FROM HEAVEN ABOVE TO EARTH I COME

FROM HEAVEN ABOVE TO EARTH I COME

Martin Luther, translated by Catherine Winkworth

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Therefore, in honor of Martin Luther’s significant role in the Reformation and the Church of Christ, I thought we would consider one of the Christmas carols that he wrote.  It is one of Lutheranism’s greatest Christmas carols, and it is entitled “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”.

nativity-from-the-alamo-in-san-antonio
Nativity from a San Antonio mission

Robert J. Morgan in Then Sings My Soul, book 2, presents the story behind the carol and it is as touching as the words Luther wrote.

Luther was an Augustinian monk, and that means the he had taken a vow of celibacy.  Even though the Reformation truths of Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, meant that such vows were not required, Luther intended to maintain a celibate life.   

After the Reformation, both monks and nuns were renouncing vows of celibacy and marrying.  Luther heard of a nearby cloister in which the nuns wanted to marry but they were in virtual captivity.  Luther sought help from a merchant, and he smuggled the nuns out by placing them in empty barrels used to deliver herring to the nunnery. 

After freeing the nuns, Luther took it upon himself to find husbands for them, and he was successful except for one young lady, Katharina Von Bora, who remained unmarried for two years.  When Luther visited his parents, and said that he might have to marry her himself, his father gave whole-hearted support.

Martin and Katharina were married on June 27, 1525.  In the spring of 1526 Martin bragged to his friends: “There’s about to be born a child of a monk and a nun!” and on June 7, 1526, little Hans Luther was born to the couple.

Luther was a devoted father and for Christmas when Hans was 5 years old, Martin penned this hymn, calling it “a Christmas child’s song concerning the child Jesus” and it was annually sung in Luther’s home during the Christmas Eve festivities. 

Paul wrote:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Let Luther’s hymn and the words of Paul remind you during this season that our Savior did come from heaven to earth, He did leave all his majesty and power behind Him in heaven and He did become man so that He could be our Savior.  He deserves all honor, glory and reverence from us for this sacrifice on our behalf.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XY3O5MLYXM

Hear this hymn sung by the University of St. Thomas Alumni Choir, Aquinas Chapel, December 18, 2013.  The YouTube description states “Written by Martin Luther (1483-1546) and translated by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), this carol begins with the angelic proclamation of Christ’s birth and ends with a worshipful human response inviting Jesus to abide within the “quiet chamber” of the heart. In this new setting, verses selected from the original text alternate with the refrain “Gloria, the Christ is born.”” Music composed and conducted by Josh Bauder.

 

Father, I thank You for giving us the gift of Jesus Christ who came as a Babe and lived a perfect life so that He could be the atoning sacrifice for me, one who cannot life a perfect moment let alone life!  I pray that this Christmas season I would have a new appreciation for Christ’s coming to earth from heaven above.

JOY TO THE WORLD

When Isaac Watts was a young man, he became dissatisfied with the quality of singing in the British churches.  The songs sung were almost entirely taken from the Psalms in Scripture which were translated into poems with rhyme and rhythm so that they could be sung.  Watts, therefore, began writing hymns to be sung that were outside the Psalter thereby “inventing” the English hymn. 

Nativity with angel and wisemen

He did not ignore the Psalms, however.  In 1719, Watts wrote Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.  In this work, he paraphrased 138 psalms from the perspective of his New Testament faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.   Watts stated that: “I have rather expressed myself as I may suppose David would have done if he lived in the days of Christianity.” 

The hymn “Joy to the World” was included in Watts’ work and it describes the incarnation of Christ, the presence of Christ in our hearts through the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the return of Christ as described in the book of Revelation. 

Psalm 98 depicts the salvation of God in three tenses:

  1. Salvation in the past for the people of Israel (verses 1-3)
  2. Salvation in the present for all the earth because God is King (verses 4-6) and
  3. Salvation in the future for the entire universe because God will be coming to judge at the end of time. (verses 7-9)

In other words, Christ is not just a Babe in the manger.  Christ is our Savior and, as such, He is the Victorious Warrior and Judge who is the fulfillment of David’s prayer for righteous deliverance.

