“Fear Not,” Charlie Browns of the World

Our Nativity Scenes conflate the differences in Luke and Matthew in wonderful ways. For one, we have the Magi from Matthew mixing with the Shepherds from Luke. There are differences, of course. Matthew has Jesus in a house and Luke has the birth in a stable. Matthew’s genealogy for Jesus goes back to Abraham and Luke’s all the way back to Adam. There are theological reasons for their differences, but, more than that, the differences highlight their primary emphases: Matthew and Luke wanted to present the facts of Jesus’ birth in ways that engaged their audiences.

Matthew’s audience was primarily Jewish, hence the genealogy going back to Abraham, the progenitor of the Jews (Arabs, too, through Ishmael). Matthew quotes the Old Testament more than the other Gospel writers, somewhere around four to one. All this focus on the Jewish people, fulfillment of Jewish prophecies and Scripture, is all very ironic since Matthew was a hated Roman Collaborator and Tax Collector, not a popular guy among his own people. It shows just how much Matthew loved his own people, and shows us how to love those folks this Christmas who get under our skin at family gatherings. But Matthew didn’t give up. He told his Gospel in a way that especially invited the Jewish people to believe in Jesus.

Luke, on the other hand, is a Gentile-focused gospel. His primary audience in his euanggelion are non-Jews. His literal “good message” or evangel reminds us why each Gospel writer is called “Matthew the Evangelist,” “John the Evangelist,” and so on. Each wrote to specific groups of people to best try to win these individuals to Christ. Luke’s shift from “they” to “we” about Paul and his entourage in the Book of Acts (Acts 16:10) is significant. It supports the common scholarly contention that Luke was a non-Jewish convert to Christianity. How wonderful it would be that we could find Gospel-bridges to the “nones” with no faith around us, to present the Good News of Jesus in engaging ways with our culture that welcomes and invites the outsiders to come inside.

So the focus of Luke’s evangelistic/euanggelion/Good News was the Gentiles. He quotes Jesus’ parables about the common lot of the Gentiles of his day. They were the ones most likely to be the least, last, lowest, and lost. In Luke, Jesus tells parables that would uniquely speak to those that were either poor in resources or spirit. Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, therefore, includes poor despised shepherds and a stable rather than a house and wealthy Magi. By the way, Matthew’s use of the Magi, given his heart for his own people, is more about the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy (Genesis 12:1-3) about a Jewish savior of the world than being pro-gentile.

Nevertheless, each Gospel writer remembered and shared the parts of Jesus’ history to reach a specific audience, or a general one in John’s case. This is one of the reasons why we can legitimately mix Magi and Shepherds in our crèches though they come from two different Biblical sources. Both make the same point, which is belief in Jesus Christ. That should be the point to us as well, and, in addition, there are lessons to be learned in making the Gospel accessible to all people whomever our hearers.

I, for instance, especially like the shepherds and the Gentile-focus of Luke’s gospel. Frankly, most of the Christians that I know today wouldn’t be Christians if it weren’t for the Lucan emphasis on God’s mission to poor Gentiles. That’s the spiritual and genetic background for most of the worldwide church. Jesus’ family tree in Luke that goes back to Adam emphasizes that Christ is the savior of all humanity, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. The question is, “Is He my savior?”

I resonate with the lowly shepherds, a despised bunch without rights or legal standing, who found themselves relegated to the outskirts of town, literally marginalized. With my mixed-blood heritage and a father who didn’t get past the eighth grade, it’s Luke’s message that speaks volumes to me. God’s angelic message of Jesus’ birth doesn’t go to the high and mighty, but to the poor and unaccepted. It’s to the shepherds that the message is given, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…” News for them, news for all – God’s love is not just for some, but for all – spoken to each human heart’s individual need; i.e., “For God so loved the WORLD…that WHOEVER believes in Him shall have eternal life.”

You’re included and so am I. I’ve played a humble shepherd in every Christmas pageant since I was a little boy. I never got promoted to being Joseph or a Wiseman. It was not only type-casting, it was true. I have often felt like a scared second-rate shepherd.

I also resonate with Linus from Peanuts fame who has always needed his security blanket. Maybe you do, too? Don’t we all want security? Haven’t we all sometimes experienced denigration and a lack of acceptance?

I am struck by something on this 50th anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when Charlie Brown shouts, “Isn’t there anyone who can explain to me what Christmas is all about?” It’s Linus, carrying his security blanket, who goes to center stage and says, “Lights, please,” before beginning his monologue. Then precisely when Linus quotes appropriately from Luke’s message to the hurting and lost; i.e., the shepherds, something amazing happens. It is exactly when he quotes the angel’s message of “Fear not” to the shepherds that Linus drops his trusty blanket. After that he goes over to Charlie Brown and says, “This is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Yep, there’s a message of hope to all of us Charlie Browns who never kick the football, and feel put down just like the shepherds. Jesus’ birth ushers in shalom and a whole bunch of “Fear nots!” that we all need to hear.

Drop whatever security prop you use. Me, too. Linus’ fear subsides and so will ours. This is what I need to hear this Christmas. Listen, “Behold, I bring YOU good news of great joy that will be for ALL the people.”

The Night Before

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Man, This night before your daughter has brain surgery is not easy. I am honestly caught between being freaked out wired with my palms itching and sensing non-existent fire ants crawling on my feet. My spirit is frazzled though I’ve been calling on the Lord all day for days – should have been doing that a little more, but, as they say, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” better late than never.

