Dec 31 - How To Break Out Of A Rut

How To Break Out Of a Rut

December 31, 2017

James 1:22-25; 2:14-18



James 1:22-25; 2:14-18

December 31, 2017




Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, and it is a time when a lot of people make resolutions in the hopes of experiencing positive changes in their lives.  But in order to do so, a lot of people will need to get out of the rut they are currently in. 


  • Dear God, my prayer for 2018 is a fat bank account and a skinny body.  Please don’t mix it up like you did this year. 

  • Every New Year I resolve to lose 20 pounds and I do.  The problem is that I gain 25.

  • My New Year’s resolution is to stop buying worthless junk on Ebay, because QVC has better specials.

  • It is to stop re-living the past and spend more time worrying about the future.

  • My new year’s resolution is to do less laundry and use more deodorant.


    Being stuck in a rut is an expression from a time when roads and trails would really have ruts.  So much easier to follow the rut than try to get out of it.


As you are aware of, being stuck in a rut now has the metaphoric meaning of doing the same things, day after day.  It generally has a negative connotation, like, “a rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out.”


One kind of rut we can get stuck in, is the nagging feeling that while we go through our daily routine we are somehow missing out on the mission or calling or purpose of our lives.  For whatever reason, we’re just not able to discover what it is. 


We get up every morning and plod through our daily routine, somehow hoping that inspiration would strike, that God would somehow hit us over the head in some way and get our attention, and tell us what it is that we’re supposed to do. 


However, doing the same thing over and over again in the hopes that somehow things will be different, will not actually bring about any change in our lives. 


So if we are in a rut long enough, we might just throw in the towel and settle for the mediocre existence that our current routine gives us.   After all, there is a certain comfort to being in a rut.  Things are predictable.  Familiar.  We may not particularly like what we’re getting, but at least we know what we’re going to get. 


Not only that, it takes effort getting out of a rut.


When I was a boy, about 12, I rode my 10 speed through the city of Munich (on my way out to Hersching with Arzberger & Bakoni).[1]  Street cars were running on many streets, not like a rail way with raised tracks, but instead the rail imbedded in the asphalt or cobble stones with a groove on one side of the track. 


If you had a bike with normal tires, they would ride quite easily over the tracks.  However, the groove was just the right width to accommodate the thinner wheel of a ten speed bike. 


And, as can guess, when I was making a turn, I did not watch the tracks very carefully and ended up with the front wheel in one of these grooves.


There were a number of things that I could have done.  I could have stayed in the groove.  I could have remained stuck in the rut, become path dependent.  But I knew that wasn’t really an option because it would keep me from going where I wanted to go … and I would eventually get hit by a street car.


I could simply force the front wheel to turn, but I would be certain to fall over and wipe out.  So that too was not a real option.


I could stop in the middle of the busy street and lift my front tire out of the tracks, but I didn’t want to take the time or risk getting in the way of a car. 


So I did the only thing that I felt I could reasonably do.  I jumped the front tire out of the groove.  And that took a bit of effort.  It takes effort to get out of a rut, it takes almost no effort to just stay in it.


The fact is that every human being has a tendency to settle into ruts.  That is just a part of our nature.  All of us resist change by our very nature – we don’t like our routine upset.  And so it is much easier not to think about the rut we’re in, than to take a good look at ourselves and our lives in order to bring about change. 


We are creatures of habit.  For example, there is likely a place in the sanctuary you prefer to sit in.  In fact, there may be a certain seat you prefer to sit in. 


I read one time, if more husbands were self-starters, fewer wives would be cranks.  Not sure if that’s true.  But have you ever watched TV and you have misplaced the remote control?


Isn’t it just our nature to watch a program we don’t like and watch all of the commercials because we are too lazy to get up and change the channels?


Most of us live our lives that way.  The program may not be too hot, but we are just too comfortable, just too lazy, to get up to change the channel.


Being in a rut can be described as following a routine.  We get into the habit of living our lives a certain way.


I don’t think that a rut has to always be bad.  We can get into very good ruts.  For instance, we can have the habit of a daily devotional time.  Or we can incorporate physical exercise into our weekly routine.  Or we can get into the habit of eating healthy.


Today I’ll be reading two passages out of the book of James.  Each one of these speak of two different kind of people, each of whom has a certain approach, a certain habit of dealing with their knowledge and belief. 


Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says. 

a. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  

b. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.                                    James 1:22-25


In James 1, you have, on the one hand, those who hear the word but don’t do it.  They have knowledge of the message or word about Jesus or perhaps they know Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God, but they do not apply it to their lives.   


On the other hand you have the one who looks intently and continually into “the perfect law that gives freedom[2] and doing it.  This is NOT the Law of Moses, which enslaves and burdens people with a long list of do’s and don’ts, but is in reference to the Law of Christ, that is meant to free people to do the right, the loving, the merciful, the kind thing from the heart. [3]  


The second passage is from James 2.  And there you have two individuals as well.


What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?

a. If a brother or sister lacks clothing and food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and eat,” and yet you do nothing to help provide life’s necessities, what use is that?  So faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. …

b. But I will demonstrate [the reality] my faith by what I do.                                            James 2:14-18


On the other hand, you have those who profess faith in Christ, but whose faith finds no practical application in the way they live their lives.  On the other hand you have the writer of James who says that the reality of his faith is demonstrated by what he does, that is, by what he does to help others. 


Both type of people have a certain approach to life, to truth, to knowledge and to faith.  But one is forgetfully focused on self, the other one remembers Jesus’ teaching and therefore makes a positive difference in the lives of others.


The negative rut is the habit of not applying what they should know to be true and right.  The positive rut is the habit of practically applying in everyday life what is believed.


So a rut isn’t necessarily bad.  However, as Will Rogers once said,


So a good rut is usually a place where you don’t just sit still.  It is usually a positive rut where we are on the move, doing something good. 


Successful people are people of action. They know how to get things done.   The fulfillment of dreams and goals are the result of action.  So even as Christians, it’s very important that we are self-starters, people of action. 


Whether we like it or not, we sometimes need to be forced out of a rut.  I listed three things that will often motivate people to get themselves out of a rut - there are others as well, of course.


(It is sometimes not when we see the light but it's when we feel the heat that we get moving) 


People sometimes change because of desperation.  They won’t go to the dentist until the tooth ache becomes unbearable. 


Some alcoholics seek help after they lost their job and their spouse and children left them. 


Others need to get fed up with feeling bad or depressed or tired or worried, before the point that they will do something about it. 


Pressure motivates us to get out of a rut. You go to the doctor and he says, "Lose 50 pounds, quit smoking and start to exercise or you will be dead in 6 months!”  That will motivate us.


Or your boss says, "Improve your performance or you're fired!

Or your teacher says, "Get an A on this test or you fail the class!

Or the bills are piling up and there isn’t enough money to pay them all. 


That's pressure.  That may motivates us to get out of a rut.


The world around us is on the move all the time.  This week I thought back to my grandmother.  When she was a young girl growing up, there was no electricity or running water, and the primary mode of transportation was the horse and buggy.


She saw the change to the automobile, she lived through two WW’s, she saw the first manned landing on the moon.  She saw the advent of the personal computers. 


And there continue to be changes in our society that force us to adapt, to change.  Who would have thought that e-mail, texting, voice mail, tweeting, and the mini-computers we call smart phones would become so prevalent.  Next thing are flexible smart phones.


The problem with being forced out of a rut is that often it isn’t permanent.  We cram for the final, but our study habits don’t change.  We go on a diet, but our eating habits don’t change.


Anyone can be forced out of a rut.  But the better way to get out of a rut, is not to be forced out by circumstances, but to do so voluntarily as a matter of conscience and choice.  In fact, the best way to break out of a negative rut is to decide to develop a positive habit.


  1. I gain a new perspective


    In James 1, there is an individual who hears the word but doesn’t apply it to his or her life.  And this person is compared to a man who takes a look at his face in a mirror and then, when he walks away, can’t remember what he looks like.  It seems ludicrous until you realize that these are cursory looks without even an interest to seeing what is really there.


    Have we taken an honest look into the mirror of our lives and seen what really is there?  In order to break out of a rut, we need to do a bit of an analysis of our lives.


    Most of us never ask the question, Am I in a rut?   Am I on a merry-go-round?  Do I feel trapped?  Is life just more of the same over and over again?   The first step to getting out of a negative or destructive rut is to recognize that we’re in one


    But even if we ask ourselves the question, and answer in the affirmative – yes I think I am in a rut – then we may have a hard time putting our finger exactly on the reason why we feel that way.  So the second step to getting out of a negative or destructive rut is to be able to identify the reason why we are in one.


    Here are some questions we may want to consider:


    There are reasons why you and I get into negative ruts - and why we stay there.  No one does this without some kind of payoff.  I think part of the payoff is being selfish. 


    Why do industrialists deliberately pollute rivers, lakes and oceans?

    Why do strip miners ravage the surface of the earth?

    Why do some hunters deliberately shoot endangered species?

    Why do some pornographers exploit children?

    Why do televangelists fleece their gullible sheep?

    Why do mothers abort their unborn babies?

    Why do husbands and wives abandon their marriages and families for new lovers?

    Why do tobacco companies deliberately hook young people on nicotine?

    Why are the rainforests in Brazil and Central Africa disappearing?


    You know the answers and so do I.  Selfishness.  Putting self-interest, profit, first.


    Selfishness is why we naturally do what comes easier.  After all, it is much easier to sit in front of the TV than to go for a walk. 


    Selfishness is why we do what we derive personal satisfaction from.  It is much easier to spend 60 hours at work and see something accomplished than to read 5 minutes in my Bible where the accomplishments are hidden.


    No-one stays in a negative rut without some kind of pay-off.  If our diet is terrible, the payoff may be satisfying a craving.   

    If we never exercise, the payoff is lack of pain.  Instead of “no pain, no gain”, our motto might be “no pain, no pain.”


    So we need to take an honest look at ourselves.


    The writer of James writes of two individuals claiming to follow Jesus.  However only one is in the game, is a player, while the other one is simply a spectator, someone permanently on the side line. 


    Jan Hettinga in a book entitled “Follow Me: experiencing the loving leadership of Jesus”, describes those who only say they believe.  Among a bunch of other things, …


  • They prefer to be spectators – watching, listening, but not really participating.

  • They are focused on themselves – on their needs, their personal rights, their preferences, their comforts, and insist on arranging their lives around these.

  • They are intent on remaining uncommitted - they don’t want to be tied down.  They don’t want to be accountable.  They don’t want a lot of responsibility. 

  • They have little or no sense of overriding spiritual purpose or cause and prefer to drift through life.


    So when it comes to the question, “What exactly do I want to see happening in my life?” I am not referring to winning the lottery or finding a spouse or driving a Ferrari.  What I am referring to, is adjusting my life so that I am in the game, that I am focused on God, that I am committed, and that I am engaged in fulfilling my purpose in life. 


    And in order to do this, I need to get out of negative and destructive ruts in order to get into good ones.


    So, let me ask you, if you had the ability to get rid of all of the pressures and problems that potentially stymie positive change … what exactly would you incorporate into your life? 


    Another way of asking the question is:  What needs to change for me to live a life that honours God?


    Or, if we want to be a bit more specific, we can ask:  What do I want in my marriage?


    If we ask that question, figure out the answer, commit myself to implementing it while praying, “Lord, change me so that my marriage is what it’s meant to be.”  We shouldn’t think that the primary change has to be in the lives of others … my spouse has to change, my children need to change.   Because the only person that I can change is myself.  I can change how I relate to my spouse, how I speak to my kids.  And maybe, because of the changes I make, they might be motivated to change as well.


    We need to believe that change is possible.  And by this I don’t mean pride at our own independence and self-sufficient.  What I am speaking about is the assurance that God has empowered me to become a better person.


    Who is right?  The believer who says "I can't" or the believer who says, "I can”?  The fact is, they both are.  Our attitude in the power of God at work within us determines our ability.   So, as believers we need to stop saying "I can't" and start saying, "With God, I can".  


    If we start a new year’s resolution, but we tell ourselves even ahead of time that it’s unlikely we will keep the resolution, maybe because we’ve failed in the past, then we are almost certain to fail again.

    God spoke to Moses about going to Pharaoh, and Moses said, "You've got the wrong guy!  I'm a nobody.  You can't use me."[4] 


    God spoke to Gideon about fighting the Philistines, and Gideon said, "You've got the wrong guy!  I'm the youngest kid in the poorest family in the smallest tribe!"[5]


    God came to Jeremiah about speaking on his behalf, and Jeremiah said, "You’ve got the wrong guy.  I'm just a teenager!"[6]


    What would you like to change about your life?  Whatever it is, you've got to believe it can be changed in and through God.  If you don't think it can be changed, you will stay in the rut you are in!


    How do I break out of a rut?  I gain a new perspective; and then I start a new pursuit.


    As I thought about possible new pursuits in my own life, I came up with six (6) different areas that needed to change.  You can likely think of more, or simply different ones. 


    The fact is God made our bodies for movement.  He made us for activity.  We live in a sedentary society where most of the day we sit on our blessed assurance doing very little.


    Do you know what absolute inactivity is called?  It’s called death!  God made our bodies to move.  Lack of movement leads to a lack of energy, of being tired, too tired. 


    Because of our inactivity, we may become too tired to change.  We know what they ought to do, it's just that we are too tired.  Fatigue is a major cause of procrastination. 


    One of the reasons why some of us can’t get our act together in our homes, our families, our spouses, our work … is because we are just too tired to make any adjustments that would make it better. 


    Have you noticed how quickly patience are sent home after surgery in a hospital?  It’s almost like the surgeon announces after an operation, “OK, here’s the last stitch … off the table you go and walk back into your room.


    Why is that?  In part, it’s because doctors know that inactivity kills.  The quickest way to get healed is to get moving


    If you want to get out of a rut, the quickest way is to get your body moving.  Something happening makes something happen.  You feel better, you look better, you live longer. 


    But there's spiritual reasons too.  The Bible says, God created your body, Jesus paid for your body, if you’re a Christian, then the Holy Spirit indwells your body -- you better take care of it!


    To get energy -- and that's what you need, to change -- you've got to expend energy.  An individual in our church said that one of the best things that can be done for depression is to start walking.  It will help. 


    Some of the most spiritual advice I can give some of you is to start the rut of taking better care of your body.  That will make a difference in your life. 



    I’m not speaking of playing a video game or doing cross-word puzzles.  I am speaking of getting into the habit of reading constructive material.


    You need to challenge your mind as much as you do your body.


    By this I mean that you get into the positive rut of doing something creative.  It may be playing an instrument or gardening or drawing. 


    Probably one of the most important positive routines we can practice is to set aside time in order to develop genuine and vital relationships.  This can apply to our family members, to other Christians, to non-Christians, to friends regardless of whether or not we have a similar socio-economic background, similar interests, or similar problems.  


    This is the positive routine of a regular quiet time with God, in particular a gratitude-filled prayer life.



    This was the one area that James was most concerned about in his letter.  The whole point he made in chapter 2 is the fact that faith which remains selfish and non-responsive to the needs of others isn’t real faith at all.


    In order for me to break out of a negative rut

    I have to gain a new perspective,

    I have to start a new pursuit, and …


    By that I mean that I need to have the ability to stick with the new pursuits that I’ve chosen to incorporate into my life.  And that means, first of all, that …


    I heard it quipped that there are three kinds of people:  Accusers, excusers, and choosers.


    Accusers blame everybody else for anything wrong in their lives.  Their favorite phrase is, "It's your fault!  It’s his fault!  It’s her fault!  It’s my parents’ fault!  It’s my spouse’s fault!  It’s my friends’ fault!  It’s God’s fault."  Accusers love to pass the buck.   They have existed from the very beginning:  Adam took it like a man; he blamed his wife. 


    Excusers have excuses, justifications and rationalizations, for everything that’s wrong in life.   "The reason I'm stuck in life is because I’m an introvert or because I’m short or because I’m tall or because of some other reason.


    Ninety nine percent of all failures come from people who developed a habit of making excuses.


    Accusers and excusers end up being losers.


    Choosers accept responsibility for their own life and happiness, they know they have the ability to make choices, and when they make a mistake they admit it and, if need be, apologize.


    In order to persevere in the possible changes we want to make, we need to stop blaming others, stop making excuses, for why we haven’t made those changes.  Instead we need to take responsibility for our lives and the choices we make. 


    I can persevere in the changes I want to make if I don’t believe that I have to wait for ideal circumstances in order to make those changes. 


    A lot of people say that they will change when the time is right.  Circumstances will always be less than perfect

  • If you’re waiting to have children until you can afford them, you likely will remain childless. 

  • If you are waiting to spend more time with your spouse once you’re retired, by that time, you might have become strangers living in the same house. 

  • If you are going to start working out when life becomes less hectic, you may never make it to the gym. 


    Another way to think about this is that people often slip back into their old, negative habits when things go sideways in their lives … when things become more difficult.  The necessary perspective is the determination to stick to the positive change even if circumstances aren’t perfect and even if circumstances become more difficult. 


    I won’t start drinking again when work becomes harder. 


