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COUNTING THE DAYS

Last Sunday I was scheduled to preach on Psalm 90 as a New Year themed sermon.  Sadly, I was called away due to the death of my wonderful father-in-law (please keep us in your prayers, he will be greatly missed).  Here is a smidgen of that sermon, which will stay safely tucked away until next year around New Year’s Day.

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O Children of man!”  For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night   Psalm 90:3 

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom   Psalm 90:12

Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands.    Psalm 90:16-17

Numbering our days in many ways is about using our time wisely.  Back in the old days, the 1970’s when I was in grade school that was something we were graded on— “uses time wisely.”  It seems to me that might be just as important as “gets along well with others” and “keeps hands to self.”  The way we treat our time, with respect and with care, will often be reflected in the way we treat other people.

There is an African proverb I stumbled across once which says, “It is easier to add more life to your days than to add more days to your life.”  The truth of this statement is obvious.  None of us can know for sure when our 70 or 80 years are up, but we can certainly use the one day we know we have now for the purposes which we think are important.

I think along the same lines the things which business gurus preach is true too.  If we fail to plan, we are planning to fail.  That might be why so many people feel spiritually defeated in their spiritual or family life.  They have never planned the way their family functions or intentionally worked on spiritual things—they just let it happen.  That kind of passive approach to our lives is flat-out foolishness.  It is the opposite of numbering our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom; it is throwing our days away that we may gain an existence of futility.

If I asked you today to grade yourself on “uses time wisely” just like a second grade teacher, what would your final grade for the year 2010 be?

  • A—Exellent
  • B—Good
  • C—Average
  • D—Needs improvement
  • F—Failed to grasp the concept altogether

Now, when your through grading yourself grade your family.  If you are really brave, grade your church.  What can you start counting (measuring) that could make 2011 better?

ADVENT WEEK 4 TRANSLATION

I apologize for the tardiness of this blog.  It was supposed to be posted last week, but, alas, many things emerged which prevented that.  I will be running silently for the next week or so but I wanted to get these wonderful Advent passages, especially the Magnificat, posted first. 

John 5:30-37

I am not able to do anything myself. I judge just as I hear, and my judgment is righteous, because I do not seek my will but the will of the one who sent me. If I bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. But if there is another who bears witness about me, he knows the testimony is true and is a witness about me. You have sent to John, and he has born witness to truth. But I myself do not receive from any man’s witness, but these things I say so that you may be saved. This one was a burning, shining lamp and you were willing for a little while to exult in his cry. But I myself have a greater witness than John, the works I have done by my Father so that I might complete them. These works I do testify about me that the Father has sent me. The Father who sent me has testified about me, neither have you heard his voice nor seen his likeness. His word you do not have abiding in you, because this one, this one you do not believe. Research the scriptures, so that you yourself suppose to have eternal life in them; these also testify about me. But you do not wish to come to me so that you may have life. I have not received glory from men. But I know you that the love of God you do not have in yourselves. I have come in the name of my Father, and you do not accept me. If another should come in his own name, this one you would accept. How are you able to trust in receive praise from one another and the praise from the only God you do not seek? Do not think that I myself will accuse you to the Father when the one accusing you is Moses, and he is the one you have hoped in. For if you believed in Moses, you would believe in me; it was about me Moses wrote! But if you do not believe the scripture, how will you believe in my words?

Luke 1:5-25

It happened in those days that Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah from the Abijah division whose wife was from the daughter of Aaron and her name was Elizabeth. Now both of them were righteous before God, following all the commandments and pronouncements blamelessly. They had no children because Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years. It came time for his scheduled service with his division before God. According to custom, he was chose by lot to be the priest who would go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. All the multitude of the people was praying at the hour of the incense. But he saw an angel of the Lord standing at the right of the incense altar. He was troubled, and fear fell upon Zechariah. Then the angel said to him, “Do not fear, Zechariah, because your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you will call his name John. He will be your joy and exultation and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great before the Lord, and wine and strong drink he may not drink. The Holy Spirit will fill him even from his mother’s womb. Many of the children of Israel will turn to the Lord their God. The spirit and power of Elijah will go before him, to return the hearts of parents to their children and to a knowledge of righteousness; to prepare a people to the Lord who have been prepared.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How can anyone know this? For I myself am old and my wife is advanced in her days.” The Angel answered, he said to him, “I myself am Gabriel, the one standing before God and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring good news to you. Behold, you will be silent and not able to speak until these days are finished, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in due time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah and marveled at the time he was in the sanctuary. Now when he came out he was unable to speak to them, and they knew he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He was making signs to them and remained dumb. After his term of service was fulfilled, he returned to his house. After these days, Elizabeth, his wife, conceived and hid herself away five months saying, “That the Lord has acted in this way to me, he looked upon me to remove my shame among people.”

