Angst And Worry


Western culture seems to revolve around angst and worry, to the point that we do everything in our power to deal with it. Except the one thing that is needed.

More and more we are diagnosing teens and preteens with anxiety disorder. We wring our hands because the suicide rate of young people is on the rise. At first this fact was laid at the feet of “homophobia,” but with the spreading acceptance of the LGBTQ lifestyle, that excuse no longer seems accurate.

The fact is, kids worry. Adults worry. Everybody worries. Or tries to escape worry. Drug addiction seems to be unchecked, including prescription drugs given to “calm” these anxious teens down. And no one talks about the use of alcohol, unless it’s coupled with driving or abuse. So an untold number of adults are fleeing their worries inside a bottle. There are even jokes about following a stressful event by finding a potent drink. Because clearly we can’t deal with worry in any other way. We simply must numb it or forget it.

The problem is, when the drugs wear off, when the hangover is all that’s left of the drink, the cause of stress, worry, anxiety remains.

Trouble at work? Chances are, that trouble will still be there in the morning when the “calm” wears off. Relationship problems? Drugs and alcohol don’t see to actually repair relationships. How about financial woes? No, substance abuse definitely doesn’t make money problems better. Probably the opposite is true.

Of course not everyone who feels stressed out or distressed about their marriage or their job or about their wayward kid or health concern runs to some addictive beverage or pharmaceutical. There are other ways of escaping stress. We can live for thrill; we can bury ourselves in entertainment; we can become workaholics. Anything to take our minds off that which causes us to worry.

But none of those things makes the thing behind our worry better. None of them. When we get back from the ski trip, the problems at work will still be there. After we finish bing-watching Lord of the Rings the money problems will be no different. We can go to Disneyland every day, and we won’t change the medical diagnosis of the person we love so much.

In truth, there is only one solution to angst. The Bible gives it to us clearly in 1 Peter 5:7—“casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

God wants to take our worry off our hands.

The problem is, we either think He can’t or He won’t fix whatever is troubling us. So we have to do what we can’t trust Him to do.

Part of that thinking is actually right: God might not fix our problems the way we think they should be fixed. Our loved one might not recover from cancer, our wayward child might walk away from us, our church might split, our boss might promote someone else instead of us, our washing machine might need to be replaced, our baby might have Down Syndrome.

But in and through all the hard things of life, God walks with us. He “fixes” our problems in ways we could not imagine before hand. Chances are, the “fixes” are spiritual and occur because of the difficulties. If I had not lost my spouse, I would never have learned to depend on God instead. If I had not had the accident, I would not have had the opportunity to witness to that nurse. If I had not lost my job, I would not have had the courage to start the ministry God has led me into.

Above all, when we do not cast our cares on God, we remain ignorant of how much He cares for us. Oh, sure, we might say, God loves me. I mean, He loves the world, right, so that includes me.

But actually, God’s love is much more personal. If there were no other people on earth, Jesus Christ would have died for my sins. Because His love is not some sort of generic thing that He’ll withdraw if there aren’t enough people involved. Really, He loves me.

His caring for the things we hand over to Him, is one way we can come to understand how personal His love is for us. He’s not too busy or too preoccupied or too overwhelmed to pay attention to the cares and worries I lay at His feet.

The thing that is perhaps the best here is that this caring that I can see so clearly as I give God my problems, creates a relationship that overshadows any of the problems I’ve been so concerned about. The love and peace and comfort and mercy and forgiveness and wisdom and joy that comes from a caring God, dwarfs the stuff that would drag us to the pit of despair.

Why? Because we’ve put the problem in hands more capable than our own. We’ve called in the Good Physician, the omniscient and omnipotent God who “upholds all things by the word of His power.” How can I not trust Him to know what’s best in my circumstance?

