You Are a Creature in Time
“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16
“Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day,” so reads a verse from the hymn “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”, accentuating the inexorable march of time that slows for none. We continue to age as the perpetual clock of the universe does not miss a beat. The New Year is a constant reminder that you cannot slow the continual passing of seconds, minutes, hours, days, or years, as 2015 becomes 2016 in a tick. We cannot find a place, a timeless oasis, in which time is suspended for a season on Earth. Even in the state of a comatose mind, time marches on and the body continues to age. We have sometimes wished to suspend time, but God alone can do it and has done it for only a brief two intervals in history.
The celebration of the New Year should be more than just a time to sing Auld Lang Syne, kiss your sweetie, and toast the first moments of a brand new 365 day period we label “2016.” It surely serves as a statement of the fact that time is ever moving forward; it is, as we say, fleeting. Time is an opportunity awarded to you for who knows how long a season. You are not guaranteed tomorrow; only God knows how many days are ordained for you to live on this earth. Despite the knowledge that you feel fine, are in good health, are not living dangerously, and take no risks, your life can be taken from you in a split second of time by circumstances beyond your control. If you survive until midnight tonight, you will have weathered 2015, with 2016 laid out before you, a new year of months, days, and hours to invest wisely or unwisely. How much of your time is free and unencumbered? How much is required of you for your met responsibilities? How much is discretionary? These are worthy questions to ask if you are intent on being obedient to God’s Word, that is, walking circumspectly and wisely in the midst of living in your circumstances. What exactly does it mean to walk circumspectly, redeeming your time?
“Circumspectly, a word not used often in common vernacular anymore, means carefully, strictly, appropriately, taking all things into account. It means considering your life as a whole, not just certain moments. What is your big picture? What is the goal of your life under the eyes of the Creator? How should/would you live if you knew you had 30 days left? Redeeming your time means treasuring time as a rich opportunity not to be frivolously squandered. A good news, bad news statement goes, “The bad news: Time is fleeting. The good news: You are the pilot. Is that really true? Are you the pilot of how you live your life and use your time? Do you go with the flow, or do you make mid-course corrections?
It is not just a question of how you choose to use your time to live circumspectly; it is a question of how God would guide you in the use of your time if you yielded such a decision to him. This is a parameter which is paramount in seeking to redeem time because you do not really redeem time for yours, but you really redeem time for his glory. Most of us live by a calendar, even if it is a haphazard one. The hours and days of that calendar fill up with work and family responsibilities primarily, as well as your own time to do what you want. It seems as though there are enough “responsibilities” to fill your calendar to overflowing…all the time. Where is there time for anything else? Everyone’s pot of time is the same. Everyone gets the exact same amount. How much is spent in prayer, study of his Word, worship (private and public), service, making a living, time with family, time with friends, time alone? It is your choice. They are your priorities. You alone have to weigh the division of your time to fit the priorities you set. If you want God to guide you in that task, you have to ask the Counselor to give you his advice. The Holy Spirit needs to be regularly consulted as the circumstances change. He has to be involved in the choices you make regarding where you invest your time. If he is not, it is very doubtful you are redeeming your time.
365 days is a lot of time – too much to consider all together, though a year’s plan can be set out in broad terms. Take a week at a time to determine how you will redeem your time for God. Assess your success over a week. Improve your goals as the weeks pass. Once earnestly into it, God will guide you to make the right corrections. See what has been accomplished by 2017. Happy New Year!
“Mere human power will fast decay and youthful vigor cease; but they who wait upon the Lord in strength shall still increase.”
(5th verse of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Have You Not Known, Have You Not Heard”, 1707)
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“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about.'” Luke 2:15
Unusual, to say the very least. The Christmas story of the nativity is so familiar to us that we do not think it at first to be very unusual, but unusual it most certainly is. Unknown shepherds were the first visitors on the day of birth in a most unusual place of delivery. Even mothers in poor situations do not normally give birth in a stable, and the first visitors to see a baby so soon after birth are not ever a group of poor shepherds, unknown before entering the babe’s presence. It certainly gave the amazed parents much to ponder even though they knew this was a unique birth, Mary never having “known” a man. Nonetheless, a group of shepherds, of uncertain number, suddenly appeared and worshiped the infant baby in the feeding trough. They were familiar with stables but not with finding a baby in one, especially a baby of remarkable claims which they obviously believed and were most excited by and amazed enough to spread the news to everyone they saw thereafter.
