The Extent Of The Mercy Of God


Lots of people underestimate the severity of sin. In turn that propensity turns into a similar response to the mercy of God: we underestimate it also!

One of the things that makes God’s mercy so great is that He covers all our sins, not just the socially acceptable ones. So He can forgive gossip, and He can forgive mass murder.

I know some people don’t think that’s fair.

I think this idea of “not fair” comes from a) not grasping the fact that all sin, any sin is open rebellion against God, and therefore a major problem. No sin is minor. No sin is not serious.

But “not fair” also comes from b) believing we are capable of covering over, at least in part, our own sin. That we can earn most of our way to heaven and only need God’s help with that last little part. People who aren’t as good might need a little more of his help, and I might actually need him to give me a boost at the beginning, or to set the foundation for forgiveness, but after that, I can take over.

Both those ideas miss completely what is truly happening.

Instead of committing minor infractions, all of us have made ourselves rebels. We are spiritual terrorists. We would usurp the King’s rule if we could, and install ourselves in His place. That’s the truth about a).

The truth about b) is that we have a bomb vest locked around our waist, and we simply cannot take it off on our own. We can pretty it up, make it look like a special accessory, but that doesn’t make it less deadly. We can hang out with the bomb squad, but that doesn’t get that killer-vest off. We can run as far from all the major population centers in our state in order to minimize the damage to others, but we’re still going to blow ourselves up if we don’t let Someone who is able, disarm the monster we are wearing.

Our merciful God comes to us, takes the vest from us, and throws Himself over top, taking the blast Himself. For us. In our place. To protect us. And to protect all the people we would harm.

It’s the most selfless act anyone could ever do—to die in someone else’s place. But God in Christ died, not for a buddy who He was fighting with. He died for a terrorist who wanted to sit on His throne and to rule in His stead. He died for the enemy.

Paul spells it out in a clear way in Romans:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (5:6-10)

What does that say about God’s mercy? First that it’s limitless. He doesn’t have a cut-off line where any who commit too many sins or ones that are too horrible, are no longer able to obtain forgiveness.

He also extends His mercy to the most undeserving: not to friends or people who like Him or who are on His side. We may fool ourselves into thinking we are one of those, but the truth is, as long as we refuse Him kingship in our lives, we are His enemies.

Then too, God’s mercy does what we cannot do for ourselves. Paul says it this way in Titus:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (3:4-6)

Our glitzy resume of good deeds doesn’t change the fact that in our hearts we are terrorists until we accept God’s love and kindness which will do for us what we so desperately need: to be freed from the burden of sin and of guilt strapped around us.

When we take God at His word, when we believe what He says, then this truth becomes our reality: “[Christ] Himself likewise also partook of [flesh and blood], that through death He might rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Heb. 2:14b-15)

God’s mercy is not only vast, not only available to the undeserving (which is all of us), but it is deeply personal. He sent Christ to the earth because He loves the whole world, but not in a generic way.

Jesus showed us that. His mercy is for the woman with five husbands he encountered at the well, for the cheating tax collector, for the Jewish leader bent on capturing Christians and dragging them to trial. He came for the prostitute and the leper and the children even His own followers tried to shoo away. He came for the thief who hung on a cross next to His at Golgotha. Jesus may have fed crowds, but He didn’t give mass absolution. He dealt with people one on one. As He does today.

It’s part of God’s mercy. He sees us. He knows us. He cares for us, as individuals, with personal needs and questions and even doubts. Ask Thomas.

Published in: on May 14, 2019 at 5:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Severity Of Sin


Some years ago a group of protesters I’ll call Occupiers because of their propensity to camp out for days in various places, sometimes waved signs before cameras to draw attention to their complaints. They weren’t speaking with one voice about much, but their early 99% signs and the choice of Wall Street as a starting place, tagged them as protesting corporate greed. Why, I began to wonder, weren’t they protesting the greed of the shoppers who pushed and shoved and cursed and pepper sprayed their way to “big savings” on Black Friday?

