Payh Blog
Strasbourg, France
Nov 27, 2018

Mary Before the Birth of Jesus

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ -Luke 1:38


She was a major part of the incarnation. After the baby who was called Immanuel, meaning “God with us, truly God in flesh, Mary was THE central part. She was the virgin mother of Jesus; the son of God’s humanity was being formed in her own womb.
Who was Mary exactly? How old was she at the time of her pregnancy? What kind of relationship did she have with her parents and family? What kind of a girl was she? What type of, if any, education did she enjoy? What kind of a mother was she to Jesus and to His brothers and sisters? What happened to her husband Joseph before Jesus began His public ministry? How long was Jesus a part of Mary’s household? Did He live in His mother’s house and provide for her until He began His almost three-year ministry around the age of thirty? Why did Jesus direct the Apostle John to be her protector, provider, and guardian at the foot of His cross? How much longer did Mary live after the crucifixion and resurrection of her son?
All of these questions and their answers are not recorded for us in Scripture. The Holy Spirit gave us what we needed. Eternity will reveal the unknown part of Mary to us. We will know her! We only know now what the Scriptures, primarily Luke and of course John’s recounting of the wedding at Cana, tell. But they paint a picture of a “young girl who was pious, mature beyond her years, single-minded, knowledgeable of the Old Testament, humble, and a person who is wise in her perspective of life and her world. She was a woman of admirable character. She had the ability to retain and meditate on the deep and surprising issues presented to her mind.
Her humility in receiving and fully accepting the annunciation news from Gabriel concerning her mysterious impregnation and the upcoming birth of Jesus, God’s Son, showed a young woman of uncommon wisdom for her age. She was not incapable of a personal and intimate worship of her God; such worship was not alien to her. Some have reported that she was a young teenager of 13 or 15, which is possible, but I think she might have been a bit older.
Perhaps she was one who had been passed over at first by potential suitors and their parents, all in God’s providence. The prevailing view of her culture tells us that girls of this time could be betrothed as young as 13-15, but I do not think the Mary we meet in Luke 1-2 is quite so young as witnessed by her character and spiritual outlook. Apparently, she was quite knowledgeable of the Scriptures, something requiring time of study and of meditation, one of her strengths.
It could well be that Joseph did not select a wife or have one selected for him at the normal time in his culture. He appears to be older based on his disappearance from the scene before Jesus’ public ministry. He might have been more attuned to recognizing in Mary mature and godly attributes, inner beauty rather than outward beauty. It is said of Jesus that He did not have striking facial features that would stand out to others. Joseph also could well have died by accident or, being older, became sick and died. In any case, by the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary had need of an elder son’s wise guidance to name a protective guardian other than her late husband. Perhaps strangely, one of the other sons is not chosen by Jesus.
Mary’s pondering meditation as a young mother and her response in search of her missing 12-year-old son lends itself to a glimmer into her character. Her direction to Jesus at the wedding held in Cana showed courage, respect, and love. Much of our portrayal of Mary is conjecture with no absolute proof, but it is conjecture with enough suggestive evidence to delineate Mary as a godly woman capable of deep spiritual thought.
In any case, she sets the example, along with a Simeon or Anna, of the meaning of patient waiting in the final days of this long Advent of the ages. Mary experienced the relatively “long nine months of carrying this incarnate Word in her womb, always wondering about this upcoming birth. What or who would Jesus really be? Truly, it is well asked in the Christmas carol, “What child is this…? Mary muses, “Can I be the appropriate mother to the Son of God? She has been called “Theotokus by ancient theologians, meaning “Mother of God. Yet Mary, like you and me, is still a sinner, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.


“What child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping?
So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh. Come Peasant, King to own Him, the King of kings salvation brings. Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
Oh, raise, raise a song on high. His mother sings her lullaby. Joy, oh joy, for Christ is born, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing. Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary.
(Carol by William Chatterton Dix, “What Child Is This?, 1865)
 

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Nov 21, 2018

A Glimmer in the Dark

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse of utter destruction. -Malachi 4:5-6
“Jesus answered, ‘Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.’…Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. -Matthew 17:11-13


