I’m Tired (of Social Media)

In our modern era of social media, we love to post pics of our family, vacations, the food we ate, parties we went to, the games we played or watched, links to funny videos, and so much more. It’s a great way to share a part of our lives with our family and friends. Those of you who follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter know that I post A LOT of things about my family whom I love, my friends that I care about, the church that I pastor, and my Savior, Jesus, whom I follow by faith.

But, countless studies have linked extended use of social media to depression, not only in adults, but even more in the hearts and minds of our kids. (Here are just a couple from JAMACNN and Psychology Today).

“Adolescents who spend more than 3 hours per day using social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, particularly internalizing problems.” – Journal of the American Medical Association

Seeing all the exciting things that others are doing, the “likes” their pictures got, the parties we were not invited to, the vacations we can’t afford to take, the relationships we wish we had can all be discouraging, if not depressing, by comparison. Social media only reveals the tip of the iceberg of people’s lives and, usually, it’s disguised as a tropical island resort.

Perhaps I’m part of the problem. Just this past weekend, we had a great time watching our son play in his high school band during a thrilling football game. I posted pics and a video of the game winning score. On Saturday, we drove to see our daughter where she goes to college for family weekend. I shared some fun pics of our time with her, her boyfriend, and friends (#GoCru). I love my kids and wife, so I love to share what God is doing in their lives. But, I also realize that my social media posts, likes, links, and shares can give an inaccurate, incomplete picture of the reality of my life.

It’s really easy, especially on social media and even from a church pulpit, to act like I’ve got it all together. Rather than fake it, I need to recognize and admit that there are times, like David (see Psalm 34 and 1 Samuel 21:12), when I fear people more than the LORD. There are many times when the adversities of life, relationships, and ministry get to me.

To be real, I’m feeling pretty worn down and worn out right now. The weight of ministry over the years, personal conflicts with people, as well as, resolving conflict between people, and, even, personal rejection of, not just people, but friends, is a personal struggle that is a present reality. Part of the problem is that I’m tired. Perhaps social media is affecting me, too. The bigger problem, however, is that I’m fearful. Fearful of disappointing people. I’m fearful of not measuring up or meeting expectations. I’m afraid, at times, of conflict and the feelings of rejection that come with it. I’m afraid of people leaving our church because of me, something I’ve done, or not done well enough. I’m even a little bit afraid to share these things because of how some people might react. I can play the comparison game , too, and feel discouraged – even though I know that the grass isn’t greener in anyone else’s life or ministry – the manure is just different.  There are times and seasons, like today, that I’m fearful of circumstances, situations, and relationships.

Recently at Plano Bible Chapel, we began studying, meditating on, and memorizing Psalm 34 because, as a pastor, I needed to study it, meditate on it, and learn how to fear the LORD. I’m in process of learning and applying the blessings of fearing the Lord MORE THAN my personal fears. More than simply naming my fears, I’m counting God’s blessings. (You can listen to a recent sermon about this here)

“One who is righteous has many adversities, but the LORD rescues him from them all.” Psalm 34:19

Because we can experience the God’s redemption by faith in His Son, JESUS, we can praise the LORD at ALL times. When we’re afraid. When we’re broken-hearted. When we’re crushed. When we’ve failed. When we feel excluded. When our lives seem boring or meaningless compared to others. Even when we’ve sinned. The LORD rescues those who fear Him. The LORD watches over us. The LORD redeems us and saves us for an eternal relationship with Him.

So, wherever I am, whatever’s going on, and whenever I’m browsing your photos on social media, I can “bless the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim the Lord’s greatness with me; let us exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34:1-3).

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Saints

Saint” seems to be the apostle Paul’s favorite name for Christians. He used it 39 times to describe faithful followers of Jesus:

  • Romans 1:7  To all who are in Roman, loved by God, called as saints. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 
  • Romans 8:27  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 
  • Romans 12:13  Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. 
  • Romans 15:25  Right now I am traveling to Jerusalem to serve the saints
  • Romans 15:26  because Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem
  • Romans 15:31  Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints
  • Romans 16:2  So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help.
  • Romans 16:15  Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 
  • 1 Corinthians 1:2  To the church of God at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called as saints, with all those in every place who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord
  • 1 Corinthians 6:1  If any of you has a dispute against another, how dare you take it to court before the unrighteous, and not before the saints
  • 1 Corinthians 6:2  Or don’t you know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the trivial cases? 
  • 1 Corinthians 14:3  since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints
  • 1 Corinthians 16:1  Now about the collection for the saints: Do the same as I instructed the Galatian churches. 
  • 1 Corinthians 16: 5  Brothers and sisters, you know the household of Stephanas: They are the firstfruits of Achaia and have devoted themselves to serving the saints
  • 2 Corinthians 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother: To the church of God at Corinth, with all the saints who are throughout Achaia. 
  • 2 Corinthians 8:4  they begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints
  • 2 Corinthians 9:1  Now concerning the ministry to the saints, it is unnecessary for me to write to you. 
  • 2 Corinthians 9:12  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 
  • 2 Corinthians 13:12  Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints send you greetings. 
  • Ephesians 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will: To the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus. 
  • Ephesians 1:15  This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints
  • Ephesians 1:18  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints 
  • Ephesians 2:19  So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 
  • Ephesians 3:8  This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of Christ, 
  • Ephesians 3:18  That you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, 
  • Ephesians 4:12  equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 
  • Ephesians 5:3  But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints
  • Ephesians 6:18  Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints
  • Philippians 1:1  Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus: To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons. 
  • Philippians 4:21  Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send you greetings. 
  • Philippians 4:22  All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. 
  • Colossians 1:2  To the saints in Christ at Colossae, who are faithful brothers and sisters. Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 
  • Colossians 1:4  for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints
  • Colossians 1:12  giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. 
  • Colossians 1:26  the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:13  May he make your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Amen. 
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:10  on that day when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed. 
  • 1 Timothy 5:10 that is, if she has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to every good work. 
  • Philemon 5  because I hear of your love for all the saints and the faith that you have in the Lord Jesus. 
  • Philimon 7  For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

The name, “saints” is also used prominently for faithful witnesses of Christ in the book of Revelation.

  • Revelation 5:8  When he took the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and golden bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
  • Revelation 8:3  Another angel, with a golden incense burner, came and stood at the altar. He was given a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saintson the golden altar in front of the throne.
  • Revelation 8:4  The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand.
  • Revelation 11:18  The nations were angry, but your wrath has come. The time has come for the dead to be judged and to give the reward to your servants the prophets, to the saints, and to those who fear your name, both small and great, and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.
  • Revelation 13:7  And it was permitted to wage war against the saintsand to conquer them. It was also given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation.
  • Revelation 13:10  If anyone is to be taken captive, into captivity he goes. If anyone is to be killed with a sword, with a sword he will be killed. This calls for endurance and faithfulness from the saints.
  • Revelation 14:12  This calls for endurance from the saints, who keep God’s commands and their faith in Jesus.”
  • Revelation 16:6  Because they poured out the blood of the saintsand the prophets, you have given them blood to drink; they deserve it!
  • Revelation 17:6  Then I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saintsand with the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.
  • Revelation 18:20  Rejoice over her, heaven, and you saints, apostles, and prophets, because God has pronounced on her the judgment she passed on you!
  • Revelation 18:24  In her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all those slaughtered on the earth.
  • Revelation 19:8  She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints.
  • Revelation 20:9  They came up across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the encampment of the saints, the beloved city.

So what, or more importantly, WHO, is a saint? If you have trusted Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, as your death substitute on the cross and believe that He rose from the dead – YOU are a SAINT. All believers in Christ are saints.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Chronicles

History Books

By the time we get to the Old Testament Chronicles (reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation), we’re tired of history.

Done.

After all, the Chronicles seems to repeat what we’ve just read in Samuel and Kings. Making it more difficult, it seems, is the really slow beginning of nine chapters of genealogies. Name after name. Son after son (with an occasional daughter, wife, or mother thrown in). Familiar narratives we’ve heard before.

BORING.

Why not just skip past Chronicles?

Here’s why. The Chronicles summarize Jewish Scripture, from Adam to the Exile, telling stories about the past that provide hope for the future. There are character studies not only of David, but of obedient kings of Judah who experienced success and blessing. There are, also, stories of unfaithful leaders who faced failure and hardship. All of these stories are not just part of the past, they are for our present and future. The Chronicles are recorded so that we’ll walk with God by faith with faithfulness. If we don’t learn from others in the books of history, we are bound to repeat their failures in our own story.

Like the God’s people of old, we’re living in an era where truth has become relative. God’s Word considered antiquated. Progressive thought valued more than biblical morality. Individual feelings trump personal faith. God’s promises have been forgotten, so human philosophy and empty deceit has taken many, if not the masses, captive. Our culture worships the idols of personal happiness, individualism, materialism, sexual freedom. Meanwhile, issues of heartless racism and systemic injustice rule just as much today as back in the day. It’s an age of mass confusion, fake tolerance, stolen identity, personal choice, disregard for human life, and disheartened fate. Like the unfaithful leaders of Judah (1 Chronicles 9:1, 10:13, 12:14, 2 Chronicles 28:22-25; 33:7-9), our world has, “multiplied their unfaithful deeds, imitating all the detestable practices of the nations”(2 Chronicle 36:14).

If we don’t learn from others in the books of history, we are bound to repeat their failures in our own story.

The Chronicles, however, end on a note of encouragement from, of all people, King Cyrus of Persia. After the 70 years of exile in Babylon were completed, he directs the people of God to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple of God. The last sentence (2 Chronicles 36:23) is an incomplete one, “Whomever among you of His people may go up, and may the LORD his God be with him…”

It’s a story in search of an ending with the hope of a new (better) David, a new (better) priesthood, and a new (better) temple. The book of Hebrews points us to Jesus who is not only better – He’s the best!

The end of the story of our lives has not been written, yet. God is still with us. There is still hope for the faithful followers of Jesus. Even though it’s been almost 2,000 years, we’re still waiting for the return of our Messiah. Like the returning exiles to Jerusalem longing for a new temple, we anticipate the day when“God’s dwelling is with men and He will live with them”(Revelation 21:3). Do not be afraid or discouraged. Instead, be faithful in a world of unfaithfulness because the LORD our God is faithful.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for His faithful love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 7:3; 2 Chronicles 20:21).

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Read thru the Bible

Want to read the Bible with others and me in 2019?

Here are a couple options: read thru the entire Bible (http://bit.ly/2F0ABCn) or just the New Testament (http://bit.ly/2s1xRgq).

The most important thing is taking time to know God through His Word on a regular basis and living it out each day with others.

“Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:16-17

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Revelation

Reading thru the Bible  over the last 365 days of 2018, I’m finishing with the vision revealed to the Apostle John who was exiled on the island of Patmos because of His testimony about Jesus some time after 90AD.

What John wrote in the book of Revelation fascinates us and has caused generations of Christ followers to wonder as we wait for the end times. We’re strangely curious about Bible prophecy. The visions of the future seen and written down by John are similar to political cartons of our day that would seem strange without specific context and knowledge of particular individuals or circumstances. The intense scenes of real events yet to come encourage us to persevere today and remain faithful in the days ahead (Revelation 13:10).

Revelation isn’t primarily about prophecy, though. It’s about a person: JESUS. The book of Revelation focuses our attention of the person, power, and, future program of Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain for the sins of the world.

To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood, and made us a kingdom, priests, to his God and Father—to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1:5–6

 In the same way Christmas is not just about Jesus coming as a baby in Bethlehem; it’s about Him returning as our King to judge the nations and the rebels of God.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever. Revelation 11:15

The book of Revelation isn’t just a fitting conclusion to the end of the year, but also to the end of Advent season as we anticipate the second coming of Jesus and his coming kingdom on Earth.

As we look back today over the events and activities of the past year (2018), we also look ahead with faith as we wait for our coming King.

He who testifies about these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Revelation 22:20

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ in 2019 or until He comes back.

Music and Memories

Music helps us connect life experiences with past memories. We need older songs to help us remember God’s Word and His faithfulness. At the same time, we also need new songs to make new connections. Words may challenge the mind, but music speaks to the heart.

This morning while reading through Psalm 9, I was reminded of a Keith Green song from years ago that helped me connect God’s Word during some difficult circumstances.

“I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders, I will be glad and exult in Thee.” 

I remember the verse because of a simple musical tune. I’m reminded of times as a much younger man when I was faced with decisions to either give in to doubt and become bitter OR trust the LORD and give thanks.
Now years later, I can rejoice in the God who delivered me and continues to lead me. The Keith Green song is definitely dated and probably wouldn’t mean much to my kids or a younger generation. They need new songs to remind them of God’s Word and His faithfulness.

And the reality is that I need new songs, too, to be reminded that God is still working in the world. He’s still making things new. And He’s still working in me.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

State of the Union

state-of-the-unionDuring tonight’s State of the Union Address by President Barak Obama,  the president said, “The future we want – will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics.”

What I’ve found is that find that most Americans have grown tired of politics, weary of the rhetoric, cynical of public servants, and fearful of the future of our nation. What is it about our times that government has ceased to work? Why are people simply so angry? Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s easy to be mad or, at least, frustrated by what’s going on in Washington.

How should we respond to the frustrations that so many of us feel with the current state of the union and future of our nation? How do followers of Jesus respond to politics, politicians, and government?

A Brief Historical Perspective

As long as we have had human government, godly citizens have disagreed with the policies, decisions, and activities of their governments. Times of dissent can escalate into a crisis. It’s then the we must decide, if we should actively protest or patiently wait on the government leaders with respect for their authority. Where should the line be drawn?

In the second century AD, the respected Roman scholar Celsus leveled an accusation of atheism against followers of Jesus. Because they did not worship the gods of Rome nor revere Caesar as a god, Celsus accused them of treasonous, atheistic beliefs. When persecution came their way, the early church endured it. There is little evidence of anything resembling early Christian resistance to government persecution.

Confessing Church in GermanyBut in World War II, Christians were among the boldest defenders of another oppressed people group. Faithful followers of Jesus played a major role in organizations such as the Dutch resistance, the French underground, and others that opposed Nazi aggression.  In Germany, followers of Jesus arose in opposition to government-sponsored efforts to Nazify the German Protestant church and stood up against the Nazi persecution and extermination of Jews. Dietrich Bonheoffer, a founding pastor in the Confessing Church, was involved in a conspiracy with members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler, primarily for the sake of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and executed by hanging in April 1945 while imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp, just 23 days before the German surrender.

Closer to home, we find in the founding of the United States of America, biblical preaching and teaching within the churches provided the justification for the revolution against Great Britain and the establishment of a new government. Alice Baldwin, writing in The New England Clergy and the American Revolution, says,

“The teachings of the New England ministers provide one line of unbroken descent. For two generations and more New Englanders had . . . been taught that these rights were sacred and came from God and that to preserve them they had a legal right of resistance and, if necessary a right to . . . alter and abolish governments and by common consent establish new ones.”

The founding of this country – civil disobedience to colonial rulers as well as the framing of the key political documents – rests upon a Christian foundation. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the United States is a Christian nation, although some framers used that term. But it does mean that the foundations of the U.S. government presuppose a Christian view of human nature and of God’s providence.

A Broader Biblical Perspective

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was political chaos and government crisis in Jerusalem. King Herod, the reigning king who was paranoid and felt threatened by the prophecy of another king, murdered all the boys under the age of two (Matthew 2:16-18).

Thirty years later, as the disciples walked the lake shore of Galilee with Jesus, they were gradually learning to embrace the principles of the kingdom of God while living under the authority of the Romans. They began to sense that their miracle-working Teacher was fulfilling the prediction of the prophet Isaiah, who said:

For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Could it be that Jesus was about to fulfill the words of the prophet? Could He be the long-awaited Messiah? With anticipation of a divine takeover of the world, imagine the disciples’ wonder—and confusion—when this King told them that they owed a pagan emperor their money and respect! Yet in the days just prior to Jesus’ execution on a cross, that’s exactly what the disciples heard Him say (Matthew 22:15-22). The disciples anticipated political liberation. Shockingly, Jesus taught His followers to respect even a pagan ruler.

But what if the government tells us to renounce our faith, or abort our children, or serve in a military waging an unjust war? The Scriptures also make it clear that respect for leaders does not mean unqualified compliance or complete silence. The New Testament apostles showed us that there are times to appeal to a higher authority. When the Jewish rulers commanded Peter and John to stop talking about the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles responded, “Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide;  for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20). When there is a direct conflict, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29).

Centuries earlier, Daniel had similarly refused to comply with government actions when they forced idol worship on all the people of Babylon. For his courage, Daniel was thrown into a lions’ den. His gracious but courageous response to this injustice clearly shows that he did not have issues honoring the authority of King Darius. When he emerged unscathed from the lions’ den because he trusted God, Daniel said to the king,

“May the king live forever. My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths. They haven’t hurt me, for I was found innocent before Him. Also, I have not committed a crime against you my king.” (Daniel 6:21-22).

Barack Obama, John BoehnerWhen we have issues with our government in Washington, we would do well to consider the way Daniel respectfully resisted King Darius. When weighing our response to the government for the sake of our conscience, we must also consider how we are to respond to an institution that has been established by God. It’s an exercise in balance and perspective, requiring careful wisdom.

In our current political climate how should followers of Jesus respond? God has given us two clear guide-rails from Scripture as dual citizens of Heaven and of the United States or wherever you live (Ephesians 2:19Philippians 3:20):

1. Trust God’s Sovereignty. God is the One who has established government and it’s leaders as a servant in His hand to accomplish His purposes and plan.

1 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. 6 And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. 7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.  (Romans 13:1-7; underlining for emphasis)

Governments – both good and bad – are established by God as His servant. Therefore, He will provide the submissive, obedient follower of Jesus what is good from His perspective (Romans 8:28-31) – even when He allows adversity and suffering by the hand of those in authority.

Ted CruzGod is also the One who moves the hearts of rulers whom He has established as His servants. King Solomon, intending to prepare his son to rule in his place over Israel, gave his son the following wisdom in governing a nation: “A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses.” (Proverbs 21:1) A farmer directs water by digging irrigation canals. Similarly the Lord directs the hearts of kings – for example, Pharaoh (Ex. 10:1–2), Tiglath-Pileser (Isa. 10:5–7), Cyrus (Isa. 45:1–6), and Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:21; Neh. 2:1–8). God is sovereign, therefore, no wisdom, no understanding,  no counsel, no government, no president will prevail against Him (cf. Prov. 21:30).

Governments, people of position and office, as well as the decision-makers in Washington, may appear to wield power, but they are really under the enthroned authority of God (Isaiah 40:22-23). He can dispose of any human leader because He is over all of them. He can dispense with any government just as easily as He can make flowers wither and blow chaff away (cf. Isaiah 40:6–8). He can reduce them to a state of comparative nothingness. God is not only superior, but sovereign. Whatever form of government we may live under, God is still in control of it’s past, present, and future. Trust Him.

2. Pray for God’s Servants. God answers prayer that shapes both governments and our individual lives.

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Paul used four different ways to describe the kinds of prayers we should offer on behalf of our governments: petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. Although the first three of these words have similar definitions, it is likely that Paul intended to emphasize the different ingredients that should be part of our prayer life for those God has placed in authority over us. Taken together, Paul’s call for such prayers reminds us that God wants us to pray continually for all those He has placed in authority over us in order to express our confidence in God’s authority and sovereignty that are His alone. Pray to Him for them.

Capitol buildingHenry David Thoreau, in Civil Disobedience and other Essays wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” At times, it feels, like we are experiencing frustrations with government that lead to desperation like never before. Quite frankly, I’m fed up with the Fed!

It’s during times like these when I look out and feel beat down that the best option is to look up – to keep looking to Jesus. How should we respond to government frustrations? Trust God in His sovereignty and pray for the servants He has placed there – even and especially the ones in Washington.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

Unplanned Pregnancy

Unplanned birth“The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant…” (Matthew 1:18).

There it is in the Bible: the birth of Jesus was an unplanned pregnancy. Certainly it wasn’t the first in the history of the world nor would it be the last.