It’s all in the proportion, I suppose. As long as someone wasn’t bilking thousands of people out of their life savings, then their greed wasn’t alarming. In fact, their greed probably looked a lot like our greed, and our greed is “normal.”

After all, everyone wants the best buy they can get, right? If I have to elbow someone else for the last sale item on the shelf, then so be it. The fastest, most pointy-elbowed chick won the day, right? Shopper beware.

The thing is, the mentality is no different than the corporate exec raking in his millions in bonuses even as thousands of his employees end up jobless. The craftiest, business-wise guy won the day, right? Entrepreneur beware.

In truth, we tolerate greed, or pride, or gossip, or anger, or lying, or any number of sins just as long as they a) don’t hurt us directly; and b) don’t end up beyond some culturally acceptable line. We can hurl abuse at players of an opposing team, and maybe even throw a (plastic) cup of beer at him, but when someone beats up a fan of the opposing team and puts him in the hospital, that’s over the line. Some abuse is tolerable, too much is criminal.

The acceptable limits, I believe, exist because we are constantly comparing ourselves with ourselves. We start with an understanding that nobody’s perfect. So we’re all in the category of mess-ups, and it’s just a matter of finding our ranking—the lower the better. As long as I believe there are more people ranked above me than below me, I’m in good shape. I’m normal. Acceptable.

The normal part is true, the acceptable part, not so much. The real problem is we don’t have an understanding of how deadly sin is. How much exposure to anthrax is acceptable? How much cyanide is safe to ingest? We understand these to be lethal and do what we can to avoid or counteract them. Sin is lethal too, in small doses or large. There is no acceptable level of wolf’s bane, and there should be no acceptable level of sin.

We don’t think there are direct effects of sin, however. We understand that people die, and that’s a fact of life, no matter how good or bad a person has been. That should be our clue: nobody’s perfect, and everybody dies. Those are about the only categorical statements we can make about humans. Why is it we miss the fact that there’s an association between them? The Bible states it clearly: The wages of sin is death. Little sins, big sins, greed that hurts one or greed that hurts many—the wages are the same.

Which initially might not seem fair. I mean, if some people do their best to go along without hurting others, shouldn’t they get some credit for it? That’s like asking if someone who was only exposed to anthrax for a day should be considered better off than someone who was exposed for a month. Both are deadly.

But we don’t understand this deadly nature of sin. We don’t understand because we can’t grasp the offense sin is to Holiness.

Yet we’re offended at corporate greed. And I feel sure that people who were pepper sprayed at the mall were offended at the greedy shopper. Perhaps others were offended when they were pushed and shoved or cursed.

Our offense seems justified, though we push and shove too, though we cheat on our taxes or on our spouse or in a game of cards with our friends. We who are sinful find sin against us offensive. What, then, must a holy God feel when He is sinned against?

And there’s the real point. Every one of our sins is against Him. Sin after sin after sin. We may stay in the normal range, but think about the hateful attitudes, pride, envy, greed, lust that piles up in one person’s heart over a week, a year, a decade. Each of our sins is toxic. Not that God can be hurt by them but they are like water to His oil. They cannot mix.

On the other hand, sin is toxic to us, even in the smallest measure.

But God who loves us provided the antidote. More precisely, He provided the substitute. Physical death is still part of our experience until Christ returns, but because of His willingness to stand in my place, I am free from the permanent effects of sin if I put myself at His mercy and ask Him to rescue me.

God, because of Christ, has promised He will forgive those who confess their sins:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Does God’s forgiveness mean sin isn’t really such a big deal after all? Hardly. Sin is as toxic as ever, but God’s power is greater. Consequently, Christ, the Sinless One in Whom the fullness of Deity dwells, paid in our stead … if we confess, if we continue in the faith.

Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:22-23a).

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in November, 2011.

Published in: on May 13, 2019 at 5:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Does God Really Love?


Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels

Atheists accuse God of being hateful. “Progressive Christians” claim the Bible simply isn’t an authority or true because it has all those stories about God bringing judgment down on people . . . and they died. Others say God’s not the problem: His followers are the hateful ones because they preach hell and sin; in contrast Jesus “hung out with sinners.”

