Every year, we try to find just the right Christmas ornament for our two children. For our daughter, we always choose one that depicts Santa Claus. The challenge is that the Santa also must tell the story of the biggest event in her life during the previous year.
This year being her first year at the University of Oklahoma, we figured it would be a simple task to find a Santa sporting an OU logo. We found lots of football helmets and football players, along with a snowman or two and even a gnome, but oddly, no Santas.
After looking all over Norman, we finally spotted a glass Santa nutcracker. I suppose nutcrackers are also traditionally military figures who are expected to march, so in that manner, this ornament is also appropriate to her amazing first semester as a performing member of the Pride of Oklahoma marching band.
Mary sets out "in a hurry" to get to Zechariah's and Elizabeth's house for a quick visit. Perhaps this is because she needs to make the trip before her pregnancy slows her down, or maybe she is just really excited to share the news.
At any rate, the result of her visit is where the meat of this passage lies. First, the unborn baby inside of Elizabeth leaps. Is it out of surprise of hearing Mary's voice or because he is reacting to the presence of the unborn Savior? We don't have to wonder, because a Elizabeth tells Mary that he leaped out of joy.
The leaping is usually the part of verse 41, but maybe the second result of Mary entering the house is just as interesting: Elizabeth is "filled with the Holy Spirit". That likely indicates that the words she speaks next are inspired by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit lets her know that the baby is feeling joy at Mary's presence. We can infer, because of the rest of her greeting, that it is really the Lord's presence that causes the joy and not simply the presence of a second expectant mother. Since we've already seen that John would be filled with the Spirit himself (even in the womb), we get a glimpse into what that might mean. Isn't it interesting that an unborn child can feel emotion?
Another result of Elizabeth's having the Holy Spirit is that she already recognizes that Mary's baby is special in that He is the Lord. She even pronounces a blessing - or rather the Spirit, through Elizabeth pronounces a blessing - on Mary recognizing Mary's great faith that what the angel told her with come to pass. There is a blessing on any person, even today, who believes in Jesus as the Savior.
As we learn in other Scriptures, however, just pronouncing a belief is insufficient. Every believer should be compelled to be obedient to the receive fulfillment of the blessing. Take note that Mary didn't just receive the message from the angel and sit on it until the birth: instead, she did everything the angel told her, also trusting that her husband had also received divine instructions. Without their obedience to the warnings and directions, the birth itself would be in danger. God wouldn't have that happen - proof that He selected the right couple to carry out His plan.
While I have another former student working in the medical profession...
While I have a student anchoring local news and weather...
While another student is pursuing a career in the Space Force...
While students are all over the place, TAYLOR is going to be my legacy, teaching in the regular classroom in the near future, taking what we did when she was in my fourth grade class, making it her own, and rising to the next level.
When Adolf Hitler’s mighty armies drove all before them to the beaches of Dunkirk, England, the British Empire faced what they probably still regard as their “darkest hour”. The land forces were stranded on the beaches, with the ocean in front of them and the German hoards bearing down on them from behind.
It is true that those British soldiers were rescued by a flotilla of little, privately-owned boats, but the nation was now threatened with a German invasion, and ill equipped to repel it. Winston Churchill was then Prime Minister of England, and had he come across with a miserable, pessimistic message, all might have truly been lost. He did not do that. Rather, he said, with a firm and courageous voice, “We will fight them on the beaches, we will fight them in the streets, we will never surrender.” Churchill stirring, inspiring, motivating message gave encouragement and hope to a nation on its knees, and brought them forward to final victory.
In the days of the church’s infancy, despite remarkable growth, there was much reason to expect despondency and even pessimism. On numerous occasions the apostles were imprisoned (Acts 5:18), Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7), James was beheaded (Acts 12:2), the Jerusalem church was scattered abroad, leaving only the apostles there to begin all over again (Acts 8:1).
But pessimism and despondency did not prevail. Though Christians were scattered far and wide, they, with amazing courage, went everywhere preaching the Gospel (Acts 8:4). Amongst all this persecution, Paul and Barnabas set off on their missionary journey (Acts 13). What a positive, optimistic, courageous attitude in the face of enormous opposition! Later, the apostle Paul writes with great conviction, One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13, 14).
