Naming Your Food


Growing up, I lived on what some might call a “gentleman’s farm”.  We had chickens and horses, and my dad also invested in few head of cattle just to stock the freezer and sell to a few close friends.  Being one of three girls, every critter that lived on our property received a lot of love and most importantly, a name.  We started out naming chickens after friends and family members, but the cows eventually received steak-related names.  There was Porter House, T-bone, Chuck and Patty…Some people might have found it offensive, but to us country folk it was a bit humorous to sit around the table and discuss which chicken we were having for dinner – by name.  It did, however, add an extra level of reflection when it came time to slaughter the animals.

For four hundred years the Hebrew people were in slavery in Egypt, and God used Moses to bring them out of bondage and head down the path to the promised land.  God used a series of ten plagues to reveal His power and majesty to the Hebrew people and through the Egyptians.  He turned all of the water in Egypt to blood, He sent locusts, frogs and gnats, He blocked the sun and many other signs.  But the final plague was the death of the first born son in every household and of every animal.  This most extreme of the plagues was the breaking point for the Egyptians and the culmination of God’s work in the land.  Up until this final plague, God had simply chosen to withhold the plagues from the Hebrew slaves.  With the final plague, however, God gave the Hebrews careful instructions which they were to follow to designate themselves as followers of God and to have their children spared:  They were to take a one year old male lamb which had no blemish on it, they were to kill it and wipe its blood on their door frame and eat it.  When the angel of death passed over, it would see the blood and leave their house untouched.

Because of this monumental movement of God and the foreshadowing of Jesus it represented, an annual festival was kept to remember the event known as the “Passover” – when the angel of death passed over the people of God who were marked by the blood of the lamb.  It was a week-long event, during which people ate unleavened bread, did no work and kept a lamb in the house with them until the time for its slaughter.  The lamb, after living in the house, would become like a pet.  It would be personalized, loved and cared for.  And then it would be slaughtered an eaten.  They would name and love their food and their sacrifice.

When Jesus came, He fulfilled the prophesy of the suffering Messiah and He also fulfilled the Law of sacrifice by becoming the final and the perfect Passover lamb.  Everyone knew that the death of an animal did not relieve the guilt of sin from a person – it was an action one could take to offer sacrifice before God and suffer through the loss of an asset, looking forward to the true scapegoat of Jesus.  Jesus, however, became sin on our behalf – as a man having never sinned – so that our guilt is actually punished in Him and removed.  This is why sacrifices are no longer needed!  Jesus completed the system!

Jesus, however, was a man and not a lamb.  He lived on the Earth for approximately 33 years, had a fruitful ministry for three years during which time He intimately trained eleven men who would take the Gospel to the world and make disciples.  He had a name, He was loved, He was the Spiritual leader who brought grace to a lost and dying world.

It is a strange concept, and probably considered inhumane by some, to name and bond with one’s food.  Most of us prefer to not think about the slaughter and preparation it takes to prepare that hamburger or steak while we eat our dinners.  We must, however, know and love that sacrificial lamb who took our guilt by suffering our punishment by his crucifixion and death.  In fact, the more we know Him and the more we love Him, the more unthinkable the suffering that we caused.  When we first hear the Gospel, when our hearts are first opened to receive its truth, we fundamentally recognize our guilt and fate in the light of a holy God and we are amazed that grace is offered to us by the sacrifice and punishment of another.  But Jesus is no longer dead – God raised Him from the dead and as Christians we abide in Him and enjoy Him through fellowship!

Thus, the more we get to know Him, the more we love and enjoy Him, as our passion deepens for Him, the more we realize our guilt and the depth of our sin, then the more we are broken by causing Him pain and suffering.  This love for Him leads to our repentance an change.  Scripture says that if we continue sinning after coming to know Him and the Gospel, we are nailing Him back to the cross:

“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”

– Heb 6.4-6

Our sacrifice has a name:  Jesus.  He loves us and invites us to know and have a relationship with Him by confessing and repenting of our sins, and trusting His work on the cross to cover our guilt.  He forgives us.  Let us therefore get to know Him, spend time with Him, love Him and cherish Him.  The more intimate we grow with Him, the more detestable we will find our sin because it is our sin alone the required His death on the cross.  We will run from sin because it puts Him to open shame and essentially nails Him back on the cross.  It breaks His heart and grieves the Spirit when we sin.  And the longer we have the lamb of God living in our house the more we will love Him and desire to not hurt Him.  Let’s remember Him today.