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Published in: on January 15, 2019 at 5:33 pm  Comments (1)  
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Countering False Assumptions


A member of the humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse waits to board a UH-1Y Venom, with Joint Task Force 505, for transportation to the Villages of Chilangka and Worang, Nepal, May, 11, during Operation Sahayogi Haat. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by MCIPAC Combat Camera Staff Sgt. Jeffrey D. Anderson/Released)

I never knew there were so many false ideas out in the world until I got on the internet. I knew there were false ideas about Americans—I’ve lived in various other places such as Africa or Latin America. But the internet has shown me the false ideas about politics, and Christians, and God, and the Bible—things I was not as aware of.

According to some on the internet, of the atheist stripe, Christians have no basis for their religious beliefs other than wishful thinking. The idea is, Christianity is a myth but we refuse to accept the truth and believe anyway.

Bong! Wrong answer.

I’m not sure what this group of atheists thinks about the hundreds of thousands of theologians who study the Bible and history and archaeology and science and psychology and on and on. One possibility is they simply are unaware of the depth of scholarship, the number of universities, of books, of seminars, of debates, or of university lectures.

The other possibility, of course, is that no contradictory ideas are tolerated, no matter how studied the view. I got such a response concerning a scientist, the head of the human Genome project, who became a Christian. Gave up his atheism. But in doing so, in the eyes of some he is no longer qualified to speak.

But God’s existence is only one position targeted with false assumptions. Even within Christianity I’ve discovered there are false assumptions, such as “Christians who believe the Bible are Pharisees.” Or those who are into “easy believism” aren’t really saved. Or evangelicals are all hateful. Or fundamentalists are all judgmental.

So many of these false assumptions are so far from my personal experience, it’s really hard to understand how these exaggerated and generalized ideas came to be accepted as the true—by anybody.

Here’s one in the political realm that I’ve heard on TV not the internet, but I’m sure it is there because the sponsors of this campaign post their website. It’s a movement to impeach President Trump. Frankly, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a more rigorous and intentional attempt to remove him from the Presidency sooner, but the point for this post is that this group claims President Trump is the acknowledged “most corrupt President in history.”

I guess these people have never heard of Richard Nixon who would have been impeached and ousted from office had he not resigned. Or what about Warren Harding? One site says this about President Harding: “He loved playing poker and womanising, but was less interested in running the country. His cabinet and official appointments included a large coterie of old pals from Marion, Ohio, including several of his relatives. Many of these people made personal fortunes from taking bribes.”

Then there was James Buchanan who pulled all kinds of shenanigans that exacerbated the brewing conflict over slavery. Or how about Andrew Johnson who actually was impeached, though never convicted, because of his mismanagement of reconstruction after the Civil War which enabled the Carpetbaggers to sow havoc in the South.

I could go on, but the point for this article is how false the statement is that President Trump is the most corrupt President ever.

I guess what surprises me most about all the false assumptions is how easily a little online research can expose the false assumptions. Without half trying someone can find out that Evangelicals are not hateful but actually have been behind a host of projects and organizations that promote the welfare of peoples of all stripes, in all places.

For example, several years ago CNBC reported “The top 10 charities changing the world in 2016” which included the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (number 7), Samaritan’s Purse (number 4), MAP International (number 2).

But those are only the large international organizations that get noticed the most. There are everyday things that go on under the radar, such as the $100,000.00 raised by my church in the Thanksgiving offering that went to help those in need in our local community—with things like laptops for moms who were volunteering to replace a discontinued after-school program that helps students with their homework.

There are so many examples I could give that simply blows apart the idea that “evangelicals” are hateful and narrow-minded and bigoted and judgmental. Never mind programs for the disabled like Joni and Friends or outreaches in local universities to international students. Or inner city shelters. Or missionaries and the hundreds of thousands of Evangelical Christians who support them as they provide means for needy people to access clean water or give needed medicine or teach literacy.

I have no doubt that some people identifying as evangelical Christians are not generous. I mean, Christians are people and therefore sinners, and we are capable of falling into error ourselves. But certainly all evangelical Christians are not legalistic and bigoted and fear mongers.

