Before Making New Year’s Resolutions—A Reprise


I know lots of people are big on New Year’s resolutions, but I’m not. I used to go the resolutions route, but at some point switched to yearly goals. Finally I dropped those too. The fact was, whatever I did seemed like a plan for failure. Sure I wanted to do 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. I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions since.

Not long ago something I read in Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening made me think there’s something different I could do instead. I think people who want to make resolutions might still find this idea appropriate, too.

Simply put, it’s a bit of an end-of-the-year evaluation, akin to a teacher’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 had gone and what we needed to do to prepare for the next year. The principal’s questions prompted me to ask what I personally was doing that needed to be improved. Even when I’d been teaching for years, I’d come away from the evaluation with a clear sense that I should not stand pat.

To be honest, I needed the principal’s prodding because, 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, why this search if God 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 making them. 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 goals or to pick a word for the new year or to follow any other kind of life-change plan.

This post is an edited edition of one that appeared here in December 2011.

Published in: on December 31, 2019 at 4:09 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Wages Of Sin Is Death


What a topic for a post leading up to Christmas! I mean, this is the season for Good News and peace and God’s good will toward humankind.

All true.

The angel who announced Jesus’s birth to a collection of shepherds said this precisely. Good news for all people. Today, in the city of David, a Savior, for you. And then a host—a legion, a battalion, a company of angels joined him. I’m reminded of the legion of angels Jesus said He could ask the Father for if He wanted. (Actually, twelve legions: “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” Matt. 26:53)

Well, at Jesus’s birth at least one legion was there standing before the shepherds saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14, KJV)

But who needs peace? Or God’s good will? Or a Savior, for that matter? Only those at war, who are in hostilities, who are unable to save themselves.

I know a lot of people think that what the angels said was wishful thinking: If only we wish hard enough or try hard enough, we can bring peace on earth. The good will part seems sort of nebulous. I mean, is there a god? Does he involve himself in the affairs of mankind? Does he give a rip?

Actually, Christmas—Jesus coming to earth—proves that God is, that He very much involves Himself in the affairs of humans, and that He gives much more than a rip about us.

But the peace, the good will, the salvation may not be what we expect. We’re looking for a better life, or perhaps a wonderful life. We want the good things, the best life now. In other words, it’s all about our happiness, our comfort, our ease, our fulfillment.

For many Americans, things are already going in the right direction. We don’t have any insurmountable problems. We’re already pretty comfortable, with the hope that we can keep making things better if we keep doing the right things.

On the other hand, there are people who have already given up. They are hopelessly mired in addiction or relationship disaster or financial ruin. They’ve lost their kids to the courts, they’ve been in and out of prison. Maybe back in again. They live in their car, but most likely, on the streets. They have no hope for a job that will help them turn things around. And peace? Good will? Salvation? Those seem like pie in the sky. Things for other people, because clearly, they aren’t having any of it.

What Jesus offers has to do with our relationship to God.

So many, many people miss Christmas. We’re not looking for peace with God or good will from Him or even salvation. But that’s because we’re confused, maybe blinded, to our real situation.

Our real problem is sin. It’s not anything else. Sure, there may be symptoms of the fundamental condition of our hearts, but a lot of people mask them. They say they’re fine. Why would they need a savior? They are healthy and happy and prosperous. Let the people who need the crutch of religion go on about a savior.

But they can’t see the gulf that sin creates between them and God. They can’t see how sin makes them God’s enemies. They don’t realize or don’t care that God requires payment for their sin.

What sin, some ask. I even had an atheist tell me she hadn’t broken any of the Ten Commandments. Never mind that she did not keep the first one, the second one, the third one, or the fourth:

‘You shall have no other gods before Me . . .
‘You shall not make for yourself an idol . . .
‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain . . .
‘Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy . . .’

This reminds me of the young man who approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to be saved. All the things from the Ten Commandments that Jesus named, he said he’d done. Then Jesus asked him to give up his idol, which happened to be his wealth. The guy left, downcast.

He thought he was good. He was blind to the fact that he actually had a huge need.

That’s so many of us today. We look at our physical situation and make an assessment as to how we’re doing: pretty good, some say. On the right track. Or, things couldn’t be better. But some may say, hopeless. I’m so far gone, nothing and no one can get me on the right track, if they even wanted to help.