Finding the Right Leader


Pastor search committees have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.  They have been tasked by their churches to evaluate and find the man which God has chosen to lead their congregations.  But each and every one of us has the same burden when finding a church and/or simply deciding which religions teachers and leaders to follow.  There are so many out there, so many denominations, so many blogs, podcasts and books – how do we even begin?

My intention is not to give a step-by-step or exhaustive look at practical steps to finding a church or choosing who to revere.  That is in part because so much has been written on the topic already, and in part because each need and situation is unique.  God uniquely gifts and prepares people for specific roles and abilities and thus one cannot outline with exhaustive specificity the steps required.  We do have clear and helpful outlines of the requirements a church and individual should uphold corporately and personally when evaluating a teacher/pastor’s qualifications from Scripture, but no step-by-step manual from God (1 Tim 3.1-7, Titus 1.6-9).

There was, however, one man who walked the face of the Earth whom Jesus called the “greatest man ever born of woman” (Matt 11.11).  He came as a prophet, as a leader and teacher, and he had many disciples who followed him.  John the Baptist’s entire ministry and purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus, to declare His coming and the point people to Jesus.  His witness was clear that even though he was proclaiming repentance and leading people back to the faith, he himself was not the Messiah and he himself was not the promised one.

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”  Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?”  He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”

– John 1.19-23

John knew his role.  Because he knew that he himself was nothing and that Jesus was everything, he purposefully and intentionally continued to teach people and point them to Jesus.  So much so, in fact, that the very people who were listening to him and absorbing his teaching left him immediately upon seeing Jesus and having an opportunity to follow Him:

Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

– John 1.35-37

Was John upset by this?  Did he bemoan the loss of his followers and the lessening dynamic of his ministry?  Quite the contrary, he embraced it and recognized it as the goal of his efforts!

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.  You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full.  He must increase, but I must decrease.  He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.

– John 3.27-31

This is perhaps the truest and purest example of humility in Scripture, and is in part why Jesus called him the greatest man to ever be born of a woman.  John existed to point people to Jesus and had no care for his own reputation or ministry – in the sense that he wanted to not be in the spotlight so that Jesus could be in the spotlight.

This should be our first and foremost observation when observing leaders, teachers and pastors.  Are they name droppers?  Do they boast about their success in ministry?  Do they take pride in their qualifications and education?  Do they evaluate how exactly they can help you in your situation or teach you in your need?  Or do they completely and fully point you to Jesus?  Are they head over heels in love with Jesus, see Him as the source and end of their ministry?  Or do they have a God-complex and want to be your guru and source of your enlightenment?

You can easily evaluate a church by the types of testimonies they share:  do people praise the local church and the pastor for the changes and benefits to their lives?  Or do people praise Jesus for saving them and redeeming them?  Do they even have testimonies at all?  Or is it just an event with all of the emphasis on one man?  You can also easily evaluate an author/teacher that you might listen to or read throughout the week:  Are the books and podcasts saturated with Scripture and direct teaching of the word of God?  Or are they more experience-based and reflective on the self?

There is much value in personal testimony and we can use our own experiences to push one another on to know and love Jesus more.  But let us be keenly aware that it is Jesus alone who saves.  It is Jesus alone who takes away our sins.  It is Jesus alone who sanctifies us and welcomes us into the presence of God.  Jesus alone.  We do one another the greatest benefit when we point each other into the arms of Jesus and when we spur in one another  a passion for knowing and loving Him.  We do each other no real benefit otherwise.  So let us pray for discernment in choosing those people to whom we submit and follow.  Let us also evaluate ourselves and our personal efforts and testimony to make sure that we never seek to draw people to ourselves but only to push them on to Jesus.

To be a voice for another


Jesus stated that John the Baptist was the greatest man to ever live.  Jesus considered him greater than Moses, Abraham, any of the patriarchs or people we typically associate with Old Testament greatness:

“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

– Matt 11.11

God Himself, in the human form of Jesus Christ, declared John the Baptist to be the greatest.  This is remarkable.  Especially considering we have such a small knowledge of his life and ministry!  Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, Paul wrote much of the New Testament, Abraham’s life is detailed through nearly every stage, but the story of John the Baptist is primarily wrapped up in his singular purpose:  to be the witness.