    In order to persevere in the changes I want to make, I need to assume responsibility for my life, I can’t expect ideal circumstances, and …


    We need to be aware (beware) of the great excuses why we should slip back into the old ruts.  I’ve just pointed out one … life becomes more difficult.  But there are literally thousands of excuses why we give up on a positive change in our lives … it’s too hard, it’s not fun, I don’t see immediate change, whatever ….


    So, in order to break out of a negative rut, I need to gain a new perspective, I need to start a new pursuit, I need to choose a new perseverance, and ….


    With the pace of life that most of us are in, we need to schedule for change by changing our schedule!  I truly believe that we need to combat our bad ruts by building positive ones into our lives.


    I sometimes think that the frenetic pace of life in our society is somehow tied to the belief that our worth is tied to our business!  The busier I am, the more important I must be.


    We hold back from God and from any commitment because we are already too busy and over-committed.  Or maybe our kids are, so we are kept preoccupied running from pillar to post to make sure they have every experience possible. 


    If that’s the case, then we need to re-program.  We need to schedule for positive ruts in our already full schedule.  And that might mean dropping some other stuff that clogs it up.


    In order to break out of a negative rut …


    The fact is that, at times, we will need to make ourselves accountable to others in order to get out of old ruts and make our lives what they should be.


    Truth be told, there is a huge difference in motivation if I make up by mind to change, or if I tell someone else to make sure to hold me accountable. 


    Every person that is dealing with the negative rut of addiction is aware of this principle.


    In order to break out of a negative rut, I need a …

    [New Perspective, New Pursuit, New Perseverance, New Program, New Partnership].  Lastly I need to stop procrastinating.


    In other words, I don’t wait for the perfect time.  I do it now!

    Wife:  "I'm aiming to change!

    Husband:  "It's time to pull the trigger!" 


    None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.  When you say "one of these days" you're really saying "none of these days". 


    James Albery (1838-1889), and English playwright, once wrote a short poem about someone like that,


    "He slept beneath the moon,

    he basked beneath the sun,

    he lived a life with `going to do'

    and died with nothing done.


    Imagine living a life of “going to do” and not doing any of it.  It’s sad, because it is appears to be a life wasted. 


    And it is tragic to waste our lives.  We have to stop saying, “Tomorrow,”  "One of these days..."  "Someday”.  “Sometime in the coming year.”  We need to start saying, “Now!”  “Today.”  Everyone has dreams, but dreamers are a dime a dozen.  Faith without action is dead.   


    James was concerned about those who went to church, but whose faith was only in their heads.  These are individuals who hold back from God and hold back from life.  They may believe in Jesus but they aren’t following him. 


    James may have been writing about our own time.  Many people say they believe in God.  But it is abundantly clear that professing belief in God and allowing that belief to make any discernible difference in life are two entirely different things.


    To believe in an all-powerful supreme being to whom we own our very existence and yet to life as if we are the ones in control no longer appears strange to us.


    Do you trust the salvation offered in Jesus but have a problem trusting the sovereign control and agenda of Jesus in everyday life?


    Breaking free from a rut is breaking free from the wear and tear of a self-indulgent, self-saturated, self-centered society.  It is trusting the God, who himself chose the radical tactic of self-sacrifice to reveal that he is a God whom we can trust; because he meets us at the place of his humiliation, the cross.   He will not exploit our trust.   That is the motivation for following Christ comes from.


    Try this exercise.  Imagine yourself standing before God’s throne of grace.  Now place all those favorite and treasured things and people that you hold dear into the hands of God.  As control passes from you to him, what happens inside you?  Panic or relief?  Alarm or peace?


    The worst mistake I can make in life is to delay committing myself to Jesus Christ.  Some of you have been thinking about it for weeks, months, maybe even years.  Today is your day!  Today, you can give your life completely to Christ. 


    But maybe God telling is telling you that you’re in a different rut, and that you need to start something new today.






[1] While on my way to Villa in Herrsching (Viertel Lochschwab; Riederstrasse 13?) am Ammersee with Michael Arzberger and Bella Bakoni. 

[2] James also uses this expression in 2:12 - Everyone will be judged on the basis of the Law of Freedom.  Jam 2:13 goes on to say that there won’t be any mercy for those who have shown no mercy (compassion).  

[3] This is the “royal law”, to love others as oneself (Jam 2:8).

[4] Ex 3:11 – Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt.

[5] Jud. 6:15 – O Lord, how am I to deliver Israel?  Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.

[6] Jer 1:6 - Alas, Lord God!  Behold, I do not know how to speak because I am a youth.


Dec 24 - Mary And Joseph - A Mother And Step-Father Called By God

Mary and Joseph - A Mother and Step-Father Called By God

December 24, 2017

Matthew 1:28-25 Luke 1:26-38


Mary and Joseph - A mother and step-father called by God

December 24th, 2017

Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38




Today, I want us to look at Mary and Joseph. 

There are two accounts of Mary, becoming pregnant.  The first one is found in Luke 1, when the angel Gabriel visited Mary. This was prior to Mary becoming pregnant.


In the sixth month,[1] God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, who was a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.                                        Luke 1:26-27



The dowry for a potential bride was usually around 50 shekels.  This was a very large sum of money in the first century, if you consider that a Roman legionnaire made about 70 shekels in one year.


Often marriages were arranged.  The potential groom’s family finds a potential bride for him, pays the dowry to the bride’s father, at which point the bride is betrothed to the groom. 


It was possible that the potential pair are still too young to marry at that point in time, which meant that the bride is pledged to be married, but the wedding was postponed until the couple was old enough to marry.


But people in the first century still married relative young, in their teens, a man usually by age 18. 


Weddings were usually held on Wednesdays (Thursdays for widows or divorcees).   


The angel entered where she was and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what this greeting might mean.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. ...

                                                Luke 1:28-30


... Look, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”                                                Luke 1:31-33


Mary asked the angel, “How will this be since I have not been with a man?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come over you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the child will be holy and will be called the Son of God. ...                    Luke 1:34-35


... Even Elizabeth your relative has conceived a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive (lit. barren) is already in her sixth month.  Because for God nothing is impossible.”                             Luke 1:36-37


SLIDE 7 - Luke 1:38


Mary answered, “Look, I am the Lord’s slave.  May it happen to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.                                    Luke 1:38


This is an amazing statement if you think about it.  Mary basically says, I’m God’s slave, whatever it is that he wants to happen to me, let it happen.  She would have known the risk that this would entail, least of all the public humiliation of being pregnant prior to moving in with Joseph, the almost inevitable end to her engagement to Joseph, and the very real possibility of being stoned to death for adultery.


The second account of Mary becoming pregnant is when an angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream. 


This was after Mary became pregnant, likely when she started to show.  Either Joseph noticed or someone else noticed and told Joseph.


[When I was in Nigeria, a young man was to be married but blood tests showed that his bride had recently been pregnant but had an abortion.  Daniel had to find a safe place for the bride because she would have been killed by her own family for bringing shame on them.  ]


This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about:  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.                                Matthew 1:18


Because Joseph her husband was righteous (or: just) and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he planned to divorce her quietly.                                                              Matthew 1:19


Joseph was a righteous or just man.  Joseph could have publicly exposed Mary as an adulteress and had her stoned to death.  But he wanted no part of this. 


But when he was planning to do so, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.

                                                Matthew 1:20a


The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home to be your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”                                                                Matthew 1:20-21


In his dream the angel made it clear that Mary had not committed adultery and that in fact the child was due to God’s miraculous intervention. 


In both stories the angel commanded Mary and Joseph to name the child Jesus.  When we meet someone, why do we often ask for the person’s name? 


Because when I know and can call a person by name, it brings me closer to that person, it makes the relationship more personal.  But Hebrew names, by their very nature, often mean something that is to indicate directly what kind of person someone is. 


God renamed Abram to Abraham, which means FATHER OF MANY

God renamed Jacob and called him Israel, which means GOD RULES / PERSEVERES (Gen 32:28)

Jeh-oshua, a shortened form of J-oshua.

both of which are a contraction of YHWH + oshuah, which literally means YHWH is salvation.

Jesus will save his people from their sins


And, God wants the child to be named Jesus, which is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Jeh-oshua, which means YHWH IS SALVATION


And Joseph is told that this would be the child’s name because he will save his people from their sins.  In other words, Jesus’ name already indicates what he would accomplish in and through his life. 


Joseph likely had no inkling at that time that this would include Jesus’ suffering and death, and the sending of the HS at Pentecost, but he knew that Jesus would somehow bring about the fulfillment of the OT prophecy that God would intervene in the affairs of his people and bring about a change in their hearts that would cause them to repent, be forgiven, and then obey God from the heart. 


[Here are two such passage from the OT, but there are many, many more.


This is the (new) covenant I will make with the house of Israel. ... I will put my law within them, I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God and they will be my people.  They will no longer have to teach their neighbours or brothers and say, “Know YHWH!”  Because they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, because I will forgive their iniquity and I will no longer remember their sins.                 Jeremiah 31:33-34


Here is one more from the OT that speaks of God transforming the heart through the indwelling HS, resulting in a willing obedience to the will of God.


I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances.         Ezekiel 36:26-27


But let’s get back to the story of Joseph.] 


The author of the gospel of Matthew then adds his own comment.


All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel,” (Isa 7:14 LXX).  This name means “God with us”.                      Matthew 1:22-23[2]


In the Hebrew, the name Immanuel actually consists of two words.  Immanu, which means “with us”, and El, which means God


In the Hebrew text, it is a young woman who gives birth to a son, whereas in the LXX, it is a virgin. 


Matthew quotes a passage from Isaiah 7, when the prophet Isaiah in the 8th century BC, spoke to king Ahaz (reigned c. 736-720 BCE).  The point of the prophecy is that prior to the boy, who was about to be born, reaching the age of accountability, the two kingdoms that were attacking Judah at the time would be destroyed by Assyria.   


In Ahaz’ day, the child’s name indicates that God was with the kingdom of Judah and would rescue it from its attackers. 


In Joseph’s day, the name also indicated that God would be present with the nation of Israel and rescue it, but not from its physical enemies, as was presumed, but from their spiritual enemies.  And this time, the child would literally be God present with his people in a way that the child in king Ahaz’ day could never be. 


When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.  Matthew 1:24-25


As with Mary’s willingness to do what God wanted of her, Joseph’s response also is unusual.  He knew that this was not his child.  Would the people in Nazareth figure it out or think they started a family too soon?  Was he financially ready to take on that kind of responsibility?


While the two stories are relaying two different events, they do have some things in common:


  • Both mention that Mary became pregnant while engaged to Joseph, but prior to them getting married and having sex. 

  • Both mention that God communicated through an angel.

  • Both times the angel makes clear that Mary’s pregnancy would be on account of the Holy Spirit (overshadowed by the HS; be from the HS).

  • Both times, the angel mentions that the child will be male.

  • Both times the angel instructs, really demands, that this child is to be called Jesus - YHWH is salvation

  • Both accounts have a nationalistic flavour:  Mary is told that Jesus would sit on the throne of David and rule over the nation of Israel (Jacob’s descendants) forever.  Joseph is told that Jesus would save “his people”, seeming to indicate the Jewish people, not from the Romans, but from their sins.


While both Joseph and Mary lived in the Galilean village of Nazareth, that is not where Jesus was born.


In the account of Joseph, we are told that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to fulfill a prophecy in the OT, as spoken by the prophet Micah.


But you, O Bethlehem Ephratah, so small among the thousands (or: tribes) of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will rule over Israel.  His origins are from of old, from ancient times.                                                                 Micah 5:2[3]


Ephratah is mentioned to distinguish this Bethlehem with the Bethlehem in the region of Zebulon, north-west of Nazareth.[4]  From the insignificant village of Bethlehem Ephratah, the ruler of Israel was to originate. 


Bethlehem (two words in Hebrew, Bet Lechem) means: The House of Bread.  Ephratah means “fertile.” The village was surrounded by fertile land, a place of physical nourishment but, more importantly, it would be the place where the One will be born who would feed those who hunger and thirst spiritually.


[If you think about it, why would God not have chosen (or want to choose) a more significant city?  Why not Beersheba, the administrative center of the southernmost part of the kingdom, for example.  Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba and called on the name of God there.  Isaac built an altar in Beersheba (Genesis 26:23–33). Jacob had his dream about a stairway to heaven after leaving Beersheba (Genesis 28:10–15 and 46:1–7). The sons of the prophet Samuel were judges in Beersheba (I Samuel 8:2). Saul, Israel's first king, built a fort for his campaign against the Amalekites in Beersheba (I Samuel 14:48 and 15:2–9). The prophet Elijah took refuge in Beersheba when Jezebel ordered him killed (1 Kings 19:3).


What about the city of Hebron, mentioned 55 times in the OT?[5] God appeared to Abraham near Hebron (in Mamre - Gen 18:1ff.), and there Sarah, Leah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Jacob were buried.  King David reigned at Hebron for 7 ½ years. It is there that the elders of Israel come to David to make a covenant before God and anoint him king over Israel.


What about the city of Jerusalem? The place David chose as the capital of Israel and where he reigned for 33 years.  The place he brought the arc of the covenant to so that it was said that God resided in the city.  The place where King Solomon built the first temple and where those who returned from the Babylonian exile built the second temple. 


But no, it had to be Bethlehem, although, as the prophet Micah states, it is an insignificant village when compared to many other places in Israel - the least among thousands.  In other words, there were thousands of other places that would seem to be better suited as a birthplace of Messiah.  Bethlehem may have been the birthplace of David, but it was also absolutely unimpressive in any other way.


Because of the passage in Micah 5, at the time of Jesus, the general expectation among the Jews was, that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but that his background or origin was to be somewhat of a mystery. 


But this didn’t seem to be the case with Jesus.  For example, the people in Nazareth where Jesus grew up, were offended by him because they knew him. 


“Is this not the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary and the brother of Jacob, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us as well?” And they were offended by him.                                                    Mark 6:3[6]


Those who heard Jesus speak in the synagogue in Capernaum were also taken aback.


They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”                         John 6:42


And then, when Jesus was teaching in Jerusalem, he was faced with rejection again, based on the fact that those listening to him thought they knew his origin. 


Do the (spiritual) rulers know that he (Jesus) is the Messiah?  However, we know where this man came from.  But whenever the Messiah comes, no one is supposed to know where he is from.                    John 7:26-27


They simply assumed that he was born in Nazareth in Galilee, which, given the prophecy in Micah, would disqualify him from being the Messiah.


Surely the Messiah will not be from
!  Do not the Scripture say that the Messiah will be an offspring of (king) David, and come from Bethlehem, the town were David was born?
              John 7:41-42


Philip, who lived in the town of Bethsaida, the hometown of the apostle Peter and Peter’s brother Andrew, met Jesus and decided to go tell his own brother about him.


Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one of whom Moses wrote about in the Law, as did the prophets.  He is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”                            John 1:45-46


Two of the things that Canadians asks when you first meet them on vacation (in Mexico) is, “Where are you from?” The other question has to do with the first name. 


Generally speaking, those under 50 tend to ask you where you’re from first. 


Why is that?  I think knowing where a person is from helps us to categorize people.  If I live in Victoria and I meet someone from Nanaimo, there is an immediate affinity ... we are both from the West Coast of Canada and both live on the East Coast of Vancouver Island.  Culturally we are probably a closer match than when we meet someone from St John’s Newfoundland. 


So when asked, we will say what town we are currently living in.  I’m from Edmonton, from Vancouver, from Toronto, from Winnipeg, from Victoria.  But, often we will qualify our response.  I’m originally from Calgary, but currently I’m living in Salmon Arm. 

I’m living on the coast now but originally I grew up in the prairies. 


Why?  Because we don’t just want people to know the location of where we reside, but we want them to know about our past ... where we grew up, what has made us into the kind of person we are today. 


So we categorize people according to where they were raised and according to where they currently live.  In Jesus’ case, it didn’t matter whether it was the people in Nazareth, those in Capernaum, in Jerusalem, or in Bethsaida, they all thought they knew where Jesus was born and raised, and therefore they wrote him off as possibly being the Messiah.   


They thought that Jesus had not been born in Bethlehem and that his origins were not at all shrouded in mystery.  I mean ... there was his family, and they all were from Nazareth!  And nothing good can come from Nazareth, can it?


But the reality is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Nazareth.] 


While Matthew never tells us why Joseph and Mary happen to be in Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth, Luke tells us of the journey there while Mary was pregnant and the reason for the journey. 


A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a registry be taken of the (Roman) world.  This was the first registry taken when Quirinius was in charge of Syria.  And everyone (in Judea, Samaria, Galilee, etc.) went to his own town to be registered.  Joseph also left Nazareth in Galilee and traveled with Mary, who was engaged to him and pregnant, up to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, in order to register, because he was of the house and family of David.                               Luke 2:1-5


The reason for traveling to Bethlehem was a Roman registry, when Qurinius was in charge[7] of Syria,[8] which required every grown male to register in “his own town” (Luke 2:3),[9] probably the town where he was born in or where his family was from.[10]   Luke says that Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because he was “of the house and family of [king] David” (2:4).   This is also the reason why the angel addresses him as “Joseph, son of David” in his dream.


