Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reflections on life from a Disney trip


This is a re-posting of a blog from a few years ago.

A couple years ago my family visited Disney World. Visiting Disney World is such an experience. It certainly gives me plenty of things to ponder. I’ll reflect here on a few:

1)      We adults need time to act like children. It’s amazing how easy it can be to let your inner Child come out and play when it’s socially acceptable to do so. At Disney, no one cares at all if an adult runs down the street to hug Mickey. It’s expected that everyone can act like a child. If only our churches could learn this lesson. Imagine a family of believers where it was perfectly acceptable to respond to God’s deliverance with shouts of praise or cries of desperation. It’s not that difficult to imagine: find like-minded people and you’ll see how easy it is when people don’t feel scared to respond to God. Of course, the best way to do that is to start being that kind of person right now, wherever you are. If others don’t like it, so what. You’re not responding to them anyway . . . God loves our inner Child. He created that part of you too.

2)      The government and the Church should require a very special, rigorous license for people to become parents. Disney is the place to see how phenomenally bad some people are at being parents. I was two feet from a woman yelling at her son in a Stars Wars store. He wanted to buy stuff; she wanted to leave. He cried and screamed; she got in his face and yelled at him: “I already told you we’re leaving! I don’t even know why  I let you try to buy any of this junk anyway!” Her finger was so close in his face that the boy had to turn his face or her finger would have scraped him. She wasn’t yelling at the top of her voice, but you could hear them both in most of the store. I kept looking at her with a “You’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” face. I told Elaine several times I wish that I had a fake Department of Social Services badge that I would whip at my whim. All I could I hear in my head was Dr. Phil, in his Texas accent, “How’s that workin’ for ya’?” If you’re a parent, and this situation happens to you and you don’t know what to do, please, for the love of your children, come chat with me.

3)      There are over 63,000 workers at Disney on any given day. Yes, 63,000! And you hardly know they’re there. They blend in. They serve. They do their job. And none of them get much praise. Parents are too busy chasing after kids. Imagine if we, as Christians, were perfectly content with not getting praise from people. What, if like those workers, they simply did their job for the greater good of the organization? What if you were content with never being the star – or never getting full recognition for what you’ve accomplished at home, at work, or wherever? Imagine a kingdom of servants . . . millions of them across the globe. It starts with you and me, right now, today.

4)      It doesn’t matter at all if you’ve never been to Disney. It only takes a few hours to acclimate and understand. They hand you a map of the resort; they hand you a map of the park; they hand you a map of the restroom. Everything is planned and easily located. In fact, there is a sign in the bus that says (and I quote): “Get to know the Kingdom . . . come to the Information desk.” Yes, “Get to know the Kingdom” – how? By reading the instructional maps. Talk to someone who knows this place. Get to know how the Kingdom works. Woot! That’ll preach all by itself. Do you know enough about the Kingdom to be a reasonable, accurate guide? How well do you know the Kingdom?

But I’m not done yet – it doesn’t seem to bother anyone at all that they don’t know where everything is. They don’t know the system or the characters that well at first. They have to learn the system and the narrative of Disney World to understand the symbols and the way it all works. There is a segment of churches (and church leaders) who think we need to scrap everything in the church’s symbolic world that is foreign to an outsider because it “makes them feel anxious and out of place.” News flash: they areout of place. If they’re new to Christianity, it should be very different indeed. And guess what? They can – and need to – learn our narrative and our symbolic world in order to understand how it all works. Like Neo in the Matrix, or the three children who look past the Wardrobe and discover a whole new world called Narnia. And it just so happens that those children are central characters in the Real story of the world. Guess what – they had to learn the narrative and the meaning of the symbols in order to fulfill their true purpose in life. Baptism, preaching, sacrament, Eucharist, marriage, forgiveness, confession of sins – central symbols of the Church’s narrative. They matter. Scrap them and we have no more narrative or meaning to give people. Worse than that, we simply replace the Church’s symbolic world with our own. Give them a theater stage instead of a sanctuary; give them entertainment instead of worship; give them simple, stupid, repeated lines instead of theological poems put to music; give them charismatic, anecdotal speakers instead of preacher-scholars; give them a latte instead of a Bible; give them pep talks instead of gospel; give them “uh ohs” and “mistakes” instead of “sin”; give them positive thinking instead of redemption; give them self-empowerment instead of obedience. And that’s all great if you’d like – just take the word “church” off of your sign. Matter of fact, drop the name “Christian” too. That name is already taken.

