Fantasy Friday – Reading The Greats


For some reason, Christmas time brings out my desire to read fantasy. Not just any fantasy, but the Really Great Fantasies. In the past I’ve re-read The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Last Battle, and last year Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Yes, I realized then that Harry Potter satisfied the fantasy itch as completely as the other greats do).

This year I resisted. After all, I am already reading a fantasy — a Christian fantasy. And there is promise in that book. The writing is above average. The story is not predictable and the plot structure is unique without being outlandish. It’s good. Just not great.

But I want great. I want a story I can love from the beginning, not one I have to plow through and hold on until the story finally grips me. I want a story that has a hint of mystery and a bucketful of tension. I want moments of suspense balanced by seconds in which to catch my breath.

I want a world that is dense without feeling dense. It has history and language and lore, geography and politics, stories and dance and songs — but all that richness of the world’s past and that complexity of its present comes out naturally as part of the story, not as window dressing nor as convenient add-ons.

Above all, I want a character I care about, one I think matters and who I’m willing to follow on an adventure. I want him to be memorable, to be worthy of a story, to pre-occupy my thoughts when I’m not reading about him. I want him to be intelligent and ambitious, aggressive in a good way, and in the end, willing to expend himself for others. I want him to learn and grow and become more admirable as the story wears on.

I want a story that makes me slow down as I reach the last twenty pages because I want to draw out the reading experience for as long as possible. I want to savor the ending. I want to study maps or read over a glossary. I want an author’s note I can re-read or epigraphs I can re-examine.

I want a book of substance, that says something and makes me think larger. I want a story that touches my heart and makes me cry. Or laugh. I want a story I will want to re-read some day.

Yesterday I broke down and set aside the Christian fantasy I’ve been dipping into for several weeks and picked up Fellowship of the Rings again. Yep, that’s the story I’ve been longing for. At the rate I’m going, I’ll be done by the first of the year. This one flies by! 😉

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Published in: on December 30, 2011 at 5:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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Some 2011 Stuff I Like (That’s A Date, Not An Amount)


Every year has its unique trials, some personal and some national or even global. But there are good things too, and I want to focus on those. Too often they get shuttled to the side, so here are things I like from this year, in random order — and even saying that is giving this list more credit for organization than it deserves. 😀

More truthfully, this is an “as I think it, down it goes” list.

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 movie came out.
  • God provided the resources I needed so I didn’t have to move.
  • My friend Sally Apokedak signed with a literary management company.
  • Critique group member Mike Duran‘s debut novel Resurrection came out.
  • Tim Tebow became a starter for the Denver Broncos and led them on a six-game winning streak.
  • Fred Warren joined the Spec Faith team in January, and John Otte came on board this summer.
  • I finished book four of The Lore of Efrathah.
  • Thanks to my crit group, I saw how to re-write a section of book 3 and the opening part of book 4 — work that is also finished now.
  • I finally found a candidate for President I could support with my whole heart — Rick Santorum.
  • God surprised me with the generosity of friends, some in small ways, others in big ways — each encouraging and a reminder that God never leaves us or forsakes us.
  • My church did a summer sermon series on faith from Hebrews 11.
  • Our pastor search team announced the top things our congregation identified as qualities we want in our pastor, and number one came in as expository preaching.
  • Books 1-3 of D. Barkley Briggs’s Legends of Karac Tor came out with AMG.
  • I learned about Katie Davis, an inspiring young woman who is serving Christ in Africa by working with orphans, even adopting many. She started when she was sixteen!
  • After a long wait, Andrew Peterson’s third book in the Wingfeather Saga released this summer.
  • The LA Galaxy won the MLS championship.
  • I entered the 24-hour Short Story contest twice and ended up with two stories I like.
  • I picked up a handful of new editing clients, some who have already brought repeat business.
  • I started memorizing Scripture again — currently working on the book of Colossians.
  • Agent Lee Hough (Alive Communications) learned that his first scan after treatment for an aggressive brain cancer showed he is cancer free.
  • Trish Miller, my sister-in-law, lost her job only to find a better one a month later.
  • Following the sermon series on faith, my church followed up with a study of the book of Mark entitled, Fix Your Eyes on Jesus.
  • I’m starting to figure out how to use Twitter.
  • I got new windows in the living room.
  • Our apartment building was painted this fall.
  • Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family was fantastic.
  • I got to see my nephew run in a cross country race I used to coach.
  • The blog traffic at my editing site — Rewrite, Reword, Rework — has increased, and I think it’s in large part because of a Facebook group I’m in, PenTalk.
  • Writing group meetings have been helpful and encouraging and thought-provoking. Our members keep me working to improve.
  • Friendships near and far have brought me closer to Christ.

