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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Have We Made Christmas Too Beautiful?

I think it was a message on the radio by Pastor Greg Laurie that got me thinking about the beauty of Christmas. In some ways Christmas should be beautiful because we have a beautiful Savior whose birth we are commemorating. It’s sort of like the now-ignored idea that when we go to church we wear our “Sunday best,” because God deserves our best.

But that idea morphed into an unhealthy tradition that actually kept some people away from church. So I wonder, is our beautiful Christmas doing the same?

First, the original Christmas was far from beautiful. Even the glory of the Lord that shone upon the shepherds caused them to be terrified. Not just a little disturbed. Not just mildly agitated. Terrified! That’s not so beautiful. These were men who stayed with their sheep during the night so that they would be in position to protect them. From robbers. From wild animals. From wandering into the dark. They likely were prepared to face all kinds of danger. But God’s glory terrified them.

Of course the message the angel delivered to them was beautiful. Joy. A Savior. The long expected King, born today! But that meant He was a newborn. Who couldn’t yet focus His eyes. Who had no bladder control. Who couldn’t eat solid food. Who needed to be burped. Who had a feeding trough for a bed. He couldn’t sit up or crawl or smile or speak or do anything king-like. He could sleep and cry and breast-feed and not much more. Not so beautiful when you think about it. But there is something beautiful about babies.

But they were in a stable, or wherever the manger was located. Not a clean hospital or a nicely decorated nursery. No cute matching outfit, not even a soft receiving blanket. Just strips of cloth wrapped about Him to protect Him from whatever was in that manger. Straw? Or had Joseph cleaned it out as best he could and the Christ lay with his step-dad’s cloak beneath Him? Had Mary the help of a midwife to cut the umbilical cord, to take care of the afterbirth? Was she able to get a quick bath before the shepherds showed up? Whatever. We can be fairly certain that Jesus’s surroundings weren’t so very pastoral as we often picture them. Not so peaceful or so beautiful.

In spite of this, the shepherds believed the message the angel had delivered. This was the Christ, born to be the Savior. Their Savior. They determined to go see this thing “that had happened,” not because they were skeptical and wanted to see if what the angel said was really true, but because they believed it was true. Their faith was beautiful.

Maybe the least beautiful part of the original Christmas was the fact that Jesus came to earth to be the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. That meant He was destined for the cross of Calvary, that the red of Christmas is His blood, shed for all who believe in Him.

The green? Perhaps the evergreen of eternal life that is ours because of Christ.

So the red and green of Christmas is truly beautiful, but not that first Christmas. The suffering of death was still ahead for the baby as He lay in the manger. And the thing about shed blood, about sacrifice, is that it’s not beautiful as it is happening. It’s painful and messy and full of loss and sorrow and, in Christ’s case, betrayal, rejection, disappointment, confusion. Not beautiful.

But after the fact, the wonder of His love is proven by the nail prints in His hands, the hole in His side, the red wine that represents His blood, the broken bread that represents His body. All the evidences of Christ, alive are beautiful, sacred, filled with such meaning they cause us to weep even today.

So which is it? Is Christmas beautiful or not?

I suppose it depends on whether or not we scratch the surface. Today we make all the outside trappings beautiful—decorated trees, Christmas wrapping, music, light displays, special Christmas cookies, cozy and warm settings with snow falling outside. You know, the Kincaid picture (the kind I love so much).

But what’s underneath? If we don’t get to the Savior who brings joy and peace, who solves our sin problem, who gave Himself as God’s gift to the world, then all the external beauty we manufacture stands in stark contrast to the reality of that first Christmas. I guess it’s up to each of us to make Christmas beautiful indeed.

Published in: on December 20, 2018 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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Did You Know? First Christmas Facts

First Christmas Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are a number of heroes involved in the first Christmas, but the shepherds happen to be my favorite. Of course they get a lot of press, but surprisingly, I don’t think most of it is for the right reason.

