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46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” – Luke 1:46-55

Waterfall | Near Branson, Missouri | October 2021

During a particularly challenging time of ministry I read something that resonated deeply to me: More pastors die of a broken heart than an over-inflated ego. I’m not certain that is true, for we public people have to possess some degree of ego in order to stand up in front of a group and offer a sermon. Sometimes that can be a healthy ego. Sometimes, however, the ego takes over.

Sadly, I’ve seen too many pastors whose gifts send them beyond the success that their character can support. Such is the danger of celebrity leaders. Unless sustained by vast amounts of character, celebrity leaders pose the most grave danger to the church and even the faithful. The combination of high capacity leaders who have low character reserves is potentially the most dangerous dynamic in a church. Such leaders are all about self-promotion. 

Jesus is not only high in character. He is also completely unconcerned with self-promotion. Mary will bring glory to God and magnify his name and fame. She is, however, not a mere carnival barker. She is not interested in gathering a crowd. She is not trying to gin up support or hype God. She is simply extolling God’s glory, mercy, and majesty. She is focusing our attention on the One who can handle the fame – to say the least – and who we need to worship. 

Mary’s glorification of God is not for his benefit. It’s so we will be directed toward the source of true joy, hope, life, and salvation. We may get distracted by celebrities and led astray by those who lack character. She is focusing our attention and directing our faith toward the Mighty One who has done great things. She is reminding us that the True God casts down the mighty from their thrones, and fills the hungry with good things. He is truly worth being magnified – not for his ego’s sake, but for our faith and devotion. 

Christy Nockels and Todd Agnew offer this version of the Magnificat…

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” – Luke 1:46-55

Caught in the Sun | Cypress Creek Park, Texas | November 2021

I remember like it was yesterday. Our youngest son had been born 7 weeks premature. And though he was given an “8” (out of 10) on the APGAR scale, there was a grave potential problem. He presented symptoms associated more than 99% of the time with cystic fibrosis. This is a grave disease with many implications. But the symptoms don’t determine the presence of the disease. A sweat chloride test does. On the day of the test, we went to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Diane was quite calm. I was deeply worried. Then the results came back: Negative. I was elated. Relieved. Thankful. I praised God. 

Other times come to mind: when our house sold after 6 months of a very dead real estate market. When Diane said, “Yes.” When our family was all together for our grandson’s baptism. All times of great gladness and praise to God.

There are other times I should have been thankful to God. These might not be as obvious occasions. They were times of challenge and cross-bearing. When I graduated from seminary and was given my first call – far from home and in a situation I knew little about. During some of the difficult years in a church I served that had a history of bad pastor/people relationships. When I first began serving a large church with little staff and more challenges than I realized at the time. These too, are times to praise God. For they force us to relinquish any illusion of control we might have. They force us to rely on God.

This is what Mary does here. She has been told she would bear the Savior of the world. She has visited her cousin Elizabeth. She has heard the exclamation of joy as Elizabeth’s baby leapt in her womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. But she knows that which is before her is beyond her strength, wisdom, power, or ability to navigate. She praises God because she believes that the Mighty One has done great things in her. And she believes he will continue to bless and keep her in his loving care. 

When we teach at PLI or in my work with congregations in the planning stage, I like to talk about moving a congregation from a cozy status (lots of invitation and little challenge) to a breakthrough/kingdom-seeking mode of ministry (lots of both invitation and challenge). When you make that move, you go through the “valley of the shadow of death.” That’s the difficult place of discouragement and battle. You want to give up. You see that the challenge is greater than the resources you have. 

And that’s actually a good place to be if you look to God in those times. We praise the One who sees us through those times, charts a course for our blessing. Provides for our needs, and give us joy in seeing his kingdom come among and through us. This is what Mary does here. She knows her limitations. But she knows and believes more deeply in God’s favor and power to bring her through. 

Maybe you’re in a difficult place these days. Challenges may be from your family, or within your own sinful flesh. The hills may be steeper and taller than you think you can climb. But if you know God has called you to climb those hills, you can rejoice as you lay aside any presence of your own abilities, powers, wisdom, and strength, and lean on God’s promises, faithfulness, power, grace, and goodness to see you through. 

