The Greatest Grace

Thoughts about Advent and Incarnation

Part one

The coming of the Promise. Fulfillment of prophecy in a mystery of yes and not yet. A baby born of a virgin on a not-so-silent night who grew up and changed the world, even to the marking of the calendar days. BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini) divide human history, even though the terminology has change with the secularization of the West. The “common era” of CE still begins with the events of this liturgical season.

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the Incarnation of God in human flesh, we take time to consider the magnitude of God’s greatest grace toward humanity: the virgin conceived (Isaiah 7:14), a child was born (Isaiah 9:6), and hope entered the world (John 3:16).

Part two

“We are rescued by grace poured out” (Jason Cook, 11/07/2021).

The text for the sermon was Ephesians chapter 2, and theme was “one new man.” Pastor Cook, with his usual wit and eloquence, compared the Church to a magnificent mosaic, made up of individual tiles. Alone, each tile may be beautiful or plain, but carefully combined by a master artist, the collection of tiles makes up a masterpiece. He proclaimed, “Salvation is possible by works—just not yours.” Only God’s grace with His mercy and love can redeem us to the Body of believers, a collection of mosaic tiles brought together to be a picture of Jesus to the world.

As followers of Jesus, we know intellectually that we cannot begin to approach the holiness of the Creator. Our egos, however, often forget. We begin to think about our legacy, our influence, and even our popularity as essential elements of how we live out our faith. Advent is an opportunity to consider with great awe and wonder the mystery of grace poured out. The Creator joined the creation through the very human process of birth. He who spoke the universes into being with a word subjected Himself to a physical (and messy) delivery of a squalling baby, born to a young, unmarried woman and her faithful betrothed without the benefits wealth might procure. From the great throne of the King of kings, He humbled Himself to the lowest and weakest of all humanity.

Why?

Love. Mercy. Grace.

Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy through grace He saves us (Titus 3:5-7).

The grace revealed to us came in the form of an infant, physically born. Fully human, yet still fully God, Jesus offers a grace we can never fully understand, but one in which we can rest, secure in knowing that God’s grace is perfect.

Nothing but the blood of Jesus

I heard a song for the first time the other day and was moved by the message and the music. I appreciated the nod to old familiar hymns woven through. Mostly, though, I was struck by the focus on the blood of Jesus as the master key of salvation. We don’t sing about the blood often in our contemporary services, but the old hymns regularly pointed to the centrality of blood to the gospel.

I’ve been in a study through Hebrews the last several weeks and listening to a plan on a Bible app about finding Jesus in the first five books of the Bible. My pastor in in a series taking a deep dive into Ephesians. I was primed to respond to this song. The gospel is clearly presented in these lyrics. The propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus as a ransom for our sins, both individually and corporately propels us to move from hopelessness to transformation and gratitude.

The mystery of grace, the very nature of God poured out on people who are utterly selfish, requires more than acknowledgement. Grace is not cheap. Grace is not easy. It cost our Savior everything. Without the sacrifice provided by grace, there is no hope for life; we are the walking dead.

Only by blood.

Under the Old Covenant the faithful had to bring regular sacrifices to the altar. The burnt offering was brought to the altar and completely burned up. The symbol there is that everything we have and everything we are belongs to the Father to do with as He desires. The purification offering was to atone for sins. The faithful brought the sacrifice (a male animal without any blemish), placed his hand on its head, and then killed it. The priests took the blood of the animal and splattered it on the altar and at the entrance of the tent of meeting (Leviticus 1). The offering was then burned completely; nothing remained. Sin is like that. If even one iota of sin remains in us, we stand condemned by a holy God.

Over and over again, the people brought and slaughtered animals to atone for their sins. Over and over the priests splashed the blood, still warm, over the altar. Year after year, and still the task of purification was incomplete.

Until Jesus. The author of Hebrews reflected on the required ritual sacrifices, noting that the old covenant was established in blood: life for life. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus, as the perfect Lamb of God, fully human and yet without sin, entered the Holy of Holies, not by slaughtering and animal, but by submitting to his own murder on the cross. His blood for ours. He, Himself, by the shedding of His blood, became the atoning sacrifice for all who call on His Name. We can serve the Living God only because Jesus traded His life for ours. At that point, the work of atonement was complete. Jesus breathed, “It is finished,” and it was.

The New Covenant, then, relies, not on the blood of bulls and goats and lambs and birds, but on the blood of Jesus. “This is the blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” he said. And by that same blood, we are sanctified, not just for a year, but for eternity (Hebrews 10).

Only by grace.

In many of our modern churches we spend time considering how to live in this broken world. We study how to rely on Jesus, how to navigate a culture that rejects the values we hold dear, and how to live. These are all worthwhile topics, to be sure, but I think regular reflection on the foundation that brings us to all the “how-tos” matters. The “how-to” topics are concrete expression, things we do, checklists we can keep to make sure we are on the “right” path. But the “how-to” conversations often lead away from grace into legalism and pharisaical mindsets. Checklists are not necessarily wrong; they can be helpful. But checklists cannot replace the blood of Jesus. Checklists may become idols. In fact, for most of us, the idolatry of what we do prevents us from living free in the grace of His abundant and joyful life. Focusing on the checklist means we focus on ourselves.