What seems to be the going point of emphasis regarding the shepherds is how low on the social totem pole they were. Some scholars claim that they were even outcasts, that they were thought to be lazy and untrustworthy.

Not everyone agrees. Several scholars point out that Abraham was a shepherd, Moses was a shepherd, David was a shepherd. A quick glance at Scripture, and it’s clear that all of Israel was tied to shepherding at one time. When Judah, who God named Israel, went to Egypt with his family because of the severe famine, they took with them all their flocks. Pharaoh asked that they care for his animals too since they were shepherds by trade.

It seems highly unlikely that the attitude toward shepherds would have shifted so drastically so that they were now despised. For one thing, God Himself identified with shepherds when David wrote in the Psalms, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Isaiah 40 also portrays God as a shepherd:

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (v. 11)

Jews in the first century would have known these and other passages of Scripture that portray God as a shepherd. The information identifying shepherds as despicable comes from sources that were written later or belonged to a different culture, making them at least questionable.

At any rate, one thing is sure. The Bible does not say the shepherds were despised. One scholar concluded that shepherds were not well respected because often children were given the job to care for the sheep. In other words, it was unskilled work that even a child could do.

Perhaps that was the attitude of the day.

The other going belief about shepherds is that they were poor. I don’t know if they would have been poorer than fishermen, however. Especially near Jerusalem with the priests and Levites buying and selling in the temple. Were shepherds in a kind of black market racket for illegal sheep? Maybe. Maybe not.

All that’s speculation. The Bible doesn’t say any of that.

What it does say makes these particular shepherds real heroes of the faith, I think.

Luke 2 records the angel’s announcement to this group who were staying out in the fields at night to do their job. We can see a level of responsibility and commitment there, and sacrifice too.

As Jesus later said, a good shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep.

But those particular shepherds had something else going for them. They had faith.

The angel told them that Messiah was born and gave them the sign: a baby, wrapped in clothes, lying in a manger.

The shepherds’ response? They didn’t stand around debating what the angel meant by “manger” or “wrapped,” or “Savior,” or “born.” They didn’t wonder what they were supposed to do about this announcement or if the Messiah had really come. Instead they simply said, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem, then, and see this thing that has happened.” Yeah, that has happened. They made that declaration before they went, before they found the baby, before they saw with their own eyes that what the angel had said, was true.

In other words, they believed the announcement.

In reality, faith is nothing more than believing a particular source. In this case, the shepherds believed what the angel said. Before they had seen the sign. They didn’t go to Bethlehem to see IF it was true. They went to Bethlehem BECAUSE it was true.

Another thing that makes them heroes in my eyes is that when they found Mary and Joseph and the baby as He lay in the manger, they immediately started telling everyone what the angel had said about the Child.

Maybe they also told everyone about the glory of the Lord that shone around them. Maybe they also mentioned the multitude of the heavenly host that praised God in their presence. Those would be awesome events, worthy of stories that you tell your grandchildren. But Scripture doesn’t tell us they bragged about seeing angels and surviving, or about being singled out for such a special visitation.

No. What they wanted everyone to know about was not what had happened to them, but what they had been told about this Child. Their focus was on Jesus, not on themselves.

Great men, those shepherds. Real heroes of Christmas.

Published in: on December 20, 2017 at 5:49 pm  Comments Off on Heroes Of Christmas—The Shepherds  
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The Trappings Of Christmas

I love Christmas decorations. I love the lights in particular, but I love wreaths and mistletoe, presents under decorated trees, bells, and candy canes, manger scenes, all of it. I even like Santa and his reindeer, the elves, too, and Frosty, to a lesser degree. I’m not sure how Snoopy has insinuated himself into Christmas, but he has. I don’t hate him there. Or the Grinch.