The Old Testament promised a prophet who would come before the Messiah and “make straight the path for the Lord” (Is 40.3).  As the Jews were awaiting the Messiah whom they believed would come and rescue them from the bondage of the Roman Empire, they were looking for this prophet.  Many believe that this would be Elijah, in fulfillment of a prophecy in Malachi:

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

– Mal 4.5-6

The Jews knew that Elijah had not died, and thus they were expecting the physical reincarnation of Elijah.  Thus, when they questioned John as to his identity, John proclaimed that he was not the reincarnation of Elijah, but Jesus stated that John was indeed fulfilling the role that they were expecting of Elijah:  the fore-runner prophet declaring Jesus’ coming:

“And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.”

– Matt 11.14

John’s role was to prepare the way for Jesus.  He was the prophet.  He was the “voice crying out in the wilderness” (Matt 3.3, Mark 1.3, Luke 3.4, John 1.23).  He had a dynamic ministry, he had disciples, and he led many people to repentance and baptized them back into the ways of the Lord.  But His ministry had one purpose:  to point to Jesus.  His personal witness was that he was the forerunner and after him was coming someone much greater:

John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”

– John 1.15

“It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

– John 1.27

And perhaps his most well known statement is the humble observation:

He must increase, but I must decrease.”

– John 3.30

John existed to point people to Jesus.  He was “a voice crying out in the wilderness”.  The interesting thing about a voice, however, is that it is nothing in and of itself.  It belongs to someone.  It is the tool of someone.  It is a means by which someone communicates and makes a point.  A voice is only valuable as the user deems to utilize it.  John was the voice proclaiming the truths of God.  God was utilizing John and speaking through him, and John knew it.  He sought no glory for himself but fully and regularly pointed people back to Jesus.  And in doing so, Jesus declared him to be the greatest man ever born of a woman.

What can we learn from this remarkable example of John?

It has become very trendy to encourage people to become the voice for those who have no voice:  the homeless, the orphans, the unborn children, etc.  Non-profits and humanitarian organizations are continually seeking to raise awareness for their causes, for the needs of people around the world, and they systematically do so by seeking out advocates and ambassadors.  They teach us that we can change the world by being the voice of someone in need.

Much greater than this ambition, however, is our calling to be ambassadors for Christ.  The Bible actually calls us that:

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

– 2 Cor 5.20

All of humanity has one, singular and massive need:  salvation.  Apart from Christ we have no life and we are condemned to an eternity in Hell.  This need is infinitely greater than food, water, clothing, shelter or anything else we consider a basic human need.  When we come to know Christ and are forgiven, we are given Spiritual life, we are saved from Hell, and we are appointed as voices to go out and tell everyone.  Thus we are ambassadors from God to the needy.  We can offer the hope that only He provides.

Unfortunately, often times our worlds center around us.  We can be selfish, we can be proud, and we can be lazy.  We can preach Gospels that bring the glory and attention back to ourselves and our efforts instead of bringing glory to Jesus and His wonderful grace.  We can be silent when the Holy Spirit within us is urging us to speak and proclaim the truth.  We can choose to lay around and watch TV rather than invest in our family, friends and neighbors.

John was the greatest voice to live.  He was completely committed, he spoke truth, and he pointed people to Jesus continually.  By making little of himself, he became great in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus says,

“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

– Matt 20.26-28

We can and should strive to be great in the Kingdom of God.  We can and should seek to store up for ourselves treasures in Heaven.  And we do this by dying to ourselves, serving others, and being a faithful witness for God to the world.  Let’s be the voice He has called us to be.  Let’s allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us and give us the words as we need them.  Let’s be more like John, giving all of the glory and honor to Jesus Christ alone.

A True Disciple


Do you consider yourself a Christian?  There are many variations of self-definition when it comes to faith and Christianity.  Some are cultural Christians, some are Christians by birth, some just want to go to Heaven and some are radically transformed sinners who love and serve God.  Jesus defines a Christian – his disciples – as those who die to themselves, who have been born again, and who submit to God out of love and thankfulness for the grace given to them.  In short, we must surrender our lives to God in order to receive life from Him.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

– Matt 16.25

What does this mean, exactly?  Theologians have coined a term that defines/explains this reality:  Lordship salvation.  Or simply, Lordship.  If we want to be Christians (mini Christs, followers of Christ), we have to submit to His leadership and authority.  Simply, He is in charge.  Paul says it this way:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”

– Rom 10.9

When we recognize our sinfulness and helpless state, we turn to Jesus for hope and help.  When we confess our sins and inability to honor God, we submit to Jesus for direction and admit that He is the way to righteousness and eternal salvation.  He is thus Lord over our lives.  He is in charge.  He is the authority.  Until we recognize the fact that Jesus is indeed the final authority, we are not believers.  We must confess with our mouths – and live out the reality that Jesus is Lord because we believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead in order to be saved.

Sometimes our logic would tempt us to disbelieve a command or teaching from Scripture.  We may try to follow Jesus as a good teacher, picking and choosing the parts of the Bible we like.  Sometimes the Bible is taught as a buffet of nuggets of wisdom from which we can choose.  But the reality is that we must take it all or none of it.  As long as we consider ourselves authoritative to decide the parts we like, the parts we believe, or the parts to which we will submit, we have not made Jesus Lord and are therefore not saved.

Adoniram Judson was the first missionary to Burma (now Myanmar).  He gave up his life to serve in this extremely dangerous and difficult place and ultimately left a tremendous legacy of believers behind.  While serving, a Buddhist teacher told him that the Gospel he was preaching was unbelievable because no king would allow his son to suffer such indignity.  This was Judson’s response:

“Therefore you are not a disciple of Christ.  A true disciple inquires not whether a fact is agreeable to his own reason, but whether it is in the book.  His pride has yielded to the divine testimony.  Teacher, your pride is still unbroken.  Break down your pride, and yield to the word of God.”

– Adoniram Judson

Our pride and self autonomy often keeps us from true belief.  Either we harbor a sin, or we allow our logic to facilitate disbelief, or we simply treat the teachings and expectations of Scripture as optional.  Pride is a wicked enemy against which we must fight continually.  Have you confessed Jesus as Lord over your life?  Have you recognized His power?  Are you submitting yourself to Him and dying to yourself?  Or are you still just enjoying the little pearls of wisdom from the buffet of Scripture?  Do you have a verse or promise that makes you feel better, even though you make your own decisions, you practice things that God calls sin, and you live life the way you want to live it?

Let us break down our pride.  Let us submit to Jesus who is Lord over us and over all of reality.  Let us recognize that God has revealed Himself in Scripture and given us everything that we need for life and godliness therein (2 Peter 1.3).  Let us turn to Him, submit to Him and die to ourselves so that we might have eternal life.


Look Beyond the Star

christmas star

Have you heard the story of Jesus’ birth?  Do you have a nativity scene set up somewhere in your living room as part of you Christmas decorations?  Do you remember the part about the star?

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, Land of Judah,
are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
for our of you shall come forth a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”’
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.’  After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

– Matt 2.1-10

The gospels Matthew and Luke give detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus.  Luke teaches us that shepherds came and saw Jesus the night of His birth, and Matthew teaches us about the wise men coming in from the East. The book of Matthew was written for a Jewish audience.  He deals with prophecies, with the Law and with Jesus as the Messiah, but he very intentionally teaches that Jesus came to be the savior of the world, and he therefore begins his story with Jesus being worshiped by non-Jewish men of wealth who were led to Him by a star and ends the story with the Great Commission.

There is much glory in the coming of the magi.  It is a fulfillment of prophecy:

“Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.”

– Is 60.3

And their gifts spoke to His identity and purpose as Messiah on the Earth.  Gold was a costly gift befitting a king, frankincense was an incense symbolizing His deity, and myrrh was an embalming oil used in burial which foreshadowed His death.  The wise men were wise enough to know that the King of the Jews whom they sought was also the Messiah.  Notice that they asked Herod where the “King of the Jews” had been born, and after having a conversation with them Herod called for the priests and scribes and asked where the Messiah was to be born.

But nestled in this glorious story is that pesky detail of the star.  Much has been said about the star.  The magi have been called astrologers because they saw and followed it.  Books have been written about the nature of the star.  Ideas have been formed and many have been distracted by this relatively insignificant detail.  We are told that a star appeared and the wise men followed it.  Based on the time of the appearance of the star, Herod had every child under the age of two years murdered, so it is possible that they saw and followed the star for up to two years.  The star apparently led them to Jerusalem, or they understood its appearance to signify the coming of the Messiah, and it reappeared to direct them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and they rejoiced at its appearing.