The last position implies that Christians who believe all the Bible aren’t actually following Christ. They’d say, I suppose, that God is loving, but somehow He failed to communicate to His followers what love was supposed to look like.

The whole idea is another way of rejecting Jesus.

God could not have been more clear: [I] love the world so much [I] sent my Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Nothing tricky there. Just God telling us straight out that He loves all of us. That His love caused Him to make a monumental sacrifice, one that Jesus (being God) voluntarily carried out by stepping into time and space, living on earth away from His heavenly home, and dying unjustly in order that we who believe might live.

There’s more.

From the beginning God loved. He loved Adam so much He didn’t leave him alone. He created Eve. He loved the two of them so much He warned them away from the one tree that would bring them death.

When Adam willfully ate from the tree anyway, God didn’t stop loving them. He set in motion the way of escape by giving a promise or a prophecy, whichever way you prefer to look at it: Death was now a fact of life, but one day, the Son of Man would crush death.

History unfolded with God giving pictures of this rescue that He planned, for all who believed: Isaac, rescued by a substitute lamb; Israel freed from slavery; Daniel, delivered from the lions; Jonah, given a second chance to obey God. So many more.

God also sent prophets who warned of sin, even as God Himself had done for Adam. Besides the warnings, these prophets told of the coming redemption. For all who believed.

At the right time, God sent His Son as that One to rescue those who believe from the dominion of darkness.

God’s work in the world has always been about love.

That’s one reason He refers to the Church—those of us from every tongue and nation and ethnicity who believe in Jesus—as the bride of Christ. Because clearly, bridegrooms love their brides.

If God didn’t love, He more than likely would have let us wallow in the mess of our own making. Those who turn their backs on Him often do. So do those who pretend to know Him but actually don’t. They say they’re his, but they act from their own evil desires. These could be people in the church or outside the church. Jesus made it clear that one day they will come to Him and He will tell them He never knew them. He said that some would come to the wedding feast too late or not properly dressed. They simply won’t be ready.

But doesn’t love make accommodation for those who aren’t ready? Sure. By warning them to get ready. That’s what God has asked His followers to do. We’re the ones He put in charge of getting the word out that anyone who wants to attend the wedding feast has to get ready.

“Getting ready,” He also makes clear, is something He has provided for as a free gift we simply accept by faith.

Pretty easy, right? We who follow Jesus just have to tell people they have a free gift waiting at the will-call window. They just need to pick it up.

“Yeah, but that’s out of my way,” some may say. Or, “I don’t think I need the gift.” Some might say, “I need to go to this other party first,” or “I can’t show up looking like this; they’d never give me the gift if I didn’t first dress up a little.”

Of course there’s the crowd that says, “Faith! Faith? You’re talking about wishful thinking because we all know, if it’s too good to be true, it’s probably not true. A free gift of love? No. Accepted on faith? Hahahah!! You’re not going to find me falling for that one. Show me this banquet and this bridegroom first and them I might consider showing up at the will-call window. But probably not. Because anything can be fake news or photo-shopped.”

All the while, God is patiently waiting with arms outstretched, holes in the palm of His hands, to bring us to the feast He has prepared for us, out of His love.

Published in: on May 8, 2019 at 5:32 pm  Comments Off on Does God Really Love?  
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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.

Waiting


Photo by Tim Mossholder from Pexels

When I was little I remember waiting . . . a lot. I remember waiting for my mom when we went shopping. I remember waiting for my birthday, which was hard. I mean, my sister had a birthday, and then four days later, my brother had a birthday. Mine? I had to wait another seven-plus months. Then there was Christmas. As soon as it was over, I remember waiting for the next one. I wanted one of those count-down calendars in the worst way. Anything to make the time seem like it was going.

Oh, and then there were the trips. We took a lot of car trips as a family. And I was one to ask with some frequency, are we there yet? I took up map reading as a way to answer my own question because I could tell, my parents were getting tired of it.