5)      People bring their problems with them wherever they go. Vacations don’t take away communication problems. They only manifest it. I heard one dad screaming very loudly, right in his son’s face, to “just shut up!” while the dad tried to unlock the door to his room at the resort. It must have echoed for a mile. God’s mercy doesn’t fill me in those moments, I must confess. For a brief moment . . . ok, for more many moments, I wish Gabriel or Michael would come down and scream in that man’s face with all the wrath and fury of he and his angels. To see that poor kid standing there with his head hanging down in shame and fear evinces in me a profound feeling of wanting to lock the dad up and rescue the child. Vacations cannot be escapism. Families are thrown together; marriages are put to the test. The American commonplace of just “needing to get away” is a pipe dream for most people. Fears, pain, desperation, worries, go with us to the beach, the town home, and even Disney. No amount of rides or hours at the pool can take away what can only be handled properly – through good communication, prayer, and whatever else needs to be done. Save your money and time. Get therapy and then go on vacation. The families I saw that were laughing and loving on each other – and there were many – show how they treated each other when they weren’t on vacation.

6)    You should have seen Julia when she finally got inside the castle. She was already dressed up just like her hero. She had just been to Bippity Bop Boutique to get pampered. Her dress – just like Cinderella. Her make-up – just like Cinderella. Her hair style – just like Cinderella. Her purse, slippers, and princess crown – just like Cinderella. In her mind, she had literally “put on Cinderella.” Paul speaks about this exact same thing: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:14). Clothe yourself with the risen Jesus and you’re not just playing “dress up.” You’re being empowered by the Creator of the universe. Just like Julia, acting and dressing like Cinderella was the best, closest possibility to actually being Cinderella. And in her mind, she was Cinderella.

And you should have seen Julia when she finally saw Cinderella in the castle. There she was — the chief object of her affection, her hero, her example, the chief object of her entire thought-world in all of her playtime – in the flesh. Julia had waited so long to meet her. She had dreamed of this day for so long. What would she say to her? How would she act? What would Cinderella do when she saw Julia?

Julia smiled from ear to ear.  Time slowed down. Julia moved in slow motion. Their eyes locked. She stared in awe at Cinderella. She slowly walked to Cinderella and forgot about everything else. I have parents? Nope. I have to go potty? Nope. I’m a little girl? Nope. Do people like me? Who cares. What do people think of the way I’m dressed? Who cares. I’m in the presence of Cinderella. Nothing else matters in the whole world. Nothing at all.

She crept up to her object of worship. Cinderella knelt down slowly, put out her arms, and they embraced. Julia was swallowed up by her hug. And in a small, child-like voice, Julia whispered something in Cinderella’s ear. You could barely hear it; Julia could barely speak. It was so gentle, honest, and from the depths of Julia’s soul.

Cinderella’s face lit up. And with a glowing smile, Cinderella said back to Julia, “I love you, too.”

Marana  tha = “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20) Just come. I have something to tell you, too. And I hope it makes your face light up . . .


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jolly 'Ole St. Original Nick Under Mud

Here is a recent article concerning excavations in Myra, Turkey, the original locale of St. Nicholas.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/08/science/under-turkish-mud-well-preserved-byzantine-chapel.html?_r=3&

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wonderful example

This one hour radio show is an excellent example of scholarship vs. "I can think whatever I want to think and still be called a devout Christian." Ben Witherington, III, the NT scholar who opposes this other guy, is a well-respected scholar. He is utterly accurate in his input and analysis. The other guy is just terribly confused and misdirected. It's a great example of someone who is convinced s/he's right, yet so badly wrong.

