The Solution Is Not Political


The US has been pulled in two this year by all the rancor and accusations and rushing to judgment and anarchists and rioters. And then came the first Presidential debate.

Nothing could have demonstrated how divided we are more than those 90 minutes. At the same time, nothing could have demonstrated so clearly that what the US needs is not a political solution. It’s spiritual.

Pointing fingers and claiming that this person lied or said or did or didn’t do this or that doesn’t actually solve anything. It doesn’t bring clarity to the issues. It doesn’t actually answer the questions because those who agree with President Trump will believe him and those who agree with the former Vice President, will believe him.

This should surprise no Christian.

I understand, Christians like so many other Americans love their country, and it is hard to see people steadily dismantle what it has stood for all these years, to actually hate it and accuse those who are their neighbors and co-workers of hate.

I know this is old school, but all through my history and sociology courses, the clear ideal for which America stood was a place where all peoples from anywhere could find freedom and the pursuit of happiness. We though of ourselves during those years as a “melting pot,” a place where various peoples all became one—Americans.

No one hid from us the failings of our country—of slavery and the scar it left, of the Japanese interment camps during WWII, of the hatred Germans endured at that same time. But no one hid the great accomplishments of “people of color,” either.

I could spend a lot of time elaborating, but that’s not the point here. Rather, despite the wonderful ideal and the good instruction that certainly did play a part in forming the attitudes of many of us, we are far more divided now than we ever were. Ever.

In other words, the public policy, the political solutions, the social engineering have not brought peace and harmony to our land. In fact, they’ve hardly moved the needle.

The fact is, each and every one of us needs to bow the knee to the Sovereign Lord God Almighty.

Interestingly the Bible has a lot to say about harmony and unity, most addressing believers. “To sum up, all of you, be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit, not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.” (1 Peter 3:8-9, I believe).

Of course the Apostle Paul called the church in Philippi (and us right along with them) to have the same attitude Jesus had. To regard others as more important than ourselves.

Do you think we would have racial or political division if we were doing what Scripture calls us to do?

But people who don’t follow Jesus likely won’t ever get there. For one, they don’t recognize the Bible as an authority, and two they don’t have any motive to do what Jesus did. Christians have that motive: “But you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also died for you leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” (also in 1 Peter 3).

So the real need is not to try and make people with no motive do what Christ taught and did, nor is it to try and fashion a government after His principles that is void of the heart of what He said.

Christ came to preach good news—release for the captives, the forgiveness of sins. He didn’t come to set up an earthly kingdom. Various people groups have tried to do this before—the Puritans in England, the Calvinists in Geneva, and perhaps that’s what the Pilgrims wanted when they came to America. I know here the Amish have tried for the same idea.

It doesn’t work. Some might think the Amish have been successful, but that’s because they don’t know about the church splits over the use of a hook and eye instead of a button or zippers instead of either. Or about the Amish that excommunicate others for having a telephone or any number of other legalistic trivia. No, the Amish community is not an example of a successful earthly group that lives in harmony.

The only such group is the Church, and we aren’t setting up an earthly place to gather or to rule. That’s part of our heavenly inheritance. But what I’ve noticed is this: since God calls us brothers and sisters, there is an instant affinity, Christian with Christian. So if I’m talking to a Kenyan I’ve only just met or if I’m sitting on a small stool in the hut of a poor Guatemalan or I’m sitting at a sushi meal in Tokyo, there is a rapport, a recognition, that we are family.

The family of Christ supersedes earthly cultures or nations or ethnicities. When I sat in a church in Harlem and sang with an all black congregation, I was with my brothers and sisters. That’s the unity that can transform a nation.

I know a lot of Christians are familiar with a part of this verse:

[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Too many people are only interested in these parts, when they pray, I will heal their land.

First God spoke these words to Israel, and He was referring to the Promised Land. I don’t think there’s any evidence that the US is a Promised Land replacement.

But more importantly, the verse says if we call on God’s name, if we humble ourselves, if we pray, if we seek His face, if we turn from our wicked ways . . . then God will hear and forgive and heal.

So where is a national turning to God? Israel had the temple and the Mosaic Law and kings anointed by God’s prophet as David was, and still needed God to explain to them that they had to be ready and willing to turn back to Him. Their God established nation and political system was not enough.

Certainly, certainly we must see that it’s also not what we need today either. We need repentant hearts and a turning to God. That’s what we should be preaching.

