01/22/2023 | “Getting Ready” | Exodus 19:1-25

In Exodus 19, the Lord prepares Israel for married life with him. The ‘storm theophany’ at Sinai is no mere magical moment in their relationship.  But meant to prepare them for wedded life with Him as his “treasured possession,” not just for the wedding.

Join us as we examine Exodus 19 and consider how God prepares his people, Israel, and us to live as redeemed people.

Front Matter

How do you read a book?  While this seems a simple question, everyone approaches reading differently.   Consequently, there are a multitude of books about how to read books.  Mortimer Adler’s “How to Read a Book” is a part of our children’s curriculum.  And Fee and Stuart’s “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth” is a standard work in many seminaries.  And because the digital age has shortened our attention span from a thousand pages to 140 characters, many colleges and universities require new students to take classes such as “Freshman Experience” which remediates the art of reading.

For some the answer revolves around form.   After all, who actually has time to sit long enough to read an entire book?  In our digital age, audio books fill the place of reading for many.  Or perhaps you want to read a book yourself, but don’t want the bulk of an actual tome.  For you there is Kindle.  And if you are nostalgic for the aesthetic of reading, you can buy a spray or candle to recreate the smell of actual books.  Or perhaps you, like me, need to the tactile experience of rustling pages to stay engaged in the reading. 

Others focus on approach.   When I was in school ‘speed reading’ was touted as the panacea for busy students.  Readers would scan the center of each line of text and trust peripheral vision to supply the rest.   We were also taught to skim – by which we gleaned facts, but failed to suck the marrow out of literature.  Some cherry-pick, reading here and there to extract only what seem to be relevant ideas.  While others read the last chapter immediately after the first, just in case they never make it to the end.  

What few will do, however, is to read the front matter – the preface, acknowledgements, table of contents, and any bibliographies or attributions.   Yet without these, much is lost to guide the reader on his journey.   Like the composer who explains the symbolism behind a cryptic lyric or the artist who describes with words what he was trying paint, front matter provides the keys to understand a book’s perspective, purpose, and progression of thought.  Without it, much is lost.

This is especially true of the Bible where “a text without a context is a pretext.”  For this reason, virtually every Reformed confession of faith and catechism introduces the study of the Ten Commandments with a discussion of its preface.   God himself writes and delivers the preface in Exodus 20:1-2.   Patterned after an ancient style of covenant, called a suzerain-vassal treaty, the Ten Commandments are a foundational expression of the God’s covenant with his people.   Yet unlike every instance of such treaties in the ancient world, the Ten Commandments are authored and delivered by God himself.   Exodus 20:1-2 give us a simple preface that establishes perspective, purpose, and progression of thought for our life in covenant with the Lord.

Christians often struggle to understand the place of Biblical law in their lives.  Some claim we under no longer under law, but under grace therefore law has no place in our Christian walk.  Others look to law as a “ladder of merit by which we try to climb by grim obedience into [God’s] good graces.” (J. A. Motyer, The Message of Exodus)  But neither view is faithful to the Bible’s teaching.   The preface to the Ten Commandments reveals the gracious nature of the covenant and the God who makes it.   To consider God’s law without reading the front matter risks seeing it as “a letter that kills” instead of a gracious gift through which the Spirit gives life.

Join us as we examine Exodus 20:1-2 and consider the ‘front matter’ God has given us to understand the purpose, perspective, and progression of the moral law as summarily revealed in the Ten Commandments.  We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Getting Ready

Pastors are often the last to know.  Everyone is so convinced we are ‘in the know.’ But more times than not we are out of the loop.  I always appreciate those who call, email, or text to say, “I don’t know if you heard, but…”   Because being out of the loop sometimes places pastors in awkward and unprepared positions.  I have occasionally found that I was officiating a funeral from the obituary in the newspaper.  But even more common is late notification that I am solemnizing a wedding.

Many a prospective couple will negotiate their wedding date with the venue, the florist, and the photographer, put down deposits and order invitations all before collaborating with the pastor.  And unfortunately, I have had to warn more than one couple that until we begin the process of premarital counseling, it is not a certainty I will be able to officiate.  

