Did You Know? First Christmas Facts


First Christmas Facts

A widely celebrated event like Christmas generates all types of art and music, which sometimes overshadows Biblical facts. Did you know what actually happened, though artists’ renditions might show something else? Here are various statements taken from the Bible that might be surprising in light of what we think we know from Christmas carols, cards, nativity scenes, and the like.

• The events surrounding the birth of Christ hinge on an understanding that God can do the impossible. (Luke 1:37)

• Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’s birth. (Matthew 1:24-25)

• Jesus’s birth was predicted to Joseph by an angel in a dream. (Matthew 1:20-21)

• Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral home. (Luke 2:4)

• Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

• An angel appeared to a group of shepherds to announce the good news that that day the Savior had been born. (Luke 2:9-11)

• The angel gave the shepherds two signs by which they could identify this Savior: he’d be wrapped in cloths and he’d be in a manger. (Luke 2:12)

• A host of angels joined the first and spoke, rather than sang, praises to God. (Luke 2:13-14)

• The shepherds believed the angel and went to Bethlehem right away to see the Christ Child. In other words, they didn’t go to see if what the angels said was true. They went because they knew they would find the Savior. (Luke 2:15)

• Magi from the east visited Jesus later; they did not arrive the night He was born. (Matthew 2:1, 11, 16)

• These visitors saw, rather than followed, a star in the East and went to Jerusalem in search of the King of the Jews. (Matthew 2:1-2)

• The number of these magi is not specified in Scripture. There may have been three—each giving one of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But there just as easily could have been a larger group, each giving one of the three types of gifts. (Matthew 2)

• Scripture does not refer to the magi as “kings.” (Matthew 2)

• Herod told the magi to go to Bethlehem. Of course, he first had to ask the learned Jewish scholars. He himself apparently wasn’t knowledgeable concerning the prophecies connected with the Messiah. (Matthew 2:6-8)

• From Jerusalem the magi followed the star and came to Jesus who was now in a house. (Matthew 2:9-11)

Feel free to play the following as you continue blog reading this week.

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Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The First Week Of Advent — Hope


I don’t know much about Advent. Here’s what the always-helpful Wikipedia says about it:

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

I like that!

I didn’t grow up in a church that treated Christmas as a season, much less as one with an organized, scripted approach to the Big Day. My present church hasn’t done much either. But I’m becoming a little more familiar with it. During the first week of Advent, believers are called to think about the prophecies pertaining to the Hope of Israel, the Messiah whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. The virtue attached to this first week is hope.

The truth is, a lot of Christmas is about disappointment.

Maybe that’s because a lot of life is about disappointment. When you’re young, of course, you don’t realize the permanent nature of disappointment. Yes, permanent. You didn’t win the high school football championship, so you say, We’ll get it next year.

But eventually there is no “next year” for high school football, and that disappointment about missing that block or dropping that pass or fumbling that punt return will just be there.

This is true about pretty much everything. Husbands and wives, who love each other dearly, nevertheless discover that their spouse is not perfect. That she doesn’t bake cakes like Mom did, is disappointing. That she has gained a few pounds or wants to stay home instead of pursuing her career and bringing in a second income, is disappointing.

He, on the other hand, doesn’t take care of the yard the way Dad did, and he doesn’t like to go out or have friends over for dinner. Instead, he seems glued to the TV every weekend. It’s disappointing.

But kids, well, there’s nothing disappointing about our children, is there? I mean, they are so cute and cuddly and innocent and sweet. So precious. Until they begin to cry. At 2:00 AM. Until they poop in the diaper you just changed. Until they take longer to learn to walk than you thought they should. Until they tell you no. Until it’s hard to potty train them. Until they don’t like to read, and you’re a bookaholic. Until . . .

You get the picture.

What in life isn’t disappointing? Sure, there are successes—like winning that high school football championship. But that was high school. What are you doing now? And how will you top it tomorrow?

There’s always a new goal, something else that we need, someone else we wish were here. It’s a great time, but if only . . . then it would be perfect.

Along comes the Bible announcing a hope that does not disappoint. There’s a specific reason why this hope is different from all others:

and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom. 5:5-6)

The passage goes on to explain how Christ’s death for sinners accomplished something we need: reconciliation with God. So here are the twin foundations of the hope that does not disappoint: God’s love (which is as eternal as He is), and the relationship Jesus made possible for us to have with God.

The one Person who loves perfectly has lavishly poured out His love and He did so, not because of anything worthy in us. Just the opposite. He gifted us when we had nothing of value to give Him.

All we bring is our imperfect selves. What He brings is a robe of righteousness—the clothes fit for a king, bought and paid for by Jesus with His broken body and shed blood—which He gives to us who believe.

And those are things—God’s love, Christ’s sacrifice—that don’t change and won’t dissipate or fade away or need to be replaced. They are forever gifts—the foundation of hope that does not disappoint.

This article is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here first in December, 2014.

Published in: on December 7, 2018 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Virgin Shall Conceive


When I first started this blog, I anticipated writing more posts about fiction, understood from a Christian worldview. As it’s happened, I’ve ended up writing more posts about the Christian worldview than I do about fiction. And what better time to do so. I mean, Christmas is not exclusively a religious holiday, but it nevertheless does have religious significance. And not just religious. Christian meaning!

We aren’t celebrating the birth of any old god. Rather, Christmas rivets our attention on Jesus, the Christ, who entered the world as a baby.

The first miraculous part of His coming was His conception. His mother Mary was a virgin. Clearly anyone reading the Christmas story must question this. I mean, how many virgins do we know who get pregnant?

Interestingly, C. S. Lewis addresses this very subject in his book Miracles. This volume is much more of an apologetic for God and His work in the world than I had realized. As an aside, I can see more clearly why Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, called himself the anti-Lewis. But because Lewis had himself been an atheist, he could anticipate the arguments an atheist would make against the Supernatural.

Unsurprisingly, the miracle Lewis refers to with some frequency is the virgin birth. Here are some of his thoughts in answer to the common atheist argument that people of old believed in miracles because they didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have now.

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.

Good stuff, important to recall when we are approaching the celebration of the Incarnation. At every turn concerning Christ’s birth, there was a miracle. It’s helpful to remember that the things which seem impossible are impossible, except for God who can do the impossible.

This post was inspired by one that appeared here in December, 2007.

Joy To The World


California is still reeling from the recent wildfires, and here in SoCal we are bracing for an expected rainstorm. People in the burn area are sandbagging, and voluntary evacuations are in place, because everyone knows that following fire, rain brings mudslides.

What’s ironic is, we need the rain because we’ve been in such a prolonged drought. So we want rain, but we don’t.

On top of this, the people in Thousand Oaks are still a bit shocked by the shooting that killed so many who were minding their own business, spending time with friends, that fateful evening they were attacked.

Then there are others who are mourning.

We lost our last President of the US from the Greatest Generation last Friday, so in some ways the nation is mourning.

Joy to the world?

I’ve had it, some people are saying, Christmas is over. Who can celebrate when the world is in such turmoil, when sorrow is so present, when there seems to be so little to engender joy?

But isn’t this precisely why we must celebrate Christmas? Not the Christmas of Santa and Fa-la-la-la-la or Black Friday Greed. Not that Christmas.

What we need to celebrate is God, come down to rescue us from the trauma of sin that puts puts evil intent in the hearts of people and corrupts the very fabric of our planet.

Christmas is proof that God hasn’t left us to cope on our own, that He has a solution.

Good news! the angel said to the shepherds, that night Jesus was born; this joyful announcement is for all people–you have a Savior.

Who needs a Savior? Not those living contentedly, convinced of their own ability to heal the woes of Mankind. Not those untouched by fear or grief or devastation.

Who needs the joyful announcement, The Savior has come? People aware of their need for a Savior.

In the midst of an obviously broken world, Jesus appears with comfort and assurance. For those who trust Him, He gives His presence through the dark and His promise that things won’t always be like this. Sin won’t win. There is a future and a hope.

That’s good news, joy for the whole world.

This post is a partially rewritten article that appeared here in December, 2012.

Published in: on December 4, 2018 at 5:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Truth About The Star – And Why It Matters


Christmas Eve a bright star shone over a lowly stable—or so all the pictures and videos and Christmas cards would lead us to believe. A busy star, that, because the same legends have it leading the wisemen from wherever they lived in the East to that same ramshackle stable, with a little side trip into Jerusalem.

Even when I was young, I had some serious questions about this popular notion about the Christmas star. First, why did the star lead the wisemen to the wrong place before it led them to the right place? And secondly, if it was so bright, why didn’t other people go see what it was pointing to? I mean, would they ignore such a dramatic heavenly sight?

As it turns out, much of our ideas about the star are legend, not Biblical fact. Take the first point—the idea that the wisemen followed the star from their home in the somewhere East to the wrong place, Jerusalem.

A careful reading of Scripture shows that initially no travelers from the East followed the star. Rather, the magi—another name for astrologers who studied the heavens—saw the star that indicated a king had been born in Judea while they were still in the East. They decided to pay homage to this king, so they packed up their caravan and went to the most likely place you’d find the heir to the throne—the capital city, the home of the sitting king.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “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.” (Matthew 2:1-2)

Upon arrival, of course, they learned that, oops, no heir had been born to Herod, which could only mean one of two things—either a coup would occur overthrowing Herod, which was unlikely since Rome ultimately oversaw who sat on the throne, or the promised Messiah of Scripture had been born. Most Jews, it seems, believed He wouldn’t unseat Herod, but Rome, at least as far as it held jurisdiction in Judea.

Herod checked with the scholars familiar with the prophets. From them he learned that the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and that’s the information he passed on to the magi, all the while making his own plans to do away with this child that just might be a threat to his own rule.

When the magi packed up and headed out of Jerusalem, that’s when they saw the special star again. They recognized it as the same one they’d seen in the East, and this time it moved in front of them, only to stop when it came to the place where Jesus was—not a manger any longer but a house.

So why didn’t others join the wisemen and follow this star too? I mean, Scripture says “all Jerusalem” was troubled—unnerved, perturbed, perplexed—by what the wisemen had to say. A star, a king, magi come to worship? Wouldn’t “all Jerusalem” then be only too eager to see where that bright star was going? They’d been waiting for generations. Couldn’t this be it???

Well, the thing is, nowhere in Scripture does it say this star was bright. The wisemen saw it and recognized it because they were wise men. They made it their business to study the heavens, to learn the secrets of God.

Here’s what Strong’s Concordance says about the magi:

the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augers, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.

It’s uncomfortable to think that God spoke to these non-Jews in a way that seems so different from the one He used with the Jews and later with the Church. No sorcery, He said in Scripture. No divination, no interpreting of omens:

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. (Deut 18:10-11)

Yet clearly the magi saw in the heavens the proclamation of the birth of God’s Son. This brings to mind a verse in Colossians in which Paul says “… the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation ” (1:23b – emphasis mine).

So what if the star declaring Jesus’s birth wasn’t an isolated incident? What if God, through His omnipotence, put the gospel message out there in any number of ways for men who wished to worship Him?

But that’s speculation on my part. What isn’t speculation is that the star didn’t lead the wisemen to Jerusalem and Scripture says nothing about the star being particularly bright.

And this is important because … ?

For one thing it illustrates how easily we come to believe something we’ve heard over and over and seen time and time again, regardless of its Scriptural underpinnings. For me, the star is a reminder to be cautious. The faddish interpretations of Biblical events just might be built upon a legend, so it’s imperative to examine ideas in light of what Scripture actually says.

Secondly, it shows that even the wisemen needed to verify their findings with Scripture. God didn’t send them an errant sign that inadvertently took them to Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem. No, they made that mistake all by themselves.

Thirdly, if God had wanted the whole area to drop everything and run to see the baby Jesus, I don’t doubt that He would have made the star particularly bright or sent the host of angels to Jerusalem instead of to a handful of shepherds going about their regular duties. In His divine wisdom, though, He chose a small reception party—actually two separate parties by two divergent groups: lowly shepherds and foreigners. The latter were not Jews. They were people from Somewhere Else.

Above all, it seems to me that the star, which apparently the Jews laden with Scripture completely missed, shows that God intended His Son to be the Savior of the world. He was not the political powerhouse the Jews were looking for. He was and is the King available to all who wish to bow the knee, to worship and adore Incarnate God, born to save.

This post is a lightly edited version of one that appeared here in November, 2012.

Published in: on December 3, 2018 at 4:50 pm  Comments (7)  
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Gratitude, Day 13—Prayer


I’ve written from time to time about prayer (other articles include this and this, but there are more), but I still don’t really understand it.

My atheist friends keep asking about answered prayer, as if getting what we pray for would prove that God exists. I’ve tried to explain that asking God for stuff isn’t really what prayer is about, but I haven’t been able to articulate it clearly. It always sounds so nebulous.

And still, I’m so thankful for prayer.

I have to wonder, what would I do for a friend who is having surgery if I couldn’t pray for her? What would I do for a family that is in danger from the California wildfires, if I couldn’t pray for them? What would I do for someone who just lost a loved one if I couldn’t pray for him?

I am so grateful I don’t have to find out. The very idea of prayer means I can bring all the stuff I’m concerned about to God. Somehow, trusting Him to work, however He chooses, is far more important than “getting what I want.”

Then Sunday, the pastor who preached, gave a wonderful example from our study in the book of John, tying it with 1 Peter 5:6-7.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

The incident recorded in John relates the first known public miracle Jesus performed—turning water into wine. In this case the “prayer” was Mary’s as she came to Jesus with the problem. Someone else’s problem, our pastor added; she wasn’t just praying for what she needed but for what others needed.

The “prayer” itself was simply a statement of the problem. Mary didn’t precede to tell Jesus how she thought He should handle the circumstance. “They’re out of wine, Jesus. Do you think you could have a couple of Your disciples take a cart to the farm down the road and buy some wine from them. Of course, we’ll need to take up a collection first so that we have enough money to pay for it. Maybe you should send two others to the farm just beyond that neighbor, just in case. After all, we want to be sure it’s enough this time.”

No, Mary, left the problem in Jesus’s hands so that He could solve it as He saw fit. What He chose to do was surprising and abundant and beyond what the steward expected: the wine was the best of the feast—far better than was usually served at the end of such an event.

How often do we Christians dictate to God what He should do for us when we pray, rather than presenting Him with the problem and letting Him work as He will? I know I do that. But we also have Jesus’s model when He prayed in Gethsemane. There He gave a specific something He wanted His Father to do: “Let this cup pass from Me.” But He didn’t stop there. Instead He submitted to His Father’s will.

These were not words He indiscriminately tacked on as part of religious formalism. Jesus actually was giving the Father control, even if it meant NOT saying yes to what He’d just asked. Actually, He knew His Father was not going to say yes. I mean, He came to earth for the very purpose of dying for sinners. So why did He bother to ask? Because that’s what He wanted. He didn’t want to suffer. He didn’t want to die. But He wanted to obey His Father more.

I think that’s what is lacking in a lot of our prayers. We don’t actually want what God wants if it means we don’t get what we want.

So why am I thankful for this kind of prayer that is . . . not really procuring what I need? Well, what I actually need is submission to God. So it is precisely what I need. And it is communion with the Living God, which is precisely what I need. And when He assures me that He hears my cry, I am so moved, so humbled, that He would listen to an insignificant, low-on-the-totem-pole believer like me. I’m not even the chief of sinners (Paul already claimed that place). I’m not the chief of anything. I’m just a little flower, here today for only as long as the number of days ordained for me last. I’m not the chief hostess or the chief apologist or chief writer or chief evangelist. Not chief anything. And God still listens to me. Actually He loves to listen to me. He longs to listen to ME! I have no idea why except that He is God.

So I am beyond grateful for prayer. It is an awesome, awe-inspiring privilege to pray.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues from Pexels

Published in: on November 19, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (7)  
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Gratitude, Day 5—Salvation


Well, duh, some Christians might say. I might say that too. I mean, salvation is not new to me. I’ve lived with it for most of my life. I’ve gone through the gamut: I’ve been unsure I was saved, so I prayed for salvation again, and again, and again; then I came to the place where I decided to take God at His word; until I questioned His goodness, heard His answer, and trusted in His wisdom, just trusted; to the point that now, things I don’t understand don’t disturb me . . . much. I’ve just recently started a note section for my daily Bible reading asking the question, Who Is A Christian?

All that to say, salvation is familiar and it would be easy for me to take it for granted. I’ve lived with it for so long—the ups and the downs, the doubts and the assurances.

But in the end, I realize, salvation is everything. Yes, it’s a gift from God. A free gift, based on His grace.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

But it’s also a gift I must receive. There are any number of pictures of receiving the gift of salvation. Jesus referred to Himself as living water, for instance, and said to the woman at the well,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:19)

Ask, give, receive. It’s all part of what Peter calls being born again:

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23)

Jesus also painted that new birth picture when He met with Nicodemus:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)

Of course, another image Jesus used was that of a Father accepting His wayward son who returns and repents.

Throughout the New Testament there’s the association of Christ’s sacrifice with that of the pure and spotless lamb used in temple sacrifices. But Christ is portrayed as the sacrifice “once and for all.”

In thinking about why I’m thankful for salvation, these things come to mind:

I’m thankful salvation is free. It’s amazing to think that something so valuable is not something I have to pay for, that God actually chose to pay on my behalf.

I’m also thankful that it’s accessible by everyone. No one has to clean up before coming to God through His Son Jesus. He’ll take care of the sanctifying part, just as He has taken care of the justifying part.

Justifying simply means that I’ve been set right with God, so I actually have peace with Him. I’m thankful for that peace. I’m no longer God’s enemy. I’m not at war with Him. I recognize Him as the sovereign ruler He is.

The sanctifying part is me learning to get off the throne of my life and letting God be God. I don’t always want to.

Another thing I’m thankful for concerning salvation is the glorification that we who are saved will enjoy in the future. We’ll get better bodies—ones that won’t age or get sick; we’ll take our place in God’s kingdom as people who serve Him purely. I don’t know what all that will look like. Some speculate that we’ll have jobs in the New Earth that suit us. So I could possibly be a writer in the future, too.

The greatest thing about this glorification aspect of salvation is the hope it gives. So we Christians, when someone we love dies, we grieve, but we do so with hope. We will not be separated from each other forever. We will have a great reunion, first with God our Savior, and then with one another.

Pretty much salvation changes everything. That’s why Scripture talks about us being renewed, about us living in newness of life. Old things are passed away. All things are new. Definitely something I am thankful for.

Published in: on November 7, 2018 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ordinary People


Christians aren’t superstars. God hasn’t gone about picking the brightest and best, the richest or most handsome. He’s not finding out who’s the best speaker or writer or IT guy or teacher or sports star or supermodel. Actually, God enlists ordinary people to be his followers.

We can see this in the Bible. Take King David, for example. He was the youngest of his family. His job when the prophet Samuel anointed him to be king was—shepherd. He hadn’t acquitted himself on the field of battle or proved himself to be an astute leader of men. Those would come as God walked with him through days of exile, through nights of hiding and running. But when God put His finger on David and said, I want him, David was just an ordinary man.

Which is fitting because his great-grandmother was sort of a nobody. She was a widow, probably a little older than most marriageable women. She was from a foreign country. And she had committed herself to the care of her mother-in-law, which was why she went to Bethlehem in the first place.

Then there was David’s great-great-grandmother. She was also from a foreign country where she was a “working girl.” A prostitute. Some might even think of her as a traitor because she helped “the enemy” by hiding the Jewish spies which had come to search out the land, particularly the city of Jericho.

Yep, neither Ruth nor Rahab were special and yet God used these ordinary women, not only in order that they would be part of David’s lineage, but that they would be part of the Messiah’s heritage.

No one could have considered himself more ordinary than Gideon, but when Israel was harassed by an enemy who stole their crops, their livestock, pretty much everything that made life possible, God called him and put him in the position of delivering his people.

There are loads of other ordinary people who God chose to become heroes or behind-the-scene workers. What about the no-name widow who gave her last coin as an act of worship? Jesus commended her and said she would be remembered for her faith. Not for her status. She had none. Not for her wealth. She was poor beyond measure. What she had was a belief in a God who would not leave her or forsake her.

Or what about the thief on the cross, the last-second convert who still gives comfort and encouragement today for those who have lived all their lives apart from Christ. What hope do they have, so many are tempted to say. There’s every hope because Jesus accepted the thief who was dying beside Him. He didn’t have to have a lengthy resume of things he’d done for the kingdom of God. He simply had to believe.

Think about the twelve men who Jesus chose as disciples. One was a dedicated enemy to the Roman government. He’d be considered a terrorist today. Another was a collaborator—a man who worked with the Romans and, in his own way, oppressed the Jewish people. Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector should have been enemies, but they gave up their former pursuits and both followed Jesus.

At least four of these guys were fishermen. They hadn’t studied with Gamaliel, like Paul had. They weren’t rich like Joseph of Arimethia. They were just guys, working for their dads’ fishing businesses.

Thomas was an ordinary skeptic. No “rich in faith” guy, he. He was of the “show me” variety, and Jesus did just that: showed him his hands and feet, and the nail prints there.

The other three guys were so ordinary we don’t really know anything about them apart from the fact that they went where Jesus sent them, did the work God gave them.

And these are the men responsible for converting the Middle East. Well, not all of it. But this small band of Christ-followers, ordinary men without anything this world values to commend them to the people they talked to, were the people God used to spread the gospel.

And that’s continued. For every Billy Graham, there’s a J. Wilbur Chapman who no one has heard of, yet introduced the greatest evangelist of our time to Jesus.

For every Corrie ten Boom, there’s a Papa ten Boom who taught her the faith which prompted her to protect Jews from the Nazis, to forgive the German guards who persecuted her in the concentration camp and oversaw her sister’s illness and death.

Who was Papa ten Boom? A watchmaker. Who was Corrie ten Boom? An unmarried woman approaching her senior years. Just ordinary people who God chose, who were willing for Him to do with their lives as He pleased.

What about Ravi Zacharias? He was a young Indian man who had tried to take his own life, whose father said he wouldn’t amount to anything. The future was bleak for this ordinary man, but God saved him and used him to speak around the world, to facilitate an entire apologetics ministry.

He was willing, and that’s really all that matters. God is happy with the ordinary people because when each of us comes to Him, it’s a testament that God is the one who saves. Not our bank account. Not our talent, our looks, our status, our strength. God saves.

And how awesome, how mind-boggling, how incredible that He uses ordinary people to get the word out.

Hell And The Postmodern/Post-truth Generation


When I was growing up in the middle of the twentieth century, at times I felt out of step with my culture. After all, I and my Christian college classmates helped rescue books from our school library, when across town students in the secular university were burning a nearby bank and sending bomb threats to their library.

As I see it, those beginnings of a cultural divide are nothing compared to what Bible-believing Christians growing up in today’s postmodern/post-truth culture are going to face. Think about it. Discipline, even among Christian parents, is nearly a thing of the past. School is to be tolerated or, for the bright students, to be used as a means to a good job. It is definitely not a place to develop your ability to think and reason. Fewer and fewer of the postmodern/post-truth generation attend church.

Consequently, a teen growing up with parents who discipline, homeschool, and take him to a Bible-believing church, will be an anomaly. More and more, he can expect “the world” to believe differently than he does.

The discussion over books like Love Wins by Rob Bell that calls into question the doctrine of hell is, I suspect, indicative of how great the divide has become.

There are a number of root issues. For starters, postmodern/post-truth philosophy does not believe in absolute truth. What’s right for you might not be what’s right for me. And what’s true isn’t as important as how a person feels.

That leads to tolerance, the word of the day. All people and their lifestyles are as acceptable as all others. It’s only OK to hate hateful people. Of course, by hateful people we actually mean people who disagree with us.

The biggest issue, though, is that postmoderns/post-truthers believe ardently in Man’s goodness. Society, nations, corporations, religion, of course, are all evil, but Man is good.

How then, could this generation possibly believe in hell? They have not experienced just and loving punishment. They have no belief in absolute truth. They discount sin.

As a result, they do not believe anyone (except maybe mass murderers, as long as that doesn’t include abortion doctors) deserves to be shut out of heaven, let alone suffer for eternity. And any God, should he actually exist, who would do such a thing, would be too cruel to have as a god.

In addition, they think, since spirituality is something personal and individual, anyone can re-image god according to his own conscience, which by the way, is bound to be a lot nicer than the God of the Old Testament. Jesus, now he’s another story. He’s alright. All those cool myths about him walking on water and stuff—it’s almost like he’s a superhero. And love! That guy had it figured out—love, love, love, and stick it to the religious bunch! We like Jesus!

You see the divide. The Bible contradicts each of these points.

Man is not good; he is sinful.

God is a real person, sovereign and infinite, loving, righteous, just, good, merciful, and true. (And His Son is exactly the same).

Man’s sin is an offense to God because it is rebellion.

The payment for rebellion is death, first physically, then a second “death” that is eternal punishment in a real place we know as hell.

Despite what postmodern thinkers say or believe, these absolutes don’t go away with a wave of the mantra, It might be true for you, but it’s not true for me. True is true. What’s more, God “has granted everything to us pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him.”

Peter wrote that at the beginning of his second letter, but he went on in the next chapter to explain some of that “everything”:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot … then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority … But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong.
– 2 Peter 2:4-13a (emphases added)

What does a long passage about coming judgment have to do with life and godliness? For one thing, it reveals God’s nature. He is a just judge. No one is going to suffer wrong as the wages of doing right.

He also has spelled out as a warning, replete with examples, what the unrighteous will face.

And He has made it clear that there is a way of escape.

This article is an edited version of one that appeared here in March, 2011.

Published in: on September 28, 2018 at 6:17 pm  Comments (1)  
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Holding Fast To The Word


When I say hold fast to the “word,” I’m referring to the Bible, but I could just as easily say this about the Word, which is Jesus Christ. The Bible actually only points to Jesus. It isn’t itself an object of worship. But it is through the Bible that we can learn about God and all that He has revealed to us.

I love the first two verses of Hebrews because the truth is right there—about both the Bible and Jesus:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways,in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

The fact is, we know about God because He spoke long ago and we know about the Son because He came long ago.

I know a lot of atheists think this “long ago” business is suspect. They say, if God is really all powerful, why can’t he speak now, today, so that we can know first hand what He wants us to know.

I don’t have a real answer for that other than that God shouldn’t have to repeat Himself. I mean, He graciously has said many things many times, but not for every generation in every place.

I have to believe His decision when and to whom to reveal His person, plan, work, and word, is part of His sovereign choosing based on His omniscience. I know it’s beyond my pay grade. It isn’t within in my ability to determine God’s best way of revealing Himself to the world, apart from what He has already told us.

What He said was that we, His followers, are to be his ambassadors, that we are to go and make disciples. In other words, getting the word out is something He asked us to do.

I’m constantly amazed that God, who spoke the universe into being, actually wants me to come alongside Him and do something with Him.

Best example I can think of took place when I was teaching. For a number of years I had the benefit of a student or two working as my teacher’s aide. Several years I even had an adult who came in and worked in that capacity. But inevitable, when someone new came in and I had to ask them to do a task—say, put up items on a bulletin board—I realized I could do the work faster, more efficiently, and more to my liking. Of course, the more the aide worked, the better they got.

I think of that as an illustration of God allowing me to do work He could manage way better. There certainly could be multiple reasons He decides to work this way, but one reason certainly is for our benefit who do the work. We enjoy the blessing of serving Him.

What does all this have to do with holding fast to the word? I think some people are so preoccupied with hearing something new from God, they miss what He’s already said.

I think some people want the next new spiritual thing in the same way they want the next cool development in technology.

God doesn’t change, though. Who He is, is who He has always been. He’s not going to surprise us with a new slate of Ten Commandments. He isn’t giving a pope or a prophet a new set of regs He wants the Church to follow.

In truth, He’s already said what we need to know. Now it’s up to us to listen and to do what He’s asked us to do. That’s not complicated. But it does require us to get a good grip on the truth.

Athletes who are successful have a good grip on the fundamentals of their sport. The study film, they compare notes, they research analytics, they listen to coaches, and they practice. They take the job that they have—pitching or batting or fielding; blocking or throwing a football or rushing the passer or running pass routes—very seriously. They might be gifted athletically, but their physical prowess will not earn them a spot on a team unless they hold fast to the fundamentals.

Christians need to do the same. We need to learn the fundamentals and we need to hold fast to the fundamentals. Those fundamentals are in the word and in the Word. Everything else comes from those two: prayer, how to handle temptation, dealing with sin, with fear, and mostly how to draw close to God. It’s all in the Book and the Book points us to Jesus.

Published in: on September 26, 2018 at 5:59 pm  Comments (3)  
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