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

Published in: on September 30, 2020 at 5:13 pm  Comments (5)  
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What’s Behind Mistaken Beliefs


Jesus was pretty clear about the reasons for the very religious Jews of His day getting their theology off the track of truth.

In the days leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion, both Pharisees and Sadducees worked overtime to trip Jesus up. He faced question after question that was designed to paint Him into a corner, either with the Romans or with the Jews.

While Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, the Pharisees had brought up a point of Law—Mosaic Law. I suspect this was their “gray area” question, bound to get one group or another upset, no matter how Jesus answered.

Using flawless logic, coupled with knowledge of Scripture Jesus squelched their plan. The question: is it right to divorce? After all, Moses made provision for it in the Law.

Jesus’s answer: Sure he did because of the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning, that was not God’s plan. He then laid out one of His, “But I say to you” statements as He did in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matt. 19:9)” In other words, he breaks God’s Law.

When He reached Jerusalem, the questions continued: Where did you get your authority? Did they have in mind Jesus’s “But I say to you” statements? Or did this question refer to Jesus taking it on Himself to kick all the money changers out of the temple? No matter which motivated them, the question was another way of asking, Who do you think you are? Because clearly Jesus was taking authority the Chief Priests and the scribes had not taken.

Jesus sidestepped that authority question. In fact, He answered with a counter trap: Where did John get his authority. They wouldn’t answer, so Jesus declined to give their question an answer.

Then came the question designed to get Him in trouble with Rome: should we pay taxes to Caesar? Here Jesus again used impeccable logic: since Caesar’s picture was on every coin, the money belonged to him, but then give to God the things that belong to Him.

Rome certainly couldn’t accuse Him of rebellion from that answer. And the Jews couldn’t accuse Him of turning His back on God.

Pivoting from trying to catch Jesus saying something against Rome, the Pharisees gave way to the Sadducees. These guys didn’t believe in the supernatural. Not sure what they actually thought about God, but they denied the existence of angels and didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead.

In answer to these false teachers, Jesus gave the answer that fits all false teachers, down through time. His statement was really simple. Basic even. But profound. Of course He went on to apply His answer to their specific question about marriage in heaven, but here’s the principle:

But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29).”

Their false ideas, the very foundation of their sect and what they taught, developed because they did not understand Scripture, and because they did not understand the power of God.

I can think of any number of cults that have gone astray for one or both of those reasons. They don’t understand what the Bible says about Jesus. So Mormons think He was a created being who worked his way up until he became a god, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t think He was God at all.

Other people don’t understand the power of God, so they deny that He created the world out of nothing by the words He spoke. They deny the miracles of Scripture. No worldwide flood, no path through the Red Sea, no walking on water, or stopping a storm with His word, no healing of the lame and blind, no resurrection from the dead. Those things couldn’t happen, they say, because look around you: they don’t happen.

Ah, but you are mistaken because you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God.

What a load of dung, they may answer in return. Your Bible is full of errors and no one knows what the originals actually said.

Well, that’s not true, but at the heart of your statement, you are mistaken because you do not understand the power of God. The Word God inspired, He can also preserve and protect. Many facts support the idea the Bible we have today, even in various translations, has been preserved and does faithfully reflect what God said about who He is, what His plan for and His work in the world is.

So yes, people who don’t understand the Scriptures or who deny the power of God, are going to get swallowed up by false teaching of one kind or the other.

Who Will Separate Us From The Love Of Christ?


Many Christians love the last portion of Romans 8, starting with verse 28. There just seem to be so many quotables in that passage.

Verse 28 itself is one of the all-time favorites, though too many people misquote it or misunderstand it. At one point the prevailing notion was, “All things work for good for people who love God.”

What the verse actually says is, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” In other words, there might be some “not very good things” that God causes to work together for good to those called by Him, chosen by Him, committed to Him, obedient to Him.

I think of big things like a death in the family, a disability, an unrighteous or unfair action by those in authority or anyone else who has power over us. Like Joseph experienced when his brothers ganged up on him and sold him into slavery. His conclusion: “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good to bring about this present result . . .” (Gen. 50:20)

Back to Romans 8, other verses in the passage may also be misunderstood or taken out of context, but most people familiar with this section of scripture get the intent of verse 35 and following, when Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

The magnificent crescendo of the passage is that no, none of that, or any thing else we might imagine can divide us from the love of God in Christ:

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. (vv 38-39)

It’s a wonderful, comforting conclusion. Heartwarming.