So many of the false assumptions, like the “most corrupt President” line, are just completely false, but whether there is an element of truth or the idea is an out and out lie, they ought not stand unchallenged.

Of all the things that matter these days, one matters above all others: TRUTH, which, by the way, points to Jesus, since He is the way, the truth, and the life—the only Way we can come to God.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

Anxiety In The New Year


I keep hearing about people starting 2019 filled with anxiety and a sense of woe. I’m not sure where this pessimism is coming from. Maybe it’s the usual depression brought on by winter. Maybe it’s the divisiveness currently in our nation. Maybe it’s the downward spiral some see our moral climate taking. I don’t know for sure.

What I do know is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

That truth actually isn’t good news for people who reject or ignore God, because He has already demonstrated that when evil reaches a limit, He will act in judgment. He did so with Egypt, with Canaan, with Israel, with Judah. Why would the God who is the same from one era to the next suddenly go soft on sin? He isn’t likely to do that. But we don’t know just how or when His judgment will fall.

So those who are far from God have reason to be somewhat anxious.

But Christians? Not if we are going about doing our Father’s business.

There’s a little known verse in a little read book of prophecy, Nahum 1:7, that I’ve come to love:

The LORD is good,
A stronghold in the day of trouble.
And He knows those who take refuge in Him.

There’s no false promise in the verse that God will magically take away any and all trouble. Rather, it pretty much promises a day of trouble. But God matches that with a greater promise—He is the stronghold, the fortress, the citadel, the bastion, the fortification. Not for everyone. Well, I’ll qualify that. Yes, He is the stronghold for everyone, but not everyone will trust in Him.

Those who do . . . well, He knows who those are. We can’t fool Him, or pretend we trust Him when we actually are depending on our own strength. He knows. And, as a reminder, He’s the omniscient one. As David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said in Psalm 139,

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all.

God’s knowledge about each one of us is not limited, so when He says He knows who takes refuge in Him, I believe He does in fact know the real from the pretend, the “in name only” and the “all in’s.” He knows.

I find a lot of comfort in that. I won’t get lost in the shuffle of all the many, many people—those on the front lines, those in the thick of the fight. I might be nothing but a squire, delivering missives from one commander to the line of soldiers on the wall, but God knows I’m in the Stronghold, that I’m there for refuge, that I have no other “safe place” than in His presence.

I find it so ironic that our culture works so hard to keep everyone safe these days, and yet we are as vulnerable as ever. We have laws about seat belts and helmets and strollers and vaccinations and plastic bags and straws and abuse and fraud and border security and on and on, but we still face danger to our health, danger from nature, danger from individuals, danger from other nations. Perhaps most surprising is that we have become aware of danger from ideas. But instead pf arming ourselves for battle, instead of running to the Stronghold, we are drawing little circles around ourselves and declaring them safe zones. Reminds me of children playing tag but with a safe zone where they couldn’t be tagged. I mean, could they live there? Of course not. So they either had to leave the safe place or quit the game.

The cool thing is, we absolutely CAN live, or as Jesus says, abide, in our Stronghold. In fact we’re commanded to do so:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

Abiding as a branch sounds even more permanent than taking refuge in a stronghold, except when you think about cities under siege. Staying inside the secure walls was paramount, just like a branch staying attached to a vine. So the images are really the same.

The point is, those without the vine, without the Stronghold, may very well be anxious, and may even be rightly anxious.

Sort of like when the 12 spies of Israel checked out the Promised Land. They reported back that there were giants in the land. Real giants. They had reason to believe that they couldn’t take down the giants—as long as they thought they were to do so alone. But they weren’t. Ever. God Had freed them from slavery and had preserved and protected them on their way. Why would they think in the day of trouble, He would abandon them? That was their great mistake.

What a difference if we take refuge in Him instead.