That’s a good place to end, thinking about iron relationships — the ones that sharpen one another (Prov. 27:17). 😉

Published in: on December 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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It’s Inspiring To Lose?


Al Davis, the former owner of the Oakland Raiders, was famous, not just for his knowledge of football and his iron-fisted rule of his team, but for his attitude toward winning. His statement “Just win, baby,” was his version of the adage “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

The Raider theme during their short stay in Los Angeles was “Commitment to excellence,” but seemingly Davis ranked winning even higher. Lots of athletes and coaches, and even fans, do.

I love to win too, and I enjoy watching the teams I cheer for win. Consequently, when the Denver Broncos, who I’ve been behind my entire adult life, went on a six-game winning streak, I was pretty happy. But the icing on the cake was that quarterback Tim Tebow, outspoken Christian, was engineering these victories, at least in part.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when the Broncos lost first to New England December 18, then to Buffalo last Saturday by the lopsided score of 40-14. Suddenly the march to the play-offs, led by the Christian kid who pundits were beginning to say was for real after all, was in serious doubt. But worse, Tim threw four interceptions, two that were run back for touchdowns. Tebow magic? Nowhere in sight.

But of course there never was any magic — just a young man playing hard, inspiring his teammates to do the same.

So what was his take on losing, especially two in a row, especially when he had such a bad game? From his press conference:

Something my mom taught me long ago, give the praise to the lord and give your disappointments to the lord, because that’s the number one way I can deal with it, because tomorrow I still get to celebrate my savior’s birth, and ultimately I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future and that’s something that gives me a lot of peace and a lot of comfort when there might be a lot of turbulence around me.

The sports wrap show I was watching aired the clip of Tim saying those lines, then the broadcaster sort of shook his head, and said, “Tim Tebow,” as if that’s all the explanation needed to make sense of something so unusual coming from an athlete programed to win.

But to Tim Tebow life is bigger than football, bigger than winning games. He sees the eternal picture and wants above all else to make an impact for Christ.

I wonder what would happen if more of us — bankers, waitresses, plumbers, librarians — would be as open about our faith as Tim Tebow is, win or lose.

Suddenly I don’t think that loss last Saturday was such a bad thing. Now fans know Tim isn’t a fair-weather Christian. Now reporters see how someone who believes Jesus Christ is his Lord and Savior, not his ATM, responds to adversity.

If you’re interested, here’s the entire post-game interview. Pretty inspiring.

Published in: on December 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm  Comments Off on It’s Inspiring To Lose?  
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Before Making New Year’s Resolutions


I know lots of people are big on New Year’s resolutions, but I’m not. I used to go the resolutions route, then switched to yearly goals. Finally I dropped those too. The fact was, whatever I did seemed like a plan for failure. Sure I wanted the things I put down on the list, but reality was, I didn’t have the time-management skills or drive or willingness to say no or whatever else might have determined a greater degree of success. So rather than setting myself up for failure, I decided to depart from the tradition.

Something I read in Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening made me think there’s something I should do instead, and I think it’s appropriate for those planning to set down resolutions, too.

