Some items from church this morning:
A. The youth pastor was talking about the numerical symbolism of various items in the church. One concerned the number eight: God rested on the seventh day after creation, but the eighth day marks God continuing to create. On thing that God continues to create is Christians, as he makes them new creations, conforming them more and more to the character of God. That stood out to me on account of a thought that occurred to me in my prayer time this week. Leviticus 14 talks about a plague that afflicts the house. The owner can remove the plague from the house, but sometimes the plague is so deep in the house that it needs to be destroyed and rebuilt. The plague of sin runs deeply in our characters, such that God needs to remake us. The thing is, this is a process, to be completed in the future. For many in the Reformed camp, the process is never complete this side of heaven. For John Wesley, some in this life can arrive at a state at which they love God and neighbor and a sinful nature no longer afflicts them, but, even then, there is always room for improvement.
B. The pastor chronicled examples of God’s numbering of people in Scripture. The Israelites in the Book of Numbers were counted in a census as part of God’s people. Jesus on earth was numbered with the transgressors. The disciples were to rejoice because their names were written in heaven. In the Book of Revelation, there are vast amounts of saints who cannot be numbered. The pastor said that many of us wonder if we are completely anonymous, but we matter to God and are counted by him. There was an error in the bulletin in which one of the Scriptural passages was the wrong one for that day, and the pastor said that he believed that God used that particular Scripture passage to bless someone in the congregation, either to convict or to encourage. In this season of advent, the pastor remarked that he thinks this is why Jesus was born during a census: to remind us that each one of us counts before God. The pastor did mention the examples in Scripture in which numbering is considered negative: the Israelites had to atone for their census in the wilderness, and God punished David for his census. I wonder how that would fit into his theological consideration of the issue.
C. The Sunday school class has been going through Max Lucado’s Because of Bethlehem series. This class has not been my cup of tea for a variety of reasons. It emphasizes small discussion groups, whereas I prefer Sunday school classes that are entirely lecture, with people in the larger group offering their comments. The pastor was even suggesting that we hold a partner accountable on reflecting on one of the questions in the booklet over the week, and that turns me off, as one who over the past twenty years has recovered from being in an evangelical small group. The booklet also seems heavy on law: feel this, do that, etc., whereas I tend to gravitate towards Lutheranism because it emphasizes human weakness and need for God’s grace, plus I am satisfied with my current devotional life and do not intend to add anything new. But I have been sticking with this class for a variety of reasons: people expect to see me there, I have appreciated the pastor’s personal reflections, I should be more interested in other people’s lives and where they think they have experienced God, and, every now and then, Max Lucado has some gem that I am glad to have heard.
D. The class this week focused on the wise men. The wise men were on a journey. Kids like to go on road trips because of the possibility of seeing something new. Parents, however, may prefer to stay home because of the hassle and planning that road trips entail. The wise men were on a journey to see something new, whereas Herod preferred to stay where he was, the status quo, in which he was in power. Others in the Jerusalem establishment were like that, too. The religious scholars in Matthew’s story knew the correct Scriptural answer to the wise men’s question of where the Messiah would be born, Bethlehem, but they did not accompany the wise men to Bethlehem, even though Bethlehem was not far from Jerusalem. Someone in class speculated that they promulgated biblical teaching for their own power, not because they believed it was the truth. While Matthew’s nativity story depicts the Jerusalem establishment rather dimly, Luke records that some in the Jerusalem establishment eagerly awaited the Messiah. Many of us prefer to remain in our comfort zones, even though God wants us to be on a journey, doing God’s will. Some of this resonated with me, and some of it stirred up questions in my mind. First of all, do I like journeys? I have never cared for road trips. Some of that has to do with car sickness, part of it is boredom, and some of it is that I prefer the comfort of home, and I see nothing wrong with that. At the same time, I do like to go on walks because of the possibility of going to new places, even though the new places never turn out to be that interesting, and I enjoy visiting new destinations in my dreams. Spiritually speaking, I do prefer my comfort zone over going on some nebulous adventure for God, though it is interesting to read about others’ adventures for God. Second, the lesson seemed to suggest that people need to be in the right state of mind to be receptive to God, even though Lucado also said that God in Christ pierces where we are with his presence. That may be biblical, since the Gospel depicts many missing the boat because they were in the wrong place spiritually. Still, I would hope that God’s grace can break through that, since I know that I am not entirely in the right place spiritually, as I have my share of pride, lust, desire for personal exaltation, and issues with God.