God provided a birth announcement like none other for the birth of his Son. An angel from heaven terrified this group of blessed shepherds as the glory of the Lord suddenly shone around them. Whatever that is like, it had to be terrifying in its other-worldly character, just as it is to be addressed by an angel, then to have the message emphasized by a great company of angels praising God and declaring peace to those on earth favored by him, followed by the sudden disappearance from their sight as they found themselves alone again, except for fellow shepherds and sheep. One has to wonder if the sheep were spooked themselves. Apparently there was no stampede, for the angels were messengers of the sheep Maker. But the message itself was credible to the shepherds; they believed it and went to see for themselves this wondrous sight of the birth of the long promised Messiah. The unusual message and all that surrounded it did not dissuade them. They left their sheep and went to see with their own eyes, knowing that it was a message from Adonai, the Lord, through his messengers; he was a Lord they spoke about with familiarity. These appear to be devout and believing shepherds, brothers in faith with Simeon and Anna.
God does nothing without intent and purpose. He chooses to announce his Son’s birth to shepherds, most probably caring for the lambs and sheep destined for sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem, a prophetic ritual for centuries pointing to the true Lamb of God whose sacrifice would truly redeem men and women from their sin. Shepherds came to witness the babe who would be the Good Shepherd of his people, who would know and call them all by name. Shepherds worshiped the Shepherd of Psalm 23. God had no need of announcing Jesus’ birth to all of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, of Judea, or even all Palestine, or the whole known world. Once Jesus had accomplished the purpose of his incarnation, the cross, the entire world would then hear of his birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. This was not the time to broadcast his becoming flesh. It was enough that a handful of Jews and Gentiles, shepherds from Israel and Magi from Persia, would be representatives for all of us in worshiping the infant Son of the Most High God. His story of salvation would eventually cover the globe to ears willing to listen. The knowledge of his return will be universal.
So these first visitors to see the Christ Child were lowly shepherds, yet faithful believers, equally redeemed partakers of the benefits of the cross and of salvation by the blood of their Savior. It is not known if they lived to be part of the followers of Jesus or part of the upper room crowd of believers numbering about 120 in Acts 1, but we may one day find out some of them were. They were certainly early evangelists, telling others of their introduction to the Messiah. They were eager witnesses of the first Christmas story, presenting an example to those of us who know the “rest of the story” so that we may be ready testifiers of what we have seen and experienced. May we be as eager to let others know the good news as they were on that first Christmas night in Bethlehem. No matter what walk of life from which you come, if you have met the Lord Jesus Christ, you have a testimony to give to others. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let Earth receive her King!
“Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a gospel true. Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow. Christ the babe was born for you. Christ the babe was born for you.”
(2nd verse of a Polish Carol, ca. 1925)
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The Historical Activity of the Wise
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'” Matthew 2:1-2
Only one place in the biblical record tells us about the trip from “the east” that a group of “Magi” undertook, which reached its goal in Bethlehem at the house which was the current home of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. Who were these Magi, and what prompted them to make this trip to a relatively far off, small, obscure Palestinian village six miles south of the large metropolis and capital of Palestine, Jerusalem? Luke records the announcement to John the Baptist’s parents and his birth, the announcement to his mother Mary and Jesus’ birth in a stable, the appearance of angels to shepherds near Bethlehem, and the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem to Simeon and Anna’s great delight. However, only Matthew tells us of Joseph’s dreams concerning Jesus’ birth and the story of these foreign visitors, worshipers from the east.
Magi are known in antiquity as searchers of the skies, the stars and planets, and their movements, as well as scholars of astronomy and its accompanying astrology. They were consultants to Kings. They were traditionally known as “wise” men, wise in any number of things in the universe, researchers of the observable creation. Some of the known Magi of history closely connected to Israel and the Scriptures were Daniel and his friends, exiles in Persia and confidants of the Kings of Persia. They were also, most importantly, worshipers of the one true God. Could these Magi who came to search out the birth of the one they understood to be “King of the Jews” be connected to what Daniel was and had done in Persia, passed down through the intervening generations? We have no evidence to know this is accurate and only the word of Matthew to know these visitors were “Magi from the east, where Persia is in relation to Palestine, by the way. The story of Daniel in Persia and his great influence on some of their most famous Kings is a powerful one. It is easily seen that Daniel was a wise man and a man well connected to the God of Israel and the God of the universe. He must have left a powerful legacy that did not simply disappear with his and his friends’ deaths. They may well have had children and grandchildren who followed in their footsteps, and they certainly influenced for good the minds of others, an influence that would not just pass away, despite Satan’s efforts.