Christ has won the battle.  It is the Lord who completed the prophesy of Genesis 3:15 as the One who put enmity between the serpent and the woman.  Both the carol and Psalm 98 tell us what our response should be to such great salvation given by our God.  For the Christian, the carol rightly proclaims Joy, which is our gift from God because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. 

God’s covenant people in all nations and of all tongues joyfully tell of His salvation and righteousness, His sovereign reign and judgment.  When we consider God and all that He has done on our behalf, both in the past and in the present, we cannot possibly do anything other than praise and worship Him.

Even nature joins in the celebration of praise.  Nature gives God praise because God is its creator. 

Paul says in Romans 8:18-23 that all creation waits and longs for the return of the Lord.  When man sinned in the Garden of Eden, all creation including nature was corrupted.  But, when Jesus Christ returns as the triumphant victor over sin, the creation will be released from bondage and will receive the freedom of the glory of the Lord.

Psalm 98 envisions the glorification that is referenced centuries later in the New Testament writings and to which we are still looking forward to with eager anticipation:

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

Revelation 22:20 

Here is “Joy to the World” from the Christmas program entitled “The Joy of Christmas”, as sung by the choir of my home church and as accompanied by members of the Knoxville Symphony. 

Scripture says:

“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance” (Proverbs 15:13) and

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.” (Psalm 33:3)

May this Christmas season find you praising the Lord and singing carols and hymns, even if you can’t carry a tune in a barrel.  The Lord looks at your heart, so He will know you are praising Him no matter how it sounds to those around you!

Cheerful countenance and loud shouts!  That sounds like joyful praising to me!

Father, thank You for the One who provides true joy to us daily and for the joy that comes eternally through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?

Christmas is a time of joy, of singing robustly about the Babe who came to earth 2000 years ago and is the Savior of mankind.  So, it is a bit unsettling when we hear the opening strains of the carol “What Child is This?” because the tune is set in the key of F minor.  We wonder why the soul-searching question at this time of joy and celebration. 

The answer to the title question and the somber mood is dispelled by the chorus which proclaims “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.”

The tune is an old British tune called “Greensleeves”, which originally was a ballad about a man pining for his first love, the Lady Greensleeves.  It has been said that the tune was penned by Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn.  While this is not likely, what we do know is that Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, danced to the tune.

We also know that Shakespeare referenced the song in the play The Merry Wives of Windsor

The tune was first printed in 1580 and in 1647 it first became associated with Christmas, with words other than those we know today.   “What Child is This” has been sung to the tune “Greensleeves” for over 150 years.

The words of the carol are taken from a longer poem that was written by William Chatterton Dix.  Mr. Dix was born in Bristol, England in 1837 and earned his living by working as an insurance agent after he moved to Glasgow.  His greatest love was writing prose and poetry that praised Christ Jesus.  He wrote two devotional books and scores of hymns including two Christmas carols that we still sing today, “What Child is This” and “As with Gladness Men of Old”.

The scripture text that forms the basis of the carol is Luke 2:9-18.  Verse 18 reads:

“And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.”

Luke 2:18 

nativity-carved-into-olive-tree-wood
Nativity scene carved into olive wood tree in Bethlehem.

What child is this?  That was the question that the people 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and, later, throughout the land pondered. 

  • Jesus the baby in the manger grew into Jesus the youth who remained in the temple amazing the teachers at His understanding of the Torah. Luke 2:41-50
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the carpenter’s son who taught in a way that befuddled the hometown folks. Matthew 13:33-36
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the One who had authority so that even evil spirits obeyed His command. Luke 4:36
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John 1:29
  • Jesus the baby in the manger became the resurrected Christ who was taken into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father. Mark 16:19

What child is this?  While the inquiry begins as a question from the dark, the answer is illuminated through the joyous response “This is Christ the King!”

Listen as the carol “What Child is This” is presented to you by the Canterbury Choristers directed by Dr. Newell Wright.

Father, I praise Your name for the gift of the baby in the manger who became my Savior and Lord.  May my Christmas celebration be glorifying to You.

