Eulogy for A Friend: Bill Watkins

April 1, 2014 • Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church • 2048 Carmel Road, Charlotte, NC

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Bill Watkins and I have been friends for forty years. We met while he was on staff with Campus Crusade and then worked together with Worldwide Discipleship Association.  I was Best Man at his wedding.

We had a lot in common.  (Except he had an IQ of about 10,000, and I didn’t.)  We both collected stamps, baseball cards, and books.  We also rooted for the same SEC teams, except when they played each other. And we read (and re-read) the same English authors: Sayers, Tolkien, Stott, and Lewis (to mention a few).

There’s another thing that Bill and I have in common: We both love, and are loved by, wonderful women who will receive a star in heaven’s crown for hazardous duty on earth.

Bill never held public office, or ran a company, or made a lot of money, or did many of the things that many people think evidence greatness.  But he was an exceptionally great person: a loyal brother, a good son, a faithful friend.

He never wrote that book we all kept urging him to write.  But (as you may already realize) he did something far more significant: HE WROTE LETTERS, hundreds and hundreds of them.  And those letters, written by a man who loved God supremely, changed many lives.  Mine was one that was changed.

I suspect that many of his friends have a “Letters from Bill” file.  I want to remember him, and glorify God, by reading just a few snippets of his correspondence, samples of his trade and indicators of his heart.  Once he sent a letter just because he loved the stamp.

A stamp which looks this good deserves to be mailed, and on an envelope worth carrying it. (Now I have an empty page to fill up to justify the postage!)  I think we Christians ought to forget about trying to build an American culture that is seasoned with Christianity. It’s too late for that. We need to a build a distinctively Christian culture, proper to a holy nation and a royal priesthood, and let it shine against the darkening common culture, while we still have the freedom to be openly creative.

One of the last times I saw Bill, we went book-hunting together.  It was one of our favorite pastimes with one difference: I collected books, but Bill actually READ them.

Friday was a depressing day, so I went book-browsing.  (An alcoholic should not go into a bar.)  I bought a 1913 edition of Hilaire Belloc’s: “The Servile State”. It was worth buying for the binding, but the contents are excellent too!

A good browser never stops with just the item he came in for.  He looks around to see if there are any chance opportunities.  Two books were lying on a bench, either put there by a clerk for later re-shelving, or left there by a customer. One of the books had an appetizing look to it. Sniffing it, I began to drool over its savory aroma. But a scavenger must be careful. The customer who left it might be back to claim his own.  Just to make sure, I circled around, and the book was still lying there! I went back and looked it over again.  Still cautious – a hyena is always nervous about a lion returning to claim his kill – but I left with the prize in hand!

In addition to his love of books, Bill loved discipleship.  (I was not surprised to hear that he was launching a new men’s group at church this month.)

May our ministry produce knights and kings – men who know how to wield power and rule wisely. In paradise we were meant to be innocent kings, wielding authority and power incorruptibly. Now power corrupts. Can there be such a thing as an innocent king? Can a man conquer his enemies, subdue rebels, dispense justice, levy taxes, and command loyalty without so using force that he loses his purity? Do innocence and power go together? Of course they do in Jesus! He is the only innocent King – and we renounced His kingship and assassinated Him.  Jesus is our stories-come-true. Innocence does sit on the Throne!

And sometimes it wasn’t what he wrote but what he quoted that made an impact. In ministry I was often embroiled in petty religious infighting.  In response, Bill cited C.S. Lewis:

“Men who have gods, worship those gods; it is the spectators who describe this as religion! The moment a man seriously accepts a deity his interest in religion is at an end. He’s got something else to think about!”

It may be old news, but I hear you and WDA have been through another period of stress. When big celestial bodies change orbits, they emit a burst of gravity waves and space-time perturbations. You must have a Guardian Angel keeping you from colliding, crashing, or breaking apart into meteorites and moon dust. Astronomy and planets are not ready for ‘Comet Dukes’ just yet. WDA will not disintegrate until The Sovereign Lord speaks the word. God continues to polish your hide to a glowing sheen. He must have a special purpose for you. The way the times are going, righteousness and godliness will be rarer than ever. Keep sowing the seeds-of-revival, they’ll sprout someday!