Surprise, surprise. Waiting is pretty much what the human race has been doing since the Fall, since sin entered into the world.

When God corrected the wayward pair in the garden of Eden, He introduced His solution to the problem:

And I will put enmity
Between you (Satan in the guise of a serpent) and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel. (Gen. 3:15)

Say what? What’s this bruising on the head and heel stuff, and who is “He”? Other parts of Scripture shed light on this part of God’s corrective measures. Satan is the serpent, also identified as the dragon of old. His seed, would be one coming from him. In the same way, the seed of the woman would be one coming from her.

Now if a person is walking along and a snake bites them, it will likely be somewhere on the foot, here specified as on the heel. Not a deadly strike. On the other hand, if that person steps on the serpent’s head, he crushes him, kills him. The serpent, then will get his shot in, but it won’t be deadly; the seed of the woman wins.

But when?

It is this event humankind waits for and has been waiting for, from that moment on.

I don’t know when the Jewish people put the label “Messiah” to the one for whom they waited, but He appeared in the form of other types throughout history. Paul even called Adam a type of Christ, though kind of in the reverse sense. Adam brought sin, Christ brought grace. Adam, condemnation; Christ, justification. Adam, death; Christ, life (see Romans 5).

But all through history, people who weren’t The One, popped onto the screen of history, pointing to The One. Some of these types include Isaac, whose father was to offer him in sacrifice; Joseph, who came out of his prison to rule; Moses, who led the people of God to the Promised Land; David, who reigned with justice over Israel; Jonah, who was in the stomach of the God-prepared fish for three days and three nights.

In addition to the people, there was the yearly Passover Lamb, which symbolized Christ’s substitutionary death that gave life to God’s people. Add to that, the scapegoat who bore the sins of the people away from the camp. And the daily sacrifices, whose blood covered the sins of those making the offering.

What’s the point? All these types and these symbols pointed to The One God had said would crush Satan’s head.

Add to these sign posts, God also sent prophets who spoke from Him and specifically told the people that Messiah was coming. Daniel called Him the Son of Man, Micah said He’d be a king, the Psalms said He’d be greater than David. So many others. To the point that, when Jesus came, people had already seen a number of false messiah’s who claimed to be The One.

In other words, they’d been eagerly waiting for Christ.

And at long last, He came.

But not the way they thought He would. They’d overlooked all the types pointing to His sacrifice and all the prophecies about his suffering. Jesus Himself had to explain to his disciples, after His resurrection, what those Old Testament references meant.

In truth, when Jesus came, He did crush the head of the serpent of old. It’s just that the enemy of our souls is either unclear about the concept of defeat or he’s trying to take as many people as possible down with him.

But there’s another pertinent fact. Even though Satan who had the power of death, has lost his power, he’s still at large. He hasn’t yet been held accountable for his part in the fall of humankind. In addition, Christ hasn’t yet taken the throne.

He will.

He’ll return to reign in a way that will cause everyone to bow before Him.

But that’s not yet. So we . . . you guessed it, we wait.

Waiting isn’t easy, but God gave us some specific things to do. First we are to be on the alert, we are to watch, we are to be ready, we are to go and make disciples. This waiting time is actually prep time. God is using this time to bring in those who will sit at His banqueting table. And He’s using us to get all the invites out.

Published in: on February 20, 2019 at 5:49 pm  Comments (3)  
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Blessings


When I was a young adult, I hated the word “blessing,” especially in a song like “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing.” It seemed like an empty word, along the line of “nice.” I wanted meatier words. Something that said something weighty.

I’ve changed my tune since then. I do so often feel blessed, and it isn’t because God has been nice to me. It’s more. It has the idea of His hedge around me, His protection, provision. Like He’s watching out for me, there to catch me when I fall. There to pick me up and patch up my skinned elbows and knees. There to perform surgery on my heart whenever I need it.

Above all, He’s with me. He comforts, encourages, prods, instructs. I could go on, but what I learned today about blessings is something beyond the definition. I heard a radio sermon by Pastor Tony Evans entitled, “Why God Wants to Bless Us.”