I really want to thank all of you for your thoughts and prayers for Narcie. Her surgery has been moved up to 11:15 am Eastern tomorrow Friday June 11. Tomorrow is Cindy’s birthday and I know what she wants: She wants Narcie whole and well. Narcie had a good cell phone call from her doctor last night that she wrote about on her blog: http://narciejeter.wordpress.com. I am going to try to blog my way through the surgery tomorrow or give you a recap when the doctor tells us the news and we get to see her.

I thought I knew what parent’s went through over these 30+ years of ministry when they lost a child. I had no idea of the aching hole in your heart, the overwhelming anxiety, the way that every nerve ending is hanging out to be stepped on by the slightest thing. I just didn’t know it could be this bad.

It was good to be at annual conference with Narcie last night and the part of today that we were there. When a person is ordained as she and I have been, and even her brother, Josh, as a provisional member, your membership is transferred from your home church to the annual conference. Of course as P.K.’s (preacher’s kids) they have had many “home churches” and I have mine at Edgefield UMC in Edgefield, SC, and they have all been and are appreciated. But still the annual conference is our intersecting link, our lodestone for our heritage and hope. It literally becomes your home church. It certainly felt that way today. Every hug was a prayer. United Methodist Connectionalism is going to help save us as a denomination and Wesleyan Movement because it is a vehicle for the most powerful witness of grace that my family has ever experienced. I cannot imagine going through life without the Connection which is not at its best a top-down or bottom-up connection, but is a horizontal one where we let God’s Spirit flow through us as equal recipients of Jesus’ love.

Pray for us tonight that the nerves settle down and that Narcie gets restful restoring sleep; that Mike rests well and is a continuing strength to her; that Enoch & Evy don’t get scared because they sense something is wrong with Mommy; and that Cindy gets her birthday wish tomorrow: Narcie, alive and well.Thanks again,
tim

Seasons of Love

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This is a waiting time and anybody who knows me, knows that’s not easy for me. We had an interesting day yesterday with Narcie and Mike while Mike’s Mom took care of Enoch and Evy Grace. There were 2 MRI’s, four doctors, two nurses, one of whom Narcie said was reminiscent of Dr. Gregory House of “House” fame. They didn’t tell us anything and the old adage, “No news is good news” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. This waiting place, a la Dr. Suess’ “Oh, the Places You will Go,” is a rough place, but we’ll all sit there time and time again. It’s what we do with the waiting that makes the difference I guess.

I’ve been pondering God’s word about waiting and being still. Psalm 46:10, 11 rings true: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Stillness and not panic; trusting in God -the God who in Jesus enfleshed Himself into our existence, the good and the bad – this is what is keeping me sane right now.

Psalm 46 caused me to remember II Chronicles 20 where Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (Which means “praise,” by the way) was surrounded by invading armies. He called for a fast and prayed (vs. 12b) “… We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel and he said, (vss. 15b, 17) “… This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. FOR THE BATTLE IS NOT YOURS, BUT GOD’S; You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; STAND FIRM AND SEE THE DELIVERANCE AND SEE THE DELIVERANCE THE LORD WILL GIVE YOU…” Then the neatest and most illogical thing was decided. Instead of putting his best troops at the front of his army, Jeshoshaphat put the choir up front (vs. 21b) “to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.'”

Then it says (vs. 21) “As they BEGAN to sing and praise…” the Lord defeated the enemies. So today in the waiting place I am going to praise the Lord, stand firm, and wait with hope, keeping my eyes on Jesus. Every bit of life is an opportunity to find that quiet place deep within ourselves where we exalt the Lord, not our fears. Life is fleeting and made up of minutes that are minute chances to love, not hate, to make peace and not hold grudges, to hear God’s voice above the cacophony of crows out to get us. Two of the songs that keep playing in my head are “Seasons of Love” from Rent and Five for Fighting’s “100 Years.” I’m praying for Narcie to have more and more seasons of love to add to the ones she’s already lived so well, a 100 years to proclaim Jesus’ love. With Jesus, eternity lasts even longer than that. It is a timeless truth especially in the midst of life’s frailties: Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.

I hope this inspires you as it does me to listen, listen and love, love, every minute.


This video/song underscores my desire that we appreciate every moment and never miss what we give away. In the words of Jim Elliott, great missionary who gave his life to take the Gospel to the Auca Indians: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Stuck in Life’s Cracks

>Well, Life does have its moments, doesn’t it? It’s a Monday morning and the week is backed up every day with appointments, meetings, letter-writing, conflict management and so much more. Every day the tyranny of the urgent is sudden, overwhelming, unexpected.

I feel like one of the disciples scared, apprehensive, and panicky on the boat with Jesus during the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I want Him on deck to rebuke the wind and the waves and say those all important words, “Peace, Be still!” I know in my head that Jesus is with me through life’s unexpected storms, but it’s my heart that is unsettled. The 18-inch connection between head and heart needs reconnecting this morning. I’ve had my devotional and prayed, but, nevertheless, sense a antsy anticipation of “What next!?” I know that it will be something, out of nowhere, and my — will be stuck in a tree, in a crack. Help me, Jesus, get loose and walk by faith and not by sight, to trust you when stuff happens – even as I wrote the first part of this sentence, my cell phone rang with something unexpected and before I could even finish this, my office phone rang with another crisis – such is life.
 
Yes, such is life stuck in the cracks, but the good news for me and you today is that Jesus has been in the crack, too, then broke free and will break us free. No matter what happens today, Jesus is on our side and will deliver us. He pulls us through – may it be so. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.