Oddly enough, Bill and I rarely lived in the same city at the same time, but he loved to come for visits and we loved having him in our home. He told me once that “Ebenhearth”, our home in Fayetteville, reminded him of Tolkien’s Rivendell, calling it, “The Second to Last Homely House West of the Mountains”.  After one visit he wrote Linda:

Households full of grace and wisdom seem to be disappearing.  Without Ebenhearth Bob would have a lower platform, far less credibility, and a great deal less joy.  The “Lady of Ebenhearth” adds something irreplaceable to his work.

In flipping through “That Hideous Strength”, I saw a line which brought Ebenhearth to mind. Merlin has made his way out of the ground and to the Manor of St. Anne’s-on-the-Hill and reflects to Ransom: “In all the house there are warmth and softness and silence that might put a man in mind of paradise terrestrial.” 

I just reread the Descent of the Gods upon St. Anne’s in “That Hideous Strength”.  I like the idea that Jupiter follows Saturn: jovial majesty follows numbing antiquity. In the end we will be able to laugh, for it is as becoming to royalty as to children. There’s laughter in heaven, contrary to the notions of secular spoilsports.  It’s the atheist who’s a killjoy. 

Bill had a special connection with Elena our daughter with Down Syndrome.  I’d mentioned a baseball game where Elena executed a swinging-bunt and then ran to hug the pitcher.

What a dilemma Elena presented to the scorekeepers! Was the hugging-bunt a hit? fielders choice? error? That was a brilliant tactic – but she wasn’t thinking about tactics was she? She has a wonderful mind and it would be fascinating to know how she thought of baseball. Of course you hug the pitcher before you take your base!

Bill Watkins
Bill and Nate at WDA Staff Conference

Bill was brilliant, but he was also wise and a child-at-heart.  Once, after trading theological reading material he reminded me:  What you read to Elena is too important to give up for textbooks!

Knowing we read The Chronicles of Narnia to our children, Bill wrote:

In the magic before the dawn of time, the Father gave the Son incantations to sing to break the spell of sin and death over us. I hope the enchantments are bringing deeper holiness and life to you.  Once a King and Queen in Narnia, always a King and Queen!

Now I know why I love this job and why WDA staff are kinda’ weird: we’re teaching students to NOT fit into this world, to LAUGH at Caesar’s demands even as we give him what is his. God is making us into a race of kings and queens, and how CAN the world make sense of us?

But being made holy is not easy. Bill understood this. At times, he struggled with crippling clinical depression.

The ache is deep, but the depression is gradually lifting – the fog has burned off – thinning from a gray pea soup to a light veil. It feels like I’m coming out of a wilderness, heading for usefulness. Carrying the burden has been good training. I just hope I’ve learned the lessons well enough to graduate!

Unsettled times are an assignment from the Lord – by His grace, He does NOT let us get too comfortable in the desert between Eden and Heaven, does not let us mistake oases for the Promised Land. Fat, lazy pilgrims will have trouble making it home.

Sometimes endurance is hell-shattering victory. What can Satan say or do to a man who persists in clinging to Peter’s confession: “To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.” Those who endure get to learn how to sing at midnight in prison. Is there a surer sign of heaven for the jailer to see?

When the veil did lift, Bill saw this world (and the next) with startling clarity:

Saturday night strolling on the midway, biting cotton candy, holding your sweetheart’s hand, watching the kids getting spun dizzy on the whirly rides. It really doesn’t get any better than that does it? (It sure beats what’s advertised by the world.) The secret is, and the good news is, that as good as such things are, it really does get a lot better!

Jesus said it’s what’s on the INSIDE that determines greatness.  Matters of the heart determine the real outcomes of life.

He said there’s no greater love, but that someone would be willing to lay down their life for others.  That was the pattern of Bill’s life.  He gave his life away for the people he loved.  Many fill their lives by pursuing fame, or riches.  But Bill chose love.