His point was kind of revolutionary, I think. At least it had an impact on me. God wants to bless us, not just because He loves to give good gifts. He wants to bless us so that we in turn can be a blessing. In other words, He gives in order that we might give. He doesn’t give so that we can use up His gift on ourselves.

The first example Dr. Evans gave was of Abraham. God blessed him, no doubt, giving him a son in his old age. In fact, giving him many sons after his first wife Sarah died. God gave him long life and much wealth. But above all those material things, He gave him a promise. In him—that is, through his descendants—many nations would come into being, and they would also be blessed.

At this point, God flipped the script. The blessing He was talking about wasn’t just temporal. This blessing was for everyone and it was eternal.

Not just Abraham’s kids and his kids’ kids, on down the line, would receive God’s blessing. This blessing was for the nations. Galatians 3 spells it out:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

The blessing, given to Abraham, received in Christ by all who believe, even us Gentiles.

Time and time, that’s the way God works. He gives so that we may give. Think about the young guy, a teen perhaps, or younger, who gave Jesus the food he’d planned on eating that day he followed the crowds to hear Him teach. When the disciples went among the people asking if anyone had some food, the text implies the boy gave them his few fish and loaves of bread.

But the disciples didn’t accept that small blessing and start chowing down. They in turn gave the food to Jesus who turned it into a blessing for 5000 other men, plus an unnumbered group of women and children.

Of course, Christ Himself is the greatest example of this “pay it forward” approach to blessing. He came to the people in the first century, teaching and healing. He was a great blessing to many. But He turned His time on earth into much more because He gave Himself as a ransom for us all.

I think, too, of the Philippians, giving generously to the Apostle Paul to meet his needs, so that he in turn could bless many, many others through his preaching and writing. Those Philippian believers had no idea the blessing that would come from their gift to generations.

There are a lot of other examples—the Israelites, giving their gold and jewelry coming out of Egypt so they could build a tabernacle. Each giving, all receiving a blessing as a result—a blessing that lasts in the pages of Scripture.

This “receive God’s blessing so that you can give a blessing to others” seems to be God’s modus operandi. I don’t know why, but He seems to delight in involving us in His work. He could rain manna from heaven any day He wanted, but that particular way of providing for a needy people, hasn’t been repeated. But people blessed abundantly with the necessities of life—those folk—God nudges and instructs and leads by His Holy Spirit, to feed the poor and the needy. He does that throughout time and in all kinds of places.

Why? Why would He choose to involve us in His work?

I think Paul gave us one reason at least—He does it so that we might receive a blessing.

Say, what?

It’s true. When we give the blessing away, not only do others bask in God’s provision, but we receive, too. Paul spoke of it as “profit.”

Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. (Phil. 4:17)

Christ, again is a great example. Scripture says that He endured the cross for the “joy set before Him.” Yes, He gave, but as a result, He has the joy of seeing His banqueting table fill up.

It’s a continuing cycle, sort of like the water cycle, but I suspect this one is eternal.

Published in: on January 28, 2019 at 5:57 pm  Comments (6)  
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Not A Religion


Christians are apt to tell others outside the faith that we do not have a religion; we have a relationship. It’s really true.

When I consider what is different between the beliefs of, say, my cousin who is a Buddhist or my cousin who believes in some form of Hinduism, and my faith, I come to this religion/relationship issue.

I thought perhaps our understanding of heaven and what happens after death might be a key component in our differences. After all, Christians have the hope of heaven. We don’t see eternal life as an endless merry-go-round of incarnated lives, hopefully getting better and better until we lose ourselves completely.

No, Christianity is vastly different. We have the same sad parting from a loved one who passes away, but we have the hope of a future with that person if they embrace the good news of Jesus. Our parting is temporary. Not a good-bye but a see you later, as blogger friend Wally so beautifully reminded us in his post about his father-in-law.