I conjecture that it is more probable than not that these Magi of Matthew’s record are connected to Daniel’s influence in Persia, which had an impact on those Magi in the intervening generations down to the birth of “the promised One.” Apparently they had enough prophetic material from Daniel to know that One was to be born who would be “King of the Jews,” and his birth would be announced by the appearing of “his star.” What “his star” was in the astronomical sense is not known, but the description of what this star did in guiding the Magi to his exact location when they were alerted by it to his birth appears to have certain parameters of a sign in the night sky which came to be only for a time and was not a permanent fixture or entity like the other stars in the universe. Looking for an explanation in astronomical history seems to be fruitless. This “star” reportedly did things no stars ever do in their established orbits through the years and centuries, within conjunctions or not, nor did it appear to perform as a typical permanently orbiting meteor in some strange meteoric appearance. Rather, it was a sign which God apparently created and appointed for a one-time event in history, an event which divides and defines history itself.
Knowing the great importance of this entrance of a King into the history of mankind, wise men took upon themselves a great and sacrificial journey, by no means easy when such travel was a difficult, time-consuming venture. Additionally, they drastically altered their return trip, having been warned (jointly?) in a dream to avoid the deceptive and evil King Herod. One has to wonder about the influence of what they found and believed concerning their brief time with this infant King of the Jews on the remainder of their earthly lives and upon the generations of families which followed after them. There is so much unknown of the impact of the Gospel on most peoples throughout the world, an unknown which continues into our present day, except by word of mouth, a knowledge which does not reach all of our ears. We are reliant on such conjecture of the Gospel’s transformative power and penetrating influence on the promises of Scripture. Satan is always obscuring our eyes and ears to the Gospel’s effect in all corners of the earth to try to make us believe that it is reaching relatively few among the whole earth’s population.
The Advent of Jesus Christ was accompanied by wise scholars and students of the stars transcended from the Prophet Daniel. They started their journey soon after the star appeared, announcing the birth of a King. Hence they did not arrive until the infant was a toddler of months or a year and some months and his parents had moved into a house in Bethlehem. We do not know why Mary and Joseph did not immediately return to their home in Nazareth after Jesus’ birth except for not wanting to travel while their baby was so young and before presenting him in the temple. Perhaps there was more of a sense that they should not leave yet, allowing the unknown Magi to arrive and then receiving the warning in a dream of Herod’s deadly design. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled immediately to Egypt where they were out of the reach of the evil king of all Palestine until he was dead. Their return to Nazareth was made because Herod’s son now ruled in Judea, making it appear they had perhaps decided to live in Bethlehem, that is, up until the fear of Herod’s son sent them back to their former home. All this was for God to fulfill the prophecies concerning Jesus; so He guided the feet of Joseph and Mary by circumstances.
This is one more piece of the Advent puzzle which has so many facets connected to it; a puzzle which began in a promise made to Adam and Eve, continued in myriad prophecies delivered to the people of God through the centuries, including the foretelling of Bethlehem being the location of Jesus’ birth, keeping him there until the Magi would come to worship him, and eventually moving him to where he could rightfully be called a Nazarene. All were vital to the veracity of the Scriptures. All of these past truths bear on the future truths of the prophecies of Jesus’ Second Advent, something of which the book of Daniel has much to say. Daniel was a pivotal figure in both advents of the Christ, all to declare the plan and purposes of God in the incarnation of his Son and what then will take place in his return and the end of history. So the truths of the Advent of the Son of God from the time of Adam and Eve to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and on to his return as Judge and King of Kings is borne out throughout history in the activity of the wise who listen for his Word and are obedient to it. They have ears to hear what proceeds from the mouth of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are among the participants in foretelling his incarnation, among the few who celebrated even despite the obscurity of his birth, and they are among the many who will be eagerly anticipating participants in his universally seen coming again. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Are you actively wise in listening to his Word and guiding your thought and life in accordance with it? It is the wise hearers and doers of history that will be ready when the Lord of All returns, suddenly and without immediate warning that this is the night or day of his appearing. Advent is a season to especially celebrate his birth and incarnation, but also just as importantly, to anticipate his coming again. Be sure you not only focus on his birth but are preparing your heart to welcome him back in the split second of his promised return in majesty and glory, a time of great mourning for the inactive and foolish non-listeners, but a time of great joy for you who are actively looking for him.