His ‘investment portfolio’ was his family and friends.  And we’re all the richer for it.

I’m absolutely confident, that if Bill were here today, he would be encouraging US, enriching US,  making US better people just by being with us and blessing US.

Bill had a chronic case of Homesickness. But it wasn’t Louisville he longed for: it was Heaven and the world to come. More specifically, it was God Himself that he wanted to see.

Sometimes this homesickness got on my nerves. I would be talking about ‘important stuff’ like “March Madness” brackets or The World Series, and he wouldn’t be paying attention.  And it wasn’t just the ADD, (though there WAS that).  He’d have this faraway look in these incredibly sad eyes but accompanied by this little grin that made me think I just missed a punch-line.  (Sometimes I think he heard angels.)  He realized there was much more to come.

After a grueling day of ministry we stopped to regroup and I launched into a bout of self-pity, lamenting about how little we got paid for the emotional buffeting we endured.  He politely indulged me, then quoted Jim Elliot: “A man is no fool to give up what he can’t keep, to gain what he can never lose.”

Bill laid aside everything else to follow Christ, because he knew that only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ would lead him home.  He understood clearly that religion couldn’t save him, and that sometimes even training for ordination actually hindered what mattered most.

My seminary classes have not once taught me to adore the greatness of God’s loving heart, but His glory shines through the footnotes. The majesty of God cannot be eclipsed by anything man-made, and the Bible still lives after two centuries of dissection. And God’s salvation extends even to the proud intellectual.

There are two kinds of “Good-Byes”

  1. ‘Final goodbye’  (Don’t expect to ever see someone again.)
  2. ‘See-you-later goodbye’

On learning of the approaching death of a mutual friend Bill wrote:

Today’s news about Don was grim. The Lord knows what He’s doing, but calling Don Home now will leave us with a mighty big hole in our ranks. God did not mean for us to have to say “good-bye” did He?

Bill’s death has left “a mighty big hole in our ranks”.  But even in our sadness, we can be glad for Bill, because he’s glad to be with the Lord.  He’s found his way back home!

It gives me great joy, old friend, to know that you are now experiencing the fullness of His joy!  This is not a final goodbye, just ‘see you later’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1957-300x269One of the joys of my job as coordinator of the Atlanta Arts Network is meeting and partnering with other Creative Artists and in this case Worship Artists.

Jay and Abby Akins have just released a Album called Trust.

You might be saying, yeah another CD from a worship leader.  Isn’t that par for the course.  Everyone who leads worship these days pretty much has to record as well as lead worship.

This is where Jay and Abby are a bit different from the rest!  Jay and Abby see this Album as an extension of their ministry to worship leaders as well as a way to serve the church by providing great songs for worship.

From the first time I met Jay at a Chick-fil-a (the original one in Hapeville GA) I realized that Jay’s heart was for building disciples as well as making music.  Abby and Jay are part of our South Atlanta Worship Leaders Community.  Jay has been a big part of our getting that group going and he really loves investing his time in people.

Trust is a testimony of a Jay and Abby’s vibrant heart for God and a desire to cultivate worshippers of God.  While many people focus on styles of worship, Jay has been at the forefront of helping his congregation learn to focus on Christ and the message of the gospel.  In a culture that looks at the church and what it offers as products and services to be consumed, Jay is quick to point to the fact that their focus is engaging the worshippers in such a way as to point to Christ and to challenge them to vibrant walk with God, and be owners of the church rather than be a merely a member who comes to church!

Trust features songs that call the worshipper to consider Christ and what it means to follow Him in the midst of life!  “Hope is” is a praise anthem that sets Jesus before us as the eternal son who is Himself Hope.  We bring our “Golden Dreams Fragile Hopes and Simple Faith” and find that they are torn.  When we look at ourselves we hear the call of Jesus to “surrender.”

Hope is Rising from the Ashes
I’m delivered
I’m restored
Hope is Rising
Christ delivers Christ restores

I Stand in Awe of You“, communicates the commitment of a follower of Christ who sees the truth of the gospel and prayerfully calls on God to work and shows a overwhelming sense of wonder of His person and work.