For Mary and Joseph, the registry was just one more example of Roman oppression ... and it would have messed up all their plans.  Mary probably had a mid-wife she was familiar with in Nazareth. She surely hoped to give birth with family and friends close by.


Now, in the very last month of her pregnancy, she was forced to make a trip that would be dangerous, costly, and uncomfortable at best.


We aren’t told how Joseph and Mary felt, but it would be normal for them to think something like this:


What is going on here? The angel appeared to me months ago, and I know this baby is supposed be the Messiah!  But now everything is going wrong.  At the worst time possible we have to head off on this dangerous trip! What if there are complications?  What is God doing?


Have you ever felt that way toward God?  Have you ever been so disappointed or afraid that all you could do was cry out, “What is God doing?


You were hoping for a promotion, but instead you got laid off. You prayed for healing, but instead the illness got worse. You thought you had found a great relationship, but now you’ve been left all alone.


I wonder if Joseph and Mary could accept this turn of events, not simply because they couldn’t do anything about it, they had no choice, but because they trusted that somehow things would work out. 


The road between Nazareth to Bethlehem was about 175 km long (straight route around 120 km).  Today you can drive the distance in 3 hours.  But back then it took a good 8 days to make that journey on foot - if you walked more than 20 km a day. 


If Mary was close to 9 months pregnant, it is unlikely that she could have travelled that distance on foot, which is why you traditionally she is depicted as riding a donkey, although nothing is said about this in the Bible. 


So they arrive, but the inn in the town of Bethlehem is full.  Not a single room was empty and apparently none of the other guests were willing to give up their room for a pregnant lady about to give birth.  Wouldn’t that just cheese you off completely?


Imagine a long, tiring, dirty trip.  From Jericho alone, the climb to Jerusalem and from there to Bethlehem would have been 1,200 meters.  And then to be relegated to a stable somewhere at the edge of town.  And where there’s a stable, there are animals.  Goats, chickens, cattle, donkeys, possibly a few cats to keep the mouse population at bay.  Eating, grunting, baying, shedding and pooping.  And then the shepherds show up with even more animals. 


I think at that point most of us would be complaining.  But I don’t think that Joseph and Mary did.  Somehow, despite the inconvenience and discomfort of a long, arduous journey, despite the danger of giving birth without a midwife, despite the location and the smell, Joseph and Mary seem to have taken all these things in stride. 


Did they still trust that somehow things would work out?  That they would somehow be able to return to Nazareth safe and sound?  Were they still convinced that God was at work behind the scenes?


 Would we, you and I? 


Joseph and Mary didn’t seem to complain.


They also didn’t seem to let anyone know that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father.  Mary was likely from the tribe of Levi, as her relative Elizabeth was.  Yet so many times, when Jesus is addressed as an adult, he is called the son or descendant of David.  This would have only been possible because Joseph was of the tribe of Judah and a direct descendant of David.  However, as we already know through the angels, and as we’re told as well in the genealogies of Jesus, Joseph was not the actual father of Jesus:


Jesus ... was thought to be the son of Joseph...

                                                Luke 3:23


Joseph was the husband of Mary.  From her Jesus, who is called the Messiah, was born.

                                                Matthew 1:16 


Nevertheless, the people at that time, were likely not aware of the fact that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father.


[Some people think this is a problem because the promise to David was that one of his descendants would sit on his throne.[11]


Jesus couldn’t be a direct descendant of David if his connection only runs through his step-dad Joseph.  And there is no hint that Mary herself was a descendant of David.  It is more likely that she was from the tribe of Levi as her relative Elizabeth. 


However, when we look at what is termed Levirate Marriage, there is at least one way that someone could be considered the son to someone without any genetic link being present.[12]














Should a married man die, then the oldest brother was obligated to marry the widow.  The first son of this union would carry the dead man’s name, inherit the dead man’s land, and would be considered, legally and in any other significant way, to be the son of the deceased brother, even though there is no genetic link between the two individuals.


While this was somewhat different from Jesus’ birth, Jesus was considered to be the son of Joseph in such a profound way (adoption?) that he was also considered to be a descendant of David, even though that link is only spiritual in nature.  ]


And when he (the blind beggar) heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to shout, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Many told him sternly to be quiet, but he yelled out even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”      

Mark 10:48


Or what about when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey?


The crowds that went ahead and followed him, shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David ...”.                                         Matthew 21:9


When Jesus was 8 days old, a week after the shepherds, who had visited the newborn Jesus, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised, likely at the hands of a rabbi in Bethlehem (Luke 2:21; Lev 12:3).  At that point they revealed the name of Jesus.  Apparently naming a son at the time of circumcision was a common practice (cf. Luke 1:59, the naming of John the Baptist). 


40 days after Jesus’ birth, they went to the temple in Jerusalem - for two reasons.  For one, a woman who gave birth to a son was said to be ritually unclean until 40 days after the birth (after the first 7 days she remains unclean for another 33 days),[13] after which she had to either bring a lamb and a young pigeon as a sacrifice to the temple, or, if she couldn’t afford the lamb, she was to bring two young pigeons instead (Lev 12:6-8).


Joseph and Mary did not have the money for a lamb, so they brought the two young pigeons (Luke 2:24). 


But there was a second reason as well.  They combined this visit with the redemption of a first born son, as commanded in the Law of Moses:[14] 


Sanctify the first-born ... among the sons of Israel ... it belongs to me.  ... You are to devote to YHWH the first offspring ... every firstborn of men, among your sons, you are to redeem.                      Exodus 13:1,12-13


In order to redeem Jesus, Joseph had to pay five shekels of silver (Num 18:16), a tenth of the dowry, which was still a significant amount, almost a month’s pay for a roman foot-soldier.[15] 


[When Mary and Joseph entered the Jerusalem temple, an old man named Simeon, upon whom the Holy Spirit was said to rest, took Jesus into his arms and praised God because he was able to see God’s salvation, the light to the Gentiles (the non-Jewish people) and the glory of the Jewish people (Luke 2:25-32).  Then we are told Mary and Joseph’s reaction. 


And his father and mother were amazed at the things that were being said about him.                         Luke 22:33


This is actually a pretty strange statement if you think about it.  After the visitation of the angels to both Joseph and Mary personally, and after the visit of the Shepherds in Bethlehem, which Mary is said to have pondered in her heart (cf. Luke 2:21),[16] you would think those words would not amaze them.


Why was Mary amazed, when she herself sang the so-called Magnificat, where she recognizes that her unborn child will bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham ... having a nation at peace and being a blessing to all the nations. 


My soul lifts high the Lord.  My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour. ... He has given help to Israel, his servant, remembering his mercy, as he promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.                          Luke 1:46-55


But maybe we are all a bit blind recognizing that God is actually doing something, even if theoretically we claim that he is.


Finally, we are told that after the parents finished giving the offering for the purification and paying the money for the redemption, they returned to Nazareth (Luke 2:39).]


We know very little about how Joseph and Mary raised Jesus.  We do know that Jesus related to Joseph as his father, and that Mary told him at one time how worried she and his father (Joseph) were when it took them 3 days to find him.


His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us this way?  Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”                Luke 2:48


Jesus would not remain the only child in the family.  Mary and Joseph would have 4 more sons and an unnamed number of daughters.  And it seems that they didn’t tell Jesus’ siblings about the real identity of their older brother, because as adults, Jesus’ brothers did not think of him as anyone special (John 7). 


I am sure that Joseph raised and loved Jesus as his own son.  He taught Jesus his trade.  Jesus became a carpenter just like Joseph.  However, I would think that at some point, Mary and Joseph would have had to tell Jesus that Joseph wasn’t his earthly father. 


I have no idea when they would have done this, but maybe it wasn’t something that was easy to do. When they did, they likely told Jesus of the angels’ visit, the birth in Bethlehem in a stable, the visit of the shepherds and the wise men from the East, and the prophetic words spoken about him in the temple when he was but an infant. 


They would have to tell Jesus that his real Father is God, and that God had much greater plans for him than simply following in the footsteps of Joseph.  But even at 12 Jesus sensed this in any case.


How hard is it for some parents to tell a child that he’s adopted?  How hard is it to tell the one you love as your child that you’re not his biological parent?  How hard would it be to let go of a child and him them to meet his birth parents.  In a sense, Joseph would have had to do that and more. 


And Joseph and Mary knew that the life of their first-born would not end well.  You see, the old man Simeon not only prophesied in the temple about Jesus bringing God’s salvation to both Jews and non-Jews.  He also said to Mary, with regard to Jesus:


A sword will pierce even your own soul.

                                                        Luke 2:35


While these words don’t outright state that Jesus would have to suffer and die in order to “save his people from their sins”, they are an ominous hint that things will likely end badly for him. 


Joseph would never live to see this.  He must have died relatively young, maybe when Jesus was in his late teens or early 20’s.  When Jesus began his public ministry at around 30 years of age, Joseph was no longer alive - and by all appearances, Mary was not a recently widowed woman.[17] 


When we think of Jesus, we tend to focus on the years when Jesus was teaching and healing and performing miracles. Joseph is no longer present, Mary is in the background, hardly mentioned. 


We tend to forget that before those years Jesus lived a quiet, normal small-town life.  He was obedient to his parents.  He apprenticed as a carpenter with Joseph.  He worked to support his family. 


As far as we know, the first 30 years were mostly mundane and ordinary - not so different from our lives. But during those years, God was working behind the scenes to set the stage for Jesus’ 3-year public ministry.


We may think that there’s nothing much to our own lives.  We go along with nothing of real significance happening.  Sometimes we face struggles that make life hard or burdensome, and we get annoyed that things aren’t as easy as we would like them.


Maybe we pray for something to happen in our own lives or in the life of someone we care for.  But nothing seems to happen. 


We pray for God to heal the sick, to free the addicted, to save relationships, to change attitudes, to bring loved ones to faith.  But years and years go by and those very people aren’t healed, their addiction destroys their health and lives, the relationships fall apart, attitudes don’t change, and people don’t come to know God.


And it may just all look a bit hopeless.  But we will never know if God during all this time is not setting up a miracle. 


The sick person, after years of suffering, finally is healed ... miraculously it seems.  The addict finally enters a rehab program and finds freedom.  The people in a relationship that seemed doomed, are fundamentally changed in their attitudes and things turn around.  And sometimes, like a woman in our church who prayed for 50 years for her husband to be saved, we see someone we pray for come to Christ.  


But often all we focus on is tragedy.  We see people who seem to lose everything.  But there may be an unseen reality that we’re not even aware of ... the greatest miracle perhaps of all, the transformation of a human life from the inside out. 


The people in Nazareth who knew that Mary was pregnant prior to moving in with Joseph may have pitied her.


Those who passed Mary and Joseph on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem while Mary was in her late pregnancy, may have pitied them.


Those who saw Mary and Joseph staying in a stable and realized that Mary would have to give birth there with no one to help her but Joseph, may have pitied them.


Those who saw their newborn lying in a food trough may have pitied them.


But today, over 2,000 years later, we who know and remember the story, realize that a lot more was going on.  That something beautiful and miraculous and incredibly important was taking place.  


It no longer makes us feel sad for Mary and Joseph because we know that God was at work, providing a Saviour, for us and for everyone who believes. 




Their incredible desire to follow God’s will in their lives, despite potential negative consequences, the ridicule, the shame, the embarrassment, the cost.


 Their ability to face difficult circumstances, inconveniences, uncaring people, and even physical danger, apparently without grumbling and complaining.


Their ability to trust that, even when all things seem to go wrong, that God is still working out his plan.


Their ability to love and guide and teach Jesus as a son, even while knowing that he really belonged to another (God).


Their ability to trust in God’s plan, despite the knowledge that painful times will be part of their experience in life.








[1] Possibly in reference to Elizabeth’s pregnancy (so NIV - see Luke 1:36 which makes reference to Elizabeth being in her sixth month)  However, here it could be in reference to the sixth month in the Jewish Calendar = Elul, around August/September.  If this is so, then Jesus was born around May/June.

[2] In the OT passage, the prophet tells king Ahaz to ask for a sign from YHWH that the two enemies (Aram & Ephraim) seeking to attack Jerusalem would be destroyed.  When Ahaz refused, God said through Isaiah (MT): “The Lord Himself will give you a sign.  Behold a young woman will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel.” 

[3] This (messianic) ruler will reverse the fortunes of Israel.  He will rule to the ends of the earth.  He will be the shepherd to Israel so it will live in safety and peace.  He will be the reason the scattered remnant will return home.

[4] See 1 Sam 17:2, where David is described as “the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah named Jesse.”

[5] 5 of those 55 mentions are under its earlier name of Kirjath-Arba’.

[6] Mark has Jesus as “the carpenter,” which Matt 13:55 rightly corrects to Jesus being “the carpenter’s son.”

[7] Greek hegemeneuo = to lead, rule, govern

[8] A census of Quirinius (51 BCE - 21 CE) happened in 6 CE when he was appointed imperial legate (governor) of Syria.  This was between 8 and 10 years after Jesus’ birth.  However, Quirinius was in Syria years earlier to assist Augustus’ young son Caius (20 BCE - 4 CE), as rector (= guide).  Caius was sent to Syria in 1 BCE.  We don’t know of a census being taken at that time, but even if it had, it would still post-date Jesus’ birth by 1 to 3 years.  The only other option is the time when the emperor Augustus required an oath of allegiance (c. 2 BCE), for which registration may have been mandatory.  Josephus, Antiquities, 17.2.4 (42), mentions that when all Jews “gave assurance of their good will to Caesar”, 6,000 Pharisees refused to do so.  There is nothing to say that Quirinius was or wasn’t in Syria at the time. 

[9] Greek apographe = list/registry/inventory

[10] In other Roman census’, people were required to go to their country of origin, but not to their town of origin.  However, the journey to ancestral homes or place of birth may be a Jewish method since it was likely that king Herod would have been in charge of implementing the count.

[11] 2 Sam 7:16 - And your house and your kingdom will be made sure before me.  Your throne will be established forever.

[12] Whether this argument actually is valid is not clear.  Perhaps the answer lies more in the process of legal adoption.  Or maybe everyone just assumed that Joseph was Jesus’ biological father and were not aware of any other possibility. 

[13] After the first 7 days, she is said to remain unclean for another 33 days before she can go to the temple to be purified.

[14] Normally the father would do the redemption 30 days after birth.  The mother would not be able to be there because she was still unclean.

[15] A Roman soldier made c. 112 shekels (225 denarii) per year, from which c. 55 shekels would be deducted for food and equipment, for a net income of 57 shekels.  Add a bonus of 13 shekels, makes a yearly net of c. 70 shekels.  That would mean soldiers would make c. .19 shekels a day, which is why they supplemented their income in other ways.  5 shekels would be 26 days of pay, so likely a significant amount, possibly the equivalent of over $ 3,000 in today’s currency.

[16] The same statement is said about Mary in Luke 2:51.

[17] This is an argument from silence and therefore is inherently weak.  Nevertheless, it makes sense.

Dec 17 - The Shepherds - God's Desire For Our Lives

The Shepherds - God's Desire For Our Lives

December 17, 2017

Luke 2:8-20



December 17th, 2017 (3rd Advent)

Luke 2:8-20


Who delivers presents to baby sharks at Christmas?  Santa Jaws.


What does December have that all the other months don’t have?

The letter D.


Why was the snowman rummaging in a bag of carrots?

He was picking his nose.


What Christmas carol is sung in the dessert?

O camel ye faithful!


What’s the most popular wine at Christmas?

I don’t like my Brussel sprouts!


What’s Christmas today?

A baby shower that goes totally overboard.  Unless you buy your kid a couple of batteries, and attach a note saying, “toys not included.”


Last Christmas I told my wife that all I wanted was a chainsaw.  That’s it.  Beginning and end of the list.  Chainsaw.  You know what she got me?  A homemade frame with a picture of us from our first date together.  Which was great.  Because I got her a chainsaw. 


Missing in these jokes and really in Christmas in our modern world, is Christ.  However, I would venture to guess that many people in Canada are familiar with the passage in Luke 2 about the angel making the announcement to the shepherds, even if they don’t attend church or never crack open a Bible.  


These verses from Luke have even entered the popular culture, through Linus’ famous speech in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special on TV.  


Every December for the last 52 years (since 1965 (Dec 9th, 1965), in between TV specials of the Grinch slithering around Who-ville, and Scrooge meeting up with the various ghosts, and George Bailey being saved by Clarence the angel, and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer running around the North Pole with the elf Herbie, we have Linus, reciting Luke 2:8-14 (the first 7 verses), in answer to Charlie Brown, who was overwhelmed with the commercialism of Christmas and asked what the real meaning of Christmas is. 


Now, it’s certainly a welcome change of pace this December to hear the Bible being quoted on television. But my concern is that with all the annual repetitions, the familiarity of the story of the shepherds can cause us to take it for granted – to overlook just how amazing this incident really is.  


Because it’s not just a story of the angels’ interaction with some shepherds, 2,000 odd years ago.  It’s really a story about God’s love for humanity; God’s love for you and me. 