In the end, we will never be able to receive the message of the angels that night Jesus was born. He is the Savior, because He acquits us of the punishment we rightful deserve. He frees us from the Law, from guilt, from the clutches of sin, from the eternal punishment that awaits. He provides the means to peace with God.

What will end the hostilities between sinners and a holy God? Jesus. And no one, nothing, else.

As far as good will is concerned, God’s good will toward us was demonstrated in His Son taking on flesh so that He could be like us—all but the sin part. He, the King of all, left His throne, submitted to a life as an ordinary human—except for the sin part. Then He died to pay the penalty of the sin that we are responsible for.

Now that is good will!

An end of hostilities, God’s good will poured out on us, His Son serving as Savior of the world. That’s what Christmas is about.

But honestly? We’ll miss it if we don’t recognize our own personal condition, in need of the things God offers.

Published in: on December 16, 2019 at 5:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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And We Wait


There’s only been one generation in all of history that actually waited for the promised Messiah and saw Him come. All the rest of us wait. The people who believed God before Jesus came, waited for the promised Messiah.

We know this from Scripture but also from history. Any number of false messiahs claimed they were the one promised by God, and for a time groups of people believed them. Until Rome killed them.

From the early pages in Genesis, God promised to crush Satan’s head, the very thing Jesus did by defeating death, by freeing us from sin and guilt and the Law.

Many prophecies told the Jewish people to expect a King, but also to expect a suffering Savior. The King, they embraced. The suffering Savior, they overlooked.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem before His last Passover on earth, the people flocked to Him, expecting Him to declare Himself the promised King. They had waited and watched, and many thought Jesus was the One.

People had asked John the Baptist if he was the one. They wanted so much to see the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in their time. They wanted to have a King that would defeat Rome and free Israel once and for all from political tyranny. John said no, he wasn’t the one. But of Jesus he said, Behold, the Lamb of God.

The Lamb? Not, the King?

Not the King, yet.

So many missed the bigger picture. They missed that the Messiah was not just for Israel. They missed that His Kingdom was not an earthly or a political kingdom. Yes, they waited for the Messiah, but in some measure, they didn’t understand what they were waiting for.

A handful of people got the message—pretty much hand delivered to them by God. Mary received the announcement that Messiah would be her son. And the angel Gabriel also told her why the Messiah was coming: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:33)

Interestingly, her soon-to-be husband received even more information:

She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Matt 1:21-23)

Then there were John the Baptist’s parents. And the shepherds and the prophetess Anna and the godly priest Simeon and the magi traveling from the east. All were looking for and expecting the Messiah. And all saw the promise fulfilled. Their wait was over. Sort of.

Some undoubtedly began a new wait, the one we share today—the wait for the Messiah to return.

I know, kind of crazy to talk about the return of the King during Christmas time when we celebrate His first coming. But I think seeing the promise of His first arrival come to fruition gives hope as we wait for His second coming.

We live in a day that was similar to what the first century people waiting for Messiah experienced. There were problems morally, socially, even within the ranks of religion. They wanted a King who would set things right.

And so many people today want the same thing. They are empty, without purpose, filling their lives with pleasures that grow stale, thinking there should be more.

And there is. Waiting for the Suffering Savior to come as the triumphant King, is an awesome joy. It’s like the bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to show in one of the parables. Or for the tenant workers waiting for the landowner to show and evaluate their work. It’s a glory and an honor to be found when the King comes, faithfully carrying out the tasks we’ve been assigned.

That’s why Scripture says over an over to stand firm, to “hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Heb. 3:6b). It’s why we’re not to grow weary in well-doing. We have the promise that Christ is worth waiting for.

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:4)

So yes, we wait, just like those Jews so long ago waited for the Messiah to come. And because Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Suffering Servant, because He came as an unblemished Lamb and shed His blood for the sins of the world, we can know with certainty that He will also come again.

God doesn’t do things half way.

Published in: on December 3, 2019 at 5:36 pm  Comments (3)  
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History In The Hands Of The Ignorant


I saw a news item some years ago. Supposedly a Hollywood star came out saying she hates the US holiday of Thanksgiving (the Los Angeles Times published a rebuttal article calling into question Fox’s motivation and journalism for drawing their information from popeater.com, though the Times failed to mention that sites like the Huffington Post also carried the story).