Just click this link:
http://media.premier.org.uk/unbelievable/2fea689e-f79c-4437-a299-17c73d495b33.mp3


Monday, January 7, 2013

A Response to "Real Family Life" by Dennis Rainey

A few years ago, my wife was listening to the local Christian station (KSBJ) and heard a 90-second sound bite from Dennis Rainey. The transcript was here:http://www.familylife.com/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=dnJHKLNnFoG&b=3794787&ct=4923145

Well, Elaine heard it and was fired up furious. She wrote to “Real Family Life” people and got a response from Glenda. For fun, I wrote a response to Glenda (I never received a response). Here is that exchange from a few years ago.

I'm sure that Dennis Rainey's ministry has done much for the kingdom of God, and for that I am truly grateful. My point here is not to slam that ministry. I have one and only one point in this blog post: to demonstrate the profound misreading of a biblical text when you do not read it in historical and literary context.

Here is the correspondence:
Elaine’s email:
QUESTION: My name is Elaine Pendergrass, and I am a Children’s and Preschool Minister, as well as a wife and mother of 2 young children. I have heard several things that disturbed me on your broadcast regarding stay-at-home moms, but today was by far the most disturbing. I heard Dennis Rainey encourage families to encourage their daughers to embrace their “calling” to be wives and mothers in the home (rather than working in whatever field God calls them to work). I have never heard people told what they were called to do except for girls/women to be stay-at-home wives and mothers. The Bible does not paint this view for women (even in Proverbs 31). Instead, women are called (just as men are) to follow God’s lead, whatever “career” that may be, whether outside of the home or inside the home. I have been called to be a wife, mother, and children’s minister, and many other women are called to work outside of the home, as well. Now thousands of people have heard the message that they should encourage their daughters to follow a call to be wives and mothers who stay at home, and this may not be God’s call for their lives. I encourage you to prayerfully consider any more messages like this, or ones that may make those women who are called to work outside the home (or must do it out of the necessity of providing financially for their families) feel guilty. I encourage you to look in the Bible for what God truly said about His calling, and I pray that others were not tainted by this broadcast.

Glenda’s Email:
From: mentor-1@TC.familylife.com [mailto:mentor-1@TC.familylife.com]
Sent: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 8:20 AM
To: Elaine Pendergrass
Subject: Broadcast Feedback
Dear Elaine,
Thank you for writing FamilyLife and for your feedback regarding Real FamilyLife’s “Motherhood as Career” broadcast that aired May 7.
Please consider that a complete theology of this hot topic could not be discussed in this brief 90 second program, but you can read the transcript at:
The pendulum has swung so far away from home and motherhood that Dennis was reminding us of the value of both in God’s economy. That does not mean he is opposed to education or other opportunities for young women. You might want to know that Dennis and Barbara’s daughters went to college and worked before marriage.  His oldest daughter, Ashley, is still involved in the broadcast as co-host with Bob Lepine on the weekend program. This part-time position, however, does not prevent her from fulfilling her role as wife and mother to five children.
The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 is a good example of an intelligent woman whose priority is her husband and household, but she can still handle business transactions as well as having a heart for the poor.  Because of the admiration she receives from her husband and children, little doubt is left as to her faithfulness to God and the family.  That is a lot different than a “career” in which the mother is away from her children more than she is with them.
We do understand there are cases where a mother will find it necessary to work outside the home (e.g. financial distress, single parenthood, etc.)  However, we also believe some couples have made career and lifestyle choices that result in de-emphasizng the mother’s role as nurturer.  Therefore, we are committed to presenting a biblical framework through which couples can rightly evaluate their priorities.
God bless you and please let us know if we can serve you further.
Yours for godly families,
Glenda

My response to Glenda:
Hello Glenda,
Thanks for taking the time to respond to my wife’s email (given at the bottom). I was excited to see what response your organization would give (if you gave one at all). As you can imagine, this has been a healthy discussion in our home throughout the years, especially since we’ve chosen – both of us – to work outside of the home.