Today, Thanksgiving is a bridge to Advent Season. In American life, Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been known as “The Holiday Season. Advent has been less appreciated than the two “biggies of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but Thanksgiving, an American holiday, leads those who live here into the beginning of Advent, the start of the Church Year in liturgy and worship.
Advent is a four week period of time which leads up to Christmas Day, which precedes Epiphany (the visit of the Magi who came to worship the toddler Jesus), Ash Wednesday and Lent (repentance of our sins), Palm Sunday and Holy Week, Easter Sunday and the joy of resurrection, our Lord’s ascension into heaven, Pentecost (the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church), and consequently Trinity Sunday. These all trace the primary events of the Lord’s life and His church each year again and again until He returns. The celebration of these markers is intended to stir meditation and worship in the mind and heart of the Christian; a remembrance of His redemption accomplished in us and of our becoming like Him (sanctification), which is still a work in process.
Advent is the historical story from Genesis to Bethlehem, the promised seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 being fulfilled in a pregnant Virgin Mary with Jesus’ subsequent birth in a manger in little Bethlehem. Over the years prior to His birth, actually a four-century-long period of time, God’s revelational silence and consequent darkness had reigned in the earth. Then, suddenly the Angel Gabriel stood next to the altar in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem as the priest Zechariah took his turn burning incense all alone, as was the custom, in the Holy of Holies. And Gabriel spoke to Zechariah at this moment of light from heaven announcing that a son would be born to him and Elizabeth and that they should name him John.
In 1969 in a faraway place it was an immense life-saving precaution for me to instruct my platoon members in practicing extreme light-discipline in the jungles of Vietnam. Simply lighting a cigarette at night or the mere glow of ashes on the end of the cigarette in such darkness would invite a sniper’s bullet through the brain. Such a small light could actually be seen for miles when unobstructed. A mere ember could pierce the darkness like a laser. This glimmer alone invited death.
In a somewhat similar life and death manner, in another instance, of all people in the world then as well as past, after these 400 years of darkness, a tiny spark of light appeared as a glimmer in the temple of Israel in Jerusalem. Zechariah, a priest from the small town of Ein Karem in the hill country around Jerusalem, listened in fear and trembling to an angel of God, which was a first-time experience for him. God was breaking His four-centuries-long silence through this angel named Gabriel whom He had sent. This light led to life rather than death. This light became ever brighter throughout the whole earth. Neither Satan nor those who support him could ever extinguish the Light of the World.
Elizabeth and Zechariah were old, beyond child-bearing years. Elizabeth had been barren all their married life. Now the last few verses of the prophet Malachi at the end of the Old Testament were about to be fulfilled in the fullness of time. This announcement was accompanied by Zechariah being made mute for nine months because of his initial unbelief. However, the return of his voice upon John the Baptist’s birth brought forth an utterance of the Spirit in Zechariah of truth and prophecy.
It is easy for you to miss the marks in history of God speaking into His world. He is a faithful promise-maker and promise-keeper. He is there, and He is not silent, but many miss what He has to say because they aren’t listening. Watching and waiting are the themes of Advent. They are the themes of Jesus’ life-inducing parables in Matthew 24 and 25, all leading up to the great white-throne of Judgment personally involving all who ever were, or are, or will be.
Simeon and Anna of Luke 2 are excellent models of those early watchers and waiters, such as Job or Abraham. So are many other Old Testament saints, New Testament followers of the Lamb, and the many believers since the birth, death, and resurrection of the Messiah, all who eagerly await His coming again. Celebrating Advent anticipates the birth of Christ and also remembers His promises of a certain return. It is always two-fold. Right now you are in the present-living-task of gathering oil as fuel for your personal lamp to greet the King of Kings at His return. If you do not know what this means exactly, it behooves you to acquire and employ the knowledge of His Advent.
Enjoy Thanksgiving with family and friends today, but in that celebration, anticipate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in your near future. What a feast that will be, putting all past Thanksgivings to shame! Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming soon! Take Him at His word! He does not say this for naught. Watch, wait, prepare, and strive to be always ready. There is nothing more important in your everyday life.


“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. -John 1:4-5
 

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Nov 19, 2018

Thanking God For You!

A Changed Life is Priceless!

The difference God made in Hunter’s life at PAYH is invaluable. It is impossible to thank you enough for how you have helped to make this kind of life-changing transformation possible through your investment in God’s Kingdom.