The “news event,” generated by second-hand reports, explained that this star was boycotting Thanksgiving because she didn’t want to be a part of rewriting history or commemorating “what the white settlers did to the native Indians.”

I’d like to rail a little against this one ignorant woman, except I saw something eerily similar from someone in my Facebook network.

Then today I learned that some are calling Thanksgiving a day of mourning, basically as a protest against the results of the Indian wars that occurred some 200 years after the event recognized as the first Thanksgiving.

Never mind that there are primary historical documents—journals by the pilgrims who actually celebrated that holiday, such as Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford and Mourt’s Relation by Edward Winslow and others—that make it clear Thanksgiving has nothing to do with any of the activity that forced the native Americans off their land.

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in New England. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.
Wikipedia

In what way would a gathering that included on average two Indians for every pilgrim settler be reprehensible? Especially when the settlers were thanking God for His provision—not merely for the food, but for the Indians who taught them how to survive.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest. To thank God for their deliverance and the help they had received from the Indians, Bradford held a three-day Thanksgiving feast inviting the Indians to join them in their celebration.
“Strangers, Saints and Indians” by John A. Murray, Wall Street Journal

For the next fifty years, the pilgrims and the neighboring native people groups lived in harmony. And Thanksgiving feasts took place in response to the blessings they enjoyed. Not every year, but with more and more frequency.

So who actually is “rewriting history”?

Certainly not the people who are reading the original source material. And not those of us who celebrate God’s goodness, as the pilgrims did—recognizing that God’s hand preserves and protects and provides.

Think about it. What were the odds that a native American, fluent in English, would “happen” upon this colony of pilgrims so in need of help?

But I’m getting sidetracked.

This well-documented story certainly can be interpreted from a number of angles (for example, by focusing on the English speaking native Americans, by looking at the political developments within the colony, by exploring the relationships of the various native people groups with each other), but it cannot be painted as the beginning of hostilities, pilgrims with Indians.

At least as long as we’re not rewriting history.

In one video I watched, one history re-writer said the Pilgrims were shooting guns in preparation of the army that would wipe out all the native Americans. But the forced removal of Native groups from their land—a reprehensible act that demolished a number of treaties and broke trust and harmed the possibility of peace—didn’t take place until 1830. Two hundred years after the celebration of a promising beginning.

No, things were not always good during those ensuing years, in the same way that the US fought against England in 1776 and then again in 1812. As it happened, some Indian groups allied with England and some with the colonists/Americans. And yes there were localized land fights on occasion.

But none of that should take away from the glory of the event that brought over 140 people together to feast and celebrate and to give thanks. The first Thanksgiving was remarkable and should be our goal, not a cause for further division and accusation.

Are we so ignorant that in this Age of Communication, people will believe something so easy to debunk as the false narrative that the Pilgrims had something to do with displacing the native Americans? The sad part is that believing it turns into repeating it, which soon hardens into rewritten history.

Much of this article is a reprint of an earlier post.

Published in: on November 27, 2019 at 5:24 pm  Comments (6)  
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If We’re Thankful, Why Aren’t We Content?


Photo by Nancy Lowrie from FreeImages

This Thursday those of us in the US will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. It seems quite common to hold a genuine feast on Thanksgiving Day, even pause to pray and thank God for the bountiful blessings, then scurry out the next day and shop to the dropping point.

So how thankful can we actually be if we must always buy more? Granted, I realize much of the after-Thanksgiving shopping is connected with Christmas, but the American way of life has become that of the consumer. Once, not so long ago, we made things. Now we consume things.

And what’s more, that’s considered the good life. During the Great Recession, the powers that be seemed to believe the solution to righting the ship was to get America away from saving and back into spending.

While I’m not saying that spending is “bad” or that our spirituality should be measured by how much we save, I do think there’s a point where we should evaluate our attitude to see if we care more about living the life of abundance rather than living the abundant life.

Not long ago I read the Biblical account of the exodus—God’s people leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. On their journey God provided their food—manna:

The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey. (Ex. 16:31)

Wafers with honey. Yet a bunch of people who enjoyed this gracious provision as they traveled across the wilderness found fault with it.

The sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Num. 11:4b-6)

For the moment, give them the benefit of the doubt—they were tired of the same diet, meal after meal, day after day. But look what they were doing—remembering what they’d enjoyed in Egypt.