O HOLY NIGHT

Dr. Jeff Sanders begins his article entitled “The Story Behind ‘O Holy Night’” with the following words:

It’s a tough song to sing isn’t it?  Also hard to play on the piano (so I’ve been told).  But it is the “show stopper” at many Christmas cantatas.  You just can’t help but get a thrill when you belt out the chorus “Fall on your knees. . ..”  But the carol “O Holy Night” was actually banned by church leadership, and if it were not for the common people, the powerful song would have faded into obscurity. 

“O Holy Night” (in French it is Cantique de Noël) was composed by French musician Adolphe Charles Adams in 1847 to the poem “Cantique de Noel” (“Song of Christmas”) that was written by a French wine merchant, poet, named Placide Cappeau.  Cappeau had been asked by his parish priest to write a poem for the Christmas Eve service even though he had previously shown no interest in religion. 

nativity

Agreeing to write such a song, he pondered the creation of this poem as he rode to Paris in his carriage.  During the ride, he imagined himself a witness to the birth of Christ.  The wonder of that glorious moment flowed through his pen, and he gave us the poem that became this carol.  But he needed music and the music had to lift the hearts and souls heavenward in song.  

Cappeau’s friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, was a trained classical musician who would be well-able to create the appropriate music to support the poem’s spirit, but he was of the Jewish faith.  Nevertheless, Adams put his training to good use and composed the tune that fit the poem perfectly. It was, indeed, a perfect match and three weeks later the song was performed for the congregation on Christmas Eve.

While the people loved the carol, the French Catholic Church banned the song when it was discovered that the poet had abandoned the church and that the composer was not of the Christian faith.

However, the French people would not let the song die and they continued to sing it even if it had to be without the approval of the church. 

When an American abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight, heard the carol ten years later, he loved its message of hope.  He, of course, focused on the verse that says, “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name all oppression shall cease.” 

Legend has it that the French Catholic Church received the song back into its worship services only after an encounter between French and German troops during the Franco-Prussian War.  During a lull in fighting, a French soldier stood up without weapon in his hands or by his side and he began singing “Cantique de Noel.”  The Germans were so moved that they responded by singing one of Luther’s carols “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”.  The “songfest” encouraged the soldiers to honor a truce for 24 hours on Christmas.

Moving the story to a bit more recent times, on Christmas Eve, 1906, Reginald Fessenden (a former colleague of Thomas Edison) was experimenting with a microphone and the telegraph. He began reading the story of the birth of Jesus from Luke chapter 2.  Around the world, wireless operators on ships and at newspaper desks began to hear a man’s voice come out of their machines.  It was the first radio broadcast of a man’s voice and the beginning of the radio era spreading the Gospel of Christ. 

But then, Fessenden picked up a violin and began to play “O Holy Night.” 

The song written by a wine merchant, set to music by a Jewish composer, banned by church leaders, kept alive by the French, adopted by American abolitionists, sung by troops in the trenches, was broadcast to the whole world by invisible radio waves, and is loved and sung still today. 

Here is Susan Boyle’s rendition of this carol as performed on her album The Gift.

Father, we thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who left His home in glory to come to this fallen world, for the sole purpose of being the sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sin we have so grievously committed.  We praise Your Holy Name and bow at the feet of our Lord, the Babe in the manger, the One who came that Holy Night, Jesus Christ, our Savior.

COME, THOU LONG-EXPECTED JESUS

In History of Hymns: Hymn expresses longing for arrival of our Savior, Dr. C. Michael Hawn discusses the background and writing of the carol “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”.  Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

The carol was written by Charles Wesley.  It was initially published in 1744 in a small collection of hymns entitled Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord.  Albeit small, its reception by the public was significant, and it was reprinted 20 times during his lifetime.  While the title of the collection relates to the nativity of Christ, the carol is now generally sung during the Advent season.

USED Nativity scene in American church

Interestingly enough, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” appeared in an American Methodist hymnal in 1847, nearly 30 years before it was included in a British Methodist hymnal. Now there is only the rare North American hymnal that omits this hymn.  Rather, it has become integral to the celebration of our preparation for Lord’s Advent.