Bethlehem is five miles from Jerusalem.  They had been instructed by the priests to go there, and then the star reappeared.  How can this be?  How can a star in outer space direct someone five miles?  And “stand over the place where the child was”?

While is it an extremely interesting facet to the story, it is secondary – a peripheral point.  Yes, it led the wise men to Jesus.  Yes, it designated the guidelines Herod used to murder the children which fulfilled prophecy and typologies with Moses.  But the glory and importance of the Christmas story is God taking on the form of a human being and entering into history as our savior.

It is very easy to get caught up in secondary issues.  You have probably met those people in your church who are continually digging into and distracted by those peripheral and unimportant matters:  was it really an apple that Eve ate?  How did God get the manna and quail to the Israelites?  If the sun stopped in the sky, does that mean the world stopped rotating?  If so, how did everyone not fly off the face of the Earth because of the lack of gravity?  How big of a wind would be required to part the Red Sea?  Did Jesus really go preach to spirits in Hell?  Christmas and Easter are pagan holidays that Christians just added our meaning to…

Instead of focusing on Jesus, being broken over sin, clinging to Him for salvation and meditating on the glory of God, we can find ourselves wasting energy fighting over if it is evil to set up a Christmas tree or have an Easter egg hunt.  But Jesus came with a purpose:  To seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19.10).  He came to rescue us from our sin, to give us the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and enables them to live godly lives, dying to sin.  To show us the way to eternity with Him.

As we continue through this advent season for the next week, do take the time to reflect on the beautiful details of the story of Christ’s birth which Scripture offers us.  Think about the star, and the sovereign God who caught the attention of wealthy scholars who would travel for up to two years to see the child.  Reflect on the fact that He is in control of everything, including the universe outside of the World, and utilizes supernatural occurrences to bring about His plan.  But when you enter into Bible study, when you teach your children the story, when you go to church and when you consider the faith, intentionally focus your heart and mind on those things that make an eternal impact.  Keep the secondary issues secondary, and glorify Jesus.  Look beyond the star, and see to what it is pointing.

We like Jesus as a baby.

baby jesus

We are two weeks away from arguably the most celebrated holiday in our nation:  Christmas.  Many will dress the family in their finest and usher them off to church for their once-a-year visit to hear the story of the baby Jesus.  Most have already set up Christmas trees, bought an abundance of presents, and decorated their houses and lawns for the holiday, and nestled in there was can sometimes find the nativity scene.  We get extra days off work, we visit family, we eat, and the devout among us say “happy birthday Jesus” or read the Christmas account out of the Bible.

We like Jesus as a baby.

Babies are helpless.  Babies are cute and cuddly.  Babies need us to take care of them, to nurture them and to love them.  Babies are lovable.  The the Christmas hymn “Silent Night” has perpetuated the myth that Jesus never cried (although we know He cried as an adult – John 6.35, and He wasn’t born speaking, so how else would He have let Mary know He was hungry?).  He was the perfect little baby.

The story of Mary and Joseph coming into Bethlehem on a donkey at nine months pregnant, the hotels all being full, and them finding shelter in a barn is so tragic – but yet normal to our ears.  We pity Jesus for having been born and laid in a feeding trough.  The story is quaint and humble, and it makes us feel good, while reminding us to help take care of the less fortunate.

The problem is that Jesus grew up.  He grew up and began to teach lessons that are just a bit too extreme for our ears.  Yes, we like the command to love, but we want to pick and choose who we get to love.  We do not want to hear the command to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us (Matt 5.44).  Yes, we want to hear how to be righteous and right with God, but we do not want to hear that we have to sell everything that we have, give it to the poor, and follow Him (Matt 19.21).  We like the promises that He will provide all of our needs and give us peace, but we do not want to follow Him to martyrdom (Matt 24.9).

Jesus the man commands us to live in ways that we are incapable of doing on on our own.  In order to follow Jesus, we need the empowering of the Holy Spirit and we have to die to ourselves.  It is uncomfortable and difficult.

Jesus the baby is cute and cuddly, and we can unintentionally condescend Him.  The baby Jesus demands nothing from us, just receives our affection and pity, and teaches us to care for the less fortunate around us.  The angels announced with His birth “peace among men with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2.14).  And while Jesus did come to bring peace, but He also came to bring a sword.  Families will be divided because of Him and some will kill those who follow Him (Matt 10.34).  The peace is spiritual and between God and those whom He has forgiven, not for the entire world.  That will only be realized on the New Earth, where sin and suffering cease.  Until then we must allow the Holy Spirit to live through us to suffer persecution well and follow Christ’s example (Gal 2.20).

So these next two weeks as we approach Christmas day, as we see the nativities along the streets and in our homes, as we go to church to celebrate and as we meditate and pray about the reality of God coming to Earth in the form of a man, let us not leave Jesus in the manger.  We should, indeed, marvel at the humility it would take for the almighty God to strip Himself of many of His divine attributes, and take on the form of a man, in his most helpless state.  Jesus submitted himself to human form, to a mother and a father, was raised as a child, all while still maintaining His deity.  We should praise Him for that, and seek to humble ourselves to one another and to Him in response.

But let us also reflect on the reason that He came:  to seek and to save that which was lost, to bring life to dead, to die for our sins, and to teach us how to live in light of eternity.  Jesus is no longer a poor, cute baby in a feeding trough in a barn.  He is the king of ages, seated on the throne in Heaven, ready to judge the living and the dead and to welcome believers into His presence for eternity.

Are you still concerned about Paris or Syria?


We are one day shy of the three week mark past the attacks on Paris.  The resulting conversation about Syrian [and all] refugees lasted nearly a week.  For three whole days we were concerned about our veterans, our homeless and children in foster care – because they are, after all, more important that foreigners who need help.

But already the facebook profile pictures are back to normal – no more French flags are seen…veterans, orphans and the homeless have been as quickly forgotten as the refugees who are running for their lives.  All because we have the attention span of toddlers.

When was the last time something truly grabbed your attention?  Is there anything in your life that drives you?  By which you are convicted?

If you call yourself a Christian, Jesus must be that.  If you read and study the teachings of Jesus, you come to realize that He demands our lives.  You cannot consider Jesus simply a “good teacher” or someone from whom we can learn some things.  He was either a complete lunatic or someone to whom we must devote our lives.  He claimed to be God.  He claimed to offer us eternal life.  He demands full devotion.  We cannot fall in between complete denial or complete devotion.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

– C. S. Lewis

We float from thought to thought, from meme to meme, and even in or workplace we need breaks to maintain the highest production level and ingenuity.  But Jesus intends to transform us from the core.  Before we begin the Christian walk, Scripture describes us as dead in our trespasses (Eph 2.1).  We are wicked and incapable of doing anything righteous or glorifying to God (Rom 3.10).  But when we give our lives to Jesus, He takes out that heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh (Ez 11.19), and He causes us to become a new creation (2 Cor 5.17).

When you go from being single to being married, everything in your life changes.  Well, it should change.  When you go from being not a parent to a parent, every decision you make is altered.  Your entire identity changes, and your entire lifestyle and decision making is forever changed.

So it must be when we become a new creature in Christ.  When Jesus gives us a heart of flesh, when the Holy Spirit abides within us, we can no longer make a decision without the influence of God.  If we can go about our days and never give God a second thought, then we should be greatly concerned about our Spiritual well being.  You must breathe to be alive.  In the same manner, you must interact with God on a Spiritual level to be alive Spiritually.

Jesus is not a fad.  The Gospel is not a news story that comes and goes in a week.  Salvation is not a life event that happens and from which we move on like graduation.  Christianity is our identity, and a relationship which must be nurtured.  Let us discipline our minds and hearts today.  Let us recognize the life changes that can and should come with submitting to Jesus as Lord in our lives.  Let us fight to maintain a mindset that is focused on eternity, and not float from crisis to crisis, from good thought to good thought, but let us meditate on God and abide in Him today.

O How Marvelous

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.

For me it was in the garden
He prayed: Not My will, but Thine.
He had no tears for His own griefs,
But sweat drops of blood for mine.

In pity angels beheld Him,
And came from the world of light
To comfort Him in the sorrows
He bore for my soul that night.

He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.

O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
O how marvelous! O how wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

 – Charles H Gabriel

It’s all about me, Jesus.


Do you remember the song that came out in the late nineties, “It’s all about you, Jesus”?  My family and close friends had a running joke and sang the song with just one small change, “It’s all about ME, Jesus…”  We joke about it in the little things, our performance on stage, our decisions in activities and service project.  But have you ever stopped to consider the tendency that we use of our proximity to tragedy as an attention grabber?