Is it time to praise God? Certainly when all is well. But also when we are struggling through the dark valleys that come into our lives. Praise God with me today!

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46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” – Luke 1:46-55

Caught in the Sun | Branson, Missouri | October 2021

It was hymn #1 in the Broadman Hymnal, the hymnal that we used in the church of my youth. I loved the hymn and still do: Holy, Holy, Holy. It is a hymn of praise. Now, however, I have a number of other favorite hymns of praise. This is the Feast, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, The Lord My God be Praised, When Morning Fills the Skies to name just a few. Of course this song of praise, Mary’s song, is high on that list as well. And there are so many beautiful versions of it. 

But hymns of praise serve purposes beyond their beauty. They set things in their proper perspective. When we praise God, we acknowledge his majesty, power, goodness, mercy, love, faithfulness, and holiness. He is like no other. And as we sing his praise, we realize – hopefully! – that there is no other who deserves such glory. The best athlete, finest artist, greatest musician, or most famous actor hold no candle next to God. He alone is worthy of all praise. 

And because of that, we can also put our problems, troubles, pains, fears, and enemies in their proper place: under the reign and rule of God. The difference between us and our enemies, fears, and problems, however, is that we live under the reign and rule of God in a relationship of grace by faith. All those who do not acknowledge God’s grace and goodness, power and majesty, live under his reign and rule, but without hope.  We can look on all those things from the perspective of God’s grace, and place them under him. They do not rule our lives. They do not control us. We do not worship them. We do not serve them. We love, serve, and worship only God. He alone gets the praise.

By this we are reminded also of our own place. We are not God. Life is not ours to judge. We do not get to tell God what to do or call him to account for his actions. Job tried that and was called to account for doing so. He repented in dust and ashes when God did finally confront him. But take note: repentance is better than bitterness, resentment, anger, and arrogant unbending pride. 

When we fail to put ourselves in proper perspective before God, we had better hope God does come to us in ways that lead us to repent – even if it must be in dust and ashes. As we do we discover that the God we praise is not only all-powerful, mighty, holy and majestic. He is also merciful, gracious, loving, and good. And true praise acknowledges all those things. It brings us back to God and gives us the kind of joy Mary speaks of in this song. When we praise God, he is glorified, our predicament is put into perspective, and we are reminded of our true place: a place of repentant hope and joy because of who God is. Thanks be to God!

This VOICES8 version of the Magnificat is beautiful and well worth the listen…

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Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.” – Luke 1:46-55 [NLT]

Spring-Fed River | Roaring River State Park, Arkansas | October 2021

Once in a while I must invoke the Rick Warren Rule. When I was studying at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, we visited Rick – who was also enrolled in the D. Min. program there. He shared some of his insights at that early stage of his church’s development. He told us, “If my bullet fits your gun, shoot it.” I like that image – inappropriate as it may be in these days of gun control and gun rights sensitivity. But the message is a reflection of Ecclesiastes 1:9, “…there is nothing new under the sun.” It’s all been said before. The only truly original One is God himself.

So when I heard Alistair Begg’s message on Mary’s song, and his title, I decided to grab his bullet. Mary’s witness here is that God is mindful, mighty, and merciful. What a delightfully-powerful combination that is! He is not just aware of our needs. He is not merely powerful. His heart is not only open to us in our time of pain. His mindfulness is not impotent. His power is not ruthless. His mercy is not amorphous. Or put more positively: His mercy is connected to his awareness of our true needs. His mindfulness leverages an immense storehouse of power. And his power is directed thoughtfully. 

Diane and I are working on mindfulness. Being fully present with each other. Not being distracted with screens or other diversions. I’m reminded of Elijah’s taunt of the prophets of Baal: And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). Idols are mute. They serve only to distract us. They can offer no real benefit. They provide only what we invest in them. 