According to Dr. Hawn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” has the quality of a petition—a prayer that implores Christ to be among us. Imperative verbs are used six times in the two stanzas found in the hymnal: “Come, thou long-expected Jesus”; “From our fears and sins release us”; “Let us find our rest in thee”; “Now thy gracious kingdom bring”; “Rule in all our hearts alone”; “Raise us to thy glorious throne.” The cumulative effect of these petitions is a tone of supplication. Wesley succeeds in recalling the deep longing of ancient Israel for the Messiah – the Promised One.

According to Dr. Hawn, British hymnologist J.R. Watson noted that this hymn’s “uniqueness comes from its skillful conjunction of several elements into one simple-sounding discourse. Those elements include the Old Testament promise of the Messiah, ‘Israel’s strength and consolation’ who has been long expected and who will set his people free; the New Testament story of the birth of the child who is also a king (Matthew 2:6); and the idea of the Christ-child not only as the strength and consolation of Israel, but also the hope of all the earth, a Christ who is born for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.”

Rather than trying to retell the Christmas story narrative from the scripture, Charles Wesley provides a poetic theological discourse that allows us to apply the story of Christmas to our lives.

Although we live in a different time than Charles Wesley, the longings of people’s hearts are just as deep. And where will our longing, our hopeful waiting lead us? Wesley tells us the answer to this question in the final phrase of the carol:

 “Raise us to thy glorious throne.”

For countless Christians around the world, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” signals the beginning of Advent.

Listen to the carol sung here from the album “The Way” in a Manger.

Father, we come to You as we consider the Advent season and the coming of our Savior, and we praise You for the gift of Your Son.  We  do pray that Your kingdom would come and that we would be raised to live with You forever through the merit of His work on Calvary.

 

SEASONS – GOD SENDS THEM ALL.

In the English language, we use the word “seasons” with reference to many different things.

For example, we talk about the season of childhood, when new things are learned and experienced every moment of every day.  Sometimes those lessons are hard and painful, other times they are fun and silly.

2008 - 12 Mom and Dad 071
The child wanting to be like the big boys!

Then there is the adolescent season, when lessons are a bit more difficult and the consequences are more far-reaching but also where we have unbounded energy and dreams of exciting days ahead.

Baseball - batter up
When learning skills that will enrich them long after adolescent years have passed.

We later arrive at the season of adulthood where we are still challenged with new problems and adventures [I am thinking about adjusting to technology here!].  Disappointments may arise when we are downsized from a long-held job.  Hardships may come when physical disabilities are hampering living life to the fullest.  Tears may fall as the child has to become the parent as dementia takes over the mind of a loved mother or father.

No matter what season of life we are in, God is there with us.  David writes:

“He asked life of you; you gave it to him, length of days forever and ever.”

Psalm 21:4

There is the season for work and accumulation of wealth.  But when we think we have arrived, we must take a second look at the situation:

“And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'”

Luke 12:19-20

Many are the souls that work hard, care for their family, accumulate goods and money in the bank, without regard to caring for their soul.  It is paramount that we remember this world is not the end … as wonderful as it is, we will all perish and spend eternity somewhere.  Bank accounts won’t matter there – what matters is the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ, His Son.

We use the word “seasons” to talk about various holidays and celebrations.  In the United States, for example, we have the season of Thanksgiving, a day when we recall those first settlers from Europe who endured hardships and forged the basis for our country to grow. We give thanks to God for His providence in preserving and sustaining those early settlers.  Often the meal centers around the Thanksgiving turkey!  (Of course, every day should be a day of thanksgiving, not just one time per year!)

Thanksgiving turkey ready to consume (C)
Mouths are watering, getting ready for the Thanksgiving feast!

On the heals of Thanksgiving we have the season of Christmas, the time we celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a time to focus on the advent of our Lord, the ultimate gift of God to us.  The Christmas tree and representations of the nativity scene are found in many homes across the country.

