Resurrection Day Meditation 2014

Crown of Thorns

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:3

Crown of Thorns

The verse at the top of this post came to mind during yesterday’s Good Friday service. So many of the things I fight for, cling to, and otherwise desire I see Jesus give up during his passion. So I took the invitation to consider him in his suffering hoping to learn from him.

Consider him…

When he needed his friends to pray with him, they fell asleep.

“Get up and pray,” he encouraged them.

When imminent suffering scared him, he prayed.

“Please take this cup of suffering from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”

When betrayed by a close friend he did not try to stop him with all kinds of arguments.

“My friend, go ahead and do what you came for.”

When abandoned, he faced what was coming with resolution.

“This is happening to fulfill the words of the prophets as recorded in the Scriptures.”

When lied about in court, he remained silent.

No need to justify himself.

But he acknowledged the truth knowing its consequences.

“…you will see the Son of Man sitting at God’s right hand”

When his best friend denied ever knowing him, he prayed for him.

“But I have pleaded for you…that your strength should not fail. So when you have repented…”

When mocked, he did not return the insults.

He was quiet.

When beaten, he bled but did not lash out.

He accepted the lashes.

When unjustly sentenced to death, he carried his cross to a hill outside of town.

They called it Skull Hill.

When soldiers pierced his hands and feet and affixed him to that rugged piece of wood, he forgave them.

“Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.”

Even when his deep, heartfelt cry to God was misunderstood, he did not complain.

No. He merely died.

He had no sin in need of atonement.

But he was broken for it.

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

 

Where does Jesus’ example meet you?

For me, it’s in the tendency to get defensive, to fight when attacked, to argue when falsely (or even justly) accused. Jesus deserved better but did not need to defend himself. Ever wonder why?

I see two reasons for Jesus security in the Passion narratives. First, Jesus trusted his Father completely. His trust oozes as he prays “Father, you can do anything you want…” and when he instructs Peter, “I could ask for 1000 angels and the Father would send them.” My insecurity about myself betrays a lack of trust in God and the person he made me and is making me into.

Second, Jesus knew the Scriptures and understood from them that the Messiah had to suffer. He determined to do the Father’s will not his own and the Scriptures told him what God’s will was. He accepted what that meant for him. I take comfort from the fact that even Jesus didn’t want to do what God asked of him. It’s highly unlikely that God will ever ask me to suffer half as much. So what am I so afraid of? What are you so afraid of?

If you want the security Jesus demonstrates, you’ll have to get to know God. You’ll have to trust him. You’ll have to stop gripping what he calls you to lay down. It may not be your life. It may be a defining characteristic of your life like fear, worry, insecurity, or faithlessness. By losing your life, he promised you would find it.

Are you weary or losing heart this Resurrection Day? I admit sometime I am and I do. Consider him who endured such opposition…

If this post speaks to you, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or share it on the social medium of your choice.

When You Imagine Jesus (And I Know You Do), Who Do You See?

Holy Jesus

Jesus doesn’t seem very manly to me. Using only the mental images planted in my skull-full-of-mush as a Sunday School regular circa 1982-1990, the Jesus I’m looking at pets lambs, is surrounded by little children, and wears a dress.

Jesus With Kids

See what I mean?

Fashion trends aside, how we think about Jesus – even the imaginary picture in our heads – is important. A.W. Tozer wrote in The Pursuit of God that what you think about God is the most important thing about you. Jesus, being fully God and, in fact, the ultimate revelation of God (see Col. 1:15) is an especially crucial piece of the God puzzle. That’s why it’s so good for us to see the whole picture, the final and triumphant picture of Jesus, and not let our mind’s picture of him be too skewed in any direction.

For example, at Christmas we think of Baby Jesus:

Joseph totally smells it.

Joseph totally smells it.

Baby Jesus is the definition of meek and mild (queue Away in a Manger), at least in the 10 minutes he’s depicted in Christmas pageants the world over. But when is the last time you imagined Baby Jesus crying when he needed a diaper change or nursed? Sure, he was perfect but even God-incarnate babies have limited communication channels. I find that if I forget the humanity of Jesus, the terrible two, poopy-panstsed, skinned-knee humanity, I deprive myself of the whole revelation God intended to give.

Then there’s Walk on Water Jesus:

Holy Jesus

Jesus really is holier than thou…er…you (and me).

The walking on water scene in Matthew 14 has entered many of our heads as an event that shows Jesus having unattainable perfection and gets abused as a holier-than-thou epithet. No one likes someone who walks on water or seems to think they do. This attitude bleeds into my imagination as I marvel more at Peter’s faith (wavering though it is) than Jesus’ trust in God that makes walking on water possible.

Who is this guy, anyway?

