Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sing Along with Mary’s Christmas Carol

Moms sing to their babies, even while they’re in the womb. In tender tones, with tender tunes, they pray for, comfort and connect with them long before birth. (Want to live dangerously? Tell an expecting Mom "it" is just a fetus, a mere embryo.) We can learn much about a Mom by overhearing her Mommy-mutterings, her lullabies to her baby.

Did you know that Mary, the mother of our Lord, wrote one of the earliest Christmas Carols? Her song, found in Luke 1:46-55, is commonly called "The Magnificat" (Latin for "glorifies"). It was her response to her older, also-pregnant cousin Elizabeth’s greeting.

Hearing Mary’s scripture-soaked song, we find it filled with theology, an incredible grasp of Israel’s history and God’s covenant promises. One sharp Lass, was she. While God’s Spirit could have helped her say this spontaneously, it makes me wonder if it was Mary’s Mommy song, her well thought out and rehearsed gift she sang to yet-born Jesus.

Speculations aside, Mary’s words of praise – as we sing along - help us magnify and enlarge the Lord in our lives as His humble servants. To aid our sing-along, here are the words from Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said: "My soul exalts [magnifies] the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

"For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;

For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.

"For the Mighty One has done great things for me;

And holy is His name.



"He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.

"He has brought down rulers from their thrones,

And has exalted those who were humble.


And sent away the rich empty-handed.

"He has given help to Israel His servant,

In remembrance of His mercy,

As He spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham and his descendants forever." (NASB)

Hear her theme? The Lord is to be magnified and rejoiced over in our lives! As He caused her body to enlarge in pregnancy, she enlarged her heart of praise. While He distended her tummy, she extended His rule, swelled in her love and submission to Him.

Mary gives ample reasons to expand His place in our lives. The first stanza (vs. 46-48) speaks of God being mindful of the lowly, having regard for nobodies. Mary is Exhibit "A" of the socially invisible of her day: a young girl, a Jew (an oppressed people), from a nowhere place and family. If God was looking for an under-qualified, He done good.

Yet, God remembers and cares for the overlooked and oppressed. As Abraham Lincoln said, God must love the common man, because He made so many of them. God sees and has compassion on the hurting, the left out and left behind.

This is great news when we understand our spiritual status apart from Jesus: spiritually lost, blind and dead. We are justly damned sinners, who are hopelessly alienated from and even hostile to God. Talk about lowly - yikes and yuck!

Yet, as He did for Mary, God blesses us with gifts; eternal endowments. Mary became the mother of the Messiah, perpetually honored among women. We who were lost are found, forgiven, adopted, given spiritual life and sight (devour Ephesians 1:3-5; John 1:10-14; 5:24; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

Yes! The Lord is to be magnified and rejoiced over in our lives because He is mindful of the lowly and – second stanza – He is merciful to those who fear Him (vs. 49-50). Mercy is undeserved kindness, pity and compassion. It is what the condemned want and need; to be spared deserved punishment.

Singing about God’s mercy, Mary strikes a central chord in Israel’s history and hope. His acts of kindness and love were brought most fully to life by the Messiah’s coming. Careful: mercy does not betray a weakness in God. Don’t confuse kindness with weakness. As His mom sings, "He is mighty." It takes might to show mercy: to forgive,
rescue, provide and protect.

Mercy is not just feeling sorry for us, a passive pity. Both merciful and mighty, God "does great things." Mary would love this passage: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5 - ESV).

His is a holy mercy, too, not a compromising, sloppy sentimentalism. Read Paul’s take on mercy and justice in Romans 3:21-26. For God to demonstrate His righteousness, Jesus died in our place (mercy). That allows Him to be both just and the justifier of the ones who have faith in Jesus. Holy mercy!

Such mercy, Mary sings, is ongoing for those who fear Him (i.e. honor and obey; see Deuteronomy 5:10 & 7:9). Thus, Hebrews 4:16 invites: "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (NKJV).

Finishing Mary’s sweet serenade, the Lord is to be magnified because He is muscular on behalf of His humble people (vs. 51-55). The LORD God’s meaty and mighty right arm protects His own and swings at those who oppose Him.

God scatters and brings down the proud. Rulers, who think they’re invincible, answer to Him. If not in this life, there is a payday some day (Hebrews 9:27; Philippians 2:5-11).

Since God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6-10) it follows that we should humble ourselves before His mighty hand so He can exalt us (1 Peter 5:5-9). Mary is again a great example of this, as was Moses, as is Jesus. Are we?

Listen to His Mother! God helps His covenant people (vs. 54, 55). Just as He kept His covenant with Abraham, so too with the humble of all ages. Want God to scatter or dethrone you? Stay proud, self-reliant. Want God on your side, to be exalted? Be one of His humble people: believe in, call upon Him (Genesis 15:6; Romans 10:8-13; Galatians 4).

Mindful of the lowly, merciful to those who fear Him, mighty on behalf of His humble people, no wonder Mary sang! And so must we, enlarging His presence in our lives, extending His rule and imprint.