Allan E. Flaxman, a Gospel preacher in New South Wales, Australia, asks, “What should our attitude be in this 21st century? There is much to discourage us. The Lord’s church is showing serious signs of weakening. Far too often there appears to be an all-too-frail defense of the truth. How often, these days, do we hear the cry of “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent,” and “For us, the Bible alone is final and binding,” and “No book but the Bible, no creed but Christ,” and other such words of determination to stand firmly on the Will of God? Not nearly enough!”
Let’s take the courageous attitude of the infant church. We rub shoulders with the lost every day. May God give us the courage we need to mount a real effort to reach these lost with the Gospel message which alone can snatch them from the flames of Hell before it is forever too late.
One poem ends with this verse:
To fallen men, a dying race,
I can proclaim that the church is perfectly capable of reaching forward to what lies ahead. Like Churchill, like Stephen, like Barnabas and Paul and James, and others, we press on toward the goal. We press toward the goal for the prize: the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.
"If you don't take the time to do it right,
you'll find the time to do it twice."
Gabriel, the angel, tells Mary that the Holy Spirit and the Most High will be involved from the very beginning - that is, from conception and throughout the boy's life. Again, there is no need for Mary to fret about His safety. Instead, she must trust in God and obey His instruction.
In fact, there is another child, a cousin, he announces. Elizabeth is also miraculously expecting, but her family grows through the seed of her husband, Zechariah. As much as it might bring comfort to Mary, not being alone in her expectation of a child, Mary's pregnancy is different. Scripture makes a point to let us know that Mary is a virgin. This is to fulfill Old Testament prophecy concerning the coming Messiah, but it is also to ensure that we understand that Jesus could not physically be the Son of Joseph or any mortal man. He is to be the Son of God.
"Nothing is impossible with God." That's an understatement, but one of which we must always remind ourselves. God uses the unlikely vessel of a virgin girl to deliver His Son to the world. That's not something we should overlook in a study about our Savior.
Mary responds to the entire message from the angel in humility. Calling herself "the Lord's bondservant" indicates that she knows her place in the plan and that she concedes to the mission. What a huge responsibility! What a huge thing for a young newlywed to accept after being surprised with just a few minutes of talking with this unexpected visitor! Am I as willing to accept God's marching orders as Mary? What must I do to be more receptive of my Christian duties?
This is quite a list, and many of the bullet points do seem to weave into others. The point is made in order to emphasize the cracking system. Is it possible to tape up the cracks or rebuild the system and make it better? I give you a resounding, "Maybe!" It has broken before, and it may be on the verge of snapping apart again, but it doesn't have to if people will realize that there are better attitudes and approaches that can get education back on track in the United States. We should be the envy of the world, but I'm afraid that often we receive laughter and scorn instead. Why not work together to build a better world?
All of his ornaments have the distinction of being animals, so this year we chose an amphibian. This particular amphibian transforms from tadpole in the water to a frog on land.
This year, his ornament is a frog wearing a festive scarf (as most frogs do in the winter, I am told). We felt like the tadpole's transformation into a frog was the closest we would find to represent his choice to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. He, too, rose from the water as a new creature.
Biblical unity is based upon common teaching and practice. First Corinthians 1:10 mentions that there should be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. Such common teaching and practice must come by following a common standard. Obeying God involves doing the sum of what He said rather than some of what He said. Remember what the Psalmist declared: The sum of Thy word is truth, And every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting (Psalm 119:160).
Many believe the Bible is completely inspired. Second Timothy 3:16 tells them, All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. Yet, some who claim belief in the Bible as completely inspired adopt a cafeteria-style approach to it in which they pick the parts they like and put them on their theological food trays, while rejecting other portions that fail to appeal to their taste.
Jehoiakim has this attitude. In Jeremiah 36:23, he listens to Jehudi read the Word of God, and upon hearing the prophecy of Babylonian captivity, took the scroll, cut it with his penknife and cast it into the fire. Jehoiakim wanted only some of God’s Word, instead of the sum of God’s Word.
