COLLAPSE of course! Most people stay so busy this time of year with gift buying, party going, tree trimming, dinner planning, house cleaning, light decorating, card addressing, carol singing, cookie baking, and, if there was time, even a little bit of church going that they just COLLAPSE and wait for the event of next year’s Christmas! Indeed, we live in an event centered culture. As much as folks may complain about the busyness of life, they tend to live from one event to the other, neglecting the importance of the in-between times which is the space where most of our lives are spent. How many people spend much time and money planning the one-day event of their wedding, but put very little investment into the years (what should be a lifetime) of their marriage? How much energy is placed into the plotting of the minutest details of what is viewed as a magnificent week long vacation while such pitiful preparation is put into the planning of the years of one’s life that are often seen as mundane? On a spiritual note, I remember seeing many of my peers from the days of my youth center their Christianity around two annual retreats (which we called Chrysalis’). These were indeed powerful experiences which blessed my heart significantly, but they took up a total of 6 days a year and there were still 359 to go! As I’ve grown older, I’ve watched people of all ages fall into the destructiveness of event centered living. They remember great spiritual experiences from the past and perhaps even hold out hope for new ones in the future, but day in and day out faithfulness is far from their view. They have COLLAPSED and I’m afraid should the event of the Second Coming occur they would be ill prepared.
Read through the passages that give us the “Christmas” story (Luke 1 and 2, Matthew 1 and 2) and you may think that it’s just one event after another. The angel Gabriel appears unto Zacharias and tells the elder minister that he and his barren wife Elizabeth would conceive John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. Next, the same heavenly messenger announces to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God who would take away the sins of His people. Before you know it, an entire band of angels are appearing unto shepherds on a hillside declaring that the Savior is being born in Bethlehem, the city of David. The shepherds go and find Joseph and Mary and the Babe lying in a manger at a stable because there was no room for them at the inn due to so many people, holy family included, that had come to the small town obeying the tax law that had just come down from Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. As if that weren’t enough, Matthew tells us that wise men from the East, having found Jesus’ remote location by following a Divinely inspired star, showed up bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Child (note: most scholars think the Wise Men didn’t show up until Christ was around 2 years of age so they weren’t there at His birth). To top it all off, when Joseph and Mary take Jesus on the eighth day to have him dedicated according to Old Testament law, two of God’s senior servants, Simeon and Anna, testify that this Babe is the long awaited Messiah prophesied throughout the whole of Scripture. It sure seems like one significant and glorious event after another after another after another take place surrounding the birth of Christ. But then what?! The next specific glimpse into the life of Christ is when He teaches in the Temple at age 12 and then we hear nothing more until about age 30. What happened in the in-betweens? What to do after Christmas indeed? In this month’s newsletter we will briefly look at a post-Christmas verse to teach us what to do after Christmas; how to lead a faithful life regardless of the presence or lack thereof of seemingly sensational events. Luke 2:40 reads, “The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.”
The Child Continued To GROW AND BECOME STRONG…New Year’s Day eight years ago was very eventful for my wonderful wife and me. Our baby boy was officially due on January 11th but we knew on the morning of
the 1st that things were changing and that he must be on his way. We went to the hospital that night and by 5:50 pm the next evening Benjamin Dewey Strunk III had come into the world! I love to tell the story of Benji’s birth: from my sweating during a noon-ish whirlwind shopping trip to make sure we had all the items we needed to go and give birth, to the un-Florida like bitter cold weather we walked through at around midnight in the hospital parking lot; from the less than friendly nurse who raised my blood pressure while turning my love’s arm purple checking hers, to the kindest nurse telling me I could kiss our baby; from my wife gripping my hand because of the pain of childbirth, to our baby holding my finger-his first anchor in this world-as tightly as he could with his whole little hand; from seeing our son on monitors to monitoring him with my very own eyes! I could go on and on; filling up this article and several others recounting to you the details I recall from our son’s birth, truly one of the most momentous and memorable events of my life. But there have been a lot of uneventful days since that precious event, and our 8 lb. 4 oz. blessing has grown and become strong, in oh so many ways!
