Tag Archives: obedience

The first miracle

Frederick Dale Bruner wrote: “I like to consider this Jesus’ first miracle: the miracle of His humility. The first thing Jesus does for us is go down with us. His whole life is like this, It is well known that Jesus ended His career on a cross between two thieves; it deserves to be as well known that He began His ministry in a river among penitent sinners.”

The writer of Hebrews emphasized the humanity and humility of Jesus: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin” (Hebrews 4:14). Jesus didn’t sympathize with humans; He empathized.

Someone once described the difference between sympathy and empathy this way: You’re walking along a road and notice a man who has fallen into a ditch. Sympathy says that you feel sorry for the man’s predicament. Empathy says that you get down in the ditch and help the man out. Jesus did not observe our predicament; He entered it.

The mystery of the Incarnation that He was capable of experiencing the human condition without being tainted by it. Tempted but without yielding, He lived among us as one of us. It was crucial to His mission. The manger, the cross, the tomb were not symbolic gestures; they were demonstrations of His commitment to dwell among us and then pay a price no other could pay.

Paul captured the humility of Jesus perfectly in his letter to the Philippians. Reciting what had to be one of Christianity’s earliest hymns, the apostle called upon believers to follow the example Jesus set: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5).

What does that attitude look like? From the Christian Bible Reference: “Humility as a virtue is a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments. Why do qualities such as courtesy, patience and deference have such a prominent place in the Bible? It is because a demeanor of humility is exactly what is needed to live in peace and harmony with all persons. Humility dissipates anger and heals old wounds. Humility allows us to see the dignity and worth of all God’s people. Humility distinguishes the wise leader from the arrogant power-seeker.”

Jesus provided the leadership through His example. What kind of followers will we be? I still believe in miracles.

The upside of giving up

Jesus posed an interesting scenario to those who opposed Him. He told the story of two sons who each were asked by their father to work in the family vineyard. The first son initially refused to stop what he was doing to obey his father’s wishes. The second agreed to the task and then fails to show up. Jesus asked, “Which of the two was obeying the father?” (Matthew 21:28-32)

The first son gave up … gave up his own path, his own desires … so he could find a better path, more satisfying desires. Discovering what you need to do and who you need to be is the upside of giving up.

Most of us understand this simply because we have been there. We have had to stop behaviors and attitudes for the sake of maturing, growing, and developing. Noah Berlatsky’s son had been deeply involved in martial arts training for several years. One day he told his father that he wanted to quit. As Berlatsky listened to his son’s reasoning, he concluded: “Quitting is one of the most important life skills that you can teach your child. If you’re going to change your life, if you’re going to try something else, you have to be ready to quit whatever you were doing before something else showed up.”

We have had to realize that Father does indeed know best. His work in our lives, in the vineyard where we have been placed calls us to give up selfish desires, goals, and preferences for a higher good. Sometimes we have to give up to grow up.

It happens in our personal lives. It occurs in business. It certainly takes place in church. Are there things we give up so we can gain? Are there things we stop doing, even good things, so we can experience the best things? The first son found the truth and found the way. I pray that we follow his lead.

The Journey that changed the world

In this week’s newsletter from the Center for Healthy Churches, Bill Wilson wrote a column entitled: “Vision and Venture at Advent.” He began with: “It was Vaclav Havel who described the dilemma every leader has with the issue of vision – ‘Vision is not enough; it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs.’”

The story of Jesus offers compelling evidence that the two – vision and venture – should be inseparable. Joseph, who sometimes appears as a bit player in the drama, received a vision from God. Amidst his concerns about what he should do with a suddenly-pregnant fiancée, he struggles with how to make the problem go away. Through a heavenly messenger, he is given a vision of his future: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to go ahead with your marriage to Mary. For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:18-25).

Mary, understandably confused and frightened, receives her own vision and submits to Gabriel’s message: “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants. May everything you have said come true” (Luke 1:38).

Their journey to Bethlehem is set in the framework of an imperial decree. Caesar Augustus has ordered a census of his empire. The tax rolls need to be updated. People must return to their ancestral homes to obey the decree. While the males are targeted, it is interesting that both Joseph and Mary are descendants of David, Israel’s greatest king. The lineage is an important verification of messianic prophecy.

According to Havel’s word picture, Joseph and Mary did indeed stare up the steps and then stepped up the stairs. They were willing to take the journey, not just to Bethlehem, but also to obedience.

Jesus embodied vision and venture in His life and ministry. He was laser-focused on accomplishing His mission. He refused to allow anything or anyone to deter Him. He lived the life His Father sent Him to live.

Can that be said of us? Are we living the life we were created to live? Is our heart set on those things that have eternal significance? What better time than Christmas to renew our commitment to both vision and venture.

Merry Christmas, Wieuca. Let’s celebrate together and let’s penetrate the world with our witness. There are stairs that need steppin’.