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Nov 14, 2018

He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills

“The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. -Psalm 50:1-2


The words of this title today come from the most famous verse of Psalm 50, made more famous possibly by John Peterson’s song of the same name. This song focuses on God’s wealth, seeing as He owns all things, and that He is basically the Christian’s banker and can very ably take care of you financially. After all, He not only owns the cattle on a thousand hills but also the wealth in every mine. However, that is not the point of this verse nor the primary truth taught in this psalm.
Contrary to their normal sin of idolatry and the worshipping of false gods, the people of Israel were diligently following the Law of God ostensibly in their practice of God’s worship through sacrifices. However, as Isaiah 29, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 15, points out, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
The sacrificial system of worship was to point forward to the true sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the people of God when He was crucified on Mt. Calvary. As we read in Malachi 1 the people were surreptitiously picking the runts, lame, halt, and spotted young animals of their flocks, animals which were of no real good to them, to sacrifice to the Lord of Glory. However, Jesus, the One to whom their sacrifices were to point, and intended for the accurate instruction of the people, was an unblemished Lamb, the purest of the flock; for Jesus was the sinless Lamb of God! The people needed to know and appreciate such for their own good and blessing.
In their ritual of worship they were “honoring God with their lips, but there was no heart of thanksgiving in their worship. So God then asks, “Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?…I [actually] own the cattle on a thousand hills [already]! In other words, all the sacrifices in the world which miss the point of worship are worthless, ritualistic, an outward performance of a rite, without the inner transformation which knowledge and heart-felt experience convey and produce.
God says instead, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. However, though they were sacrificing animals to God in false worship, it did nothing for their character. They continued sinning and were not only silent about the sin of their fellows, but actually praised the sin in their lives.
God ends Psalm 50 with these words: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God. The entire Psalm is about the vital importance of genuine thanksgiving to God, recognizing what God does in the lives of those who rightly fear Him and authentically seek Him. It teaches that even though you are fallen, that you truly are a sinner, you, yes you, can order your way in righteous behavior by calling on the strength Jesus provides in His sacrifice.
This is what the celebrating of Thanksgiving in America is genuinely about! The first Thanksgiving of which all Thanksgivings since allegedly follow and respect was a thanksgiving not to pilgrims nor to Indians, but to God for their survival, their salvation, and their future.
That the judgment of Psalm 50 not fall on you, you must take meditated steps reflecting a heart of thanksgiving within and without to the One who gives life and takes it away, who provides salvation or does not, who makes promises and fulfills them.
The Thanksgiving we celebrate in one week is not primarily about families gathering, a sumptuous meal, football games, or the like; it is first of all giving heart-felt thanks to God for all He has done to provide your salvation. Thanksgiving ought to be celebrated as a genuine honoring of the one and only God. Such thanksgiving comes from your own heart in fellowship with fellow lovers of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


“When all Your mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys, transported with the view, I’m lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Through every period of my life Your goodness I’ll pursue, and after death, in distant worlds the glorious theme renew.
(1st and 5th verses of Joseph Addison’s hymn, “When All Your Mercies, O My God, 1712)
 

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Nov 12, 2018

Transition: Moving On With Purpose

At PAYH, we take a hands-on approach with our graduates. Far from simply sending them off and hoping for the best, we take an active role in their lives after graduation as well as the preparation before-hand. Our goal is that our young men re-enter society with all the tools necessary to avoid and resist temptation, and to become and remain productive, God-honoring members of society.
Jonathan is one such young man…

You Can Help Change a Life for Eternity!

Without the generosity of people like you, we would not be able to offer young men like Jonathan the second chance they so desperately need. Through your investment in PAYH, God is working through us to bring young men to Him and transform them from the inside out.
A changed life is priceless.


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Nov 07, 2018

Election Results

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. -Romans 13:1-2


This is being written before the votes are even counted from Tuesday’s Election Day. What do the results mean for Christians? How do the laws which legislators pass instruct the Christian in the path of righteousness, that is, the educative value of the law? Romans 13 addresses the believer’s response to government and to those authorities who lead it.
God’s apparent answers may not be what those in a democracy want to hear. Then again, depending on who wins, there are some who are temporarily happy. In any case, until Jesus actually reigns, no Christian can or will be completely satisfied. For men are like the grass which fades; all flesh consists of nothing more than fallen sinners.
Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when an evil, anti-God government ruled much of the world, and he still told believers to be submissive to the government God establishes, that is, the government which is currently in power. It is hard to know what to do with this instruction from God when we know there have been many evil leaders directing evil policies.
We live in a country where you are allowed to vote for your authorities, unlike Rome of the First Century. Caesars were dictators. Still, America remains a republic only if it can keep it, as they have for about 250 years. Citizens vote based on their understanding of what constitutes moral God-fearing government, or, on the other hand, what voters feel is good for them even when it isn’t.
People without any government at all live in chaotic conditions, anarchy, which is good for no one. Paul teaches, “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. Government, even evil government, is compelled to keep order in the general populace, despite certain portions of the populace, such as Jewish people in Germany during the Second World War, being victimized by heinous torture and mass murder. Other governments in history have even exceeded the number of victims of the horrendous Nazi government.
In any case, these German perpetrators of this demonic evil were soon crushed, brought to justice, and some executed. This came at the hands of better, more righteous, God-empowered government. Though not all evil authorities receive judgment in this life, it surely awaits them in the world to come.
Believers in a fallen world wait for the return of Christ. Government of any type will never satisfy, nor govern with perfect justice and righteousness, that is, until the Lord comes and establishes His reign. Before then the Christian must persevere in earnest prayer and godly behavior, even suffering under unjust conditions, waiting and watching with eager expectation the return of their Lord and Savior.
Until then they must exercise the responsibility of a godly citizen wherever God has provided this to them. To avoid citizen-responsibility only encourages the removal of this opportunity by God. There are too many professing Christians who in great laziness or defeatism avoid being godly citizens.
I hope you voted and considered your vote in light of God’s commands. A Christian does not vote responsibly unless he consults the Word of God and votes for those candidates who most further, however imperfectly, God’s instruction of righteous behavior. In any case, the church of Jesus Christ outlasts all governments and will alone prevail.


“Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never ‘gainst that church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.
(Fourth verse of Sabine Baring-Gould’s hymn, “Onward, Christian Soldiers, 1865)
 

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