God is no idol. He is keenly aware of our needs. He knows our frame (Psalm 103). Not one sparrow falls to the earth apart from his knowledge (Matthew 10:29). God knows our needs even before we ask of him in prayer (Matthew 6:8). Even before we speak he knows our thoughts (Psalm 139:4). God takes notice of the humble (v. 48). God knows and cares about all his creatures. He is present with us. God is mindful.

“God is not a wimp.” Bruce said that to me years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. And sometimes we try to resolve an inexplicable mystery and paradox: God is all-powerful. God is loving and good. Yet evil exists and intrudes into our world and lives. How do these three go together? Such a question leads us away from God toward doubt. Better we should ask, “What does God do about evil?” (Check out Michael Ziegler’s excellent message about this on The Lutheran Hour podcast.) This is a profound mystery: God dealt with evil by laying aside his power, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient to the point of death. And in that powerlessness evil was defeated! That is a paradox beyond comprehension.

God’s heart is also tender to us. He is not just present and powerful. He allows himself to feel our pain – and in no trite manner. His mercy is to those in need, for which we can all say thanks be to God. In fact, we can sing…

My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you,
You have looked with love on your servant here, and blessed me all my life through.
Great and might are you, O Holy One, strong is your kindness evermore.
How you favor the weak and lowly one, humbling the proud of heart.

You have cast the mighty down from their thrones, and uplifted the humble of heart,
you have filled the hungry with wonderous things, and left the wealthy no part.
Great and mighty are you, O Faithful One, strong is your justice, strong your love,
As you promised to Sarah and Abraham, kindness forevermore.

My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, and my spirit rejoices in you,
You have looked with love on your servant here, and blessed me all my life through. – Holden Evening Prayer

 

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46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” – Luke 1:46-55

Dead Tree Standing | Table Rock Lake, Missouri | October 2021

Walt cracked wise. “It’s the virgin Dave,” he said. He was a seminary classmate. Quite intelligent. A good guy. With a quick wit. I had been chosen to sing the Magnificat for the Seminary Choir’s Advent Concert. I’m not certain how I got the part. We had some excellent altos in the choir. And the range was high for me. But I sang it. We did some beautiful music in that choir. The Magnificat is among the most beautiful. 

For these four weeks, I will be reflecting on the four songs of Advent: Mary’s Song, Zechariah’s Song, the Angels’ Song, and Simeon’s Song. Luke has them all. All of them have music attached to them – added much later. And, more important, all teach us about God. 

We begin with Mary. The first promise of a Savior was given to a woman: Eve. The first announcement of its imminent fulfillment is given to a woman: Mary.  In these days of urgent awareness of women’s rights and standing, this fact lays to rest the idea that God is anti-woman. Luke, more than any other Gospel writer captures that truth. We will see women attend to Jesus’ needs, be counted among his disciples, and recognized in their own right all through Luke’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry. 

Here we have Mary’s witness to God’s greatness, and her commitment to honor him, magnifying him: making him great in the eyes of the world. Mary does not make God great. She recognizes his greatness. Mary does not proclaim herself blessed, she believes God’s message through the angel that she is blessed. Mary does not offer herself as an intermediary between us and God. She offers her praises to God, and claims a place of humility and modesty before God. She calls him her Savior.

Mary gives witness to God’s grace and greatness. As such she serves as an example to us as a faithful witness to the world. Her assertion, “from now on all generations will call me blessed,” has little to do with her character and everything to do with God’s mighty things done for her. Her song isn’t really that much about her humility as it is about God’s greatness. 

I may have sung the Magnificat at the seminary. But I am no Mary in any other way. I am, however, blessed by God, a witness to the reach of his grace, and testimony to his goodness, faithfulness, and love. And I will sing his praise with joy as long as I have breath. That’s one of the reasons I love this season. The majesty and grace of God are so beautifully expressed in the songs of the season. I hope you will join me in singing them…to the glory of God and as a witness to the world.

 

For your personal edification and reflection on this Lord’s Day…

Psalm 28:6-9

Blessed be the Lord!
    For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
    and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
    he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
    Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Psalm 58:10-11

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
    he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
    surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

Psalm 88 

[Note: This is a Messianic Psalm. Read these words as Jesus praying from the pit in the basement of Caiaphas’ palace. When we visited Israel, I read it in such a pit. At the last words, the guide turned off the lights. It was completely dark. A stunning experience!]

