In reply the Lord said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the best portion, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
“Unbelievable…” thought Martha as shook her head in disgust while frantically jumping around from one task to another. “Jesus has come to our house, and Mary can’t lift one finger to help! Could she be any ruder to our guest? What is she thinking, just sitting there at his feet? And why is Jesus letting her get away with it?” Peeved to the point of exasperation, Martha just couldn’t tolerate such blatant injustice for one more second: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left all the work for me to do alone? Tell her to help me!”
Surely Jesus’ repetition of her name—“Martha, Martha”—conveys both the tenderness and the urgency of his reply. “I hear you,” says Jesus, in effect. “I know you’re stressed out and overwhelmed. But the furious energy you’re expending is entirely misdirected.” Although his answer is somewhat cryptic—what exactly is the “one thing”?—Jesus is steering Martha toward a more focused understanding of what counts as worthwhile work.
To say we live in an easily distracted culture is patently clichéd. It’s obvious that smart phones, social media, and clickbait marketing have nearly perfected the ancient craft of seizing human attention. Some websites have even developed a complex algorithm to ensure their site is as “sticky” as possible. By aggregating the kinds of topics and products you’ve shown interest in online—an approach drawn from the “deep neural network” concept (just Google it!)—companies seek to keep you “stuck” on their website. It’s a proven strategy.
Yet the overlooked irony in all of these well-known tactics is that it is precisely distractions that are used to hold our attention. To put it bluntly, human nature has a way of gravitating toward junk. Of course, we’d all prefer to believe we’re too shrewd and sophisticated to fall prey to such blatant, lowbrow tricks. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit we can do lots of things, watch lots of things, read lots of things, and say lots of things without ever really accomplishing anything.
Which brings us back to busy Martha. Jesus isn’t commending Mary for not working; Jesus is highlighting Mary’s priorities. Because of the omnipresence of diversions in our lives we, like Martha, are prone to confuse our busyness—especially busyness conducted on behalf of Jesus—with productive faithfulness. Ultimately, however, Jesus didn’t want the banquet Martha was fretting over. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t want to know how many hours of Christian service we’ve logged. He wants us, all of us—heart, soul, mind, and strength. May God, therefore, help us prioritize our work so that our busyness serves our greatest and highest purpose—“to know God and enjoy Him forever.”
Each Monday, Pastor Dane hosts a lunch for Leesville Road High School students at the TBC Youth House. The lunch on February 6, 2018 had a record crowd of 26 students. Lunch is prepared and served by TBC members Dottie and Errol Fogg and Beth Obenschain.
(Click on the pictures below to see larger versions.)
Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back what was borrowed. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting any repayment. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:34b-36).
We’re living in especially volatile times. To be sure, every generation faces explosive issues and polarization. Mean-spirited rhetoric and fiery outrage are nothing new. Yet clearly the pendulum has swung in the direction of entrenched animosity. Other than shake our heads in despair, what are we to do? More specifically, what are we to do as Christians?
Probably the easiest option is to pick a side. Isn’t this what the roaring and bombastic voices around us are clamoring for us to do? If we’re to be informed and engaged citizens, then surely we must weigh in and lend our voices to the cantankerous chorus of outrage, right? Unless there’s a better way…
Of all the counter-intuitive, upside-down, and other-worldly things the Lord Jesus ever uttered, his teaching on loving our enemies must rank toward the top. “Tolerate our enemies?” Sure, no problem… “Refrain from violence toward our enemies?” Fine, if we must… “Recognize the humanity of our enemies?” I guess so… But to join together the words “love” and “enemy” just seems ridiculous! Nevertheless, Jesus says his followers are to go so far as to show kindness and mercy toward those who hate us.
On what basis? God the Father—the Most High—shows kindness toward the ungrateful and the wicked. Even though human beings refuse to acknowledge God’s existence and sovereign rule, the Lord gives breath and life. Even though human beings fail to give thanks for every good and perfect gift that comes from above, the Lord provides ongoing nourishment for both the just and the unjust. Even though human beings actively rebel against God and spit upon the abundance of his grace and mercy, the Lord sent God the Son to become one of us. Even though human beings crucified their one and only Savior, God continues to hold out the offer of salvation from his righteous judgement. Indeed, God is kind to the wicked.
So, in the midst of today’s pervasive hostility and vitriol, what are we to do? Although we will have our opinions and although we will sometimes need to speak our opinions, we will always strive to ensure our attitudes reflect the kindness of our loving heavenly Father. Take heart, no matter how bad it may seem out there, nothing and no one can ever take our Lord off the throne of grace. Confident of that truth, may we also show kindness to all.
