When We Mess Up

Show of hands: When you saw the title, how many of you knew I would be writing about Peter?

 

That’s what I thought. Pretty much all of you.

 

Yes, when we think about the Apostle Peter, he’s the guy who didn’t get it right. Mr. Impulsive. Impetuous, can’t-seem-to-shut-up-when-he-should Peter. That guy. Pretty much the Grand Poobah of “You’re Doing It Wrong.”

 

There was even a book back in the 70’s called, “The Peter Principle” and it was about how employees rise to the level of their incompetence. It wasn’t actually named after the Apostle Peter, but hey, our Peter had Dr. Laurence J. Peter beat by almost two thousand years.

 

Of all the disciples, I most identify with Peter. I totally get being “that guy.”

 

In terms of messing up, the Apostle Peter did so on a Biblical scale. Literally.

 

At the Last Supper, (See John  13) after Jesus had washed the disciples feet (and Peter had been all weird about that and had to be told to dial it down a notch) Jesus began to detail what would happen throughout the rest of the night. He told them He would be betrayed and the only disciple who messed up more than Peter left the room. He told them this would be their last night together, but Peter didn’t get it.

 

Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times! John 13:36-38 (NIV)

 

Really Peter? You’re really ready to die for me? 

 

John then gives us four chapters of Jesus preparing His disciples for what is about to happen that night and in the future. (Chapters 14-17) Finally, in Chapter 18, they are in the Garden of Gethsemane and Judas shows up with a detachment of soldiers so that He could be arrested. Jesus does not resist, but impulsive Peter, perhaps in a fit of bravado designed to show he really is willing to die for Jesus (or more likely he didn’t stop and think that the entire detachment of soldiers probably all had swords too), steps up and lops off the ear of the high priest’s slave.

 

Jesus, in perhaps the greatest example of de-escalation at anytime ever, tells Peter to put the sword away and puts Malchus’s ear back on his head!

 

They arrest Jesus and the disciples scatter. 

 

Peter and another disciple (most scholars agree it was John) sneak along behind the soldiers to the high priest’s house, where they have taken Jesus, and Peter does indeed deny knowing Jesus three times.

 

As the rooster crows, Peter remembers what Jesus said and leaves, weeping bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)

 

Judas hangs himself. Jesus is beaten, tortured, subjected to a sham trial, ridiculed, mocked, and hideously, horrifically nailed to a cross and publicly murdered. 

 

Peter had to have been devastated. His soul had to have been crushed. Not only had this man whom he was sure was the promised Messiah been killed and with Him all that Peter believed, but he had indeed denied Him not once, but three times–just as He said.

 

Three days later, the news comes that Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter and John run to the tomb, but find it empty. Jesus appears to Cleopus and another on the road to Emmaus, and the remaining disciples minus Thomas later that night. Eight days later, He appears to all the disciples, this time including Thomas. Seven of the disciples go to Galilee on the instructions of the women who had initially seen Jesus. 

 

They waited for days. Apparently Peter became bored with all the waiting and announced he was going fishing. The other six disciples with him (apparently just as bored) all say they’ll go with him. (John 21:3)

 

They spend all night fishing and catch nothing.

 

And then we are given this beautiful, glorious scene where the sun is just coming up and Jesus just happens (yeah, right) to be cooking breakfast on the beach right at the time they are about to give up. He calls to them, instructing them to throw out the net on the right side of the boat, and they catch a huge load of fish. John recognizes that it’s Jesus on the shore and Peter ignores the net full of fish and his friends who need his help, throws on a tunic, jumps out of the boat, and takes off swimming for shore.

 

When he gets there, Jesus tells the disciples to bring some of the fish to shore, so Peter hauls the net and the 153 large fish to shore. I can only imagine his joy and wonder at all of this.

 

I can see them sitting around that fire on the beach laughing and smiling and just enjoy each other after all that has taken place, reveling in this amazing miracle that Jesus is alive, that He rose from the grave and they are together once again.

 

I can also imagine the dark cloud still hanging over Peter. Even if a belly full of freshly-cooked fish and bread as the morning sun rose in the sky filled him and satisfied his body, I can imagine that nagging guilt and shame of that cold night when they took Jesus away still haunted him like a ghost. I imagine the rooster’s crow still rang in his ears.