But the Bible is much more than a book of feel-good statements or tee shirt slogans or greeting card text. The Bible is intended to reveal who God is and how He has, does, and will work throughout history.

Paul was convinced that a comprehensive NOTHING could stand between us and God’s love, and believers today give a hearty amen!

Suddenly, amid the routine of life—the fairly comfortable and trouble free routine of life most of us in western society seem to enjoy—true disruption inserts itself in the form of a pandemic. People are dying, losing their jobs. People have succumbed to fear, maybe even a little panic. Maybe some frustration, and now boredom.

But have we been separated from the love of Christ?

I’ve heard some oft repeated phrases meant to encourage people, things like, we’re all in this together or this will all pass or we’ve got this. One phrase I haven’t heard is, this virus can’t separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.

That’s really the only thing that matters. We might be in distress because a loved one is on a ventilator. We might be in peril because of the spate of tornadoes bearing down on our community or the earthquake that jolts the very ground under our feet.

God’s love reaches through all those temporal events. His love reaches past the discouragement or doubt Satan and his forces try to bring to bear on our lives.

Of course, it’s easy to say or read these verses. But putting our faith in God’s love is a lot harder when we can’t see the end of a trial or the good that can come out of it. Yet maybe, just maybe we should be thinking about trials as sign posts of God’s love, saying in essence, This thing is just one more thing that cannot separate you from God’s love.

Why is this hard? Because we are so dependent upon ourselves and our senses. If what we see is financial distress, fear, danger, illness, and death, we can’t see the way God is working all that stuff out for our good. We think of good as healthy, comfortable, at ease, surrounded by those who love us and who we love.

God has a higher standard for good. He tells us in v 29 that He’s working things together to conform us to the image of His Son. His ultimate plan is to fit us for an eternity with Him. That’s a kind of good we may have a hard time imagining.

But here is where faith comes into the equation: God has told us in His word that nothing separates us from His love. Do we believe it? Do we live in light of the love He pours on us or do we live in the fear, the uncertainty, the disappointment of the moment?

If God’s word is only providing heartwarming memes to post on Facebook or Instagram, the reality of His love will not actually be a comfort, I don’t think. But if we use His word to preach the truth to ourselves every day, maybe all through the day, then God’s word will be life changing.

Because the truth is, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 5:14 pm  Comments (6)  
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Easter Isn’t A One Day Event


I know stating that Easter isn’t a one day event will be self-evident to some and nonsense to others. I guess it goes back to what a person believes Easter commemorates. There are some, of course, who think it marks the cycle of life and the coming of spring after the cold winter. Others think it’s about candy and the Easter bunny. Some think it’s a call to attend church for the year, to get a spiritual boost.

A smaller number of people think Easter celebrates the day Jesus rose from the dead. Those people might have some question, along with the others, about this idea of Easter being something other than one day that marks a notable happening.

But Easter is much more. True, there was a moment in time when a group of mourning ladies made their way to a Judean tomb with the intention of adding spices to the body of the man they had hoped was the Messiah of God. What they discovered was an empty tomb and a angel saying they shouldn’t be looking for the living among the dead.

And there it is. Easter marks the fact that Jesus lives. He didn’t just come out of the tomb on that first day of the week, then die again. He, in fact, conquered the grave—defeated it, gained total victory over it. Death could not, would never, touch Jesus again.

What He accomplished as a sinless sacrifice for the world God loves, was not a one-day exploit. He didn’t die as the Passover lambs did. His sacrifice was complete—the once-for-all kind, the just for the unjust. And His resurrection was the first fruits of God’s harvest. Just as Jesus came out of the grave with a new body that will not die—a new body that was remarkably familiar because it bore the scares of His crucifixion and allowed Him to eat at will, but also one that was remarkably different because He could pass through doors and disappear in a blink—so too, those who believe on His name will one day receive our glorified bodies.

So that first Easter was the start of Jesus’s life after death. While we are to remember Jesus’s sacrifice by taking communion—the bread to remember His body, broken for sinners; the wine to remember His blood shed to cleanse us from all sin—Jesus most definitely did not stay dead.