Since many have attempted to set down an orderly account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were passed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after researching everything carefully from the very first, to write an accurate and orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).
Ready or not, 2018 is in full swing. The warm and fuzzy afterglow of Christmas has faded away. The ball in Times Square has dropped. The daily grind to fulfill obligations, meet deadlines, and check off responsibilities has resumed at full tilt. As a result, we might legitimately question the validity of all those glorious promises we celebrated at Christmas—“Where is this Savior who has been born to us? Where is this peace on earth? ‘Good will’ you say? Bah humbug!” Christmas was wonderful, but the world seems to have transitioned into 2018 with just as many difficulties as we saw in 2017. So what difference did Christmas make?
Enter the Gospel according to Luke. The Apostle Paul’s beloved physician seeks to assure Theophilus (an otherwise unknown Christian reader) that he hasn’t been handed a bill of goods. On the contrary, Theophilus can have certainty regarding what he had been taught about Jesus. Even though human history and its manifold problems continued beyond Jesus’ time on earth, what Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection remains available throughout all generations. The key for Theophilus, and for us today, is to follow the unbreakable chain—link by link—all the way back to the Savior. Or, to use a more contemporary image, we can visualize clicking on one hyperlink after another until we arrive back at the original source—Christ Jesus himself!
Certainty comes from recognizing that the same Jesus who, according to the Apostles’ Creed, was “born of the Virgin Mary” and who “suffered under Pontus Pilate” also calls us to follow him in 2018. Like Luke and like Theophilus, we weren’t there to hear Jesus preach. We weren’t there to see him calm the storm. We never had an opportunity to follow him as he walked upon the water… But we do have the chain that links us to those who saw it all firsthand. We weren’t there to recline with him in the upper room. We weren’t there to witness his crucifixion for the sins of the world. We never had an opportunity to check out the empty tomb for ourselves… But we do have the chain that links us to those who first saw and believed.
May the same Spirit who inspired Luke to write, and who preserved the Scriptures for us to read today, link together “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” and our lives in 2018. And may we, like Theophilus, have certainty about what we’ve been taught.
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5).
By all appearances, Christmas and New Year’s would seem to have nothing in common. Christmas, at least for most Americans, looks like opening festively wrapped presents beside a tree decorated with bright lights and ornaments. It involves singing about snow, Santa, reindeer, the manger, the angels, the shepherds, and the Wise Men. New Year’s, on the other hand, typically looks like postponing sleep to enjoy raucous parties and nostalgic ceremonies, such as watching the ball drop in Times Square. While the Christmas tree may be present for both, Christmas and New Year’s differ drastically in terms of atmosphere, sounds, and traditions.
Nevertheless, in the providence of God, Christmas and New Year’s fall within close proximity to each other. To be sure, diverse historical contingencies contributed to our Gregorian calendar and its placement of Christmas on December 25. Yet the Scriptures show us time and time again how the Sovereign Lord of the universe commandeers the warp and woof of history to accomplish His ultimate purposes. Consequently, it would be a mistake on our part to overlook the relationship between Christmas and New Year’s.
As Paul reminded the Galatians, we measure time by Christ’s life. The time designations BC (“Before Christ”) and AD (Anno Domini=“Year of Our Lord”) hold a sacred significance for Christians—the secularizing trend toward using BCE (“Before the Common Era”) and CE (“Common Era”) notwithstanding. Unlike many other cultures, both ancient and modern, we don’t measure time by leaders or events (e.g. “In the eighth year of so and so’s reign…” or “In the tenth year since the battle of such and such…”). On the contrary, we believe time must be counted, weighed, and determined by Immanuel’s entrance into our finite sphere of existence. The world is qualitatively different because at just the right moment “God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law,” for us and for our salvation.
So, what does Christmas have to do with New Year’s? Although we celebrate them in different ways, the two holidays enable us to approach the future with hope. Because Christ has come into our world, we need not hear the ever-ticking clock of time with despair and cynicism. That sound signifies another moment, another year, lived “in the year of our Lord.” Christmas shows us who holds the future—and the New Year—in His hands.
May we, therefore, approach 2018 joyfully and hopefully. Happy New Year!
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked upon the humble state of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48a).