USED Christmas tree and decorations
The decorations are ready, the nativity scene is set — praise the Lord for His Advent!

A sweet description of the season of the blessed life is found in the very first psalm in Scripture.  David, in speaking of the man who walks in the counsel of God, says:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

Psalm 1:1-3  

God is in all our seasons.  He is the one who gives us life and breath.  He gives us security when we follow Him and walk in His Ways.  This verse does not mean that God promises that we will have material wealth here and now.  This is not the prosperity gospel from the Old Testament. 

Rather, God is speaking of prospering us in spirit, the ultimate evidence of this is the gift of Christ as our atoning sacrifice so that we can approach God in prayer and so that we will be accepted into heaven because we have been adopted by God into the family of the Lord.  Adoption as a child of God is true prosperity and security.

Father, thank You for giving me the security of being a child in Your family.  I love You and praise my Lord and Savior for all that He has done.  Help me to see Your Hand in all the seasons of my life and may I live each day You give to me to the honor and glory of Your name.  I can only do that through the power of Your Son, and my Savior.

 

ABOVE THE TREE LINE

When you are above the tree line in the mountains, there is nothing to obscure your view of the terrain below.  There is nothing to prevent you from scanning the heavens above.  No trees – the terrain is barren, just rock or dirt. 

above the tree line in Colorado
Road in the High Country, Colorado

Peter, James and John certainly had a mountain top experience with our Lord:

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”

Mark 9:2-3 ESV

It was incredible – it was awesome – it was glorious, quite literally!  They wanted to stay; in fact, Peter even said they should build tents or tabernacles there!  Mark 9:5.   But, that was not what Jesus wanted.  Rather, He directed that they could not say anything!  No boasting or gloating that they had been chosen to see Jesus in His glory … nothing!

“And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.”

Mark 9:9-10 ESV

Although they didn’t understand, they obeyed Jesus’ command and kept quiet about what they had seen, but the questions still lingered.

 

Colorado cinnamon pass over 12000 feet high
Cinnamon Pass, Colorado.  The pass is over 12,000 feet above sea level.

We want to be on the mountain top instead of in the valley – it is pretty, and it is easier than the messy life of the valley.  But there is no growth there. Growth takes place in the valley, where problems, hatred, disappointments, or other malevolent conditions of humanity reside.

But we, like Peter, James and John, must live in the valley.  We are told to obey His commands and that is the hard part – obeying what was commanded without obstinate questions such as “Why should I do this?”   “Who cares whether I do it or not?”  “Why can’t I do what I want to do?” 

David had a mountain top experience, literally, when he was saved from the hand of Saul.  He exalted the Lord and said:

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Psalm 18:2 ESV

Jesus is my rock and my fortress; He is my deliverer, my rock, and my stronghold. More than that, He is the lover of my soul.  He gives me the mountain top experiences so that I am prepared to encounter the difficulties I will find in the valley below.

  • I just need to obey. 
  • I just need to trust His plan.
  • I just need to rely on Him as He is just, merciful, and loving. I just need to remember that without Him, I can do nothing of spiritual significance.  He is the Vine and I am merely a branch in the valley. 

Beloved, look to Jesus for your salvation and security.  He is the Rock that will not be moved.  He is a sure stronghold for your life and eternal destiny.  He is the lover of your soul.  Call Him Savior and Lord each day of your life.

Father, I praise the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and claim Him as Lord of my life.  I repent of my sin and of my disobedience, and I pray in the knowledge that You will forgive and cleanse my sinful heart, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord.

CREATION AS AN EXPRESSION OF A LOVING GOD

When the dark days of late autumn and winter arrive, it is hard to find color in the world.  It seems that everything comes in shades of gray.  So I like to remember the beauty of the flowers of the summer and early autumn.

Jefferson vineyard and gardens grounds Charlottesville VA
Jefferson Vineyard and Gardens, Charlottesville, Virginia

Scripture tells us of the creation story, specifically on the third day God created the plants and vegetation of our earth.

“And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so.  The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.”  

Genesis 1:11-13 ESV

God saw the vegetation, flowers, plants and trees and saw that “it was good”! 