So let me read it to you again:


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 


An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 


But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Lord Messiah (Christ the Lord).”


“This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 


Suddenly a great company of the heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”


This is where Linus stops reciting from Luke 2.  But of course the story goes on. 


 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 


So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 


When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 


The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


Who does God announce the birth of His Son to? Who does he invite to come and see the new baby? A ragtag collection of sheep herders!  Now why would God want to announce his arrival, Emmanuel (God with us), to a bunch of uneducated, smelly, low-class shepherds?


Why not the religious or political elite?  Why not the head of the synagogue in Bethlehem?


If you think about it, when a child is born to a member of British royalty, there are no personal invitations to the cab drivers of London to come visit mother and child in Windsor castle.  


And what about the angel choir singing for the shepherds?  ... It’s as if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsed all year to perform Händel’s Messiah, but then gives one performance where only the eight people are in the hall - the maintenance crew of the tabernacle!


I think God chose the shepherds on purpose because Jesus was not going to be the Saviour of only the political, social and religious elite.  Jesus was not going to be the Savior only of kings and governors, or popes and priests.  The good news was for all people, not just the privileged.


Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians with regard to the average Christian in that city:


Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31


Perhaps you and I aren’t one of the “beautiful people,” maybe we’re not especially popular, wealthy, powerful or influential. 


We may think, that perhaps God isn’t aware of us, and if He is, He likely wouldn’t be impressed.  God really couldn’t care about individuals like me and you.


But the reality is, the shepherds were the first to hear of Christ’s birth.  Other than Joseph and Mary, they were likely the first to lay eyes on the Son of God.  They were the first to tell others about Jesus.   


So this is just a reminder that God IS interested in you and me.  He loves you and me. 




A. happy:      I bring you good news of great joy


The message of the angel to the shepherds was so good, that it was to bring great happiness or joy.  If accepted and appropriated, it was to make people glad, happy, joyful. 


But sometimes the problem is, that while Christians know in theory that the news about Jesus’ birth is good, it sometimes doesn’t translate into happiness.  Why is that?  There could be lots of reasons. 


The loss of a loved one around Christmas time,

conflict in the home,


a car accident,

loss of a job,


being tired and exhausted,

stress … you get it, truly a lot of reasons.  


One of the reasons for a lack of joy at hearing that Jesus is born is because Jesus’ birth

doesn’t make life easy,

it doesn’t get rid of all my problems,

it doesn’t pay the bills,

it doesn’t make other people treat me nicer. 

And so we can get jaded.  What’s so good about the news of Jesus’ birth, anyway


The reality is that to some degree how we experience the good news of Jesus’ birth depends upon our long-established habits of how we approach life, how we think about life, how we react to life, whether we see the glass half-empty or half-full, whether we are thankful in general or we have a sense of entitlement and take the good things for granted. 


Kathy and I just came back from Mexico and there were a couple of things that I particularly noticed about Canadians.  We ARE in fact, by and large very polite.  I played volleyball, and whenever anyone, me included, would make even the slightest error, he or she would apologize.  The serve is too long.  The bump goes off.  The set is too close to the net.  There’s the apology.  It’s so second nature, that NOT to apologize would take some concerted effort. 


But the other thing I noticed, is that Canadians are complainers.  You know, I could overhear conversations, and I was always astounded at how often a person would complain … about the service, the food, some relative, whatever.  


And the reality is that, if we consider life to be good, even really good, then chances are, that we feel happier.  Right?  But if we think of life as being bad, or very bad, then chances are good that we will be unhappy … regardless of whether or not we call ourselves Christian.


For example, the way we think about our spouses will make a huge difference in how we speak with them, act toward them, react to them, … how we experience marriage as a whole.


Many years ago, when I was helping my neighbour Garry build his fence, he commented, “Life’s a bleep, and then you marry one.”   At the time I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t.  A number of months later he went to work and just didn’t come home to his wife and two young sons.  I’m not sure anymore, but I think shortly thereafter he left either town or the province.


And you know what, his wife was a good person.  Had he thought different about her, likely he would have reacted differently to her, and his marriage experienced would have been a lot better. 


That's not to say that everything is hunky dory if we just think it is.  But maybe you have heard of the very old illustration about a plane.  And not being a pilot, I hope I’m not getting it all wrong. 


In the cockpit of an airplane there is one instrument called an attitude indicator (or AI).


 It is also known as an artificial horizon because it informs the pilot of how the plane is oriented relative to the earth’s horizon. 


If the pilot wants the airplane to climb, then two things need to happen.  The nose of the airplane has to be moved above the horizon, the attitude has to be up, but just as importantly, the power needs to be increased, the engines will need to work harder. 


If the pilot wants the airplane to drop, he can push the nose of the airplane downward, or he can decelerate to the point where the nose drops, or he can increase the wind resistance of the airplane with the flaps until the nose drops, or he can do all three. 


In other words, given the effects of gravity it’s fairly easy to drop the airplane, but it takes a bit more to make the airplane climb.  The attitude needs to be up and the output of the engine needs to be increased.


For Christians, the increased power is not only their own efforts, but also the strength of God on the inside, that is helping them.


To reiterate, if our attitude is up, if we consider life to be good or very good, then we will be joyful.  And the news that the angel proclaimed to the shepherds was great.  We tend to forget just how great it is (old hat), because, as the angels said, “a saviour has been born … the Lord Messiah”. 




B. get saved:                        “A Saviour has been born


Now the shepherds knew what people needed to be saved from. 

They needed to be saved from the tendency to sin, to do what is wrong, to do what is against God’s will. 

The shepherds knew themselves and they knew human nature. 

They also knew that they needed to be saved from the Roman occupation.  They needed to be saved from their enemies so that they could live in peace within God’s kingdom. 


But today that’s not nearly as clear as back then.  Many people don’t think they need to be saved - from anything or anyone.  Their life is pretty good.  Financially they are secure.  They enjoy fairly good health.  They’ve got a pretty positive outlook.  What more could they want?  It’s only when the bottom drops out of their lives - but sometimes not even then - that they get to the point of acknowledging that they might need a Saviour.


But there are still enough people, even in our day, who know that, if they need saving, they need saving from themselves … so that ultimately they can know they’re OK with God - now and for eternity.   




So Jesus’ birth was to bring joy, it was to save, and then,


C. be at Peace -


When the large company of angels appeared and started to their song of praise, “Glory to God in the highest,” their song also included the words


On earth peace to people on whom God’s favour rests.


God’s favour rests on humanity because of the birth of the Messiah (Christ). 


As I thought about this promise of peace in a world full of hate and violence, I realize that this announcement by the angels, as it relates to the Christian existence, has so much to do with what we have spoken about so far – God beginning a transformation in our lives, first, by allowing us to be at peace with him. 


Then, by allowing me to be more at peace with myself.  Both of which contribute to our ability to be at peace with others.


1.  I’m saved                              at peace with God



2.  I’m changed                        at peace with myself






3.  at peace with others



When I am at peace with God and then with myself, then I can be at peace with others!  The opposite of peace is conflict and anxiety. 


When I am at war with myself, when I feel uneasy and insecure inside, then I will react strongly - in a negative way - whenever I feel slighted, insulted, disrespected, threatened, attacked, rejected.


I will become defensive, possibly aggressive, loud, hurtful.    

I will want to win no matter what.

I will see the person who disagrees with me as the enemy.

I will react to others with rage and self-righteousness



I will withdraw from anyone who could hurt me.

I will comply and not voice my true opinion

I will allow others to run over me and pretend it doesn’t matter


Having a thin skin or a bad temper is really a sign that a person hasn’t learned to be at peace with himself or herself. 


When we try to control a situation and make things go our way through anger and intimidation is really a sign that we aren’t at peace with ourselves.  We are overreacting, overcompensating. 


If we are passive-aggressive, always agreeing, but never following through and dragging our feet, then we are not at peace with ourselves. 


When we are NOT at peace with ourselves, if we are full of anxiety, then this will negatively affect our relationships:


We become highly reactive – we lash out “automatically”. 

We deny responsibility for problems – it is always someone else’s fault. 

We seek a distraction or outlet or something to temporarily mask our problems – drugs, sex, shopping, retreat into a fantasy world online.


But when we are at peace with ourselves.  When we are secure without ourselves.  Then people can say all kind of things, and we will be able to deal with these things in a rational and positive way. 


We don’t have to dominate;

we don’t have to be in charge;

we don’t have to have the limelight;

we don’t have to try to outshine others;

we don’t have to become defensive;

we don’t have to make sure our opinion is followed.


We will be able to go to those who have wronged us.

We will own up to our own part in a misunderstanding.

We will find ways of working through bitterness and move on to forgiveness.

We will learn to empathize with others, even those we don’t see eye to eye with. 


If we are at peace with ourselves, then we will be able to admit to mistakes, react calmly to insults, and not get caught in the trap of trying to deaden or escape from our anxiety.


How are we at peace with God?


  1. I admit that my attitudes and actions separate me from God (I need a Saviour)

  2. I accept that God has provided a way of forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection

  3. I commit to live for God to the best of my abilities

  4. I ask for help to transform into a balanced, wholesome, caring human being


  1. Truly accept myself as someone loved by God


    Some people go through life saying, “I’m so bad.  I’m such a great sinner.  I’m such a wretch.”   Paul said, I am the greatest sinner that ever lived, and yet, and yet, I am God’s chosen instrument, a true apostle who has been forgiven and given a job to do.


    You are a child of God.  You are someone he loves.  When he looks at you, he doesn’t see your past failures, but your future successes, he doesn’t see your limitations but your great potential. 


    How do you view yourself?


  2. Truly commit myself to being more like Jesus


    God saved us to transform us!  We have to recognize Satan’s lies.  One of them is that only sinful activity is fun.


  3. Take responsibility for my own spiritual and emotional health


This is not something that we can sluff off on others.  Others are not responsible for our spiritual journey.  Not the pastor, not my spouse, not my parents, not my school.  It’s my own responsibility to build and maintain and grow my relationship with God.


If we have the Spirit of God dwelling within, then we have already the answer to most of our problems. 

Yes, sometimes we need others so we can speak of our problems, sometimes we need counsellors to give us advice, sometimes we need medication to help us deal with chemical or hormonal imbalances, sometimes we need a support group to help us deal with addiction or dysfunction – but every one of us who is a believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit, already has the most of the answers within.


  1. Accept that life is life


    When we approach life with false and unrealistic expectations, with a sense of entitlement, with the belief that God HAS to make life easy, then we are sure to be disappointed and disillusioned.  Life is not and never will be a bed or roses. 


    When we know that life will bring with it good times and bad, times when everything goes smooth and times when things will be difficult and everything will seem to go wrong, then our approach to life will be realistic.


    Not:  Things are going so good, I wonder when the hammer is going to drop?


  2. Find a greater purpose than myself


    We will never be at peace with ourselves if we don’t have a purpose that is higher and more important than ourselves. 


    There may be some satisfaction in only living for oneself.  But it breeds self-centredness and selfishness, which in turn impacts our relationships in a tremendous negative way.




I think that the way that the Shepherds handled this situation was pretty good - an example to us.


A. Let’s check it out:  “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see”


Is God asking you to see for yourself this child in a manger who would grow to be the man hanging on the cross?  Is it time to give in to what your heart is telling you is the way you should go?


B. Let’s let it out:  “They spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child


And all who heard were amazed at what they said.


We may think we do not have anything to share.  We could think that the birth of Jesus is just our own truth, and not for others.  We may think that we are way too shy to speak about our faith.  We may think that we’re just unqualified to do so.


The truth is that we all have a story.  If we are believers, each one of us has at least something to say about how our faith has impacted us in a positive way, how it has helped us through a rough spot, how an answer to prayer changed everything.  If there is no positive difference of any kind, then something is wrong with our faith. 


And yes, we don’t have to hit others over the head with our story.  But we’re all called to share it at times, at the appropriate time, with a lot of humility and respect for the other person’s viewpoint. 


C. Let’s sing it out:   They returned glorifying and praising God


The best and most wholesome reaction to God’s love for us is a heart and spirit that is deeply thankful to God. 


Is not the joy of the Lord expressed in praise and thanksgiving?  When you are sincerely praising God, how can our spirit not be anything but positive?








If I know that a Saviour, the Messiah, is born, let me not lack joy and happiness and laughter in my life.


If I know that I am separated from you, that anything or anyone is separating me from you, it could be my pride or my distrust of you, help me to set these aside and come to you in humble dependence and ask you to save me, to bring me to yourself.


If I know that I lack peace, possibly peace in my home, in my friendships, in my family, with my spouse, with my kids, with my parents, then help me to do whatever it takes to be at peace with you … to be at peace with who I am, to take responsibility for wholesome thought, to be OK with life being life, with finding the reason why you put us on this earth.


And may that peace give me a story of your goodness and faithfulness.  Not just at Christmas time, but throughout the year and throughout my life.






Nov 26 - Countercultural?


Colossians 3:11-15

November 26, 2017



Colossians 3:11-15

November 26th, 2017


Today I want us to think a bit about our society and culture, and I first want us to think about something that we might think ended at the end of the civil war in the US, the whole issue of slavery. 


Do you realize that today, in the 21st century there are way more slaves in the world than prior to the civil war?[1]


This area includes 4 of the 5 countries mentioned: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China.

It would also include countries in South-East Asia, like Cambodia, Myanmar and North Korea. 


This region also has the largest proportion of child trafficking in the world.  Speaking of trafficking …


A huge part of modern day slavery has to do with trafficking women and girls for the sex trade (about 80% of all human trafficking cases). 


This is a $ 32 billion industry worldwide, about the same as the drug trafficking industry worldwide.


Nearly 3 million slaves are in

the Middle East - in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Qatar; 

and in North Africa, in places such as Libya.


Slaves in Eurasia number over 2 million. 


This would include Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the country where 11,800 women are kidnapped each year to be forced into marriage.


Slaves in Europe number over 1.2 million,


… most of which (84 %) are trafficked for sexual exploitation.


Hasn’t appreciatively changed since 4 years ago.  The darker red a country is, the worse is the prevalence of slavery. 


If you think about it, our world is pretty messed up.  Why do you think slavery is so prevalent in the world today?  MONEY. 


The same was true in biblical days, slavery was an accepted part of society, a way for the very wealthy to get even wealthier.  Social distinctions at the time of Jesus and the apostle Paul were pronounced. 


In the Greco-Roman culture of that day, the lowest possible position was to be a slave. 


Slaves were mostly captives of war and subsequently sold at slave markets. 


They could be slaves doing chores around the house, farm labourers, road constructors, gladiators, or, if educated, private tutors for the rich, physicians or those who managed the household of their owners. 


It is estimated that when Rome conquered the Mediterranean region, about 40% of the population ended up as slaves.  They were considered the property of their owners who could basically treat them any way they liked. 


Roman Citizens: 

·        Senators (power) - could make decisions,

·        Patricians (nobility) - could vote,

·        Plebs (common) - could not vote


·        Foreigners

·        Freedmen (former slaves who were freed by their owners)

·        Slaves - the property of others and you could do with them whatever you wished, even killing them, without repercussion


The senators and patricians were a minority of wealthy Romans, who owned lands and slaves. 


The majority of Roman citizens were called Plebeians – many of them lived in poverty because the rich simply used the slaves to do work for them instead of employing someone else. 


Free male Roman citizens of all stripes had certain rights, including the right to a fair trial. 


Whatever the social status of your parents, it would pass almost always be passed down to you.


·        If your parents were slaves, you became the property of their owner.  Only if your owner released you from slavery could you become a freedman. 


·        If your parents were non-citizens, neither would you be.  Only if you did some outstanding service to the Roman empire could you potentially become a Roman citizen.


·        If your parents were plebeians, so would you be, unless you somehow became incredibly wealthy and move up to become a patrician. 


·        You couldn’t marry outside of your social status.  A Patrician simply couldn’t marry a Plebeian, and a citizen would never marry a non-citizen.


By the way, women did not really have any rights either.  They couldn’t vote.  They had no part in public life or politics. 


This was the world in which Paul proclaimed everyone on the same level before God – regardless of citizenship, wealth, race, education, social status, gender, heritage, … because none of that matters to God.  Every person is equal before God. 


With God there is no favouritism.         Romans 2:11[2]


There is no longer Jew or non-Jew (lit. Greek), there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.        Galatians 3:28


Because God does not show favouritism, the distinctions between people based on ethnicity, gender, and social status is breaking down.  Paul repeats this concept in his letter to the Colossians:


Here there is no non-Jew (lit. Greek) or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian[3], Scythian,[4] slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.          Colossians 3:11


Plato and Aristotle considered Greeks so innately superior to barbarians that they justified slavery so long as the slave is a barbarian and the slave owner is Greek.


I don’t think we can fully comprehend just how culturally subversive the belief in the equality was in that day and age.  This was one of the reasons why Christians were seen to be a threat to the entire social order and why they were disliked and persecuted.  These were hinted at or spelled out directly by the Roman historians of that day.