 

And Jesus would have known that. This impulsive disciple who often got it wrong was also the disciple who jumped in and walked on the Sea of Galilee when all the other disciples were still in the boat with their mouths hanging open. Yes, he had his faults, but Jesus –and the Father–and the Holy Spirit– had big plans for Peter. I think his impulsiveness, his willingness to jump in and do something (even the wrong thing) was an attribute the LORD valued more than the prudent man who did nothing. He could be taught skills. Attitude is something that’s far harder to teach.

 

But, in order for that to happen. in order for the man who had been Simon to be the Peter he was called to be, things had to be set right. He needed to be restored, renewed, brought back from the pit as it were.

 

And when I look at the way Jesus did that, I am amazed. He didn’t say to Peter, “You know, you really messed up when you denied me like that.” Those (or similar) words were probably the words in Peter’s head. Crushing words. Condemning words.

 

But Jesus didn’t crush Peter. He didn’t condemn him. He didn’t bring up the guilt and shame. And He most certainly did not say, “I told you so.”

 

No, Jesus asked Simon, son of John, if he loved Him. He asked the question three times. And yes, Jesus used the word ἀγαπᾷς (agapas) the first two times. Peter, almost certainly still stinging from having made the brash statement about being willing to die with Jesus and then having denied Him is unable to affirm agapas (perfect godly) love, and can only bring himself to say φιλῶ philō (brotherly) love. The third time, Jesus, compassionately and carefully asks if Peter loves him like a brother. 

 

Peter is hurt at having been asked the question three times, but he says, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” John 21:17 (NLT)

 

Each time, Jesus’ response was that Peter should feed his sheep.

 

Jesus didn’t wait until Peter was in tears to tell him his that his mission –his purpose– had not changed. Peter was still to be a shepherd. Peter was still to be one who would feed the sheep and take care of the lambs. Even though Peter had messed up and denied Jesus, even though he had failed miserably just as Jesus knew he would, Peter had never been disowned. He had never slipped through Jesus fingers or been outside the power of His love. 

 

In that moment, in the minutes when Jesus restored Peter, brashness and impulsiveness and bravado collided with humility. In that moment, what Peter came to know would forever change how he would go. The qualities he was born with, that God had uniquely and distinctly put into the man with the image of God whom Jesus called “Peter” would be equipped to bring countless souls to salvation and relationship with God and to forever change the world not by being made perfect, but being made complete. 

 

Jesus then tells Peter that he would indeed die for Him, just as he had said on that night when he had denied him. (John 21:18) He told him he would be crucified, just as He had been. 

 

Peter, still reeling from all this and still very much Peter, then asks about John. It seems like deflection when we read it. It seems like he’s changing the subject, but I can imagine why he asked. John was the only disciple at the foot of the cross. John was the disciple Jesus asked to take care of his mother, Mary. John did not deny Jesus.

 

Jesus’ reply (if I may paraphrase) was “Don’t worry about him. You just follow me. Just follow me.” He said it twice. 

 

Follow me.

 

And that’s what Peter and all the other disciples had been doing all along. All they had to do was let Jesus lead and follow Him.

 

And that’s all we are called to do as disciples. Follow Him. 

 

Yes, we will mess up. Yes, it will be hard and we will have a tendency to beat ourselves up and be harder on ourselves than we should. I think I actually have a tendency to sometimes be harder on myself than Jesus is. While we should certainly learn from our mistakes, what Jesus did with Peter at the campfire on the beach was to keep Peter’ mistake from incapacitating this man who would become one of the most powerful forces God would ever use to bring His love and redemption and restoration to the entire world through the Savior of the entire world, Jesus Christ.

 

So, the next time the Great Accuser whispers guilt and shame into your life, tell Jesus you do indeed love Him, and follow Him by feeding His sheep with His love.

 

It’s as close as your folded hands, your Bible, and your radio dial.

 

Today’s Praise

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 2:17 (NIV)

 

Paul’s Thorn

If you’ve listened to Kinship Christian Radio for any length of time, you’ve probably heard Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” mentioned. 

