By Faith . . .

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In the generations of Adam’s descendants, I found the person I most want to be like: Enoch. While I love the great stories of the biblical heroes – the simple description of Enoch’s life is the one that I want most to copy: “Enoch walked with God.” There are no great feats listed, no battles fought, no mighty victories. He walked with God – period. We do get a clue in Hebrews 11 where we find that as he walked he “pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5b). What was his secret for pleasing God? It’s right in the next verse, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith pleases God and Enoch clearly had faith. So what is faith? Faith is believing that God exists – that He is who He says He is. But the demons believe that God exists (James 2:19), so there must be something more. Faith is also believing that He rewards those who seek after him earnestly. How do we seek God earnestly? “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). Enoch walked through life seeking the face and presence of God with his whole heart. And Enoch’s faith was rewarded. What is the prize for faith? Jeremiah 29:14 says, “I will be found by you.” Enoch found God – he didn’t die but was taken from this earth and into the very presence of God.

Hebrews 11 – the hall of faith – is filled with men and women who did many things in the name of the Lord, but they are all commended for one thing above all others: their faith. Name after name is preceded by the words: “by faith.” These saints worshipped, built, led, sacrificed, and remained true, but they are remarkable for the faith, not their acts. Faith motivates God’s people into action, whether it is great exploits or simple gestures – but it is not our deeds that please God, it is our heart that believes and seeks after Him. I want to do great things for God. I want to study and teach His Word, I want to write to encourage others. I want to share Jesus everywhere I go. But more than all these, I want to walk before God in faith, just as Enoch did. I want to please Him and seek Him with wholehearted devotion and walk through life with Him – side-by-side and heart-to-heart – all the way into His presence.

God’s (Very) Long-Range Plan

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I’m part of a group that is writing out the Scriptures. We’re writing small sections each day, but by focusing on only a small portion of verses we are able to slow down; by writing it out we pay careful attention to each word. Yesterday one of those words stood out to me.  In the account of creation, Genesis two describes man’s divinely created home, a place of beauty and nurture. The garden featured trees with fruit to feed the human. All the bounty of the Garden was free for the taking, with one exception – the “tree in the middle of the garden” (Gen. 3:3). God expressly forbade eating the fruit from this particular tree. He said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of the good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen 2:17). Did you notice that one word that caught my attention? When. God said, “when you eat of it,” not “if you eat of it.” Adam and Eve’s act of sinful rebellion was not a surprise to God. He expected it. He predicted it. He knew it was going to happen all along.

And because He knew it was going to happen, He made a way for sinful man to be redeemed before he ever spoke the universe into being. You and I need to know that the cross of Christ was not God’s reaction to man’s sin. John said that Jesus was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world’ (Rev 13:8), and Jesus said that the Father arranged our inheritance, a “kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt 25:34). God provided the cure for sin before the first sin ever occurred, even before He called forth the light (Gen 1:3). Jesus coming to earth, living a perfect life, dying a selfless death, and rising from the grave was all part of the plan of the ages. To what end? That He might rule and reign over a kingdom of redeemed people.

Beloved, I want you to be part of that kingdom. I want you to know Jesus, but more importantly, I want Jesus to know you (Gal 4:9; 1 Cor 8:3; John 10:14). God made the plan long ago, and He included you in it. Have you, will you receive His grace today?

Hebrews: Perfection

I’ve known many pastors in my life and my  25+ year career as a church administrator – some of whom I had more confidence in than others. But none of them were perfect. Yet, the Law of God demands perfection, so how can these imperfect men help me to reach perfection? They can’t – and they will tell you that themselves.

The author of Hebrews said, “If perfection could have been obtained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?” (Hebrews 7:11). The perfect law was given to imperfect people and they were instructed in it by imperfect priests. How then, could they ever meet the law’s demands? Enter Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the other person worthy of both a crown and a mitre.

The author pointed to Jesus’ lineage as a descendant of Judah, the royal line, but what of his priestly role? He said, like Melchizedek, Jesus is “one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to His ancestry, but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life” (7:16). What does that mean? Indestructible at its root means unable to be dissolved, disunited, overthrown. It means Jesus’s life, ministry, and mission would never be diminished or rendered vain because of His personal moral power. And because His position as priest was not something He inherited, but something He always was – the perfect mediator of the perfect law and the only one who had the power to make imperfect people perfect before God.

Many priests served and retired or died, and the law was never satisfied through any of them. But hear this: “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood. Therefore He is able to save completely [forever, to the uttermost] those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them” (7:24-25). He alone can guarantee our salvation because He alone is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, [and] exalted above the heavens” (v. 27).

Beloved, you will never pull off perfect obedience, but you can put your faith in one who has. You can trust in the indestructible life of the Lord Jesus Christ, your priest and king to make you perfect.

But . . .