The Roman historian Suetonius (c. 69 - 122 AD), wrote a famous book on the lives of 12 Roman emperors (from Julius Ceasar to the emperor Domitian).  In it he recounts the expulsion of the Jews from Rome in AD 49 by the Roman Emperor Claudius (reigned 41 - 54 AD) because they were “causing disturbances at the instigation of Christ.[5] 


Suetonius also applauded Nero’s campaign of killing Christians in AD 64 because he believed Christians to hold to a subversive (mischievous)[6] superstition.


(During Nero’s reign) Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.                              Suetonius


Around the same time, the Roman historian Tacitus (58 - 120 AD) also writes in favour of Nero’s campaign. 


Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace ... a most mischievous superstition ... (Then) an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of setting fire to the city, as of the charge of hatred against mankind.


Tacitus goes on to decry the cruelty with which Nero tortured and killed Christians. 


The Roman historian Pliny the Younger, who had Christians tortured and killed, wrote in AD 112 to the emperor Trajan that Christians were addicted to an evil and perverse/depraved (or: extravagant/excessive) superstition and he bemoans the fact that Christianity is spreading so quickly.[7]


So why is it that Christianity is almost always described as a mischievous, pernicious, evil, excessive superstition?


We find part of that answer in the writings of the second century Roman satirist, Lucian (c. 125 - 185 AD), who describes Christians as naïve fools, easily duped and taken advantage of by religious hucksters.  Lucian goes on to add:


Furthermore, their first lawgiver [i.e., Jesus] persuaded them that after their conversion they are all brothers of one another.  So they deny the gods of Greece and worship that crucified sage and live under his laws. 

                                    Lucian (The Passing of Pelegrinus)


The Romans considered Christians worthy of torture and death because they messed with their belief system - they refuse to worship the gods and goddesses of the Greco-Roman pantheon or take part in Emperor worship. 


But just as importantly, they also messed with the accepted social structures.  They questioned the ingrained belief that certain people simply were more important and worth more than others. 


Many 1st century Christians were those who had little or no standing in their society.  They were slaves, women, plebeians.  Not all, of course, but a majority.  Paul’s teaching on the equality of all people in God’s eyes may be one of the reasons why they became Christians.   


As a result of his view on equality in God’s eyes, the apostle Paul gives this advice to Christians:


If you were enslaved when you became a Christian?  Don’t let it worry about it.  However, if you can gain your freedom, make sure to do so.  For the slave who is called in the Lord is a free man of the Lord.  Likewise, if you were free when you became a Christian, you are a slave of Christ.  You were bought with a price, so do not become slaves of men.                 1 Corinthians 7:21-23


Now is some way modern Western Society has become a lot more egalitarian than the ancient world.  However, what has stayed the same is that our society still categorize people


It divides people into those who are “in”, those who are successful, those who are winners, who are cool, those who are important, those who are popular ...


... and those who are “out”, who are poor, who are losers, who are lame, who are unimportant, who are unpopular


As long as I can remember, there were terms that would pigeon hole people into some kind of category.     


We may no longer have the obvious class distinctions of Greco-Roman society, but we have fallen victim to a culture that venerates youth and beauty and wealth.


It’s like the woman who is really excited when her friends told her she’s pregnant because she’s her skinniest friend. 


We may no longer have emperor worship, but we live in a society that worships celebrities.


Which is why celebrities get paid huge amounts of money.  And which is the reason why many look down on low wage earners, or those who are not beautiful, or who are not popular.


Oh, we may have come miles from the Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s day, but whether we like it or not, it seems that as humans we have the innate desire to compare ourselves with others, classifying them and us – valuing some and devaluating others. 


Back in the first century society followers of Christ were considered counter-cultural revolutionaries.  Not because they tried to take up arms, or legislate morality, or subvert the government, or judge non-Christians who behaved differently from themselves.  Not at all. 


It was because they had crowned Jesus the Messiah, the Saviour, God’s Son.  And as a result, it changed the way they thought about things, their values and actions.


They realized that some of the values of their society simply were not compatible with their faith.  They found God and He had touched their hearts and their conscience.   


They no longer allowed the value of a person to be determined by his or her race, social status or gender.  They called themselves brothers and sisters in Christ no matter what socio-economic or ethnic divides there may have been.  They made sure that those among them who had genuine need, were looked after.  And in that day, that was profoundly counter-cultural.


But just like us, they weren’t perfect.  They slipped up.  James speaks of a time when someone who is obviously rich was treated with deference while someone who was obviously poor was treated with little respect.


My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?  … have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts … You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,”  But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.       James 2:1-4,8-9


Even the apostle Peter needed a reminder when he was in Antioch and stopped having meals with Gentile Christians when Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived (Galatians 2:11-13).


We have to move and live and exist knee-deep in the muck and misery and marvel that is this world.  And I think we need to be honest with ourselves about how much our culture and its values, as twisted as they are at times, influences our thinking, our choices, and how we look at ourselves and others.


How much stuff do we allow into our homes and into our minds and into the minds of our children that

will deaden our conscience, subvert the work of the Holy Spirit, make us set wrong priorities, and lessen our ability to discern right from wrong.


How much have we bought into the values of our society when it comes to who is important and who isn’t?  How much does it determine what we spend our time and energy on? 


Let me read you a bit from a book[8] where Satan is at a convention for demons, telling them how to side-line Christians: 


Redefine success for them.  It’s not about people or faithfulness anymore.  Make them equate success with stuff. ... Convince them that they need bigger houses and more cars.  Keep the husbands and wives working longer hours to get out of debt and rarely let them see their kids. ... Create so much noise that they can’t hear the still, small voice of God.  ... Get them to take excessive vacations and return broke.  Keep them away from nature.  Let them find rest in amusement parks, sporting events, and movies, and could someone increase the cussing in Hollywood.  ... Speed up the world! ... Don’t give those Christians time to think.  Or rest.  Make them too tired to walk with God, too weary to lift a hand to help others.  ... Let them sacrifice their health and their family and their God on the altar of busyness. 


The author writes about his own quest for success that made him miss times of quiet reflection, deep friendships, and joy.  After all, busyness is the sign of a successful life.  Only those who run hard get ahead, those who are the first one in the office and the last one to go home.  Many of us are proud of our out-of-control schedules.  And everyone is stressed out and tired, exhausted even.  Panic, anxiety, worry set in. 


So what is the creed of our world?  It is the quest for more.


More money brings success.  Success leads to more prestige, more recognition and more influence.  Better yet, financial success brings more security, more satisfaction, more freedom to do what we want, more love, and more peace. Ultimately, it is THE one necessary thing to give our lives meaning, make us more fulfilled, and thus bring us more happiness. 


There is nothing wrong with money or success per se.  However, when we sacrifice our health, our families, other human beings, our environment, our ethics, or even our God on the altar of money and success, then we are committing nothing less than idol worship - a rejection of God’s will for our lives.


It’s like the couple where the woman gives her husband the silent treatment for a whole week because he spends so much time at the office.  At the end of the week the husband declared, “Hey, we’re getting along pretty great lately!


If I look at myself honestly, I have a hard time answering this question.  In fact, I have a hard time discerning at times in what ways God wants me to be countercultural. 


I don’t know whether or not getting rid of the TV or the computer or the car or my cell phone will make the kind of profound difference that I would like to see. 


Would entering a monastery or living in a micro-home change me?  Maybe it will – simply by freeing me up to do more important stuff or concentrating more on my interpersonal relationships or my relationship with God. 


As I thought about it, I realized that fundamentally, more than anything else, what made first century believers different from the rest of their society was the way that they treated each other.


You have to understand that back then it was a dog-eat-dog world in ways that would seem incomprehensible to us in the West.  The rich would simply watched the poor die of starvation right in front of them.  The rich and powerful would simply take advantage of the powerless.  They could indulge in the worst kind of excesses and no one could say anything against it.  As cultured and sophisticated as the Roman elite thought of themselves, theirs was a mean, brutal, cruel and corrupt society.


In such a cultural setting, how should Christians act?  The apostle Paul actually tells us right after he makes the point about everyone being equal in Christ:


Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12


Notice the combination of one’s view of oneself (recognizing that I am a person of great worth) - chosen, and dearly loved, with one’s view of others (recognizing that they are of great worth) - leading to being humble, gentle, patient toward them), and with one’s response to others (compassion, kindness). 


In a world where cruelty is the norm, having a kind heart was likely not easy or natural - it may even have been fraught with danger.  Where your experience tells you to be hard and uncaring and selfish, it’s a miracle not to become that way.  In a society that was really indifferent to suffering and hardship, it would be countercultural to actually care - enough to actually do something to help.


Paul goes on ...


Bear up with one another.  If anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other.  Even as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 

                                                                        Colossians 3:13


This is another component of how Christians should act toward others ... with patience and with forgiveness.  That’s not to say that we can’t get hurt or that we should always allow ourselves to be at the mercy of the whims or wishes of others.  It just means that we move on, we don’t allow our anger and resentment to continue to punish ourselves


Paul goes on.


And above all of this, put on love, which binds together and can bring harmony.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … to this you were called as one body.  And be thankful.                                                            Colossians 3:14-15


This is what set apart the followers of Christ.  Some of them were slaves who had to work 7 days a week and were at the beck and call of their masters.  Yet somehow they still found the time to meet together with other believers and care for each other. 


Some of them were slave owners, but they stopped the customary way of treating their slaves brutally and unthinkingly (Eph 6:9).  Instead they were told to demonstrate fairness and justice to them as fellow believers (Col 4:1), because, as Paul writes to them, “you know you both have the same Master in heaven and with him there is no partiality” (Eph. 6:9; cf. Col 4:1). 


To Philemon Paul writes, that he should receive his slave Onesimus, “as more than a slave, as a beloved brother … both in the body and in the Lord” (Philem 16). 


The first-century believers were known as those who called each other brother and sister, as those who considered everyone an equal footing.  No one was to be elevated or debased.  Everyone could give and receive care and compassion. 


So what keeps us from doing likewise?  Being busy?  Feeling overwhelmed?  Drained?  Wanting to just hide away?  Working too hard at being successful?  Becoming more selfish and self-centered?  Prayerlessness? 


I wonder sometimes, if we are like the walking wounded, staggering through life, staggering past each other, too concerned with getting ahead, with climbing the corporate or social ladder, with paying the bills, or making sure our kids have everything, or spending or traveling, or being consumed with social networking, emotionally isolated or stressed or anxious... that most of the time we simply don’t notice, or don’t care, anymore.  


When I was a kid I had real friends and we played outside together.  I had no virtual friends who I meet mostly on-line.  We had more family get-togethers.  We spent more time visiting with the neighbours.  We didn’t work such long hours.  People greeted each other on the street. 


Today, I’d rather drive to the store than walk next door and ask my neighbour for some sugar.  I usually NEVER just drop in on anyone without a personal invitation. 


Yes we have email and cell phones, Facebook and Skype and WhatsApp and Twitter and Flickr and Linked-in and Pintrest and Reddit and Instagram and YouTube. 


[Like the man who goes to the doctor complaining that he’s addicted to Twitter, and the doctor replied, “Sorry, I don’t follow you.”.]


Yet despite all of that, or maybe because of it, we seem to increasingly cloister ourselves in our own homes and in front of our TV’s and computer screens.  We’re so tired and overburdened, that going out in the evening to meet with other believers at times seems more of a chore than a joy.


Sometimes when I come home at night, I just want to close the front door, unplug the phone, shut off the cell phone, and not think about the rest of the world. 


But I don’t think that God wants it to be that way ... or that it has to be that way.  But that means that we need to do the hard work of rethinking. 


We need to rethink our priorities, our schedules, our lifestyles, our spending, the way we think about ourselves, about others, about success, about life.  We need to rethink because, whether we realize it or not, we reflect the values of our culture and society more than we would like


We are counter-cultural when, on any given Sunday service, there isn’t one person after church that stands alone somewhere in the lobby or coffee room who isn’t approached by someone.  Just walking across the room, saying Hi, asking a question is countercultural. 


We are countercultural when we ask the question, “How are you doing …. Really?”, and we’re serious about it – we really want to know.  We are countercultural when we share with our brothers and sisters how we ARE doing – honestly. 


That doesn’t mean we have to wear our hearts on our sleeves or be professional martyrs who constantly complain about how hard we have it.  But when life is especially challenging we give others the privilege of caring and praying for us.


So I ask myself, how and when should my faith be countercultural – because if it isn’t – if I live my life just like everyone else, if I buy into all of the cultural values and norms of my day, if I’m fascinated by celebrity or notoriety, if I’m stuck living my life in front of the TV, if I define beauty simply by externals, if I stop using my brain to discern the will of God, if I don’t reject some of the rubbish that is part of the society I live in, if I care mostly about myself, if all I desire is more money or more possessions, if I simply don’t care that there are 48.5 million slaves in the world today, … there is absolutely nothing that sets me apart, that makes me different, nothing that is impacted by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Or as Jesus put it, “I have gained the whole world and lost my soul in the process.”


Please, please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not pointing the finger.  I’m not saying that you or I are bad people because we’re influenced by the culture we live in.  I’m not saying that we have to be revolutionaries.  I’m not saying that we’ve necessarily missed the boat when it comes to living the Christian life. 


All I’m saying is that you and I, we need to pray more, think more, be more discerning, and more intentional about the kind of people we really want to be.  And we have to be those who make changes in our lives and attitudes if necessary. 


For some of us that may mean simply tweaking some small thing in our lives.  For some of us, it may mean that there are some major things we need to stop channelling our time and energy into so that we have the ability to actually care and love each other.    


Look, life isn’t easy for any one of us.  Purposefully being conscious about how we live our lives is so much harder than simply going with the flow.  Questioning and at times rejecting the cultural norms or the standards of society doesn’t come naturally.  Consciously making the time to listen to or help a fellow believer or someone in need can be challenging.  But what is the alternative?






What is success?

What gives purpose and meaning?



[1] About 12.5 million slaves were transported to the Americas between 1500 and 1866, mostly to Brazil and the Caribbean.  About 10.7 survived the trip.   

[2] Lit. For with God not is respect-of-persons (prosopole(m)psia).  The idea is that God does not judge and treat people (show partiality) based on appearance or status. 

[3] A generic term for people who lived to the north of the Greek and Roman civilizations and therefore do not speak Greek or Latin.  They were considered uncivilized, uneducated, and backwards by the Greeks and Romans

[4] Scythians were barbarians living north of the Black Sea, one of the first to use mounted warfare.

[5] Lat. Cresto (ablative of Chrestus) - some argue that this is not in reference to Jesus. 

[6] Lat. maleficus (wicked, vicious, harmful, criminal, magical - in a negative way, i.e., black magic)

[7] Online at

[8] Phil Callaway, Who Put My Life on Fast-Forward: How to Slow Down and Start Living Again (Harvest House: Eugene, Or., 2002

Nov 19 - Why Has God Given Me A Sense Of Humor?

Why Has God Given Me A Sense Of Humor?

November 19, 2017



November 19th, 2017


In 2011, a guy named Bob receives a free ticket to the 7th and deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals from his company.  Unfortunately, when Bob arrives at Roger’s arena he realizes that the seat is in the last row in the corner of the stadium. 


But half-way through the first period he notices that there is an empty seat in about row 10 right at the center line.  So decides to take a chance and makes his way through the stadium to the empty seat.

As he sits down, he asks the gentleman sitting next to him, "Excuse me, is anyone sitting here?"

The man says “no, go ahead and use it.”

Bob was tickled pink to get such a fantastic seat.  So he says to the man next to him, "This is incredible! Who in their right mind would have a seat like this at the 7th game of the Stanley Cup final and not use it?"

The man replies, "Well, actually, the seat belongs to me, I was supposed to come with my wife, but she passed away. This is the first hockey game we haven’t been together at since we got married in 1977."

Bob felt terrible, ”I’m so sorry to hear about that, but couldn’t you find someone to take her seat? A relative or close friend?"

No," the man replies, "they’re all at the funeral."


“To express certain emotions, especially mirth or delight, by a series of spontaneous, usually unarticulated sounds often accompanied by corresponding facial and bodily movements.” 


That’s a pretty funny description of laughter, when you think about it.


When we LAUGH, our body performs "rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory, and involuntary actions." Fifteen facial muscles contract and there is electrical stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle.  That’s the muscle that extends from each cheekbone to the corners of the mouth. It raises the corners of the mouth when a person smiles. Currents of varying intensity produce a wide range of facial responses.


The respiratory system is upset by the epiglottis half-closing, so that air intake occurs in irregular gasps, rather than calm breaths. Under extreme circumstances, the tear ducts are activated, so that while the mouth is opening and closing and there is a struggle for a sufficient amount of oxygen intake, the face becomes moist and often red.


Noises that often accompany this odd behavior range from controlled snickers, escaped chortles and snorts, and spontaneous giggles, to ridiculous cackles, noisy hoots, and uproarious laughter.


Having a sense of humour, smiling and laughing are not something we often think of as a spiritual issue.  However, maybe our sense of humour and the resulting laughter is a gift from God and maybe, just maybe, it reflects the fact that we’re made in the image of God. 


