But God...

Few descriptions are complete without using the word “But.”  That is true because few things in our world are consistent from beginning to end.
“But” is an interesting word, a word with power far beyond its simple structure.  It is a conjunction implying contrast or exception,  “on the contrary,” “except,” “unless.”  “He was rich, but never learned to enjoy his wealth because he never learned to give.”  One assumes “rich” suggests some potential for enjoyment, but in spite of his wealth, joy is missing. Because is also a conjunction that implies consistency:  in the above sentence, lack of giving is consistent with lack of joy.  Possessing wealth is no guarantee of joy.  (I actually did not think of addressing giving in these sentences, but one could certainly infer that, in the least, I had subconscious intent to do so.  Perhaps.)
2 Kings 5:1 begins the story of Naaman, a very high ranking officer in the Syrian army, “the captain of the army of the king of Syria.”  He was a decorated veteran, and rightfully so.  He was valiant in battle, and successful, because strangely to us, “by him the Lord had given victory to Syria.”  The inconsistency in this man’s life of success was, “but he was a leper.”  
Leprosy was a terrible disease, a death sentence, slow but incurable.  Its early signs were often missed – perhaps nothing more than a white  flaky sore on the skin.  In its course, however, it changed every facet of one’s life.  Because of its contagion, the victim was ultimately isolated.  Because of its disfiguring factor, a specter of fear was associated with it; because of the spiritual overtones that developed with it, it was seen as a plague from God.  In Naaman’s case, perhaps the disease had not progressed far enough to be recognized by outsiders, but Naaman knew.  The “but” of leprosy negated all else he had accomplished.
One cannot leave the story without reading the whole chapter.  A word from a servant girl, a visit to a prophet, Elisha, a directive from God to dip or rinse seven times in the Jordan River, initial reticence to do so but ultimate obedience, and the God who was the source of his military victories became the God whom he encountered on a much more personal basis.
Scripture is not a narrative on the dystopian inexorable progress of sin nor the utopian dreams of universalism;  it is a description of God’s good creation, scarred and disfigured by “The Fall,” but anything but abandoned by God.  Each time sin is in the ascendency, God intervenes.  The principle is, “Where sin abounded, grace super-abounded.”  It is an exposition of “But God…”  This is not an idea of some cosmic game, but a struggle that is played out both on earth and in the heavens.  The God who interrupts and limits the alien contagion we call sin, yet seems to allow sin to continue to exist, has already declared its end; it and its author, Satan, and all who follow him, will be cast into the lake of fire.  Instead of God interrupting a world that is otherwise universally fallen, where sin does abound, the time will come when the leprosy of Naaman, the evil that brought on the flood, the spirit of hatred and violence that was the climate of the crucifixion of Christ, the iniquity that fuels all of the evils of man – it will all be destroyed, and there will be a new heaven and new earth where only righteousness dwells.
There are hopeless situations in life, that is, hopeless in our perception.  “But God” – the God who makes sure light shines into the darkest situations, sets the limits, interrupts, redeems, forgives, heals and delivers.  
 

Finally

When I was young I never realized it but kids really do grow up fast. The doctor delivers them (It sounds like FedX but they don't deliver them to your house, you have to pick them up yourself) as tiny infants; many would fit in a shoebox. The mother holds the infant to her breast and in one of the most touching, tender, inexpressible moments, mother feeds her child. That universally amazing moment of seeming perfection is captured by artists, photographers and writers - recorders of every kind. We want to preserve it, partly because, looking back, we will see time as only too short.

That infant begins to change, overnight it seems. Their cute and charming early indication of wanting to nurse soon becomes a somewhat irritating demand to have their own way. There is a reason the term "the terrible twos" was coined. My guess is, Adam and Eve began to notice the trait. The early excitement of going to school sometimes evolves into "Do I have to go?"

By age twelve, that sense of personhood is so developed, that their personhood sometimes clashes with ours. It is just a matter of a little time. Jesus asserted himself at that age. He did not run away during a temple visit; his parents left him, and when they finally discovered that fact, went back to get him. He was still in the temple, now in dialogue with the Jewish teachers who were amazed with this precocious twelve year old young man. His parents had left him, but in good parental fashion, rebuked him. Jesus seemed to go "off script: in modern thinking; he (the Son of God, and apparently very much aware of it) accepted the rebuke and followed obediently. 

