Mess of Pottage Blog

Luke's "Pro" Blog

Fresh Year!

Happy New Year!

The writers of the New Testament used two different words for “new.” One of them, neos, is more familiar to English speakers. It’s where we get our prefix neo-. Some hospitals, for example, have a special unit to care for neonates, or newborns.

The other word, kainos, is less familiar to us; the only English word related to it is a technical word used by geologists. In the Bible, however, kainos occurs more frequently in the Bible than neos.

What’s the difference between these words? Neos has strictly to do with the age of something. For example, in Luke 15:11-32, the story of the prodigal son, the younger brother is the newer one, the neoteros brother. His brother is presbuteros, is older, than he. (That word for “older”, by the way, is where we get our term Presbyterian, which is used to describe a church governed not by clergy but by elders.)

Kainos has less to do with the actual age of a thing than neos. It refers instead to something’s freshness. When Jesus taught, people marveled not at how young his teaching was, but its revolutionary novelty: “They were all amazed, and kept on asking each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority!'” (Mark 1:27)

The distinction between new/young and new/fresh is a useful one. Not everything new is fresh. In a world of knock-offs and derivative ideas, the easiest thing of all is to come up with something that’s new but not innovative. Look at Hollywood: there are new movies in the theaters every week, but how many of them are tired retreads of the same old stories?

Even in the Old Testament, we hear God alert us that he is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). In the New Testament, we learn its newness is the kainos type: not young but fresh. Jesus brought a new teaching. Paul tells us that those who are in Christ are new creations, and when he proclaimed Jesus, people were eager to hear his new teaching. Near the end of the book of Revelation, John has a vision of the new heaven and new earth, and he records Jesus’ words: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'”

Our God is a God makes things new. He does so not by making those things younger, however: how could even God do that? Instead, God makes things new by refreshing them and giving them renewed vitality.

Which brings me back to “Happy New Year!” 2012 is a new neos/young year, but will it be a new kainos/fresh year? Will the year 2012 be filled with novelty and innovation, or with another twelve weary months of the same-old, same-old? The Bible gives us reason to believe God desires to do new things in us and through us. My hope that 2012 is a new year for you in the very best way.

No Comments »

Thankfulness

Thanksgiving’s coming!

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday, isn’t it? There’s the food: too much of it, usually, and things you don’t see the rest of the year, like cranberry relish and yams. There’s the spectacle on TV, starting with parades and ending with as many football games as you can fit into 24 hours and 30 channels. Then to bed early, so you can be up early for Black Friday and Phase II of the Christmas buying season.

Thanksgiving is weird because it’s a secular nod to religion, and it gets more weird as the secular culture becomes less willing to nod. Increasingly we see celebrities and politicians urging us to be thankful without saying whom we should thank. Each other, I guess, or no-one in particular.

As Christians, however, we know whom to thank. There is an object of our gratitude: our God, who is the source of all good things. The Psalmist put it this way:

The LORD is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
Psalm 28:7 NLT

I’ve always found that thanksgiving is the easiest form of prayer. When I’m asking God for things, I often don’t know what I should ask. Even when I know what I ought to ask, what I want is sometimes another story. It leaves me wondering whether to sign off with “not my will but thine, Lord … except that you need to be aware that this is something I really, really want you to do for me. Amen.”

Thankfulness is easier, because the answer is usually staring me in the face. Like this: as I write this, I’m looking at a computer screen. I’m thankful it isn’t a typewriter, because it makes it so easy to fix my mistakes, and when I’m done, I can just email what I’ve written into the Panorama. It also reminds me of my career in the computer industry, and I’m thankful for that, because it’s where I met my wife. Among the countless reasons I’m thankful for her is that she invited me to her church, where I met Jesus. Thankfulness is a snap.

He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

What has God done for you lately? Has God helped you, and how has it given you joy?

If you’re going to have Thanksgiving dinner with anyone this year, someone’s sure to ask you what you’re thankful for. Think what a great answer you could give — how you could practically burst out in a song of thanksgiving — if you started working on it now.

No Comments »

Easter vs. Fear

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;
I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

According to a recent survey (http://bit.ly/czmm53), only 2% of Americans realize Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian faith. Even among Protestant Christians, just 78% recognized Easter as a religious holiday, and only a bare majority (51%) could connect it with the Resurrection of our Lord.

I always encourage people to participate in worship services during Holy Week, like our own Maundy Thursday service at 7:00 p.m. on April 1, or the community Good Friday service at noon on April 2. The reason is that, like Easter, Palm Sunday is a joyous occasion, and we can gloss over what happened in between the two. But without an appreciation of the price Jesus paid, and the impact it had on his first disciples, it’s easy to forget why Easter is so important.

There’s a fascinating example of that in Mark 15:43. Jesus has just died on the cross, and Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish ruling council, requested the body so it could be buried. (Standard Roman practice was to leave the bodies of crucified people hanging, as a warning to others.) Our pew Bible says he “went boldly to Pilate,” the governor, to request Jesus’ body. But that is surely too weak. The word translated boldly means “to be so bold as to challenge or defy possible danger or opposition.” Paul uses the same word when says (Philippians 1:4) that even though he is imprisoned by Caesar’s imperial guard, he “dares to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.”

The amazing thing about what Joseph of Arimathea did was that it happened before the Resurrection. We know how hard it can be for us to be unafraid-and we know that Jesus rose from the grave; we know that he will return to claim his church, when the dead will rise to meet him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) and even those who have not yet died will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51ff). Joseph didn’t have that assurance. He dared to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, not knowing if it would cost him his own life-if he would end up hanging on a cross next to Jesus’ body. The reason Joseph could risk so much was that he was “expectantly waiting for the Kingdom of God” Jesus had proclaimed (Mark 1:18).