Never mind that Egypt had just experienced devastating plagues that had wiped out virtually all vegetation. Between the plague of hail and the plague of locust, were there any cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic left for them to go back to?

The locusts came up over all the land of Egypt and settled in all the territory of Egypt; they were very numerous. There had never been so many locusts, nor would there be so many again. For they covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every plant of the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Thus nothing green was left on tree or plant of the field through all the land of Egypt. (Ex. 10:14-15)

Granted, the hail did not fall in Goshen where the people of Israel lived. Let’s say for the moment that the locusts didn’t go there either, though the text doesn’t specify this. How was it that Israel had the food they remembered so fondly when the rest of Egypt was decimated?

Obviously the answer was, God.

What they had in Egypt, then, came from the hand of God, and what they had in the wilderness came from the hand of God. Consequently, when they cried discontentedly against the manna they were “forced” to eat, they essentially were telling God He wasn’t doing a good job of caring for them.

In other words, discontent is actually an accusation against God.

Yet our entire existence seems to be made up of striving and struggling and trying and working. Oh, wait. Wasn’t that what God told Adam life would be like outside the Garden?

So the striving and all isn’t the problem per se. That’s the condition into which we’ve been born. But responding with discontent seems to me to be a choice—one that clashes with a genuine spirit of thankfulness.

Minus a few editorial changes, this post first appeared here in November 2010, then again three years ago.

Published in: on November 25, 2019 at 5:12 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Anatomy Of Thanksgiving


Soon we in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day, so I want to take a closer look at the nature of thanksgiving.

My first observation about thanksgiving in general is that it is a responsive action. People give thanks because they have first been given something or have benefited from some condition or in some other way have experienced favor or provision. In other words, we don’t start out being thankful. We become thankful as we realize what we have received.

Thanksgiving, then, requires a level of humility. If we think we have earned all we have, if we aren’t acknowledging the fact that we received from another’s hand, we won’t be in a mindset to give thanks.

In that regard, Thanksgiving also requires a measure of reality. We need to see the truth about our circumstances. We need to have clarity of vision so that we realize both what we have received and what we would be like if we hadn’t received.

True thanksgiving, having been properly caused, seems to erupt from within. As someone on another site noted, thanksgiving can’t be mandated. No one can be thankful by order of the President, even if that President was Abraham Lincoln. Rather, thankfulness flows from a heart of love and relief and appreciation, not only for the thing received, but for the person who made it possible.

Third, thanksgiving is expressed. Real thanksgiving has legs. It moves from being an emotion to being a demonstration, through words or actions. People giving thanks aren’t silent and they often aren’t still. Thankful people give smiles and hugs; they pack bags and fly hundreds of miles across country; they send cards and presents; they sing songs; they put offering into the plate at church; they get up a half hour early to pray. In short, thanksgiving is not passive.

I can’t help but think of the story Jesus told Simon, the Pharisee who hosted him for a meal.

“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42).

Jesus didn’t say, which will be more thankful? He said, which will love him more? Thanksgiving isn’t passive. It turns into love and service and shameless adoration. At least, real thankfulness does–the kind that recognizes the great gifts which have been bestowed and receives them in humility.

In the end, I guess that explains why we so often take time on Thanksgiving Day to think about the things we’ve been given. An awareness of what we have that we did not earn puts us in a place where we can experience thankfulness and then respond.

So let the count begin of all the blessings God has bestowed upon us. Let’s not forget the things God has revealed about Himself that are treasures in and of themselves: He is infinite in love, His mercy extends to the heavens, He is abundantly trustworthy to the point that He will never fail us or forsake us, He is righteous in all His works, His goodness is untainted with even a shadow of wrong doing.

And the list goes on!

This post is a reprint of one that appeared here in November, 2013.

Published in: on November 15, 2019 at 4:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Veterans’ Day, AKA Armistice Day


One hundred years ago today, the US celebrated the one year anniversary of the end of World War I, which was known at the time as the Great War. Seven years later Congress passed a resolution calling for an annual celebration. Then, in 1938, Armistice Day became an official national holiday.

Fittingly, after World War II and after the end of the Korean War, in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name of the holiday to Veterans’ Day.

This particular holiday differs from Memorial Day in one significant way: the commemoration in May honors those who died serving their country, whereas Veterans’ Day honors all military personnel living today, those who are still in the service and those who have matriculated from the service.

Sometimes I think we do some nutty things with our holidays, and this was one. Back in 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill (and apparently President Johnson signed it) which moved Veterans’ Day to the fourth Monday in October! President Gerald Ford returned it to November 11, six years later, largely because of the historical connection to the end of WWI.

I’m glad he did. I had a hard time with changing Abraham Lincoln and George Washington’s birthdays to the nearest Monday, and even more trouble with the combined celebration calling it now Presidents’ Day. It’s kind of like celebrating the 4th of July on the first Monday in July, or something. That would be so wrong because you know, the 4th should be celebrated on the 4th.

So thankfully Veterans’ Day has been returned to its original anniversary. The problem is, a lot of the history of Armistice Day has been lost, I fear. I mean, there’s been so much history that has happened in the last 100 years, it’s easy to crowd out what at the time was a momentous occurrence.

What we here in the US may not realize, the First World War lasted from 1914-1918. Over 9 million people died. The conflict started as “the European War” but soon became a global war. Although President Woodrow Wilson campaigned, and won his second term in office, by running on the slogan “He kept us out of war,” the US joined the war efforts on the side of the Allied Powers in April 1917 by declaring war on Germany.

In many ways, it’s ironic that we celebrate the armistice that was signed to bring an end to the conflict because historians point to the conditions of peace and the punitive terms imposed on Germany as one cause of World War II. But of course, back in 1919, no one knew that a worse war would almost dwarf the mayhem caused by “the war to end all wars.”

But even though the armistice was sketchy, at best, the point and purpose of a day set aside to honor veterans, is not. It is only right that we should acknowledge and thank the many men and women who have and are serving us, which they do by serving our country. And many times their families are required to make sacrifices, too.

So thank you to those who spent time in whichever branch of service they may have been a part of. I mean, the Coast Guard is just as vital as the Air Force. And reservists are just as vital as career military people. All those sacrificial people desire our thanks, and much more. The deserve our support, our help, our willingness to reach out and befriend a veteran, our prayers. They deserve our willingness to listen to their stories, to share their heartache or their triumph.

May God provide and care and watch over those who faithfully put their lives on the line for us.

Published in: on November 11, 2019 at 5:10 pm  Comments (5)  
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By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


A significant anniversary for Christians is approaching. On October 31, five hundred and two years ago, the grace of God once again took its rightful, prominent place in Christianity. Consequently, I’m re-posting this article from three years ago, with revisions, in commemoration of what God has done.

Part of my growing up included a spiritual education, so I learned early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived, qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

That thought seems odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works, as the Church defined them. No doubt some people who were saved, gained that right standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of His free gift.

All that changed when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church, which is what he intended. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification—God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous—by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.” (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“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.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard of indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Himself as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But in this culture today we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality, and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

So, Fishing It Is, Then


Peter015You’d think that after the resurrection, once Peter and the other disciples really grasped the fact that Jesus was alive, they’d be ecstatic. Coronation plans back on. Messiah, about to plant His kingdom. Disciples, next in the chain of command.

Except, apparently the crucifixion had done a number on their thinking. Maybe the fact that Jesus had not stood up against the Romans but actually, in His dying hours, called on God to forgive them—maybe that fact upended their old plans. This rule of Messiah, if it was even going to be a rule, would have to be different from what they expected.

And if truth be told, Jesus was different from what they expected. I guess death and resurrection can make a person change like that.

Apparently at some point, Peter said he’d had enough. He’d done the evangelist/healer thing, and it hadn’t worked out. Not the way he wanted. So it was time to get back to what he knew best—fishing.

Since he apparently had some natural leadership ability tucked inside him, the other disciples did a “yeah, me too,” and off they all headed for the boats. Except the great return to fishing didn’t go so well, at least at first.

The disciples spent all that first night fishing and caught nothing.

I can imagine what Peter was thinking:

Wouldn’t you know it? First the Great Teacher I followed as the promised Messiah—the Son of God—gets arrested, and instead of defending Him, I deny I know Him. Not once, but three times! Which maybe kept me alive that night, though I’d told Him I was willing to die for Him. Instead I stood helplessly by and watched the Romans execute Him. Their governor said He wasn’t guilty of any crime, but they killed Him anyway.

