Wednesday, December 31, 2014

When the Lord roars (Amos 1-5a)

When the Lord Roars (Amos 1-5a)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2000

Among the increasing number of educational toys on the market today are several that make use of the latest technology. As with any such gadget, though, they are only as good as their programming.
Matthew's mother was watching her five-year-old work on his Speak-and-Spell computer. He was concentrating intensely, typing words for the computer to say back to him. When Matthew keyed the word God, to his surprise, the computer said, "Word not found." He tried again and received the same reply. With great disgust, he stared at the computer and told it in no uncertain terms, "God is not going to like this!" (Adapted from Rowell 1996:79)
The computer did not have God in its vocabulary. It is worse, however, for a nation not have God in its society, for then there is little restraint on behavior, and people think they can act as they please not matter what the consequence for others. That is a situation God likes even less. It is also what Amos faces as he travels north to relay the divine evaluation When the LORD Roars.

The tension that followed the division of Solomon's kingdom into north and south eventually dissipated as the rulers of Israel and Judah learned it was better not to be at each other's throats all the time. The peace they established allowed each country to concentrate on its own domestic interests and to establish a measure of economic prosperity. As one commentator notes, however, the prosperity of the Northern Kingdom did not extend to all its citizens.
Affluence, exploitation and the profit motive were the most notable features of the society which Amos observed and in which he worked. The rich were affluent enough to have several houses apiece (3:15), to go in for rather ostentatiously expensive furniture (6:4) and not to deny themselves any bodily satisfaction (3:12; 4:1; 6:6). On the other hand the poor were really poor and were shamelessly exploited: they suffered from property rackets (2:6, 7), legal rackets (5:10, 12) and business rackets (8:5) and the defenceless man with no influence came off worst every time. When the poor could not contribute to the rich they were simply ignored and left to be broken (6:6). Moneymaking and personal covetousness ruled all: the men lived for their offices (8:5), the women lived for excitement (4:1), the rulers lived for frivolity (6:1-6) (Motyer 1975:15).
This was the Northern Kingdom in the first half of the eighth century B.C. Both Israel under King Jeroboam II and Judah under King Uzziah experienced a period of growth while their common enemy, Assyria, turned elsewhere. Control over the trade routes and economic expansion provided a new wealth that overshadowed the values of a traditionally agricultural society. With affluence came a self-sufficiency that lessened the need to seek the direction of the LORD. This did not mean that religion was declining. On the contrary, people thronged the temples at Dan and Bethel.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas (Heb 2:17)

From the Crib to the Cross (Heb 2:17)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

Gratitude is not always a natural response to generosity, especially among children, who often receive things without giving any thought to their value.
One Christmas, the mother of three children decided that she was no longer going to remind them of their thank-you note duties. As a result, their grandmother never received acknowledgments of the generous checks she had given. Things were different, however, the following year. "The children came over in person to thank me," the grandmother told a friend triumphantly. "How wonderful!" her friend exclaimed. "They must be getting more mature." "I don't think that was the reason." the grandmother replied. "Then what caused the change in their behavior?" "This year...I didn't sign the checks."
Thankfully, when Jesus made atonement for our sin, he did not wait for us to express our appreciation but signed the check immediately, and with his very life.

God could have arranged for Jesus to appear on earth as an adult for the short period it would have taken to die, rise from the dead, then return to heaven. Instead, He had Jesus appear on earth as an infant, grow to manhood, and minister publicly for three years. That span of time From the Crib to the Cross gave us a greater appreciation of the sacrifice he made,1 as the author of Hebrews explains.
Heb 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
The author of Hebrews says that...

I. Jesus became a mortal like us.

...not by accident but by design. It was for a reason....
  • He was purposeful.
Jesus does not wander onto the scene of human history only to wander off again. He was a man on a mission, and it was not just to provide us with a good example, as some have suggested. The mission was clear from the very beginning.
  • When the angel informed Joseph about Mary's pregnancy, he explained what the boy would accomplish
Matt 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
  • When the disciples were arguing among themselves about which of them was greater, Jesus explained to them how their attitude was out of step with the purpose of his ministry.2
Mark 10:45 [= Matt 20:28] For...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
This is highly unusual. How many people know the reason for their existence?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas 2014

Dr. and Mrs. Paul Manuel
Christmas 20014

Dear Family and Friends,

All major appliances wear out. You hope the dishwasher or clothes dryer will last several years, and you may even purchase a service agreement to protect against costly repairs. There is a limit, though, to what such a contract will cover, and repeated use will eventually wear out any machine. Usually some clue will alert you when an appliance has reached the limit of its useful lifespan. The dishes are not getting very clean or the clothes are taking forever (it seems) to dry. At that point, you may need to retire the machine and replace it with a new one.

The hunt for a replacement often involves considering several factors: cost, features, and reviews by others who purchased the same unit. Eventually, you decide on the model to get, and you make the purchase, perhaps wondering how long it will last before you need to repeat the process yet again. (As you may guess, the process is what Linda and I went through this year, not just once but three times with three major appliances.)

As we approach the celebration of Christmas, it is with an appreciation that the message of the holiday, no matter how often we repeat it, never wears out. The proclamation of the angel to the shepherds, no matter how often we hear it, remains good news today.

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord.

Although we celebrate this commemoration of his birth every year, the author of Hebrews called what the incarnation accomplished a singular event.

He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood,
having obtained eternal redemption.

In other words, we celebrate many times what only happened one time. That, of course, is the nature of birthdays: They mark repeatedly a unique occurrence—a particular person's entry into this world. The difference in Jesus' case, however, is that, unlike other birthdays, his birthday also marks a unique accomplishment—the salvation of that same world. Moreover, this singular accomplishment has had repercussions for people throughout history, even before his advent (as "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" Rev 13:8). No one else has ever had such a pervasive and permanent affect.

Unlike major appliances, all of which wear out at some point, Jesus' atonement, which his birthday portends, never wears out. Moreover, "he always lives to intercede for [us]" (Heb 7:25), an additional benefit we can experience all year. May the joy of his advent and the abiding effect of his atonement enhance your appreciation of the season. As the heavenly host declared that evening, "Glory to God in the highest."

Pastor and Linda