There’s an old church tradition among Christians on Easter. When someone says, He is risen, the congregation, or even individuals, respond, He is risen indeed. I like that affirmation, but I think a more accurate response would be, You got that right! He is alive and lives inside me!

Because, that’s the capper. Not only did Jesus get that new, glorified body, He has put His Spirit inside each one of His followers. That’s why one of the irrefutable evidences of the resurrection is the host of believers who have new life because Jesus Himself imparted His life to us.

It really is a thought TOO BIG. How can one man’s sacrifice cover the sins of all who believe? How can He live in me here in SoCal and also live in the lives of precious fellow believers living in Sri Lanka? Or Ukraine. Or Morocco? Or Tanzania. Or Peru. Or Alaska. Or South Korea.

Jesus lives and lives in the hearts of believers because . . . God. It’s really that simple. God can do the impossible. He is smarter, more capable, wiser, more powerful, unstoppable, irrepressible, more noble, truthful, good than we can ever imagine. What CAN’T He do?

So it was His good pleasure to find an answer to the problem of sin by taking on the sin of the world, paying the penalty for that sin, and then declaring from the cross, It is finished. The sacrifice was done, His new life, however, was days away from beginning.

And that’s what Easter is. Not a one day event but the celebration of Jesus alive—present as friend of sinners, as Living Water infusing His people, as the soon and coming King we await.

Published in: on April 13, 2020 at 5:01 pm  Comments (4)  
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Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken


With all the Coronavirus news, it’s easy to forget that this is passion week—the time between our celebration of Palm Sunday and Easter. How much more do we need to focus on Easter this year than we normally do! Not the Easter bunnies or egg hunts or chocolate goodies. Not even attending church because that isn’t going to happen.

In truth, people kind of have a choice: ignore Easter or celebrate it as the day to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. You probably know which one I’m planning to do.

But instead of “re-inventing the wheel,” I’m going to republish an article that has appeared here before. I think it digs into the heart of the reason Christians celebrate Easter.

During Passion Week, we Christians commemorate the great sacrifice Jesus made for us, giving His own life in order that we might experience newness of life, freedom from sin, reconciliation with God. But our focus often centers on Christ’s physical suffering. In looking at the events surrounding His crucifixion, however, it becomes apparent that He suffered in every way humanly possible.

First, His suffering had a social component. One of His twelve chosen followers into whom He poured His life, betrayed Him to His enemies. One of His inner circle, who knew Him to be the Messiah, the Son of God, who saw Him transfigured, denied Him. All His followers abandoned Him, literally leaving Him for dead. Jesus could not have been more alone.

His suffering was also intellectual. Jesus identified Himself as the Truth, yet He endured false accusations. People twisted His words, claiming He said things He didn’t say. His very purpose for coming to earth was misrepresented and misunderstood. He was also subject to an illegal trial which unfolded in six phases. He was questioned and denounced by Herod when He gave no answer, condemned by the High Priest when He did answer, and ignored by Pilate when He offered him the Truth.

Jesus suffered emotionally, too. The Roman soldiers made fun of His position as King of the Jews. As Pastor Chuck Swindoll taught, those godless men who hated the Jews presented Him with three things that marked a king: a robe, a scepter, and a crown. The crown was made of thorns, the scepter was a reed, and the robe, identified in Matthew as a chlamys, was a short robe covering the shoulders and ending at the elbows such as military men wore. He was naked from the waist down.

In addition, as He hung on the cross, onlookers and even for a time both thieves dying with Him, taunted Him. Somewhere nearby soldiers gambled for the few possessions He owned—His clothes. And ultimately, He had to put His mother into the care of someone else.

I believe the worst suffering of all, however, was what He went through spiritually. Jesus Himself gave voice to what He was experiencing:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matt. 27:46)

Jesus, Who existed with God and also was God, somehow experienced forsakenness by God. He was, after all, becoming sin for us. And Holy God has no part with sin.

Yes, the pain and suffering Jesus went through, being whipped and nailed to a beam, hung above the earth for hours until He died from the wracking effects on His body—this was physical torture few of us can imagine. Yet His sacrifice extended beyond that one part of who Jesus was. It encompassed His total person. He give Himself completely to be consumed by the Consuming Fire of God’s wrath.

And as He died, He said the most wonderful words possible: “It is finished.”

The burden of sin paid for, the certificate of debt canceled.

How can we not love a Savior such as Jesus!

Apart from the introduction, this post is a lightly edited reprint of one that first appeared here in March 2013.