Is there anything you are afraid of? Easter reminds us that the worst thing that can happen to us-death-has been defeated. If death has lost its sting, how much more the trivial things most of us worry about. What can that reassurance do for you? What freedom does it give you? What things does it enable you to dare, like Joseph of Arimathea did?

I hope to see you during Holy Week!

No Comments »

Snow Day

For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth’;—Job 37:6

The church offices will be closed Thursday, January 21, due to snow. If you must go out today, be careful on the roads!

We will post the status of tonight’s choir practice later today, as the weather situation becomes more apparent.

Update, 12:00 p.m. The choir practice for tonight is postponed to Saturday. (Time T.B.A.) We were hoping the rain would start and begin to clear the roads, but so far that hasn’t happened.

No Comments »

Sharing Good News (a Lesson from the Bible)

One of my favorite Bible stories is found in 2 Kings 7.

A neighboring empire had attacked Israel and Jerusalem was under siege. The city was surrounded, so nothing could get in or out, and people got very, very hungry. But one night, God caused the besiegers to hear the sound of a great army. They became frightened and fled, abandoning their camp outside the city.

Read the rest of this entry »

No Comments »

Public Witness How-To’s

Several local groups of Christians participated in the Grubstakes Parade in Yucca Valley this weekend.

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Joshua Springs Christian School Pep Band.

Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel operates a Christian School. They sent their Pep Band. As it went by my position, they were playing the James Bond theme. Very nice.

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Yucca Valley Nazarene Church Worship Team

The Nazarene church sent their worship team. The music wasn’t anything I recognized, but it wasn’t obnoxious, and the singer was pleasantly enthusiastic. Another winsome entry.

Then came these people:

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Anonymous Kooks

Why are they? I don’t know who these people were, or if they’re associated with a local church, but they should be ashamed of their witness. If this is how they want to present the Good News to people, they should go read how Paul did it (Acts 17:16-23). Or even Jonah (say, Jonah 3:4,5,10; 4:1-2).

Finally, this.

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Handing Out Tracts

A guy walked the route passing out tracts. Fine. But look what it says: “Your Parade Guide.” I’m sure that it seemed clever to whoever wrote it — I’ll guide you toward a decision for Christ, which is more important than this parade. But this is worldly cleverness, the kind used to write TV commercials. It’s fundamentally dishonest, because it pulls a bait-and-switch on the reader.

No Comments »

Unexpected Currents

Have you ever spent any time in the ocean?

My in-laws have a house in southern Orange County. Whenever we visit, we go down to the same beach near their home. So we stake out a place on the beach and then we go out into the surf to swim and splash around.

I enjoy bobbing in the surf. I love the feeling when a wave comes along and lifts me up like I don’t weigh a thing. Then I’ll look over and see everyone else it lifts up and I’ll get a sense of the ocean’s size and power. Then a wave will flip me over and rub me into the sand and gravel just as easily, and that part isn’t so much fun. But it’s not so bad either, so I stay out there until the next wave comes along and keep doing it two, three, four, five times.

Read the rest of this entry »

No Comments »

Prepare the Way of the Lord

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. –Isaiah 40:3

The church has two great joyous holidays: Easter and Christmas, the celebrations of our Lord’s Resurrection and his Incarnation. Both these two holidays follow a season of repentance and preparation. Lent precedes Easter, and Advent comes before Christmas.

Nobody seems to mind Lent. (They may not observe it, but very few people seem opposed to it.) Advent, on the other hand, is distinctly counter- cultural. The culture we live in is in a hurry to celebrate Christmas. People talk about “getting into the holiday spirit” and go from party to party munching cookies and drinking eggnog.

I used to think this was what made Advent so demanding. When the people around them are celebrating, even the best Christians don’t want to go through December moping. We don’t like to fast, but especially we don’t want to fast while our friends feast.

(To be frank, I’m not sure that fasting is the best witness. The gospel is supposed to be good news. When we sulk our way through Advent, the message we convey to non-Christians is that Christianity is like having Seasonal Affective Disorder — except it keeps going through the spring and summer.) As I think about these holidays, however, I see there is another problem with Advent, one it shares with Lent. Our observance of these seasons of preparation tend to be lopsided. We focus too much on our sin and brokenness.

(By “our sin” I mean mine. And yours. And everyone else’s. Part of what makes it so difficult to do the right thing is that we live in a fallen world. What made the good Samaritan good is that the man he stopped to help could have been a robber waiting to ambush anyone foolish enough to help.)

I’m not saying we should throw in the towel and go along with our culture’s desire for a ho-ho-ho holly-jolly Christmas. We have to pause and reflect on our sin long enough to remember why the birth of a savior is good news. We have to recognize that even the very best things we do are flawed, and most of what we do is worse. We have to remember that our problem is so severe that only God can fix it.

But that’s all. We don’t have to wallow in it. Once we have recognized the problem, we need to transition to hope.

Isaiah said to prepare the way of the Lord. Hope is part of preparation. You don’t straighten out highways unless you think someone’s going to use the road.

Repentance means “changing your mind.” But we don’t just change our mind about sin, and decide to avoid it. We also change our mind about God. We remember the things we’re so prone to forget about God: his love and mercy and most of all his faithfulness.

This Advent, let’s remember how we got into this mess. But let’s also remember who got us out. Let’s resolve to spend more time this season remembering our God who loves us and has acted in Christ to redeem us. And, by the way, have a Merry Christmas!

No Comments »