The facebook status after the terrorist attack in Paris: “I was just there last week!  That could have been me!”

After the earthquake, after the volcanic eruption, after the airplane crash, “This is my airport!  I was just in that town!  My second cousin has a friend who used to know someone there!”

It is true, psychology teaches us, that personalization makes anything more real and memorable.  Hostage training teaches us to make ourselves more real to our captor by talking about our families, our interests, our goals.  If we can connect or pull on the heart string of the captor, he is much less likely to cause us harm.  Most people learn a concept and keep it in their memory better if it is experienced in a variety of ways:  science uses lecture and lab practice in order to exemplify chemical reactions.  And people in all corners of the world have difficulty embracing and becoming motivated about any issue to which they cannot personally relate:  war, famine, poverty, deforestation, slaughtering of endangered species, whatever.

Personalization and awareness are good.

Inserting ourselves for the sake of getting attention is bad.

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But a humble spirit will obtain honor.

 – Prov 29.23

“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

 – James 4.6

God honors and lifts up the humble servant.  Self-insertion may not look like a pride issue at first, but consider the root:  A tragedy occurs.  Some people are truly broken at the event.  Then others move in because they like drama, they like gossip or they like the buzz caused by such an event and want to get involved.  Why?  They enjoy the attention and need chaos to drown out the the world in which they live.  They want to be a key player in the crisis and this is because their hearts are wicked and thrive on unwarranted attention.  It’s all about them.  There is often, also, a savior complex involved in which they think they can be the one, or a key player in fixing whatever happened.

It’s all about me, Jesus.

We are given clear instructions on how to interact with people in crisis:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

 – Rom 12.15-16

It is our role as the body of Christ to emotionally support and encourage our brothers and sisters.  If someone in your church has suffered a tragedy, wrap them up in love and care.  Pray with them, not just for them.  Cry with them, not just for them.  Laugh with them.  Be there.  Provide food.  But never make it about you.  Be humble and point to Jesus.  Because while your presence and encouragement might comfort them for a while, it is only Jesus who can heal the heart.  And if you create dependence upon yourself, you will only disappoint the one who is depending on you.  But if you help the broken one turn to Jesus, then and only then they will be satisfied.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

 – 1 Peter 5.6-7

If you are touched by tragedy, it is helpful to remember this basic rule of thumb when mourning with others.  (This is a helpful tool, not Scripture.)  There are always varying degrees of effect in a tragedy.  If a man who is married and has a family dies in a car accident, the person most profoundly impacted by the loss is the wife.  She is at level 1 proximity.  Closest friends and family members – people with whom this man spent much time and energy – are level 2 proximity.  Acquaintances and neighbors – people with whom this man was cordial – are level 3 proximity.  Everyone grieves differently, and some people in level 3 might be impacted more than others, but in your mourning, you should never ever project onto or try to draw on someone in a lower level of proximity than you.  A neighbor should never turn to the wife for comfort in processing the loss of this man.  And, if you are in a higher proximity than another, you should be prepared to be there for those in the lower proximities:  the wife should always be able to turn to the family friends and neighbors.

But everyone, in all proximities, always can and always should turn to Jesus.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

 – Rom 8.28

God has a purpose and a plan in everything that happens, even in the husband dying in a car accident.  And it is only in turning to God that He can comfort those who are suffering the loss and restore their hearts.  But it is ultimately about the glory of God.

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

 – 1 Peter 4.11

So the next time a tragedy hits, let us not insert ourselves into the event for the sake of getting attention.  Sure, we might have just flown through that airport or we might know someone from ages ago who lives there…but if we are not directly impacted by the tragedy, let pray for those who are, and let us serve those who are.  Weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, and focus on Jesus.  We must point others to Jesus.

Why did God forsake Jesus?

jesus on the cross

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the trinity, the physical manifestation of the Godhead, and our Savior, came to the world with a purpose:  to buy salvation for those who would believe through His perfect life, death and resurrection.  He took on the form of a man, lived a life without sin – one not deserving of death – but died in our place so that we might be forgiven.  Many times when we share the Gospel, however, we leave out the most crucial part:  The resurrection.

If Jesus only died, then there is no hope.  This is true for no less than two reasons:  1)  He promised to raise again, and if He did not keep His word then He was a false prophet and a liar.  2)  Just dying does not solve the problem of death, He had to raise again and conquer death.

