Wednesday, December 31, 2008

4 Goals for the New Year

I’m not much of a “New Years Resolution” person, mostly because when I see something I need to change, I don’t wait until the new year – I start procrastinating now.

But picking a time of the year to stop and evaluate yourself helps you grow, and that can only be a good thing. ’Tis the season, so here are some things we should all reach for in the next year.

I think many of America’s problems today, including those of the American church, originate in misplaced priorities. All of the wrong things are important to us. To that end, here are some ideas for changing our focus, our attitudes, and our priorities.

Look Up
Read a good book about God. I’m convinced a great many of our problems come from an improper view of God. When we have a clearer picture of God, everything else comes into focus as well.

Pick up a good book about God you haven’t read or haven’t read in a long time. Some ideas: Knowing God, the Holiness of God, Your God is Too Small, the Existence and Attributes of God, Tozer on the Almighty God (has daily devotional format), or a good systematic theology.

A tip: If it makes Oprah’s list, pass.

Look Around
There is so much need around us, both in the US and around the world, but it’s easy to miss it in our day-to-day slog from work to church to the grocery store to bed. Stop and take a look around you; see the pain in the lives of other human beings. It’s hard to narrow it down, but pick something and learn about it – e.g., the modern slave trade, Darfur, AIDS patients, the homeless.

Now do something.

Look Away
There is so much filth in our culture that we can become numb to it, and that is part of the problem – we let it go or even encourage it. Christians, by and large, watch the same things non-Christians watch. Try to resensitize yourself to that. If there is a TV show or movie you watch (or want to) that you wouldn’t want your kids or grandkids to watch, abstain yourself.

Watch something else or, better yet, use the time to read a book, play a game with your kids, or go for a walk.

Step Back
Much of the above problems are rooted in the simple fact that, though we don’t think much of God or neighbor, we think about ourselves quite a bit.

Step out of the light. Volunteer to do something that no one will notice – help clean up the church after the youth group meets or keep the nursery. Does your church send cards or other material to visitors? Stuff envelopes. Do the low profile jobs no one wants to do.

Better still, try to do something where no one will even know – eg, mow for a neighbor who’s in the hospital. You’ll want to tell someone you did it. Don’t.

The idea is to beat up your pride. Then kick it while it’s down.

The saying goes you can only change the world one person at a time. Well, I think I need to start with me. How about you?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Blogging from a Deer Stand

I don’t know why I’d ever go deer hunting when sitting still is so hard for me. Nothing makes you need to fidget like being told to sit still. Nothing makes you want to touch something like the words “wet paint.” No dress can make a woman look as good as the words “thou shalt not.”

Human nature is rebellious; we want to do what we’re not supposed to do. This is true even for believers. We may have been crucified with Christ, but the flesh isn’t quite dead yet.

Some psychologists today think that will power is like a muscle. Unfortunately that means it can get tired. It appears we can use up our will power, so putting too much effort into self-control in one area may make it hard to do so in another one. This suggests we should consider carefully what is actually worth struggling with ourselves over – much like you have to learn to pick your battles with your spouse or children.

The good side of will power being like a muscle is that it can grow stronger. Yes, they say it’s possible to overexert your will power, but if you stretch yourself carefully, you may find your ability to govern yourself growing.

And we don’t simply have to grit our teeth and fight temptation. On some occasions, we’re told, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7), but other times we’re told to flee (1Cor 6:18, 10:14, 1Tim 6:11, 2Tim 2:22). In either case, we’re promised God will not let us be tempted more than we can bear, but “when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1Cor 10:13).

Of course, I don’t think believers are left solely at the mercy of their own will power. The same divine power that raised Christ from the dead is devoted to transforming us into His image (Eph 1:19, Rom 8:28-29). Still, God rarely drags us kicking and screaming into that image, but if we’re willing, if we call out to Him, He will rescue us.

“…Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2 Minutes of Quality Television

In case you haven't watched this yet this year, or even if you have:

(link to YouTube)

Chrismas Links 2

The Virginial Conception -- Miracle on Nazareth Street
Prof. Ben Witherington III on the virgin birth of Christ

The Bible Doesn't Count
Stand to Reason on National Geographic on Herod and the slaughter of the innocents

Compassion Art
For the season of giving, a music project dedicated totally to charity.

Things You Don’t Say To Your Wife
Not necessarily Christmas, but cute. And true. (video)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Peasant Prince

The Advent of Jesus Christ: Son of Mary

The Hebrew prophets spent quite a bit of time prophesying about the Messiah, but even still no one expected things to unfold the way they did.

The seed of Eve, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, the heir of David’s throne, God incarnate born to a simple peasant girl. The Light to the Gentiles was born as far from gentiles as one could possibly get. The King was born, not in a palace, but in a stable, laid in a manger rather than a golden crib.

But even this lowly birth revealed the identity of the Messiah. The incarnation of God was announced by angels. The Lamb was attended by shepherds. The Light to the Gentiles was worshipped by gentiles who brought treasures fit for the King. And the prince of this world struck at the Seed of Eve, but the blow could not land because the Serpent’s fate was already sealed.

In this season we celebrate more than the birth of a baby. We celebrate the promise of victory assured. The birth of this heavenly child was an incredible moment, a gift of inestimable value, and an incomprehensible sacrifice, but all of it would be for nothing if that was the end of the story. This baby was born so that the Lamb could be slain, for only this could destroy the Serpent’s work. And it is not a heavenly baby but a risen Lord who will reign forever over a bride made up of every tribe, tongue, and nation to the glory of God.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Lamb of God

The Advent of Jesus Christ: Son of God

You don’t have to read too much about the Messiah to get the notion that this is no ordinary man.