Simply put, it’s a bit of evaluation akin to an employer’s end of the year evaluation I used to have at the close of every school year. I’d sit down with the principal and we’d talk about how things went and what we needed to do to prepare for the next year. I had one particular principal who upped it a notch and took a tough look at my teaching. What was I doing that needed to be improved? The message was clear even though I’d been teaching for years — don’t stand pat.

But the truth is, we aren’t really the best ones to evaluate … us. We need a more objective opinion, someone who both knows us well and who will be honest, even brutally so, if need be.

When King David wanted to take a good hard look at his life, he turned to God:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (Ps. 139:23-24)

Who could be better qualified to search us than omniscient God? He knows my lying down and my rising. He knows my thoughts from afar. He knows each word I will say before a one is on my lips. I can hide nothing from Him.

So what’s the search about if He already knows?

I believe it’s got several functions. First, this evaluation is like my employer evaluations — as much about communicating the conclusions as about the results themselves. If my principal knew what I should do differently and he never told me, I would be no better for having been evaluated. It would be a meaningless exercise. I needed the communication end of the meeting. So too with God.

Second is the part where God leads me in His way. Not only do I need to know what I need to change, I need to know God’s way of handling the change. Change for no other reason than to do things differently is actually wasted effort.

A meaningful evaluation, then, requires sitting down and listening to the one in authority: This is what I see and this is what you need to do about it.

Evaluations can be scary — unless there is trust between the one being evaluated and the one doing the evaluation. Of course we know we can trust God to be truthful and not to miss a thing. But we can also trust Him because He is good and because He loves us. Consequently, it’s safe to ask Him to search us, to try us, to see if there’s a wicked something in our lives that needs to change.

Not a bad idea to have such a meeting with Him whether we’re planning to make a list of resolutions or not.

Published in: on December 27, 2011 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Christmas And Our Culture


Should Christians be dismayed at the way our culture treats Christmas? For example, when the high school down the block from my place was about to let out for vacation, they held a party. The music playing over the school loud speakers, which would suggest it was sanctioned by the administration, wasn’t related to Christmas in any way, let alone focused on or pointing to Christ.

Of course there’s the whole “Happy Holidays” thing — a catch-all phrase that used to mean Christmas and New Year but in many people’s minds now encompasses Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (an entirely made up holiday, not related to any African commemoration of any thing). And we’re all aware that “religious expression,” including nativity scenes, has been curtailed in many public places funded by public moneys because of the new interpretation of “separation of church and state.”

Are these fires Christians should be rushing around to put out?

As I wrote that last line, I couldn’t help but think about a devastating fire here in Southern California a few years ago. Unlike many of the fires we contend with, this one started in an urban center and the chief fuel was people’s homes. The thing was, it could not be contained because embers — not nice little ones as you see coming up from a camp fire, but huge chunks of burning matter — driven by hurricane-force winds, ignited new hot spots miles apart. Essentially the fire department looked like a dog chasing its tail, only less organized. There was no way to get ahead of the fire line for the simple reason that there was no fire line. There was a massive outbreak of fire all over. It was devastating and terrifying.

So I ask again, should we Christians play the part of the over-matched firefighters and chase each new outburst, trying to contain the damage and minimize the spread of the flames? Or is there a better way for us to handle this cultural collapse — because that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

The older generation — the baby boomers — were raised in a religious environment. Characters on TV dramas and comedies prayed, for example, and this was normal. Their children grew up in religious ignorance. Today’s children are growing up in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile to Christianity and some Christian values.

Do we try to fix the culture? Make it less hostile? Force it to accommodate our values as well as the ones in opposition?

Sadly, or perhaps happily, we’re losing the culture wars as surely as those firefighters years ago were losing the battle against the wind-whipped fire.

The thing about fire — it purges, purifies, refines. Could it be that the religious trappings of our culture that made us look Christian-y on the outside, needed to burn up so we could see what is at the heart of people, even people in a Christian nation?