 

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 2 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)

 

Over the years, there has been much speculation by many theologians about what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” could have been. Some have conjectured that it was malaria, Malta fever, epilepsy, convulsive attacks, or chronic ophthalmia. Still others have gone so far as to posit carnal temptation or depression. Most say that there are very few clues in Scripture.

 

But, in my humble opinion, I think there are a few clues. 

 

We know that Paul (at the time called Saul of Tarsus and a high-level Pharisee) was not only present at the stoning of Steven, but approved of it. (Acts 8:1) Further, Acts 8:3 says,

 

But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison. (NLT)

 

When Paul (now an apostle) appears before King Agrippa after the Jewish leaders call for his death, this is what he says in his defense: 

 

“I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities.” Acts 26:9-11 (NLT)

 

So Paul was not only responsible for the death of Stephen, he would also bear the guilt for all those he had dragged off, thrown in prison, and then voted to have executed. He was obviously very serious in his opposition to Jesus and His people.

 

Paul’s description of his qualifications as a Pharisee are well-known:

 

I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. Philippians 3:5 (NLT)

 

In fact, Saul’s reputation with the early church was such that he did not go to Jerusalem and meet the apostles until three years after (Galatians 1:17) his encounter with Jesus and conversion on the road to Damascus described in Acts 9. He was greatly feared and, understandably, not immediately accepted into the inner circle of the early church. 

 

All of this got me to thinking that maybe, just maybe, Paul’s thorn in the flesh was the recurring guilt of having persecuted, tortured, and killed Christians in the very name of the God he thought he served.

 

Certainly, Saul the Pharisee had been thoroughly convinced that what he was doing was right. These people of “The Way” were heretics, in his mind, who deserved death for the blasphemy of worshiping a mere man named Jesus as the very Son of God. 

 

Only a direct, earth-shattering, soul-changing intervention by the risen and glorified Jesus Himself in person could have changed his mind and his soul.

 

And it did.

 

And, when we look at that sentence where Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh, he specifically calls it a messenger of Satan. He says the thorn was torment him. Other translations say, “buffet.” The Greek word is κολαφίζῃ which is defined as “To strike with the fist, buffet; hence: I mistreat violently. From a derivative of the base of kolazo; to rap with the fist.”

 

Some scholars have pointed out that the word we translate as “thorn” is σκόλοψ in Greek, which could also be interpreted as a stake, rather than a thorn.

 

Whatever the case, it’s pretty clear that Paul does not consider this thorn in the flesh a mere pin-prick. He asked God three times to take it away from him. It clearly caused him some serious discomfort.

 

That’s another reason I’m thinking it could be that guilt of his former life. Guilt and shame are sharp, stabbing, and much like a punch in the face, can be debilitating, especially when it comes to being an effective witness and ambassador for Christ.

 

Satan is referred to as “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night” in Revelation 12:10. The devil knows that if we do not consider ourselves worthy of God’s love, if we believe that what we have done is so bad that God can never forgive us, we will never be able to tell others of His love.

 

Indeed, if the great accuser is successful in his accusations, the cross is emptied of its power. If Jesus’ death did not atone for our sins, if we still stand accused and guilty. If we are not forgiven, we have no power to proclaim forgiveness to anyone else. 

 

Shame and guilt effectively negate forgiveness and stand in direct contradiction to the love of God as embodied in Christ Jesus. Our weakness is left only as weakness if the shame and guilt remain.

 

But it doesn’t.

 

If you look at Paul’s “wretched man lament” in Romans 7:15-24 where he goes on for quite some time about his struggle with sin, of doing what he does not want to do even though he knows what he should do, he immediately follows that with this glorious explanation in Romans 8 of why there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus (vs. 1) and by the time he gets to verses 33 and 34 he is directly in the face of the great accuser:

 

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Romans 8:33&34 (NLT)

 

And that’s why Paul’s guilt and shame would not only keep him humble, but be all the more glorious when he remembers that it’s all wiped away, all nailed to the cross and crucified with Jesus. The proof positive of Paul’s forgiveness and the redemption of all those who believe in Jesus is the empty tomb and the living Jesus! The accuser is revealed for what he is: a thief, a murderer, and a liar. JESUS LIVES! 