Jesus my Savior
I bow low before You
Carried my sin
Healed my shame
I live for You
Forever I am changed
My heart will sing Your praise

I stand in awe
I stand in awe of You

Hope in You, considers the nature of God and how He is the place to find true hope.

Trust, the title track, beginning with a lyrical feel with some nice mandolin work that a made the song flow and yet didn’t take away from the melodies and sing-ability of this song.  The vocal counterpoint between Abby and Jay in chorus will translate well into congregation singing.

Invited features strong vocals from Jay and Abby’s harmonies blend well with the driving guitar which gives this song energy.

Returning is features a nice organs and guitar which complement the Abby’s vocals on this rock ballad that echoes the themes of a prodigal.

For too long now
I’ve turned my face from You
I have tasted
The bitter sinful fruit
I am longing
To feast upon Your love
I am turning
Please fix my eyes above

Ransom Song and Point of Surrender finish off this album pointing us first to the Cross of Christ where the debt was pain in full, where Jesus took our place.  Point of Surrender finishes by taking lyrics of traditional hymn and re-tuning it in such a way that provides a new melody that still ties to the original and then weaving the melody of “I surrender” as a close.

Take some time to listen to “Trust” and consider getting a copy and spreading the word.  This review is no where near unbiased as I think Jay and Abby are pretty awesome both as musicians and partners in ministry.  But listen for yourself and let us know what you think.

Get the Album on iTunes

http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/trust/id715743606

 

 

 

 

Get at CD at cdbaby
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/jayabbyakins

Hear about the Stories for their Songs:

http://jayandabbymusic.com/song-stories/

Don’t Forget to Like their Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/JayAndAbbyAkins

 

Editors Note: Previously posted at Atlanta Arts Network

Hope

Hope is sometimes hard to hold onto in this life.  It isn’t always an easy process.  There have been seasons where I have tried to write out my feelings in a song but have been at a loss for lyrics.  The situation I was in was so complex that it was hard to express in words.  At those times I have found that the music itself was a better medium for my heart than lyrics.  I think that my creativity is sometimes directly tied to hope.

Hope

So, if my ability to create is so connected to hope, what is my hope tied to? I’m realizing that my ability to look at the world with hope is directly related to how I view my relationship with God and His purposes for my life.  Many in my circles talk about “preaching the gospel to yourself.”

That might seem a strange place to begin when creating art (for me, music and lyrics).  But the truth found in the “gospel” can provide clarity and perspective.

Understanding that God has chosen to pursue me in love is the beginning of hope. For when I was “dead” spiritually, He loved me.  In Jesus’ death He has freed me from the penalty of sin and given me freedom in Jesus’ resurrection. Not only that, but as a Father He has adopted me as a son, and now I am no longer a  slave to sin.  This is the gospel message I have learned to preach to my heart.

A lack of hope in my life leads to self doubt, pessimism, and powerlessness. In the moment I forget the gospel, these issues begin to surface.  It is actually the gospel that is the cure for these Hope killers!

The cure for Self Doubt

When I doubt if I have anything to offer and words on a blog like this seem to be lame, I remember that I am no longer a slave to sin but a “son” of God.  I am loved dearly because Jesus was willing to die for my selfish heart.  I no longer have to doubt my worth because it is no longer defined in what I think of me.  What matters is what God thinks of me!

The cure for Pessimism

When I begin to think that nothing matters, nothing will ever work out, I’m going no where, the gospel message brings me back to another truth, God saved me for a purpose!  He has brought me out of darkness to light.  He has revealed that I was re-created to serve and love Him. I have been re-created and am being renewed to be part of something bigger than me, that He is in charge of! I no longer have to worry and be a pessimist.  God is in control.

The Cure for Powerlessness

Instead of feeling powerless, the gospel changes the way I pursue my work and calling.  For where I might have looked for strength in my ability and self will, I remember that once I was powerless.  I had power in my self but not the kind of power that comes from God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in me.