The only event greater than being born is being born again, coming spiritually alive through repentance from sin and faith in Christ. After that experience, what do we do? We grow and become strong! How? We could list many factors here but I’ll limit it to three. First, we grow strong by eating. Jesus said that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).” It is impossible, yes impossible, to mature as a believer without a dedication to the Word of God! Second, we grow strong through prayer. In the words of Jude 20, praying in the Spirit helps us in “building ourselves up in our most holy faith.” Finally, we grow strong in the good works to which the Lord has called us through regular fellowship with others of the like same faith, “not forsaking the assemblying of ourselves together, as the manner of some is (Heb. 10:24-25).” What to do after Christmas? Grow and Become Strong!
The Child Continued INCREASING IN WISDOM…I was on Math Team in High School. I wasn’t the best in the country or anything but I was blessed to be able to go to four state competitions and two national competitions during the course of my Mu Alpha Theta career (the name for high school math clubs; note the letters MATH are part of the name; very clever indeed!). Math Team students weren’t necessarily the most popular on campus (but hey, we did get to go to Hawaii!). But one member of our team really raised the ire of many at school, even that of some of his fellow compatriots in the cause of mathematics! He was two years younger than me and yet was in the same level of competition. He was truly smart, brilliant even. In fact, he was a bona fide genius, and had the IQ test results to prove it. He often bragged about how smart he was and, though perhaps not always intentionally (though oft times it was on purpose), made others feel inferior in the realm of intelligence. He was smart and young, but his knowledge and intelligence quotient far outpaced his wisdom and level of maturity.
There is truly a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Scripture tells us that “knowledge puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1).” Conversely wisdom has its foundation in the fear of God (Prov. 1:7) which necessarily involves a humility acknowledging that we are not the Sovereign of the universe. This humility, this godly fear, causes us to have the wisdom to believe what God says over and against any other authority. I will not tarry upon this point long but I cannot stress it enough, to grow in true wisdom means to recognize and submit to the number one theological truth of the universe, “God is smarter than we are!” What He says in His Word is truth, and if it rubs our societal norms or personal views the wrong way, then it is not the Bible that is in error; it is whatever high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5) that shall and must give way! What to do after Christmas? Increase In Genuine Wisdom!
THE GRACE OF GOD Was Upon Him…As most of you know I took a tumble on the bus ramp about three weeks ago (or as my son says, I had a Jack and Jill—the “Jack fell down” and “came tumbling after” parts are especially in view here!). My right arm was injured, sustaining a deep bruise and joint injury in the elbow. I’m right handed, so having my right arm partially disabled for these weeks has made me feel not just one handed, but half-handed (which, thankfully, is still better than being underhanded!). Were it not for my wonderful wife, this pastor would be wearing shorts with elastic waistbands, flip flops with no socks, and sporting the closest thing to a beard that I could ever hope to have! One little tumble, one arm injury, split seconds in the making, and I’m having to depend on someone else for several of the basic functions of life. I am more fragile than I realized, more dependent than I ever dreamed.
Rich Mullins, writer of many famous Christian songs (perhaps “Awesome God” being the most well-known), penned a profound lyric simply stating that spiritually “we are not as strong as we think we are.” None less than the Apostle Paul acknowledged this truth in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. This great man of God, empowered to perform mighty miracles, inspired to author the very words of Scripture, emboldened to preach the gospel even at threats of his very life, was afflicted with some thorn in the flesh. We’re not sure what that thorn was (many theories abound), but what we do know is that though he entreated the Lord to remove it, He did not and simply told Paul that His grace was sufficient! No matter how much Paul knew or how much ministry he had been used to perform, the great Apostle fully realized that he would never outgrow a firm reliance upon God’s grace! And neither do we! What to do after Christmas? Grow In Reliance Upon God’s Grace!