Wednesday, November 30, 2011

First Week of Advent: Matthew 1:18-25

    Every year during advent, I like to read through the Gospels weekly on what went on leading up to the birth of Christ.  This week, I started at Matthew 1:18-25.  Here is the passage before I talk about it:

"This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about:  His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as 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.  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' - which means, 'God with us.'  When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.  And he gave him the name Jesus."

Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)

    There is a LOT to be learned from this passage!!  Hopefully I'll be able to cover it all.  To start, this is one account of the four Gospels, one telling and interpretation of what happened.  Over time were these accounts collected by His disciples and written down for safe keeping.  The other Gospels sound quite similar to what is read above, but has no less importance or meaning than when you first hear it.  There is so much to learn from the Word God has provided us with, such Truth.  Mary was a young girl, said to be around the age pf 14.  Think, especially you women, who you would have married at the age of 14.  I am glad our culture does not have arranged marriages!  But think, what a scary and stressful mindset would it be to know that you, a 14-year-old girl, was to marry a roughly 40-year-old man.  On top of that stress, you are suddenly pregnant with what the Holy Spirit put in you.  I apply this to an every day life situation when we stress; we never think we are ready for whatever God hands to us.  We go on like Moses making up one excuse after excuse as to why we can't or won't do certain tasks or calling on our hearts.  I am guilty of this.  I always feel like I am just short of being worthy to carry out a task.  I never feel strong enough, courageous enough, spiritual enough, close enough to God; and yet I stop and look around at what ministry God has blessed me with.  I also notice the struggle I have as a human to keep it going and so on, but I learn through my struggle that I need to lean more on Him for that strength and courage and give Him my weakness and worry.  THAT IS HARD THOUGH!  God gave Mary the task of carrying His Son and bringing Him through virgin birth into the world.  She would be ashamed and shunned by her family, and Joseph, she would suffer persecution, face the possibility of Joseph leaving her, and even face being punished through stoning.  She would be considered an adulterer.  Although we have adulterers nowadays that get away with it, or don't receive AS MUCH public shame as they really should, Mary would have been killed publicly for be assumed an adulterer.  Sad day, right?  God, however, saw human will and His will as two different things, and honestly? Which is more important?  Obviously Mary understood this and, although she didn't think she was ready or capable of such a task, she accepted it anyways.  God knew exactly what she could handle and trusted her with such a fragile gift.  And she was 14.

    Now Joseph.  Oh, Joseph.  Think about a time (or the many times) we have seen someone and immediately placed judgement or assumed fault on.  Maybe there is a black man walking through the store and he doesn't smile, has a thuggish heir about him.  Maybe there is a middle aged woman with no front teeth and scraggly hair.  Maybe it's a man who is constantly decked out in the latest southern fashions and wear camouflage when he can get a chance.  Or it's a young woman who is very pregnant, but has no ring on her finger.  What of these people do we automatically assume?  But.  Do we even know who these people are?  Do we know them personally?  Or where their from?  Do we ever know what has ever been asked of them to be sacrificed and willingly did so to get where they are?  I think not.  Joseph was one of us; before they were even married, Mary showed up pregnant.  Assuming adultery, Joseph had it in his mind to divorce her.  He had a gracious heart though not to bring her shame at such a young age, lest she be turned out for the rest of her life and fall into more sin out of desperation - Joseph was thinking, and he had a righteous heart.  He thought about Mary's sin, and didn't ignore it, but forgave her with plans to let her have a second chance in their society.  However, this was how he judged her as well.  Have you ever made a passing judgement about someone, then found out later what their story is; then you feel like an idiot for being so arrogant and ignorant, and immediately you feel compassion rushing in to take over.  Well, that is exactly how God played Joseph.  It's a wonder what he felt when he found out Mary was - not only pregnant from something besides himself - but that she was doing the will of the Lord!  I'm sure we've felt similarly, but maybe not as he did.  However, having his righteous heart, he listened to the message of the Lord and turned back around to follow him into the entrance of Jesus' ministry.  What a great thing we could do if we see everyone as God's plan, rather than less than ourselves.

There's so much more to learn, but we'll be pulling it apart over the next few weeks, I'm sure ;)


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Change In the Tide?

  I remember reading online back after the earthquake in Japan a few months ago about what the efforts were like of the Japanese people to restore their country.  Of course, we hear all about the pastors and missionaries and churches that have been to Japan to help in the clean up and provide counselling and other services to the survivors and to those who have lost loved ones - to whom we are all of course very thankful for!  However, something that caught my attention was the fact that, of the citizens of Japan, the ones who wanted to do the dangerous were the elderly... The younger men wanted to work in this effort. The young men who were just getting married or had young families. But the older men, who have already been through so many life experiences, have already raised children, who are new grandparents, or old grandparents, were the ones that were very persistent on doing the dangerous clean up themselves.  Strange right?
  their reasoning is this in a nutshell: 'I have lived my life.  What good would it be for young children to lose their father from doing something seen as patriotic for their country?  They would grow up without a father - seeing their mothers cry and remain lonesome, working to provide by herself, living in hardship, without a male figure to look up to.  What good would it be to put the fresh generation at risk who are the ones to take over where we left off?  All that would be left are woman, children, and the elderly who have seen their days anyways. It is not worth losing men who have so much more life to life than we do who have already lived our lives. Therefore, we are the ones who will work in the cleanup and encourage the younger generation to focus on their families and taking over what we have left for them to do.  We don't have much left to lose as it is.'
  Of course, that is not quoted word-for-word, but that is the basic mentality of the older generation in Japan.  They don't let the world water down their ability and strength just because they are older.  They see the importance of keeping the younger generation alive, healthy and strong, and don't expect someone else to do their work for them.
  So does this sound strange?  I've never thought about it before, but no, this sounds pretty reasonable, like this is how it should be.  And I think that the older generation living in Japan right now set the better example in this kind of situation than anyone else does.  The typical mindset is that the young generation should be ready and willing to sacrifice a long life ahead of them, showing their children how to live, and keeping a household stable, and go give up their lives when the older generations are still kickin'.  Here around where I live, there are so many people between the ages of 45 and 80 who exercise regularly, can swim more laps in 10 minutes than I could in an hour, run farther and faster than I will ever personally would be able to, and lead a much more active lifestyle than those who have families and take care of what's necessary rather than themselves much of the time.  Yet the mindset of those between 45 and 80 is "leave everything to the younger generation who has so much to lose.  We are closer to death than they are, but we want THEM to sacrifice what they have simply because we are older than them."  It's a high school case of 'seniority rules'.  I've never thought about it that way before.
  I stand firm on what the Bible says about respecting my elders.  And I do.  I am not saying that we shouldn't.  But what is there to respect in someone who is more than capable of doing a job - nonetheless a dangerous job - than someone who doesn't have as much capability?  Japanese elders set a great and honorable example of the way we could be living.  But unfortunately, the world does not see it that way.  I could be out of line, but that is my personal opinion.

Here is the link to which I refer: