A Mad World

When did the world get so angry? How did it happen so quickly? As we look ahead to a new year in 2018, we have some serious issues to deal with in the world of relationships - especially relationships in regard to race, religion, and politics. How did we get so full of frustration that the slightest disagreement or difference of opinion overflows to unkind words, unloving hate, and even outright violence?

Read the comment sections on any public news site or dare to scroll down the comments of someone’s controversial FaceBook post or Twitter feed­ and you’ll probably be sorry you did. It’s become painfully clear that racial, religious, and political conflicts are part of a long-simmering, decades-in-the-making anger. In a world that promotes strict tolerance, people seem to be anything but that.

We’re tired of what’s going on in our world and many, including followers of Jesus, are angry about it. What is a believer in Jesus to think in times like these? To feel when life is out of control? To do when we’re angry?

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the prophet Micah, on behalf of his people, asked the LORD a similar question (Micah 6:6-7). In times of social and political turmoil, Micah prophesied about the coming destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) by the Assyrians and the later defeat of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) by the Babylonians. Micah then told the people of God how He wanted them to act, love, and live:

“Mankind, He has told each of you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

This verse contains one of the most succinct and powerful expressions of the LORD’s essential requirements for godly living in a mad world. At first glance, we bristle at the thought of requirements. As people, we don’t like to be told what to do.

Micah explains the essence of spiritual reality that is not just a set of rules; he encourages much more than mere ritual worship. God wants us to obey Him because we want to (for our good), not because we have to.

In Micah 6:8, the Lord wanted each of His people (“Mankind”) to live with Him. There is a progression in these requirements from what is external to what is internal and from human relationships to our relationship with God Himself.  The verse explains, “He has told each of you.” He had already told the Israelites what would be good (beneficial) for them:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:12,18)

“Above all, fear the LORD and worship Him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things He has done for you.” (1 Samuel 12:24)

It’s related to Jesus’ “Great Commandment” in the New Testament: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:38-40):

A right relationship with God that results in great relationships with others requires three things: to act justly, love faithfully, and walk humbly with God.
1. God wants us to act the right way:  seek godly justice for the fair treatment of others.

Specifically, the Lord wanted them to practice justice rather than continuing to plot and practice unfairness and injustice toward one another (cf. v. 11; 2:1–2; 3:1–3). I realize that in our contemporary society, “social justice” has become a convoluted term meaning different things to different people. So let’s use the term “godly justice” that provides a biblical frame of reference that guides how we act.

The active infinitive (act justly) indicates something “to do” - to carry out or perform an action or course of action. In order for there to be justice, judgement is required in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards or punishments. In the OT, this Hebrew word for justice (מִשְׁפָּט mišpāṭ) describes it as a rightness which is rooted in God’s character, compassion, and action. In contrast to the anger of injustice in our day (both personal and systemic), the Psalmist said, “How happy are those who uphold justice, who practice righteousness at all times” (Psalm 106:3). In other words, JUSTICE leads to JOY!

The Bible explains that wise people think of justice (Proverbs 12:5), speak of it (Psalm 37:30), seek it (Isaiah 1:17), provide it (James 1:27), and enjoy it (Proverbs 21:15), because God requires it along with a heart of love and a spirit of humility (Micah 6:8). Justice, however, isn’t self-righteous or prideful. Justice is humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly defending or depending on our “rightness.”

Justice shows no favoritism nor is persuaded by politics, power, position, or economics. Justice requires empathy as we consider how we would feel in another’s shoes, It doesn’t give preference to the either the poor or to the wealthy (Deuteronomy 1:17). Justice doesn’t favor the citizen or to the resident alien (Leviticus 24:22). Social justice is godly justice.

2. God wants us to love the right way:  be personally committed to meeting the needs of others.

He also wanted His covenant people to love faithfully and practice loyal love (Hebrew חֶסֶד ḥesed) by carrying through their commitments to help one another, as He had with them. This Hebrew word is used 240 times in the OT to describe God’s grace, mercy, goodness, and devotion in His loving-kindness. His love is unconditional, unending, constant, eternal. God’s love is not just sentimental or emotional. It’s based upon His actions, specifically His strength to fulfill His promises to His people (Micah 7:20).

As followers of Jesus, we are to love our enemies – whoever and wherever they may be – just as He has loved us. Christ-like love gives others what they need the most when (based on attitudes, words, or behavior) they deserve it the least, at the greatest personal cost just as He loves us (Romans 12; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 John 4:10).

3. God wants us to live the right way:  walk humbly before God in our relationships with others.

He wanted His people to live their lives humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly relying on themselves (cf. Micah 2:3). Pride is the enemy of justice and love. Whereas pride divides people; humility cultivates unity. Worldly Pride says, “Look what I’ve done.” Godly humility says, “Look what God’s done.”

In this mad, angry world today, the truth is that sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. Only by God’s Spirit will we see justice and experience it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to do what’s right before God, love others as He has loved us, and remember how His justice was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in our place – my place – for our sin – my sin.

Every New Year’s Day, many people plan their day around watching a couple of fights between grown men. This New Year’s Day is no different. Today at 4:00pm, guys from Oklahoma will travel to the Rose Bowl in California, looking for a fight with some Bulldogs from Georgia. Later tonight, there will be another fight between some guys from Alabama taking on another group from South Carolina in New Orleans. Two football games will take place between two rivals who are enemies on the field with fans representing both in the stands.

But there will also be another group of people on the field. The referees. Their job is to be impartial. Their job is to ensure a fair game. They must be humble to make sure pride doesn’t cloud their vision. Their job is to establish the rules from a rule book given by a higher authority - the NCAA. At times, the referees/officials get yelled at from both teams on the field, both coaches, and from most fans in the stands, but they are to be just in their decisions. If the referee begins to choose sides, it results in chaos. If the referee is influenced by the fans in the stands, there is confusion on the field. But when the group of referees impartially and fairly applies the rules of the game established by NCAA, the game can be played and enjoyed on the field as intended.

In the same way, followers of Jesus are God’s referees here on the Earth as His representatives from Heaven. The LORD has told each of us what is good and what it is He requires of us: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

Never Alone

Lonely.

Everyone gets lonely. There are frequent moments when we feel unknown, forgotten, ignored, or even rejected. Feeling lonely is not about being isolated because you can be alone a crowded lunchroom, a full house, a birthday party, or even a packed church. Sometimes, the greater the number of people present, the more intense the feelings of loneliness can be.

In Psalm 143, David cries out to God in part because of the suffering of his own sin, “Do not bring Your servant into judgment” (vs. 2), and also because of an enemy who had ground David down so that he felt depressed and alone in the dark (vv. 3-4). He felt like no one understood the depth of his emotions. No one seemed to care what he felt or how he suffered. He was lonely.

That’s when he turned to the Lord. “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all You have done; I reflect on the work of Your hands” (vs. 5). David remembered, meditated, and reflected on the character of God, his relationship with Him, and what God had done in the past. “Let me experience Your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in You” (Psalm 143:8).

That’s it, isn’t it? During the inevitable times when we feel alone, worthless, and rejected, we remember who God is, meditate on what He has done, and reflect on His promises to always be with us.

“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
“I will never leave you or abandon you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5)

There are also many modern songs that reflect His promises to help carry us through the darkest of nights.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside
Great is Thy faithfulness” 
Thomas Obediah Chisholm | William Marion Runyan

“Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes our hearts can say 
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful God You are faithful” 
Never Once | Jason Ingram | Matt Redman | Tim Wanstall

“I cried out with no reply and I can’t feel You by my side
So I’ll hold tight to what I know – You’re here and I”m never alone
And though I cannot see You and I can’t explain why
Such a deep, deep reassurance You’ve placed in my life” 
Never Alone | BarlowGirl

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all You have done; I reflect on the work of Your hands. Let me experience Your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in You” (Psalm 143:3-5).