O Lord, God of my salvation,
    I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
    incline your ear to my cry!

For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
    I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
    my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
    I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
    Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
    or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
    or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But I, O Lord, cry to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
    Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
    I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
    your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
    they close in on me together.
18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
    my companions have become darkness.

Psalm 118:1-4, 24

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lordsay,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

24 This is the day that the Lordhas made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
    praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
    praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon,
    praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
    and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord!
    For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
    he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.[a]

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
    stormy wind fulfilling his word!

Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all livestock,
    creeping things and flying birds!

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
    princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together,
    old men and children!

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his majesty is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his saints,
    for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the Lord!


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This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.
All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia.
May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. – Galatians 1:1-3 [NLT]

Dear brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. – Galatians  6:18 [NLT]

Goldenrod | Bentonville, Arkansas | October 2021

“Leaders lead. Leaders frame the question. Leaders speak first.” Lyle Schaller was teaching a workshop on leadership for a group of pastors. It has proven to be one of the most memorable continuing education experiences I have attended. He spoke from his notes on 3X5 index cards, and gave us one pearl of wisdom after another. Since that time, I’ve strived to have the first word. But I will usually say, “I want the first word, but not the last word.” I want others to contribute to decisions we make; I don’t want to be a dictator. I want to be a leader.

Paul has the first and last word in this letter to the Galatian church. More important that who gets that first or last word is the first and last word itself. Grace is the fist wish and the last blessing of this letter. And grace is a powerful word. Grace touches hearts. Grace changes lives. Grace makes it possible for us to know and relate to God. 

You’ve been disrespected by a family member again and again. Yet you refuse to pay back their unkindness, but return kindness and gentleness. That’s grace. You have an opportunity to help someone who has gotten himself into trouble. It’s his fault. You choose to help. That’s grace. You catch someone in a lie. They are embarrassed. You choose to offer the truth quietly, not pointing out the lie. That’s grace. You’ve been offended, hurt, damaged, and sinned against. The relationship is broken. You choose to go to your sister and ask for a reset. That’s grace.

Grace looks for opportunities to do good for others. Grace offers kindness even to those who have offended you. Grace is generous. Grace makes us vulnerable. But grace also changes hearts. The person who has offended you purposefully may take advantage of your grace. But if you really want to have a better relationship you will take the risk. 

That’s exactly what God did for us. He became so vulnerable, taking on human flesh, that he was killed by the very people he was trying to save. But that grace has made it possible for us to live with God. We are saved by grace. We live in grace. Grace is God’s first word to us and his lasting wish for us. Paul reflects that in this letter as well as so many of his letters. That would be a good thing for us to imitate in our lives every day. 

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Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
    finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!  – Psalm 107:1-8

Green Sprigs of Praise | Branson, Missouri | October 2021

As I celebrate Thanksgiving today, there are many things that come to mind for which I am thankful. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be with family during this holiday. I’m thankful for the abundant spread of foods that we will enjoy. I’m thankful for the fun we’ll have around the table at the meal, and afterwards as we play Catan with our grandchildren, or other games of their choosing. I’m thankful for family we’ll zoom or Skype with today. I’m thankful for the faith we hold in common, and pray that every family member will one day embrace the faith we hold so dear. I am thankful most of all for the substance and object of our faith: the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and the gifts of the Father, the giver of every good and perfect gift. 

This psalm is a helpful reminder, however, not only to be thankful for the blessings of God, but to the One who gives these gifts. Our God is a good and gracious God, who has revealed himself in his Son, Jesus Christ, and gave us his Holy Spirit to bring us to faith, keep us in that faith, and propel us to love and good works. 

An attitude of gratitude is a good thing. It has been shown to be a positive influence on peoples’ emotional wellbeing. There are plenty of people who will this day express an attitude of gratitude. They will also advocate for others to embrace gratitude as attitude especially on this day. That’s a good start. But the fullness of gratitude expresses that thankfulness to God, and calls him by name. 