Which leads me to Voodoo Healer Jesus:

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Believe it or not, there aren’t that many pictures of Jesus healing people on the internet.

Even in his own day, people tried to project onto him their idea of what he could/would/must do for them. Jesus was often confronted by many who just wanted him to solve all their illnesses and problems like he was some kind of mysterious, voodoo healer-man. And he, interestingly, often obliged. The Gospels give us glimpses of him bum rushed by townspeople, wading through them to the point of sheer exhaustion. But he was also careful to clarify that he wasn’t about the miracles and anyone who seeks him – then and for all time – for the miracles misses the point (see John 6:22-44). Whatever my illnesses are, real or imagined, Jesus is willing to heal them but there’s so much more to him.

Finally, Broken Jesus:

Cross Jesus

“And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

This is the tough one, right? “This is my body, broken for you” is an integral part of our faith. Every Good Friday (and every time we take Communion, or preach the Gospel, etc.) we rightly remember that he was stripped, beaten, broken. The last thing I would say is that we should not enter into his brokenness to marvel at it and let it change us.

But I find something happens if my image of Jesus stays here. He was broken to heal my brokenness. The powerful part of the story is the love dramatically displayed in Jesus’ willingness to suffer and die. His love, not my brokenness, is amazing.

Eternal Jesus

Do you have any pictures of Jesus stuck in your head? I’m guessing that you do. Here’s my (unsolicited) advice. Keep your images. Season them with a little reality. Love Jesus as you encounter him in the scenes you imagine.

But never forget those scenes are for a purpose:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called

Faithful and True.

With justice he judges and wages war.

His eyes are like blazing fire,

and on his head are many crowns.

He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.

He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.

The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.

“He will rule them with an iron scepter.”He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS

Revelation 19:11-16

Put that in your imagination and smoke it.

Eyes of fire, robe dipped in blood (his own, incidentally), and a thigh tattoo. Now that’s a manly Jesus.

This is Conqueror Jesus who:

  • Became a human baby to show you and me how to be human
  • Trusted God to the point that the wind and the waves, even water molecules, obeyed him to show us that we could trust God, too
  • Gave himself to healing the multitudes even when it wearied him and gives himself to you today
  • Suffered incredible amounts of pain, scorn, and derision that we should never be afraid again

Baby Jesus, Walk on Water Jesus, Voodoo Healer Jesus, and Broken Jesus have their moments of relatability. But all of that experience is wrapped up in Conqueror Jesus.

All of those moments, and stories happened so that he could claim the title Conqueror Jesus.

Is Conqueror Jesus able to handle your guilt? He paid for it.

Your shame? He was shamed and came out vindicated.

Your sorrow? They called him Man of Sorrows.

He didn’t get so fierce by living a cushy life.

Could Conqueror Jesus be worth trusting with your hopes and fears, dreams and losses?

When you imagine Jesus, and I know you do, what Jesus do you see?

Leave a comment to share the Jesus pictures in your head and share this post in your favorite social media if it you like it.

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Learning What Life is About

Learning

Learning

Happy Resurrection Day!

Jesus Is Risen

He is risen, indeed!

Jesus Is Risen

Christianity & Pop Culture Collide

In the past two weeks, the Christian faith burst into popular consciousness in a way it seldom does. And yet, remarkably, I hear people complaining. No kidding! On Facebook and the comments to this fine piece of writing, Christians are demonstrating a staggeringly short-sighted  understanding of the opportunity this exposure brings.

"Part of what we hoped to accomplish with the series was to show the Bible is not simply a collection of unconnected stories which are often discussed and analyzed in snippets with chapter and verse numbers. Instead, we wanted to show how the Old Testament connects seamlessly to the New Testament. How they are one sweeping story with one grand, overriding message: God loves each one of us as if we were the only person in all the world to love." Roma Downey and Mark Burnett in On Making The Bible

Two spotlight caliber events shined on our faith in the past two weeks and I’ll take them in turn:

First, Pope Benedict XVI resigned and his successor was chosen. Now, I understand that we Evangelicals have a peculiar glee in our rejection of papal authority. No harm there as far as I’m concerned. Jesus is head of the Church not some grandfatherly figure dressed like he just stepped out of 1430 in a funny hat. I get it.

But we must at least show some concern about who is chosen as Pope. Whether we like it or not, all Christian lineages go through the Roman Catholic Church. Do we agree on every doctrine and interpretation? No. But we do agree on much. And, if you haven’t noticed, it’s been a few centuries since Roman Catholics were the ones persecuting Evangelicals. The battle lines have shifted over the past 500 years. It’s time to start acting like it. Rome is our ally in the culture wars. Pope Francis I, from what I’ve read, has the potential to be a powerful one and his life shows it. Why should we reject him before he has a chance to prove himself as some are doing?