When I wonder what this looks like, I begin to think of the disciples hiding out after Jesus had died.  They were pessimistic, they were powerless and had plenty of self-doubt.  But Jesus appears in front of them having first risen from the dead and shown Himself to two women at the tomb.   Soon the Holy Spirit would come and fill them with power to do His will.  They would preach and see 1000s of people turn in faith to the true Messiah, Jesus.

For the first time they have Hope and it came in the good news that Jesus has overcome and now has given them purpose and a calling.  What they would do as followers of Christ would have eternal impact.

So What?

So what does this mean for my creative work?  The gospel gives me perspective that changes the way I look at everything!  Hope doesn’t come from my experiences, but rather hope comes from understanding what Jesus has done for me and what Jesus is calling me to be for Him.

When I remind myself of the truths of the gospel, I have real hope.  I have a storehouse of resources for communicating about my life, the world, my relationship with God and others and taking these ideas and creating music and lyrics.

So how do you deal with a lack of Hope in your life? How does it hinder your creativity?  How might understanding the gospel help you have true Hope?

If you are interested in learning more about how the gospel changes everything, consider reading Putting Amazing Back into Grace by Dr. Michael Horton (the first chapter is here in pdf and you can order the book online).http://www.whitehorseinn.org/putting-amazing-back-into-grace.html

This WDA Pocket Principle is also helpful in reminding us of our Security in Christ. http://www.disciplebuilding.org/2013/05/31/security-in-christ-wda-pocket-principle/

 

I had the privilege of hearing a bunch of middle schoolers share reflections about their time at our local middle school.  It was interesting that my perception of middle school was tainting my ability to hear with objectivity.  I have furiously attempted to avoid thinking about anything related to my Jr. High School experiences.

There are books written about teenage girls, queen bees, bullying and an assorted other difficulties related to growing up through adolescence, especially during the middle school years.  I previously posted about our experiences as parents of teenagers in a blog called Three simple steps to growing up with your teenager.

We are still learning here.  I do recommend you read “Like Dew Your Youth” by Eugene Peterson.  I have also had a great many talks with our C.O.O. David Parfitt,  who has just launched two teenagers into college and beyond.  His perspective has certainly been helpful.

As I sat there listening to these really awesome teenagers, some who performed music and others who read 2-3 minute reflections on Middle School, I was struck by the differences in maturity and perspective.  It reminded me of two things.

5120336436_0af6412eae_o1.  We’re not there yet.

If there is one thing that I have learned it is that none of us have arrived. From the moment you sent the first child off to preschool to the point where you release them into independent living, you remember at each point that none of us have arrived.  This living in the now and not yet, the point where you look at your heart or try to understand the heart of a teenager, the place where you are both able to remember that “we’re not there yet” is both scary and humbling and also a place for faith.

More than one teenager communicated that Middle School was a place to learn and grow. They shared the trials that were faced there, the loss of a teacher or parents, the loss of reputation, dealing with their own inner struggles and consequences of poor choices.  Some communicated about their dreams and plans, high hopes and confidence in their vision for a future.  That’s what those kinds of events are for.  But is was good to see that in the midst there were those who realized that “they were not there yet!”

This reminds me of a critical point for those who are helping build disciples and those who are being shaped towards Christlikeness, we are all in process! This process will not be done till we see Christ face to face.

2. The way up is the way down.

The second truth is somewhat surprising and at the same time confusing at first.  To grow spiritually, to grow into a person who has the character of Jesus, means that the way up is the way down!  What?  I thought that maturity means increasing holiness and perfection.  I thought that sanctification was getting better!

What was telling in the different teenagers who shared was that each seemed to have a bit of humility, they knew that they were not there yet, but there seemed to be a variety of ways which they would attempt to continue to grow.  Certainly there were mentors and teachers along the way that helped these optimistic and sometimes proud teens learn the lesson that they don’t know everything (something of which I still have to remind myself).  There were circumstances of loss, pain and grief that brought honesty and self reflection to these teens.  But one thing that wasn’t shared across the board was a simple truth that Jesus brings to the table.  The way to go up is the way down.