Published in: on April 8, 2020 at 4:34 pm  Comments Off on Accused, Betrayed, Denied, Forsaken  
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Assassination


In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s actual birthday, I’m reprising this article that is a lot about him, but also about authority and . . . (gulp) race.

Some years ago I read a biography by Eric Metaxas: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy. You may know that Bonhoeffer was one of the Germans involved in the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler.

Everything I’d heard about Bonhoeffer was positive. Specifically people refer to his strong Christian beliefs. I have a copy of his book The Cost of Discipleship, though I’ve never read it. You see, I have this problem with plotting an assassination.

Granted, Hitler was an evil man, but so were the Roman Caesars under which the early church came into being. Yet Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said to be subject to rulers and Peter echoed the concept:

Submit yourselves to every human institution, whether to the king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him . . . (1 Peter 2:13-14a)

So I’ve always had a problem thinking of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the Christian faith or even of the human race. Is it ever right to do wrong?

Our times are troubled, too. When the 2016 political conventions drew near, the news referred to the tightening of security and the barriers and the buffer zone those tasked with keeping the candidates safe had to erect. Of course they replayed footage of a crazed spectator at one of Donald Trump’s rallies jumping onto the stage, and another clip of the police leading away a man who said he came to shoot Mr. Trump.

Shortly thereafter assassinations of the five Dallas policemen (and the wounding of more officers and a few civilians) made the news.

I thought back to the assassination of President Kennedy (yes, I can remember it). He’d been elected by the slimmest of margins, but the whole nation mourned his death. I suspect if there were to be such a tragedy today involving our President or any of the candidates, we would not pull together. We might actually see a deepening of the bitterness and hatred that has been seething in our country.

All this brought to mind another assassination—perhaps the worst crime in America—that by John Wilkes Booth of President Abraham Lincoln. I say “the worst crime” because I believe, apart from slavery itself, the period after the Civil War is most responsible for the roots of racism and poverty and injustice we see in America today.

President Lincoln had a plan for reconstruction of the South. Had he continued to serve as President until the end of his term, I suspect there would not have been Carpetbaggers or Shanty Towns or Ku Klux Klans or Jim Crow laws or black voter disenfranchisement or segregation.

Change would not have been easy but there were already allies President Lincoln could have called on to implement his ideas for reconstruction—hundreds of white abolitionists who had taken up the call to eliminate slavery and an untold number of heroic white station masters and conductors in the Underground Railroad.

Before the war was over, President Lincoln had begun to put into place piece of a reconstruction plan that would address the new societal realities—Southern plantation owners without a work force, and often with homes and outbuildings burned to the ground; and freed slaves without jobs, uneducated, and homeless.

He established temporary military governorships that would administrate the Southern states. He established The Freedmen’s Bureau which helped

African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It arranged to teach them to read and write, considered critical by the freedmen themselves as well as the government. Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues. The Bureau encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations, urged freed Blacks to gain employment above all, kept an eye on contracts between the newly free labor and planters, and pushed both whites and blacks to work together as employers and employees rather than as masters and as slaves. (Wikipedia)

The Bill that set up the Freedmen’s Bureau expired in a year. Congress voted to extend it, but the new President, Andrew Johnson, vetoed it.

How might history have been changed if President Lincoln had lived! It’s impossible to know.

Considering the possibilities, though, I’m mindful of the influence of one life, one life on an entire nation.

How might the world be different if President Lincoln had lived? How might the world be different if Hitler had died?

Above all the machinations of leaders and rebels and assassins stands our sovereign God. No, He wasn’t pulling strings like a puppet master, but He superintends all that is His—which is everything. So the struggle in our society today isn’t off track any more than the struggle the first Christians endured at the hand of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

Humanly speaking we can look at causes and effects. We can play the “what if” game or the “if only” game. But God does more with less, and brings life out of ashes. He restores and redeems.

I wish He had seen fit to heal the racial divide in our country right out of the starting blocks, before the ink was dry on the surrender Robert E. Lee signed.

More so, I wish slavery had never become an American institution.

But I imagine many Germans wish Hitler had never happened, or that East Germany had never happened.

It’s the old story of evil and evil men seeming to flourish while the righteous helplessly cry out to God to be their refuge.