Wise Men And The Seeking Thing


“Wise men still seek Him,” the signs say. I saw one the night my friend and I cruised through a community lavishly decorated with lights and Santas and candy canes and an occasional nativity scene. Years past when I was a teacher, I even had those words as the title of a Christmas bulletin board in my classroom.

The phrase, layered with meaning as it is, sounds sort of profound. And Christ centered.

But here’s the thing. In my experience, it doesn’t seem like we seek God so much as God seeks us.

First, God isn’t hiding. He has purposefully and dramatically made Himself known. That’s what the first Christmas and the ensuing thirty-tree years were all about. Jesus came to show humankind the Father.

Secondly, people seem to be more interested in dodging and ducking and hiding from God than in seeking Him. Of course many flat out deny and reject Him. C. S. Lewis wrote of his reluctance, his fight, actually, against God. He called Him his adversary once and wrote this of his conversion:

That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. (Surprised by Joy)

It seems to me, the people who fall into the category of “seeker” are more apt to be hiders, ducking behind the quest for the spiritual in order to avoid God and His claim on their lives. Scripture says clearly that anyone who truly seeks, finds.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7-11)

Consequently, it seems to me the seeking process isn’t some protracted, drawn out, involved study of world religions or long nights of deep meditation. Those kinds of things are hiding tactics, more likely to obfuscate than to reveal. God has told us what we need to do to find Him: look at His Son Jesus.

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

So there’s Christmas in a nutshell. When we look at Jesus come down from Heaven, we are seeing the Father: His love for the lost, His sacrificial heart, His generosity, His mercy and grace, His forgiveness, His humility, His desire for reconciliation and peace, His goodness.

Do wise men seek Him today as they once did over two thousand years ago? Those ancient magi thought they were going to find the King of the Jews, and they did. But they also found the Creator of the world, the Redeemer of Mankind, the Friend of sinners.

Whoever seeks Jesus on those terms is bound to find Him.

This article is a re-post of one that has appeared here twice before: originally in December, 2013, then again in December, 2015.

Published in: on December 21, 2018 at 4:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Christmas Love Of God


Isaiah 7:14
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”

Isaiah 9:6
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

A child born, not a son born. The Son is preexistent, the I AM, and did not come into being that day when Mary gave birth. God gave us His Son. He left heaven, emptied Himself, took the form of a bondservant, and was found in the likeness of Man.

He who fashioned Man in His image, took the likeness of the one He had fashioned. And as a child, He was born—the humble relinquishing of His place at the right hand of the Father in order to secure for us a place at His heavenly banquet table.

I can’t conceive of a greater example of love. The Father giving His beloved Son. The Son obeying the Father and leaving His heavenly home to come to earth. The Triune God expressed His love for us in giving Jesus and in His coming in the form of Man.

In that one act God showed His generosity, His self-sacrifice. But He also showed what His love means: it’s not sentimentality or warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s not tit for tat or “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” It has no limits and is freely given. Further, God’s love “has legs”—it’s not just an emotional expression but it has action to back it up.

God’s love is not about God spoiling us. He doesn’t treat us like a sugar daddy. His love has our best in mind—a spiritual and eternal best. Consequently, God doesn’t hesitate to correct us as part of His love for us. He will not withhold discipline for fear that we might not like Him as well any more. He’s also not concerned about people concluding that they might be nicer than He is. He knows the truth and His love doesn’t compromise the truth.

In fact, God’s love is an extension of His character. He can no more stop loving than He can stop being God.

What did it mean for Immanuel, God with us, to take up residence outside of glory? He was subject to all the stuff of Mankind—the passions and joys and hopes and successes, but also the dreams cut short, the sadnesses, the temptations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Child come and a Son given as an expression of God’s love!

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in December, 2014.

Published in: on December 18, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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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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If Jesus Came To Your House


When I was teaching English to seventh and eighth graders, we did a speech unit. Students selected poems or prose pieces (and later, puppet scripts), memorized them, and recited them in front of the class.