But not all Christians see Sanctification in these terms.  What about being “enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness”?  Doesn’t that mean I’m getting better! Well, yes and no.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says:

Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace,[97] whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God,[98] and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.[99]

[97] Ezekiel 36:27. Philippians 2:13.  2 Thessalonians 2:13.

[98] 2 Corinthians 5:17. Ephesians 4:23-24. 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

[99] Ezekiel 36:25-27.  Romans 6:4, 6, 12-14.  2 Corinthians 7:1.  1 Peter 2:24.

Note something in the first phrase that is sometimes missed.  Sanctification is the WORK of God’s free grace.  To support my first point, we are not there yet.  It is the ongoing work of God that helps us grow.  We are renewed after the image of God! Certainly more like Jesus than when we begin.  The last point is also true, enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.

So on the one hand, Yes, Sanctification is the work of grace where we are enabled more and more. So take heart, we do grow!

What does this look like?  Well, maybe we need to consider what this doesn’t look like!

Sanctification is not the work of my flesh, personality, or inner stubbornness to be a good person!  We remember it is a work of grace! That means God is more concerned with my spiritual growth than I am!  He has promised to complete what He begins!

So it doesn’t look like me picking myself up by my own bootstraps! I don’t grow by my own will!  (Getting Better is a hard phrase to explain here, but by my saying, No  – I am not getting better – means that “I” am not making myself better.)

To connect this back to my original point, I need to remember that I don’t arrive once I am saved and I still don’t arrive once I have learned how to grow and follow God.  The way up is the way down!

Some of this is perspective.  I have a brother-in-law who is an awesome mechanic.  If I were to go in to his shop while my car was getting a new timing belt, not knowing what it took, I might be surprised at all the things he has to take off my car to get that job done.  Simply, if all I have ever done “spiritually” is fill my “heart” up with gas, put in new coolant or give it a wash (metophorically speaking), then I would be shocked at what real “heart work” takes.  It is as if we forget that to grow takes both time and a bit of time under the hood.

The very thing that marks Christian maturity is the ability to grow in brokenness.  This is not simply admitting that I am a sinner, but the ongoing process of allowing the Holy Spirit to uncover the things in my life that need to be repented of and developing a heart that is willing to “go with the Holy Spirit” down into my heart. I have to allow Jesus to take apart the transmission, do an overhaul on the engine and maybe even do some body work.  I’m not going to see anything unless I allow the “great mechanic” under the hood.  And honestly, if I understand what the Bible says about my condition apart for Jesus, I need some serious time in the shop!

Self examination with the Word of God,  prayer producing God given repentance and Godly sorrow, and a healthy relationship with God means I need to go down!  (Psalm 5:17) The more I am aware of my sinfulness before a holy God the more I see my need for Jesus each moment!  It is at these very moments that I see the cross of Christ grow bigger and bigger! I realize the depths of my sin, but also begin to scratch the surface of the depths to which Christ’s death paid for my sin.  Jack Miller says, “Cheer up” you’re far worse than you think you are!  But you are more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever dared dream!

So I listen to the middle schoolers finish speeches and one thing that I’m reminded of is that some of them have a healthy view of self.  They realize that they have a ways to go and are learning.  They haven’t lived up to their own or others expectations and will continue to mess up.  But as with all of us, they still are in progress.  My prayer for them, for myself and for you is that that process of growth toward maturity begins with a humble and broken heart before Jesus that causes you to replace trust in yourself for self-improvement with faith to believe that Jesus is calling you to Repentance and Faith.

Walking with Jesus today means that I learn that I am still growing.  I learn that Jesus helps me see my daily sin, my love for self, my trust in this world; in seeing these things…. he calls me to ongoing repentance and ongoing faith.

Here are a few articles that can flesh these thoughts out further.

All of Life is Repentance: Tim Keller

The Theology of Sonship

Sanctified by Grace: White Horse Inn Blog

The Centrality of the Gospel

The author takes full responsibility for the content and links provided on this blog.  His views may not be held by or represent all the views of Worldwide Discipleship Association.  Feel free to jump in and have a good discussion!