“Jesus, keep me near the cross,” Fanny Crosby (1869) wrote. “Near the cross! O Lamb of God, Bring its scenes before me; Help me walk from day to day With its shadow o’er me. In the cross, in the cross Be my glory ever, Till my ransomed soul shall find Rest beyond the river.”

We must remember the necessary sacrifice that secures our salvation and sustains our sanctification.

It is only by grace that we are redeemed. The blood of animals served only as a reminder that God’s holiness is unapproachable because, in our humanity, we are unworthy. The sacrifices of the old covenant were a picture, copies, shadows of the real redemption through Jesus’s blood. “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains” (Cowper, 1772). “Alas and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head For sinners such as I?” (Watts, 1707). “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus” (Lowry, 1876). Only God’s grace, flowing from mercy and love as a gift to us as individuals can redeem us to the Body of believers (Jason Cook, 2021). Saved by grace, through faith, God’s gift.

God’s gift, given through the Blood of the Perfect Lamb. We must remember the necessary sacrifice that secures our salvation and sustains our sanctification. We must bow in abject gratitude and then proclaim His name. The focal point of our lives, the center of everything, is Jesus. His work, His perfection, His grace poured out on us delivered us. Thank you, Jesus, for the blood.

I was a wretch
I remember who I was
I was lost, I was blind
I was running out of time

Sin separated
The breach was far too wide
But from the far side of the chasm
You held me in your sight

So You made a way
Across the great divide
Left behind Heaven’s throne
To build it here inside

And there at the cross
You paid the debt I owed
Broke my chains, freed my soul
For the first time I had hope

Thank you Jesus for the blood applied
Thank you Jesus it has washed me white
Thank you Jesus You have saved my life
Brought me from the darkness into glorious light

You took my place
Laid inside my tomb of sin
You were buried for three days
But then You walked right out again

And now death has no sting
And life has no end
For I have been transformed
By the blood of the lamb

Thank You Jesus for the blood applied (thank You Jesus)
Thank You Jesus it has washed me white
Thank You Jesus You have saved my life
Brought me from the darkness into glorious light

There is nothing stronger
Than the wonder working power of the blood
The blood
That calls us sons and daughters
We are ransomed by our Father
Through the blood
The blood

There is nothing stronger
Of the wonder working power of the blood
The blood
That calls us sons and daughters
We are ransomed by the Father
Through the blood
The blood

Thank You Jesus for the blood applied
Thank You Jesus it have washed me white
Thank You Jesus You have saved my life
Brought me from the darkness into glorious light

Glory to His name
Glory to His name
There to my heart was the blood applied
Glory to His name

Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Charity Gayle / John Hart Stockton / Bryan Mccleery /

David Gentiles / Ryan Kennedy / Steven Musso / Elisha Albright Hoffman

Matthew 24 group discussion questions

Theme:

The Second Coming of Jesus: It’s gonna be big and you’d better be ready.

Context: Jesus had just pronounced woes on the religious leaders and lamented over Jerusalem.

From the Temple, Jesus and his followers walked to the Mount of Olives, about 1 ¼ miles away. As they left the city, the disciples admired the beauty of the Temple (Luke 21:5), which was significant both spiritually and nationally to the Jewish people.

This is the current view from the Mount looking toward Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock sits about where the Temple would have been, so Jesus could see clearly the massive building shimmering in marble and gold from where he sat.


In my mind, Jesus is sitting quietly, thinking about what is to come both in the next few days and in the distant future. The disciples were likely debating what Jesus meant about the temple’s stones being thrown down. Maybe some, like the zealots among them, claimed that Jesus was about to take his place as the messianic conqueror they were all expecting. Maybe the more introspective considered the stones as a metaphor for the Law. Maybe others tried to figure out the logistics of moving those massive stones. In all likelihood, none thought farther ahead than his own lifetime, much less a future a hundred or thousands of years away. They were obviously perplexed, so they approached him to ask three questions:

  • When will these things happen?
  • How will we know when you’re coming?
  • What are the signs of the end of the age?

Matthew 24 (with Mark 13 and Luke 21) begins what scholars call The Olivet Discourse. It is the last of the major teachings of Jesus before the crucifixion. 

Read Matthew 24:1-3

Group conversation questions:
https://www.jerusalem-insiders-guide.com/temple-of-jerusalem.html

Context: Jesus and the disciples were leaving the temple, a massive building with stones that weighed from a mere two tons to 570 tons. This picture of the woman shows just how massive the stones are. There is nothing holding the stones together but their sheer size and weight. The temple itself was 10 stories tall and the foundations went as deep as 65 feet.

  1. Why do you think Jesus told the disciples about the destruction of the Temple?
  2. What do you think the disciples expected to hear from Jesus? Keep in mind all we have learned about these men over the last months.

Read Matthew 24:4-8

  1. What are the first signs that Jesus will return? How long have these signs been part of our world?
  2. Read Hebrews 2:1-4. The literal translation from the Greek for verse 1 reads “For this reason ought more abundantly us to give heed to the things heard.” What should our response be to the signs we see today that seem to point to the imminent return of Jesus?