Mary's memories of those moments may have flooded back into her mind when just thirty-three years later she was with several other women near the foot of a cross, a crude instrument of suffering and death, its use perfected by a brutal Roman government. Her son, the one who had nursed at her breast, hung there.

With his death certified by the soldiers, the professionals, permission was given for his body to be taken down and buried in a borrowed tomb. He would only need it three days. His resurrection was not a "maybe"; it was declared beforehand by God. It was God's immutable will - not just the resurrection, but birth, life, suffering, death, and finally, the resurrection. Read that again, "Finally" the resurrection. It was not part of a cycle to be repeated; it was a straight-line event, a "once-for-all-time" event, "finally".

Our time between Christmas and Easter seems so short that we can hardly get everything into the "program." From an eternal perspective with God, we will see the shortness of time here. We will not see how hard life was, but how little was asked by God, and yet how much He gave. The resurrection is the "finally" of this process, when death will have lost its power, when the grave will be useless for believers, when the same power that raised Jesus from the dead raises every person who has died believing in Christ in every age, from every nation, and the vision of Revelation 21 becomes a reality: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth... and I heard a loud voice..., 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men... and they shall be His people... and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will no longer be death.'" It is just a matter of time.

No Shortcuts to Understanding

A month before the birth of a baby a certain intensity seems to become evident. In the past year my family has been blessed with two more grandkids, a boy, Roman, the son of Matt and Jennifer in North Carolina, and a girl, Marciana, daughter of Jonathan and May, here in Kansas City. In both cases there was a strange mixture of anticipation, fear, excitement and impatience. The product is an atmosphere crackling with energy and incredible activity, things getting done that have easily been put off. 
 
The pre-birth of Christ must have had some of the same perspectives. Things had not been particularly easy during the time. Mary’s pregnancy had begun with a visit by an angel, followed  by a visitation of the Holy Spirit. I have heard many couples claim, “I don’t know how it happened!” Only Mary and Joseph, however, could truthfully say that. 
 
Having fathered and grandfathered children, I am glad the Heavenly Father took no short-cuts in the incarnation of His Son. His humanity, to be complete, necessitated the cooperation of Mary. It is His complete humanity, however, that is our hope. He was tested in all points like we are tested, scripture says. And so He understands. 

When "the unforeseeable" becomes reality...

This is the afternoon of "the day after," not the day after a nuclear attack, the Rapture of the Church of the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius, but the day after what is being called an "unforeseeable election result," the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. "Unforeseeable" is probably a euphemism for "I didn't see it coming." Most in one political party would probably express that, and even some in the party that prevailed. Handwringing on one side is matched by triumphalism on the other. How should a Christian react to the new reality?

Along with much practical effort, many Christians have spend much time in prayer for this nation and probably for the election of the candidate of their choice. If their candidate has prevailed, there is a natural sense of having accomplished something, a victory of sorts, with the work of God having been done. If one has prayed, and the opposing candidate has been elected, the feelings are difficult to define beyond disappointment and perhaps anger.

We must first keep right perspective. There was simply a process followed by a nation, a procedure that has been in place for nearly 250 years established by a Constitution - and it worked again. Another person has been elected to become president. Besides this, his party has prevailed in Congress. Nothing else, however, has been accomplished. The poor are still poor, the homeless are still that. If one had cancer before the election, he probably still is afflicted. Hundreds of millions of individuals still have never heard a real gospel message. The plight of the orphan, refugee, girl held captive as a sex slave, mother who lost her son, man who cannot earn enough to keep his family alive: these have not changed. I wold suggest a pattern by which to live in the aftermath of this new reality:

-Refuse careless discussions of politics that might cause another discomfort or even offense; one is not more righteous based on whom one has supported in an election.

"Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord," Hebrews 12:14

-In place of election issues that have disturbed so many, cleanse your mind with advice from the apostle in Philippians 4, "Rejoice in the Lord... Let your gentle spirit be known to all men... be anxious for nothing..., whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute..., think on these things." Lesser things are not worthy.

-Understand that political victory is opportunity and responsibility to address issues of poverty, unfairness, oppression and the other realities that demean "those for whom Christ died," as well as recognizing a nation's greatness while leading it in humility. It is a time to rebuild a nation's strength while realizing that its real strength must be in the Lord.

-With the same faith with which we called on God to guide an election, whoever the winner, continue to call on Him to give the new leadership a moral compass that registers "true north" according to God's Word, and the strength of character to lead accordingly.

Pastor J. Lowell Harrup, 11-9-16