“Sages, leave your contemplations; brighter visions beam afar. Seek the great Desire of nations; ye have seen his natal star. Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.”
(3rd verse of James Montgomery’s hymn, “Angels from the Realms of Glory”, 1816)
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Bethlehem and the Certainty of Advent
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie; above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” (Phillips Brooks, 1868)
In one of the ancient archaeologically-discovered Amarna Letters (#290) written around 1400 BC, the then Prince of Jerusalem writes that one of the towns in his domain, Bit-Lahmi (Bethlehem), has gone over to the side of the ‘Apiru (ancient term for Hebrew people). This letter supports the ancient existence of the little town of Bethlehem, which remained small and obscure through all its years, even through the date of the birth of its greatest native, Jesus, great David’s greater Son, and beyond. Bethlehem, translated “House of Bread,” was the birthplace of King David, the great grandson of Ruth, who found her husband, Boaz, in Bethlehem after returning from Moab with her mother-in-law, Naomi, as the story is told in the book of Ruth. It is simply amazing that a foreign Moabite woman would have a whole book dedicated to telling her story among the books of the Bible. But so it is, as Ruth tells the story of the genealogy of Jesus, the promised Redeemer/Kinsman of us all, and the story of Bethlehem.
Seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Micah prophesied that Bethlehem would be the birthplace of the Messiah, a glimmer of truth adding to the many prophecies of the Old Testament of the coming, promised Redeemer. It was always a verse here and a few verses there over many centuries of the compiling of Scripture of Law and Prophets dealing directly with a promised Ruler and King. The religious leaders in Jerusalem were able to answer King Herod with the specific Micah prophecy when he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They did not rush to Bethlehem, but Herod made sure his soldiers did to ensure the Messiah/King would be destroyed.
It was a wonder of heaven that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was not his parents’ home. They were from Nazareth, 90-some arduous walking miles north. It was a Roman Caesar census of the whole Roman Empire population begun in 8 BC and still being completed three years later in outlying Palestine that brought Joseph and Mary to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to register. God governed world affairs in such a way that the prophecy of Micah from eighth century BC came true in 5 BC. Bethlehem would be the place of Jesus’ birth, but only his infancy home. Nazareth would be the town of his upbringing; for he would be called a Nazarene. Every jot and tittle of Scripture would be fulfilled, not just generally, but specifically and precisely. The pinpoint spotlight on the little town of Bethlehem in the prophetic words of Micah shone down through the dark centuries every bit as bright as the star that guided Magi to Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth. Nearly all the world’s inhabitants had no idea little Bethlehem would be so honored because the Scriptures were not so loved or carefully studied with an anticipation of fulfillment, except for believers like Simeon and Anna.
Bethlehem has a rich history connected to the family of David, the family of Joseph and Mary, and the family line of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. It tells us much of the nature of the plan of God that, with all the grand natives in its history, it remained “the little town of Bethlehem,” small in stature, relatively poor in worldly riches, ordinary, weak in power and esteem, yet the place where the King of Kings came into the world in human flesh. The plan, literally unique from all others of man’s imagination, shouts out “truth.” It convinces men in its humbleness, its authenticity, and its absolute non-requirement of the world’s trappings. Its story also convinces us of the precise fulfillment of all Scripture, especially of what is yet to come. The Scripture is true in all it tells us of coming days, just as it was true in prophesying the place of Jesus’ birth two millennia ago. The story of Bethlehem ought to encourage you to study the Scriptures and anticipate their precise fulfillment. As Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Bethlehem has a powerful Advent message: He came just as he said, and he is coming again just as he said. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”
(3rd verse of Phillips Brooks’ hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, 1868)
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Trevor: Change Starts With One
We see it every day. Change is real.
I always grew up in a Christian home. Then my dad died when I was 13, and it deeply affected me. It made me question God. That grew from me having doubts to me believing he wasn’t real and, eventually, me hating God altogether.
Growing up, I behaved pretty well, but after my dad died, I coped by doing things that I knew were bad for me. It was a way to get back at God. Over time, things got so bad that I became isolated and would spend days alone. I often wouldn’t eat. I was indifferent toward life. After a while, I came to the realization that none of it was good for me and I should stop – not only for myself, but also for the people I care about.