Read Matthew 24:9-28

Context: These passages are prophecies about things still in the future; for the disciples they were the very distant future. Still, the way Jesus phrased these words, it is easy to see how multiple generations might have believed they were approaching the end times. Christians still hold differing opinions on when Jesus will return. This chart is from 2009 and it’s clear that there wasn’t much agreement then. I suspect not much has changed, especially since the focus of the last 18 months or so has been on the here and now.   (https://www.pewforum.org/2009/04/09/christians-views-on-the-return-of-christ/)

  1.  Can you think of some historical times when people thought for sure Jesus’ return was imminent?
  2. List the events from this section that must happen before Jesus returns.
  3. What does your list tell you about when “these things” (Matthew 24:3) will happen?

Read Matthew 24:29-35

Context: Jesus moved from the general (persecution, false teachers, lawlessness) to very specific prophecies tying the Old Testament to the future.

  1. Why was it important for Jesus to refer to prophecies of the ancient prophets?
  2. Make a list of all the things that will happen at Jesus’s return?
  3. From the ancient past to the distant future, what does Jesus indicate is the most important thing for his followers to know? (see also Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33)

Read Matthew 24:36-51

Context: Jesus again refers to an ancient story, that of Noah, to explain how, while the signs of God’s judgement are evident, the timing is unknowable.

  1. Read Genesis 6 and 7.  What is the same between what Noah knew about God’s coming judgement and what we currently know?
  2. What did Noah do that we should also do?
  3. What do you think is the most important thing believers can do to be ready for that day?

Resources for further study 

Matthew 24 My Teaching Notes

The Olivet Discourse

Part 1

Context

Jesus had just pronounced woes on the religious leaders and lamented over Jerusalem. He began with the temple, in all its glory and beauty. The temple was the centerpiece of Jerusalem, the center of Jewish culture, and the symbol of the Jewish God. 

TheTemple was built between 537 BCE and 516 BCE, when the Jews began their return from Babylonian captivity.  It was made of limestone under the direction of Zerubbabel at the time and was later renovated and expanded under Herod the Great. The Temple the disciples admired was 150 feet high (12-15 stories), covered in white marble and gold with bronze entrance doors. The courtyard of the temple was large enough to hold 300,000-400,000 people during the pilgrimages, particularly of Passover. Colorful tiles from the floors were discovered in 2007 and put on display in 2016. The stones were imported from Italy, Greece, Tunisia and Asia Minor and the layout likely resembled the design motifs of Herod’s palaces in Masada, Herodium, and Jericho, not random patterns underfoot. The top of the temple had gold spikes on it to prevent birds from sitting and nesting there.

However, when Jesus said that the temple would be completely destroyed, he was talking about more than an impressive building; he was talking about a way of life.  First century social values revolved around loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then to the extended family. Identity was less individualized and more associated with groups; there is a reason why the Scribes and Pharisees were largely unnamed. Society was built on a definitive hierarchical structure that began and ended in the temple and the rituals of the Old Covenant. It was the one thing that every Jew had in common. From the lowest day-laborer to the chief Pharisee, the Abrahamic covenant and the requirements of sacrifices and offerings were the same for all.  The Jews were people of “one temple, for the one God.” To destroy the temple would disrupt a system in place for hundreds of years. The system was corrupt in many ways, but it was familiar to all and it represented something larger than individuals.

The disciples were understandably perplexed by Jesus’ words about the temple, but they didn’t ask about it immediately. Mark noted that the inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, John, and Andrew, were the ones who approached Jesus after they had reached the Mount of Olives. Jesus was sitting, so they had probably been there a little while. Based on what we know about the disciples from other passages, it is within the realm of plausibility that they had already discussed and debated the issue amongst themselves before deciding to ask directly. Still, it was up to the four closest to Jesus to approach him. It hadn’t been so long that Jesus had chastised them for their lack of faith almost immediately after the transfiguration (Matthew 17). I’m sure they figured they had some level of protection from correction if only those four went as representatives. Looking across the Kidron Valley from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, the Temple would have reflected the late afternoon sun in full radiant glory. How could such a magnificent place be utterly destroyed? And more importantly, when?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gameoflight/15678634116/in/photostream/

Content

Before Jesus starts to describe the signs of the end, he issues a warning to the disciples that he repeats throughout the discourse: Do not be deceived; you do not know everything. Jesus speaks of events that will take place, but the focal point is not the events themselves; they are mere preludes to the One Important Thing. More than anything, Jesus wants his followers to be aware and alert (vv 42, 46). In v 8, Jesus compares the events he describes as the beginning of the birth pangs. The metaphor of childbirth is apt. 

A full-term pregnancy is 37-42 weeks, and many women experience what is commonly called “false labor.” From the moment of conception, a woman’s body changes to accommodate the new life. Morning sickness gives way to a brief reprieve that turns into increasing discomfort as the pregnancy progresses. Somewhere in that 37-42 weeks the mother can reasonably expect the arrival of the child, and the more uncomfortable she becomes, the more she hopes the birth is sooner rather than later. True labor progresses gradually, but contractions become increasingly painful as the body prepares the path for delivery. Even then, no one can predict the actual moment of birth.  