So I wonder. Does it take the progression of evil to make the righteous cry out to God? I don’t know. But I think we’re at the place where crying out to God to be our refuge makes perfect sense. In reality, no matter what our circumstances, crying out to God makes sense. But in times like these, we need an anchor.

Published in: on February 12, 2020 at 4:45 pm  Comments Off on Assassination  
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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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Meeting Expectations


In case I haven’t mentioned it recently, I’m a big sports fan. The problem with being a fan is that more often than not, an expectation exists to win, and the truth is, most teams lose a good percent of their games.

Sure, there are the teams like the Alabama University football team that can reel off a good streak, but when they lose the “big game,” the expectations of the fans are dashed. Or how about the Dodgers’ baseball? They held something like a 20 game lead in their division, clinched a playoff spot before any other team, and still didn’t even make it to the World Series.

Never mind all the mid-tier teams that probably have no realistic shot of even making the playoffs. Like my Denver Broncos in the NFL. When the season started, I expected them to be pretty good. And they are. But they have lost 4 games in the final minute of play, once by not scoring and 3 times by allowing the other teams to score. Four loses in football are highly significant. A team that is 8-4 in December has a legitimate chance at a playoff spot. But the Broncos are languishing at 4-8 instead. My expectations for the team aren’t being fulfilled.

But that’s really life. There aren’t a lot of times that our expectations in life are all met. Something tends to gum up the works. It might be a transfer from a comfortable location to one that is far from family. It might be a promotion that went to someone else, or a love interest that did not reciprocate the feelings. It might be a leaky pipe that requires hours of plumber work. It could be as disastrous as a tornado or blizzard or wild fire. I’ve heard people who lost their homes saying things like, Yes, this was our dream home and now it’s gone.

Or how about illness or injury? Or a son or daughter who doesn’t like the same stuff you love. You want to share your passion with them, but they just don’t care. Then there are new pastors who don’t handle the job the way we thought a pastor would, or should.

What about the program you worked hours and hours on, practicing, preparing, and the night of the big performance, the mic doesn’t work properly and no one can hear what the performers say.

I could go on and on. I probably have too long already. I think it’s pretty clear that all of us, in whatever walk of life, are acquainted with unmet expectations.

I can only think of one instance in which we are never let down. That’s spiritually. Jesus Christ never lets us down.

Oh, sure, people might expect the wrong things from Him. They might expect that He answer their prayer the way they want and according to their timetable. Well, in that case, they can just put “answered prayer” in the column of unmet expectation. God doesn’t operate according to our dictates. He doesn’t take orders from us, because quite clearly He’s the one in charge. And He works stuff out for our spiritual good.

Our spiritual good is not necessarily the same as our physical good. I think of the Christians who left such strong witnesses by their suffering and even their deaths, and I know that the “momentary, light affliction” of this life is in no way comparable to the eternal weight of glory we will experience through God’s work in our lives.

It’s like putting temporary on one side of the scales and eternal on the other side and seeing which weighs more. Yeah, not even close. The scales tip so drastically toward the eternal, that it’s not even a contest.

So when something in the temporary doesn’t meet expectations, but all things in the eternal always meet expectations, how are we to react?

Honestly, if we were looking at the whole picture, we’d see how silly frustration or disappointment over the temporary actually is. It’s a lot like not doing well in practice. We might try hard, but if we come up short, what have we lost? Maybe a start in the big game, maybe even a chance to play at all. But what have we actually lost? Our poor play in practice did not hurt the team, and it might have actually taught me what I need to know for the game. It might actually be for my good.

Shocking, I know. But that’s actually how God works with us in life. We might face failed expectations and have to endure suffering or hardship. But the experience will never be wasted. God will use it to prep us for eternity. He might even use it in the here and now: like He did for Corrie ten Boom or Elisabeth Elliot or Joni Eareckson Tada. Suffering and hardship in the here and now, but astounding accomplishment and success in the here and now, also.

But even that success is spiritual. I mean, any number of lives have turned to Christ because of the witness of people like these three, or like Greg Laurie who lost his son, but not his faith in the goodness of God.

So in among all the disappointed expectations, we will never see our faithful God fail us or forsake us. But who is “us”? Any and all who believe in the name of His Son, the promised Messiah, the Christ, who takes away the sins of the world. We can go to the spiritual bank with the capital of His shed blood, and we will be spiritual millionaires.

Published in: on December 2, 2019 at 5:14 pm  Comments (94)  
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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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