What I’m not so crazy about is the need some people seem to have to find or create a Christian meaning behind every bit of tradition. The Christmas tree, for instance, can remind us of a cross because it’s made of wood, and because the cross provides life, which the evergreen tree suggests. Couldn’t it just be a pretty tree decorated with lights and ornaments?

The funny thing is, I love symbols. I love them. So when Jesus said He is the Light of the world, I think the metaphor speaks volumes. When He said He’s the door to the sheepfold or the Good Shepherd or Living Water or the Vine, the Bridegroom, even the Temple, I think there’s so much to discover and to think about with each comparison, I never tire studying them.

And of course I love fantasy, which is pretty much one gigantic symbol of the inner workings of the human heart.

So what’s my problem with the Christian explanation of the Christmas traditions?

Well, I said it, didn’t I. I have a problem with the “explanations.” If a symbol works, it doesn’t really need to be explained. It stands on its own. But if someone explains a symbol, it reduces it somehow. It becomes a thing more than a concept, an idea, an event.

At the same time things are occasionally just those things. Not every frog is a prince. Sometimes a frog is just a frog. And sometimes a bit of holly garland is just a nice decoration to liven up a room, to add a bit of festive.

But maybe that’s just me. I personally like the fun things of Christmas—the stuff that makes little kids squeal with delight. I remember trying to memorize ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas when I was a kid. I remember wanting and wishing and hoping for snow. I remember the year someone gave us an Advent calendar and we got to open one of the little windows each day in December. I remember trying to stay up until midnight to see if Santa Claus would really show up and drink the milk and eat the graham crackers we left for him. I remember hanging stockings and waking up as early as I could to come into the living room Christmas morning.

These were fun things. And anticipating the fun the other 364 days only enhanced the joy. Every time a Christmas song came on the radio, the anticipation ramped up.

I’m pretty sure that if I were still a kid, all the same fun and anticipation and joy would be there as part of Christmas.

But now, as an adult, I have a deeper joy, a greater anticipation, not of Christmas morning, but of Christ. I know now what Christmas means. Not because someone has explained the red and white stripes of the candy cane or taken away all the Santa things that “compete with Jesus.”

I don’t worship Santa. I know he’s pretend. I know that Christmas Day came into being as a way to counter pagan celebrations. I realize no one knows the actual date of Christ’s birth.

But so what?

So what that we have fun on Christmas and so what that we celebrate Jesus’s birthday without knowing when it really occurred?

The important thing at Christmas, as far as I’m concerned, is this: God gave us His Son and made a miraculous announcement of his birth to a group of lowly angels. Before they even saw the sign which the angels told them would verify this Child’s birth, they said, Let’s go see this thing that’s happened. They didn’t need any more explanation. They only needed to believe the announcement: For today there has been born for you in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

That’s the story of Christmas, right there.

The fun things, are just fun, and we can take or leave them. But shepherds saying yes to God’s message, that’s the symbol that ought not be explained, that means what it means and more. That is filled with a wealth of truth that we can study all our lifetime and never reach an end to the richness of what occurred.

Published in: on December 12, 2017 at 5:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Why Shepherds?

Two distinct groups of people received notification that Jesus was born.

The wisemen we understand because… they were wise! And they had something to give the infant King. Three somethings: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold, the fitting mineral for a king; frankincense, the fitting incense for worship; and myrrh, the fitting perfume for embalming a body. OK, the last one may have had Joseph and Mary wondering, but I digress.

In reality, despite the many manger scenes to the contrary, the wisemen, who had some distance to travel once they recognized that a king had been born in Judea, were late arriving. The first group to show up was a collection of local shepherds.

Shepherds in first century Judea were hired workers, poor men with little future. Which is precisely why the angel announced the Messiah’s birth to them, conventional wisdom says. They fit what we now understand as Jesus’s purpose for coming to earth. He’s for the Everyman.

Maybe. Maybe that’s why the shepherds received the angelic announcement that Christ had been born. Kind of a bookend from the poor side that, along with the opposite rich wisemen, would encompass people of every station in life. It’s a good theory.