The Messiah was to destroy the work of the devil, unite Jew and gentile, and rule forever with in a righteousness and peace that has never been seen before. The only way He could do all of that was if He was divine.

The child of these prophecies would be no mere mortal; He would be the Son of God.

And because of His divine righteousness, He would be able to be more than a son or a king. This child would be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:5-6).
This King “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28).

In this season we celebrate more than the birth of a baby. We celebrate the promise of deliverance, of forgiveness. Our debt will be paid. Our sins will be forgiven. God will make a way.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Forever King

The Advent of Jesus Christ: Son of David

Pleased with his heart, God promised David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2Sam 7:16).

David was promised that his line would always have a king. What the scriptures later reveal is that there would be one in his line who would always be King. This King would not be like other kings Israel had known. The best had sinned before God; most had sinned greatly and had brought judgment on their houses and ultimately Israel itself.

But this one would be righteous. Not only would He be righteous, but He would bring righteousness. His rule would be marked by justice and peace:
“The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth” (Is 11:2-4).

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Is 9:7).
In this season we celebrate more than the birth of a baby. We celebrate the promise of righteousness and justice restored. This promise has not been fully realized, so we wait, in the same spirit as Advent, for Christ to come again. But we wait patiently and expectantly because Christmas has taught us that God keeps His promises.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

No Mere Miracle

The Incarnation – the pivotal moment in history upon which our calendar turns. It is not the cross but the manger that changes BC to AD.

The Incarnation has been described as the greatest of all God’s miracles. I disagree.

The Incarnation is not the greatest of all miracles because it is an order of magnitude above any mere miracle.

A miracle occurs when God does that which is physically impossible – parting the sea or bringing the dead to life.

The Incarnation is not physically impossible. It is ontologically impossible. God did not do something impossible; He became something impossible – a man.

The Son emptied Himself and took “the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

In the Incarnation the infinite became finite, the omnipotent became helpless, the eternal was born. When God’s glory was cloaked in human flesh, the King became a peasant, and the Lord became a servant. And the angels worshipped.

And so should we.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Word Became Flesh

“Men had been waiting and longing and listening, climbing mountains for stillness, getting into loneliness to hear. They had heard, but they had never heard. They had heard the thunder of His power, but they had never heard all they needed to hear.

"But in Him Who pitched His tent by the side of the fishermen, they heard. And the long silence and all the loneliness became the sweet speech for which men had waited; and all the thunder that had reverberated around the rocky fastness of Sinai became love whispers in the ears of listening individuals when He became flesh. ‘The Word became flesh, and pitched His tent among us.’”

-G. Campbell Morgan

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Light to the Gentiles

The Advent of Jesus Christ: Son of Abraham

God chose one man in all the world to bless and to use to create a “great nation.” His descendents would grow and prosper and enjoy a unique relationship with the Almighty.

But the blessings of God would not be confined to this one family. God told Abraham, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen 22:18). God’s intention was that Abraham’s Seed would be a “light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32) as well because
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6).
God’s plan was not to choose one people among all others but to make Himself a new people that “will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). On that day there will be “a great multitude … from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev 7:9).

In this season we celebrate more than the birth of a baby. We celebrate a hope shared. The hope of the Messiah was not that He would save the Jews but that He would make a new Israel and that those who were excluded from the first covenant could be part of the second. Now we can celebrate that we are “no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household” (Eph 2:19).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Concordance as a Devotional

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” right? We teach it, we quote it, some have even memorized it.

But we don’t really believe it.

That’s because it doesn’t take very long for us to come to a long stretch of “begats” or something equally monotonous.

But there really is meaty goodness even in those passages if you look for it. It just takes a little work.

Read Matthew 1:1-17. Yes, really.

Now, using a concordance or electronic search, start looking up names. In this passage, there are some names that kind of break the flow – where the women are named. Anything that sticks out like that should be of special interest to us.

This list contains some colorful characters to say the least.

We have Judah who slept with a prostitute that turned out to be his daughter-in-law Tamar (Gen 38).

We have Rahab, the Canaanite harlot who helped the spies sent by Joshua (Josh 2).

We see Ruth, a Moabite (Ruth 1) – a pagan descendent of Lot’s incestuous daughter (Gen 19), whose line had been excluded from the covenant people (Deut 23:3-6).

We see David and Bathsheeba – murderer, adulterers – and their idolatrous son Solomon. In fact, though a few good kings appear in the list (Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah), most were idolaters and some murderers.

There were quite a few ungodly people in Jesus’ bloodline. In fact, most of them. Shouldn’t Christ have come from more righteous people?

Well, there aren’t any “righteous” people. God uses what He has to work with – us.

I saw an illustration that makes this clearer. On a spectrum of righteousness, we can put Christ on one end and Hitler on the other:


Where should we put Mother Teresa on this spectrum? In the middle? A bit more to the left? Here’s biblical picture:


When judged by God’s standard, apart from Christ we are all down on the far end hugging Hitler.

In God’s grace, he uses ungodly people – even in the human lineage of Christ. He also shows that gentiles will not be excluded from the promise; this is a precursor to the truth that every tribe, tongue, and nation will be part of Christ’s kingdom.

The good news is that God uses ungodly people.

The better news is that Jesus came for ungodly people.

Dollar for a Drink

Please think about supporting this boy's fundraising for a well in Sudan.

(HT: Scot McKnight)