If that’s the case, then God has a sense of humour.  By the way, I realize that sometimes there can be a deep inner joy despite tragic circumstances.  But the Bible uses the language of joy also to speak of simple happiness


I have included an OT and a NT verse to make this point.


… The joy of YHWH (the LORD) is your strength.                                                                                          Nehemiah 8:10


What gives us strength is the joy of our God and the joy in our God.


At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, ….”                                                                              Luke 10:21


Being filled with the Spirit of God means being full of joy.


Joy, happiness, laughter is a reflection of God’s character.  It is one part of God’s image that is given to each one of us. 


God is the author of joy! God is okay with our laughter! He CREATED laughter!

We often don’t think of God or Jesus as being happy or smiling or laughing. 


Most of us have an image of Jesus in our heads that focuses on his serious side, or the suffering that he endured.  We have a hard time thinking of him as smiling or laughing, but I’m convinced that he wasn’t nearly as glum as we think.


For example, Jesus liked to go to parties.  In fact he was accused of being a glutton and drunkard – something recorded in both the gospels of Matthew and Luke (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34; cf. Prov 23:21).


Jesus also used a lot of pretty funny illustrations in his teachings. 



A camel squeezing through the eye of a needle,  straining out all the tiny insects out - but then trying to  drink down the stinky dirty camel that hasn’t been removed.


Attempting to remove a speck of sawdust from someone else’s eye while having a 2x4 lodged in our own eye; Placing a lit candle under a bowl so that it can’t give any light.  Trying to increase the length of one’s life by worrying.  These are just some of many examples. 


Jesus didn’t expect his followers to mope around or run around with a scowl on their face.  In fact, at one point, Jesus had to defend his followers because they were NOT fasting and mourning (Matt 9:15). 


In his prayer to God the Father, Jesus asked this for his followers, in reference to his death and the sending of the Holy Spirit:


...  I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

John 17:13[1]


God wants us to experience joy in our faith, he wants us to experience the full measure of Jesus joy within us. 


[This is similar to John 15:11 - I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (full; overflow)]


It shouldn’t surprise us to read in Acts that being filled with the Spirit and being filled with joy seem to go hand in hand.           


And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.                                                                            Acts 13:52


It shouldn’t surprise us that joy is second only to love in Paul’s list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22).


The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.                                          Galatians 5:22-23


We better realize, that it isn’t unspiritual to laugh and to find joy in life and to rejoice and be happy.  I might be criticized for saying this, but I don’t believe that being miserable or having a face as if you’ve just bit into a lemon is a sign of spiritual maturity. 


You know, as followers of Christ we believe in the GOOD News, not the bad news or the mediocre news.  Well, if that’s true, if we believe that the news about Jesus is good, then it makes sense that what we believe reaches our hearts and therefore our faces?  Some of us have to tell our faces … hey face, remember it’s good news.

Joy, humour and laughter is a demonstration of our faith in God.  Faith and hope and joy is part of an essentially positive outlook that demonstrates to others that we believe in the hope of the resurrection, in the power of life over death, in the power of love over hatred, in the power of God over all circumstances in life, in the hope of eternal life.


Think about it for a minute.  If we wish others to experience the presence of God, we can only invite them if we are joyful people.  Who in the world would want to join a group of miserable people?


People should want to come to church because they want to find out what all the laughter and joy and celebration is about.  They should be able to ask the question, “Why are the people at Friendship Church happy?” 


That’s not to say that there cannot be times when we are sad, when we grieve, when we cry, when we suffer, when we have to endure physical pain or emotional upheaval.  I don’t think that we have to pretend to be happy when we are not.  However, deep unhappiness should not be the norm for a believer - even though it is possible for a genuine believer to deal with depression. 


Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that our sense of humour and laughter is a part of God’s character, that joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and that there are some amazing benefits as a result of it.


A story is told about a man on his knees at a grave site praying intensely, tears streaming down his face, and repeating over and over the question, “Why did you have to die?  Why did you have to die?”  An onlooker went over to the man and said, “I couldn’t help but notice how much grief and emotional pain you’re experiencing.  I’m so sorry about your loss.  Who are you mourning?

The crying man took a moment to collect himself, then replied, “My wife’s first husband.”


The author or Proverbs knew of the positive effects of happiness and joy.  He writes


A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but when the heart is sad the spirit is broken.  … For the despondent every day is bad.  But for a happy heart life is a continual feast.                                                                   Proverbs 15:13,15

Live is like a continual feast when we are joyful and happy. 


A heart at peace (a relaxed attitude) gives life to the body, but an upset (heart) rots the bones. … A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones …. A happy heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.                                                                                               Proverbs 14:30; 15:30; 17:22


The famous American preacher and abolitionist, Henry Beecher (1813-1887), once said,



Mirth (= amusement/laughter/levity/jocularlity, merriment) is God’s medicine.  Everybody ought to bathe in it.                                                  Henry Ward Beecher



So you shouldn’t just take a small amount of amusement and laughter, you should take a bath in it, get it all over, splash around in it. 


It is well known that humour helps the healing process in the physical body.  Laughter releases endorphins, decreases the stress hormone levels, stimulates our immune system, and helps us to relax. 


The Mayo Clinic reported that laughter aids breathing by disrupting our normal respiration pattern and increasing our breathing rate.  Hearty laughter increases circulation which improves the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues throughout our bodies.

Laughter even helps to control pain by raising the levels of our brain’s natural endorphins.


The Norwegian University of Science and Technology reported that people with a good sense of humor generally tend to outlive adults with a poor sense of humor.

Humor also helps in improving our creativity and memory. Our minds more readily remember something if we can connect it with something hilarious.

Laughter helps lighten some painful situations.


LAUGHTER is an amazing thing!  It’s a tension dissolver.  It’s an antidote to anxiety.  It’s just like a tranquilizer, but without any side effects (Arnold Glasow).  And it’s free!  You don’t even need a prescription.

Laughter is life’s shock absorber!  If we want to have less stress in our lives, we NEED to learn to laugh at our circumstances!  We have to find ways to see the humour even in the frustrating things that happen!

Someone once asked President Lincoln (1809 - 1865) how he handled all the stresses of the Civil War. He answered,


With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.


Bob Newhart (now 88 years old) said that ...



 Laughter … allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.                Bob Newhart 



St. Theresa of Avila, a Spanish nun from the 16th century, is famous for saying, and I quote,


A sad nun is a bad nun. …. I am more afraid of one unhappy sister than a crowd of evil spirits …. What would happen if we hid what little sense of humour we had?  Let each of us humbly use … (our sense of humour) to cheer others.


She believed that a novice who laughed had the necessary disposition to deal with the rather difficult life of being a nun in the late middle ages.


Maybe if we can learn to laugh at some circumstance, we can learn to live with it


Laughter is healing for the bones.  Humour is fun and it’s funny and it’s spiritual.  Regardless of denomination.


Sometimes regardless of religion.


Even if we stop looking at our personal lives, we should realize that the benefits for humour are significant for the Christian community, the body of Christ.


In the midst of some bad times in the Church, the People of God can use laughter from time to time. That's not to say that one laughs about the pain or sin in the Church. Rather, humor can help us to heal.


People who have a hard time seeing things in a funny light, who can’t laugh at themselves or some of the situations they face, have a much, much harder time in their relationships.


The late musician/comedian Victor Borge (1909 - 2000) once quipped that ...




Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.                                                                                         Victor Borge


I’m not sure I agree with him 100%, but laughter sure breaks down barriers and connects


Why do you think that is?  For one, a sense of humour and laughter can improve the atmosphere, it can loosen tensions, it can diffuse an argument, it can make things more relaxed. 


When humour is self-depreciating, it can further a lack of pride and a proper sense of humility.  When we tell jokes about ourselves it deflates our egos, which is a good thing – and improves our relationship with others. 


Sometimes religious people take themselves way too serious. 


A story is told about a very religious barber.  A Roman Catholic priest comes to have his hair cut and afterwards wants to pay, but the barber insists that clergy don’t have to pay.  So the next day when the barber comes to work he finds at the doorstep of his shop a thank-you card from the priest with and a nice bottle of wine.  That day a Presbyterian minister comes to have his hair cut, and as before, the barber insists that clergy do not have to pay.  So the next day, he finds at his door step a thank you card, and a beautiful gift Bible.  That very day, a Baptist pastor comes for a haircut, and again, after finding out that the person is a minister, the barber insists that the haircut is free.  The next day as he arrives at his shop he finds, to his surprise, 5 more Baptist pastors.


A story is told about a Baptist pastor and a Mennonite pastor driving to a Christian book convention and getting into such an animated argument about predestination and free will, that they drive off the road and hit a telephone pole and both die and go to heaven instantly. 


So they get to the pearly gates in heaven and they’re all excited, you know, because they spent their whole lives serving God and they’re wondering what heaven will be like. 


So the Baptist pastor steps forward and knocks.  Well, the huge gates fly open, the trumpets sound and a hundred angels start to fly around, singing halleluiahs.  Then a long red carpet rolls out, all the way to the Baptist pastor.  And out come all the saints of old and they hug the pastor.  And then there is another trumpet blast and out comes Jesus himself and he embraces the pastor and says, “Welcome to heaven.”  And they all go inside the gates into heaven laughing and singing.  Then the carpet rolls back up, the gates close, and the angels fly off and the Mennonite pastor is left standing in front of the gates by himself.  And he thinks, “Man, if that’s the kind of welcome for the Baptist pastor, what will my welcome be?” 


So he knocks on the door.  And he waits.  And knocks again.  And waits some more.  Finally after 1/2 hour of knocking and waiting, a little side door next to the pearly gate opens up and St. Peter sticks his head out and says, “Hey you.”  And the Mennonite pastor says, “Who me?”  And St. Peter says, "Yeah, you." So the Mennonite minister walks over and St. Peter says, “Hi … um … so … come on in … and ... uh … welcome to heaven.” 


And the pastor says, “That’s it?  Come on, the Baptist gets the trumpets and the angels and the red carpet and the saints and even Jesus, and all I get is this lousy welcome?” 


And St. Peter says, “Oh yeah, right. … Well you have to understand something.  Mennonite pastors up here are a dime a dozen ... but we haven’t seen a Baptist pastor for nearly 20 years!


You can’t take yourself too seriously, even if you’re religious.


Also, if we have a sense of humour we can sometimes speak the truth about a situation that otherwise we couldn’t – that too improves our relationship with others as well.


Also, if you are able to get someone to laugh, either in your home, or in a conversation, it usually is a sign that they feel welcome and at ease.  You know, the people I enjoy hanging out with the most are people who make me laugh. 


WE need LAUGHTER in all of our relationships!   Laughing with others is an integral part of healthy relationships.  We miss out on a lot of fun in our marriages or with our kids or with our friends or with our co-workers or with the people at church if we don’t laugh together.


To go back to the book of Proverbs again:


An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.                        Proverbs 12:25


A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.   Proverbs 15:30


What’s true of a kind word, good news and a cheerful look is also true of a funny word.  Laughter is contagious.  It can lift someone’s spirits.


Proverbs 27:19 tells us that our hearts are a reflection of who we are


As water reflects a face, so a man's life reflects the heart.                                                                        Proverbs 27:19


However, maybe we can take it a step further and say that perhaps the face sometimes is a reflection of the heart. 


Not always, of course, because we’re sometimes good at covering up, wearing masks, pretending we’re OK when we’re not. 


But if we are the kind of person who frowns and look angry or upset all the time, it’s a reflection of our heart, of our character – and the fact that we don’t seem to be able to get a lot of joy out of life.  If we smile and laugh a lot, it is a reflection of who we are. 


So look at the difference between the two types of people as illustrated by cats.


I don’t know about you, but, generally speaking, I’d rather be a happy person than an unhappy one.  I’d rather be a person who likes to laugh than one who is constantly frowning.


Now, I am completely aware that some people are hurting financially because of the economic times.  They’ve lost their jobs.  Their retirement savings have taken a hit.  They have a hard time paying the mortgage or the rent. 


I am completely aware that other people are struggling in their relationships


I know some who struggle with serious health issues or have loved ones who do so. 


I know that some are grieving the loss of a loved one


I know others who struggle with clinical depression


And I would never want to make light of these realities or say that laughter fixes everything.


But I still think that one way that we can sometimes deal with hard times is when we combine our faith with humour.  Toughest times in my own life - Calvin and Hobbes; funny movies ...


If we are not careful, we can sometimes use our humour inappropriately.  The expression of our joy can be like pouring salt into wounds.


Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on baking soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.                                    Proverbs 25:20


Vinegar poured over baking soda creates quite a reaction and the release of a lot of gases (used to unclog drains).  Taking away someone’s coat on a cold day will in fact make that person squawk.  In other words, there will be quite a negative reaction if someone sings happy songs to a heavy heart


Paul reminds us that when someone is weeping, it’s probably best to weep with them. 


Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Weep with those who weep.                                                                  Romans 12:15


However, given this caveat that joking around is not always appropriate, I think there is nothing wrong with being proactive when it comes to injecting humour and laughter into our lives.


I believe with all my heart that as followers of Christ we have a lot to laugh and be joyful about.  In fact, I think we need to laugh so we can relax, heal some of the emotional wounds we carry, help us to deal with the stresses we face in life, and get us unstuck and move on.


We need to encourage this capacity within ourselves for seeing the things that are good and right and funny, and incorporate joy and laughter into our daily lives.


We need to hang out with people who have a positive spirit and like to joke.  People who crack us up.


We should read what makes us smile and laugh. 

We should watch stuff that’s wholesome and funny. 


I find some character’s hilarious.  In fact, the older I get, the more I seem to enjoy funny animated films – maybe it’s part of reverting into my second child-hood. 


Why should we be intentional about finding joy?  Because life is NOT easy.  So it IS a wonderful gift to be able to laugh.  With all of the stress in our fast-paced world, with all of the stress in our relationships, we need to utilize this vital resource that God has given us!

But there is an even more important reason I have already alluded to, which is that what God has given us in Christ should overflow in us to joy.


Paul reminds us of that fact when he writes to the believers in Philippi:


Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!                                                                                Philippians 4:4

We are to always be rejoicing, always find something to be happy about, in God. 


Deal with depression.

Challenge my negativity.

Become more thankful.

Reevaluate my situation.

Spend more time with God.

Find to do things that make me happy (not just superficially covering up my pain or unhappiness).

Be creative - craft, ... whatever brings joy and pleasure. 

Make a resolution to laugh more.

Read a joke or funny comic for the day calendar each morning.

Learn to smile more often.  As you get into the shower; as you enter your home;


Get a coffee mug that makes you smile. 

            Work:  My college will be with you soon

Read your favourite comic strip.

Hang out with people who have a sense of humour, who are funny, who make you laugh.

Figure out what makes you laugh (your own sense of humour).  Find more of it.

Do something that’s fun.

Read clean jokes online.

Listen to comedy radio in the car driving to and from work.

Watch classic funny movies.

Watch funny YouTube videos.

Spend time with pets ... I find that dogs make me feel good.

Don’t take yourself or life itself so seriously.

Do something silly - singing loud in the shower.

Turn down the volume on all the sad and awful news out there.

Get out.

Listen to music that makes you smile. .. don’t worry be happy makes me smile.




Prayer:  for more joy, more laughter, more happiness, greater ability to appreciate funny,


[1] NIV.  ESV - ... that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.  NASB - ... that they may have my joy made full in themselves.  EÜ - ... that they may have my joy in fullness within themselves

Nov 12 - I Will Reap What I Sow

The Principle Of Return: I Will Reap What I Sow

November 12, 2017

Obadiah 1:2-4,10-15





November 12, 2017

Obadiah 1:2-4, 10-15


The title of our sermon comes from a passage in Galatians 6:7 where the apostle Paul writes:


Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.                              Galatians 6:7


The agricultural principle is straight forward.  If you sow wheat seeds, you’ll grow wheat, not barley.  If you sow barley seeds, you’ll grow barley, not something else.


When Paul spoke of reaping that which is sown, he meant that good actions lead to good results, while wrong actions lead to bad results, in particular when it comes to our eternal destiny.[1]


A very similar point with regard to the Law of Return or the Law of Reciprocity, is made in the OT:


When they sow the wind they will reap the whirlwind.                                                                                          Hosea 8:7


To use a more recent, if older idiom, what you do will come back to you in spades.[2]  Here are a few more passages:


Then Jesus said to him, “… all those who take up the sword will die by the sword.”              Matthew 26:52


He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.  The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.  Psalm 7:15-16


So you may not know that you are quoting the Bible when you say:  Those who live by the sword die by the sword.  He who digs a pit will fall into it.


We see the principle of reciprocity in even the simplest things - for example, “you are what you eat.


The concept of reaping and sowing may seem very similar to the way that people understand Karma today, but it’s not quite the same.  The actual concept of Karma is, that how you live your present life will determine who you will be in your next life - if you presently live good, you will born into a higher caste.  If you presently live bad, you will you be born into a lower caste. If you live really bad as a man, you might come back as a woman.  If you live really, really bad, you may come back as an animal or maybe even a plant, never to be reincarnated back to a human.[3]    


Stated another way, whatever caste you are born into is determined by how you lived your past life or your past lives. 