Because God is always faithfully present, you and I are never alone.

Follow me…. as I follow Jesus Christ.

What is the Meaning of Christmas?

MangerCaveEvery year, millions of people around the world celebrate Christmas. But what does it all mean? What difference does it really make in our lives? Why should we care? Why do we need Christmas? What is the meaning of it all? 

Over the years, I’ve heard countless explanations for the meaning of Christmas and the reason for the season. “Christmas is about spending time with family and friends,” some say, and others “Christmas is about giving back to others.”  It’s been said that Christmas is about, “love for others” and “peace on earth.” It’s been sung that Christmas is about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” The meaning of Christmas has been explained many times and many ways. While these are certainly some good things about Christmas, they fall well short of the true meaning of Christmas.

Our world has incredibly complex problems: wars, terrorism, famines, racism, loss, and catastrophes. People have complex problems: physical, emotional, and family problems. Sometimes we despair as we try to help others or to deal with our own problems. We fill our hearts with all kinds of choices, behaviors, stuff, or people only to find our lives empty of meaning.

Where do we go to find the meaning of Christmas? We go to the source of truth – God’s Word, the Bible. Listen to the angels as they announced Jesus’ birth:

“The angel said to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” Luke 2:10–11

StoneMangerChristmas is about a Savior who was born for you! The meaning of Christmas begins and ends with a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. In Jesus Christ, God provided the simplest solution for all of the complex problems we make and face in this world. In Jesus Christ, God sent a Savior whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Some might scoff about the salvation of Jesus as a simplistic solution – one that really doesn’t work. Others might say that His incarnate birth a nice story, an interesting legend, harmless enough; but they would never consider it as a serious solution to any significant problems. But, God knows that the basic problem with the world is the sin of the human race. Sin, missing God’s standard for holiness and goodness in character and action, is what separates mankind from God and from each other. Any solutions that leave out dealing with our sin problem are the simplistic solutions. The only solution that offers true hope and real help to humanity’s complex problems is that which takes into account the sinful hearts of people and offers a practical solution to that universal, and yet, personal problem of sin.

The angels from heaven announced God’s provision of this Savior. The birth of Jesus is a fact of history: “Today…was born.” The birth of Jesus is a foundation for eternity: “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And, His birth is a fulfillment of prophecy: “in the city of David.”

The angels from heaven announced God’s purpose of a Savior (Luke 2:11)  The name, Savior, defines both His life and His death. If you’re simply looking for moral reformation or behavior modification, you might need a life coach, a cheerleading section, or a really good friend, but not a Savior. But if your life requires mortal resurrection (and it does because we are all sinners who sin), you’re going to need something beyond yourself. If your life of captivity to sin has resulted in spiritual death (which it has), you need someone who will raise dead people to life. If your sin has separated you from a Holy, Perfect God, then you need a Savior who died in your place to reconcile you to Him.

In Jesus, God provided what we needed the most, when we deserved it least, at the greatest personal cost to Him (see Isaiah 53). Jesus came to live as the perfect God-man who could die in our place for the forgiveness of our sin.

Jesus_candlesThe angels from heaven also introduced God’s promise of this Savior. The birth of Jesus was “good news of great joy for all the people.” Later, Jesus Himself clearly communicated the promise of His advent: “The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) He had come to seek us out. Jesus came to earth as a rescue mission. When we think of someone being lost we think of helicopters hovering in the night sky, overboard sailors clinging to the wreckage of a ship, coal miners trapped beneath the earth, or children who cannot be found. But these temporal situations are transcended by the eternal tragedy of people who are lost in the rubble of their own sin, buried in the darkness of self-sufficiency, suffocating by loneliness, and crushed by personal pain.

Sometimes the solutions to life’s problems are simpler than we think. With the birth of Jesus which we celebrate at Christmas, God sought us out, rescued us, and saved us by His grace, mercy, and love (Titus 3:4-7).

There was a man who traveled a great distance for an interview with a distinguished scholar. He was ushered into the man’s study, where he said, “Doctor, I notice that the walls of your study are lined with books from the ceiling to the floor. No doubt you have read them all. I know you have written many yourself. You have traveled extensively, and doubtless you’ve had the privilege of conversing with some of the world’s most intelligent and wisest men. I’ve come a long way to ask you just one question. Tell, me, of all you’ve learned, what is the one thing most worth knowing?” Putting his hand on his guest’s shoulder, the scholar replied with emotion in his voice, “My dear sir, of all the things I have learned, only two are really worth knowing. The first is, I am a great sinner, and the second, Jesus Christ is a great Savior!” If you know those two things personally, you know the meaning of Christmas – that a Savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord!

That’s what Christmas is all about. A Savior, Christ the Lord, who was born for you. It really is that simple.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!

Life that is Real

Aslan and Lucy“This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” — Aslan in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” Chapter 16

The Bible explains that the reason humans were created in the image of God is to know Him and live with Him forever (Genesis 1:26-27; 3:8; 17:7; Exodus 6:7; 29:45; Leviticus 26:11–12; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 29:13; 2 Samuel 7:24; Jeremiah 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1, 33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 34:24; 36:28; 37:23, 27; Zechariah 2:10; 8:8; John 14:1-6; John 17:3; 2 Corinthians 6:16, Revelation 21:3-4). As a Holy God, He alone knows what is good and not good for man, so He established boundaries for mankind’s good (Genesis 2:17), but Adam and Eve disobeyed Him. Their sin, repeated by every one of their descendants, resulted in both physical and spiritual death. Sin separated us from knowing God and living with Him forever (Genesis 3:5; Deuteronomy 30:15, 19–20; Romans 6:23; 1 Timothy 5:6; James 1:15). But since that first bite of forbidden fruit, God took the initiative in seeking out the sinners to restore a relationship with them (Genesis 3:8-9).

Lucy and Aslan IIIn order to reconcile sinful humanity to Himself as a Holy God, the Father sent His eternal Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh and live among us so that we would know God (John 1:14, 14:7-11). In fact, Jesus said clearly that knowing God is what eternity is all about: This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent —Jesus Christ (John 17:3). Not only did Jesus live among us; He died for us as our death substitute so that we could live with Him and for Him forever (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:15-21).

One day, the apostle John tells us, the relationship between God and humankind that He has always wanted people to enjoy will be a reality in Heaven for those who believe in His Son: “Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).

We long to see God. We want to experience His presence. At times, we wonder where He is. We question what He’s doing. Or why He doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all…

One of my favorite descriptions of life with God is tucked away in one of Paul’s letters to his younger friends, Timothy:

Aslan and Lucy III“Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good reserve for the age to come, so that they may take hold of the life that is real.” — 1 Timothy 6:17-19

I love that description of eternity: the life that is real. Life that is really living. The very reason we live on earth is that by knowing God here for a little while on earth, we will know Him better in eternity. Seek Him now so that one day you may see Him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:2).

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.


Aslan“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” Chapter 16

“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy. “Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon.”

“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”

“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.

“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

The Nativity

The Nativity

“The Nativity” by Gari Melchers is one of my favorite artistic portrayals of the birth of Jesus because it seems to capture the harsh realities of the night that changed the world.

Before the shepherds appear to tell about the angelic announcement, before the wise men arrive to worship Him and present their gifts, there’s just Mary, exhausted from child birth, and Joseph, overwhelmed by the task in front of him, and the baby in a feeding trough, an unplanned pregnancy and inconvenient birth that saved us all.

“I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.  This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.” Luke 2:10-12

MERRY CHRISTMAS!
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.