Luke 1:26-38

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. He was from the house of David and the virgins name was Mary. Coming toward her he said, “Rejoice! Grace has been given to you. The Lord is with you.” Now at these words she was disturbed and wondered what kind of greeting this was. The angel said to her, “Do not fear, Mary, for you found grace from God. Behold, you yourself will conceive in the womb and bear a son and call his name Jesus. He will be great and a son of The Most High and the Lord will give to him the throne of David his father. He will reign upon the house of Jacob in this age and his reign will never end.” Now Mary said to the angel, “How is this, since I know no man?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit, he will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the one born will be called Holy Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth, who was called barren has conceived a son in her old age and is six months along because no word from God will be impossible.” Now Mary said, “Behold, I am a servant of the Lord; may it happen to me according to your word.” And the angel went away from her.

Luke 1:39-56

 Now in those days Mary set out with haste to go to a city of Judea that was out in the highlands. She went to the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard the greeting from Mary, the baby in her womb jumped, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she called out loudly and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how is this that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ear, the baby in my womb jumped in exultation. Happy is she who believed that the Lord will accomplish what he has told her.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit exults upon God my savior. That he saw the humility of his servant, for behold, from now on all generations will call me happy, for the Almighty did great things to me. Holy is his name. His mercy is given in generation after generation to those fearing him. He acted by his power and might, he scattered those who were arrogant in their own mind and heart. He deposed rulers from thrones and lifted up the humble. He filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty handed. He took in Israel as his child, remembering mercy, just as he said to our fathers, “In Abraham and in his seed forever.” Now Mary remained with her three months and then returned to her house.

Luke 1:57-66

 Now when Elizabeth’s time came to give birth she had a son. Her relatives and all those living nearby heard that the Lord multiplied his mercy toward her and they rejoiced together. On the eighth day they went to circumcise the child and to name him by the name of his father, Zechariah. But the mother answered, saying “No, he will be called John.” They said to her that, “There is no one from your family called by that name.” Then his father nodded that was his wish as well. He asked for a writing tablet. He wrote saying, “His name is John.” Everyone marveled. Instantly his mouth and tongue now was opened and he spoke a blessing to God. Fear came upon everyone of those living nearby. The whole highlands of Judea kept talking about it. Everyone who heard about it took it to heart saying, “What is this child to be? For the hand of the Lord was with him.”

RESOLVED TO RESOLVE

Today’s blog is not about New Year Resolutions, or what resolutions you should make or I might make.  No, we’re not quite that far along yet.  New Year’s Day is still on the horizon.  Today’s Fresh Greenbean wants you to think about what categories of your life you will make resolutions about when the big day comes; when the odometer of life rolls over, when the calendar page is torn off. 

  • Category One:  Health

With each passing day I become more keenly aware that good health is not something which is a guarantee.  It is more like a fragile plant that must be nurtured.  I would recommend at least one resolution for 2011 which involves being healthier in the coming year.  A part of this category is safety.  Consider resolving to walk through your home or workspace and evaluate possible safety problems like slippery staircases, tetanus traps, or loose electrical plugs.  Maybe resolve to evaluate your health insurance or life insurance.  That is always a good idea.