The shepherds also represented the people who weren’t doing all the religious ceremonies to make themselves acceptable to God. So some scholars have speculated that’s why they got picked.

They were lowly, they were without pretense as to their standing before God, they were poor.

All this might be true, but I think there’s something else more important, and it has to do with why these shepherds received the announcement and not another set, say from Bethel: they believed.

The angel of the LORD stood in front of them and God’s Shekinah, His glory, shone around them. Needless to say, they reacted like virtually everyone else who had an encounter with an angel: they just about passed out with fear. They may have fallen on their faces, covered their heads with their arms, ducked behind the nearest boulder. Anything to ward off this person of obvious power.

Before anything else, the angel calmed them down. They didn’t have any reason to fear him or his message. In fact he’d come to give them great news. And not just for them, but for, well, everyone. Then the announcement:

today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

He didn’t stop there. He went on to give them a sign. A strange sign, I think. I mean, God’s glory shining around them seems like a pretty powerful sign.

    More of that, please. Aimed at those owners of the vineyard just the other side of the plateau who chased away our flocks last week. They need a good dose of God’s awesome power, I’d think! Let them quake in their sandals for a few minutes. Or an hour. Just saying.

But no. The sign the angel passed along provided identifying features that would allow them to find the newborn baby. What would mark Him as different from any other baby that might be born that same night? Well, for one thing, He would be wrapped in cloths.

Some scholars say that was normal—babies in those days were all wrapped in cloths; no cute little baby outfits for them. Some say the cloths were akin to the strips used to wrap a body in preparation for burial—definitely out of the ordinary. Not sure, but I tend to lean toward the idea that this was uncommon. Otherwise, why mention it as an identifying feature? It would be like saying today, you’ll find the baby wrapped in a baby blanket.

    Well, thanks very much for all that help distinguishing this baby from all other babies!!

No matter, the second part of the sign the angel gave is irrefutably unique. The baby they’d be looking for was in a manger. Clearly, a feeding trough was not the normal bed for a newborn. Find the manger holding an infant, wrapped in cloths, and you’ve found the Christ Child.

The_Shepherds011What does all this have to do with the shepherds believing?

I mean, they saw the angel and God’s glory and then a host of other angels praising God. They were eyewitnesses.

To the announcement.

They still had to respond to what they heard. They could have sat around and debated what they’d just experienced. They could have discussed whether or not the message was true or whether any parent in their right mind would put a baby in a feeding trough.

Apparently they did none of those things. Rather they made the decision to track down this baby. They knew exactly what to look for.

So they’d need to knock on a few doors, make a few inquiries and find out what woman may have just given birth. Then they’d stop by and check out the sleeping quarters of the little guy. Shouldn’t be too hard.

I wonder how many doors got slammed in their faces. How many times they got yelled at, or ignored. But they persisted.

No matter how many people they roused from their sleep or disturbed with their questions, they needed to go to see “this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15b).

They determined to “go straight to Bethlehem.” They did not doubt that “this thing” had really happened. They didn’t dismiss the announcement as something not intended for them.

    Some mistake. The angels got the wrong field. In fact they were probably looking for the palace. It’s a few miles west. Up the hill. Can’t miss it.

No, the shepherds believed that Messiah was born that very day, that God had made it known to them, and that they could find this baby based on the sign given them by the angel. So they went. No hesitation.

They put feet to their belief. And when they found Jesus, “they made know the statement which had been told them about this Child” (Luke 2:17).

Two reactions to their announcement: “all who heard it wondered.” Let the debate begin!

“Do you think they really saw an angel?”

“How else would they have known a baby was born?”

“But they’re shepherds!”

“Yeah, but what they said matches what we’re seeing here—a baby in a manger! Who would make that up?”

“Maybe they saw the baby first and decided to claim some oracle told them about it.”