My mantra in the first session is “spend more time preparing for the marriage than for the wedding.” This is the failure of many couples.   They spend months of their lives and thousands of dollars preparing to be bride and groom, but virtually no time, prayer, or counsel preparing to be husband and wife.  The process of two becoming one demands much more than simply declaring it to be true.   As much planning as a wedding requires to be successful, it is a drop in the bucket compared to the preparation required for a successful marriage.  

In Exodus 19, the Lord begins to prepare his people for life together with him.  The awesome ‘storm theophany’ that takes place as the Lord reveals himself to Israel as her husband is not just a magical moment in the relationship of God with his people.   But it is meant to prepare them to live in union and fellowship with Him.   Three times in this chapter alone, Moses ascends Sinai to receive instructions so that the people will be prepared to live as God’s people.

The Exodus was not just a plan to free slaves.  The Lord to is creating a people who are His “treasured possession among all peoples.”  The goal of the Exodus was Sinai, not Canaan.   It was there at the base of Sinai that the Lord transforms Israel from a mass migration of refugees to a “kingdom of priests.”   It is critical for them and for us to understand this.  There God instructs them on what life with him will be like.   He has already saved them.  Wed them.  Now he prepares them for married life.  

How prepared are you to live out the reality of your salvation?   Paul tells us in Colossians, “as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him.”   How is your walk?  How intentional are you to “work out your salvation?”  Are you living as a wife or only as a bride of the Lord Jesus Christ?   The bride focuses on the day she will become a man’s wife, but a wife focuses on day-to-day life together with her beloved.  Join us as we examine Exodus 19 and consider how God prepares his people, Israel, and us to live as a redeemed people who are his “treasured possession among all peoples.”

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

No Spare Parts

We are all born with it, but until recently scientists did not know its function.   The appendix is a thin, finger-shaped appendage attached to the beginning of the large intestine.  Its name comes from the Latin word which means “to add on.”  In the history of medicine, it has been viewed as an unnecessary part of the body with absolutely no clear function.   Proponents of macro-evolutionary biology have long argued that it is a “vestigial” organ which offers evidence of human evolution.   It is merely an add-on.  A part of the body with no part in the body’s function.

Yet as is often the case, scientific advance has rewritten the story of the appendix.   Scientists now believe the appendix contains a particular type of tissue associated with the lymphatic system.  The system which carries white blood cells to fight infections.  We now know that such lymphatic tissue encourages the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which play an important role in digestion and immunity. Studies have also shown that the lining of the gut contains a biofilm — a thin layer of microbes, mucus, and immune system molecules — and these biofilms appear most pronounced in the appendix.  So contemporary theory contends that the appendix protects beneficial gut bacteria when diseases wipe them out elsewhere in the GI tract. 

Far from being vestigial or simply an “add-on,” the functions of the appendix are indispensable for digestive health.   There are no parts of the body which are unimportant.   Every part serves a function.  Every part is indispensable, crucial to the optimal functioning of the body.   And even the language of disability makes this clear.   When someone is missing a part of their body, they are considered “handicapped.”   As in everything that God makes and does, there is no waste in His economy.  No mere appendages to the body.  

And what is true for our physical bodies is even more true of the body of Christ, the Church.   The Apostle Paul often compared the church to a physical body.   The Bible describes the community of faith is essential to Christian life.   And like the body, each and every member is absolutely vital.   He describes this most decisively in 1 Corinthians 12 to illustrate the proper use of spiritual gifts.

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

1 Corinthians 12:18-25

The Christian life is not a solitary pilgrimage to an ethically higher plane.   Monasticism is a distorted expression of the Christian life.   As Bonhoeffer would write, the Christian life is “life together.”  The Church, the body of Christ has no spare parts, no rugged individualists.   The Christian faith is the ultimate expression of Psalm 68:6 which says that “God settles the solitary in a home.”   Every believer is called to live in the covenant community.  

And we see this first expressed in the Exodus.   The promise of the Exodus was not a call for slaves to find freedom on their own, but for the Lord to create a people who are His “treasured possession among all peoples.”  One of the foci of God’s redemptive plan is to create a redeemed community.  

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Titus 2:11-14

The first major step of God in creating the covenant community comes in the Exodus. And the goal of the Exodus was Sinai not Canaan.   It was there at the base of Sinai, that the Lord transforms Israel from a mass migration of refugees to a “kingdom of priests.”   But before the Lord meets with them to give the Law, their gracious constitution, he uses a new convert, Jethro, to give a plan for shepherding and care.   And remind them they are not just a mass of individuals seeking a better life. 