Applied to this passage, there are signs that point to the general time for multiple events: the destruction of the Temple, the Tribulation, and the return of the King, but no actual time is given.. Wars and rumors of wars, nations in conflict, and natural disasters are reminders that the justice of God will prevail, but we don’t know when exactly that judgement will occur. God is outside the bounds of time. Peter wrote, “The heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:7-8).

The purpose of Jesus’ prophecy here is to alert us to false prophets and false teachers. Speculation about details is divisive. Paul wrote to Titus, “Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless” (Titus 3:9).  This passage lends itself to foolish controversies and arguments, not so much about the law, but about specific events and the timing thereof. So, in your groups, talk about persecution, the great tribulation, the second coming, and the sign of the fig tree, but keep in mind that NO ONE knows –not even angels–the day and the hour of the King’s return. Focus on truth teaching and faithful service so that you will be blessed at the hour of his coming.

Controversy

The Olivet discourse has been called one of the most difficult passages in the Bible, mostly because it is unclear what generation Jesus was talking about when He said “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place (Matt 24:35; Mark 13:30-31; Luke 21:32). That all three authors of the synoptic gospels record the exact same words means the words matter. But what generation and which things? Some choices:

  • The fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in 70 AD
  • Partly the fall of Jerusalem (vv 4-35) and partly his second coming (vv 36-66)
  • Mostly the second coming 
  • Generation may refer to race. There will be Jewish people until the end of time.
  • Generation may refer to a type of people. Sinful humans will roam the planet until it is replaced
  • Generation may be the generation that sees the signs unfold (Isaiah 13: 9-11)
  • Generation may be the disciples and early church. The destruction of the temple serves as a metaphor for the final judgement and times.

Part of what makes this passage hard to understand is the fact that we look back at the whole of Scripture, while the original hearers had the ancient prophets only. We can compare this discourse of the synoptic gospels to the prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation. We can also see 2000 years of historical events that seem to meet some of the criteria for the end times, from the destruction of Jerusalem through the Crusades, the 100 years war, world wars of the 20th century, genocides on every continent (except Antarctica), and pandemics that decimated the world’s population through smallpox, tuberculosis, bubonic plagues, leprosy, measles, cholera, and influenza. The earth still turns, and we are all still here, so none of those events signaled the final end of the earth and judgement. However, there is sufficient scholarship to believe that Jesus was answering the disciples specifically about the destruction of the temple by Rome in 70 AD and telling them to be prepared for it  to happen soon. Luke wrote his account after the fall, possibly to add weight to Jesus’ divinity: his prophecy had come true by the time Luke’s readers read the text. It seems evident that the first part of the discourse refers to 70 AD, but the coming of the Son of Man is still to come. 

The final answer? I don’t know. No one does.

HOWEVER, what we do know is that Jesus exhorted his followers (and us) to continue to do the work of the kingdom. We don’t need to know when He is returning, only that He WILL return. Luke expanded Matthew’s words by telling believers to be on guard, echoing Peter’s admonition to be sober-minded and alert. The adversary “the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We can be aware of the signs of labor without neglecting the work before us. When the time comes, Jesus will return. And we will rejoice.

Resources

Albl, M.C. (2009). The Essential Guide to Biblical Life and Times. Saint Mary’s Press. 

Excerpts retrieved from https://www.smp.org/dynamicmedia/files/9a98fef004e9e9211f619d1610b42a2c/TX001246_1-Background-Life_Times_First_Century_Palestine.pdf

Carter, P. (2017, July 14). Making sense of the Olivet Discourse. The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved from https://ca.thegospelcoalition.org/columns/ad-fontes/making-sense-olivet-discourse/

Cohen, S.I.D. (1998). All Jews relate to the Temple. [From Jesus to Christ].Frontline. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/portrait/judaism.html

History.com (2020). Pandemics that changed the world. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/middle-ages/pandemics-timeline.

Köstenberger, A. (n.d.). Jesus and the future: An introduction to the Olivet Discourse. Biblical Foundations. Retrieved from https://www.biblicalfoundations.org/jesus-and-the-future-an-introduction-to-the-olivet-discourse/

Köstenberger, A. (n.d.). Jesus and the future: A closer look at the Olivet Discourse. Biblical Foundations. Retrieved from https://cbs.mbts.edu/2018/05/10/jesus-and-the-future-a-closer-look-at-the-olivet-discourse/

Ligonier Ministries  (2016, October 3). The Olivet Discourse: Mark 13. Retrieved from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/the-olivet-discourse 

Ligonier Ministries. (2008, October 20). The Olivet Discourse: Matthew 24. Retrieved fromhttps://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/olivet-discourse

Martin, G. (2009). Procedural register in the Olivet Discourse: a functional linguistic approach to Mark 13. Biblica 90(4). 457-483. Retrieved from https://www.bsw.org/biblica/vol-90-2009/procedural-register-in-the-olivet-discourse-a-functional-linguistic-approach-to-mark-13/423/

Price, R. (2005) Understanding the Olivet Discourse. Israel My Glory. Retrieved from https://israelmyglory.org/article/understanding-the-olivet-discourse/

Showers, R. (2005). The time of Jacob’s trouble. Israel My Glory. Retrieved from https://israelmyglory.org/article/the-time-of-jacobs-trouble/

Stein, R.H. (2012 ). Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the coming of the Son of Man in Luke 21:5-38. The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 16(3). 18-27. Retrieved from https://sbts-wordpress-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/equip/uploads/2013/06/SBJT-16.3-Stein.pdf

General information

Second Temple Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia. CC BY-SA 3.0

‘Life In Year One’: The World As Jesus Found It

Daily Life in First Century Israel and the Roman Empire

Jewish Life in Palestine at the Beginning of the Christian Era

Judaism in the 1st Century

The Life and Times of First-Century Palestine

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-second-temple

Where is your identity found?

