Trouble at the Inn*


For years now whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. Wally’s performance in one annual production of the Nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.
 
Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty in keeping up. He was big and clumsy, slow in movement and mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation if the uncoordinated Wally asked to play ball with them.
 
Most often they’d find a way to keep him off the field, but Wally would hang around anyway—not sulking, just hoping. He was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. Sometimes if the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would always be Wally who’d say, “Can’t they stay? They’re no bother.”
 
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play’s director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him to a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the Innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
 
And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town’s Yuletide extravaganza of the staffs and creches, of beards, crowns, halos and a whole stageful of squeaky voices. No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn’t wander onstage before his cue.
 
Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the Innkeeper was there, waiting. “What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.
 
“We seek lodging.”
 
“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally looked straight ahead but spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”
 
“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”
 
“There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.
 
“Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”
 
Now, for the first time, the Innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
 
“No! Begone!” the prompter whispered from the wings.
 
“No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Begone!”
 
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon his shoulder, and the two of them started to move away. The Innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.
 
“Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”
 
Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others—many others—who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.
*This article by Dina Donohue is reprinted from the Baptist Herald (Dec. 15, 1968).
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TDW on Hiatus


Dear TDW Readers:

I’m sure you’ve noticed that The Daily Word has been coming to you only sporadically this month. I apologize. However, I find myself buried in work. In order to catch up, I need to put TDW on hold for the remainder of the month and start it up again in the New Year. So, I’ll see you again on Tuesday, January 1.

Thanks for your understanding, and may God bless you richly!

 George

The Fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10-12)


 
Several years ago, Rev. Billy Graham paid a visit to the seminary I was then attending. After speaking in chapel, he stood in the lobby to greet all the students. As I waited in line to meet him, I composed a little speech in my mind. In that speech, I thanked him for being such a shining example of Christian ministry, and I pledged that my generation would follow in his example.
 
Mercifully, I was never able to deliver that pompous little speech. When it came my turn to meet Billy Graham, I found myself tongue-tied and knock-kneed in his presence. We shook hands, I stuttered my name, he said a few kind words, and I moved on.
 
According to Proverbs 9:10-12:
 
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
For through me your days will be many,
and years will be added to your life.
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you;
if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.
 
A lot of people stumble over that first line about the fear of the Lord. Why must wisdom begin with fearing God rather than, say, loving him? My brief encounter with Billy Graham might shed some light on that question.
 
In his commentary on the Book of Proverbs, Tremper Longman points out that the connotations of the word fear run the gamut from respect to terror. According to him, the fear mentioned in Proverbs 9:10 is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. It’s more than respect, but it’s not terror either.
 
The fear of the Lord is a bit like my response to Billy Graham, only on an infinitely greater scale. Obviously, I respect Billy Graham immensely, and he doesn’t terrify me at all. But still, he’s a great man, and I felt small and awkward in his presence. If I felt that way around Billy Graham, imagine how you and I would feel in the presence of the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good Creator, Judge, and Savior of the universe! The Bible tells us that when people enter God’s presence, their instinctive reaction is to fall to their knees in worship (e.g., Rev. 4:9-10; 5:8, 14).
 
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then, because no one is wise until he admits that he’s a creature, not the Creator. Because he’s not the Creator, he’ll realize that he must play by the Creator’s rules, not his own. He must seek the Creator’s purposes for his life, not merely the ones to his own liking.
 
And when he does so, he will realize that doing things God’s way results in life, both now and in eternity. By contrast, not doing things God’s way results in suffering, both now and in eternity. A wise person looks at these two contrasting options, and chooses the means to the end. The fear of the Lord, in other words, is the beginning not merely of wisdom, but also of life.

unChristian


unchristian.jpgDavid Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, unChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007).
 
How do people outside the church view those inside it? If you’re talking about Americans between the ages of 16 and 29, the answer is, “Not favorably.” Americans in this age range view Christians as hypocritical, too focused on conversion, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental. Reflecting on these results, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons conclude, “Christianity has an image problem.”
 
Kinnaman is president of the Barna Group, a research firm that studies trends in American religion. Lyons is founder of Fermi Project, a network of emerging evangelical leaders who are trying to positively impact American culture. Fermi commissioned the Barna Group to study perceptions of Christians among Americans in the older Mosaic (born 1984-2002) and younger Buster (born 1965-1983) age cohorts. The resulting book book, unChristian, summarizes the conclusions of that study and provides suggestions for how Christians can overcome their image problem.
 