They are a body of believers and a covenant community.   There are no spare parts, no indispensable members, no mere appendices.    Join us as we examine Exodus 18:13-27 as we consider Jethro’s counsel and its implications for our life together as believers.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Evangelism 101

Every college has one – that lethal combination of professor and course which inspires dread and is the bane of degree-seeking students.  At Erskine College, it was Mr. Bittinger’s Finance class. He alone taught this course required for Business majors.  Many attempted to evade this threat to their GPA by taking it elsewhere during the summer and transferring their credit. 

Mr. Bittinger was not an academic.  He was a hard-nosed, no-nonsense former corporate comptroller who had little time or patience for ill-prepared future business leaders.  Class days alternated between lecture and exercises.  On exercise day, Mr. Bittinger would randomly select students to demonstrate the solutions to assigned homework in front of the class.   And his selection was remarkably random. 

If you looked at him, he would choose you.  If you looked at your shoes he would choose you.  If you sat in the front of the class and looked keen, he would choose you.  If you sat in the middle behind the class brain, he would choose you.  He had an uncanny knack for choosing you for that problem that had given you fits.   Cutting class was not an option at Erskine.  There was nothing to do but gird up the loins of your mind and face the music. 

Christians often view evangelism with the same dread and evasiveness.   What should be one of our greatest joys becomes our greatest fear.   Unfortunately, evangelism has become a technique to be mastered or a ministry to be exercised rather than a lifestyle of telling others the remarkable story of deliverance.  The story of the power of God to deliver us from our own broken selves and make us whole and new both now and forever.  

Perhaps the reticence of some professing Christians for evangelism is because they know about God but do not know Him savingly.   For others a lack of time spent with Him through diligent use of the means of grace – the Word, prayer, worship, and fellowship – means that they know too little of Him to introduce Him to others.  And in evangelicalism, the influence of Arminianism and classical apologetics makes evangelism fundamentally confrontational.  The pressure for success is placed in the evangelist’s power of persuasion and not in the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit.  All of these make evangelism intimidating. 

But what if evangelism is as simple as telling others what God promised and then accomplished in real time? And leaving the rest to the Holy Spirit?   This is the model of evangelism we see in the Bible.  And in Exodus 18 in the middle of the journey from deliverance at the Red Sea to the receiving of the law at Mount Sinai, we find the curious story of Jethro, the priest of Midian and Moses’ father-in-law. 

Through hospitality and conversation, Moses gives Jethro a detailed account of all that God has done to deliver Israel.  Jethro has already heard some of the epic tale through word of mouth. But as Moses recounts the whole story of redemption, Jethro is converted.  And he immediately worships and exercises his spiritual gifts to the great edification of the people of God.  The story of Jethro’s conversion is an important encouragement to us.  It reminds us that the power of salvation is in God’s Word and work, not in our presentation or persuasion.  We are called to faithfulness, not success in evangelism.   Evangelism is to be a way of life and conversation, not a program or a niche ministry. 

Are you intimidated by evangelism? Join the club!  But it need not be that way.  Evangelism is as simple as having a story to tell and telling it.   Do you have a story of deliverance and redemption to tell?   Are you telling it? Join us as we examine Exodus 18:1-12 and consider the conversion of Jethro and learn “Evangelism 101” from Moses.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Bleak Midwinter

Christmas comes at the opening of winter, yet once it has come and gone, the rest of the season often feels like ‘bleak midwinter.’   December is marked with festivity.  While January offers little but routine.   December is filled with expectation, January with simple endurance.  The dry, tired Christmas tree has taken its place by the burn pit, or perhaps recycled as a fish habitat.   Decorations have been packed; the train of totes carried to the storage shed.   And all the lights, personal and public, are either taken down or turned off.   

Everything moves from color and light to the grey darkness of January.  The unconquerable Sun does not seem so unconquered. All the focused expectation has now been eaten, drunk, sung, and opened.  All that was bright, shiny, and magical is now waiting at the curb to be recycled.  The tokens of expectation have been put away.  Now it is back to the grind.

Yet such a view toward the end of the year and the end of Christmas shows a weakness both in our theology and our Christian walk. Our Reformed forefathers expressed concern that commemorating the Incarnation as a season, and not as a daily, present reality, would lead to the exchange of a transformational faith for a transactional religion.  