We live in strange and awful times.

Wars abroad, divisions at home, a global pandemic in its second year, and more vitriol spewed on social media than pictures of kittens and bad puns combined. People are quick to speak, slow to listen, and adept at jumping to conclusions based on incomplete information.

And that’s just in the Church.

Why are we in such a hurry to defend ourselves and our positions about every social issue within the context of the Body of Christ? Why do we argue over vaccines and masks? Why do we separate ourselves into political camps? Why do we categorize our brothers and sisters as “other” based on how they look, think, or act?

And why do we usually do that behind a screen instead of engaging in conversations and dialogue designed to promote understanding and unity?

I contend that one reason we divide comes in how we perceive our own identities.

Who are you? Our current culture says that our individual identities are found in intersections of oppressions or oppressings. According to the rules of societal engagement, you are either oppressor or oppressed. Oppressors must rid themselves of every hint of historical wrongdoing; the oppressed must rise up and ensure the oppressors are re-educated and replaced. The issue with this worldview is that it ignores the fact that we are all sinners, desperately broken, and in need of redemption. There is no doubt that there is a historical record of wrongs done by one group of people to another group; the practice is the natural state of humankind and continues all over the world to this day. No revolution, no education, no secular state has been able to overcome the desire for power that is inherent in the prideful heart of people. Nor is it possible for that to be accomplished in the human dimension. Humans will ALWAYS default to us versus them. Utopia is a myth.

Reality is that the human condition is irreparably damaged by sin. Every person who has ever lived is broken. Our identity is not found in intersections, nor is it found in groups. Intersections of oppression create an illusion intended to cover personal sin. Groups serve only to divide into us and them. But there is hope in a new identity that restores broken people. Paul observed, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believed in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 ESV). Paul was both oppressed as a Jew, even though he was a citizen of Rome, and oppressor as a well-educated Pharisee who persecuted followers of Jesus. Paul, then, might represent each of us, regardless of how society has labeled us. Paul rejected the labels of his culture and embraced the mercy of Jesus.

When we embrace the mercy of Jesus, we are adopted as the children of God. No matter what this broken culture says, we can throw off the politics of identity by claiming the inheritance that begins with forgiveness and continues with the riches of God’s grace, poured over us with all wisdom and understanding according to His good pleasure (Ephesians 1:5-6). We are Christ’s, sons and daughters of the Most High, justified by faith alone. As sons and daughters, we are also brothers and sisters, members of one family. Each of us has put on Christ, and in doing so, we have entered into a new identity, one where “there is neither slave nor free” we are ONE in Jesus (Galatians 3:23-29; Colossians 3:11).

If, then, we are one in Jesus, how can we continue to participate in arguments over things of this earth? This world is not our home; we have an eternal promise, a citizenship in heaven. Any glory of this world is the worst kind of dust compared to the kingdom that is to come (Philippians 3:8). Instead of turning against each other, quibbling over things that are meaningless in the scope of eternity, let us look ahead, together, standing side by side as we work out our salvation, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-20; John 14:1-6). We are a family, not competitors in a cultural debate over which group is “right.” We need to imitate our Father, not the current culture. As a family, we put on love above everything else, because love unites us (Colossians 3: 14).

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

The gift of rest

Resting is hard for many of us, especially those of us who grew up in a community where work was prized above almost anything else. Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise…” Productivity, even in ministry, becomes an idol, but it is an acceptable one. We take pride in how much we accomplish and we hold up our calendars as trophies of superiority.

The pandemic that rocked 2020 should have been a reset of rest and work in balance, and for many people the reset was real. For others of us, however, resting led to guilt over falling behind on plans and goals and work, so when restrictions were lifted, we jumped in doing double time to compensate for the jigsaw puzzles, movies, and books that kept us entertained for a year.

I know the feeling because that’s what I’ve done for the last few months.

When “wait” became my word for 2021, I should have know this season would be one of forced rest. God know that my temperament is one that seeks after accomplishment, so He ensured that this year, I would not be able to show a list of doing. Instead, He gave me opportunities to practice being. I haven’t been entirely cooperative, if I am perfectly honest. I looked for jobs in my field for months. When none materialized, I started up several side projects and looked for part-time work somewhere doing anything. I found that my resume made me look overqualified for pretty much everything, so I didn’t get call backs for entry level jobs. When I finally settled down to examine why, it was like the Lord told me to wait–and write; He would provide.

God designed a day for resting and worshipping because we (I) need it.

I started this blog with the intention of writing a book about the need for grace in the church. I still believe I need to write that book. This season of waiting and being seems to be designed for following through. It is also a reminder that Sabbath was made for humans, not the other way around (Mark 2:27). God designed a day for resting and worshipping because we (I) need it.

So now, I enter that rest with a little trepidation, but certain that the Father will supply my needs. I will fill my mind with His word. I will learn and write about grace. I will keep my calendar flexible, knowing that God will put me where He wants me too be while keeping me free to do the work He has called me to do. In time, not all at once. Day by day, practicing the gift of rest.

For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works”…So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:1-11).

How to please the Lord 101

How to please the Lord 101: Love God, love people. There is nothing complicated about what God wants his children to do. He says it over and over in every book of the Bible. Jesus himself summed up the commandments in two sentences: Love the Lord your God will your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).

What does it look like to love the Lord with everything you have? It looks like loving others. It looks like true judgments, showing kindness, and offering mercy. Zechariah says it in chapter 7, verse 9. Micah says it in chapter 6 verse 8. Paul wrote in Romans 12 that believers should outdo one another in showing honor, and how else do we do that but by true judgement, kindness, and mercy?

To the Galatians, Paul wrote “through love serve one another.” To the Ephesians he instructed believers to bear with one another. To the Thessalonians he admonished the fellowship to increase and abound in love for one another because that is what they had been taught.

The author of Hebrews and Peter and John all emphasized the importance of loving one another the same way that the Father loves us.

James wrote that faith without works is dead. It might be equally said that loving God without loving others is הֶבֶל (hebel), a vapor, nonsense, or foolishness, what King Solomon called “Vanity of vanities.” Love for God isn’t real unless it is demonstrated by loving one another through justice, kindness, mercy, and humility.

Love isn’t complicated, but it isn’t easy, either. We are human. We have annoying habits. We have strongly held differences of opinion. We interpret Scripture differently. Our experiences vary, our cultures conflict, and our expectations of how things should be often sit in opposition. In the US, the differences between us have been amplified in 2020 and 2021 by a pandemic (and how people should respond to it), racial strife (and how government should mitigate it), and disasters, both nature and human-caused. Human nature lashes out and social media makes it convenient to insist on being right instead of being unified. We must carefully consider not only what we say, but how we say it. Love is quick to listen. Love pursues goodness and truth. Love judges the self truly so that each one might be humble. In humility we act out our love for God by showing kindness and mercy to our brothers and sisters, just as the Lord commanded.

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

If God demonstrated His love for us by sending His only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, how much more ought we demonstrate our love for God by loving one another in right judgements, showing mercy, and being kind?

Romans 6:8

It has been a rough few weeks. My father, who lived a multitude of lives in his 81 years, passed away on July 29. I took a last minute trip to my hometown earlier in the month when he was hospitalized and not expected to walk out of the facility. True to my dad’s stubborn nature, he did walk out, but only to travel to a place he loves where my step-brother had set up hospice. My dad said for years that he would never die in my hometown. He made that happen.

It’s a long and complicated story (aren’t most family stories complicated?), and I may tell the whole of it later. For now, it is enough to know that, as hard as it was to see my once proud father frail and weak, I am sure that his destination is a heavenly one.

It is confidence in God’s Word that gives me the ability to grieve without despair. My father was a flawed man. He had a tremendous heart and a temper to match. He was generous to a fault, but not wise with his finances, something that overburdened his children in the last decade of his life. He had an infectious laugh that lit up the bars where he spent too much time over his life. He, like all of us, was a product of a fallen world, doing the best he could with the resources he had.

But he had faith. He knew Jesus was his hope for eternity. In his last years he eschewed all reading material except the Bible. When he came to visit me in the fall of 2019, when I was teaching in Las Vegas, he had a small backpack that included a couple changes of clothes, toiletries, and his Bible. He liked reading the prophecies, from Isaiah to Revelation, and he would debate the meanings of the signs with anyone. At the same time, he trusted John’s affirmation that those who remain in the Son and in the Father would have eternal life (John 3:16; 1 John 1:24-27); there was no debating that. Remaining in Jesus means that, when this life is over, we will live with him.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that God’s grace extends to everyone who calls on His name for salvation. The sting of death is sin, but the victory over death is through Jesus (1 Corinthians 15). My dad, even as flawed as he was, inherited the imperishable on July 29 at 2:22 p.m. because God raised Jesus from the dead and released the gift of eternal life to anyone who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:19-26).

For this reason, death has no victory and I do not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4). I will miss my dad, for sure. His gregarious spirit, his laugh, and our frequent conversations will be bittersweet in my memory: sweet because I got to enjoy him for all of my 56 years and bitter because there won’t be any new experiences with him. But because both he and I trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus, I am confident that we will be with the Lord forever. And that is an encouraging thing.

January 24, 1987
November 7, 2019

Henry (Hank) Thomas Tuey. September 10, 1939- July 29, 2021

Taste and see: Part five

The Lord is good

John 15:1-8; Psalm 34:8; 1 John 4:7-17; Galatians 5:22-23

The late 1960s were tumultuous times in the US. Not unlike today, there were protests and riots over political statements, racism, sexuality, and the role of the Church in society. In that chaos, Peter Scholtes penned the words to “They’ll know we are Christians,” based on his reading of John 11:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Just in case you need a reminder of the lyrics:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord -  We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand - We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news that God is in our land.
We will work with each other; we will work side by side - We will work with each other; we will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride.
All praise to the Father from whom all things come and all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son
And all praise to the Spirit who makes us one.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
And they'll know we are Christians by our love.

For King and Country has a lovely arrangement here.

And it’s true, we should be known by our love for one another. Jesus was clear that all the Law and the Prophets rest on two things: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39.) Love is the foundation upon which we build community, minister to the needy, embrace the hurting, and seek after the lost. Love is the first result of our abiding in the True Vine.

Just as grapes are the basis for all the essential elements of wine, so too, love is the basis for all the characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5 lists the essential elements: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Yes, we are known by our love, but get to know us individually, and our love consists of multiple nuances of grace.

See

The first step in wine tasting is to really look at the wine from all angles. Hold it up to the light. Tilt the glass and look for evidence of boldness and age. Good wine should be clear and brilliant, allowing the light to pass through unhindered by sediment or chemical imbalances.

Spiritually speaking, people should see the ways in which we love one another by how we manifest joy and peace in trying times. How do we respond to others who may offend us: is it with patience and kindness? How do we demonstrate goodness and gentleness to the hurting among us? When non-believers look at us does the light of Jesus shine through?

Swirl

Swirling the glass allows the wine to be agitated. A dense full-bodied wine will leave “legs” running the sides of the glass, whereas a light wine will not. Agitation reveals the believer’s depth as well. We grow more through trials than any other time when we rely on our faith. Jesus said that love is fully demonstrated when we are willing to lay down our lives for each other. He was clear that the world would hate believers because it hated Him (John 15:18). Suffering is part of living in a broken world, but Paul wrote to the Romans that this present suffering is nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns.

Sniff

There are thousands of fragrance combinations in wine. Some, like mustiness or vinegar, indicate that the wine has gone bad. Other aromas indicate the flavors present in the wine and are often linked to terrain, temperature, and other elements of where the grapes were grown, how they were harvested, and how the wine was produced. Floral, herbaceous, and earthy notes recall the growing terroir, while fragrances of smoke, vanilla, chocolate, or coffee are likely from the barrels in which the wine was aged. Gregutt wrote, “The best wine aromas are complex but also balances, specific but also harmonious.”

While it’s never a good idea to go around sniffing other people, there is a pleasing aroma in the air when a Bible-believing, Spirit-filled, Jesus follower is in the room. Christ in us spreads the fragrance of grace and the aroma of knowing Him personally everywhere we go (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

Sip

In the wine-tasting world the sip is the final arbiter of whether a wine is good or spectacular or somewhere in between. An excellent wine is “balanced, harmonious, complex, evolved, and complete” (Gregutt, 2015). Balanced wine means sweetness and sourness work in tandem to create a pleasing flavor. No one flavor should dominate a harmonious wine, and the taste should change even before you swallow, revealing depth and complexity. A truly complete wine leaves the taster satisfied.

In the sermon that inspired this series, Rainey talked about the complex character of the believer: a burst of love, followed by notes of joy and kindness, ending with an essence of goodness. Each of us is made up of all the elements of the Fruit of the Spirit in different proportions, and how we present ourselves in and to the world can either draw people to Jesus or turn people away from His Church. When we abide in Jesus, the fruit we develop becomes our witness to the world as it holds us up to the light. When we let the Light shine through us, we express a desire for everyone to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Good, Gold, or Best in Show

The largest wine competition is the Decanter World Wine Awards. The 170 wine judges tasted more than 18,000 wines over a course of about two weeks. Only Gold metal winners move on to the next tasting, where they may move to platinum. Platinum wines then move up for a final tasting to determine Best in Show. Most wines don’t even make it to the competition, and many of those wines are pretty good. But good is not great. And great doesn’t mean golden. And only one is Best.

There are good people in the world who do pretty good things, but they are still lost. There are good people in the world who do great things, but without Jesus, they are still bound by sin. Doing good and even great things is not enough to meet the demands of a Law that requires perfection. Romans 3:23 is blunt, “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Our attempts at home-made wine will never measure up to Best in Show, no matter how closely we follow the YouTube directions or how much money we spend on grapes. The only measure of Best in Show is Jesus, and we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” (Romans 3:24-25). Good people doing good or great things will still stand before the Holy One to make an account for their lives. Every flaw will be exposed. Every false flavor and impure aroma will be revealed. No one will be justified by works apart from faith.

It is for the sake of even those who do good or even golden things that we must continue to live out the Fruit of the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, proclaiming peace by the blood of Christ, unified as one body with grace from above. When we who follow Jesus live out his command to love God and love others, we proclaim to the world:

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!

 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
 Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
    and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.

 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
    Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:1-8

References

(2021, June 11). What am I tasting? Wine Spectator.

Gregutt, P. (2015) How to taste wine. Wine Enthusiast.

Hymnary.org (n.d.) Peter Scholtes.

Mason, O. (2021, June 25). Photo highlights: Decanter World Wine Awards 2021 judging weeks. Decanter.

Images

Collage elements from Digidesign Resort and my own design library

Taste and see: Part four

Tasting: The perfection of the fruit

John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 4:7-17

Taste

Just a few days ago, Wine Spectator posted a “wine IQ” blind tasting game on their website. It posted a sommelier’s tasting notes and asked players to identify the variety, country/region of origin/appellation, and age based solely on the notes.