For three days I couldn’t think of anything except my awful words. I didn’t know what to do, how to go on, because my purpose in life no longer existed.

When the women came back from the tombs with a crazy story about the rock rolled to the side, men in white, grave clothes in place, and no body, that Jesus is alive, I thought they were nuts.

John and I went to check out their story. Sure enough, just like they told us—no body. None of it made sense.

Until that day Jesus stood in front of us. He didn’t knock or open the door and walk into the room. He was just there. I couldn’t believe my own eyes, but it was Him. He had the nail-print scars from His crucifixion, and . . . He knew Scripture. Like old, He started teaching what the Law and the Prophets actually said about Him. Not what people thought the Scriptures said, but what they actually said and meant.

For a few days, I thought things would be like they had been before—except, I could hardly look Him in the face. I’d let Him down. After I’d claimed I’d follow to death, I’d sworn I didn’t know Him.

But now Jesus was back. Except, not like before. He pretty much came and went in a blink of an eye, when and wherever He chose. No following Him now.

I couldn’t hang around doing nothing, so fishing seemed like a good idea. After all, I’m a good fisherman. Or used to be. All night we stayed out and fished. In the end, we caught nothing. Figures.

How gracious and kind of Jesus to come to Peter when he had to be at his lowest point. By His omniscience He directed the men where to find a catch—or perhaps it was by His omnipotence that supplied the fish for them to catch. At any rate, He’d done that once before, and John immediately recognized Him. As they brought in the fish, Jesus sat before a fire cooking breakfast. They joined Him and ate. I wonder what the conversation around that meal was like. At some point, Jesus singled Peter out for some one-on-one time.

He asked Peter three times, do you love Me: Do you love Me more than these, do you love Me with self-sacrificing love, do you love me with brotherly affection? The declension grieved Peter, but he had at least learned one lesson—no more was he going to inflate his devotion to Jesus. He faced the truth that of himself all he could claim was a fond affection for this man He knew to be the Son of God.

Yet Jesus persisted in telling Him to shepherd His sheep and feed His lambs. He brought it home and said as He had three years earlier, Follow Me (see Matthew 4:18-20). This time, though, Peter knew what Jesus was asking and what it would cost him.

It all may have seemed like an impossible task. The one thing Peter didn’t yet know was that God would fill him with His Holy Spirit, and in His power he’d be able to do what heretofore he’d been incapable of doing. He was just beginning to learn about this gracious Christ he served.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in April, 2013.

The Triumphal Entry


This coming Sunday is commonly referred to as Palm Sunday, the day Christians commemorate Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. He rode on the colt of a donkey, something associated with the kings in Jewish culture, and his followers spread their cloaks before him, waved palm branches, and shouted Hosanna!

Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting: “Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10)

According to some the translation of hosanna is, save, I pray. The term is linked to Psalm 118:25 which says,

O LORD, do save, we beseech You;
O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity!

Hosanna.

Most likely, in the eyes of Jesus’s followers and the Jews in Jerusalem suffering under Rome’s oppressive rule, Jesus was coming to the nation’s capital to establish His kingdom. They might well have been planning a coronation rather than a funeral.

Looking back through the lens of history, we know that Jesus did not take over the government of Judea. From a political standpoint he was hardly experiencing a triumphal entry, so why do Christians persist in calling it by that name? Why not, fated entry or doomed entry?

I don’t know what others think, but as far as I’m concerned, Triumphal Entry fits–not in the way those in the first century running ahead of him or coming along behind shouting Hosanna intended it, but in the way Jesus planned to fulfill His own purpose.

He had not left Heaven to come to Judea to establish a temporary earthly kingdom over that one small country. Rather, He had His sights set on the World.

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)

Jesus entered Jerusalem, triumphant in the knowledge that the plan established before creation was nearly completed. He was on the last lap, coming down the home stretch with the cheers of the crowd echoing in His ears. No, they didn’t understand what His job was or what He yet had to face. They cheered from their ignorance for the hope of something temporal; He came to offer an imperishable, everlasting inheritance by triumphing over death and hell, over sin and guilt, even over the law.

So, yes, this step toward His crucifixion was His triumphal entry. His triumphal exit, when He broke free of the tomb, was still a few days away.

This post is the third reprint of an article that appeared here first in March, 2013, then again in March, 2016.

Published in: on April 9, 2019 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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