Second, the Bible has come to life on the small screen. Remarkably, I’ve seen Christian people complain about the History Channel series. Before we go any further, you need to know about my theory of genre.

The Nevins Theory of Genre is really nothing more than an arrogant attempt to slap my name on ideas other people dreamed up. (Hey, everyone wants to be remembered for something!) Here is is: If a movie (or book, or other piece of media) lives up to the rules of genre then it is good. For example, think of your favorite superhero movie. As long as Batman (or your own favorite tight-wearer) fights crime, uses cool gadgets, gets into a seemingly unsolvable pickle and still manages to save the day then I’m happy. The movie entertains and therefore serves its purpose.

The Bible series is similar. There is no way possible to include every little nuance in the 66 books of the Bible. Accordingly, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey included the broad strokes of the Bible. The editorial decisions they made serve the larger purpose of bringing the Bible to life. Here’s how Mr. Burnett and Ms. Downey put it in a recent Huffington Post article:

It is our prayer that the same message of God’s love permeates The Bible series.

So, the proper way to evaluate The Bible series is to ask whether it serves its intended purpose. Is God’s love demonstrated throughout it? In my presently-indignant opinion, the answer is yes. Complaints, then, are needlessly damaging and useless.

Rather than being disappointed that the series didn’t include Jacob or Joseph, or a detail in a story you love, how about we be happy that the message of God’s love is generating so much interest around the world? How about we get off our lazy rear ends and seize with both hands the opportunity the Holy Spirit has afforded us these last two weeks to share the message of love which God so dramatically, amazingly, fantastically displayed in the cross of Christ?

Stop being so short-sighted and look at the potential harvest.

The Spirit is whetting the appetite of the world.

Are we ready to do our God-given part?

Rev Nev Book Review: A Free People’s Suicide

Conversations can haunt you. One that haunts me took place years ago in a park with a friend while our children played. He said that with the recent spat of political correctness he did not think it would be long until it was used against the Church in serious persecution. Shocked at the thought, I insisted that as long as we have the First Amendment, there was nothing to worry about. Call it the Ghost of Naivete Past.

Os Guinness’s A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future addresses exactly why my friend was right, I was wrong, and America is in trouble. I hate to admit all three.

834655: A Free People"s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future

A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future

By Os Guinness / Inter-varsity Press

Two things are worth mentioning about Os Guinness at the outset. First, Guinness freely admits that he writes as an outsider observing America. He is from Ireland but now lives in the United States. He quotes often from Alexis de Tocqueville and it is no stretch to say A Free People’s Suicide is in the same tradition. Second, Guinness is a Christian writer and philosopher but this is not a Christian book per se. He will land on some ideas that all Christians will readily accept but the book is intended for a larger audience.

Guinness begins by explaining why freedom must be sustained. Our vaunted Founders had the pluck to win and organize (second effort was better) the freedom they secured. But being mortal they could only sustain it during their lifetimes. After that, it’s up to each generation to maintain what they secured and organized.

What does it take to maintain liberty? More than an occasional oil change on your Jeep Liberty. It’s hard, uncomfortable, and widely misunderstood. And dangerous because it’s under attack.

Guinness brings back an understanding of freedom by defining what freedom meant to the Founders. The misunderstandings about liberty are staggering in a culture that prides itself on preserving, promoting, and protecting the very thing. But the arguments have slowly been shifted over a period of decades so that suddenly (or so it seems) people accept an incorrect premise. I suspect many people know something is wrong but cannot put their finger on what.

Case in point: what’s the first thing you think of when you think of freedom? Most people will immediately think of the right to do whatever they want. On the left it’s the ability to do as they please with their genitals and  “reproductive freedom” (I call it killing defenseless unborn babies, but whatever). The right fights just as vigorously for keeping others from interfering with their guns and funds. Both argue on the basis of individual liberty. Both argue what Guinness calls “negative freedom.”

While negative freedom is important, it is only half of the equation. Negative freedom must be paired with positive freedom in order to work and, more importantly, to last. Guinness does us a tremendous service by reviving this more robust view of freedom. “Positive freedom is freedom for-in essence, freedom for excellence according to whatever vision and ideals define that excellence.” Genuine liberty goes well beyond stopping interference into allowing people to succeed or fail based on their own ambition and abilities. In other words, positive freedom is the freedom afforded by opportunity. That’s why the United States used to be called the “Land of Opportunity.” When is the last time you heard anyone say that?