Bob Dukes


Sometimes God’s designs and ways are cloaked with mystery. (Proverbs 25:2)  But other times His works and miracles are simply overlooked or misinterpreted due to selfish preoccupation, faulty presuppositions, or crass disobedience.  In Galatians 4:4, the Scriptures declare that “in the fullness of time, God sent His Son to redeem us”.  The “fullness” mentioned in this passage was the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy that provided insight into the time of Messiah’s appearance.

Calculating forward from Daniel 9:24-27 and Nehemiah 2, the first century Jewish leaders had good reason to believe that The Advent was upon them.  Even the location was public knowledge.  (Matt. 2:1-6)  But a misplaced concern for Jewish nationalism (and ensuing political power-mongering) blinded them to the larger Kingdom agenda set forth by God. This, in turn, led to an inability to perceive “the fullness of the times”.  Isaiah prophetically warned of this condition, and Jesus testified to the outworking effects. (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matt. 16:1-2)

Instead of waiting in expectant faith, the rabbinical leaders become despondent due to the loss of their national sovereignty.  One tradition reports that in response to the taxation census of Caesar Augustus mentioned in Luke 2:1, they sat by the roads outside Jerusalem mourning yet another evidence of Roman rule.  Instead of prompting repentance, this event fostered their questioning the goodness and sovereignty of God, and the immutability of His Word.  They reportedly shouted,  “The scepter has departed from Judah, and Shiloh (Messiah) has not come!”  (cf, Gen. 49:10)

Ironically, as they tore their robes and tossed dust over their heads, a young couple, wearied from their journey from Nazareth, passed by on the way to Bethlehem to register for the same census.  The woman was riding on a donkey and expecting a Baby who was the fulfillment of the times and all hopes.  But they didn’t recognize Him or the signs of His coming.  Their agenda was too earthbound to see or participate in the heavenly visitation.

This makes me wonder what I’m missing.  Too often, I’m troubled by the loss of personal privilege, or angry when reminded that I don’t retain any real control over life’s issues.  In response, I grumble inwardly, questioning the goodness of God and His wisdom.  (I grumble in silence because I’m too proud to allow my colleagues to actually hear me complain and question my maturity.)

As a leader in the contemporary church, I’m too often preoccupied with matters other than discipleship and the care-of-souls.  Externals matter more than internals.  I pay lip-service to Christlikeness evidenced by sacrificial love, but do I actually practice it?  (This is beginning to sound and feel a lot like those other religious leaders who missed the First Advent.  Might I be unprepared for His Second Coming in the same way, and for the same reasons, they missed His First?)

I remember Jesus pointing out that wisdom is a prerequisite for being prepared for His Second Coming.  He warned that there were two sets of maidens who were anticipating the arrival of The Bridegroom.  (Matt. 25: 1-13)  But only one group retained wisdom.  The second suffered for their lack of preparation.  It’s interesting that at the conclusion of The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus advised that the man who hears His words and “puts them into practice” (emphasis mine) is considered wise, able to withstand the storms of life.  (Matt. 7: 24-29)

Putting truth into practice seems to be a necessary requisite as we prepare for His Second Advent.  When “The Final Storm” comes, only the man with a heart of wisdom will be adequately prepared, and his house will stand in that deluge.  (cf. II Pet. 3: 3-14)  I wonder if this isn’t what Jesus intended when He urged His disciples before His Ascension to “go into all the world and make disciples…  and teach them to put into practice, (emphasis again mine) everything I commanded you”?   

Often Christian leaders emphasize the first portion of The Great Commission, but there doesn’t seem to be the same emphasis on the latter portion: teaching disciples to “put truth into practice.”  This raises a question: When we emphasize one part of Scripture to the neglect of other parts, aren’t we in danger of falling into the same error of the first century Jewish elders who missed His First Coming?

Oh that God might raise up modern day “Sons of Issachar” with the ability to understand the times in which we live.  (I Chron. 12:32) Will you join me in praying that God will open our eyes and help us see opportunities to put His truth into practice, thus enabling us to see clearly?  Blessed Advent Season!

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