I thought that I might respond to your email and the implicit theology you present. I have three degrees in biblical studies and theology and have taught in schools and churches for about 12 years. I’m currently a pastor of an evangelical church and professor of religion. I don’t say that to impress. I only want to make the point that you and we are Christians, and that I’ve had some professional training on how to read the Bible.

I just wanted to offer a few points in response. I know that this will probably make no difference in your programming or Dennis’ theology. But, just in case there hasn’t been healthy disagreement with your company’s message before, I might be able to offer some constructive comments. To help elucidate my comments, I’ll give your information first and then respond.

Please consider that a complete theology of this hot topic could not be discussed in this brief 90 second program, but you can read the transcript at:
My wife’s point wasn’t that whenever you speak about a woman’s role in 90 seconds, you should proffer an entire biblical and theological explanation. Rather, her point was that in 90 seconds, to offer such a one-sided opinion on this “hot topic” is not a good idea when there is so much at stake. This is especially the case when there is no biblical support for your argument (more of this below).
The pendulum has swung so far away from home and motherhood that Dennis was reminding us of the value of both in God’s economy. That does not mean he is opposed to education or other opportunities for young women. You might want to know that Dennis and Barbara’s daughters went to college and worked before marriage.  His oldest daughter, Ashley, is still involved in the broadcast as co-host with Bob Lepine on the weekend program. This part-time position, however, does not prevent her from fulfilling her role as wife and mother to five children.
Here, you have made two points: (1) “Home” and “motherhood” have left God’s “economy” (I’m not sure what this means); (2) Dennis’ daughters went to college, and work, at least one of them, part-time, because apparently she is unable to work full-time and be a “wife and mother to five children.” For some reason, her motherhood would be stripped from her if she were to work more than 39 hours a week. I’ll now respond to these two points:

(1) I’m uncertain how the home and motherhood have left God’s economy so I can’t speak to that. If by that you mean that we in the West have tended to value consumerism and “climbing to the top” at the expense of building up our families, then you are correct and that is easy enough to defend biblically. This, however, does not mean that a mother having a career outside the home is therefore evil or wrong or sinful. Moreover, you should condemn fathers in the same breath you are condemning mothers, and not to do so is plainly sexist.
(2) Your second point concerning Dennis’ daughters’ roles is irrelevant to what you’re arguing. You are arguing that it is a binding, biblical, God-given mandate that every woman should not spend time doing anything else (for monetary gains? Can they feed the homeless more? Do mission work more?) more than they spend time with their families (cf. your comment: That is a lot different than a “career” in which the mother is away from her children more than she is with them.) In other words, just because Dennis’ daughters might not be able to be sufficient, Godly mothers to their families if they work full-time, it does not mean that no other mother on the planet can do it. Moreover, it does not mean that God is displeased with every mother who does work full time.

The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 is a good example of an intelligent woman whose priority is her husband and household, but she can still handle business transactions as well as having a heart for the poor.  Because of the admiration she receives from her husband and children, little doubt is left as to her faithfulness to God and the family.  That is a lot different than a “career” in which the mother is away from her children more than she is with them. . .Therefore, we are committed to presenting a biblical framework through which couples can rightly evaluate their priorities
And this is the weakest part of your argument. You are in fact not giving a “biblical framework” for priorities, you are using part—not all—of a chapter from Proverbs to make your entire theological foundation for women not working outside the home.  This begs the logical question: why choose the end of chapter 31 as God-binding, but ignore the rest? Let’s see what the text actually says:

Proverbs 31:1 (NRS) The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:
2 No, my son! No, son of my womb! No, son of my vows!
3 Do not give your strength/value/worth to women, your ways to those who destroy kings.
Why isn’t Dennis giving 90 second sound bites concerning how men should never give over their “strength” (= the Hebrew can mean “value” or “worth”) to women (v. 3)? The reason why the author of Proverbs is saying this is because it was axiomatic in the ancient world: women were inferior to men. Every single race and nation believed that, even during the time of Jesus. If you’d like some good literature on this topic, I’d be happy to suggest it. The point here is that only men have value/worth/strength, and they should not relinquish that to women. Surely your organization doesn’t teach this, does it?
6 Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;
7 let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.
Moreover, why isn’t Dennis giving 90 second sound bites concerning how men are supposed to get poor people and distressed people drunk with wine in order to cope with their conditions (v. 6-7)?
13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls.
Does my wife need to be a textile maker (v 13)? Do we have to buy food that is not made nearby our house (v 14)? Does my wife need to buy servant girls? What if we can’t afford it? Are we sinning if we can’t buy more than one servant girls? (v 15) What about US laws concerning slavery?
16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
As long as she doesn’t spend more time planting the field than she does with her family, right? What if we can’t afford a vineyard in this economy?
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
What if we have electricity? And the point here is that she works all night long. This ideal woman won’t stop working.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.
We’re sunk on this one: we live in Houston. It’ll never snow. Also, we have clothes that are other colors than crimson. I assume Dennis’ family only wears crimson, while his wife wears “fine linen and purple” (v 22).
And on and on and on.

My point is simple but profound: you are stripping Bible verses out of context to make your pre-determined point. This is not the best way to have integrity with Scripture. Surely, if the part of Prov 31 that is written concerning women is supposed to be a God-given mandate for all women at all times, then the first part of Prov 31 is a God-given mandate for all men at all times. But, I bet Dennis doesn’t believe this is true. I bet he’s not handing out Bud Lights to homeless people on the weekends because he doesn’t want poor people to feel distress. Ripping verses out of biblical context is the fastest way to develop heresies. These few examples show that the Bible cannot be taken out of biblical and historical context, and his radio broadcast (and your response) does just that.

We do understand there are cases where a mother will find it necessary to work outside the home (e.g. financial distress, single parenthood, etc.)  However, we also believe some couples have made career and lifestyle choices that result in de-emphasizng the mother’s role as nurturer. .
I’m assuming that “career and lifestyle choices” means “she gets a full-time job that is not at home.” I’m sorry; I don’t understand how a mother’s working to gain income is a stymie to her ability to be a “nurturer.” I have known plenty of Godly, Christian mothers who were and are very nurturing and they worked 40 hours a week.

Dennis Rainey: My daughter Rebecca was gifted in gymnastics. One time I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied “a gymnastics instructor”. I thought about it and then told her, if that’s what God has for you, nothing would make me happier. But, if He calls you to marry, and gives you the privelege of being a mom, I would be just as proud of you.”
Dennis! Come on brother, you cannot really mean to assume that a woman cannot be – at the same time – a gymnastics instructor AND a mother! Really? This is merely absurd. I’m not sure he meant to express that assumption or not.

That story probably makes some people cringe. Some might even say that I’m trying to resurrect the Ozzie and Harriet home of the 1950′s. Well, the church is now staggering under the weight of broken homes, yet we continue to push our daughters toward the marketplace — at the expense of the family.
Again, here are two more assertions, and not an argument. You have yet to demonstrate that (1) “broken homes” are caused by women in the marketplace; (2) women are theonly cause to broken homes. Why be so blatantly sexist? Could men have something to do with “broken homes” (whatever that means)? Is it not much more extremely likely that it is not “the marketplace” that is the devil, but rather, the parents who are slacking on their responsibilities? Do you really put all the blame on “the marketplace”? And if so, why is it that men can handle the marketplace, while women cannot? Is it because you do not think fathers should be “nurturers” or just as active in the home as the mothers are? If you do, you will have a really hard time defending from the Bible or church tradition the belief that fathers can be active in the marketplace, and still be good fathers, while women are apparently incompetent in such a role.

One final thought. To become a wife and a mother, according to the scriptures, is a noble endeavor. The time has come for Christians to reaffirm these biblical roles for our daughters. Listen to this last girl, and what she wants to be when she grows up.Girl 3: “I want to be a mother of twins,a boy and a girl.”Dennis Rainey: You know that’s great. I’m Dennis Rainey, and that my friends is Real Family Life.

Here, yet again, you make this assumption: being a mother = not being anything else. Why in the world have this false dichotomy? On what moral, biblical, or logical grounds can you seriously believe that mothers cannot be, at the same time, mothers AND artists, managers, entrepreneurs, (and I won’t even mention their role as ministers in this response), and anything else a man can do? Again, what is it that makes women so feeble, incompetent, or inferior to men that men can be active in the marketplace and still be a “father,” while women must choose between the marketplace and motherhood?
Well, I’m done. To make clear my points:
  1. Please don’t strip biblical passages out of context to fit your preconceived philosophies on the home. Of course, you can do what you’d like in the privacy of your own home (though I still don’t recommend it). But, from one Bible teacher to another, please don’t do this for tens of thousands of people to hear. This teaches people that the Bible is like an “inkblot” – it can mean whatever it is you want it to mean as long as a few people agree with you. Surely, we as Christian exegetes can do a better job.
  2. I would love some good, biblical grounds for arguing that women cannot or should not be in the marketplace. You will have to dig in different ground than Prov 31. So far, I can’t find one bit of evidence in that one, particular part of our 66 books (for Protestants) of the Bible that defends your point that women must choose between “marketplace” and “motherhood.” This is especially the case when Prov. 31 is speaking about women who work constantly in the marketplace! The very passage you think is evidence works against you. Furthermore, there is nothing in Prov 31 at all that says mothers must spend more time with their children than in the marketplace. If we read closely, we can easily see that the author of Prov 31 is trying to paint the ideal – and never to be found – superwife and supermother according to the standards of 4-5 cent. BC Israel (v. 10: “A strong/valuable/worthy (the same Hebrew word as in v. 3) wife who can find?”)
Finally, it’s worth noting that my mother was “in the marketplace,” my wife’s mother was “in the marketplace,” and all of my friends’ mothers were “in the marketplace.” And on top of all it, my Dad left my family! My mom raised me alone for seven years, while working multiple jobs. How is it that I, and several of my friends with similar stories, ended up healthy, well-adjusted people if it is a God-given mandate that mothers in the marketplace make broken homes?

If your point is that parents – and not just mothers – are failing their families when they abandon them to other things or prideful ambitions (with examples?), then why not just say that? Or better yet, why not encourage parents, since this world is tough enough as it is. How about praying for mothers on the air for 90 seconds to ask for God’s wisdom as they try to provide for their families and be the best Godly mom they can be. And of course, spend the next 90 seconds doing it for fathers.

And that would be “real family life.”

Thanks for your time,
David W Pendergrass, PhD

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The God who works in the mundane


