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.”

These are beautiful lyrics. They are rich lyrics. And they are familiar lyrics. This season, don’t let the familiarity of the tune drown out the wonder of the words.

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Racial Diversity is the Gospel Apologetic of the New Testament

How do you know the gospel is true?

All kinds of ways really. We know it’s true because of the fruit in our lives – the outworking of the Holy Spirit in tangible ways among us. We know it’s true because of historical validation and eyewitness accounts. We know it’s true because of the way, not only in the Bible but before our very eyes, that people change in a moment when they encounter Jesus. But in the New Testament, perhaps the primary tangible validation of the reality of the power of the gospel might not be what you would think of at first glance.

In the Book of Ephesians, for example, the primary apologetic of the gospel wasn’t an apologetic of logic – an effort to prove with tangible facts and step by step reasoning why the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus makes sense. Neither was it offering first hand testimonies of encounters with the risen Savior. Neither still was it Paul’s recounting of his own encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road and pointing to his own dramatic change of life as proof of the gospel. Those are all fine things, but that’s not what Paul held up as the validation for the gospel. Not in this book.

In Ephesians, the gospel apologetic is the church itself. Specifically, the racial diversity that Paul emphasized there.

The church at Ephesus was a racially diverse congregation. Jews and Greeks worshiped alongside each other, and that last point is key. I suppose you could argue that it would have been easier, cleaner, and more comfortable for there to be a Jewish worship service at 9. That’s the one where they blew the shofar, read from the Torah, and had banners waving proudly. But the Jewish congregants had to be out by 10, because at 10:30 there was a Gentile worship service. This one was more focused on real life issues and everyone had ham sandwiches afterward.

What you find instead is the apostle writing to emphasize the necessity of togetherness—one, unified congregation. That’s not to say they didn’t have their troubles; they certainly did. But they were together under one head. That, according to Paul, is the most convincing evidence that the gospel is real:

“But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:13-14).

Interesting, right? Not logic. Not personal testimony. In Ephesians, it’s the unity of the church – specifically, the racial unity – that validates the reality of the gospel. Makes you wonder whether our churches are validating the gospel in a similar way.

Look around us, and there are still walls. Still hostility. Still division. And so the call to tear down that which Jesus has already torn down resounds again today. The problem might be that such an exhortation is simply not pragmatic. Here’s what I mean:

One of the principles of church growth involves creating homogeneous groups. That is, that the most effective way of growing a church is to create a group, or a church for that matter, where people look, dress, earn, and act similarly to each other. The idea behind it is that people feel most comfortable and attracted to groups that are like them. So in doing this, we target a specific group of people, gear all our marketing efforts toward them, and hope to create a buzz in that specific group of people. The homogeneous unit that’s created becomes the core of the church.

And it works. Make no mistake, it works. Well.

But just because it works doesn’t mean it’s right.

In truth, I like being in churches where people look like me. It’s easier there because I know they’re thinking what I’m thinking. They’re feeling similar things to what I’m feeling. It’s comfortable there. Only one problem – that’s not what heaven is going to be like.

If places where people are different colors, have a different socioeconomic background, or are a different culture make me uncomfortable, then the afterlife has a surprise in store. God has always been cultivating a people of His own, and that people represents every tribe, tongue, and nation. And in heaven, those people will retain their cultural identity. We’ll hear every language being spoken under the sun before the throne of Jesus:

“After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

Now among other things, the church of today is supposed to be a glimpse into the future. It’s a foretaste, a preview of what eternity is going to be like. If that’s true, how can we intentionally or unintentionally try and cultivate a church experience where we all look the same? It’s effective, sure.

But what is pragmatic isn’t always what is right. And what’s right isn’t always pragmatic.

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What Makes You Angry?

What makes you really, really mad? Maybe it’s a small thing, but for whatever the reason, it pushes your buttons. It might be what happens to you on your daily commute; it could be when someone fails to show you respect; maybe it’s a certain trait in someone else that you just can’t stand. Whatever the case, all of us know what it’s like to be angry.

But there’s something revealing about the way we ask the question: What makes you angry? In the question itself, we are assuming that something has the power to make us feel anger. If that’s the case, we let ourselves off the hook; after all, we can’t control something being done to us. So anger can’t be our fault, and it can’t then be something we have to seriously think about and deal with.

Right?

Not according to Jesus:

21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

In these verses, Jesus takes the old law the people knew very well and takes it to a different level. The commandment they knew was a prohibition against taking someone’s life. That’s easy enough, even for us today. But Jesus isn’t content to settle for the physical act of murder; He takes the issue much deeper. The deeper issue is the anger we feel in our hearts, whether or not it’s manifested in some physical action that harms another person.

Furthermore, Jesus helps us see that anger is not something that happens to us; it’s a choice we make. Even though we might not be able to control the circumstances that lead to our anger, it’s ultimately our choice about how to respond to those circumstances.

True enough, it’s not always wrong to be angry. There are plenty of times when God or Jesus Himself was righteously angry. He is the same one who at one point was so enraged that He turned over tables and whipped the money-changers out of His Father’s house. There is a kind of anger, then, that’s good and right and justified.

This kind of anger happens when we look at the world around and see clear examples of injustice brought about by violations in God’s desire. Whenever we feel a righteous indignation because of these things, we aren’t only justified; we are good and right in doing something constructive with that anger.

But that assumes that our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, and most of the time, our hearts are not. We get angry at the slow-moving traffic or the child who has to be told to clean up his toys for the thousandth time; this isn’t righteous anger. Neither is the kind of anger Jesus described in these verses.

Notice that in the passage Jesus doesn’t address the question of whether or not the person we are angry at might actually deserve it. It’s possible they actually did something wrong to us or another. Instead, He directed His teaching at us, the ones who have the choice, regardless of circumstance, about how to respond.

That forces us to ask the really hard question: Why do we really get angry?

If we push passed the circumstances, we’ll find the true reason we get angry is because we feel like our rights have been violated. We should be treated better. We deserve more. Our anger stems from a deep held sense of entitlement that, when crossed, make us really, really mad.

In other words, our anger is a reflection of our commitment to ourselves.

How, then do we avoid anger? It’s by looking deeper into the root behind what we are feeling. When we do and we find that sense of entitlement, our hearts will start to soften. We realize that the only thing in the world we truly deserve is eternal punishment. And it’s tough to be mad when you realize that.

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Feasting on Thankgiving

Helpful reminder here from Desiring God:

When God commands us “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) he does not want some mere spiritual courtesy from us. It’s not like he needs our meager words of thanks or he’ll feel bad, like grandma might have. I believe God does feel bad if we don’t express gratitude. But what he feels is not self-pity because we didn’t make him feel good for doing something nice for us. He feels grieved for us because we are missing the point and therefore missing true joy.

God’s command for us be thankful is a prescription of healing for the disease of our soul-crippling selfishness. It is an invitation to us to see the glory of God’s grace that is everywhere and, for the Christian, is infused into everything (Romans 8:28). It is an invitation for us to leave behind the spiritual poverty of our sin and selfishness and receive, through the cross, “the immeasurable riches of [God’s] grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). The command for us to be thankful is God commanding us to experience the deep joy of true gratitude for all God promises to be for us in Christ forever. It is a profoundly kind command.

Christian thanksgiving is a feast of joy for the soul. It is savoring what is most satisfying to us. It is eating “the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27).

That is what this week’s feast of food is all about. The food many of us will enjoy is not meant to be the focus, it is meant to be a finger pointing to the abounding grace of God (2 Corinthians 9:8) that is enveloping us like a flood. The food meant to help us really taste joy. The feast is meant to help us really feast.

So, in the words of the old table blessing, “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.”

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“In”, “Of”, and Trail Mix

There are two words that are both applicable to the place of the Christian in relation to the rest of the world:

“In”, and…

“Of.”

Jesus said both words about His brothers and sisters when He was praying for us in John 17:

“I have given them Your word. The world hated them because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world. I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15).

Jesus did not pray that we are taken out of the world, but that we would remain in the world. And yet while we are “in”, we are not “of.”

“Of” meaning of the same kind or sort. We are not “of” because we have been made something wholly different. Sure, at first glance, we might look like we are “of” but we’re not. Just because we’re “in” doesn’t mean we’re “of.” It helps me to think about this dynamic in terms of trail mix.

Now I have a hypothesis: Very few people in the world really like trail mix.

Sure, they say they do, just like they say they like to camp, but most of us really only eat trail mix for one reason: It contains M&M’s. Before we crack open that bag of peanuts, pretzels, raisins and chocolate we check the ratio between the candy and everything else because we’re in it for the sweets. In fact, most of us start by picking those multi-colored nuggets out first and sometimes throw away whatever is left.

We can do that because trail mix is what it says – it’s a mixture. The candy is “in” the mixture, but it’s not “of” the mixture. The candy is still candy even though it’s mixed in with all the fiber rich stuff.

Like that bag, believers in Christ are mixed into the world. And like the candy in the trail mix, Christians must retain their distinction even though they’re mixed into all other kinds of work, life situations, and overall culture. But Christians aren’t only meant to be in this mix of the world; they’re meant to influence the world they’re in.

We are meant to use our influence to count for what matters.

Funny thing about that bag of trail mix – even though there are all different kinds of things in the bag, it all ends up tasting at least a little bit like chocolate. The sweetness has flavored everything else.

That’s what Christians do, too. We mix with the world, retain our distinction, and we end up flavoring every situation we are in with our influence.

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