But if, as we claim, Christmas is an evangelical feast day and not a Holy Day, then it has tremendous implication for our lives into the new year. This should be a time of greatest adventure and awakening as we are reminded of who we are in Christ.  The great truths of the Incarnations are not to be packed away with the décor but should refresh the trajectory of our Christian walk.  Paul reminds us in Colossians.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Colossians 2:6-7

We see this unfolding in the story of Matthew 2 as both the magi and Jesus’ family leave Bethlehem.   The magi’s adventure was not finished, but just beginning.  No doubt, they left with questions. They have new enemies, new priorities. And they have new allegiances.  They left to return by a different way.  And as the magi depart for the adventure of following Christ, the spotlight falls back on Joseph. 

We don’t know much about Joseph, but we see something important in the story of the flight to Egypt.  Joseph’s love for Mary and Jesus is a commitment beyond one decision.  We see him walk in all the consequences of his decision to take Mary as his wife and Jesus as his adoptive son.   He is sensitive to the Lord’s leading.  Careful to submit his priorities to the Lord’s purpose.  And vigilant to love and protect both Jesus and Mary.   

Like the magi, Joseph’s adventure of faith is not complete in the story of Jesus birth.  It is just the beginning.  And his story has much to teach us about what it looks like for us to live out the implications of the Incarnation, day by day.  What about you? Is your Christian life more than a decision to follow Christ?  Has the incarnation changed everything about every other day of your life?   Join us as we examine Matthew 2:13-23 and consider life after Christmas.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

A Gift that Lasts

Christmastime is a season marked by enduring traditions.  Lights, trees, parties, and candlelight services all converge.  But no tradition dominates our Christmas celebrations like gift giving.  Thirty percent of all retail sales in the United States occur between Black Friday and Christmas.  This amounts to nearly a trillion dollars in sales.  A little over $1,000 for every man, woman, and child.  For many of our friends and neighbors this means going to great lengths financially.  Even incurring substantial debt. The pressure to find the right gift can be enormous. 

For some on your list, a box of chocolate-covered cherries or a bag of holiday blend coffee nicely fits the bill.  But for friends and family, gifts must reveal an intimate perception of the receiver’s preferences and desires.   The preciousness of a gift reflects the preciousness of the relationship it celebrates.   The home-made gifts of children are precious to their parents. These gifts reflect their love, creativity, and generosity — gifts invested with who they are.  And intimately connected to the receiver. 

But men struggle to learn what children instinctively know.   While men love to receive a gift card for anything, woe to the insensitive husband who gives one to his wife.   The scripture commands men to “dwell with our wives according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7)   That means, you need to get her something that reflects her preferences and desires.  She expects you to know her well enough to be decisive about her gift.  And so, we go to great lengths to find and give the right gift to our beloved.  Gifts that will last.  Or have a lasting impact.

How precious are the gifts we give?  Are we discharging seasonal responsibility?  Or celebrating the preciousness of others?  The whole tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is commemorative.  It commemorates the gift we were given the Incarnation.  The eternal, divine Son of God taking upon himself a human nature to give to us the gift of faith and life. 

And this tradition is established at the outset in the gifts of the magi.   Extravagant gifts given to a poor child whose worth could only be seen through the eyes of faith.   Gifts that were a grateful response to the Lord of Glory and King of Grace.  But the gold, frankincense, and myrrh were not the real gifts of the magi.  

Their singular purpose in coming to Bethlehem was worship. Three times Matthew underscores their intention to worship the one “born King of the Jews.”  Not the courteous homage of an ambassador or diplomat, but deep. profound, falling-on-your-face worship.  Worship flowing from gratitude for God’s grace through Christ.   The gifts housed in their treasure box were just tokens.  Gifts for a prophet, priest, and king.  Gifts that spoke of sacrifice and sovereignty.  And as extravagant as their gifts may seem, the most lavish gift was given to the magi, not by them.