Is He growing in you? Are you showing? Is there "that glow" about you (Colossians 1:27)? Do you let Him impregnate every area of your life, knowing you will never be the same? Is He your God, your Savior? Are you His bondslave? He knows your state of life, your hardships and deepest needs, and He cares for you. Rejoice in His eternal blessings! Magnify the Lord!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Miss Ophelia S. Graff – what a woman!

a parable... or is it a metaphor . . . maybe an analogy . . .

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17 - KJV)

Miss Ophelia S. Graff – what a woman! She was Principal / Head Administrator at the local prep school, Kurious Academy. This select student seedbed was known for its products – trained, capable, ready young men and women. They were fit to face the challenges of life, yet life long learners; the fruit of the work of Head School Mistress Ophelia S. Graff.

Her secret? She had assembled a staff like none other. Her unequaled teachers were the toast of the county, the state in fact; a truly inspired lot. Not only did they know their stuff, had mastery of their material, they were gifted in delivery as well. Not content to use one approach, they sought creative means and methods to develop their disciples.

Miss Graff knew there was a difference between being exposed to information and being taught. Make no mistake about it, Kurious Academy’s graduates were well schooled. They had a solid core of fundamentals, knowing the basics and beyond.

Discipline issues? Sure, she had them. Her kids were still human. Nevertheless, she was ready for them, having assembled a top-notch team of "enforcers". They were skilled at fair and honest critiques of erring pupils. When a learner stepped out of line, Graff’s "Pupil Police" pointed it out, yet in always-appropriate ways.

Her philosophy: she knew that the student’s self esteem was helped best by not being allowed to continue in error, mistakes or malady. Fully aware that correction stung, she knew that life’s sting was far more potent, if not deadly, to those who were allowed to continue in folly. Miss Graff would have none of that; she loved here kids too much.

Yet, not one to just "bust" a student, catch them at their worst, she had a remedial education program that was specially designed for each student. No mere "Gotcha Granny", she loved showing the correct path, the right way. Aware that "any old mule can kick down a barn," she reveled in barn raisings – building up her students.

Funny thing: she noticed through the years that caught-and-corrected students – when treated with love and grace – were her best alumni, prized pedagogues. They - now even more ready to learn - could be trained for life, equipped for service to others. No teacher’s pets, these eager beavers saw that data had daily implications.

Diplomas were not exit documents, get out of jail passes. Indeed, rather they were contracts to commence and use what each had learned. If they thought she expected much from them while her students, her expectations of her trained and tutored ones was even higher. Having been shown the way, they were expected to walk it – living a life of service, giving back.

Seemingly omnipresent, she was known to show up in former student’s homes, work places, and family gatherings just to remind them of their duty to be and to do. "Use what you learned" she cried out. "Come back any time for further classes" she offered, sincerely inviting them back for continuing education programs that rivaled any place of higher learning.

Miss Ophelia S. Graff – what a woman! And what a name: Greek was the rumored heritage. Ophelia was from a Greek word that meant "profitable, useful". Graff was Greek for "writings" (heard the word graphic?). The "S": why that is for scripture, silly. And Kurious means "the Lord’s".

With her name spelled out for you, see if you can make decode my little parable by reading its source: 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, here given in a variety of translations:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (KJV)

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (The Message)

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. (New Living Translation)

God’s multifaceted, hard working Word

an outline of 2 Tim. 3:16, 17

God – ever orderly - uses His word in a powerful process to repair and prepare us for service. His beneficial Writings are "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). Why? He has in mind a prized product: "so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (vs. 17 - NIV). As times get harder before Jesus’ return, we must stay faithful to God’s singularly sufficient word. As The Message puts it: "Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us." Let’s learn more about it from 2 Timothy 3.

Paul warned Timothy: 1 "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days… 13…evil men & impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving…"

An Ounce of Prevention: 14 "You, however, continue in the things you have learned & become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them"

The Scriptures we are to abide in are (vs. 15-17)

* To be taught to Children: "…from childhood you have known…" 15

* Sacred, holy, different, unique: "…the sacred writings" 15

* Wisdom-giving: "…are able to give you the wisdom… (Ps. 19; 119)

* The only source of the knowledge of Salvation: "…wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

* God-breathed: "inspired by God…" (1 Pet. 1:23, 2 Pet. 1:20, 21; 3:14-16)
* Beneficial to the soul: "profitable…" (see Psalms 19; 119; Prov. 1)

* Part of God’s process of preparing us to Serve: "

profitable for…
1. teaching:
2. Doctrine. It is the source of our theology & world view reproof:
3. Rebuke, revealing where our lives do not match the Word correction:
4. Straightens out our crooked places;
shows a new way training in righteousness
practical readiness to live holy lives

Disciple (Gk.: paideia): Heb. 12:5, 7, 8, 11; Eph. 6:4

* Producing Prized Products:
17 "…so that the man of God"

"may be adequate" proficient, competent, capable

"equipped for every good work" (NASV) stocked, furnished

* Are you continuing in God’s Word, relying on its truth, heeding its corrections?

* God has trained you to serve others. Do you trust your readiness (2 Cor. :4-6)?

* Are you a spiritual anorexic? Wanna grow? Ya gotta eat (see 1 Peter 2:1-3)!

* You are in God’s employ. What kind of worker are you (Col. 3:23-25)?