“But why would they do that?”

And on and on.

The second reaction was Mary’s. She treasured what they said, pondering it all in her heart.

She’d take this one bit of evidence, this second declaration that her child was special, this account delivered by shepherds who said they saw an angel, just as she had when she first learned about this little boy she’d just brought into the world.

She’d think about it all, and as the years went by, in the end, after Christ’s resurrection, she’d add her faith to that of the shepherds.

Published in: on December 23, 2016 at 2:36 pm  Comments (8)  
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Peace Among Men

The_Shepherds011Peace is one of the promises of Christmas. The angels who took part in praising God after the announcement to the shepherds that Messiah was born particularly included the blessing of peace. “Glory to God in the highest,” they said, “and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

We miss the qualifying phrase—the part about peace belonging to those with whom God is pleased, which is certainly not the whole world—in part because of an earlier translation of the Bible and in part because of wishful thinking. We’d love it if God would snap His fingers and bring an end to wars and arguments and political division and domestic disquiet.

Sadly some atheists have used the occasion to mock the idea that God brings peace through Jesus. Someone put together a video that shows a Christmas tree breaking into flames. Soon fire engulfs the room, all the while a Christmas carol about peace on earth is playing. Ha-ha-ha, the video seems to say. Here’s your peace from your pretend God. In other words, if there’s no peace, then there’s no God.

It’s heartbreaking to see that video because it’s so clear that the people who put it up and those who share it have no idea what the angels meant by “peace on earth.” The real problem is that they don’t realize they are at war with God.

Paul, who isn’t always the easiest New Testament writer to understand, put it pretty bluntly in Romans 8:

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (vv 6-8)

In reality, we were all at war with God at one time. But God did the unthinkable. He called a truce. More than that. He sued for peace; He paid the reparations.

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. (Col. 1:19-23, emphasis mine)

The peace believers enjoy is not dependent on our physical circumstances. It’s all about our relationship with the God who in His sovereignty rules over all. When we have peace with Him, everything is right, though it may seem on the outside to be wrong. He is, after all, the God who can do the impossible:

If God can do the impossible, then He could take on human flesh and be born as a baby. If God can do the impossible, then He could die, once for all, the just for the unjust. If God can do the impossible, then no sin is too great for Him to forgive, no person so far from Him that He can’t reach them.

Published in: on December 9, 2016 at 6:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Peace On Earth

AdventCandles2 To a large extend the Christmas carols and cards that declare peace on earth or the nativity plays that repeat the angels’ announcement to the shepherds, including the angelic host shouting, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace” have been relegated to the mythology heap. They are nice sentiments reminding us of traditions of old, but there’s no connection to reality.

Further, the words are so familiar, we’ve stopped really listening to them, stopped thinking what exactly they mean. They are part of the Christmas trappings, not something real that’s meant to be believed in the twenty-first century.


Not at all. Those words, unlike some of the other lyrics in the songs, are straight from Scripture.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

    Glory to God in the highest,
    And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased

(Luke 2:8-14, emphasis added)

Scripture, all of it, is inspired by God. It’s profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness. There are no verses designed to make us feel good during the holidays. There is power in what God says.

Recently our Sunday teacher said something about the passage we know as the Lord’s prayer. He specifically mentioned what comes right after the opening address:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

God has a specific will which is actualized in Heaven. What happens here on earth is a mixed bag, a result of our made-in-God’s-image personhood but our fallen-and-rebellious nature. We are not yet what we will be.

But we are to pray for God’s will here and now.

Christ’s coming has made this prayer possible. With His birth came glory to God and peace to those reconciled to God.

Like all the gifts of God, however, they aren’t dispensed with a wave of His magic wand. Peace first starts with us confessing our rebellion against God because the true absence of peace is our declaration of war against God.