"Freedom, then, is never simply privacy or freedom from interference or the right to be left alone. Nor is it simply procedural or only a matter of choice, in which the greater the range of choices, the greater the depth of freedom. An endless proliferation of trivial and unworthy choices is not freedom but slavery by another name. Freedom is not choice so much as right choice, good choices, and wise choice. When everything is permissible, no one is truly free, so it is ironic but not accidental that millions in 'the land of the free' are in recovery groups from one addiction or another." Os Guinness in A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future

Political correctness has attacked the very idea of opportunity for all to succeed or fail. We hand out trophies to everyone regardless of the outcome of the game because our kids are too small to fail. Businesses are too big to fail. The spectrum between is littered with a thousand examples where political correctness has stripped opportunity in the name of fairness and it’s terribly unfair to us all. It’s the opposite of liberty. Guinness convinced me of that.

Read through A Free People’s Suicide and you will wonder how do we get liberty back? What would it take for Americans to reject the bad medicine they have been spoon-fed for the last one hundred years to restore freedom? The answer lies in what Guinness calls the “Golden Triangle of Freedom.”

The Golden Triangle of Freedom is freedom, virtue, and faith. Each of the three depend on the others and they go around “like the recycling triangle, ad infinitum.” Take a look at those three things and ask yourself which of them is still celebrated in America? Once freedom is defined as the lack of any constraint, then virtue and faith become viewed as unnecessary personal constraints and are done away with as quickly as possible. So popular culture attacks virtue as old-fashioned and faith as blind. All the while it is freedom that is eroding away.

Here Guinness makes a point that both startled me and ultimately changed my mind. We conservatives are prone to thinking that the rule of law is there to protect liberty, thus our constant appeals to the Constitution. So what happens when someone violates the Constitution and usurps it? The answer is nothing. The Constitution is merely a piece of paper. Defense of liberty requires people willing to stand up for it. It takes men and women in each branch willing to work within the limits of their power. Without such men and women liberty is a mirage.

That’s what my friend was trying to tell me all along. I believed that the First Amendment would always be there to protect religious speech. It may always stand as a testament to the ideal but if men and women who do not agree with my worldview hold the reigns of power in the legislatures and executive offices of this fair land, it is entirely conceivable that they could vote to limit the freedom of religious speech in the name of “fairness” or “equality” or some other tyranny in freedom’s clothing. Stack the courts with people of similar persuasion and there really is no hope.

Guinness, though, does not allow his reader to despair. He rings the constant refrain “unless…” Hope is gone unless people can be shown the better way, shown from history how to avert this future. This is where my heart begins to beat again.

There is one hope for America. It starts with the faith leg of the Golden Triangle. To put it more bluntly than Guinness does, what America needs is revival, a complete and overwhelming return to God in our values and beliefs. Without revival America is in trouble as values erode. Most Americans do not know that revival has broken out in America almost every 50 years. By that standard we’re overdue. I’m not a numbers guy so I won’t read into the lack of revival in our day except to say that I wonder sometimes if God tarries in pouring out the Spirit because we do not ask Him for it (James 4:2). What are we afraid of? Losing our liberty to do as we please? Maybe. But I think that’s coming either way. And I’d rather be free to serve my Spirit-pricked conscience than bound to serve the Nanny State.

Guinness is absolutely spot on with a message Americans need to hear. Still, I disagreed with him on U.S. foreign policy and the way the United States was perceived during the Iraq war. I will always believe there were good reasons to go into Iraq and one day this will be understood more fully at which time “world opinion” (whatever that is) will be proven wrong. Guinness uses the war as an example of American hubris and as an illustration to prove that America can do better as an example of freedom to the world. That liberty cannot be imposed is obvious. Whether America’s presence in Iraq was for the purpose of imposing an American way or liberating others is still a matter of dispute. The historians will decide and let’s hope a conservative or two gets the upper hand.

Books can haunt you. A Free People’s Suicide is a challenging read that will stir you to think about America’s future and what role you might play in it. It’s worth every page if it wards off the Ghost of Naivety Future.

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP. All opinions are my own. Links to Christianbook.com are affiliate links. Purchases made through affiliate links benefit me and help keep my site going.

Nev’s Reading List: New Year, New Goals

Time to Read

Hello 2013! It’s nice to see you.

Time to Read

Last year, about midyear, I started something that is destined to become a regular series here: writing about what I’m reading. The series includes book reviews, an update of what I’m reading and how my reading is going, and a list of the books I’m reading on the sidebar. You’ll notice they haven’t changed in awhile. I’ll get to that in a moment.

This series serves two purposes. First, it keeps me honest. Publishing the mid-year check in kept me going through the rest of the year. Plus, it gave me a chance to talk about everything I had read to that point. Anytime you can revive your reading is a bonus.