 

In the end, all of this conjecture on my part about Paul’s guilt and shame is just that –conjecture. I think there is evidence to wonder if that could be the case, and certainly if you suffer from guilt and shame you should absolutely know that for those who believe that Jesus died for their sins and rose from the grave, if you have repented and asked Jesus for forgiveness, you no longer stand accused. Your sins, and your guilt and shame, have been taken away as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)

 

But we should also praise God that the Holy Spirit led Paul to leave out the specifics about what that thorn in the flesh was because this means that whoever reads that passage who was any kind of thorn in the flesh be it sickness, disease, illness, insults, hardships, persecutions, troubles, or affliction of any type can read that passage knowing that the LORD’s strength works perfectly in our weaknesses no matter what our own particular thorn in the flesh might be.

 

Today’s Praise

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38&39 (NLT)

Jesus and Politics

The news on Kinship Christian Radio and really, all the media all over the country, has lately been describing an intensely political time in our nation’s history. The tension right now seems tighter than the A string on a soprano ukulele.

 

But, before I go off on politics, let me start with a seemingly-unrelated story:

 

A couple of years ago, I was blessed to be able to attend a Passion Play at a church known simply “Frater” in Guatemala City. The official name is “Fraternidad Cristiana de Guatemala” (Christian Fraternity of Guatemala) and it’s an enormous church with seating for probably 10,000 people.

 

It was an ambitious production with an enormous cast, amazing music, and Pharisees whose shoes lit up when they danced. (I am unsure of the theological significance of that detail, but it may have had something to do with the pride and haughtiness of the Pharisees.)

 

Now, I speak very little Spanish, but I recognized when they got to the scene where the Pharisees set out to trap Jesus with the question of whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. (Matthew 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, and Luke 20:20-26.)

 

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:13-17 ESV)

 

In the play, when Jesus returned that denarius, he flipped it through the air. It arced gracefully and powerfully into the hands of an open-mouthed Pharisee who was astounded not only at Jesus’ reply but his utter lack of regard for the craftiness of their question. Jesus had already turned his back and was walking away by the time the Pharisee caught the coin.

 

Make no mistake, this was a trap and it was a political trap. The account in Luke specifically says, “They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus.” Luke 20:20b (NLT) The play at Frater may have dramatized the action of returning that denarius, but the point Jesus was making was intensely dramatic in that it illustrated just what he thought about their politics.

 

When the Pharisees finally did succeed in their plot and Jesus stood before Pilate as one accused of a crime worthy of death in John 18 and 19, Pilate wanted to know if Jesus called himself “King of the Jews.” 

 

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:36 (NLT)

 

Pilate’s concern was political. He didn’t want some rebel challenging his authority or that of the Romans.

 

After Pilate had ordered Jesus flogged, he stood before Pilate refusing to answer his questions.

  

Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” John 19:10&11a (NLT)

 

Jesus was absolutely unimpressed by Pilate’s political power –even the power of life and death over him.

 

Let’s jump way back to 1 Samuel 8 when the elders of Israel wanted a king. Even though Samuel warned them about all the things a king would do and all that it would cost them, they wanted someone to rule over them, judge them, and lead them into battle. And God tells Samuel:

 

“Do everything they say to you,” the LORD replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.” 1 Samuel 8:7 (NLT)

 

They rejected a heavenly kingdom for an earthly kingdom. Samuel warned them that a day would come when they would beg God for relief from this king they were demanding, but He would not help them. (1 Samuel 8:18) Even though Israel had been ruled by a system of judges in a heavenly system, they chose an earthly political system instead.

 

We have long been taught that God has three answers to prayer: “Yes.” “No.” And “Wait.” In the case of Israel’s prayers for a king, God said, “Yes,” –but that doesn’t mean He blessed it. 

 

At this particular moment in the history of this nation whose official motto is “In God we trust,” the tone has become so political that it seems nearly impossible to be spiritual without getting wrapped up in the politics of it all. But Jesus was anything but political. He purposely and divinely diverted political moments into heavenly, spiritual moments. His focus was relentless. His intent was never diluted, never sidetracked. 

 

And that purpose was showing us that God loves us. Jesus came to die on a cross to save us from our sin. That purpose was a great disappointment to those who thought Messiah would come to free the nation of Israel from the political oppression of the Romans. But the freedom that Jesus brought was from sin and death. 