Certainly that is different. Different from atheists who think death ends life completely. Different from people who have no idea what happens when we die, or from ones who think we all end up in the same place, whatever that place might be.

Christians have a knowledge that leads to assurance and hope, despite the grief of parting. It’s unique, but it isn’t the only thing we have.

In truth, we only have the hope of everlasting life, which we will enjoy with our loved ones who also believe, because first and foremost we have a relationship. We have a unique connection with the God of the universe, made possible because of what Jesus Christ was willing to endure on our behalf. So here and now, in this present world, we enjoy this kinship with Jesus.

The Bible introduces all kinds of metaphors to help us picture what would otherwise be so mysterious we’d have a hard time grasping the significance and truth about our being reconciled with God.

Jesus describes Himself as a Good Shepherd, a Mediator, a Friend, a vine, and more. But most significantly, He calls Himself our brother while at the same time identifying us as children. In other words, there’s an element of kinship involved, which is really just another way of saying relationship.

I suppose the most obvious aspect of this relationship is the love of God which is poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love is behind His taking care of our sin problem, and that’s something we enjoy now. The weight of guilt, gone; the fear of judgment, dealt with. Hebrews 2 says we’re set free from the slavery of the fear of death.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this relationship is that we Christians are growing up, spiritually speaking. We’re starting to want the things God says He wants. Sure, it would be nice to be rich and famous, but how much better to live in such a way that God receives glory and honor! How much better to love our neighbors, to see unbelieving people become the committed followers of Christ?

Why would we do that?

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” — Jim Elliot

We cannot lose the love of Christ.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

We cannot lose the joy and peace and patience and kindness and self-control that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Those things will only grow and fill our lives more fully as we get to know our Savoir more and more.

We cannot lose our forgiveness, our justification, our right standing before God.

We cannot lose the privilege of prayer.

We cannot lose God as our “victorious warrior.”

“The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (Zephaniah 3:17)

I could go on. There is so much that our relationship with God through Christ gives us. Christianity is about as far from “religion” with its cold ritual and self-help efforts as imaginable. But friendship? Sonship (and daughtership)? Brotherhood (and sisterhood)? Those are the things that define our faith. And they are things we will enjoy without end!

Putting Christ In Christmas?


Call me cynical, but I find the call to put Christ in Christmas to be a suspect cause.

I do think there’s a legal issue at stake—the US Constitution guarantees the freedom to express and practice our religious beliefs, but that freedom is slowly being squeezed out of the public arena. The ban on such expression is just one more instance.

And yet, I can’t help but think too many Christians are willing to fall on the wrong sword.

Was Paul beaten because he wanted to put up a manger scene? Was Stephen stoned because he insisted on saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy holidays”?

I’m not suggesting we should roll over and go the way of the world just to get along. But I think we too often draw a line in the sand over the symbolic rather than the significant.

First of all, Christ should not be in Christmas only. Christ should be part of our lives, and I don’t think we should approach Christmas in a way that is particularly different from any other day as far as our witness for Christ is concerned. Hanging up a “He is the reason for the season” sign falls short, in my way of thinking, because He is the reason for EVERY season, for every breath I take—or He ought to be.

Then, too, becoming angry at and hateful toward those who disagree and who want to eliminate the religious from Christmas seems to contradict much of the Christmas message. Joy to the world, not anger. Peace on earth, not enmity. Of course, joy and peace come through knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior—no other way. But when Christians treat non-Christians as the enemy, as the ones against whom we are to fight, then we’re missing an opportunity to take them the message of redemption that first manifested to the world in God’s incarnation as a little baby.

If we can no longer put up a symbol of God come down, perhaps we need to think more creatively and see how we can show that message ourselves. When was the last time we served in a soup kitchen or made a blanket for a homeless person? Have we ever volunteered to teach English as a second language or tutor at our local public school . . . for free? Have we encouraged our church leaders to reach out to the needy in our community—families of those in prison, unmarried women who chose to give birth to their babies.

The point is, God did come down. And because of His redemption, each person who believes in Him and accepts the forgiveness He made available through Jesus, is now a Christmas tree ornament, a bright light announcing Emmanuel.

