God In The Flesh


Why does it matter that God came down to earth in the form of Man? That event, after all, is what Christmas celebrates. But why the big deal? Was it really necessary? I mean, couldn’t God forgive sins without coming to earth in bodily form?

These kinds of questions are a little mind-boggling because we are presuming to know why God did what He did. But here are a few things that Scripture tells us.

First, Jesus made it clear that anyone who had seen Him had seen the Father. In other words, by coming to earth, Jesus answered, for all time, the question of whether or not God existed. Not that people were atheists all those years ago. They weren’t. But God knew what the mind of twenty-first century humans would be dealing with, so He answered the question before anyone posited it.

Jesus also came in the flesh to teach. That’s what He told His disciples. Yes, He healed the sick, but they would get sick another day. Yes, He fed the hungry, but their hunger would return. Yes, He raised more than one dead person, but alas, they would face death again some day. While Jesus used His time on earth to do these other awesome things, He plainly told those who hung with Him that His mission was to preach.

He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” (Mark 1:38)

What exactly did He preach? I think it can be summed up in His answer to the question, What is the greatest command? Love God, He said. And the next command is like it: love your neighbor.

Jesus used a lot of stories to illustrate what He was saying—a landowner and his servants, a woman and a lost coin, a father and his two sons, a man left for dead by a bunch of robbers, an unjust judge, and on and on. Each of these in some way were illustrations of His two-pronged message. What did it look like to love God, or the opposite? What did it look like to love your neighbor, or not?

But Jesus didn’t merely teach. He also lived a pure and holy and sinless life. He did what no man had done before. He resisted temptation. He said no to Satan, to the world system, to desires of the flesh that would take Him into sin. His greatest temptation, of course, was to use His power to save Himself at the cross instead of saving sinners. But this too He resisted.

And of course that’s the ultimate reason Jesus came in the form of Man. He came to save the lost. He came to be the offering that would bring an end to the need for offerings. He came to condemn sin and to be the means by which we can sit at the heavenly banqueting table.

I can imagine Jesus as the honored guest and those of us who follow Him arriving for the great party. Do you have an invitation? we’ll be asked. Don’t need one. Jesus invited me personally. I’m with Him.

In short, Jesus came to be the mediator which makes friendship with God possible. Without Jesus, what are we left with? Idols. Atheism. Humanism. Nothing of substance. Nothing eternal. But because Jesus came we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

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Published in: on November 30, 2017 at 5:52 pm  Comments (14)  
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The Constancy Of Christ


Of all the things we talk about at Christmas, my guess is that the constancy of God is not high on the list. But maybe it should be.

First, what do I mean by “constancy”? Nothing tricky. I’m not trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat here. I mean just what the good ol’ Oxford American Dictionary has to say about the word: “the quality of being faithful and dependable.
• the quality of being enduring and unchanging”

Second, we need to understand who we’re talking about. “Christ” is another word for “Messiah,” the one promised by God. And in fact, Jesus and His followers identified Him as the Christ. But more than that, they proclaimed Him to be the Son of God. And more. They stated that He “existed in the form of God,” that in Him “all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form,” that He “is the head over all rule and authority.”

We could write it like this: Messiah=Christ=Jesus=Son of God=God. Consequently, in declaring the constancy of Christ, it’s really another way of saying the constancy of God.

God, though a triune being, is One in purpose, One in essence, One in nature. In other words, we can’t divide God and say, well, the Father is like xyz but the Son is like abc. No. Jesus Himself stipulated, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.

There are several reasons why the constancy of Christ matters. First, some “progressive Christians” and atheists claim that the God of the Old Testament was all kinds of evil things: misogynist, genocidal, selfish, and more. But Jesus, they say, was better. The supposed Christians imagine that God learned from His mistakes, or that the writers of the Old Testament got it wrong, or some other inane explanation. Because, you see, they like Jesus; they just can’t stomach His Father.

Enter the constancy of Christ.

“Jesus is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What God reveals about Himself in the Old Testament is true about Jesus and what Jesus said about Himself in the New Testament is true about the Father. There is no “good cop, bad cop” here.

Here’s the important point: Jesus self-identifies in John 10 as “the good shepherd.” Good. He doesn’t do evil. In fact, James says, “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (1:13b) and, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (1:17).

In other words, God is all about good. He’s also holy and pure, spotless and unblemished. All that adds up to the fact that God isn’t anything like the description put out by those who oppose Him or who criticize Him.

The problem largely stems from God’s authority and His sovereignty and His omniscience. These are traits His opponents don’t recognize. Instead, they want to be the ones in charge, and they want to depend on their own finite knowledge. Consequently, they want to judge God. They want to determine that the people who died in the flood, for instance, were innocent, and not the guilty, wayward, wicked people the Bible describes.

More than that, they want to deny the fact that “the wages of sin is death” and that “there is none righteous, no not one.” This is somehow a horrible thing to tell people, even though the nightly news confers the truth of it, and as yet no one in modern times has escaped death.

Ironically I had a crisis of doubt in my life when I was in my 30s or so, and it centered on the goodness of God. I looked around at the things that were going on in the world, in the lives of people close to me, and I asked, right out loud, “Are you good, God? Are you really good?”

All this came to a head when I drove past a convalescent hospital where an old woman sat on the sidewalk out front, alone in a wheelchair.

God didn’t tell me that of course He was good, how could I ask such a thing. He didn’t bring Scripture to mind that told me He was good. Instead, He spoke into my spirit: “You think you’re sad about these hurting people? I know each one by name.”

In other words, because God is good, the evil and pain and suffering of this world grieves His heart. Sin did this, not God. Sin made a mess of the world, not God. Sin brings retribution down on those who run from God.

And that’s precisely what we can see in Jesus:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Jesus didn’t bring judgment because that was already in place—the wages of sin didn’t start when Jesus showed up. It’s right there in the genealogy of Genesis 5:

So . . . Adam lived . . ., and he died. Seth lived . . ., and he died. Enosh lived . . ., and he died. Kenan lived . . ., and he died. Mahalalel lived . . ., and he died. Jared lived . . ., and he died.

On it goes with the exception of Enoch, demonstrating the truth about sin. It leads to death.

But Jesus came to set us free from the “slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” He did this because He is good, He is love, He is merciful, He is compassionate, He is kind.

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us.”

And here’s the startling fact: salvation was something God planned before the foundation of the world.

So, no, He hasn’t changed. And Jesus isn’t a different iteration of the Father. In fact, we can count on the constancy of Christ.

Published in: on November 29, 2017 at 6:08 pm  Comments (28)  
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God’s Greatest, Matchless Gift



Christmas is fast approaching, so I would not be surprised if you all expected me to write about Jesus as God’s greatest, matchless gift. But no. OK, maybe in part.

But there’s something else.

I’m actually thinking of God’s revelation of Himself.

It dawned on me today that the standard line atheists repeat simply is not true. There’s no evidence for God, they say.

On the contrary, God has given us abundant evidence of His existence. But those who reject Him simply skate around the evidence or dismiss it altogether or find reasons to call it into question.

In one thing atheists are right—there is no way for us frail and finite humans to reach God, so on our own we have no proof of His existence. But He did the unthinkable—He revealed Himself to us.

First He put His fingerprints on the world He made. Paul said it best to the Romans:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

God’s invisible attributes seen in what He made.

But the atheist doesn’t believe God made the world.

OK, God put a man and woman on earth to be His intermediaries. Then He brought forth a nation through miraculous circumstances so that the rest of the nations would “know that I am the LORD.”

All God’s dealings with Adam and Eve, then with Israel, teach us about Him. Because they broke covenant with Him, however, their special relationship with Him isn’t something we can see today.

No worries. He spoke through prophets, He gave us a lasting record of His work in the world through those developing years.

And then He gave us Jesus. Well, kind of in the middle of giving us the Scriptures. But Jesus was His exact representation, so much so that He told His disciples, If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.

Now it’s up to us. We have the natural world around us—with every amazing scientific discovery after the next demonstrating God’s order and purpose and care and power and wisdom and beauty and majesty and dominion.

As an aside, some who don’t believe in God have come up with a counter for the amazing facts that demonstrate how intricate the universe is. Some of the amazing facts include the following:

The Earth…its size is perfect. The Earth’s size and corresponding gravity holds a thin layer of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gases, only extending about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. If Earth were smaller, an atmosphere would be impossible, like the planet Mercury. If Earth were larger, its atmosphere would contain free hydrogen, like Jupiter.3 Earth is the only known planet equipped with an atmosphere of the right mixture of gases to sustain plant, animal and human life.

The Earth is located the right distance from the sun. Consider the temperature swings we encounter, roughly -30 degrees to +120 degrees. If the Earth were any further away from the sun, we would all freeze. Any closer and we would burn up. Even a fractional variance in the Earth’s position to the sun would make life on Earth impossible. The Earth remains this perfect distance from the sun while it rotates around the sun at a speed of nearly 67,000 mph. It is also rotating on its axis, allowing the entire surface of the Earth to be properly warmed and cooled every day.

And our moon is the perfect size and distance from the Earth for its gravitational pull. The moon creates important ocean tides and movement so ocean waters do not stagnate, and yet our massive oceans are restrained from spilling over across the continents.4 (“Is There A God?”)

The counter is that if mud existed in a mud hole, it would marvel at how perfect the hole is that contains it. The shape is perfect and it allows the proper amount of moisture, and so on. That analogy is supposed to explain away the reality that countless details have to be just right in order for the universe to exist. But it doesn’t.

These few examples don’t even begin to recount the numerous ways in which the natural world has to be just right in order to exist. The idea that all these intricate and balanced and nuanced details happened by chance has an overwhelmingly high probability of existence—so high it’s beyond what mathematicians consider possible.

Besides the natural world, we have the miraculous word of God that shows us God and His Son Jesus throughout—a marvelous collection of works by various writers, some separated by centuries from others, all singing a united tune: this is who God is and what He’s like. All pointing to Jesus as either the promised Messiah, the present Son of God, or the future coming King.

Then we have the Holy Spirit living in the lives of every believer. Of course, no one can see the Spirit, but the evidence of His work is apparent through changed lives. The problem here is that false teachers and false religions can put up counterfeits. I think of the magicians in Pharaoh’s court, replicating the miracles Moses performed. Up to a point.

All these claims and ideas can be tested. Which is real and lasting? Which is of true value? For example, I just heard of a snake handler. Apparently he considered his ability to pick up poisonous snakes a sign of something spiritual. Scripture can actually be misinterpreted in that way. But in testing the spirits, one immediate question comes to mind: so what? So what if he can handle snakes? Who benefits? Oh, BTW, the report was that this snake handler was bitten by the snake, refused treatment because he said God would heal him, and he died.

True evidence of the presence of God’s Spirit is not paper thin like that.

But the bottom line is this: the work of the Holy Spirit is never in contradiction to God’s written word.

God tells us He loves us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. We would not have known about God, His love for us, or His Son if He had not revealed this to us. His revelation of Himself is, undeniably, His greatest gift to us.

Published in: on November 28, 2017 at 5:51 pm  Comments Off on God’s Greatest, Matchless Gift  
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The Life-Changing, Life-Long Gift


It’s Christmas time! Well, almost. Here in the US, after our Thanksgiving Day, it seems most people turn their attention to Christmas. Music, decorations, and of course, gifts.

Interestingly, the best gift I ever received wasn’t really a gift—not in the sense of someone buying me something special and wrapping it in holiday paper or topping it with a bow. I didn’t receive it on December 25 either. In fact, it isn’t even something you receive. It’s something you do.

I imagine some people might be thinking of various giving activities that would be appropriate at Christmas time. Ways to help the needy, the less fortunate. Ways to bring Christmas to those in convalescent hospitals, to families of prisoners, to prisoners themselves.

These are all wonderful things, and they might well be life-changing to some degree, but the gift I received, or didn’t receive, wasn’t anything like that.

Rather, as I may have mentioned in this space before, I had a principal early in my teaching career at our Christian school, tell the entire staff that we ought to be spending time in the Bible every day since we were teaching the Bible.

Sure, yeah, of course. We all had Bible as our first subject of the day, and why wouldn’t we want to familiarize ourselves with the material we were teaching? It made perfect sense to me.

I also had a teacher friend who became a model for me. Some years earlier she had started the practice of reading through the Bible every year. By the time I discovered this, she’d been through the Bible, like ten times.

Wow! That seemed so . . . formidable, but also desirable. So I started out. I wish I could say it was easy sailing, but it wasn’t. I had starts and stops, frustration, even some boredom where I had to bring my wandering mind back from all the other things on my plate. I had guilt and questions about my motives, but slowly, bit by bit, I had the roots of a habit–a life-long, life-changing habit.

Now, all these years later, I can’t think of one other thing that has made a greater difference in my life. God’s Word simply has revolutionized the way I view the world.

I don’t know that my principal realized what a great gift he was giving. After all, the reasoning behind his statement to us was utilitarian–you can’t teach what you don’t know. But there’s a greater truth there–you can’t live what you don’t know, either. And you also can’t love Who you don’t know.

Simply put, the Bible shows me God.

Day in and day out, I see how God interacted with people in history–how He formed them, loved them, warned them, redeemed them. And oh yes, I see that all those recorded relationships are meant to inform me about my own relationship with God.

No greater gift.

I was reminded of this some years ago as I was driving home from church. Joni Earkson Tada had a short radio spot that aired on Sunday here in the LA area, and that week she talked about how she and her husband had been reading through the Bible in a year. She challenged her listeners to do the same.

How cool, I thought. Someday someone else is going to look back and say, Joni changed their life because she gave them the greatest, most life-changing gift of all.

The gift, of course, isn’t really the challenge. The gift is the doing. And the continuing to do.

My friend who had read the Bible at least ten times? She’s still at it. She’ll change things up once in a while to keep looking at the text anew. Sometimes she’ll read back to front or in a different version from her norm. But she’s there, day in and day out, meeting with God in the pages of His book.

How could spending that much time with God NOT change a person? What a great gift!

Apart from some minor editing, this article first appeared here in November 2012.

Published in: on November 27, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Then There Is Christmas


All too quickly Thanksgiving Day has passed and we are racing on toward Christmas. I know when I was a kid, I looked so forward to Christmas. As I grew older, however, Thanksgiving began to take first place as the holiday I most loved. Now I don’t have any favorites. Both are great in their own way.

The thing about Christmas, it’s pretty hard to hide the “Christ” part of the holiday. Oh, sure, some people try in various ways, but in the end somehow the idea still seeps through that there is religious significance to the day.

Yes, we most likely have all heard that Christmas had pagan roots and practices that Christians co-opted, but the fact is, if Christ had not been born, there would be no followers of Jesus to impact the culture so much that such a day as Christmas overshadowed the other winter celebrations and practices.

In the twenty-first century Christmas is as much under attack in the US as it has ever been, largely because God and His work in the world is under attack. More and more people simply do not believe in Him—or believe in Him the way the Bible reveals Him.

Over and over I hear how impossible things like miracles are because there’s no verification of them, apart from the Biblical record which is discounted because, after all, the people that wrote it were superstitious dimwits who didn’t know anything about science.

What those who use this approach don’t realize is that the people of the first century were people just like us. They were not imagining God when there was a gap in their understanding of the way things work, a lack of scientific knowledge, as so many atheists assert.

C. S. Lewis, who was himself an atheist for a good portion of his life, understood this argument against belief in God better than someone who has only heard others declare it. He wrote a whole book dealing with miracles, which seem to trip up so many atheists. Lewis looked particularly at the Incarnation, specifically at the virgin birth, as evidence for God.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did. (from Miracles by C. S. Lewis, emphasis mine)

Pretty clear. The issue isn’t that our scientific knowledge has advanced so much we no longer believe in the supernatural, but that our understanding of God has diminished. Anyone who believes that God is all powerful has no problem understanding that He can do what seems extraordinary and would not happen apart from Him.

A virgin birth if there is no god? Of course that would be impossible. But God changes the equation. Factoring Him into history, things that could not have happened become understandable, even expected in a surprising kind of way. We don’t know what God will do or when He will do it, but we know that He acts in ways that aren’t limited by the physical laws He established and upholds. So a virgin birth? Sure. A resurrected Savior? Absolutely. A returning king? Without a doubt!

Published in: on November 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm  Comments (11)  
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I’m Thankful For God’s Grace


Because I want to focus more on God this Thanksgiving, I considered which of His innumerable traits I could feature the day before the actually holiday. I settled on His grace and found an appropriate post in the archives which says a good deal about this quality.

I’ve edited and revised the article a bit. After all, this is an old one I wrote in the early days of this blog. I also added song lyrics and a video, which include God’s grace.

– – – –

In fiction, I think Christians often depict God as a God of grace, too often at the expense of His other attributes.

However, one Sunday, I realized that grace itself is not a “simple” trait, any more than God is a simple person. And certainly God’s display of grace is as deep as He is.

The sermon that Sunday was from John 21 (the story of the resurrected Christ cooking breakfast for His disciples while they fished) and highlighted some ways that God extended grace to Jesus’s disciples, especial to Peter.

First, God extended grace to them by humbling them. The account begins with a miracle—implied rather than stated—of closing the disciples’ nets to fish.

The context is this: after seeing the resurrected Christ and waiting around for a week or more, Peter had declared he was going back to work. As if that was something he didn’t need God for. As if that was what would give him purpose. Instead, these professional fishermen worked all night in a place of abundant fish and came up empty. By humbling them, God showed them their need.

God’s grace also sought Peter out—Jesus first went to the bank of the sea where the disciples were fishing, and later He pulled him aside for a private talk. Peter, much like Adam in the Garden after he sinned, seemed to be in “stealth mode.” After all, the last exchange before Jesus went to the cross was a look shared between them, right after Peter swore he didn’t know the Man. How much Peter needed to talk to Jesus! But he went fishing—went back to His pre-Christ life, back to making a living using a skill he was good at.

Having put the disciples in a situation to face their need, God’s grace guided them. It helped them with what they were trying to accomplish. Jesus told there where to let down their nets, and the result was a catch of large fish. Not just a few, not some large and some small. Large fish so numerous their nets started to break. This is the aspect of grace we see most often, but clearly not the only facet of it.

Jesus nwxt extended Himself to the disciples as a friend, as a servant. He cooked breakfast for them. So like Him—the Master who was willing to wash His men’s feet, the Messiah who sacrificed His life, Incarnate God who dressed Himself in the form of Man.

God’s grace then called Peter beyond earthly success to eternal significance. No more catching fish for Peter. His new job was to feed God’s sheep.

I’ve often wondered what happened to that incredible catch. They ate some for breakfast, but what about the rest? Did they leave them for the poor? Give them to the guys in the next boat? Stop by Peter’s house and tell cousin Daniel their were all his if he but cleaned them and hauled them away? Or did the fish stay on the bank and rot or become bird feed? Today’s fictionalized account would probably have Jesus release the unused fish back in the water. Whaterver.

The point is, the fish no longer mattered. Jesus was giving Peter something much more important to do. His grace lead Peter beyond “having it all.”

Once again, I find myself challenged to show God’s character—not merely by increasing the angles from which I look at Him, but by peering through the magnifying glass of Biblical study so that I can see more than the surface of His traits. His grace, like His love, is greater far than tongue or pen can tell.

1
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
2
When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall;
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call;
God’s love, so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
3
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

A Caution At Thanksgiving Time


When I was in school, our teacher would inevitable give us an assignment as Thanksgiving approached that required us to write down all the things for which we were thankful. From what I remember, I put the big things on my list: my parents, God, my home, my brother and sister, our cats and dog, my friends, school and teachers (OK, maybe I didn’t put those on the list. 😉 )

The point is, I was thinking of all the good things I had, in particular the ones I took for granted, but when I paused, I really was glad I had each one.

Never once did I think that Thanksgiving could be a day for digging deeper. In fact, this “count your blessings, name them one by one” approach to Thanksgiving trained me to think of the good things I was thankful for as the tangible evidence that God cared.

I didn’t stop to think that He might also care just as much for a little Christian girl in an orphanage in India who had no parents or home, and sometimes went to bed hungry.

I also didn’t realize that many, many of the people recorded in Scripture who started well, who said they would obey God, turned from Him on the heels of receiving His blessings.

King David comes to mind. He’d survived Saul’s attempts to kill him, ascended to the throne, and led his people to victory after victory. Then, as he enjoyed the fruit of his labor, he decided to stay home while his commander led his army into battle. And that’s when David saw Bathsheba, ignored the fact that she was married, and committed adultery with her.

David repented, but others never turned it around. King Asa, for example, ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah, walked with God and experienced great success against the enemies because he turned to God for help:

Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, “LORD, there is no one besides You to help in the battle between the powerful and those who have no strength; so help us, O LORD our God, for we trust in You, and in Your name have come against this multitude. O LORD, You are our God; let not man prevail against You.”

God answered that prayer, and for thirty-eight years Asa ruled as a man dependent upon God. But there came a day when he decided to buy his way out of trouble instead of pray his way out.

His scheme worked, but here’s what God told him:

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you have relied on the king of Aram and have not relied on the LORD your God, therefore the army of the king of Aram has escaped out of your hand. Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the LORD, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars.” (2 Chron. 16:7-9)

Asa could have repented too, but instead he threw Hanani into prison and he oppressed some of the people. He ended up sick, alone, and bitter. He had the blessing of answered prayer and God’s protection and power, and he turned his back on the Giver of all those good gifts.

I could go on and on. Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Uzziah, Miriam, Nadab and Abihu, Jonah, Gehazi, and many more.

It seems as if the good things either became an idol that moved in front of God as the most loved, or the individual took credit for the good things and moved himself in front of God as the most loved.

When the people of Israel were in want, they turned to God. When they experienced His abundance, they turned from Him.

So it seems to me, having a thanksgiving day in which we simply tick off the good things we have is a way to set ourselves up for failure. Not that we should deny the good things, but it seems to me the true approach to Thanksgiving should be an enumeration, not of our stuff, but of God’s attributes–the things He’s revealed about Himself that give us a look into His character. And not just an enumeration, but an all out face plant at His feet, thanking Him for who He is and what He’s done.

After all, who God is lies behind what He’s given us and why. Who God is will outlast any of the stuff we enjoy today. Who God is, is a treasure that outshines any other.

It’s certainly not wrong for anyone to celebrate a national Thanksgiving Day as we are here in the US this coming Thursday, or for anyone to have a personal day of giving thanks. For myself, though, I want to change my focus. I don’t want this to be about the good things our God gives but about our good God Himself.

I wish I was clever enough to make a video that would go viral or savvy enough to get this trending on Twitter. What I’d like to see is believers unite to say, I’m thankful because God is merciful. I’m thankful because God is just. I’m thankful because God is generous. I’m thankful because God is my salvation. I’m thankful because ___ Your turn! 😀

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

Published in: on November 21, 2017 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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Seasons Of Contentment-A Reprise


This post originally appeared here in July 2012,

In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote that he’d learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself.

I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (Phil. 4:12)

He follows that statement with the verse that is perhaps taken out of context more than any other: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Paul’s clear meaning was that he could go hungry because of Him who strengthened him. Or he could be filled because of Him who strengthened him. In other words, the two extremes were no different in his way of looking at things.

I can extrapolate from what Paul said and conclude that both ends of the spectrum needed strength to get through. “Being filled” was not without its difficulties.

What I find interesting is that Paul didn’t seem concerned about escaping from either end. He didn’t look at the being filled end as more desirable and the going hungry part as something to avoid. Granted, he was grateful when the Philippian church sent gifts for his needs, but he made a point of saying he wasn’t seeking the gift so much as the reward he knew their generosity would bring them.

It’s an interesting perspective, one I don’t see often in ministries that are supported by giving. I wonder what would happen if para-church organization started asking for prayer instead of money, and if they asked for those prayers to center on the effectiveness of their work, not on the funds they thought they needed.

But that’s actually an aside.

As I thought about contentment, I realized that there are other things that can cause me to be discontented besides the state of my finances.

Today, for example, I had the first page of my first book in The Lore of Efrathah posted on an agent blog with the question, Would you keep reading? Let’s say the feedback wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

In many respects I feel like I’m going through a poverty of positive feedback. I won’t bore you with details, but it dawned on me as I was thinking about what to write today, that God doesn’t condition our contentment: I can be content if I’m poor but not if people say they don’t like fantasy.

I don’t think that’s the way it works. Paul said earlier in his letter that believers are to do all things without grumbling or disputing. Really? All things?

I think verse thirteen has to be in play–I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Not, I can fly because God strengthens me, or even, I can be a NY Times best-selling author because God strengthens me. Rather, I can be content because God strengthens me.

If I’m experiencing a season of poverty, God can strengthen me so I will be content. If I’m experiencing a season of little positive feedback, God can strengthen me so I will be content.

And on the other end of the scale, if I am experiencing a season of wealth, God can strengthen me so that I won’t worry, become greedy, hoard, or be irresponsible, being content instead. If I am experiencing a season of favorable feedback, God can strengthen me so that I won’t steal His glory, being content instead.

Well, how about that? It looks like any season is actually the season of contentment.

Published in: on November 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm  Comments Off on Seasons Of Contentment-A Reprise  
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Joy And Rejoicing-A Reprise


Christmas_shoppers_in_Leeds_in_December_2009Complaints. Angst. Cynicism. Malaise. Western society seems bent toward dissatisfaction. I blame this in part on our consumerism. We are constantly being told we need something other than what we have which instills a sense of disgruntlement. At the same time, however, we’re aware that wherever we turn, someone is trying to sell us something or scam us, spam us, or hack us, so we have our guards up.

Ironic. Perhaps no people on earth have more material goods than those of us in western societies. And yet, as one pastor said recently, we are a covetous people.

Instead of enjoying what we have, we plot and plan how to get more, even as we worry and work in order to keep what we’ve got. We spend hundreds of dollars purchasing warranties and insurance–health, auto, home, renter, life, dental. There are specific kinds of insurance, too–flood, fire, earthquake, theft, comprehension, accident, collision.

Protect, protect, protect. We have passwords to keep people out of our computers and mobile devices and social media sites. We have security alarms in our homes and cars and places of business. We have cameras and automatic light systems and safes and security doors and gated communities and security guards.

I’m not saying any of those things is wrong, but quite frankly, I don’t know how anyone keeps up. And I understand why so many people seem unhappy.

In the midst of all the frenzy connected with getting and keeping, magnified during the weeks known as “the shopping season,” the US has tucked into the last week of November a day we call Thanksgiving.

After cooking and cleaning and gathering together in our family groups, we eat our feasts, then go through the appropriate motions of being thankful to whomever for whatever before we rush off to the next hurried and hectic day of shopping.

A friend recently wrote a blog post that indited Christians for not being joyful, not laughing, not making merry. I don’t think it’s a problem with Christians as much as it is with people living in western societies. Oh, sure, there’s laughter in places where the people have had too much to drink or are making sport of others.

But joy? Where do you go to see people with joy oozing from their expressions?

Well, certainly it ought to be the Church. Joy is a product of contentment, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t require happy circumstances, and it doesn’t need to be greased with a pint of the bubbly.

Rejoicing is the same. James says the poor man is to rejoice in his humble circumstances. Peter says the believer is to rejoice to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13).

It’s already abundantly clear that lots of stuff doesn’t lead to joy and rejoicing. Sure, sitting down with a group of friends or finding the perfect present at a bargain price or cheering for a team that wins all might make us happy for a time, but joy lasts and rejoicing doesn’t need an occasion.

At least not a new occasion. We already have received the good news of great joy which is for all people. And that’s reason for rejoicing for all time.

This article originally appeared here November 2013.

Published in: on November 17, 2017 at 4:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Peace Of Christ


The peace of Christ is more significant than I once thought. For one thing it is unique to Christians, which of course makes it hard to explain to those who don’t believe in God. They undoubtedly think Christians are making something up or imagining it or tapping into that “religious” part of the brain.

Actually the peace of Christ is a real thing. That’s why a member of my church who endured an illness that caused chronic pain can write the following:

In the midst of God’s response to my pain, my identity as His child is confirmed. Who am I in this pain? I am a son of the Father! One of the deepest and most influential of relationships (a father to a son) is witnessed to and I am reminded in my soul that I am not alone, abandoned, and neglected in my pain, but I am a privileged son being trained by a loving Father. It this presence of the Father that keeps me leaning forward as I endure through storms. (James Hampson, First Evangelical Free Church devotional, Ears to Hear, 11/16/17)

Do Christians always walk in light of our relationship with Christ? No, most of us will admit we don’t. We want to, but the reality is, times of doubt and disappointment and even despair can cloud our vision. In those times it’s a great help to hear from other believers who have persevered, or to read something in Scripture that reminds us we’re not alone or that God is indeed faithful to His promises.

Interestingly, the peace of Christ is most important during the storms of life. When everything is going smoothly, we aren’t as aware of a need for the peace of Christ. We aren’t thinking, “I have this great job, and I get along so well with my co-workers and my boss. How stressful! I can’t stop thinking about work!” Or it’s unlikely that we’re ringing our hands when our children receive academic awards in school, make the basketball team, bring their friends over to the house so we can meet them, ask for a new Bible to replace the one that’s starting to look beat up. Such children are hardly the cause of sleepless nights.

In other words, the circumstances that are themselves peaceful, don’t require anything special. Who wouldn’t be satisfied with a fulfilling job that pays well and gives you lots of respect from your peers? That situation does not “require” the peace of God to get through it.

What requires the peace of Christ are the circumstances that would normally leave us depleted and clenching our fists. In those circumstances, when we’re scrambling for ways to cope, the peace of Christ can be the life preserver that keeps us from drowning.

Paul said in one of his letters, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . .” I conclude from that statement that the peace of Christ isn’t something imposed from outside, but it’s something I can choose to govern my life.

However, Paul also said in Galatians that peace is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. Of course he also told Christians not to quench the Spirit. So even though the peace of Christ is kind of supernatural, it’s still something we can choose.

In other words, “the peace that surpasses comprehension” is available to believers—from God, for us.

But how? Paul again:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The first thing is prayer. When we turn our needs over to God, we can trust Him to take care of them in His time and for His purposes and how He chooses. He is a good father and will not give us a scorpion if we ask for a plate of fish.

The second thing is to give God thanks, which acknowledges His involvement in our circumstances even when we can’t see them. I’ve been reminded from Scripture that so often God is at work even when we can’t see what He’s doing.

An account in the Bible tells of a siege against a certain city in Israel, causing a severe famine. All looked hopeless, but a man of God went to the king and told him that the next day food would be so plentiful, the prices of things that weren’t even currently available would be so low anyone could afford them. One of the king’s officials mocked the idea. What he didn’t know was what God was doing in the enemy camp—causing them to flee and to leave all their rations behind.

Giving thanks to God, even when the circumstances don’t seem to be changed, reinforces our trust in God’s plan and in His timetable and in the fact that He will give us only good. Not necessarily the thing that seems good to us as we look at the short term. But good. Really good. The very thing we need to make us more like Jesus Christ.

Which reminds me of something interesting I recently learned about writing fiction. One way to create a story, one instructor says, is to identify the lie your character believes. He builds upon the lie what he wants. So he might think that fame and fortune will make him happy, so what does he want? A job that requires him to work nights, to schmooze with the rich and famous. But what does he actually need to make him happy? A healthy relationship with his wife and kids. His pursuit of fame and fortune, for the sake of happiness, is actually robbing him of the very thing he truly needs to be happy.

Just as the writer knows this about his characters, God knows this about us.

Our giving Him thanks in the midst of tough times is really a statement of trust. God’s got it. He’s got us. He’ll work even these circumstances for the good of conforming us to the image of His Son. And in this knowledge, there is peace.

Published in: on November 16, 2017 at 5:18 pm  Comments Off on The Peace Of Christ  
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