We think we know the story.  We think we understand the gifts.  But the fulness of what God has done for us in the gospel is incomprehensible.   Apostle Paul calls it “the mystery of godliness, Christ Jesus manifest in the flesh.”   Join us as we examine Matthew 2:9-12 and consider the ‘indescribable gift’ given that first Christmas.   A gift that will last unto eternal life.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Dangerous Journey

My father taught me many important things.  How to plan, how to speak in public, how to teach and write.  But by his example he taught me to serve.   Sunday mornings, we would fire up the church van and leave the house early.  Before coffee was hot or mama’s blueberry muffins were out of the oven, we left the comfort of the suburbs for the inner city.  

Our church was a merger of a once vibrant downtown church and a fledgling suburban mission.   Over time the grand old church withered while the mission flourished.   Eventually the church left the city for the burbs.  Left behind were a handful of lovely, aged ladies with amazing lives and even more amazing stories.  But with no way to get to their now relocated church.   And so, my dad and his faithful assistant would make the dangerous journey into sketchy areas of downtown Atlanta in the early hours of Sunday morning to collect our esteemed passengers.  

I was the footman, porter, and junior navigator.  I assisted the ladies and their many parcels safely into the van.   As a child I had no way to fathom the danger that lurked in every place where they lived.   Only as an adult, could I comprehend what fear must have been a routine part of these ladies’ lives.   Such is the joy of childish naivete, blissfully unaware that much of life is a dangerous journey.   But what was oblivion to me was vigilance to my father.   He knew well the dangers of the city.  He worked there.  He traveled there.  Yet some dangerous journeys are worth the trip.

The journey of the magi was such a trip.   Christmas cards beautifully illustrate three kingly men, astride camels.  In the quiet of the night, they approach a stable where Joseph and Mary adore the baby Jesus in the manger.   And he gilded script proclaims, “Wise men still seek him.”   Yet the serenity of our art misconstrues what Matthew 2 conveys.    The journey of the magi was a dangerous one.

They were academics not adventurers.   They were pagan courtiers serving pagan kings.  Yet, we read of no officialdom in their visit.  This trip is a not diplomatic, but personal.   They had no credentials, no diplomatic immunity.  Possibly they risked the suspicion of their own king and country to undertake this journey.   And the route itself is not easy one.   The five-hundred-mile trek was fraught with the peril of highwaymen.   Even the logistics of such a trip are no small matter.   Yet the greatest danger lay near journeys end.  

Arriving in Jerusalem, they ask, “where is he who is born King of the Jews?”   It is noteworthy that they did not go straight to the palace.   Being ‘in the know’ politically, they knew what Herod was.  A brilliant, but paranoid sociopathic tyrant, Herod murdered most of his own family out of jealousy.  He thought little of killing anyone who appeared as a rival.    In a famous wordplay, Caesar Augustus once quipped, “it is safer to be Herod’s pig than his son.”   To go around Jerusalem asking about the birth of the new King was deadly dangerous.  And everyone in town knew it.

What drove them to take this trip?  What called them out of the comfort of their life as courtiers to undertake a dangerous journey to find and follow the Christ?   Matthew’s account of the magi is a startling study in contrasts.   The magi are diligent in their search.  Attentive and obedient to God’s Word and Spirit.  They rejoice with an exceeding joy when they find Christ.  And despite obstacles and expectations, they fall on their faces to worship the Christ-child.   By contrast, Herod’s response is one of satanic rebellion.  The people of Jerusalem are paralyzed with fear.  And the scribes and priests exhibit stunning apathy.

Faith will take you places you would never go otherwise.   The path of following Christ is the safest, most dangerous journey you will ever undertake.   As Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”   The remarkable truth of the magi is that before they sought Christ, He sought them.   For indeed he came to “seek and to save that which is lost.”  

Faith led them to seek, to follow, to worship the one who is born King of the Jews, and who is their King as well.  These men are a foretaste of the nations who will come to Christ.   What about you?   Will you take the safest, most dangerous journey to seek, follow, and worship the one who was born King of the Jews, but who now reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.   Join us as we examine Matthew 2 and consider the dangerous journey of following Jesus.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Who Is This?

Singing our favorite Christmas Carols is an important part of celebrating the incarnation of our Savior. But the season also affords us an opportunity to “sing a new song” as we consider the great truths of our Redeemer the “Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever.”

This Lord’s Day we will be singing a new hymn from Sovereign Grace Music entitled “Who Is This?” I encourage you to meditate on its words and listen as we prepare to sing it together in worship this week.