Since we are still in Christmas Season (until Jan 6), I thought I'd write something regarding Christmas.
Luke 2:1-7                                                    
   Do you ever “name drop”? Ever mention people you think are important to someone in order to impress them? Of course, we don’t always mention a person’s name to impress them. Sometimes we mention famous people to set the context. “When George W. Bush was President, the Twin Towers were attacked.” “When Nolan Ryan was pitching for the Houston Astros, I visited my first game.” Big names set the stage sometimes. They give us context. They evoke images of power or fear, prestige or failure.
   Luke mentions several big names in this text. And it’s crucial for us to know why these three names are mentioned. He could have mentioned any person in the ancient world, but Luke mentioned these three on purpose: Caesar Augustus, Quirinius, and David. All three are political authority figures. 
   On the one hand, Luke mentions Caesar Augustus because he cares about facts. He’s already told us that he’s intending on writing an “orderly account” or “careful record of events” in 1:3. So, on one level he’s just recording the facts: Augustus was the Roman Caesar that year. On the other hand, Luke is establishing that Jesus’s birth is situated in a grand scheme. For Luke’s audience, mentioning the Caesar evokes Roman power and control. It makes the birth of Jesus seem inconsequential and small. It makes the context of Jesus’s birth mundane.
   Moving from broad to particular (2:2-3), Luke mentions a local governor of Syria, Quirinius. Every fourteen years a census was taken and a tax was collected. Though we have no other historical data for this census, we know a similar census was done in Egypt. It also required people to return to their hometowns to be enrolled.on writing an “orderly account” or “careful record of events” in 1:3. So, on one level he’s just recording the facts: Augustus was the Roman Caesar that year. On the other hand, Luke is establishing that Jesus’s birth is situated in a grand scheme. For Luke’s audience, mentioning the Caesar evokes Roman power and control. It makes the birth of Jesus seem inconsequential and small. It makes the context of Jesus’s birth mundane.
   Then Luke mentions the town of Bethlehem’s claim-to-fame: Kind David was from there. If you’re a Jew, this is good news. Since Joseph was blood related to King David, it meant that there was “royalty in his blood.” For those Jews who believed in a coming Messiah, this meant that it makes perfect sense for Jesus to be royalty.
   Finally, like a funnel, Luke reaches the tiny, nuclear family of Joseph and his betrothed, Mary (2:4-5). And before we reflect on the situation of Jesus’s birth, let me say a quick word about ancient, Jewish marriage.
   For several centuries, people married at young ages.  The assumption was that women could bear more children, or at least, be able to have children, the younger and healthier they were. Losing babies and even their mothers during childbirth was a fairly common occurrence. Jewish boys were encouraged to marry young in order to continue one’s lineage and to ward off sexual passion. The average Jewish male was between eighteen to twenty years old. The average Jewish female married in their teenage years, like their Greco-Roman neighbors, not long after puberty (i.e., thirteen to sixteen). (In fact, marrying very young continued late into the medieval ages.)
   Jewish marriages were essentially in two stages: the betrothal (called the kiddushin or erusin) and the consummation ceremony (called the nisuin). Typically, the time between these two stages was one year. 
   For the average Jew, who wasn’t rich, neither stage was overtly extravagant. In some cases, a man would approach a girl’s family and tell of his interest. In most cases, one father would approach another father and discuss a possible connection between the teenage daughter and the older man. They would agree upon the terms of the arrangement. Money was almost always part of the exchange. The amount of money a Roman father gave the other family was in relation to how attractive the woman was; Jewish fathers gave amounts in relation to whether or not the woman was a virgin and attractive. Of course for all people groups, the social status had much to do with it: rich people gave huge gifts, poor people gave much less. The money exchanged from the father-in-law to the wife’s family was called the mohar (or “dowry,” the “price of the bride”). Mohar was not a legal requirement, but a social convention.
   The couple would compose a marriage contract (called the ketubah) which detailed the obligations of both husband and wife. It covered things such as the inheritance upon his death, how children were to be taken care of, the wife’s obligations to the husband, and how the wife would be financially provided for in the event of a divorce (which is why some people compare this to a prenuptial agreement). In modern Jewish homes, this ketubah is often in calligraphy and framed in the home.
   During the time of Jesus, couples in Egypt worked out contracts directly with each other. However, Romans and Palestinian Jews typically arranged marriages through brokers or agents. These agents helped work out all of the legal and financial details of the marriage.
   Once the ketubah was agreed upon, the couple would be engaged or betrothed (kiddushin). This was legally binding. If a man died during this period, the woman would become a widow. Dissolving kiddushin was only possible through the legal process of divorce.
  This is where Joseph and Mary come in to the scene. We don’t know for certain, but Joseph was probably in his early twenties; Mary was probably a teenager. If their marriage process was like most Palestinian Jews, their parents had already consulted a marriage broker, worked out financial details, and had signed a ketubah. This is all assumed in one simple word in 2:5, “betrothed.” Or, as they would have called it, kiddushin. They would have been waiting for the final consummation of their marriage, where they would finally be able to begin having children. Of course, at this point in the narrative, we’re aware that she’s already pregnant with Jesus.
   The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about a week or two, depending on the traveling conditions. We have every reason to believe that Mary was not in a hurry or in the final stages of the third trimester. Instead, “while she was there, the days of her pregnancy were filled” (2:6). There’s no rush, no hurry, no panic. The dramatic Hollywood scenes are all fiction.
  Instead, Mary would have stayed with Joseph’s family (don’t forget that’s the reason they came to Bethlehem in the first place). And because of the census, there would have been several other family members at the same house (notice how 2:18 assumes this: “all who heard it”).
  The bottom line: they ran out of rooms. This is the precise meaning of the Greek word in 2:7: “because there was no place for them in the place/lodging/room.” For some reason, probably because of the overarching influence of the King James Version, this verse is continually translated as “there was no place for them in the inn.” But, “inn” is certainly not a proper translation. If Luke wanted to speak of a hotel or inn, he would have used the Greek word for that (as he does in 10:34). Instead, Luke just means that the rooms where people slept were full. We know that houses in this time and place were what we would call, “tiny.”
   But where was Jesus born? Since Jesus was placed in a feeding trough for animals (though no animals are mentioned in any narrative), it is assumed that Jesus was born in a place where an animal ate. We have two probable options: (1) Many homes in this period and place were two stories. People slept upstairs (or on the roof), and the animals slept below them. Mary could have given birth in this bottom level of the house, or in something like a small courtyard. (2) Joseph’s family could have owned a small cave that acted like a stable. It seems to me that option #1 is the most likely. So much for entire pageants, skits, and songs denigrating an inn and inn keeper that never existed!
   Instead of Hollywood, what we have here is a mundane, humble story of a young Jewish couple bearing a child in a small, Bethlehemite house (or cave), surrounded by relatives. No fanfare, not grand announcements, and no dignitaries visiting (the “wise men” in Matthew are not kings).
   In the context of relative world peace and power (evoked by the characters, Caesar and Quirinius) a small baby is being born in an inconsequential village. In one of the greatest “upsets” in human history, this mundane setting and non-famous parents are witnessing the birth of “the Son of the Most High God,” who “will reign over the house of Jacob forever. . . and whose kingdom shall have no end” (1:32-33; RSV). Jesus is the ultimate "political" figure in history.
   Extraordinary events among ordinary people. If you and I had witnessed this birth for ourselves, we would have thought nothing of it. Everything looked normal. And to some degree, they’re right. Jesus was born normally, ate normally, and certainly cried normally. But in reality, for those who knew what was going on, it was an event that would change the course of human history.
   So it is with you and me. From the outside, the world can look at our lives and assume normalcy. And to some degree, they’re right. But in reality, God is orchestrating events that demonstrate that God “has helped his servant Israel, remembering his mercy” (1:54). God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Jesus. And because of the resurrection, the fulfillment of God’s promises are still taking place in you and me. Of course things look normal on the outside (unless miracles take place!). But as Christians, we know of the great work the Spirit does. We know of the real comfort and real peace that can come.
   What routine in your life is mundane? In what area of your life or in what relationship do you feel normal? Have you given up on seeing God work in the mundane? Are you so discouraged that you no longer expect God to do incredible things in the normal routines of life?
    Christmas Season reminds us that there is no such thing as too humble or too mundane for the work of God.

Afraid to Fail?


Are you afraid to fail?

Don’t be. The whole world isn’t actually on your shoulders; it’s on God’s. You don’t actually have THAT much control of your situation; God does. You can’t actually mess things up THAT badly; God doesn’t need you to do things flawlessly for His will to be accomplished.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Give up trying. Take that yoke off of your neck. Let go of that anxiety. Breathe. Trust God. Tell God that at least for one day (or one hour or one minute), you are deciding not to rely on your ability to say everything “just right” or act “just right” or be “just right.” Only God is “just right.” Rest in Him. Trust that no matter what mistakes you make, God can clean up any situation.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t let your mind even go there. Stop trying. You’ll never be funny enough. You’ll never be pretty or handsome enough. You’ll never be smart enough. You’ll never practice boundaries perfectly. God doesn’t need perfection. He needs you. He just needs you, right now, as you are. He likes cleaning up messes. He likes making beautiful things out of ashes.

Don’t be afraid to fail.

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