Logically then, you deserve whatever your personal status is.  If you are poor and mistreated, it’s because you’ve made a lot of bad decisions in your previous life.  If you’re rich and privileged, maybe even to the point where you don’t have to work, you will have been a prince of a person in your previous life.


The belief in Karma often results in a general lack of compassion for people who are abused and hungry and suffering - after all they deserve whatever they are being dished out in this life. 


Karma is also considered an inviolable law that will always hold true no matter what, while the concept of reciprocity as found in the Bible is like a proverb ... it is something that generally holds true.   Karma is NOT the same as the biblical concept of reaping and sowing.


Once in a while it may seem that we can “get away” with things, ... that we do NOT sow what we reap. 


For example, most of the time when we speed there are no negative consequences.  However, if driving 20 km/h above the speed limit is something we do often, then eventually, inevitably you might say, we will get a speeding ticket. 


Or it may seem that our volatile temper is simply accepted by our family members or co-workers but eventually, those relationships will suffer, one way or another.


This principle of reaping what we sow can be seen in 100 different ways in the biblical stories.  Today I want us to briefly look at just one example, during the time of the prophet Obadiah. 


Obadiah is a biblical book not easily found.  It is one of the so-called 12 “minor prophets” (“minor” in that they are shorter than the “major” prophets).  Obadiah is the shortest of these, in fact, it is THE shortest book of the Old Testament – a whole 22 verses long.  In most of your Bibles Obadiah will consist of just one or two pages between the books of Amos and Jonah. 


The name, Obadiah, literally means “servant of YHWH” or “worshipper of YHWH”.  It was a common name - a number of men mentioned in the OT had that name.[4]  Consequently, scholars aren’t sure which Obadiah wrote this brief message. 


The content of Obadiah seems to indicate that the book was written close to the year 587/86 BC, the year that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. 


The message of the book was directed at the kingdom of Edom, a nation just South-East of Judah, on the far side of the Dead Sea.  The nation of Edom was considered to be the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob.


After the first invasion by the Babylonians around 605 BC, Edom began expanding into the southern portion of the kingdom of Judah.  They took advantage of Judah’s weakened position due to the Babylonian conquest of Judah.


So this is God speaking to Edom through the prophet Obadiah.  I’ll be reading vv.2-4 and vv.10-15.


2 “See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised.  3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’  4 Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares YHWH. …


10 “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.  11 On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.  12 You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast in the day of their trouble.


 13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.  14 You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.  15 The day of YHWH is near for all nations.  As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”


Perhaps you’ve been to the country of Jordan and are a bit familiar with the topography of what once was Edom. Especially in its Eastern portions, Edom was a very mountainous region. 


Maybe you’ve visited the ancient city of Petra.[5]  Also on the overhead map is the location of the capital city of Bozrah.  The reference in Obadiah v. 3 speaks of the safety that the mountains afforded the nation of Edom:


... you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, ....                              Obadiah 1:3


The clefts of the rock bring to mind the fortress-city of Petra, which archeologists did not discover until 1812, just over 100 years ago. 


It is really a marvelous place. After traveling through a narrow fissure in the rock, an open space appears where temples have been carved out from the rock cliff with doorways 30 feet high.


It was a place that was easily defended.


Obadiah also mentions that the Edomites made their homes in the heights, that they thought would guarantee them safety.   In fact, their capital city, Bozrah, was on top of a mountain – yet nothing remains there today but a few ruins.


Despite the topography of the land, in the past, during the reigns of Kings David, Solomon and Amaziah (802 - 769 BC), Edom had been under Israel’s rule.  (As such, Israel was a traditional enemy).  However Edom shook itself loose from Israel when King Ahaz reigned in Judah (732 -716 BC), never to be subjugated to Judah again.


The prophet Obadiah issues a clear and brief appraisal of the performance of the nation of Edom.  And Obadiah’s message is simply this:


You are gloating over and participating in the destruction of the nation of Judah by taking advantage of the situation.  Stop it or you will be destroyed as well.


There are a few questions that came to my mind as I read through the book of Obadiah, and particularly the passage we read this morning.


Let’s quickly review verse 3 again:


The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?                                    Obadiah 1:3

1.  The negative consequences of PRIDE


Let me qualify here.  It is OK to feel good about an accomplishment – about having created something of beauty, or fixed something.  It is OK to feel good when our children do things that make us proud and it’s good to praise them for doing something well or unselfish. 


Pride =


  • arrogance,

  • conceit,

  • vanity,

  • self-importance


The pride that the Bible condemns is arrogance, conceit, vanity, and self-importance.  It is the kind of pride that makes us feel that we are somehow better than others, that we have it more together, that we know better, that we’re always right, that gives us the right to treat others poorly or with contempt … that kind of pride. 


It’s the kind of pride Edom felt, safe in its mountains, while Babylon repeatedly invaded Judah and finally conquer Jerusalem.   And God says to Edom: “The pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obadiah 1:3).


In other words, the pride that you feel about your own position, the pride that makes you feel that you are better off than your northern neighbours, is giving you a false sense of your own security.  And that will end up biting you.


Here is a verse out of Proverbs that tell us that pride will have negative consequences in our lives.


Pride goes before destruction, a proud spirit before a fall.                                                                        Proverbs 16:18


You sow pride, you reap a fall.  The pride of the Edomites went before their destruction as a nation. 


On a personal level, if we think that we’re so great, that we are so much better than others, that we have the right to constantly judge others or put them down, or to tell them what to do, ultimately, people will lose respect for us.  They will stop trusting us.  They will even begin to resent us or avoid us


A few years back now I read an article about people who have to work under domineering and abusive bosses.

The point of the article was that people who work under managers who are proud and loud and a bully, log many more sick days and are much less productive than those who have good managers or bosses. 


Pride also leads to conflict.  Inevitably.  You sow pride, you reap conflict.


Pride only breeds quarrels ....     Proverbs 13:10


Take two people with big egos, who both feel entitled, and both are used to getting their own way ... and have them get married to each other.  How many fights do you think will ensue?  Why do you think that celebrity marriages are notoriously short-lived?  It’s because pride leads to conflict.


In Proverbs 6:16-19, there are seven things listed that God specifically hates – that he absolutely detests. 





A willingness and desire to do evil,

Giving false witness in court, and

Creating conflict among others.


But what heads the list of what God detests is Pride. 


Why?  Because it often leads to all those other things – it leads to exaggeration, lying, violence, abuse and conflict.  


Pride hardens us, not only toward others, but also toward God.  It causes us to think we’re right, that we know better.  It makes us judgmental.  It causes us to feel self-important and conceited and arrogant. 


Pride is really a sign of emotional immaturity ... and it makes us act and react in immature ways.  Which is one of the reasons that we have such a hard time recognizing it in ourselves.


Pride has negative consequences in my life because it negatively affects my character, negatively affects my relationships, and negatively affects all of the decisions I make.  It does lead to conflict and a fall. 


Edom was not only guilty of pride.  But it was also guilty of Schadenfreude over Judah’s plight.


2. The negative consequences of SCHADENFREUDE


Schadenfreude is a German word that speaks of feeling delight or joy at the misfortune of another person.  Maybe the closest English word is “gloating over” someone else.


You may not think that you experience Schadenfreude.  But think about what would make you smile at the following pictures?


Aren’t you are embarrassed for the girl holding the “go” sign up-side-down.  But you’re still smiling.  What about the following pictures.


Aren’t you happy for the fork-lift operator that the bomb didn’t go off?  But that’s not why you’re smiling, is it? 


Maybe when it comes to kids and animals we won’t experience Schadenfreude ... or will we?  By the way, the cat is photo-shopped into the picture.  You didn’t seriously think a parent would allow their kids to bring along the family cat tubing, did you?


The point is that most people stop feeling Schadenfreude at some point.  Often it is when something REALLY bad happens to someone else.  If not, there is a very dark side to their joy at the misfortune of others. 


I thought about some of the photos I’ve seen where of people being overjoyed when they heard about 9/11. 


Yesterday was Remembrance Day.  Do you think that anyone, even Pacifists, would stand for someone haranguing a war veteran for his service - or feeling any joy at the physical or emotional scars that a veteran might carry? 


Some things civilized people wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies.  In a war situation they may wish the enemy soldier dead so their own life and the lives of their fellow soldiers are spared, but they generally do not wish them to suffer.


Now Edom was not at war with Israel.  And yet, they rejoiced at the calamity that had befallen Judah.  They were happy at their misfortune.  They gloated and felt good about it all. 


The Bible actually speaks to the issue of Schadenfreude at the real misfortunes of others.


Do not gloat when your enemy falls.  Don’t allow yourself to be happy at their misfortune.

                                                            Proverbs 24:17


The one who is glad at the misfortune (calamity) of others will not go unpunished. Proverbs 17:5b


Proverbs does not spell out what that punishment would consist of. 


The Edomites not only were happy at what was happening to Judah, they also actively made things worse.  They invaded the country.  They looted the homes left behind.  They robbed and killed those fleeing on the roads or returned them to the Babylonians to be killed or enslaved. 


And they were told what would happen as a result ... their own nation would be destroyed permanently. 

And that is what in fact took place.  The Edomites were displaced by the Nabateans and ended up abandoning their towns and migrating, never to be heard from again.[6] 


3. What does the concept of reciprocity mean for ME


As I already read, but want to repeat again, in v.15 of Obadiah, we find the concept of reciprocity:


As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.


As I already have pointed out, many similar statements are found throughout the Bible.  Here are three more on the results of having a short fuse when it comes to our personal relationships. 


A hot-head will provoke conflict while a patient person will calm a situation.                         Proverbs 15:18


Just like the churning milk will result in butter and a punch to the nose will result in a nose bleed, so being angry will result in conflict.                Proverbs 30:33


Whoever troubles his own family will inherit the wind.                                                                              Proverbs 11:29a[7]


So the positive side of the law of sowing and reaping:  if we treat another person with love and respect – generally speaking we will be treated likewise, at least, it will positively impact our relationship with that person - unless they are incredibly selfish or have no ability to empathize.


On the negative side, if we treat another person with distain or in a hateful manner – generally speaking we will be treated likewise, or at least it will negatively impact our relationship to that person - even if they seem to put up with it and don’t hate us because of it. 


This is why Jesus told us that we should treat other people the way we would want to be treated ourselves. 


This is why Jesus said numerous times that if we show mercy and forgiveness toward others, God will likewise show us mercy and forgiveness, but if we judge and condemn others, God will likewise judge and condemn us.[8]  


For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.                                      Matthew 7:2


We reap what we sow.  There are consequences to our actions and attitudes. 


We can sow discord, contempt, a lack of forgiveness, stubbornness, hurt, gossip, sarcasm, impatience and condemnation, and we will reap within ourselves a harvest of anger, bitterness, loneliness, frustration and unhappiness.


We can sow to our flesh, our desires, our whims, our selfishness, and our greed, and we will reap worry, addiction, sickness and guilt. 


Or we can sow courtesy, forgiveness, mercy, loving honesty, understanding, patience, gratitude, respect and appreciation, and we will reap within ourselves a harvest of joy, peace, contentment, and happiness.


We can sow to our soul, to God’s Spirit, to that what is best within us, and we can reap a harvest of goodness, integrity, character and self-respect.


But there is also an eternal dimension here as well, one which Jesus often alluded to.  Paul also wrote:


God will give to each person according to what he has done.  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.  But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.                                                                           Romans 2:6-8


I don’t think Paul was being unkind or harsh or judgmental.  He was simply saying that there the principle of reciprocity holds true even when it comes to our eternal destiny.   I once heard it said that there won’t be anyone in hell who didn’t chose to be there.


Many of us forget that we have a choice here.  We can live a life without God, be self-seeking and follow only our whims and desires, and reap an eternity without God.  Or, we can live a life with God, we can sow to God and goodness, and reap an eternity with God.  In each case there is a choice and there is a consequence.  We reap what we sow. 


By the way, I don’t think the principle of reciprocity should be our primary motivation when it comes to making good choices in life.  We shouldn’t simply be motivated by fear of punishment or desire for blessing – even though in essence that is what Obadiah is telling the Edomites.   


I think there have to be more profound reasons to do what is right.  Let me give you three:


Love for God.  If we are full of the love that God has for us, we will respond in love to Him.


Love for others.  If we cherish the people in our lives and the relationships we have, we will seek to treat them with love and respect.


Love for myself.  By this I don’t mean a self-centered, self-absorbed, narcissistic love, but the ability to genuinely like and care for and even cherish ourselves. 


I will always have a hard time treating others right if I dislike myself.  Part of the maturing process is getting to the point where we accept and like ourselves.  But even that depends to a large extent on the choices that we make in life.




What do you need to do in order to weed out pride in your life?  What do you need to do when you gloat over the misfortune of others?  What do you need to sow into your life so that you will reap goodness and integrity? 


Or maybe the real question has to do with your life with or without God. 


[1] Paul goes on to contrast sowing to the “flesh” and sowing to the Spirit, the first leading to corruption, the second to eternal life (and consisting of doing good at every opportunity).

[2] An expression from the card game Bridge.  If you have something in spades you have a great abundance of it. 

[3] This is the reason why Hindus believe that animals (and plants) have souls.

[4] 1 Kings 18:3ff.; 1 Chr 3:21; 7:3; 8:38; 9:16,44; 12:9; 2 Chr 17:7; 34:12; Ezra 8:9; Neh 10:5; 12:25.

[5] Petra may not have existed at the time of the Edomites as it may have been built by the Nabateans.

[6] Nabateans were an Arabic people group, mostly nomadic or living in tents, whose first city and capital was Petra.  It is unclear when they displaced the Edomites.  They were firmly established prior to the time of the Maccabean revolt, possibly as early as 300 or 400 BC.  

[7] This last one could be understood to state that a nasty child won’t receive any inheritance, literally, or it could be pointing out that the person who causes trouble in his own family will end up on his own.

[8] Matt 6:14-15; 18:23-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37

Nov 05 - Afraid Of Missing Out

Afraid Of Missing Out

1 Samuel 8

November 5, 2017



1 Samuel 8

November 5, 2017


By and large, most humans would like to be free to do as they please.   But generally, there are a number of factors that will keep them from doing so. 


1. There are rules that are imposed on us by our physical limitations.  I’ll never be able to slam-dunk a basketball. 


There are limitations to how fast a human can run.  Back in 2009, Usain Bolt topped out at 44.72 km/h, the fasted speed on record.  In that race he ran the 100 m at 37.58 km/hr. 


A black bear can run as fast as 53 km/hr., a grizzly bear up to 56 km/hr.   Yeah, they’d catch Usain. 


2. Then there are rules external to ourselves that limit what we can do. 


There are rules of engagement. 

Rules of attraction. 

Grammatical rules. 

Rules of parliament. 

Rules of etiquette. 

Rules of acquisition. 

Rules of the road. 

Rules of professional conduct.

Rules of interference. 

The rule of thumb.

There are Roberts rules of order. 

Game rules in sports. 


Some of these rules may be put in place to control us to our own detriment – possibly in a totalitarian state – some are there to safeguard us and others.  Here’s just one example.


Of course we can choose to ignore external rules.  However, there are usually methods in place to encourage us not to do so.  In the case of speed limits, there may be speed bumps, road side radar, and speeding fines that double in construction and school zones.


The Bible is full of external rules, such as the 10 commandments.  By the way, some people think of God’s will only in terms of prohibitions – don’t do this, don’t do that - the “thou shalt nots”. 


But the reality is that the most important rules that God sets for our lives have to do with commissions, things that we ought to do, the “thou shall’s” – be kind, forgive, show compassion, work for justice, treat your spouse right – and so on.


3. There are also rules that are internal  - inside of us - that will affect our behaviour.


These are personal convictions.  For example, you might feel that you personally could never fight in a war, or you may be convicted that you have to enlist to make the world a better and safer place for others. 


[Regardless of their personal conviction, however, most people do not have an issue when it comes to honouring those who were killed or injured serving their country as well as those who are currently serving on Remembrance Day, which is this coming Saturday (Nov 11th).]  ??


When we transgress our personal beliefs, ethics and morals, we experience a sense of guilt, which is kind of like an internal check or compass that encourages us not to do what we believe to be wrong. 


While some people beat themselves up over stuff that either isn’t their fault or that isn’t really wrong, there is a healthy guilt, which indicates when someone has erred in some way ethically, morally or relationally.  Healthy guilt is like pain, because it serves as an indicator that something is wrong. 


Our conscience prods our hearts and minds so that we stop harming ourselves or others.  It is designed to warn our souls of impending danger: “Stop.  Go back.  Don’t do this again.  Correct the situation.” 


Sometimes there is an overlap between rules that are external and those that are internal to us.  There may be an inner resonance that makes us realize that an external rule jives with our own conscience.  


However, even when external rules and internal conviction are in harmony, we often still don’t do them because there is another force called “desire” or “craving” or “appetites” that pull us in another direction.  