Now true believers in Jesus Christ have a much clearer choice. Do we play the part of firemen, running hither and thither, to stop the spreading flames? Or do we evacuate to our safe corner of the world, stick our fingers in our ears and close our eyes?

Or do we get on our knees and start praying for a change in the wind? Do we set up rescue centers to help those who are losing everything? And do we think long-term about setting up wind breaks that will prevent future firestorms?

So I wonder, what would happen if a group of Christians started praying weekly for our culture — not that we could have more manger scenes or the Ten Commandments would be allowed to return to public land or even that the Marriage Act might finally become law. Instead, what if we prayed for two people to come to faith in Jesus Christ in the year 2012? Just two (knowing that God does far more than we ask or think 😉 ) for starters. I mean, sometimes we don’t begin a project because it seems too overwhelming. We don’t feel we can pray for God to save everyone in Los Angeles, so we pray for revival — a good request and nebulous enough so that we have no idea if He is answering our prayer. Why not start with something we believe is reasonable, and if we pray for two specific people we know, something we can actually see God answer.

Paul told the people in Colossae to devote themselves to prayer, and in so doing to pray for him and Timothy too so that God would open up for them a door for the Word. And at the time, Paul was in prison.

He didn’t see his cultural situation as the problem (and pray for me that I get out of prison). Instead what he wanted was opportunity to speak forth the mystery of Christ, making “it clear in the way [he] ought to speak.”

Perhaps we should start by devoting ourselves to prayer.

Published in: on December 26, 2011 at 6:32 pm  Comments (1)  
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Merry Christmas, All


Image courtesy of christmas-clipart.com

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:


    6 ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
    ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;
    FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER
    WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”

7 Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” 9 After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

– Matthew 2:1-12

Published in: on December 25, 2011 at 9:14 am  Comments (4)  
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Christmas In Two


How many people saw Jesus in those first days after His birth? Hard to say. After all, Bethlehem was bursting with descendants of David, there to register for the Roman tax. Did they want to share in the birth of another one of theirs, regardless of the rumors that may have floated about regarding His illegitimate conception?

And how about those shepherds who came because an angel told them they’d find a Savior — when they went away broadcasting these events far and wide, did others scurry off in search of the Child wrapped in bits of cloth and cradled in an animal crib?

Of all the people that may have peeked into the face of baby Jesus, there were two people who had been waiting for Him. Two devout people who did not stop looking for their coming King.

One was Simeon, a man God told by His Holy Spirit that he would live to see the Messiah. The day Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in obedience to the Mosaic Law to have Him circumcised, Simeon went there too at the prompting of the Spirit. He saw Jesus and he knew. He took Jesus in his arms, and in part said

my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES,
And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32)

What a great declaration. Yes, Jesus came in prophetic fulfillment as Israel’s Messiah, but also as the blessing of all the nations.

The second person who saw Jesus and recognized Him that day was the eighty-four-year-old prophetess named Anna. She’d been in the temple since she became a widow after a seven-year marriage. As Simeon was talking with Mary, she came up and began giving thanks to God and to talk about Jesus to any looking for the redemption of Israel.

What I learn from these two is that those looking for their Savior recognized Him when they saw Him, even when He was only eight days old. At that point He hadn’t done any miracles. He hadn’t explained Scripture or astounded the people with His command over evil spirits and nature and the religious leaders. He, like other babies, undoubtedly slept a lot and certainly, like every boy before Him, cried when He was circumcised. Yet Simeon and Anna knew Him as the King of kings.

It seems today, things aren’t much different. People looking for their King will recognize Him. And now, during this Christmas season, we can come to Him as Simeon did, we can spread the word about Him as Anna did.

Worship the King
Sandi Patti

Oh, come to the place
Where the Holy Child is laid.
Oh, come let us see
The newborn King.
For He is our God
And greatly to be praised.
Come let us worship the King!

Chorus:
Come, let us worship the King;
Jesus the Savior is Born!
For the Lord will reign
Over all the earth!
Come, let us worship the King;
Jesus the Savior is Born!
For the Lord is great
And greatly to be praised.
Through all the earth,
Let us worship the King! –

“The Savior has come!”
Let all the nations sing.
The mountains ring out
With angelic praise.
The heavens rejoice,
For the earth receives her King.
Come, let us worship the King!

Come, let us worship the King;
Jesus the Savior is Born!
Come, let us worship the King
In all the earth.
Come, let us worship the King!

Published in: on December 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm  Comments (2)  
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Three Days To Go


Like twelve, three has so many possibilities, it’s hard to narrow this article down to one Biblical use of the number. The magi gave three kinds of gifts, the God-head is three, Jesus was in the tomb for three days and three nights. Peter denied Jesus three times. Jesus took three disciples — Peter, James, and John — with Him on special occasions like the transfiguration (where they saw three glorified persons) and prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (where He went before His Father three times, asking if He could possibly bypass the suffering ahead of Him).

Instead of any of these — as good as they are — I want to mention something else. After Jesus rose from the dead, He spent forty days on earth, showing up in the least expected ways. One such was an early morning when Peter had decided to hang up his ministry mantle and go back to fishing. He took some of the other guys with him — his brother Andrew most likely, John for sure, and probably his brother James.

All night they fished and netted nothing. On their way back to shore they spotted Jesus cooking fish on a charcoal fire. Apparently they didn’t recognize Him right away. He told them to throw their nets back into the water on the right-hand side of the boat and they’d make a catch. They complied and caught so many fish they couldn’t haul them into the boat. At that point John recognized Jesus.

Peter, as impulsive as ever, dove into the water and swam for shore. The others followed in the boat, dragging the net filled with fish. When they arrived, Jesus told them to bring some of their catch over to His fire. So they hauled in the fish — 153 of them that didn’t tear the nets — cleaned and cooked some, and had breakfast with the risen Christ.

Afterward Jesus and Peter took a walk, and this is were the three comes in. Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, phrasing it a little differently each time. Do you love me, in a self-sacrificial way, more than you love these — presumably referring to the fish Peter had decided to go after. Second time, Jesus merely asked, Do you love me in a self-sacrificial way? The third time, Jesus changed the verb. Do you love me in a brotherly-kindness way, which was actually the answer Peter had been giving Him from the start: You know I have brotherly-kindness in my heart for You.

Each time Jesus gave Peter instructions, and it had nothing to do with fishing. In the end He said, follow me. And by the way, Jesus added, you’re not going to die a free man.

What about John, Peter asked. Not your worry; you follow me, Jesus answered.

From this encounter I think there are some important things we can learn about the Lordship of Jesus — in fact, three particular points. 😉

1. Being imperfect doesn’t disqualify us. I imagine Peter wasn’t able to force out the words, I love you sacrificially, because he’d once declared his willingness to die with Jesus, then proceeded to run away when Jesus was arrested. When he got up the courage to sneak back to see what was happening, he denied he knew Jesus, even cursed to convince those making the accusation. How could he ever again declare his willingness to sacrifice for Jesus? He most likely didn’t believe himself capable. But Jesus knew the power of the Holy Spirit that would be coming into Peter’s life, and He knew the Father’s forgiveness He had bought with His own blood. Peter was not shelved because of his sin, as egregious as it was.

2. Following Jesus isn’t dependent upon what He’s doing in anyone else’s life. Peter wasn’t to measure whether or not he was on the right track by looking over at John. He was to keep his eyes on Christ.

3. Following Jesus doesn’t come with promises of ease and success, the way the world measures success. Sure, Peter preached a powerful sermon at Pentecost and became one of the pillars of the church, but he was poor (he said so to the lame beggar who he healed) and despised by the men of influence. He was imprisoned and eventually killed for his faith.

In light of this last point, some may wonder why anyone would want to follow Jesus. We’re pretty used to asking in our culture, What’s in it for me? And if we don’t think there’s enough added value, we’d just as soon pass.

But that’s the point. Jesus isn’t someone we add into our life as if we need to squeeze him in along with all the rest of what we’ve got going. Our boss is important, the in-laws, the buddies at the ball park or bar, the wife of course (or husband), and why not add in Jesus. He might give me a little of that Tebow magic. Or the peace everyone talks about at Christmas. Or joy. Who doesn’t want a little joy?

Jesus doesn’t “work” like that. He’s not a genie or a Magic 8 Ball. He’s a person, a sovereign person, who requires us to recognize Him for who He is.

We come to Him and we follow Him because we recognize He is Lord. He alone gives us access to the Father through the blood of His cross. He alone can present us to Him as holy and blameless and beyond reproach.

For some of us, we’ve tried it our own way and we’ve come to the bottom. We know, regardless of what the pundits say, that the power isn’t in us to get where we want to go. What’s more, there’s an end rushing up towards us and we don’t know what’s next. We certainly don’t want to go forward alone. Except, it seems that’s the way it works. Unless Jesus is true and He really will never leave us or forsake us, unless He really does have an answer to the dominion of darkness that overshadows all of life.

Truly good news — the announcement of Christmas. Jesus is come and He is Lord.

Published in: on December 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm  Comments Off on Three Days To Go  
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Four More Days


Nine long months, and the baby Jesus arrived, instantly turning the unwed Mary and Joseph into a family of four. Four? Apparently so. We learn from the gospels that the pre-teen Jesus told Mary and Joseph that He needed to be about His Father’s business. This was no surprise to them. They knew all along that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’s biological dad. He was, in fact, His step-father. So their family was blended in the most absolute meaning of the term: true Father, God; natural mother, Mary; step-father, Joseph; and the Son who didn’t really feel as though He belonged apprenticing as a carpenter.

Later, of course, Jesus would also have step-brothers and sisters, but in thinking about His family unit those first hours and days and months, I am mindful of what it meant for Emmanuel, God with us, to take up residence outside of glory. He was subject to all the stuff of Mankind — the passions and joys and hopes and successes, but also the dreams cut short, the sadnesses, the temptations.

Indeed, the temptations. Scripture says He was tempted in every way we are, yet without sin:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

Impossible, some may think. How could He be tempted to OD on computer games or look at dirty pictures?

We know He lived life among us for over thirty years. At different junctures during His public ministry, the religious leaders laid traps for Him, trying to trip Him up so they could catch Him in an offense they could prosecute by law.

But what about those years before He began preaching and healing? Isn’t it likely that the strains of His blended family created temptations? Perhaps He also faced noisy neighbors during those years or the abuse of a bully. Because of the wedding in Cana, we know He had to deal with the expectations of His mother. Perhaps He also dealt with jealous brothers.

Later He may have had to deal with the temptation to abandon His life work to fit in with the role His family likely expected Him to fill — that of elder brother, settling down, marrying, and caring for their widowed mother.

Unfortunately we too often reduce Jesus’s temptations to three — the notorious ones recorded in the gospels for us where Satan entices Him to made bread from stones, to swap worship for power, and to test God’s promise. Lots of people have lots to say about these temptations — the kinds, the depth, the significance. Meanwhile, we’re overlooking a little clause in Mark 1:13.

And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. (Emphasis mine)

So on top of the thirty years of temptations Jesus encountered by living life among us, he also had an intense forty days of Satan throwing whatever he could at Jesus. Whatever we face today, Jesus faced a comparable temptation.

But His coming among us served two greater purposes than offering us an understanding heart to turn to when temptations crowd in upon us.

First, He showed us God. If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father, He told His disciples. Paul said, “He is the image of the invisible God,” and “In Him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.” We look at Jesus, we see God — which makes sense, of course, because He IS God.

However, without the second reason, His coming would have amounted to cruel taunting. Here’s God, a-ha-ha-ha-hah, you can see but you can’t approach. Jesus came precisely for the reason that we needed what only a perfect man could give — His blood, for the remission of sins. Not for His own sins, because He had none. He poured out His life’s blood so that our sins could be forgiven.

In so doing, He opened up the way for us to be reconciled to God:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

God with us — to show us Himself, but even more, to live resisting temptation so that He could die a perfect, sinless sacrifice, the only kind His justice could accept, the one His mercy enabled Him to make.

Published in: on December 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christmas In Five


Some times I take for granted the miracles I read about in the Bible. Elijah raising a child who had died? Sure, I believe that. Absolutely! The Bible is true, so when it describes an historical event, I have no problem believing it. After all, Scripture also says God can do the impossible. I believe that too.

So I read in Scripture about a crowd, most likely approaching seven to ten thousand people, out in an isolated place away from markets and inns, and it’s getting late. They’ve been listening to Jesus and some had waited their turns for Him to heal them. It had all been very impromptu, and they didn’t have anything to eat. Mostly.

There was that one lad the book of John mentions who had five loaves of bread and two fish. From that offering — I don’t think the disciples took it from him, though they’d apparently gone through the crowd looking to see how much food was available — Jesus fed the whole lot of them, with enough leftovers to take care of what the disciples would need for days to come.

It’s a great story, a dramatic story, one all four gospel writers recorded. And well they should, because a few days later, Jesus chided His disciples for their little faith, asking them if they’d already forgotten about Him feeding that crowd. Apparently they didn’t forget again.

But back to my taking Biblical miracles for granted. For much of my life, I’ve thought God did those amazing things in a time when The Saints walked on earth. There were prophets and apostles and people who rubbed shoulders with Jesus day after day. Why wouldn’t they experience God’s miracles? But today … Mostly the people who claim to do miracles seem like con artists. And many who say they believe seem like they’re really stretching to find something they can call a miracle, like the image of Jesus in a window smudge.

I don’t see the Bible recording anything trivial and passing those along as miraculous. Instead, God’s acts were dramatic and life changing. You think that lad ever forgot what Jesus did with his five loaves of barley bread?

But here’s the point. The book of James reminds people of a particular miracle that occurred in Elijah’s day. He prayed, at God’s direction, that it would not rain, and it didn’t rain for three and a half years. Then he prayed again and the sky poured forth rain. Drought and famine over. As a prelude to recording these events, however, James gives us one other important bit of information: Elijah was a man with a nature like ours (James 5:17). He was not a super saint. In fact, the people in the Bible didn’t perform any miracles — God did.

It is God who is mighty to save. It is God who redeems His people. It is God who stretches out His hand in compassion, who draws us to Himself, who heals, restores, forgives, renews.

Why don’t we see miracles of Biblical proportion today? I think we might if we knew where to look.

Think back to the early church. Was God any less at work on Paul’s behalf when He prompted the church in Philippi to send him money when he was in need? I mean, this was Paul, the man who healed the sick, yet he was in need. God raised up His church to share with him in his affliction. Is that less a miracle than when Peter pulled the gold coin out of the fish’s mouth?

Paul wasn’t taking a collection or telling the Philippians about a donor who would match their gifts or offering them a special edition of his latest sermon for a contribution of any amount. He trusted God to meet his needs, and God worked in the hearts of the believers in Philippi.

I’ve seen God work that same miracle in my life and it makes me want to shout, What can’t God do!!

Of course, I can quickly get tangled up with what I believe. I don’t want to presume on God or fall under the false ideas of “name it and claim it” theology. I don’t want to ask, as James warns in chapter four, with wrong motives “to spend it on my own pleasures.” But all that, true as it is, should not drowned out the shout: God my Savior is mighty to save.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 2:20 pm  Comments (4)  
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