So do we need to fight to keep Christ in Christmas? As long as His followers live for Him, there’s no way anyone can keep Him out of Christmas, or any other day, for that matter.

This post is a revised version of an article that first appeared here in November, 2012.

Published in: on December 19, 2018 at 4:54 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Visit Of The Magi


I’ve heard the story of the wisemen since I was a child. At one point, one of my favorite Christmas carols was “We Three Kings.” But when I learned the Bible never calls them kings and that we don’t actually know if there were three or three dozen, it kind of spoiled the song for me.

Largely their part in the Christmas story has been a mystery to me. I mean, is there some truth to astrology—God does tell our stories in the stars? Or were the wisemen experiencing a miracle? But how can you know to look for a miracle? Unless, as some think, these particular wisemen, more accurately called magi, came from Persia and had access to or had been influenced by Daniel’s writing, including some Messianic prophecy.

Mostly, we don’t know. It’s a mystery.

But what we do know is really interesting, and the pastor who preached at my church this Sunday drew a really interesting contrast. Others have done so in part, but there’s more than we often consider.

I’m talking about the contrast between the magi and King Herod of Judea.

The magi showed up in Jerusalem asking to see the new king because they wanted to worship him. That, in itself, is a little startling. I mean, Caesar likely took the role of a god in the Roman empire, but I don’t think the lesser kings who ruled in out-of-the-way places like Judea would have talked about themselves as deity.

In other words, there’s a spiritual aspect to the magi’s visit. They didn’t just come to make a political statement, though that would not have been unheard of. At various times in the Old Testament one king or another was traveling to a neighboring country or sending emissaries to honor a new king, the son of one who had recently died.

The thing was, Herod had not yet died and no son of his had recently been born. The magi could only be looking for one person—the promised King of the Jews, the Christ, the Messiah.

Herod knew this, which was why he turned to the Jewish religious leaders to find out where the Christ was to be born. Once he had the location spelled out for him via the scribes and priests who knew the prophecies, he passed the information on to the magi, for one reason and one reason alone: he planned to execute this “new king.”

Apparently historical records all agree about Herod: he was a power-hungry, barbaric ruler who would kill anyone he suspected of trying to usurp his position, including his own sons and his own wife. In other words, all Herod cared about when the magi showed up was putting down a new threat to his power. He wanted to hold on to what he had, at all costs.

The magi, on the other hand, had nothing to gain. Their mission was to give. Yes, the physical gifts they had brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But they also had adoration to give because when they came to the house and saw Jesus with Mary and Joseph, they prostrated themselves before the baby and worshiped Him.

Before that, they gave their knowledge—some amount of study had to go into their ability to recognize what this star that they saw rise in the east, referred to. Then there was the planning and the preparation to go to Jerusalem. I mean, you didn’t just hop in the car and take off to another country. Then there was the travel time. Maybe four months, maybe six, maybe eight, followed by the return trip.

In short, the magi went all in. They invested their talent, their resources, their time, their treasure, their worship.

And Herod? He wasn’t willing to invest in anything except a plan to kill the Christ Child.

Sadly, the priests and scribes who gave Herod the information about where the Messiah would be born, responded more like Herod than like the magi. I mean, Bethlehem was maybe five miles from Jerusalem, they knew that was where the Messiah would be born, and they knew the magi were looking for Him, so why didn’t they look too?

I suspect they were just as concerned about holding on to their religious power as Herod was holding on to his political power.

But one more cool thing about the magi: they opened the door to us Gentiles. The Messiah, after all, was King of the Jews. But Gentiles came and worshiped Him. Oh, I suppose the magi could have been of Jewish descent—descendants of those exiled to Babylon years before. But still, they came from a foreign place, which foreshadowed the worldwide ministry Jesus declared: “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.”

Published in: on December 17, 2018 at 5:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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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.

Published in: on December 12, 2018 at 5:04 pm  Comments Off on Did You Know? First Christmas Facts  
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