Second, discussing books and the ideas in them is helpful to people who have limited time and can use a quick summary and a suggestion or two about what’s good. I always appreciate a good book recommendation. Hopefully, you do too.

Rules for Reading

Before getting to the heap of books I intend to Ray Lewis tackle this year I learned enough last year to make a few rules for this year:

Nev’s Reading Rule #1: One book at a time.

I decided on this rule early last year and kept to it (mostly) throughout the year. The times when progress slowed were when I tried to read too many things at one time. I don’t focus as well when I feel pulled in many directions. If I have more than one book in my bag it’s as if I don’t know what to do so I do nothing. The one book rule keeps eliminates this tension. But that leads to rule #2.

Nev’s Reading Rule #2: Only accept books to read when there is time to read them.

Ever have someone tell you about a great book they read and then say “I’ll bring it to you,” then the next thing you know they’re handing you a book and you’re wondering when you’ll read it? That happened to me a couple of times this last year. No offense intended to anyone who loaned me books. Really, it’s my fault for accepting them. That’s why I created this rule. It’s less embarrassing to refuse a book than to keep one too long or give it back unread. This rule is flexible. If there’s time between books (see Rule #1 above) then by all means borrow the book.

Nev’s Reading Rule #3: Book reviews get priority.

I couldn’t possibly overstate how fantastic I think this bit of blogging is. For about two years now I have been requesting and receiving books as review copies from publishers. For FREE. But just like the Force, there’s a dark side. The publishers send me the books for a reason: to write a review. Last year I received Os Guinness’s A Free People’s Suicide and have yet to finish it. That’s why it’s still at the top of the sidebar list of books I’m reading (told you I’d get there). The book came in August and my life exploded with busyness right at the same time. This year I want to get the reviews done within a month of receiving the book.

That’s probably enough rules to break. Now for the list of books I intend to read this year.

Pile of old books

Carry Overs

As I mentioned, there are a few books that I did not get to last year so they end up at the top of the list here.

1. Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide
This book is great. I’m about two-thirds through. Guinness is convincing me that the problem we have in this country isn’t political it’s moral. Look for a review shortly.

2. Jonah Goldberg, Tyranny of Cliches:How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas
This looks like a great book. I’ve started it (violated Rule 1 above and got bogged down…see what I mean?) but now is the time to finish it and get a review up. Goldberg makes a compelling case about the many cliches that people in politics uses to end arguments when they think they are making them. It’s witty and fun and slightly depressing.

3. Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy
I read 1-2 biographies per year. Bonhoeffer was to be my second last Fall but I never got to it. This year, it’s at the top of the list. Sometimes you can see the hand of God in the timing of things. I’m starting to wonder if that’s the case with the resurgence of Bonhoeffer’s popularity given the times. That makes this book an important read.

Everything else that was on this list but not in this post will have to wait.

New Year’s Reading Goals

4. Wayne Grudem, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture
Yeah, long title. I like Grudem because of his Systematic Theology. It’s easy to read and helpful when thinking through theological issues. I don’t always agree with him but do always give his ideas respect. I had the privilege of taking his last class at Trinity with about 68 of my closest friends. Yeah, that’s right. I totally name dropped like I know the guy.

5. Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image
This is a book I’ve owned for a long time but never read. Ever since I took a self study theology class when I first got to seminary, I have been enamored with the idea of God’s image in man. In many ways this is the foundational concept for a Christian worldview (really any worldview). Created in God’s Image also is indicative of my desire to read at a bit higher level this year than I did last year. No sense in making a list if you’re not going to challenge yourself.

6. Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places
This is the first in Peterson’s quintette on spiritual theology. Very interested to read this because Peterson is always insightful and eloquent.

7. Augustine, Confessions
A classic that I’ve never read. This time next year I won’t be able to say that.

8. Ernest Hemmingway, For Whom The Bell Tolls
What this list needs is some fiction. I’m a moderate fan of Hemmingway. This is one I’ve attempted before but never gotten too far. I’d like to read the last page this year.

9. George Orwell, 1984
Everyone talks about it but I’ve never actually read it. Now’s as good a time as any.

10. Tim Keller, The Prodigal God
I’ve heard a lot about Tim Keller but have read none of his works. This book comes highly recommended to me so I’ll start my journey into Keller’s thought here.

11. D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited
Carson is one of the best thinkers out there. His update of H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic is welcomed. Niebuhr’s ideas are insightful but his writing was unbearable. I’m hoping Carson is an easier, and therefore more helpful, read.

As much as I’d like to add a couple more, if I finish these I’ll be doing good. Plus, choosing a smaller list will leave some room in the year.