 

And, over the course of the twenty centuries since that time, no one has changed the world more than Jesus Christ. No one has set more souls free than our Lord and Savior. No one has made it more clear what is really important.

 

Politics is a game played by flawed human beings wrongly for the purpose of wealth and power and rightly to leave this world a better place than we found it. Yes, our personal politics should reflect our spiritual values, but we should not let our politics come between us and the Kingdom of the One True King.

 

I’m thinking that what I give up for Lent this year is my tendency to convey a political message when I could and should be conveying an eternal message. 

 

Today’s Praise

He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:14 (NIV)

 

God’s Phone Tree

I hate phone trees.

 

Wait. Maybe “hate” is too strong a word for a Christian blog.

 

I abhor phone trees. 

 

I loathe phone trees.

 

I despise phone trees with the white-hot burning passion of a thousand burning suns. (Yes, I stole that last phrase from an ancient episode of “Cheers.”)

 

To me, a phone tree instantly conveys the message that the company I am calling does not want to talk to me. Obviously, they would rather have me spend 18 minutes of my time pressing buttons that do nothing then address the reason I called by simply allowing me to talk to a human being. They obviously believe their time is far more valuable than mine. 

 

“Hello, you’ve reached our company. You may go away now, or we will put you through a series of pointless and frustrating exercises in futility we’ve specifically designed to get you to go away and never speak to you again. Some calls are recorded for quality assurance. We really can’t stop laughing when we use that phrase, but we didn’t officially say that.”

 

“Remember, you can always go to our website at www.misanthropy.com.” 

 

“Please listen to the entire menu as our options have recently changed. (Barely audible maniacal laughter in the background.) Please press 1 for Klingon, 2 for Swahili spoken with a lisp, 3 if your mother had red hair, or 4 if you’d like to send us an enormous quantity of money. You may press 6 to go back to the main menu, 7 to listen to a 23-second snippet of 1980’s elevator music played over and over again punctuated by a recording telling you to get off the phone and go to our website even though we know you already tried that and that is exactly why you are calling to talk to a human being, or 8 to end this call immediately and have to start all over. Don’t ask what “5” does. We cannot be responsible for whatever happens to you if you press that number.” 

 

None of the options in the list are ever the reason I called. 

 

Ever.

 

And, if you should have the temerity to press “0” to try and speak to a human being, you will get a voice that sounds like a female Major Hochstetter from Hogan’s Heroes stating, “Zat entry is not recognized!” And the call will be instantly terminated and you will get a busy signal if you call back. We have ways of making you play by our rules.

 

It’s as if they hired a team of psychologists to study the human brain and find out what would be the most effective way to frustrate an adult human being using only a telephone and recorded messages. There’s probably a secret underground phone tree testing facility run by one of the villains from a 1960’s James Bond movie in some remote part of the globe…

 

Wait…wasn’t one of those James Bond movies actually called, “Dr. No?

 

I knew it!

 

Now, you may be asking yourself why I have been going on for nearly five-hundred words on this subject without ever once mentioning our Lord. As I mentioned in the beginning, this is, after all, a Christian blog. Isn’t it?

 

I bring this all up to contrast it with prayer.

 

All any of us have to do to have direct access to God is pray. 

 

God does not have a phone tree. He hears and listens immediately. Before a bell can ring, in the time it takes to think, “Lord…” He is listening. 

 

He is listening and He cares. He will not talk over you. He will not interrupt you. He will not even tell you your concerns or cares are foolish or unwarranted. He will not try and divert you or pass the buck. He will not transfer your prayer to someone else.

 

The God of the Universe, the One who created you and me and everything in all the vastness of the entire cosmos, far more important and powerful and omniscient than even the most powerful company on earth, (even more powerful than the cable company) will listen and hear you without hesitation. 

 

He will not be offended if you are angry with Him. And, even if you are the one who is in the wrong, He will not let your mistake or your anger or your misunderstanding of the situation diminish His love for you. 

 

When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, He told them to address that same God as “Our Father.”

Those words carry with them an intimacy, a relationship that no company with a phone tree can even come close to approaching.

 

Abba.

 

Father.

 

Papa.