Tasting Note: Fresh and juicy, with good cut to the red currant and dried berry flavors that feature bright minerality. Ends with a creamy, well-spiced finish, with notes of dried green herbs.

Wine Spectator, June 11, 2021

Would you believe I got 3 of the four correct? And I almost selected Sierra Foothills instead of Sonoma County. The other correct answers: It is a California Merlot, 3-5 years old. But how was I able to identify any of the elements correctly? Let me explain.

The descriptors of “fresh and juicy” and “red currant and dried berries” told me it was a lighter wine. The options were Carignan, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel. I’ve never heard of a Tempranillo, but I do know that Syrah is usually pretty “big,” with strong flavors, not “fresh and juicy.” Zinfandel is usually kind of peppery. Carignan is not very common, so that left Merlot, a variety I happen to like now and then. It’s not too sweet, not too heavy, and pairs well with lots of meals.

California produces Merlot wines all over the state, so I opted for that instead of choosing from Australia, France, Spain, or Washington. I may be wrong, but I associate Australia with bolder flavors, Spain with bigger wines, and Washington State with lighter, sweeter wines like Pinot Noir. There were only two appellations in California among the options, and I chose the wrong one. In retrospect, I should have gone with my gut because of the “notes of dried green herbs.” As for the age of the wine, “fresh” is usually attributed to younger wines, so that gave me 1-2 years or 3-5 years. Straight up guessed that one.

Fruit

Because wine is a product from grapes, it should always have some kind of fruit in the description. If the fruit is missing, you no longer have wine; you have vinegar. The Wine Spectator game is a regular feature. Some of the other descriptions include things like “cranberry core,” “apple and pear,” and “lemongrass, passion fruit, and Key lime.” Those essences of fruit are directly related to everything that has preceded the first taste, from the choice of terrain for the vineyard, the weather, the time of harvest, the processing, the aging, the bottling, and the storing. Every decision made by the wine-maker is captured in that first moment of release. As Jesus-followers, our fruit is revealed in first impressions as well. Jesus said that we can bear much fruit when we abide in Him. He prunes and nourishes us, and when we acquiesce to His work in us, the Holy Spirit infuses us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

As with wine, the fruit of the Spirit is complex, and even though the elements are the same, the way in which the essences manifest varies from believer to believer. Some people exude joy, while others are models of self-control. It is not that every Jesus follower is the same, but that the Spirit infuses each one with a unique combination of elements represented in that one Fruit of the Spirit. Above all, though, love must dominate. It is the first note, and the one on which all the others are measured.

See and Swirl

Sommeliers are professional wine stewards who spend years perfecting their senses of smell and taste so they can identify wines that will pair well with food. Only 269 people in the world have earned the title of Master Sommelier; the three part exam has been called the most difficult in the world because it requires demonstration of technique, palate, and theory across three days.

Of course, it is possible for the non-sommelier to have an educated opinion about a wine, especially if conditions of tasting are good: not too hot, not too cold, proper glass, and no outside odors (somehow even creating that list feels more than a little pretentious, but bear with me for now.)

The first evaluation is by sight. What colors are in the wine? Red is a color, yes, but it doesn’t actually say much. Look deeper. Is it a deep blue-purple red with gold tones as you hold it to the light? Is it more filled with shades of pink or bright ruby? Or, if you happen to be looking at a white wine, is is more translucent yellow or deep gold? The color will give you an idea of what to expect from the tasting; the richer the color, the bolder the flavor.

What do people see when they look at you? Do they see your joy? Your peace? Maybe your kindness? The color of your love is visible when you abide in Jesus. You present yourself as a reflection of God’s goodness with your countenance. Moses reflected the glory of God so brightly that he had to wear a veil when he came down from the mountain (Exodus 24:35).

Swirling a taste of wine begins to release the fragrance of aromatic compounds. Scientifically, swirling adds oxygen to the wine, allowing it to “open up” to its fullest flavor. Spiritually speaking, that is an interesting concept. When wine is bottled and corked, it is stable, and maybe beautiful, but only by open agitation does it begin to reveal its true character. We may want to live in a world where we blithely skip from rainbows to glitter, but the reality is, our character is revealed most when things around us spin. Trouble and trial bring to the front who we are at the core. Paul wrote,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subject to futility–not willingly, but because of him who subjected it–in the hope that the creation will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

Romans 8:18-21

When we are swirled in the glass of suffering, we “open up” to share the essence of the Fruit of the Spirit within us, not for our own good, but for the glory of God the Father! All the notes of joy and peace and patience–all the way to self-control are released so that others may sense the overwhelming love of Jesus in us and through us.

Coming next, part five: The first taste

References

(2021, June 11). What am I tasting? Wine Spectator.

Gregutt, P. (2015) How to taste wine. Wine Enthusiast.

Shade of a wine (n.d.). Sommeliers Choice Awards. Beverage Trade Network

Vinepair staff (n.d.). How and why you swirl wine in your glass. Vinepair.

Image credits

Central photo by Stephanie Loomis

Grapes and Bottles images by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Magazine template by Photobacks