Here’s how the list breaks down by topic:

HIstory: 2 (if you include Augustine)
Politics: 1
Philosophy/cultural thinking: 3
Fiction: 2
Theology: 3

I like to do this exercise to reveal my biases. Clearly I’m most interested in cultural thinking and theology. Nothing wrong with that but I do find it helpful to balance them with history and fiction.

Enough about me. what about you? What’s the best book you read in 2012? What are you most looking forward to reading in 2013? What topics do you read most?

Leave a comment to let me know. I’d love to hear about books you’re reading!

The Baby and the Faithfulness of God

The Gift

Merry Christmas! Two days ago I had the privilege of preaching in a small, rural Iowa church. This post is an adaptation of that sermon. Hope it brings you joy as you reflect on the implications of birth of a little boy in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

I remember as a child the wonder of this time of year. School was winding down as the Christmas break approached. We made ornaments for our Christmas tree. We still have an ornament on our tree at home in Colorado that I made in second grade. Santa Claus used to call my house as Christmas approached to find out what we wanted for Christmas. It was a magical time.

Time seemed to march slowly. Christmastime seemed forever. As an adult I find time goes faster the older I get but back then it seemed to take awhile. I waited for weeks that seemed like years for Christmas. Slowly but surely presents would appear under the tree. There’s nothing like that, is there? A present under the tree with your name on it just cries out to be examined, rattled, shook, or steamed open. Do you remember that feeling as a kid waiting, anticipation building, until finally Christmas Day comes.

I always woke up early and went to check things out before anyone else if I could. My sister was an early riser so she beat me sometimes. One Christmas I found a train set under the tree all set up. I grabbed the remote, squeezed the trigger, and around the track the train went through the maze of packages and stockings under our family tree. I played with that thing forever. Or until time to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Christmas was finally here! At long last I opened my presents and enjoyed them.

A.W. Tozer said “What you think about God is the most important thing about you.” What you think about God when His promises seem to go unfulfilled is especially important.

Now I want you to imagine something with me. We have four kids and for Christmas I plan to give them gifts. What would happen if, in all the excitement of Christmas with all of its anticipation and waiting, I were to take one of my kid’s presents and wrap it up nicely, with a bow, and put it under the tree? What if I told them this pretty package is for you but you cannot open it? They might be disappointed but still excited to see what it is. The next day they come and ask again, “Daddy, can I open it?” What if I said no? Then same the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. On and on.

How long do you think it would take before they started to wonder what was wrong? How long do you think it would take before they would start to wonder if they had done something wrong? How long do you think it would take, being promised the package but denied its blessing, before they would wonder if I was a good enough dad to give them the present at all?

You see, when it comes to the promises of God, you and I are a lot like that. When we think God has tarried even a little bit in keeping His promise it doesn’t take very long before we start to wonder why. How we answer that question if vital. A.W. Tozer said “What you think about God is the most important thing about you.” What you think about God when His promises seem to go unfulfilled is especially important.

To illustrate this, I want you to read through Matthew 1:1-17. Yes, I know it’s full of names you can’t pronounce and rather repetitive. Read it. There’s a lot there that I promise you’ll find very helpful as we go along.

Did you read it? You did? Great! Here we go…

Right out of the gate Matthew gives us the main point. He says Jesus is (1) the Messiah, (2) the son of David, and (3) the son of Abraham.

When Matthew calls Jesus the Messiah he is saying one thing: Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises God made to Abraham and David.

The birth of Jesus proves God’s past, present, and future faithfulness. You can trust God to keep his promises because of a baby who was born of a virgin 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.

It’s really as simple as that. Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One sent by God to deliver His people. God, finally, has fulfilled the promises. If you were a first century Jew that’s exactly what Matthew’s first sentence says to you.

The genealogy of Jesus as it moves along shows just how unlikely his birth was. A quick glance through the lineage gives you an idea of how tenuous the situation was sometimes.

Let’s just take Abraham, for instance. Abraham, of course, is the Father of the nation of Israel. When God called him out of Ur Abraham had no idea where he was going or how God would keep his promise to give him a son. Can you imagine how ridiculous the idea of having children must have seemed to him when he was 75 years old? And yet…he believed God.

So everyday for twenty-five years Abraham woke up and wondered if today was the day God was going to give him a son. At their age it was extremely unlikely. If you’ve ever known anyone who tried to have children but could not you can get an idea of how frustrating and painful it must have been.

When God first called him in Genesis 12 Abraham was 75. He waited for God to reiterate the promise several times, sometimes decades apart and by the time Sarah finally gave birth to Isaac, Abraham was 100 years old. That’s 25 years of waiting, believing that God would keep His promise. Twenty-five long years.

And finally, finally Isaac is born! Abraham has descendants and God’s promise is fulfilled.