Oh, few people actually say, I’m going to war against God. Most do so through subtle means—ignoring Him, His Word, His way. It’s really quite passive aggressive. A few declare war on God by asserting His nonexistence. Whichever, all of us like sheep have gone astray. That’s us, at enmity with God. He says, Over here. This way. Follow me. And we say, I didn’t hear anything, did you? Nope. Nothing at all. Probably there’s no one there. Besides, I didn’t want to go that way. I want to go this way.

When we confess that we’ve gone our own way, and turn to follow Him by trusting in the fact that Jesus has paid for our rebellion and we are forgiven because of His shed blood, then we become those men with whom He is well pleased. We become those who enjoy the peace the angels trumpeted.

Too many people assume Jesus’s coming was supposed to put an end to wars and domestic violence and bickering and hatred and prejudice and murders and terrorism and arguments and all forms of non-peaceful behavior. In reality, if all people believed in Him, that’s exactly what would happen. God would give all people His forgiveness, which prompts us to turn around and forgive those who offend us.

And if all people were praying, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, and all people were offering themselves to God to be instruments of that peace, then we would see peace on earth in all its completeness.

The reality is, so many are still straying like sheep. They haven’t sought out the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls. They haven’t humbled themselves before Him and come to Him to be gathered in His arms, to be carried in His bosom.

So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men, Romans 12:18 says. It’s not up to us so many times. If it were up to me, I’d sit down with the fighters in Syria and tell them about Jesus, the One who sacrificed His life for them. I’d tell the abortion doctors about how God values life so that they’d stop raining terror down on the smallest, most helpless babies.

So far as it depends on me, I’d bring world peace. But of course, those things don’t depend on me and I can do little to affect change.

Nevertheless, there are things I can do—like praying for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Like loving my neighbor and forgiving those who misuse and abuse and badmouth me.

After all, peace with God puts all the stuff I’m inclined to fight about into perspective.

Published in: on December 10, 2015 at 6:50 pm  Comments (4)  
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What Mary Didn’t Know

nativity-926289-mIt’s kind of interesting that in a pre-ultrasound society, Mary knew she was having a boy. No other pregnant women of her day knew the sex of the child, but Mary knew. She even knew her son’s name before his birth. She also knew, though undoubtedly many in her community suspected otherwise, that she was still a virgin—the impending birth of her son notwithstanding.

And finally, Mary knew what the angel had told her: she was blessed, her conception would be miraculous, the Child would be known as the Son of the Most High, He’d be King. If she and Joseph compared notes about their separate angelic visitations, she may also have known that He’d be called Immanuel—God with us.

That leaves a lot of unknown. Mary didn’t know, for example, when precisely she’d give birth. In other words, she didn’t know Christmas Eve was Christmas Eve. She most likely gratefully lay down that night in the animal stall, simply glad the long trip from Nazareth was over and she could ease the pain in her back.

When did her contractions begin? Was her labor long? Hard? Did Joseph rush to a relative and ask for a midwife to attend her?

When at last her son arrived, had been cleaned up, the umbilical cord cut, and she’d delivered the afterbirth, did she feed him, then place him in the only safe place at hand—one of the feeding troughs—so she could finally get a little sleep? Because she didn’t know she and her little family were about to have visitors.

Mary didn’t know that while she brought this new precious life into the world, an angel had appeared to a handful of shepherds to announce her son’s birth. She didn’t know about the multitude of the heavenly beings who would join in to praise God and to deliver a blessing to humankind.

Days later, when she and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, she didn’t know about Simeon or about Anna waiting their whole lives for her son who they recognized as the Messiah.

Throughout Jesus’s life, there was so much Mary didn’t know or understand. In fact, “Mary, Did You Know?” a fairly recent Christmas song with lyrics and music written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, addresses this point.

The song asks rhetorically if Mary knew “her Baby Boy” would walk on water, give sight to the blind, calm the storm with His hand, and ultimately, that He was the Creator, the King who would one day rule the nations, the perfect Lamb, the Great I Am.