One of the poems provided was “If Jesus Came To Your House.” It was a little shorter than some, with an easy rhythm and a clear rhyme, so it became a favorite. Over the years, I heard it quite often. The poem was all about what you might do if Jesus came to visit at your house. Would you have to hide some magazines and put the Bible where they’d been, for example.

Of course, today magazines wouldn’t be as much an issue as your computer’s online history. “Would you have to hide the sites you’ve searched” might be a line from the revised version of the poem.

The basic question actually is a good one.

What if Jesus came to my house for His birthday celebration? Would we feel a little awkward around Him, the way you do with that aunt you only see once a year or the great-uncle who starts most of his sentences, “I remember the time …”

Would we want to listen to Jesus’s stories, or would we tell Him to wait until after the game?

Would we ask Him what He got us for Christmas, or would we have a gift for Him waiting under the tree?

If Jesus came to my house on Christmas day, would I have to check my grumbling and complaining because no one is out in the kitchen helping with the dishes? Would we have to finish the argument later about why we didn’t invite the in-laws this year?

Would we find it hard to relax, thinking we had to be on our best behavior for the King, or would we tell Him to make Himself comfortable, then go about our business? Maybe we’d cluster around Him and ask Him to lead us in Christmas carols or ask Him what it was like to be both God and Man at the same time.

Would any of us think to ask Him what it was like to leave Heaven for … here? Or would we think to ask Him what the earth He created was like before sin took effect?

I wonder if we’d scurry around and try to make Him comfortable. You know, give Him the best chair, ask Him what His favorite foods are, and make a last minute grocery store run if need be. I wonder if we’d turn up the heat if we thought He looked cold or ask Him questions to be sure He’s included in the conversation.

I wonder if we’d go beyond trying to make Him comfortable and become concerned about making Him feel special. After all, it is His birthday we’re celebrating. So, do we know what would make Him feel special? It’s an important question.

Would He want us to read the Bible all morning or hold a prayer meeting? Or can we make Him feel special by making the other people we’re with feel special?

I wonder, will Christmas this year look anything like it might if Jesus came to my house?

This post is a lightly edited version of one that appeared here in December, 2010.

Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

Published in: on December 14, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Christmas: The Beginning of Easter


As a matter of accuracy, Easter actually “started” before the beginning of time when Jesus committed to saving sinners. In addition Jesus, the coming Messiah, is the focal point throughout the Old Testament—God’s record of His dealings with Man.

Nevertheless, the actual act and fact of God’s Son coming to save all who believe begins with the first Christmas. Yet His coming was never an end in and of itself.

That would be like Santa showing up, just to show up. What child would anticipate for weeks the arrival of a red-suited, rolly-polly, white-bearded stranger who would come in the middle of the night to eat cookies and drink milk? No, the story of Santa Claus only makes children wide-eyed and hopeful because of what he supposedly comes to bring.

Jesus, of course, has the advantage of being real, but would His story have any more impact than Santa’s if it was simply about a baby—even God’s Son—showing up one night long ago? Sure, the events were miraculous. A pregnant virgin, a miraculous star, an angelic announcement—well, actually three angelic announcements, capped by the grand showing of a host of heavenly beings saying, Glory to God in the highest.

Glory to God, indeed!

Not because He’d pulled off the birth—His fullness, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. But because the baby would grow up and become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In Him, peace with God would be possible, and love, one with another, a reality.

The Victorious King coming as the Suffering Savior was the good news—the very gospel—those shepherds heard that night. No, I don’t think they “got it” any more than Mary and Joseph did. Nevertheless, the events of Easter were underway.

One man got it a week after Jesus was born—eight days later, to be precise. His parents took Him to the temple, as prescribed by Jewish law, and they encountered Simeon:

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,

According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him.

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:25-35, New American Standard Bible)

May we all, like Simeon, have a clear understanding of the significance of this day we commemorate.

Merry Christmas

This post is a lightly edited version of one that appeared here in December, 2010.

Published in: on December 13, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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  Leave a Comment  
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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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