According to Kinnaman and Lyons, the key to changing young adults’ perceptions of Christianity is learning “to respond to people in the way Jesus did.” This does not entail giving up or watering down key convictions about Christian faith and practice. Just because young adults view Christianity as antihomosexual, for example, does not mean that Christians should stop teaching that homosexual acts are sinful or that monogamous heterosexual marriage is God’s will.
 
What responding to people as Jesus did means is, first of all, having the right perspective on their criticism. “[W]e should consider whether our response to cynics and opponents is motivated to defend God’s fame or our own image.” Second, it involves connecting with people. “[T]he negative image of Christians can be overcome, and this almost always happens in the context of meaningful, trusting relationships.” Third, a Christlike response requires creativity. “We cannot ignore the importance of breaking through the ‘been there, learned that’ perspective young people have about Christianity.” And fourth, we must serve people. Young American adults view the church as irrelevant and uncaring. To respond as Jesus would, “we must cultivate deep concern and sensitivity to outsiders.”
 
Of course, we ought to do these things because they’re right things to do, not simply because they’ll help improve our image among young adults. And doing these things does not guarantee that young people will become Christians. What it will do is change the perception about who Christians are, what we believe, and how we live. In a culture for which perception often is reality, changing the way the church is perceived goes a long way to solving humanity’s basic problem: our separation from God, and our need for salvation.

A Willingness to Receive Correction (Proverbs 9:7-9)


 
Have you ever met someone who is never wrong, no matter how wrong he actually is?
 
Several years ago, I was the Christian education director at a church in Costa Mesa, California. A man began attending my Sunday school class for adults. At first, I and the rest of the class welcomed his contributions to the discussion, which were often insightful. But then he began to inject his opinions about the superiority of the King James Version of the Bible into every discussion, which he also tried to dominate.
 
When the man’s remarks became disruptive, I invited him to dialogue with me outside of class. He was an adherent of the so-called “King James Only” movement. He believed that the King James Version of the Bible was based on superior Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, and that all modern translations—but especially the New International Version—were the products of a Roman Catholic liberal Protestant conspiracy to undermine the Word of God. (For a good book on the King James only movement, see The King James Only Controversy by James R. White.) No amount of rational argument could convince this man that he was wrong on both counts. Since his remarks were disruptive of my class, I asked him not to return.
 
Some people are incorrigible. They do not learn from their own experiences, and they are unwilling to be taught by others. Proverbs 9:7-9 warns against trying to confront them:
 
Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult;
whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you…
 
This is exactly what happened to me in my dealings with this man. My attempts to correct his misunderstandings and misinterpretations earned me only sarcasm, accusation, and diatribe. In the end, he left not only my Sunday school class, but the congregation itself.
 
The wise stand in stark contrast to the incorrigible.
 
rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still;
teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.
 
The incorrigible do not learn and cannot be taught. The wise, on the other hand, are perpetual students and eminently teachable.
 
On a number of occasions, I have been on the receiving end of confrontation. When I was young, I did not respond well to my confronters. I was convinced I was absolutely right. How dare they challenge me! As I have gotten older, however, I have realized that I’m not as smart as I think I am and that I have blind spots in my personality which let me ride roughshod over others. Indeed, looking back on my conflict with the Mr. King James Only, I have come to realize that while I was right on the facts of the argument, I was not loving in the form of my argument. I wish someone had been there to point that out.
 
Wisdom is not merely being right. It is also being willing to receive correction when you are wrong.

Christmas Is for the Upside-Down (Luke 1:46-56)


cife-web-banner.jpgYesterday, I began a new message series: Christmas Is for Everybody. This series will examine the four biblical "songs" of Christmas: the Magnificat of Mary (Luke 1:46-56), the Benedictus of Zechariah (Luke 1:67-80), the Gloria of the angels (Luke 2:14), and the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35). Each of these songs praise God for who he is and what he has done for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. The title of yesterday’s message was based on the Magnificat: "Christmas Is for the Upside Down." To listen, simply click on the foregoing hyperlink.

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