Thank you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; one God, now and forever! Amen.

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. – Galatians 6:11-18

New England Aster | Branson, Missouri | October 2021

My experience in a congregation I served early in my ministry was a collection of difficult, anxious, hurting, angry, and distrustful people. One particularly difficult family was divided brother from sister in harsh criticism of and division from each other. The brother accused the sister of terrible if not immoral behavior. The sister said the brother was viciously unkind. I had my conclusions, though I tried as best I could to remain neutral. 

Then one day I encountered the bitter and viscous tongue of the brother. He was so harsh to me that I went reeling from an aborted visit to his mother in the hospital. Half way out of the hospital, I decided to turn around and apologize. When I did, the brother attacked me again! His tongue was rapier-sharp. It hurt deeply and I just left in stunned silence. 

Later, when I visited with his sister, I immediately had credibility with her and her daughter because I had experienced her brother’s vicious verbal attack. When her daughter expressed doubt about whether they could trust me, she said, “He knows Tom’s (not his real name) nature. He’s seen it.” I had an in with them both from that time on. 

Sometimes the bitter pain we bear can bring a credibility to a relationship. We who have faced the battles and suffered the scars of the fight can speak truth to their comrades in arms. The enemy of my enemy makes for a close fellowship.

Paul has suffered greatly for the sake of the gospel. He has suffered as a servant of Jesus for their sake. So when he brings his concerns about the circumcision party to their attention, he can demand that they give his concerns due consideration. He’s been in the battle. He’s fought for them. They need to listen to him, and give him his due. 

Have you gone to the mat for anyone? Have you fought the fight for their good? Have you suffered so that someone can know the truth. Have you been betrayed? Have you paid a financial price? If so, you have “cred.” Cred is short for credibility. It’s a gravitas and believability that comes from life’s hard knocks and shared battles. If you have cred, use it. Leverage it for the sake of the truth of God’s love and the grace of God in Jesus. 

Jesus has more cred than anyone else ever in the history of eternity. No one has suffered more. No one more sacrificial love. He’s gone to the cross for you. Listen to him. Let his grace and truth hold sway over all you do. 

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. – Galatians 6:11-18

Table Rock Lake Missouri | October 2021

I’ve had a conversation lately with a thoughtful friend about pride. His contention is that pride is behind every sin. Whenever we choose to depart from God’s ways, it is because we think we know better than God. That, he says, is pride. I haven’t fully accepted his idea, but we’ve had some edifying conversations. And he has a point…to a point. But there is also the matter of fear, selfishness, greed, and or any of the other deadly sins. Sloth, for example, seems different from pride. But pride is one of the fundamental or foundational sins. And there are few situations in which pride is anything but sinful. 

Enter Paul. He makes the point of boasting only in the cross of Jesus. And on a human level he could boast of many things; even godly or spiritual things. When he wrote to the church in Philippi, dealing with the same issue there, he wrote:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,  blameless. – Philippians 3:4-6

Paul makes the point here not to boast or even to tell the people he could boast if he wanted to. He simply says he will boast only in the cross of Jesus. This is no boast in the ordinary sense of the word. For the cross of Jesus is an emblem of shame and defeat. For someone to embrace the message of Jesus’ death is to admit to needing a Suffering Servant Savior, bloodied, abused, shamed, and forsaken, in order to be redeemed. This is hardly bragging territory. 

So boasting in Jesus’ cross is no boast in human terms. But it is boasting from the perspective of God. And insofar as we do this we are also honoring God, and our bloodied, abused, shamed, and forsaken Suffering Servant Savior. But there is a major twist here. For Jesus is not only bloodied, abused, shamed, and forsaken. He is also risen, exalted, and reigning at the right hand of God. Jesus is worthy of our boasting because he not only died for us, but has been raised to life and given the name above every name. 

Still Pau’s boast is not in Jesus’ resurrection, but in his cross. His suffering and death brought us salvation, and Paul realizes that anything else is worthless in comparison. Paul is actually boasting in his humility. But not about his humility. He is boasting about his Savior. And that’s a worthy boast for us all.