  • Category Two:  Finances   

Even if your finances are in good shape it is a good idea to make resolutions based on money.  Most people have changes in money situations with each new year anyway, and resolutions help us control our spending rather than have our spending control us.  Within the area of finances there are three sub-categories:  Giving, spending, and saving.  As to giving, maybe this would be a good year to resolve to give 11% to your church instead of 10% (or, actually increase to the biblical concept of 10%), give money to some other charity, or identify someone you know that could use a little anonymous blessing.  Spending is hard to change because so many bills are locked in or will increase.  But one way to curb spending is with consumption.  Over the past year I have tried to drive less, which is a spending decision because it involves less gasoline.  Saving is usually understood as big dollar retirement or savings accounts.  Those are important, but little things count too.  Maybe resolve to put all your loose change in a jug at the end of everyday.  You might be amazed at how much you save.  Thrift is always in fashion.

  • Category Three:  Spirituality

This is the most important category.  I sometimes have little control over how much money I make or how my health goes—people get fired and people get sick and bills go up and medicine is expensive.  However, I and I alone can control the level of spirituality I attain.  I would strongly recommend having at least two resolutions which are related to this eternal issue.  These might revolve around small group participation, attendance, Bible reading, prayer, service and anything related to the greater spiritual growth. 

As you prepare for making your resolutions, the total number is important.  DO NOT MAKE TOO MANY RESOLUTIONS!  Human beings cannot process too much change in our rhythm.  How many is too many?  More than 7 are too many.  5 might be too much.  3 are probably ideal.

Does that I mean I should have one resolution from each category?  No, but it does mean we might want to think through our resolutions for maximum impact.  For example, if I resolve to stop buying a designer coffee (venti white chocolate mocha, extra hot, with the works) every day and only every other day and give the $15-$20 I save to international missions, then I have made a do-able resolution that impacts all three.  This gives you fewer calories (health), less spending (finances), and a spiritual decision (spirituality) all in one resolution.

Don’t write your resolutions just yet, for now, just think about the categories and what areas you’d like to change.  Write your resolutions later after a little research.

ADVENT WEEK 3 TRANSLATION

The third week of Advent focuses very heavily upon the repentance and baptism message of John the Baptist.  It was very exciting to translate Matthew, Mark, and Luke all telling the same thing but with slightly different tellings.  There are so many hermeneutical things which could be addressed in these passages–from the conclusion of the Olivet Discourse to the conversations about John in Matthew 11–these are theological rich texts.  For now, it is enough to translate them into what I hope is clear English.

Luke 22:39-53

And following on he traveled according to his custom to the Mountain of Olives.  The disciples followed him.  It was at this place that he said to them, “Pray that you yourselves do not go into temptation.”  Then he separated himself from them, about a stones throw, and bending his knee he prayed saying, “Father, if you wish, take this cup from me.  But, it is not my will but instead yours that must happen.”  And he saw angels from heaven strengthening him.  But, being in agony he prayed, straining so earnestly that his sweat was as clots of blood falling upon the ground.  He rose up from prayer and came to his disciples.  He found them sleeping from the sorrow.  He said to them, “Why are you sleeping?  Get up, pray, so that you do not go into temptation.”

While he was saying this, behold a crowd appeared and with them the one called Judas, who was drawing near to kiss him.  Then Jesus said to him, “Judas, you betray the son of man with a kiss?”  Then, seeing what was happening, those near him said, “Lord, shall we strike with swords?”  Someone among them struck the servant of the chief priests and sliced off his right ear.  Jesus answered, “Stop!  Enough,” he said.   He touched the ear healing him.  Then Jesus said to those coming upon him; chief priests, soldiers of the temple and elders, “Am I a bandit that you come after me with swords and clubs?  Every day I was with you in the temple and you did not seize me, but now is your hour, in the power of darkness.” 

Luke 22:54-69

Then they arrested him, led him and brought him into the house of the chief priest.  Peter followed at a distance.  Now a fire lit up the middle of the palace courtyard and people were together sitting there.  Peter sat in their midst.  But a female slave who was sitting near the light saw him and stared at him, said “You are one of those with him.”  Peter denied it saying, “I do not know him, woman.”  After a short time others seing him said, “You are one of them.”  Peter again said, “I am not.”  And as an hour or so passed on another one of those insisted saying, “It is true that you were with him, for he is a Galilean.”  Then Peter said, “Man, I know not what you say.”  Immediately as he was saying it the rooster crowed.  The Lord himself turned, looked straight at Peter and Peter remembered the words of the Lord, how he said to him that, “Before the rooster crows today you will deny me three times.”  He went out weeping bitterly. 