Have you ever asked the age-old question, “Why?”  Perhaps you had enough spiritual understanding to wonder “What is this all about?” Or maybe it was so hard all you could do was cry out for relief. Oh, I have been there – the truth is, I’m still there. “God, why have you allowed these things to happen?” “What is your purpose in this?” “God, help me, I cannot take anymore!” I may look strong in this blog, but after a very long season of struggle, heartache, and enemy attacks, I am about worn out. And yet, something tells me to keep going and keep trusting the Lord. Maybe it’s Joy’s letter magnets. Yesterday I found one as I swept the floor and stuck it on the fridge. This morning, I found two more: “T” and “B” and I carried them to the kitchen and realized yesterday’s find was the “U.” BUT. I knew exactly what that meant. I went to the box with the rest of her letters and found the “G,” “O,” and “D.” BUT GOD. Next to “Jesus Christ”, they are my two favorite words in the Bible.

Over and over in the Psalms David and the other psalmists share their woes honestly and always come back to the “But” – “But You, O God,” (Ps 10:14) which then becomes “But I trust in Your unfailing love” (Ps. 13:5). Or “But you, O Lord” (Ps. 22:19) which is followed by “[those] who seek the Lord will praise Him” (v. 26). When Joseph confronted his brothers who sold him into slavery he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

In grammar, the word “but” is a conjunction, joining two phrases or clauses together (“Conjunction Junction,” anyone?). In the Bible “but” is a hinge. Like a door, “but” causes the whole trajectory of a sentence – or a life – to swing in the other direction. “But” enables us to pause and remember who God is and what He has done and can do. “But God” can change our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, and our circumstances, and our lives – that’s what the cross is all about.

Beloved, I know it’s been a hard year for you too. BUT I am convinced that GOD is able and He is faithful and He will help us get through – not limping along, like wounded warriors, but leaping and dancing with Joy and hope and praise. I hear the music warming up!

The (Complete) Nativity Creche

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When we set up our nativity scenes, we place the star above the stable, and we add the animals – cows and sheep (but no pigs, this is a good Jewish family) – and an angel or two (which the Bible doesn’t mention in the birth scene) and the shepherds. We set Mary and Joseph beside the manger where the little baby sleeps. We even add the wise men, though they didn’t actually come on the scene until some 2 years later. Now everyone is present and accounted for.

The truth is, Satan is also part of the Christmas story, for the Holy Child in the manger was born to break the curse of evil. He was born to set men free from their sins (Romans 6:18). He was born to bring light and life where death and darkness reigned (John 1:4-5). He was born to set right what had been made horribly wrong (Romans 8:22-24). This little baby was the fulfillment of God’s promise, the seed that would crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15). When this newborn baby’s cry pierced the silent night, all of hell trembled.

As you celebrate Jesus, the reason for the season, remember the reason Jesus came and praise God for the greatest gift ever given. The Savior of the world is born.

Mary’s Treasure

I love Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth because, according to church tradition, it is Mary’s own recollections. Only Mary could recall intimate details about Gabriel’s visit the remarkable announcement: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (vs. 31-32). She remembered her question “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (v. 34), and the angel’s reply about the Holy Spirit’s part in the conception.

She even included the report about Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy and her aged cousin’s joyful greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed I the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (vs. 42, 43). And “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (v. 45). She remembered the song she sang: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .”  (vs. 46-55).

Mary was the one who included Caesar Augustus’ decree that sent them to Bethlehem where her Son was born among the beasts of domestic life, bound up in rags, and laid to sleep in the animal’s feed trough.

Mary told about the shepherds who surely reported the angel’s proclamation to the parents. And the angel’s song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests” (2:14). Mary also remembered when Jesus was presented in the temple according to the law and the old man and woman who spoke powerfully about her son (2:25-38). Mary remembered Jesus when he was twelve years old, being separated from her and Joseph, and how He amazed the Jewish teachers by speaking with wisdom and authority beyond His years (2:41-50). And he amazed His mother by answering her scolding by saying, “Did you know I had to be in my Father’s house? (v. 49). Oh, how I wish Luke had picked her memory for more details of His childhood – clearly He was no ordinary child. Or maybe He was and the details are much the same as your childhood and mine.

Luke said that Mary, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). I’m so glad she did because we have the most detailed, intimate account of our Savior’s birth and early glimpses of His ministry. Here’s my question for us both: What marvelous things has God done for you? Have you treasured them up in your heart (or written them down in a journal)? When someone (a grandchild, perhaps) asks you about your relationship with Jesus you will be glad you did.

The Gift

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“The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905 and is a sweet tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas focused on a young couple who wanted to give their beloved a gift. But money was scarce and so, unbeknownst to the other, the gift-givers sold their prized possessions to buy something special for their spouse. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim sold his heirloom pocket watch to buy Della a set of bejeweled hair combs. O. Henry finished his story with a nod to the Magi – the Eastern wise men who traveled long to bring gifts to the Christ Child. He wrote: “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”

While I appreciate this lovely story, I think O Henry got one thing wrong – Christmas presents didn’t originate with the Magi – the first Christmas present was given by God. The story of the Young’s Christmas is a shadow of the real story of Christmas. The young lovers sacrificed their most treasured possessions to give to their beloved, God’s sacrifice was far greater. He gave His One and Only Son to redeem men from their sin. The gifts they gave one another were costly – the gift God has given is priceless. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Jim and Della’s gifts – and the sacrifice that enabled them – were given from love, but their love pales in comparison to the great love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). In O. Henry’s story, the sacrifice is part of the gift. In the Gospel story, the sacrifice is the gift.