Who is This?
Words and Music, David Zimmer, Nathan Stiff, Sovereign Grace Music, CCL# 11359088

1 Who is this, divine and tender, hailing from eternal shores?
Once arrayed in highest splendor, now in poverty adorned
He is Jesus, God made mortal, Word in flesh, the Light of Life
From a throne room to a stable, hope is born this holy night

2 Who is this of might and meekness, given all authority?
With a word He stills the tempest, at His touch the blind can see
He is Jesus our Messiah, long awaited, long proclaimed
Sing “Hosanna in the highest!” Christ the King has come to reign

3 Who is this reviled and stricken broken on a cursed tree?
Son of God by God forsaken, drenched in our iniquity
He is Jesus slain for sinners, laden with our guilt and grief
All our praise to Him we render for His wounds have won our peace

4 Who is this entombed in darkness, cast into the bitter depths?
He whom grave nor Hell could harness rose and tore the sting from death
He is Jesus, God triumphant, risen to the Father’s side
All will bow in awe and reverence at the name of Jesus Christ.

Promises Kept

“I’ll be back!”  Most of us think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the 1984 apocalyptic classic, The Terminator.   But the phrase did not original with Schwarzenegger.   In 1942 General Douglas MacArthur vowed, “I will return!”  Forced by the Japanese to leave the Philippines, MacArthur’s retreat left islands in the hands of a brutal occupation and condemned 90,000 allied soldiers to what would later be called the Bataan Death March. 

MacArthur loved the Philippines.  The islands were his adopted home.  His father had been military governor there during the early years of the 20th Century.  And Douglas, himself, had served the islands with distinction as a military officer and adviser from the early 1920s until his retirement in 1937.  The day after Pearl Harbor, Japan launched an invasion of the Philippines.  After struggling to defend his adopted home, MacArthur was forced in March 1942 to abandon the island fortress of Corregidor under orders from President Franklin Roosevelt.

After his evacuation, he learned there were no plans to reoccupy the Philippines or rescue the forces trapped there. Deeply perplexed, he issued a statement to the press in which he promised his men and the people of the Philippines, “I shall return.”  This promise became his mantra during the next two and a half years, and he repeated it often in public appearances.

And true to his word, on October 1944, after advancing island by island across the Pacific Ocean, General Douglas MacArthur waded ashore onto the Philippine island of Leyte, fulfilling his promise.  Like many men of my father’s generation, my father admired MacArthur’s grit and determination.   Against insurmountable odds, he kept his promise.   He fought not only against the Japanese, but often against his own military strategists and war-time politicians.  But he let nothing deter him from keeping his promise to deliver his people and his men.   When a man keeps his promise it makes a deep impression.

But it is not always easy to keep our promises.  Despite our best intentions our own limitations, unavoidable circumstances, and limited knowledge often make us promise breakers rather than promise keepers.   Solomon expresses it well in Proverbs 20:6. “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?”  

The opening genealogy in Matthew’s gospel exposes this conundrum.   God has promised good to his people.  The genealogy begins with Abraham.  God promised that all nations would be blessed through him.   Yet, the unfolding generations of his family added exclamation points to the inability of mere men to bring these promises to pass.  Neither patriarchs, kings, nor unsung heroes are able to escape the gravity of their own sinful frailty to bring about God’s promises for “peace and good will to men on earth.”

Yet God is not thwarted.  He is never contingent.  He continues through every generation to do exactly what he promised in his time, in his way, and through the one he promised from before The Fall.   God promised to return.  To be “God with Us.”  And he kept all his promises.   As Paul would note.

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you… was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 

2 Corinthians 1:19-20

Matthew’s gospel is a story of promises kept.   Time and time again every window into the earthly life and ministry of our Savior is framed with “as it is written.”   The story of Joseph’s perplexity and obedience in Matthew 1:18-25 has many contours, but all these are part of the greater picture of the faithfulness of God who keeps his promise to save us and abide with us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Not one of God’s good promises every fails.  Not one of his words falls to the ground.  His love for you is steadfast and pushes through every obstacle, adversity, and circumstance to come to you in grace.   Do you feel abandoned or disappointed by God?   Does it seem that God’s promises to deliver and dwell with you have failed?  That the good news is for others, but not for you?  Join us as we examine Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth from Matthew 1:18-25 and consider promises kept.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube