Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sully Notes 16 | Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life's Biggest Questions Part 3 of 3

Emmaus City Church Worcester MA Sully Notes 16 3 of 3 Soma Acts 29 Christian Reformed Network of Missional Communities


Sully Notes 16: Books in 25 minutes or less


Sully Notes are more than a book review. They are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read in the last year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read. 

Here is the link to the previous Sully Notes 16:


Encounters with Jesus | Sully Notes 16: Part 3 of 3


Chapter Seven | The Two Advocates


 " ... your defense lawyer may have hard and challenging things to say to you, yet always in order to help you case and cause. And he or she does not merely speak to you – but also speaks to the powers that be for you. This is why the translations of John 14:16-20; 25-27 that call the Holy Spirit the Advocate are also, I believe, on the right track. That's how God's Spirit is defined, or described, in the word Jesus uses to talk about him. But we must notice also that Jesus calls the Spirit another Advocate or counselor. Who, then, is the first Advocate? The only other place in the New Testament where the word paraklete is used is in 1 John 2:1-2: 'If anyone does sin, we have an advocate (paraklete) with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.' So Jesus is the first Advocate, and the Spirit is the second. And I want you to know that in this word – advocate, counselor – we have the key to understanding not only Jesus' work on the cross but also the Spirit's work in our hearts. Indeed, I'd argue that unless you know that Jesus was the first Advocate, you won't understand the work of the Holy Spirit as the second Advocate at all."  pg. 132

"When the Bible says Jesus is an advocate, it assumes the existence of the bar of justice and the fact that we must deal with it, must stand before it. That's the first thing this word advocate implies. The second thing it implies is that Jesus Christ is not primarily an example of moral behavior (though he is), nor primarily a loving supporter (though he is that, too). Those things would be helpful, but on their own they would fall short of what we need. If that bar of justice exists – and our consciences bear witness to the fact that it does – then we need a true advocate. ... Now we see the power of what John says to us in 1 John 2:1. He says that if you are guilty before the bar of justice and even before your own conscience, what do you need? A good example? A supportive helper? Do you need somebody who can show you how to pick yourself up and try harder? Someone who comes alongside and says, 'You can do it!' Someone who knows the law and can tell us how you've broken it? Yes, you need those, but they are not your primary need. You need not just a good lawyer but a perfect Advocate to appear for you before the Father." – pgs. 136-137

" ... I John 2:2 ... says, 'He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.' When Jesus goes before the Father, he is not actually asking for mercy for us. Of course it was infinitely merciful of God to send Christ to die for us, but that mercy has now been granted, so Jesus does not need to beg for it. 1 John 1:9 says that 'if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.' ... Jesus Christ can say, in effect, 'Father, my people have sinned, and the law demands that the wages of sin be death. But I have paid for those sins. See, here is my blood, the token of my death! On the cross I have paid the penalty for these sins completely. Now, if anyone were to exact two payments for the same sin, it would be unjust. And so – I am not asking for mercy for them; I'm asking for justice.'– pgs. 138-139

"The first Advocate is speaking to God for you, but the second Advocate is speaking to you for you. Throughout the Farewell Discourse, Jesus keeps saying that the job of the Spirit is to take all the things Jesus has done on our behalf – all the things that the apostles had still not yet grasped – and to 'teach you' and 'remind you' and enable the apostles to finally understand all that Jesus had taught them about his saving work (John 14:26)." – pg. 141

"I love the fact that the Holy Spirit is not merely an instructor, but an Advocate. Though he is 'the Spirit of truth,' he does not merely teach and inform us; he calls us to live according to what he is telling us. He convicts us and challenges us (John 16:8-11). He says in effect, 'You are a sinner  are you living with the humility and dependence on God that results from that fact? Yet you are also righteous in Christ – adopted and accepted into the family. Are you living with the boldness and freedom that should accord with that fact? Are you as free from the need for worldly power and approval and comfort as you should be?' He argues with us, he exhorts, beseeches, and entreats us (all good translations of parakleo), to live lives in accordance with the accomplishments and realities of Christ's love. And this is why Jesus says that through the Holy Spirit he will finally 'show' himself to his friends (John 14:21). They will finally see him and know his loving presence. ... it's natural for us to believe that it would have been better to have lived during the time of Christ and to have actually met him and heard him with our ears and seen him with our eyes. You might believe that you could know him better that way than you do now – but you would be wrong. Before he died, the Holy Spirit had not been released into the world in this powerful way, and you can only know Jesus fully through the Spirit's influence, as he shows you in the shadow of the cross how high and long and wide and deep his love is for us. In other words, right here and now, through the Holy Spirit, you can see Christ and know his presence and his love better than the apostles could in that moment in the upper room.– pgs. 142-143