Desires may include such things as

  • being greedy for possessions or money,

  • overeating,

  • being lazy,

  • shopping

  • needing to be in control,

  • having status,

  • being accepted,

  • indulging in fun, alcohol, pleasure or sex,

  • thrill seeking, … the list goes on and on.


And so we can make decisions that we know are stupid or irresponsible or unhealthy or hurtful or ungodly –

  • decisions that will hurt us or someone else in some way,

  • decisions which will end up causing us or others problems,

  • decisions which will invariably end in conflict,

  • decisions that will dishonour God in some way or another. 


Today’s story is about a group of people, actually the leaders or elders of a nation, who made a bad decision based on their desire to be just like the other nations around them. 


We are dealing with a time before the monarchy in Israel.  During this time, God raised up individuals who were called judges for two reasons:


First, they would rally Israel when there was a threat from other nations and lead them into battle


Second, they would decide how disputes would be handled.  No jury, no attorneys – individuals would present their case and then the judge would make a ruling.


The judge I want us to think about today is called Samuel (Schamu-el), whose mother had brought him to serve at the Tabernacle und the high priest and judge Eli


After Eli’s death, Samuel had become the judge over Israel.  Like his mentor Eli, Samuel was cursed with two rotten sons, whose names in Hebrew were Yoel and Abiyah.  And like Eli, Samuel had a blind spot when it came to his sons and ended up appointing them as his co-judges.


What is unusual about this, is that up to this point, it was God who had called judges to their office and the previous judges were all from different families and clans.  Samuel changed this by appointing and installing his sons himself


This led to the unfortunate event I want us to look at today, because Samuel’s sons, Yoel and Abiyah, were corrupt.  They could be bribed, bought to pervert the course of justice.  The rich would go free, the poor would be convicted, regardless of who was guilty and who wasn’t. 


Samuel, had not so much as taken a dime from the people of Israel for his services as judge (1 Sam 12:3-4).  But his sons were profiting from their position.  And apparently Samuel did nothing to try to correct this situation, even though he must have heard the people complaining about his sons. 


So we pick up the story in v.4 of 1 Samuel 8. 


… All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways.  Now appoint for us a king to judge us, such as all the other nations have."                                                          1 Samuel 8:4-5


The transition from the old order of the judges to the new order of the monarchy in Israel was an extremely painful experience for Samuel, because he was asked to pack it in because he was old. 


Instead of asking for a king who would, in essence, replace Samuel, the elders of the various tribes could have told Samuel to seek God’s help in finding a godly co-judge to replace his sons and to become the primary judge after Samuel’s death. 


In essence they told him in no uncertain terms that he, personally, was not wanted anymore even though Samuel had served self-sacrificially and with distinction for a very long time (1 Sam 7:2). 


6 But when they said, "Give us a king to judge us," this displeased Samuel [typical understatement - he must have been royally ticked].  And Samuel prayed to YHWH.  7 And YHWH told him: "Obey all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me from being king over them.  8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  9 Now, obey what they say; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do." 


In essence God was telling Samuel that the request by the elders was personal.  Yes, they rejected Samuel, but more significantly, they rejected God as their ruler. 


They rejected God and his love for them because they no longer wanted to be different from the other nations, but exactly the same.  It was as if they were worshipping foreign gods and goddesses.


This was such an important point, it is reiterated twice more in 1 Samuel, in chapters 10 and 12.


Today you have rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses, and you have said, 'Set a king over us.'                                               1 Samuel 10:19


… you said to me, 'No, we want a king to rule over us' - even though YHWH your God was your king.                                                                                         1 Samuel 12:12


God’s kingship simply wasn’t good enough any longer.   The leaders of Israel ignored God’s goodness that had evidenced itself in the past as he sent judge after judge to help them.  Instead, they would rather have a fallible mortal rule over.


In 1979, during Bob Dylan’s overtly Christian phase, he wrote a song called “You’ve gotta serve somebody.”  In it he gives a list of what individuals live for:


  • power,

  • gambling,

  • dancing,

  • sports,

  • status,

  • music,

  • drugs,

  • sex,

  • career,

  • education,

  • titles,

  • laziness,

  • money, and

  • spirituality.  


In the refrain he says:  “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve SOMEBODY.


Dilan’s point was obvious.  Everyone, but everyone has to make a choice whether or not they will serve God. 


For some reason, John Lennon was really upset about this song.  In response he wrote, “Serve yourself,” a song filled with obscenities stating that all religious belief leads to violence and therefore you should only serve yourself since no one else will.  In essence John Lennon replied to Dylan that, since there is no God, you better put yourself on the throne – you better be the king of your life.


Lennon is right in thinking that unquestioning religious fervour can lead to violence.  We are reminded of that again with terror attacks in Germany, France, Spain, Somalia, Egypt, Syria, or Afghanistan.   


So far in 2017, there were 1,747 Islamic attacks in 57 countries, in which 12,438 people were killed and 12,427 injured.


Religion, like politics, can always be perverted. 


Nevertheless, I still think that Bob Dylan was right.  Even if people are not aware of it, every person who ever lived has to make a choice for or against God – a choice which becomes evident in who or what they serve. 


God’s response to Israel’s rejection of his rule indicates that God will not force himself on anyone.  He gives everyone the choice to either seek or forsake him, to walk with him or walk away from him, to serve another person, their own desires, possessions, or God. 


God gives each one of us the freedom to make bad and selfish choices.  In the case of Israel, God knew that human rulers, human kings, would be corrupted by the power they possess. 


10 Samuel told all the words of YHWH to the people who were asking him for a king.  11 He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots, to be his horsemen and run in front of his chariots.  12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 


13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.  15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.  16 He will take your male and female slaves, the best of your young men and your donkeys for his own use.  17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 


Notice what God is telling the nation of Israel.  The kings will be much a hundred times – a thousand times - worse than Samuel’s sons ever could be.   If they think that the corrupt nature of those judges was bad, just wait until they experience what a corrupt sovereign whose word was law could do to them.  And this is followed with a final warning:


18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen for yourselves, but YHWH will not answer you in that day." 


The Law of Moses states in Deut 17:14-20, that a king of the nation of Israel is not to accumulate possessions, wives, and wealth.  The passage goes on that a king is to read the Law of Moses every day and carefully follow all it says.  Further, he is to be humble and not think that he’s better than anyone else


None of Israel’s kings, not even king David, lived up to that ideal.  Every king exacted lots of taxes, every king became extremely wealthy, everyone accumulated possessions and wives, everyone thought that they were special.  Power corrupts.


[This portion of scripture reminds me of a fable attributed to Aesop (c. 600 BC), about a group of frogs who repeatedly demanded a king from Zeus.  Zeus first threw a long into their pond to be their king, but the frogs were not satisfied and wanted a living king.  Zeus then sends them a stork to be their king,[1] but the stork began to eat them. 


The frogs called out to Zeus to save them but he refused, telling them they now had what they wanted and would have to face the consequences. 


The moral of the fable can be worded a couple of ways:


  • Be careful what you wish for.  That lottery win might actually ruin your life.
  • Bad consequences will follow bad decisions.  You made your bed and now you have to lie in it. 
  • Dictatorships, like absolute monarchies, usually do NOT work for the best interest of the people.


God was right up front with the people of Israel.  You do this, you reject me as your ruler, you make a mere human your king, then be aware that you will suffer the consequences.


By the way, all political structures and systems suffer from the same problem: the human nature of those in power.  Capitalism is a system where man exploits man.  In communism the reverse was supposed to be true, but as it turns out, it still meant that humans exploited other humans.   


Cynics have explained every form of government with cows.  You’re probably familiar with some if not all of these.


Communism: You own two cows. The government takes them and puts them in a place with everyone else’s cows.  You take care of the cows.  The government takes all milk and gives you back enough to survive.  You steal back as much milk as you can and sell it on the black market.   


Capitalism:  You own two cows.  You sell one and buy a bull.


Monarchy:  You own two cows.  The king takes one, and you have to give him 80% of the milk from the other.


By the way, if you’re politically correct, you never own two cows.  Instead you are associated with two bovines of a non-specific gender


The whole premise of democracy is that humans are inherently corrupt and greedy, so the common people need to be protected as much as possible from the ruling elite. 


But even in democracies, because the primary goal of any political party is to stay in power, not to actually do what’s right, election promises are somewhat of a sham.


Some of you may remember back to 1993 when the Reform Party members advocated cuts to MP’s gold-plated pensions.  52 Reform MP’s opted out of it in protest.  Ironically, all of them opted back into the pensions after a short time, with the notable exception of Preston Manning and one other Reform Party MP.  


Maybe you will remember the election promises of the liberal party prior to the 2015 national elections.  Senate reform.  Free votes in parliament.[2]  Cutting taxes and curbing government spending.  Election reform.  More open and transparent government.  Revamping Bill C-51 because of all the potential problems associated with it.  Extra funding for public transport.  Decreased annual deficits.   


None of that has materialized, in fact, the very opposite has been true.  Bill C-51 was passed un-amended.  Deficits are rising.  No meaningful senate and election reforms took place.  You get the picture. 


And it isn’t that the Liberal party is in any way different from any other political party when it comes to honouring its election promises.


Human nature is prone to corruption – and politicians will always be tempted to leave their personal convictions behind in order to be re-elected or move beyond being a sidelined backbencher.


So it wasn’t as if the leaders, the elders, of Israel weren’t warned about the consequences of having a king.  So we continue to read in 1 Sam 8:19


19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel.  "No!" they said. "There will be a king over us, 20 so that we will be like all the other nations, with a king to judge us and to go out before us and fight our battles."  21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before YHWH.  22 YHWH answered, "Listen to them and give them a king."


This is the second time that the elders of Israel told Samuel that they wanted a king because they wanted to be like the nations that surrounded them.  They had no desire to be God’s chosen people any longer.  They no longer needed judges who are appointed by God.  It was OK to bypass Samuel in favour of those who would take advantage of them. 


So the elders of the nation of Israel wanted their nation to be more like the kingdoms surrounding them.  I pondered the reason for this desire to be out from under God’s rule ... what is the root cause?  I thought that maybe it had to do with the underlying worry that being under God’s rule will may mean missing out on what others are enjoying.


  • What potential benefits are we missing out on with God and not a human king to rule over us? 

  • Will that give us greater freedom? 

  • Will it make our courts more liberal? 

  • Will the king take responsibility for potentially bad choices?

  • Will it make my life easier? 

  • What are other people (nations) doing and experiencing and enjoying that I’m not? 


The problem was that NOT having kings was actually to the benefit of the nation.  Being a monarchy didn’t bring with it any true bonus points, but many, many negative ones. 


But Christians can get FOMO as well.  They can ask themselves:


  • If I follow God’s rule, His will, then what desires will I not be able to fulfill? 

  • Will the selfish and self-centered choices I want to make be frowned upon by God? 

  • Are the retaliatory or hurtful words I want to say not OK with him?   


Back in 2010, a book came out called “Almost Christian:  What the faith of our teenagers is telling the American church”.


In the book, the author writes about the fact that most youth in churches actually believe a mutated form of Christianity. 


God is no longer the unimaginably awesome creator of the universe, but is reduced to a divine therapist whose only concern is to have people feel good and be happy.  God is a safe God because he would never ask for any kind of sacrifice or risk. 


According to the author or the book, the result is that most teens in The Western church are indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.  There simply isn’t enough for them to be passionate about. 


Further, this kind of faith has been modeled to them by adult Christians, in particular their own parents, who basically live self-serving lives where faith in God has little significant impact.  The parents and their youth are in fact pagan Christians


Maybe that is one of the main reasons why people don’t want God to be the king of their lives.  They only want to worship God as long as he doesn’t impact the way that they live

One of the most common concepts that Jesus spoke about was “the Kingdom of God,” the place where God is king, where God’s rule is established.


Over and over again, Jesus taught his followers about the nature of God’s Kingdom, God’s rule: 


  • Repent (turn around) for the kingdom of God is near (Mark 1:15). - Get right with God, because God’s rule will soon be initiated.

  • [If I cast out demons using God’s finger, then God’s Kingdom has come upon you (Luke 11:20).]  Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21)]. - God’s rule, his kingdom begins within us.

  • Pray:  Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10). - May your rule, O God, be manifested perfectly in my own life and in the lives of others who follow you.

  • Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness ....  Instead of being so concerned about externals, I need to be concerned the most about seeking to have God’s rule and his will established in my life.

  • Not everyone will enter the Kingdom of God, but only the one who does the will of my heavenly Father.

  • Only the one born of water and Spirit can enter the kingdom of God.

  • Jesus: I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43).


Looking back on history today, whenever we speak or think of the good news, it is very likely revolving around what the death of Jesus accomplished for us and for humanity in general.  


But many of these passages are speaking of a good news that was proclaimed prior the suffering and death of Jesus.   


Jesus preached the good news of God’s kingdom and he sent out his followers, his students to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom, years before his death.[3]  


Jesus called his own message about the KG “good news”[4] (Luke 4:43) and, quoting from Isaiah 61:1, he said that he has come to proclaim the good news to the poor.


So what did they speak about?  What was so good about the message about God’s rule, God’s kingdom?  (That God’s Messiah would return soon and inaugurate the rule of God on earth?)


Getting back to the point Jesus made about the fact that the Kingdom of God, the rule of God, can already be a present reality when God is made the ruler of our lives.  In order to take that step, trust is needed.  Without trust, there will be all kinds of reasons to deny God access into our lives and hearts.




Most people reject God, not because there is no evidence for his existence, but because they don’t want to be miss out - FOMO. 


They don’t trust that God always has their best interests in mind. 


Those who don’t make God king, don’t want to live in a universe governed by God because that would mean that God could interfere in the choices they make – he would be, to quote Al Gore – “an inconvenient truth.” 


It is a great solace to some, that they won’t be judged for their lies, greed, cowardice and betrayals.  If you really want badly enough not to believe, you will find a way not to.  God may be the king of the universe, but he will not be the king of your life.


Having God as king means adopting an internal set of standards to live by.  You make a decision about your sexual standards before you’re in the back seat of a car. 


Having God as king means that it is more important to us to please him than to be popular or have our self-esteem determined by doing things others tell us to do.  If we don’t, we will be very apt to do nearly anything a group of our friends tell us to do in order to feel accepted. 


Having God as King means that we recognize that happiness is a decision about enjoying the moment, not something to be achieved by increasing our money, possessions, leisure or pleasure. 


Having God as king is practicing our ability of self-discipline.  It is putting important decisions on hold, praying about them, thinking them through, and asking ourselves whether or not this is really something we should be doing or buying or saying. 


Those who have God as king learn to say “no” to themselves.  They learn to delay gratification.  Otherwise they will continue to serve their emotions and feelings and desires. 


Having God as King means that we try to live a balanced life


Most of us have a hard time to do it all on any given day – exercise, have a quiet time, keep the house clean, mow the yard, run the kids to sports, date our mate, work and balance the cheque book.  But we can shoot for a weekly balance. 


And that means learning to say “no” to interruptions, to the temptation to procrastinate, to others pushing their agenda on us.  It is being able to connect with God despite our business because we have learned to set priorities. 


Having God as King means getting beyond our tendency to be self-centered and make all of our decisions based on what we want.  If we don’t get beyond ourselves we will never know what it means to have God as King.  History is full of stories of people who made it big but failed to make it good. 


In our journey with God, money tends to be the final frontier, the last thing we actually give over to him, because it most closely represents the seat of our priorities and it has the power to control our destinies.  Some people call God their king, but really they are addicted to and serve money. 


Having God as king, means accepting the forgiveness he offers so that we can overcome the guilt associated with having done something wrong.   It means confessing what we have done wrong, determining with the help of God to do better, apologize or make restitution where possible, and accept that justice has been served and that we can be forgiven through what God has done on our behalf through Jesus Christ.  When God is King and we accept forgiveness, then we move on, without constantly beating ourselves up. 


Having God as king means we invest time with our Creator because this simple action will help to bring direction and inner strength and change. 


And so, like the Israelites, each and every one of us will need to come to a point of decision.  Who will be King of our lives?  Will it be God?  Or will it be ourselves, our desires, money, power, entertainment, our career?  Who will we serve?  Will we be self-serving or, as Jesus said, will we serve God by showing compassion for those who have the least?


To paraphrase Joshua’s words to the Israelites:


 If you think that serving God isn’t desirable, that’s up to you.  Today, choose for yourself someone or something else to serve – to be your King.  But as for me and my household, we will serve God – he will be our king.   

Compare Joshua 24:15


Some people think that they only have to make that decision once in their lives.  I made a choice for God when I was 8 years old.  That’s wonderful, but putting God in control of our lives is a daily decision.  It is something that we have to decide on every day.  God is giving us that same challenge every day.  “This day, today, make a choice.  Choose a king for yourself.”  Figure out who will be in charge of your life.






[1] Originally a water snake.

[2] Of course that does not include liberal platform issues, the budget, or anything to do with the Charter.

[3] Luke 9:2 - He sent them out to proclaim the KG and to heal the sick.  Matt 10:7; Luke 10:9 - Go preach this message, ‘the KG is near.’ 

[4] Luke 4:43; 8:1; cf. Matt 4:23; 9:35; - I must preach the good news of the KG