Secular anthropologists and researchers have often studied methods of torture and the Roman cross is regularly listed as the most terrible way to die.  Jesus suffered on that most terrible device of men.  But at the risk of sounding callous, so did thousands of other people.  Many Christians, in fact, were executed and left to rot on crosses, guilty of no crime deserving death.  Jesus did not come to Earth simply to die, He came to Earth to raise again, to conquer death, and to establish our forgiveness and salvation.

After Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the disciples, they went up to the garden at Gethsemane and He prayed that God would allow this cup to pass from Him.  He dreaded what was coming, to the point that He begged God for hours to find another way.  When God offered no alternative, Jesus set His face to the cross and was led silently, as a lamb to the slaughter (Is 53.7).  Jesus suffered unthinkable physical torture, was nailed to the cross, and hung there for six hours.  Before He died, however, in the final moments, God turned Jesus into sin.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

– 2 Cor 5.21

Jesus was not just taking our place, He literally became sin.  Isaiah says,

All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

– Is 53.6

All of the sins of all of those who would believe were laid on Jesus in such a way that Jesus became sin in His very nature.  Jesus was still God.  He was still loved by God.  He still had the Holy Spirit on Him.  But God turned Him into sin and poured out His wrath against Him.  God forsook Jesus.  He Himself sent Jesus to the cross (Acts 2.23).  This only began to happen in the final moment Jesus was on the cross.  The final three hours that Jesus was on the cross, the sky was black (Matt 27.45).  God sent Jesus to the cross, turned Him into sin, and turned His back to Him.  In that moment, Jesus cried out:


– Matt 27.46

Jesus no longer used the affectionate term for God, Abba, that He regularly used.  He switched to the respectful, “Almighty” term.  And then He breathed His last and entered into the second phase of the the purchasing of salvation:  He went to Hell.  This is a point of confusion in today’s church that has never been a point of confusion since the foundation of the Church.  The Apostle’s Creed proclaims it boldly, and Acts 2 teaches is shamelessly.  When the women found Jesus on Easter Sunday, Jesus told them to not cling to Him because He had not yet been to the Father (John 20.17).  But why does it matter?

Jesus was not fearful or dreading of physical death.  He was dreading being separated from God.  He was dreading the true punishment that we deserve for death:  Spiritual separation from God.  Jesus went into the pits of death, having been made sin, and then, three days later, He conquered it!

It is said, when Jonah was cast into the sea, the sea ceased from her raging: so, when once Christ was swallowed up in God’s wrath, his wrath ceased from raging towards the church. The words of Jonah’s song, chap. ii. make the thing more apparent. He calls the belly of the fish, the belly of hell, or the belly of the grave, 2d and 4th verses. “I cried by reason of mine affliction, then said I, I am cast out of thy sight.” So Christ said, My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” Ver. 3. “The floods compassed me about, all thy waves and thy billows passed over me,” (the words of the psalmist, Psal. xlii. 7. also Lam. iii. 4, 5.) to signify the great sorrow and distress that God brought upon him. Ver. 5. “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul,” (the words of the psalmist, for great trouble and anguish, Psal. lxix. 1.) Ver. 6. “Yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption,” agreeable to what is said of Christ, Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”

– Jonathan Edwards

Jesus was in the belly of death, in Hell, and yet God did not allow His body to see decay.  God had the plan of conquering death in play.  And it was when Jesus arose from the dead, when He left Hell and tore down its gates, when He took the keys from Lucifer (Rev 1.18), He came back to life as the first born of the resurrection and thus He established our hope.

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.

– Col 1.18

When Jesus died, the Earth shook.  The curtain in the temple was torn in half.  God boldly exemplified that He no longer resides in the Holy of Holies and people can no longer approach His presence through the priests there.  But until Jesus was raised from the dead, there was no intercessor to approach God.  He removed His presence to Heaven, left no plan in place to appease Him, and Jesus was dead.  For three days there was no hope.

But then Jesus arose.  He was given the highest name, He was bestowed the highest honor.  He shed the sin that He became in Hell and left it there, having appeased the wrath of God for the sins of believers.  He was raised to eternal life, and He took His place in the holy courtroom of God as our High Priest, our intercessor.

If Jesus only died, we have no hope.

The glory of the Gospel is not that Jesus died, it is that He became sin, suffered death, defeated death and rose victorious over it!

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.  Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

– 1 Cor 15.12-19