"This week, somebody criticized you. Something you bought or invested in turned out to be less valuable than you thought. Something you wanted to happen didn't go the way you wanted it to. Someone you counted on let you down. These are real losses – of your reputation, of your material wealth, of your hopes. But what are you going to do, if you're a Christian? Will this setback disrupt your contentment with life? Will you shake your fist at God? Toss and turn at night? If so, I submit that it's because you don't know how truly rich you are. You are not listening to the second Advocate about your first Advocate. You are not living in joy. You are forgetting that the only eyes in the universe that matter see you not as the 'phony little fake' you have sometimes been, but as a person of captivating beauty. If you're that upset about your status with other people, if you're constantly lashing out at people for hurting your feelings, you might call it a lack of self-control or a lack of self-esteem, and it is. But more fundamentally, you have totally lost touch with your identity. As a Christian, you're a spiritual billionaire and you're wringing your hands over ten dollars. It's the job of the second Advocate to argue with you in the court of your heart, to make the case about who you are in Christ, to show you that you're rich. And it's your job to listen. How can you listen better? That's a big subject, but if you are a believer, then the Holy Spirit will do his work as you use the 'means of grace'  reading and studying the Word by yourself and in community, prayer, worship, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper." – pgs. 144-145

"I once heard a story of an eighteenth-century Welsh preacher who, when he was just a teenager, was standing with his family around the deathbed of one of his aunts. His aunt had been a strong Christian, but she was slipping away. Everyone thought she was unconscious and some said out loud, 'It's a shame; she's had such a hard life. She's seen two husbands die, and she's often been sick, and on top of it all she has died poor.' Suddenly she opened her eyes, looked around, and said, 'Who calls me poor? I am rich, rich! And I will soon stand before Him bold as a lion.' And then she died. Understandably, that had quite an effect on the young man. This woman had the peace that Jesus spoke of because she had listened to the Advocate. She was saying, 'I've got the only husband who can't die. I've got the only wealth that can never go away. And my Savior dealt long ago with sin – the only disease that can really and truly kill me. How can you call me poor?' The second Advocate had told her about the first Advocate, so she could say in the face of great loss, as the hymn writer did, 'It is well, it is well with my soul.'" – pgs. 146-147

Chapter Eight | The Obedient Master

"If Matthew, Mark, and Luke were making up or even just embellishing the life of the founder of their faith, would they depict him struggling more desperately before his imminent death than most of his followers? ... The reason that Jesus Christ did not die as gracefully as later Christian martyrs is because none of them were facing the cup. When Jesus himself of speaks of the cup, it shows he knows that he is facing not just physical torture and death; he is about to experience the full divine wrath on the evil and sin of all humanity. The judicial wrath of God is about to come down upon him rather upon us. ... 2 Thessalonians 1:8 reads, 'He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.' The judgment of God in the Bible is unbelievably fair. It is an utterly natural consequence. The essence of sin is 'I do not want to have God in my life.' And the essence of God's judicial wrath is to give us what we have asked for. There truly is nothing fairer than that – and nothing more terrible. According to the Bible we are all built for God, made to enjoy his presence and a relationship with him. Here on earth, even those of us who disbelieve and flee from God are not completely cut off from him. Paul says that in God 'we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). ... what would happen if God were to truly remove his gracious, sustaining power from our lives? It would be a kind of spiritual agony and disintegration that would go on forever, since our souls are built for his love and presence. It would be eternal torment and perfectly just. As C.S. Lewis says in The Great Divorce, if in this life you never say to God, 'Thy will be done,' then eventually God will say to you for the afterlife, 'All right, then thy will be done.'– pgs. 152-155

"Remember what Ezekiel 23 and Isaiah 51 said. The cup of God's wrath is like a poison that makes the body stagger and burn with inner pain. That is what is beginning to happen to Jesus. He begins to pray and he suddenly sees in the abyss. No Father, no presence, no communion; Hell rather than Heaven opens to his gaze. And the only way to conceive of the infinite magnitude of his sufferings is to realize that he is the Son of God. ... Jesus' predicament was worse than even that, for he began to experience not merely the absence of love but the presence of wrath. And just as divine love is immeasurably beyond human love, so the experience of divine wrath must be beyond human anger. God is omnipotent – infinitely powerful. How can we imagine what it would be like for a mountain of divine wrath to come down on us? How much does omnipotence weigh?" – pg. 156

" ... passively absorbing punishment is not all Jesus did for us. During his entire life, and preeminently here at his death, he also fulfilled the positive demands of the law of God as well, which has been called his 'active' work. Jesus not only died the death we should have died in order to take the law's curse for us, he also lived the great life of love and fidelity we should have lived in order to earn God's blessing for us. No one ever loved God with his entire soul, mind, and strength – no one ever loved his neighbor with perfect, full, sacrificial love – except Jesus. What does a life like that deserve? It deserves God's highest blessing, praise, and honor. It deserves God's full love and delight. And because Jesus not only fulfilled the law of God passively but actively – in our place, as our substitute – it means not only that he got the penalty we deserved, we get the reward from God that he deserved. It's an astonishingly thorough salvation, with grace piled on top of grace. ... when Jesus goes to the cross for us after his experience in the garden, he goes with vivid firsthand knowledge of what will happen. And that makes Jesus' action the greatest act of love to the Father – and to his fellow human beings – in the history of the world. No one ever faced suffering like this in order to love, and so no one ever looked like this (Christ's agony which appeared so great as to cause bloody sweat).– pgs. 158-160 

"'Christ was going to be cast into a dreadful furnace of wrath (Matthew 26:39-44) and it was not proper that he should plunge himself into it blindfolded as not knowing how dreadful the furnace was. Therefore God brought him and set him at the mouth of the furnace that he might look in and stand and view its fierce and ranging flames and might see where he was going and might voluntarily enter into it and bear it for us, knowing what it was. If Jesus Christ did not full know before he took it, and drunk it, it would not properly have been his own act as a human being. But when he took the cup knowing what he did, so was his love to us infinitely more wonderful and his obedience to God more perfect.' God set the cup in front of Jesus, as it were, and let him smell it and taste it when it was still possible for Jesus to pull away and protect himself. In effect, the Father was saying, 'Here's the cup that you are about to drink. Here is the furnace into which you are about to be cast. See these friends of yours sleeping over there? If they are to be saved, there is no other way. Either they perish, or you perish. See how terrible the heat is, see what pain and anguish you must endure. Is your love for them and for me so great that you will go on and take it?'– pgs. 161-162

" ...  it is not enough to say this was only the greatest act of love in history; it was also the most astounding, perfect act of obedience to God. ... To the first Adam he said, 'Obey me about the Tree and I will bless you' – and Adam didn't do it. But to the second Adam he says, 'Obey me about the Tree and I will crush you' – and Jesus does. Jesus is the first and last person in history to be told that obedience would bring a curse. The Father is saying, essentially, 'If you obey me, if you are faithful to me, I will forsake you, cast you off and send your soul into hell.' And yet Jesus obeyed. Even as he was dying, abandoned by his Father, he called him 'My God'  words that in the Bible were covenant language, conveying intimacy. Even though he was being forsaken, Jesus was still obeying. The poet George Herbert, again referring to the cross as a tree, puts beautifully how the disobedience of the first Adam was put right only through the far more difficult and greater obedience of the second. ... Jesus did not just die the death we should have died; he lived the life we should have lived. As one Scottish minister, Robery Murray M'Cheyne, used to say, he is not just a dying savior, he is a doing savior. When we believe in him, we do not just get the benefits of his death. It is not just that our sins are forgiven, but we also get the benefits of his obedience. ... When we believe in Jesus Christ, we are seen as righteous. We are seen as obeying. We are seen in our Advocate. We are seen to be doing as well as Jesus did, not just dying as well as Jesus died.– pgs. 163-165
"Jesus in the garden is an unparelleled model of integrity. In the dark, with nobody looking, knowing that he is called to do the hardest thing anyone has ever done, Jesus still does the right thing. He does the same thing in the dark and in private that the next day he will do in full view. Let me ask you – are you the same person in the dark as you are in the light? Are you the same in private as you are in public?– pg. 166 
" ... it is a great model for prayer. The most astounding thing about Jesus is that he is, at the same moment, both brutally honest about his feelings and desires and yet absolutely submitted to the will of God. He is honest – he doesn't put on a pious front. Three times the Son of God tells the Father he'd prefer to avoid the plan of salvation. There is no cover-up. And yet he says, without hesitating, 'Not my will, but thy will be done.' The basic purpose of prayer is not to bend God's will to mine but to mold my will into his. Jesus is so God-centered and yet so human and honest at once.– pgs. 166-167
" ... in the garden we have a tremendous example of patience with people. In Matthew's account he comes back to his disciples at one point and says, 'Couldn't you men keep watch with me for one hour?' (Matthew 26:40). Here is a man under the most crushing weight asking his friends for a little support and finding that they have gone to sleep on him. He has been completely let down, but what does he say? Matthew records Jesus' words: 'The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak' (Matthew 26:41). Isn't that remarkable? He is giving them some credit. He says, 'You let me down, but I know you mean well.' In the depths of his agony he can still find something affirming to say to his friends. There are about twenty things wrong with the disciples' performance that night, but he finds the one or two things that are right and points them out. 'Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end' (John 13:1). So Jesus is a great model to live, pray, and relate to people.– pg. 167
"I know people who have said: 'I would follow Christ, but I do not think I can keep it up. I do not trust myself. I think he'd get tired of my failures.' Please look at him in the garden. Look what his love for you has already enabled him to endure for you. If he had turned away from suffering and the cross, we would have been lost, but he didn't do that. Hell came down on him, and he would not let go of us. His love for us has already taken everything that the universe could throw at it and it held fast – and you think that you are somehow going to upset him? Is Jesus going to look at you and say, 'Well, that does it! Infinite existential torment was one thing, but I can only take so much!'? If the cup did not make him give up on us, nothing will. So Paul can essentially say, 'Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ' (Romans 8:38-39). The Lord says, 'I will never leave you; never will I forsake you' (Hebrews 13:5). This is the love you have been looking for all of your life. This is the only love that can't let you down. This is bomb-proof love. Not friend-love, not personal acclaim, not married love, and not even romantic love – it is this love that you are after, underneath all your pursuit of those others. And if this love of active obedience is an active reality in your life, you will be a person of integrity; you will be a person of prayer; you will be kind to people who mistreat you. If you have this love, you will be a little more like him. Look at him dying in the dark for you. Let it melt you into his likeness.– pgs. 169-170  

Chapter Nine | The Right Hand of the Father

" ...  what is the ascension? It is not simply Jesus' return from the earth to heaven. It is a new enthronement for Jesus ushering in a new relationship with us and with the whole world. ... The elevation in space symbolized the elevation in authority and relationship. Jesus was tracing out physically what was happening cosmically and spiritually. And what was that? He was going, now as the unique God-man – fully human and fully divine – to take his place as the new king and head of the human race.– pgs. 172, 174-175

" ... at the ascension Jesus leaves the space-time continuum and passes into the presence of the Father. He is still human, still our second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:22) and still our Advocate – yet now he has been so glorified that everything he does has a cosmic scope. ... Louis Berkhof in his classic Systematic Theology says he 'passed into the fullness of heavenly glory and was perfectly adapted for the life of heaven.' As a result, any time-space limitation to his work passes away. You no longer have to go to a single geographical location in order to receive his ministry. He's still doing all the things he did before, but now, after the ascension, he's doing them with access to anyone in any place and all at once. The ascension doesn't mean the loss of his intimacy, his leadership, and his advocacy; it means the magnification and infinite availability of all of these. ... He is still our prophet, teaching and instructing us with his Word, but now he does it everywhere through the Holy Spirit. He is still our king, but now he guides and directs his entire church through the spiritual gifts he gives his people (Ephesians 4:4-16) – gifts of leadership, service, mercy, teaching, administration, and giving. And he is still our priest, counseling and supporting us, but now representing us before the very face of the Father.– pg. 176

"When Jesus said, 'Don't hold on to me ...  I am returning to my Father,' he was indicating that after he ascended she'd have access to an even stronger love relationship. Why? Because then he would literally never leave her, and he would be not just in her arms sometimes but in her heart always. Here's the gist of what I think he was saying: 'Mary, I understand why you don't want to ever lose your mentor and your friend. But if you really understood what was going on, you'd realize that after I ascend, you will have me all the time and forever. The way I am right now, Mary, there is a chance you could lose me. Somebody could put you in jail, and I wouldn't be there. But if I ascend to the Father, you will have me forever. If somebody puts you in the deepest, darkest dungeon I'll be right there with you. You'll have that intimacy; you'll have that fellowship. Nothing at all will ever be able to take me away from you.' St. Augustine said it like this: 'You ascended from before our eyes and we turned back grieving, only to find you in our hearts.' Jesus is telling Mary, 'You can let go of my hand, for I can give you something better than my hand in your hand. I can put my heart in your heart.' ... The Bible teaches that from the throne of the universe Jesus uses his power to 'raise up our affections' toward him. Ephesians 2:6 says that, since Christian believers are united with Christ, in some mysterious way we are already 'seated ... in the heavenly realms' with him. At the very least this means that through the Holy Spirit our affections – the deepest desires and longings of our hearts  can be engaged with and satisfied in Christ in a powerful way. ... Paul speaks of the love of Christ being 'poured into our hearts' (Romans 5:5) as one of the marks of being a Christian. And, Paul says, it is because Jesus 'is at the right hand of God, and is also interceding for us' (Romans 8:34) that nothing can separate us from his love. Because Christ is ascended we can know his presence, actually speaking to us, actually teaching us, actually pouring his love out into our hearts  through the Holy Spirit. His presence is not for a select group of mystically attuned or emotionally high-strung or morally spotless saints. No: Jesus has passed into heaven, out of the space-time continuum, so that he can come into anyone's life as a living, bright reality of love and personal connection. But the ascended Christ is not only sublimely personal; he's also supremely powerful. He controls all things for the church, and therefore you can face the world with peace in your heart.– pgs. 178-182 

Chapter Ten | The Courage of Mary

"Remember that the Hebrew idea of God was different from those of other cultures. When the Bible speaks of Jesus as divine, that does not mean he has more of the divine spark of life that is found in everyone. To the Hebrews, God was not an impersonal force that is part of all being but a unique, personal yet infinite, immanent yet transcendent, eternal Creator who existed before and above all other beings. To call Jesus divine while holding that understanding of divinity was stupendous. Yet it is the lynchpin of Jesus' own self-understanding and underlies everything he teaches. So you either have to say that Jesus Christ is, as the Bible claims, the unique Creator God who has come in the flesh, which makes Christianity a better revelation of God than other religions  or you have to say that he was wrong or lying, which makes him and his followers a worse revelation of God. But Christianity can't be a religion just like the rest.– pg. 194

"(On a panel with a Muslim cleric) ... we concluded, while each faith could certainly appreciate wisdom in the other, we couldn't both be right at the deepest level. However, a student maintained his position, saying that all religions are fundamentally alike. Ironically, the young man was being every bit as dogmatic, superior, and ideological as any traditional religious adherent can be. He was saying, in essence, 'I have the true view of religion, and you don't. I can see that you are alike, but you can't. I am spiritually enlightened, and you aren't.' But as I spoke to him a bit afterward I concluded that he motivated by an underlying fear. If he granted that any religion made unique claims, then he would have to decide whether or not those claims were true. He did not want the responsibility of having to ponder, weigh it all, and choose. Among young secular adults is a common to adopt this belief that all religions are roughly the same. Dare I say this is a form of emotional immaturity? Life is filled with hard choices, and it is childish to think you can avoid them. It may seem to get you out of a lot of hard work, but the idea of the equivalence of religions is simply a falsehood. Every religion, even those that appear more inclusive, makes its own unique claim. But Jesus' claims are particularly unnerving , because if they are true, there is no alternative but to bow the knee to him. The annunciation pushes the exclusivity of Jesus right in our face. It demands a response and shows us there is a lot of hard work to do." – pgs. 195-196


"The annunciation was a shock to Mary as much for social reasons as theological ones. At the time, Mary was probably fourteen years old, and very poor. Evidence of her place on the socioeconomic scale can be seen when Mary and Joseph go to the temple to have Jesus circumcised. The offering given for the ceremony depended on the social class of the family. If you were the poorest of the poor you simply offered up two birds, and that was what the family of Jesus did. Mary is a peasant, and on top of that, she will face disgrace over this news. And yet this disgraced, pregnant, unwed peasant girl is today one of the most famous human beings in the history of the world. By contrast most of us will be forgotten in a couple of generations. What makes her great? It is how she responds to God and his message.– pg. 196

"Mary does four things:

  1. Mary thinks: 'Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting his might be' (Luke 1:29). But the word wondered in the verse is the word deologistico, which means to use logic, to reason with intensity. It means that Mary was trying to figure out how it could all be true. This might strike us as odd. Today we like to say that we are rational and scientific people – we ask hard questions, use logic, and demand empirical evidence – and therefore it is impossible for us to believe in the appearance of an angel. The implication is that ancient people were superstitious and had no problem believing in the supernatural. We assume that if an angel showed up, people of that time simply said, 'Oh, it's an angel. Hello. What's the message, please?' It's an arrogant and paternalistic view of our ancestors, not to mention a willful misreading of the text. We see here Mary struggling to understand and believe what she was hearing. ... The annunciation was and is a major challenge to all paradigms and worldviews. There is no place in the world, and there has never been a period of history, where there are not enormous barriers to believing the proclamation that the Creator God of the universe is coming into a girl's womb to be born as a human being through her. At no time has that idea fit comfortably with the prevailing wisdom of the age.  
  2. Mary expresses her doubts openly: She says to the angel, 'How will this be, since I am a virgin?' ... How can she have a child if she isn't having sex? This is an openly expressed doubt – to an angel! That shows a willingness to be honest about her uncertainties and questions. Now, I would say there are two kinds of doubts: dishonest doubts and honest doubts. Dishonest doubts are both proud and cowardly; they show disdain and laziness. A dishonest doubt is to say, 'What a crazy idea!' and then just walk away. 'That's impossible' (or its more contemporary version, 'That's stupid') is an assertion, not an argument. It's a way of getting out of the hard work of thinking. But by contrast, honest doubts are humble, because they lead you to ask questions, not just put up a wall. And when you ask a real question, it makes you somewhat vulnerable. ... If she had never expressed a doubt, the angel would never have spoken one of the great statements in the Bible: 'Nothing will be impossible with God' (Luke 1:37 ESV). I'm so grateful for her doubt, because that statement has been comforting and guiding me for years. All kinds of people have been helped immensely by those words. And the only reason we get this extra revelation is because Mary doubted. The more you are willing to express doubt honestly and humbly, the more you bring up your honest questions, the further you, and the people around you, are going to get. I have seen plenty of people who refuse to ask questions and refuse to express their doubts. Some refuse out of hard-heartedness, while others refuse because they think somehow it is disrespectful. Please don't dare not to raise your honest doubts and questions. 
  3. Mary surrenders completely: 'Nothing will be impossible with God' is a good argument. Do you believe in God, Mary? Yes. Well, if there is a God who created the world, who delivered your people and protected them for centuries, why couldn't he do this? And that made sense to her. And so Mary says, 'I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me as you have said' (Luke 1:38). ... Jesus himself tells us to 'count the cost' of discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). But I'm afraid many people want to negotiate the cost rather than count it. That is, they are willing to give up things, but they won't give up the right to determine what those things are. They want to be in a position to do ongoing cost-benefit analyses on various kinds of behavior, which keeps them in the driver's seat, on the throne of their life, as it were. I once heard a Bible teacher put it like this – 'When it comes to following Jesus, the hardest thing to give is in.' When God comes to Abraham, he says, 'Abraham, get out of your homeland, out of the land of the Chaldees, and follow me.' Abraham says, 'Where am I going?' And God essentially says, 'I'll show you later.' God wants Abraham to give up the right to determine for himself the best way for him to live. In some fashion you have to say what Mary said when give your life to Christ. Your heart must say something like this: 'I do not know all that you are going to ask of me, Lord. But I'll do whatever you say in your Word, whether I like it or not, and I'll accept patiently whatever you send into my life, whether I understand it or not.' In other words, you simply cannot know ahead of time all the things God will be asking you to do. ... So you must simply say, 'I do not know all that is going to come, but one thing I know  I give up the right to decide whether or not I will do God's will. ... Luke 1 gives us Mary's perspective on the annunciation, while Matthew 1 gives us Joseph's. When Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, and he knew that he was not the father, he decided to break off the engagement. But an angel appeared and gave Joseph his own message from God – he was to marry her anyway. Now, Joseph knew that if he married her, then everybody in their small town, in their shame-and-honor society, would know that the child had been conceived out of wedlock. They knew how to read a calendar. In fact, most of Mary's friends would discern she was pregnant before the wedding. Sooner or later, everyone would know that either they had sex before marriage or she was unfaithful to him, and in either case they would have violated the moral and social norms of that culture. They would forever be second-class citizens within their society. They and their children would be shunned by some, always suspected by everyone else. So what did it mean for Joseph and Mary to accept the Word of the Lord, to say 'We embrace the call to receive this child. We will accept whatever comes with it'? What did it take for them to literally have 'God with us' in the midst (Matthew 1:23)? What does it take to be with him? This text's answer is courage. And a willingness to do his will, no matter what. ... There are many places in the world now where, if you are a professing Christian, you are going to be walking in Joseph's and Mary's shoes. For example, Christian belief sounds just as incredible and implausible to many friends in New York City as the angels' story sounded to Mary and Joseph's friends. If you are open about your Christian faith in whatever social circles or professional networks or vocational fields you are in, a lot of people just won't understand, and you won't be able to make them understand why you are the way you are. In many cases your reputation may suffer. And yet, why do you think Jesus Christ came into this world through a pregnant, unwed teenage girl in a patriarchal shame-and-honor culture? God didn't have to do it that way. But I think it was his way of saying, 'I don't do things the way the world expects, but in the opposite way altogether. My power is made perfect in weakness. My Savior-Prince will be born not into a cradle in a royal palace but into a feed trough in a stable  not to powerful and famous people but to disgraced peasants. And that is all part of the pattern. For Jesus will win salvation through weakness, suffering, and death on the cross. He will achieve power and influence through sacrificial service. And if you have Jesus in your life, you will taste much of the same treatment. But my salvation works like this – suffering leads to glory and death to resurrection. So have no fear. Receive Jesus Christ into your life, and will be your honor. It doesn't matter what the world thinks. So Mary and Joseph were willing to do for Jesus what Jesus was going to do for them. He became obedient to his Father, even unto death on a cross (Philippians 2:4-11). And when God called, they gave up their right to self-determination. If you really want Jesus in the middle of you life, you have to obey him unconditionally. You have to give up control of your life and drop your conditions. You have to give up the right to say, 'I will obey you if,' that is not obedience. What that is really saying is: 'You are my consultant, not my Lord. I will be happy to take your recommendations. And I might even do some of them.' No. If you want Jesus with you, you have to give up the right to self-determination.
  4. Mary engages in community: 'The Magnificat': As soon as Elizabeth is doing speaking, Mary breaks into a magnificent song. She begins to worship God with her cousin with all he heart' My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit doth rejoice in God my Savior' (Luke 1:46-47). In that song, Mary goes back through the Old Testament – from the Psalms and Isaiah and the prophets – making remarkable connections that reveal the coming of the divine Messiah. The annunciation is not a contradiction of biblical faith but is rather its fulfillment. These insights all come because she visits Elizabeth. ... Mary does not appear to understand what is going on until she goes to see another believing sister, and they talk together and worship together. Yes, like Mary you need to think intensely and doubt openly, and eventually surrender completely – but it won't be enough to simply do that as a solitary individual, without trusted friends around you. Some of us don't want people to know we are even having spiritual struggles until after we have gone through them and we can tell people about them in the past tense: 'That was a dark time.' But in the end, you are never going to make it without community. Mary was a nobody who became greater than everybody, simple because God came to her and she responded in the humblest possible way. She reasoned, she doubted, she surrendered, she connected with others. You can, too.– pgs. 196-205   

 Sully
 
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