NOSTALGIA?

For the past several years while on road trips and listening to oldies but goodies on the radio, the music has taken me back to my time in high school. Up until recently I would tell my wife the songs made me melancholy, but I don’t think that is the best word to describe my feelings. Last week I watched a video on Facebook posted by a guy I went to high school with of Simon and Garfunkel singing “The Sounds of Silence” and commented on the post: “listening to this takes me back and impacts me in ways I don’t fully understand.”

As I reflected on my comment, I wondered if nostalgic was a better word to describe my feelings. I looked the word up and the dictionary definition of nostalgia gets close to describing what listening to the music instills in me: “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” While I do not have a “sentimental longing” to return, I do have a “wistful affection” for my years of high school and college as well as “happy personal associations.” As happy and excited as I was to graduate from high and college, I clearly remember those were not the only feelings I had the night I graduated from high school and the day I graduated from college.

So much was going on not only in my life, but in our nation and the world during those eight years from 1965-1973. I’m sure readers who experienced those years remember the seismic changes, the progress, the unrest, and the tragedies. There certainly was a mixture of “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” I would guess those who are younger have heard reports and stories about what were tumultuous years.

As I write this post I am back in Cincinnati where I grew up and lived until 1975. This afternoon I drove back to my hometown, through the neighborhood in which I grew up, past where my high school used to be, and by a variety of other places. I had dinner with a high school friend I haven’t seen in 48 years. Tomorrow I’m having lunch with two long time friends from my youth ministry while I was in college. I am not feeling melancholic, but I do have a lot of wistful affection.

Even though it can be cruel at times, memory is a precious gift. It’s not just the music of my high school and college years that make me nostalgic, but lots of other things as well that remind of the life I have lived to this point. I am grateful as I look back, and optimistic as I look forward. And I am reminded of the truth of three trite phrases I have often heard and repeated myself: “things will never be the same,” “we can’t go back,” and “life goes on.” But that does not mean we cannot remember the past with wishful affection.

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WHAT IS LEGACY?

A good friend recently asked me in a phone conversation if I had any Bible references about legacy. She was leading a break-out session at a conference and wanted to include Scripture in the discussion. I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head, but I’ve been thinking about the subject since we talked.

One of the first things I did was look up the word in the dictionary and found that the first definition of legacy is “a gift by will especially of money or other personal property.” I knew passing on wealth was a part of legacy, but didn’t think of legacy as only, or even primarily, about it. When I consulted two Christian authors I was surprised—and disappointed–to note how much they wrote about money and wealth in their discussion of legacy.

Two and a half years ago when I stepped down after 30 years as pastor of Discovery Christian Church, I was honored by the theme promoted for my last Sunday “Celebrating a Legacy.” I can assure you the church body was not celebrating any financial gift I was giving as I left!

My preferred understanding of legacy is the second part of the definition as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” And the reality is what is transmitted or received can be either good or bad. The definition gives the illustration of a negative: “The war left a legacy of pain and suffering.” I’m confident all of us are aware of situations in which people have been hurt by damaging legacies passed on to them.

There are also many illustrations and avenues of positive and good legacies transmitted and received. I love the report of author Dave Ramsey who wrote “My grandfather left me an inheritance of character and wonderful memories.” I also appreciate his usage of the word inheritance to refer to something other than money and wealth. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that all of us are leaving and are going to leave a legacy. While wealth, education, and job or career are factors, legacy is about so much more.

To me, the most important aspect of a good legacy transmitted and received by those who follow is a person’s example. For the most part, one’s example is unintentional and far reaching. There will no doubt be some specifics that stand out to those impacted by our legacy, but there will also be innumerable incidents that don’t stand out, but have an accumulated impact.

Drawing from Ramsey’s comment, more than money and wealth, our most important legacy is about our character. And our character is shown by things such as how we treat others (including family, friends, strangers, those in need, our critics, and our enemies), how we respond to our mistakes (admitting and learning from them or denying and repeating them), and how we deal with problems. Again, in my mind, it’s about our example.

Understandably, we usually don’t think much about legacy until we realize we are getting older. Then, of course, we can’t go back and do it all over. What we can do, however, is use the realization to become more intentional from then on.

Jan and I moved to Texas in December to be closer to and more involved with our two grandsons. Interestingly enough, our home in Texas (not the one pictured above) is on Legacy Parkway. Is that prophetic for Jan and me?

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THREE TAKEAWAYS FROM THE CROSS

As we come to Good Friday and think about the cross, I want to share three truths about ourselves, about God and about Jesus from one of my favorite authors: John Stott.

“First, our sin must be extremely horrible. Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross. For ultimately what sent Christ there was neither the greed of Judas, nor the envy of the priests, nor the vacillating cowardice of Pilate, but our own greed, envy, cowardice and other sins, and Christ’s resolve in love and mercy to bear their judgment and so put them away. It is impossible for us to face Christ’s cross with integrity and not feel ashamed of ourselves.

Secondly, God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension. God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sin, guilt, judgment and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that. It is more than love. Its proper name is ‘grace’, which is love to the undeserving.

Thirdly, Christ’s salvation must be a free gift. He ‘purchased’ it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Since he claimed that all was now ‘finished’, there is nothing for us to contribute. Not of course that we now have a license to sin and can always count on God’s forgiveness. On the contrary, the same cross of Christ, which is the ground of a free salvation, is also the most powerful incentive to a holy life.”

Taken from The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott, pp. 83 and 84; pub. by IVP, 1986.

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WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

One of the ways we might call someone down when we think they are out of line is to ask them, “Who do you think you are?” Parents sometimes ask that of their children, a teacher may ask that of a student, and a supervisor might ask it of a subordinate. It’s clearly not a question seeking information, but an expression of disagreement with something said or done. More than that, however, it is an attempt to put someone in his or her place. During the final week of Jesus’ life leading up to His crucifixion a group of Jesus’ critics asked a similar question for the same reason.

It was the week of Passover and the roads were crowded with people going to Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday Jesus entered the city riding on a donkey with crowds cheering and spreading their cloaks and palm branches before him. It resembled the entrance of a king and must have reminded some of the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Certainly Jesus’ enemies noticed.

Then early in the week Jesus entered the temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers quoting Jeremiah 7:11, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Matthew 21:13). This action also got everyone’s attention, including his critics—who were not at all pleased.

Only Matthew reports that after this Jesus healed some who were blind and some who were lame. “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant” (Matthew 21:13). Matthew doesn’t record it, but this must have been “the final straw” because Mark tells us that after the money-changers episode, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at this teaching” (11:18). And so they questioned him.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this incident with only minor differences. Mark tells us the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders came to Jesus in the temple and demanded of Him, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you authority to do this?” (11:27 and 28). One of the things they had to be referring to by “these things” was Jesus throwing out the money-changers; but they were also no doubt going back to the way he had entered the city on Palm Sunday and everything else he had done since then.

They asked Jesus two related questions. They wanted to know what authority he had, and they wanted to know who gave it to him. In other words, as suggested above, “Who do you think you are?” They knew that to do what he was doing required some kind of authorization, and they knew they hadn’t given him that authority.

From these gospel accounts, it’s not immediately obvious what was behind this line of questioning. Perhaps they thought Jesus would claim the authority of the Messiah. He had certainly done and said things that suggested he thought he was the Messiah. But if he made that claim overtly the question was still relevant: who gave him that authority? Not only that, they might accuse him of blasphemy as they did a few days later when he was before the Sanhedrin.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had taught and acted in his own name and with God’s authority. That’s why his disciples followed him and crowds came to hear him. As a teacher Jesus was not like the other “official” teachers of the time. After Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (7:28b and 29).

As always, Jesus’ response to their questions was masterful. At this point he was not yet ready to directly tell them he was the Son of God, so he responded with a question for them. “Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” (Mark 12:29 and 30). On first reading, Jesus’ response seems evasive, but it really wasn’t. Is was the same basic question they had asked him, but Jesus’ question was not about himself, but John.

Jesus’ question of his questioners put them on the spot. All three accounts tell us they argued (Matthew and Mark) or discussed (Luke) with one another their two possible answers, neither of which worked for them. They had not accepted John’s message so they said to themselves, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’” (Mark 11:31). But because of John’s popularity they reasoned among themselves, “But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet’” (Matthew 21:26).

New Testament scholar Alan Cole suggests Jesus was not trying to trap them, but to give them the opportunity to admit they were wrong and acknowledge that both John and Jesus were legitimate. But they resolved their dilemma by giving the only answer they thought they could: “We don’t know” (Mark 11:33a). That answer, of course, did not help them, but it served to authenticate Jesus.

Note that Jesus did not deny he had authority, but responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Mark 11:33b). Many in the crowd that day, as well as Jesus’ critics, knew he approved of John as a true prophet. And John had approved of Jesus as a prophet and much more. If John’s authority came from heaven, then so did Jesus’ authority. Commentator R.T. France affirms, “No one who heard Jesus’ response could fail to understand the implied claim to continuity between his ministry and that of John, and therefore to a divine authority for it.” But in the way Jesus handled the exchange, those who questioned him could not use it against Him.

It is telling that these critics were unwilling to answer Jesus’ question. Even though they thought they knew the answer, they pleaded ignorance. But their non-answer was an expression of fear; not fear of bodily harm, but fear that the people would lose respect for them and their position. Ironically, their unwillingness even to answer Jesus’ question probably also resulted in loss of respect for them among those witnessing the exchange.

You and I know not only who Jesus thought he was, we know who he was and is. And we know where He got His authority. He was and is the Son of God.

(Adapted from chapter 10 of my book “Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses.” Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post on Facebook and other social media.)

 

DO YOU NEED THIS?

Although I’ve never participated in Ash Wednesday, like many Christians, for many years I have focused my devotional life in a variety of ways during Lent. As we approach Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, I have been intensifying my focus. Earlier this week I read something that has given me a fresh challenge during these last two weeks of the season.

I was reading a 2004 college commencement address by Dallas Willard and his definition of repent got my attention. He said “Repent means to change the way you’ve been thinking and acting.” I don’t know about you, but given that definition, I need to do some repenting.

Most of the time we think of repentance as something that is needed and takes place at the beginning of the Christian life. Both John the Baptist, as well as Jesus, called people to repent as they launched their public ministries. And on the Day of Pentecost, when the Church was born, Peter told those present they needed to repent.  Clearly there is an initial repentance in becoming a follower of Jesus; but I don’t think that’s the only time believers need to repent.

With Willard’s definition in mind, I went to an old book by William Barclay I remembered that had a brief discussion of repentance. In it he reports that repent “literally means an afterthought as opposed to a forethought. An afterthought, a second thought, is usually a changed thought.” It’s not as crisp a definition as Willard’s, but if you read it slowly it has some pop.

As I read Barclay’s description I could not help but think about Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal/Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32. In the story, after the boy had lost everything, Jesus tells us in verse 17 “When he came to his senses” he had a change of heart and decided to go home. Verses 17-20 paint a picture in Barclay’s words of an afterthought, a second thought, which was a changed thought. I think the boy repented.

The general understanding of repentance is that it requires three things: a recognition of having done something wrong, regret/sorrow for doing it, and a resolve to do better. I hope you see why I don’t think repenting is something limited to the beginning of the Christian life, but is needed throughout the Christian life.

Today through Easter Sunday seems to me like a good time to consider the practice of repenting. Beyond that, participating in the Lord’s Supper seems like an appropriate time. Would it be too much to suggest we give it some thought on a daily basis?

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