The fact is, she didn’t know any of the miraculous things Jesus would do, and when she asked Him to help at the wedding when they’d run out of wine, it appears from what Jesus said to her that her asking was more indicative of her not knowing who He was than her knowing.

He was special—that fact was undeniable. But after an angelic visitation, an impossible conception that led to an incredible birth, shepherds bowing to her son, prophetic words spoken over Him in the temple, wisemen traveling from some far off country to give him expensive gifts, Mary still didn’t know who Jesus was.

She knew what she’d seen and heard. She stored it all up to think about later. But not until Jesus died, not until He rose again, not until—most likely—she, along with around 500 others, saw Him ascend into heaven did she get it. We know she did because she was in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon the group of Jesus’s faithful followers (Acts 1:14).

In the end, what Mary didn’t know, she would learn. Praise God that He gives us a lifetime to get it right—to respond to His call, to accept what He’s told us about Himself.

Proof, atheists always say. Where is the proof, the evidence that your God exists? Mary had all the evidence in the world—she was part of that evidence—and still she didn’t believe. Until she did.

May this Christmas be the day when more blind eyes will open, when more broken and contrite hearts will believe and know what previously they couldn’t understand: Jesus, Messiah, has come to rescue and to save!

Published in: on December 24, 2014 at 6:15 pm  Comments Off on What Mary Didn’t Know  
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Peace On Earth

Red_Christmas_candlesWeek two of the Advent season, and my church is focusing on Peace.

When Jesus was born, an angel appeared to a group of shepherds and announced that a Savior, Christ the Lord had been born that night. A host of angels then joined him saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

The KJV skewed the angelic praise by translating it, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men.” The logical conclusion was that Jesus would bring an end to conflict on earth, that God would treat humankind with good will. And of course, history is filled with war and any number of “not good will” kinds of circumstances.

The hope of the Jewish people at the time was that the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom and rule as David had during the golden age of Israel’s history. He conquered their enemies and brought peace. He brought the ark of the covenant to his city, Jerusalem, and set in motion the construction of the great temple, the house of God. He instituted sacrifices and the appointed feasts before the LORD, in accordance with the law, blessed his subjects, and gave them each a gift.

When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offering, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. Further, he distributed to all the people, to all the multitude of Israel, both to men and women, a cake of bread and one of dates and one of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed each to his house (2 Samuel 6:18-19).

This was the kind of Messiah the Jews were looking for.

People in more recent times haven’t done much to change the false idea perceived about the angels’ blessing. Granted, we recognize that Jesus didn’t come to establish His kingdom in the here and now. Instead we either ascribe His peace to the future or to an internal peace each person can achieve in the midst of the turmoil around us.

I do think God wants us to have peace in our hearts regardless of the circumstances that can throw life into confusion, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the peace to which the angels referred.

The peace inside us depends to a degree on us, as we’ll see later in the week, but the peace the angels announced came as a result of the birth of this Messiah. So what peace did Jesus bring, what peace does He give?

The peace of Jesus is the result of reconciliation with God. Without Jesus, a person is in rebellion to God. But Jesus rescues us from the dominion of darkness. He makes possible peace with God—not just a truce, but full-blown peace. We are no longer at enmity with Him if we have become those with whom He is well pleased.

Yikes! What do we have to do to please God? Well, nothing.

This well-pleased position is also something that comes to us from Jesus. In fact, the word used in Matthew 3:17 translated “well-pleased” which God declared about Jesus at His baptism is the same word used here for those God will favor with peace.

It is Jesus with whom the Father is well-pleased. Through Jesus we are reconciled to God—brought into relationship with Him, afforded peace with Him.

That above all else is the peace of Christmas. Yes, there’s more, but without that life-changing peace that ends our determination to go our own way and puts us in right standing with God, there is no peace, only temporary truces.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 6:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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