Are you in the Christmas spirit yet? What’s your usual technique? Sometimes we take the sacred ritual approach — watching a sentimental movie, dining on some annually-craved comfort food, and reminiscing about Christmases of yesteryear as treasured decorations are unpacked and nostalgically positioned. Sometimes we utilize the giving approach — donating to worthwhile charities, picking out the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones, and baking treats that never disappoint. At still other times we try the bonding approach — overlooking past grievances, spending quality time with family and friends, and nurturing the relationships we hold dear. Whatever it takes for you, the goal is the same for us all — to reach a heightened sense of contentment, generosity, and happiness. In short, we all want some warm and fuzzy feelings this Christmas.
If you haven’t yet enjoyed such bliss this season, I sincerely hope you will. But I also hope you’ll join me in praying for something more steadfast and sure. As much as we’d all like to permanently bask in the glow of Christmas merriment, here’s a harsh spoiler alert: eventually the Hallmark channel will return to its regular programming (broadcasting uplifting tear-jerkers without the holiday glee), the decorations will need to come down and be put away, and bleak winter conditions will persist for months to come. Then what?
You might be thinking, “Oh come on, can’t we just savor Christmas without being reminded of how quickly it comes and goes?” Trust me, I’m really not trying to be a Scrooge. I just believe God wants more for us than fading joy. God wants us to experience a joy that flourishes throughout all seasons. Even though such joy may lack fading joy’s glitz and glamor, flourishing joy brings infinitely more happiness since it derives from the Infinite God.
So how can we have flourishing joy? Mary’s exuberant testimony shows us that the difference between fading joy and flourishing joy hinges on one word, namely, Savior. While fading joy depends upon our ability to create something for ourselves — a mindset, an emotional state, an experience — flourishing joy depends upon whether or not we receive the baby in the manger as Immanuel, God with us and God for us. So may God save us from our frenzied — and ultimately fruitless — efforts to turn happiness into something we can achieve. Instead, like Mary, may we receive Christ as our source of joy and well-being. And may God grant you and your family a Merry Christmas marked by joy that flourishes long after December 25!
On Sunday, December 3, the TBC Children’s Choir presented “Jingle Bell Beach” to a large audience of parents, grandparents, other relatives, and friends. The musical was directed by Paige Williamson and Katy Moore, with Jonathan Moore and Dale Williamson handling the soundboard. Afterward, everyone was invited to a pancake supper prepared by Ernie and Meghan Rushing and Dane Hadley.
(Click on pictures to see larger versions.)
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good reports, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns” (Isaiah 52:7).
This verse is simultaneously stirring and puzzling. Since we all seem to be continually confronted with bad news, we can’t help but resonate with the image of someone who has good news to share—news of peace and salvation. Such a reality, we no doubt think, is a beautiful thing to consider. In fact, we might just be able to look beyond our present circumstances when we consider the beauty of peace, salvation, and the proclamation that God reigns.
Yet before we pursue that train of thought too far, let’s notice what the verse actually describes as beautiful: “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet…” Feet, you say? First, how could feet be beautiful, especially when compared to the lofty ideals described in the verse? Secondly, why would we discuss feet in preparing for the Advent season?
Let’s take a look at the broader context. To deliver his message of hope to Israel on the backend of exile, the prophet seems to be picturing a besieged city. Surrounding the city are hostile forces scheming their next assault. Inside the city are citizens battered by the ravages of war. While most of the inhabitants hunker down and brace for the enemy’s attack, a few watchmen courageously stand their ground on the city’s walls. Suddenly, in the distance, a running messenger comes into view. Despite the obstacles in his way—uneven, mountainous terrain and sharp rocks—the messenger doesn’t relent. He maintains a steady yet vigorous pace as he makes his way toward the city. Before he even utters a word, the watchmen can tell by his buoyancy that he brings good news—news of peace and salvation! God himself has arrived to save them (cf. Is. 52:7-12).
For those who find themselves feeling overwhelmed, burdened, afraid, discouraged, and hopeless the mere sight of a messenger bringing good news—indeed, even the messenger’s feet!—can be seen as beautiful. Are you looking for such a messenger this Advent season? Take a few moments to stop worrying about whether or not all the Christmas decorations are up, put aside your shopping list temporarily, and focus on the beauty revealed by Christ’s arrival. The birth of Jesus demonstrates that God himself has come to bring peace and salvation, to say, “Your God reigns!” Likewise, consider who in your life right now—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.—might need to hear about this good news from you. And may we all grow in our appreciation for the beauty of both the message and the messenger.