Have you received this gift? Watch chains and hair combs can never express love like the cross can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior Beloved? He is the greatest gift of all.

The Day Jesus was Born

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A friend asked me about the validity of celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th. The Bible doesn’t put a date on a calendar, and while we can get a good idea from tracing the astronomical records of a unique star, no one wrote the exact date into the annuals of human history. Many people have commented that shepherds would never have their flocks out in a field or on a hillside where they would be exposed to frigid temperatures. But several scholars have noted that generally, the temperature does not drop to those levels until after our traditional Christmas season, so there is reason to assume we’re pretty close.

I did say that the Bible doesn’t give us a precise date, but it does actually tell us when Jesus was born. Galatians 4:4 says, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” I find so much comfort in that. The Bible is chock-full of references to time, from the record of Creation to “the day [when] His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.” God actually does have a calendar of sorts – a divine calendar – and all of human history flows according to the plans He made before the creation of the world. Everything will happen “when the time has fully come.”

I hope you take that personally. Because the same God who established the universe’s timeline has your name on His calendar too. He is moving in your life according to His purpose and design. He is making things and people and events come together just as He planned. Beloved, your life is not some crazy quilt with pieces of all shapes, sizes, and colors haphazardly sewn together. It is a work of beauty, precision, and exactness, stitched firmly together with blood-red cords. Every moment of your life has been leading up to the magnificent finished project that will be revealed, “when the time has fully come.”

The point is not to know when He came, but to know that He came and why He came. To set you free from your bondage of sin and to give you eternal life. So feel free to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th with joy and thanksgiving for God’s perfect, divine plan. And remember that He’s an “on-time” God. It won’t be a second late. Nor will it be a second early. It will be “when the time has fully come.”

Little King

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Solomon was considered one of the greatest kings of Israel. The son of King David, he inherited the kingdom and spread out his rule for many, many miles and amassed an unfathomable amount of wealth. He sat upon an enormous throne of gold and ivory. Silver was inconsequential in Jerusalem during Solomon’s reign because the king and the city were so incredibly wealthy. Solomon was born in a king’s palace and his destiny was the throne. Though he was considered wise and good to his subjects, his own wants and needs always took precedent. He never knew poverty or want and could fulfill his every desire and whim. He was born and bred to be a king.

Paul paints a contrasting picture when he said that “Jesus Christ, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself . . .” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus, the eternal King humbled Himself – “made Himself nothing” – the word used here denotes something hollow, empty, and of no value – to identify with humankind. He never lost sight of who He was, but He did not claim privileges and prosperity as would befit His royal identity. It was an act of His gracious will to do so because it was the only way to save mankind.

Tell me – how many earthly kings do you know of who humbled themselves to be one with their subjects? How many earthly kings, fully aware of their power and authority, choose to live and walk and sleep among the poorest of their people? How many earthly kings would set aside their crown and take up the mantle of suffering to save – not only their own subjects – but those who have set themselves against him? Only One. Only Jesus. Only one King would make himself an empty vessel of no earthly value to rescue and redeem a lost and dying world who has rejected Him outright at every turn. Only one King would humble Himself to the point of servanthood. Only one King would set aside His royal identity to become a helpless infant born to impoverished parents and live a life of struggle and ridicule and persecution. Only Jesus would do all that – and He did it all for you, Beloved.

The Rescue Plan

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Some themes have become so familiar in the Christian world that we speak them and receive them without a second thought. Things like: “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over and I tell you for certain, it’s not in there. Or how about, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Again, I’ve never found that in the Bible and  I can tell you from my own life, it ain’t so.  I heard another one recently that always comes around at Christmas and Easter, this human idea that God looked down from heaven and saw mankind in bondage to sin and death and sent His son in response. While it certainly expresses God’s heart of mercy for His creation, it’s not exactly the truth.

How do I know that? Because the Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Before man could ever cry out for redemption, the Redeemer had already paid the price. What in the world does that mean? Well, it’s not a worldly concept at all, it’s the divine plan created in heaven before God scooped up a handful of dust – even before He said, “Let there be light.” Jesus was always meant to come to earth as a tiny baby and live a perfect, sinless life, and die an undeserved and cruel death.  He was always meant to lie in a tomb for three days and heaven never doubted that He would rise again, because that was the plan all along. Christmas and Easter were not God’s knee-jerk reaction to our predicament.

We also need to understand that time in the heavenly realm is not like time here on earth. God sees the end and the beginning all at the same time because He is the sovereign Lord of Heaven and Earth – and time. His plan wasn’t something that had to unfold from heaven’s perspective, though it took thousands of years to accomplish on earth. It was already a done deal. When the Father gazed at the Baby in the manger he saw the man on the cross. And so should we.

Aren’t you glad that He didn’t wait for you to cry out from the pit before He set a rescue plan in place? He planned it long before you needed it. That should give you great hope, Beloved. God had you in mind all along.