You ever wonder what Abraham learned from that experience? There’s a fascinating story in Genesis 22 that tells us. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Now, how would you react if God suddenly asked you to sacrifice everything you waited 25 year to receive? Abraham didn’t miss a beat. “Abraham, sacrifice Isaac to me.” “Yes, Lord. Boy, get some wood.” He didn’t even blink. Why? It’s because Abraham learned something during all those years of when the likelihood of God keeping his promise to give him a son seemed slim.

Abraham knew that our circumstances do not limit God’s ability to work in history.

How do I know that’s what Abraham knew? Hebrews 11:19 says: “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” Abraham believed that no matter the circumstance God would keep His promise to give him many descendants through Isaac. Even if Isaac died, Abraham believed God could do the impossible!

The question for you and I is this: What circumstances are you letting keep you from believing God is working in your life? Or we could ask it this way: What is God calling you to that you cannot do because…? What is it? A missions trip that you can’t find the funds for? A big dream that you don’t have the experience for? A marriage you’re not sure is worth fighting for? What is it?

If you’re letting circumstances get in the way your God is too small.

God is Able

God is not only determined to accomplish His purposes in history, He is able to accomplish His purposes in history. That’s why you see example after example of God’s people in jam after jam and God comes through in the most unlikely of ways. Isn’t that what all the great stories in the Bible are about?

Noah and his unlikely boat. Ruth and her unlikely kinsman redeemer. Esther and her unlikely favor in the king’s eyes. Nehemiah and his unlikely permission to build the wall. David and his unlikely win against Goliath. A virgin with child. Our circumstances do not limit God’s ability to work in history.

I love how Paul puts it in Romans 4:17 – “As it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations,’” speaking, of course of Abraham, “He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” What’s this tell you about God? Not only is God powerful enough and sovereign enough to accomplish anything He wants in history, He loves doing it! He loves making bad situations miraculously good.

Here’s the good news: Because a baby was born of a virgin 2000 years ago in Bethlehem you can be sure that your circumstances do not limit God’s ability to work in your life. Whatever God is calling you into, you can do with confidence He will make a way through even the unlikeliest of circumstances.

God’s Amazing Faithfulness

When you were reading the genealogy (you did read it, didn’t you?) did you catch some interesting names in there? Rahab. What is she doing here in the lineage of Jesus? Rahab was the prostitute who helped the spies at Jericho. Other interesting situations come up, too, like in verse 6 where it says “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife…” Adultery and murder in the line of Jesus. What about Manasseh in v. 10? Do you know how the 2 Kings 21:16 describes him? “Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”

What do these have in common? They prove that our faithlessness does not limit God’s faithfulness.

Because a baby was born of a virgin in Bethlehem 2000 years ago you can be sure that our faithlessness does not limit God’s faithfulness. It says it right here. Look at the people God used to bring Jesus into this world!

This is incredibly good news!

Here’s what I know about you: if you, like me, are not careful you can easily get sucked into thinking that God’s faithfulness to you depends on your faithfulness to Him. It’s the strangest thing. We somehow get the idea that the grace to get in the door is free but the price to stay in the club is perfection. It’s as if God’s love was enough to send Jesus but not enough to forgive all our sin.

Don’t get me wrong. We should all strive for holiness but hear this: God will still be faithful to keep his promises to you even if you sin against Him. This is true because His love is based in His character not on your ability to earn it. If it were we’d be in trouble. Aren’t you glad God’s not fair? Aren’t you glad He is better than fair to us? If God can use Rahab, he can use you and me.

Isn’t this the message you’ve heard? Eph. 2:8-9 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” The baby that was born of a virgin in Bethlehem 2000 years ago grew up and died on a cross a sacrificial atonement for your sin and mine. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

That is truly great news. God loved us before we even knew it.

God is Always Working

Something really interesting happens in the lineage after the Exile. Before that scholars point to the historical books in the OT that Matthew was likely drawing from. But after the Exile the historical records dry up. For that matter, so did God’s revelation and use of prophets. Israel entered this period of about 400 years between the last prophet and John the Baptist with no words from God. Silence.

Each generation was born, grew up, married and had children, and finally went to the grave all the while passing on the stories of the promises of God. God who promised to bless all the nations through Abraham’s descendants. God who promised that David’s descendent would rule in Jerusalem forever. We skip from Malachi to Matthew with the flick of a page. They lived entire lives never knowing whether God would finally fulfill the great and precious promises He made.

And yet, Matthew records the lineage of Jesus right down to Joseph and Mary. While God was silent He was not inactive.

This leads us to our last principle today: Our perception does not limit God’s activity.