Gardens at Jefferson Vineyards, Charlottesville VA 2
Gardens at Jefferson Vineyards, Charlottesville, Virginia

In fact, God was so pleased with His created nature that when He gave the directions for construction of the tabernacle by His people in the wilderness, He specifically included flowers to be depicted in the furnishings. 

“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it.”

Exodus 25:31 ESV

Blenheim gardens around tasting room 2
Gardens at Blenheim Vineyards, Charlottesville, Virginia

Can you imagine the beauty of the golden lampstand shaped as flowers for the use in the tabernacle?  Can you imagine what it looked like when the sun shined and the gold reflected light as it glittered in the stark contrast to the wilderness surrounding the people? 

This same motif was to be followed in the house of the Lord that King Solomon was instructed to build.

The cedar within the house was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers. All was cedar; no stone was seen. … Around all the walls of the house he carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms.”  

1 Kings 6:18, 29 ESV

Can you imagine the beauty of trees and flowers carved into the cedar?

Jefferson garden giant sunflowers
Giant Sunflowers in Jefferson Vineyard and Gardens, Charlottesville, Virginia

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!  Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!  For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”  

Psalm 96:1-6 ESV

Our God is the One who created the universe and He included in our world the beauty of a wide diversity of flowers and vegetation of all kinds.  Praise His holy name for the beauty of His creation for the children of men.

Father, I praise Your name for Your marvelous work in creation.  Thank You for the beauty around us.  May I give You honor and glory for this is due You because You and You alone are God.

SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT

It is no secret that I have been doing many more crafty things since retirement than I had time for while working.  I have been enjoying experimenting with canning, sewing, knitting, and yesterday I started crocheting.

My grandmother taught me to crochet while I was in elementary school, but it had long gone from my memory and my hands don’t remember the motions that come automatically when experienced hands pick up the crochet hook. 

After a tutorial on Google, I started work on a baby cap with my crochet hook when my dear husband asked what the difference was between crocheting and knitting. 

Knitting and crocheting

He understood the obvious difference – one uses pointed needles while the other uses  a  single hook.  But otherwise, it seems that they are alike.  They both usually start with a slip knot, then they take some material, likely yarn, and, through a series of knots, they create something to wear, display, etc. 

After this discussion, I continued crocheting and thought about the differences between crocheting and knitting, and that disparity brought to mind the sermon series based on the book of 1 John that is underway at our church.  John was telling his congregation that there were teachers in their midst who perhaps sounded good but were teaching false doctrine. They needed to beware that their own doctrine was not compromised.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 4:1 ESV

In other words, John is warning his readers to be careful.  Something might look and sound like teaching from our God but it might not be so.  Similar but different.

But, John not only warns them, he tells the young Christian body how they can “test the spirits” of those who have been teaching them.  What is the test? 

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

1 John 4:2-3

Only true believers can confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, that He has died, that He arose from the dead, and that He is God incarnate.  God in flesh just as we are, except He is without sin so that He can be the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sin.

Knitting and crocheting are similar but different. 

People who preach anything other than Christ crucified and now alive in the flesh and in Heaven are not preaching the gospel.  They might dress the message up with words that sound good, that is to say, their message may sound similar, but it is not a saving message from the Bible or from the Holy Spirit if it does not focus on the crucified Christ. 

There are many things upon which we can agree to disagree.  Manner of baptism or number of sacraments, for example. But this is not one of them. 

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Paul said the same thing a bit more colorfully:

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.  I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.”

Galatians 1:8-9 NLT

Similar but different.  Who cares?  We all should care because the difference is whether you will have eternal life in heaven with our Lord and Savior or whether you will have eternal life in hell … one way or another you will be existing eternally. Being with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is far better than the only other alternative.

Father, I praise Your name for sending Jesus Christ as our atoning sacrifice so that we can come to You through Him as our Savior and Lord.  I pray that the words of this missive would encourage the readers to call on the Holy Spirit if they do not already know You, and if they are believers, I pray that they would study only under those who preach and teach the message of Scripture, not of worldly wisdom.