Obedience is doing all that God says. Concerning teaching, Matthew writes that we are to teach all nations to observe all that He commanded (Matthew 28:20).
One of the most dangerous words in the English language is “partial”. After a big snowstorm, for instance, the news may report that streets have been partially cleared. Those few patches of snow and ice are still treacherous. In fact, the cleared spots can cause us to be too confident about our ability to navigate.
Jesus’ mother once gives some good advice that we should still follow today: She says, "Whatever He says to you, do it" (John 2:5). Paul told the Ephesian elders that he had not shrunk from declaring the whole purpose of God unto them (Acts 20:27).
Preachers today, too, must preach God’s whole counsel, not just the parts that may be popular in the current generation.
Second Timothy 4:2-4 commands: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.
A small church just getting started couldn’t afford a sign to go in front of their building. The furniture store in town got a new sign about that time and gave the church their old one. It even lit up at night! They painted over it and put it out front. After some years, though, the paint began to peel. It said, The church of Christ meets here. And where the paint had peeled off it read (underneath): Easy Terms. We must never make easier terms than Jesus gave! Jesus said, And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Mark 10:21).
Sum is much better than some.
Isn’t it marvelous to understand that our treasure is worth more than we possess? Isn’t it remarkable that we have a text that is completely understandable and entirely truthful? May we all give the sum of our spirit to follow the sum of His Word!
"Words that soak into your ears
are whispered, not yelled."
I'm excited to announce that the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (GLI) has recruited me to provide support for one of next summer's online teacher seminars.
The partial message from GLI is below:
We have been hard at work planning our 2023 summer professional development, which includes a slate of twelve Teacher Seminars held online this coming summer.
This seminar examines Spanish, French, Dutch, and British encounters with Native peoples of North America during the initial centuries of colonization: 1492–1800. It combines the “Atlantic” approach to early America with a “continental” approach that accords dynamism and agency to Native peoples and enslaved African peoples in their relations with colonizers. This seminar defines colonial America broadly, extending beyond the British colonies of the North American coast to include New France, New Spain, and the West Indies.
I know that I will learn more than the participants as I prepare for the seminar.
The responsibility laid at the feet of this young virgin girl is tremendous. Perhaps it was not the fear of the angel that Gabriel told Mary to dismiss as much as it was the fear of what was to come. After all, her responsibility does not end at the manger: she is going to raise and protect this "Son of the Most High" throughout His life. David's throne is at stake if she fails. The house of Jacob is at risk.
But the angel tells Mary not to fear because she has found favor in God's sight. The Boy's Name will be Jesus, meaning "God is Salvation". God will protect His Son, the throne of David is safe, the house of Jacob will remain, and kingdom being established will last for eternity. This is God's only begotten Son (John 3:16), and His Plan will not - can never - be derailed. There is a lot of power in that thought. With the protection of His Son and His Plan, comes the protection of faithful believers as well.
It is important to note that no one bows down to Mary. At no point in inspired Scripture is there any instruction to pray through "the mother of God". She is never established as an intercessor for our prayers. The Son is the Intercessor. It is through Jesus that we find our connection with the Father. No other human has the authority to approach God directly as a go-between or interpreter of our prayers.
We know the educational system is not perfect, but that should not keep us from recognizing places that could be improved. In a series of articles that identify a number of areas where the system could be corrected and placed on a better trajectory, I am offering some suggestions to that effect. What you read below is the fifth installment.
I hope that someday we stop repeating the cycles that have proven to fail our pupils. When do educators finally begin to learn from history and correct the mistakes of those who have come before us? There is no reason we cannot tweak things to make them constantly improve rather than all the time throw out the babies with their bathwater!
Our daughter tackled a major new adventure at the University of Oklahoma, with her first extended stay away from home, marching with the Pride of Oklahoma, and working with the campus outreach center, even planning to participate in a Spring Break mission trip in Arizona.
Our son began his new life as a Christian, after making the most decision of his life to be immersed for the forgiveness of sins.
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