Those men in charge ridiculed and beat him.  Blindfolding him they asked him, “Prophesy!  Who is it striking you?”  And many other blasphemies they said to him.  As it became day, the elders of the people, chief priests, and the scribes gathered together and they led him to the Sanhedrin.  They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.”  But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe.  But if I should ask, you would not answer.  From now it is ‘The son of man sitting at the right hand of the power of God.”

Mark 1:1-8

Genesis of the gospel of Jesus Christ, son of God.  Just as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my angel before your face so as to build your road; a voice in the wilderness crying out, ‘You prepare the road of the Lord.  You make straight his path.”  John, the one baptizing, came preaching a baptism of repentance in forgiveness of sins.  And all the Judean countryside and all those living in Jerusalem went out to him confessing their sins and being baptized by him in the Jordan river.

John was wearing camel hair clothes and girdled with leather around his waist and eating locust and honey.  He preached saying, “One is coming after me stronger than me, who I am not worthy to stoop loosing the thongs of his sandals.  I baptize you myself in water, but he will baptize you in Holy Spirit.” 

Matthew 3:1-12

Now in those days John, the one baptizing, appeared preaching out in the wilderness of Judea saying “You repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  For this is spoken of through Isaiah the prophet saying, “A voice in the wilderness crying out, ‘You prepare the road of the Lord.  You make straight his path.”

Now this man John had on clothes of camel’s hair, girdled with leather around his waist, and his food was locust and wild honey.  At that time Jerusalem and all Judea went out to him as well as all the surrounding countryside and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins.  And behold, the Pharisees and Sadducees were approaching near to his baptism spot when he said to them, “Offspring of serpents!  Who suggested that you flee from the coming wrath?  Therefore you do fruit worthy of repentance.  And, do not even think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as father,’ for I say to you God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these stones.  The axe is already now at the root of the tree to fell it.   Therefore, every tree that does not do good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  I baptize you myself in water for repentance, but behind me one is coming who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am unworthy to carry.  He will baptize you in Holy Spirit and fire.  The winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clean his threshing floor and gather his grain into the barn, and the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 11:2-11

Now John heard from prison the works of Christ by means of sending his disciples.  They said to him (Jesus), “Are you the one coming or should we look for another?”  Jesus answered them saying, “When you go back to John report the things you hear and see:  Blind recovering sight, lame walking, lepers being cleansed, deaf hearing, dead raised up, and poor people evangelized.  Blessed are those who are not scandalized over me.”

Now as those departed Jesus began to speak to them about John.  “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?  A reed shaken by wind?  And who did you come out to see?  A man having been clothed in luxury?  Behold, those wearing luxurious clothes are in the homes of kings.  But who did you come out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I say to you, and the greatest of prophets.  That place where it is written, ‘Behold, I myself will send my angel before you, who will construct your road before you,’ is about him.  Truly I say to you no one has arisen born of women greater than John, the one baptizing.  But a least person in the kingdom of heaven is greater than him.”

Luke 3:1-9 

Now in the fifteenth year of the hegemony of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate was governing Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee and Philip his brother was tetrarch of Iturea and that region of Trachonitus, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.  Under the chief priests Annas and Caiphas, the word of God came upon John, son of Zachariah in the wilderness.  He went out into all the surrounding countryside of Judea preaching baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins.  Just as it is written in the book of sayings of Isaiah the prophet, “A voice in the wilderness crying out, ‘You prepare the road of the Lord.  You make straight his path.  Every ravine will be filled in and all mountains and hills will be leveled, and it the crooked places straight and the rough places in the road smooth.  And all flesh will see the salvation of God.”  Therefore he said to the crowd coming out to be baptized by him, “Offspring of serpents!  Who suggested that you flee from the coming wrath?  Therefore, you do fruit worthy of repentance and do not even start saying to yourselves ‘We have Abraham as father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise children of Abraham from these stones.”  Already now the axe is pointed toward the root of the tree.  Therefore, every tree not doing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into fire.”