Joseph, being a godly, righteous man, had options. He could hardly let his fiancé’s pregnancy pass without action since it implied that she had been unfaithful and had violated the Mosaic Law. So, he had three options concerning how to proceed. First, he could expose Mary publicly as unfaithful whereby she would have suffered the shame of a public divorce (Deut. 22:23–24). A second option was to grant her a private divorce in which case Joseph needed only to hand her a written certificate in the presence of two witnesses (cf. Num. 5:11–31). His third option was to remain engaged and not divorce Mary, but this alternative appeared to Joseph to require him to break the Mosaic Law (Lev. 20:10). So, he decided to divorce her privately (Matthew 1:19). This preserved his righteousness, that is, his conformity to the Law, and allowed him to demonstrate compassion for his young fiancé, Mary.

But there was another option that Joseph had not considered, let alone imagined: Mary was indeed pregnant, but it was not a pregnancy born of promiscuity. Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. It was a miracle by the power of God’s Holy Spirit to fulfill His long-awaited promise of a Savior (Isaiah 7:14).

“An angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

unplanned pregnancyThe virgin birth of Jesus is technically the virgin conception. Mary was not just a virgin when she bore Jesus in Bethlehem, but she was one when she conceived Him in Nazareth. Who was prepared among their peers to understand such a biological anomaly? And yet, this real option of Jesus’ miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit was crucial if Jesus was to be our sinless sacrifice.

The virgin conception was necessary to preserve the baby from the stain of sin. The angel explained the appropriateness of this name (cf. Ps. 130:8). The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” Jesus, the sinless Savior, is God’s gift to us to accomplish what no other child could ever do.

“Joseph did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him, Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25)

My earthly life and eternal future were changed forever by one unplanned pregnancy that saved us all. “O come, let us adore Him.”

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Trials

Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem ICould there have been anything more tedious, anything more ill-timed for Mary and Joseph than following political orders to travel for a census when she was 9 months pregnant?  I imagine the tiresome commute to Bethlehem and their disappointing search for lodging was not immediately recognized by Mary and Joseph as something “good” from the Lord.

The journey south from Nazareth was not an easy one through the rugged, Judean hill country, especially for a an expectant, first-time mom. Nor was the occasion a happy one since the census decreed by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) was undoubtedly a prelude to a burdensome financial tax liability for their growing family. Furthermore, Mary and her husband would be far removed from the comforts and conveniences of home. And when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room for them there (Luke 2:7). No one had reserved a Bed & Breakfast. No one was looking out for them. No one seemed to care. They were alone.

Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem IIThe tedious trials of life are often tools in the hand of God which only time or eternity will make clear to us. For Mary and Joseph, the decree of Caesar Augustus was divinely intended to cause Jesus’ parents to make a long difficult journey from their home town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea because Joseph was in the royal bloodline of King David (Isaiah 9:6-7). The political orders of a pagan ruler were used to fulfill God’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in rural Bethlehem rather than royal Jerusalem (Micah 5:2-5). The humble manger would be the perfect place for humble shepherds to find the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-15) so that they might worship Him.

Mary and Joseph in BethlehemThe birth account of Jesus in Luke 2:7 ends with almost a note of human tragedy: “there was no room for them…” Think about that for a moment — the Son of God, covered with rags and placed in a cattle feeding trough! How could that be? How tragic! And yet, for Jesus, a feeding trough became His first throne on earth (Philippians 2:9-11).

God’s purposes are often achieved through difficulties, even when they are not immediately apparent to us (James 1:2-4). Whether it’s simply too much rain or heart-wrenching, unbearable pain, the trials of life are often tools in the hand of God. Wait on Him. Believe His Word. Trust Him.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

In Those Days

TheophilusFaith in Jesus’ incarnation certainly requires belief in the supernatural work of God, but it’s not a leap beyond reason.

In the Gospel of Luke, the author carefully investigated and provided specific details about the political rulers and setting surrounding Jesus’ birth that were important to Theophilus (Luke 1:3-4), perhaps a political leader himself, whose faith needed historical validity and intellectual credibility.

The coming of Jesus, the Christ, is not a fairy tale that begins with, “Once upon a time…” Instead, it’s a promise fulfilled, “In those days…” The human birth of God’s Eternal Son was a real event in real time among real people so that we might have real hope and not just wishful thinking.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.