If you’re a brand new baby Christian you really need to hear this point because a time is coming when God will not seem as close as He is now. If you’re here and been a Christian for a while, maybe decades you know what this is like. St. John of the Cross called it the Dark Night of the Soul.

Times come when we wonder if our prayers are heard. Or tragedy hits and we begin to wonder where is God?

I do not know the answer to these questions but one thing I do know. My perception does not limit God’s activity. He works in mysterious ways and it remains to be seen what He will do in and through this dark time.

Here’s what I believe: Because a baby was born of a virgin 2000 years ago in Bethlehem I can trust God when my perception of His work in my life is nonexistent. He worked through time to bring about that baby’s remarkable birth.

A birth that angels glorified…shepherds marveled over…and wise men worshiped.

Why? Why were they all struck with wonder and awe?

Because the birth of that baby proved God’s past, present, and future faithfulness.

I love the way the Apostle Paul puts this very idea in 2 Corinthian 1:20:

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
Here’s what that means:

You see your circumstances and we hear no.

The budget says no.

The calendar says no.

Your education says no.

Your perceived ability says no.

Your experience says no.

You see your faithlessness and hear no.

All the ways you fail say no.

The sin you just can’t shake says no.

That addiction you can’t break say no.

That bitterness you’ve been harboring in your heart for decades says no.

You hear the deafening silence of God and you hear no.

You see tragedy and you hear no.

Here is the blessed, wonderful, Christmas message God has for us today: God, because of a baby born of a virgin 2000 years ago in Bethlehem named Jesus, says “Yes!” to you.

Will you say yes to Him?

A God Worth Thanking

Thanksgiving. Here. Already. Who let that happen?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1:17-18

Impervious to my state of alarm, the year is beginning to wane and I find myself growing reflective. I think about all the things that I have and have not accomplished this year. The goals I had and the lessons I learned. The victories and defeats. The sorrows and joys of life.

For me this begins annually around Thanksgiving. Like many of us, I have much for which to be thankful. A good and growing family. Plenty of food…perhaps too much food (that’s an entirely different post). A nice place to live. A job that, well, it’s a job which is saying something in this economy. Common reasons for thanks, all.

But there is something else that should capture our attention. Or perhaps I should say Someone else.

While we are right to be thankful for the blessings that usually come to mind like health, family, provision for our needs, we have Thanksgiving to remember that all of it comes from a good Giver. If we lose sight of Him we lose any reason for giving thanks.

So here’s a list of qualities of the Giver of All Good Gifts:

  • Exodus 34:6-7 -And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
  • Isaiah 6:1-4 – In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

    “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
        the whole earth is full of his glory.”

    At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

  • Lamentations 3:22-23 – Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
     They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
     I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

     The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
     it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

  • 1 John 4:8-10 -Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Is a God like that worth thanking, today? I think so.

As you feast today, remember the Lord. Remember that His love is deep and wide and rushing and the reason you have any of the things for which you give thanks today.

 

The Morning After Election 2012

This, clearly, is not the post I thought I’d be putting up today. I fully expected to have a new President-elect. It was not to be. This post is a bit disjointed but it contains my reactions sobered in the morning light.

It turns out the silent support was on Obama’s side. What were all those people voting for?

Obamacare stays. How is this possible? The law is still deeply unpopular and yet the people, when given the chance, did not choose those who would eliminate it. Should it have been a bigger campaign issue? Yes.

Status quo. It’s the one result I never expected and no one could afford.

Religion never came up. It will be interesting to see what Evangelicals did.

In fact, the analysis of the electorate will be fascinating.

I predicted the election would end up with one candidate over 300 electoral votes. I was just wrong about which candidate it would be.

Romney was classy in his concession speech. I regret that we’ve lost him in the public sphere. We could use some class.

I didn’t watch Obama’s speech. I stopped listening to him a long time ago. Not going to change now.

I actually thought Romney had a chance in PA. Not going to make that mistake again in 2016.

What was the result of the hurricane hiatus? No way to tell for sure but it sure seemed like Romney lost steam after that.

Benghazi will not go away. Obama’a send term will be plagued by the growing scandal of a dead American ambassador and three others. Investigations, Congressional committees, and the inevitable trials will still dominate headlines for much of the next two years (or so…these things take forever). We’ll  see executive privilege claims and partisan defensive tactics. Just bank on it.

Election themes I will not miss: oddly weighted polls, Libya as a campaign issue, the term “lady parts,” war on women, the 47%, “likability” as a measure of a man, impugning of character instead of policies and media advocacy for one candidate. We’re probably stuck with that last one.

Finally, one thing will always remain true: God is in control. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, my hope is in Him not in the powers that be. That rubber hits the road now. The hard part is living it like you believe it. But so we shall endeavor to do.

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