Coming to the youth home was not my choice, but I accepted it. I made up my mind to take advantage of the opportunities I have. I no longer want to waste my time. Here, I am learning to take care of myself. I am gaining self-control and benefiting from the structure. I value a good work ethic now, I am healthy again, I am doing well in school in a way I never could before, and I no longer hate God.
We say that change starts with one, and I am an example of that. I am not indifferent now. Instead, I care and choose to discipline myself to set positive goals and meet the challenges of life. The growth I can see in myself will impact more than just me, and you are a part of that. When you support the Paul Anderson Youth Home, you support me. We are working together.
So I am asking you to help me and all the boys at the Paul Anderson Youth Home and the boys who will come after me.
Give. Make change possible for other young men like me. Imagine what we can do together.
-Trevor, PAYH 2015
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Advent Light: The Darkness Has Not Overcome It
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:3-5
In the deep darkness of a Vietnam night, you could see the ember of a lit cigarette from a very, very long distance, perhaps encouraging a fatal bullet from a sniper’s rifle. This tells the story of the power of light to penetrate darkness. A small light at night has a greater penetration than the darkness attempting to engulf it. This phenomenon makes it absolutely essential to maintain perfect light security, lest you give away your position to a deadly enemy; but it also can show you the way to safety.
Advent is the perpetual story of a light shining in great darkness, which, though trying, cannot overcome it. From the promise spoken in primeval history of the seed of the woman that would crush the serpent’s head, all the way to the present, there has been a persistent light piercing the darkness of a dark world that would not be overcome by its sheer blackness. Millennia after the first promise, light shone forth from a stable in an obscure Middle Eastern village; even then the darkness would not blot it out. The machinations of a powerful, malevolent king killing infants could not extinguish the light from spreading into the world. Such is the miracle of Advent, beginning with a promise in Eden, fulfilled in a Bethlehem stable, victorious in a failed attempt of extinguishing the light at Calvary, light bursting out of a sealed stone grotto tomb in Jerusalem, and soon, after numerous appearances, the light ascending into the eternal heavens; He still shines in the darkness of this present world as another Advent season begins in 2015, awaiting a promised return. The light of the world shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
From a common perspective, it would appear to many that the darkness is overcoming the light as the world continues its inexorable march into self-destruction. World-wide terrorism, martyrdoms, ruinous earthquakes, a tsunami of crime and violence, increasing addictions of every kind, even mythical man-made climate change claims of devastating proportions, massive global debt, proliferation of the killing of infants, and the harvesting of their organs all contribute to the encroaching blackness and apparent closed eyes and ears of an ever-darkening world.
Yet there is the light in the truth of the glory of Advent shining through the myriad attempts to shut down the true unadulterated Gospel message of Christmas/Advent in yet another season. The light of the Gospel cannot be overcome by the waves of darkness that make every effort to extinguish it. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church of the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the power of the Gospel be kept from snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Nothing can thwart the purpose of salvation for which it is sent.
The Psalmist gives us the true perspective of our dark world: “Even the darkness is not dark to you” (Psalm 139:12). The Advent light shines steadily through the millennia, never wavering, never extinguished, and always reaching at a minimum a remnant of His people, the very ones He desired to reach. It accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent. Hope is caught in its ray. The blackness is never so complete that the promise of His Advent is ever extinguished. The first Advent took place in obscurity, but the light of His Word broadcast its message throughout the world. The second Advent will be witnessed by all. From one perspective, there is bleakness; but from God’s true perspective, there is good at work in the world, ignored by the eyes of a mostly ignorant media. The light and promise of Advent shines in the blackest places. It shines in the Middle East; it shines as well on the PAYH campus. It shines in the consciousness of young PAYH men, the primary participants tonight in the most unlikely activity for them: a Christmas dinner theatre. The message of Advent is there; hopefully the light of the Gospel will penetrate their hearts as they act and speak the Advent message to a sold-out crowd.
Though a far, far distant light from millennia past, the light of Advent has shone steadily through centuries of darkness, ever lighting a path of salvation for countless seekers of its message. As the Apostle Peter says, “We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The darkness cannot overcome the light of Advent. Focus on that light and take hope; the darkness has not and will not overcome it. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
“O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
(4th verse of Latin Antiphons, 12th century hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel)
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