 

And that relationship is something Jesus made for us when He died on the cross. When the veil of the temple was torn in two, (Matthew 27:52, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45) it opened for us access to the Holy of Holies. It allowed us, not just come before God, but to come before His throne boldly. 

 

All our messes, all our problems, all our brokenness. We can bring it all to God. No delays, no jumping through hoops, no endless hours on hold. 

 

God is right there. Right now.

 

And unlike the phone tree companies of the world, God really does want to talk to us.  

 

Today’s Praise

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

All Things

Okay, so I was all set to sit myself down and write a fiery blog post on how all of your “other” Christians keep messing up Philippians 4:13:

 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (NKJV)

 

People post this verse all over social media all the time. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t see it and it sure sounds like one of those verses that people quote out of context to justify the Prosperity Gospel or the Name It and Claim It Gospel or whatever happens to be the current Heresy Du Jour. 

 

So, let’s take a look at the context of that verse:

 

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:10-13 (NLT)

 

Paul is saying through all the good things and bad things that have happened in his life (And, as we learn from all of the other things he wrote, there was no shortage of bad things.) he has learned to be content through the strength that Christ gives him.

 

He is specifically and most emphatically not saying that Jesus gives him the power to flap his arms and fly to the moon to impress the local heathens with his great power. 

 

So we should most certainly not be using this verse to justify the purchase of, say for example, the latest, greatest British racing hovercraft to impress your friends and amaze your enemies. 

 

There you have it. Solid exegesis and hermeneutics that clearly shows how the verse is misused.

 

But, after I thought all of that through and got all of it off my chest, something odd happened. As I warmed up my big Pharisee guns to tell all of you how wrong you were for taking this verse out of context and blast from the sky all of your errant theology, I noticed something I did not expect.

 

People are not using the verse out of context.

 

I do not find a single instance of George posting on Facebook how he greatly desires a brand-spanking new Boaty McBoatface BX2000 Super Racing Hovercraft and  his friend Bob quoting Philippians 4:13 to encourage him that Jesus would indeed deliver that shiny new supertoy if he would just continue to have faith and pray.

 

No, what I found is that people mostly post that verse to encourage others to persevere through difficult times because our strength and our hope is in Jesus. We can be content with our situation even when we are not comfortable through the power of Christ –which was exactly Paul’s point.

 

I also noticed that there are a lot of situations posted on social media where that verse is not mentioned and people post all kinds of advice that may or may not help and forget to mention the peace and contentment that come through Jesus. 

 

And then, as so often happens, as I looked at my own life I found that I had spent a lot of time and effort being discontented when Jesus had my back all along.

 

As it turns out, I got along just fine without a 2000 horsepower hovercraft.

 

So, while I sat down to unload on all of you about how wrong you were about over-using Philippians 4:13, when I stop and really think about it and listen to the Holy Spirit, the fact is that I myself have under-used that verse.

 

Apparently, poetic justice is a God thing, too. 

 

Today’s Praise

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

The Greatest Apologetic Argument Ever Made

A couple of years ago I believe the greatest, most effective apologetic argument ever made in the history of the universe was spoken in my presence.

 

Which, of course, would lead you to legitimately and understandably ask why I have withheld it from you, my faithful and loyal readers, for lo these many months.

 

The answer is because, even though I witnessed the entire event, I was unaware of its magnitude and significance until I had pondered it for all this time.

 

It occurred at my in-laws home. I do not remember the time of year. There were many family members present ranging in age from infant to elderly. I was sitting at the dining room table. My mother-in-law was sitting immediately to my left (as she always is) and there were a variety of pre-teen nieces and nephews also at the table, along with my lovely wife, sitting directly across the table from me. (Again, as she always does.)

 

I believe at the time I was regaling the assorted relatives with some mission trip event wherein Jesus had changed someone’s life when one of the nieces (probably age 11 or so) shyly looked in my direction and said something to the effect of, “There are people in my school who say there is no God and Jesus is not real.”

 

I’m not sure if my mouth dropped open or not, but I distinctly remember a thousand thoughts rushing through my mind in a single second as I desperately tried to form all the theology, hermeneutics, apologetics and whatever else I could in the deep recesses of my soul into a coherent statement that would effectively refute such an obviously false and heretical statement.

 

And, while my brain, which is always supposed to be ready with a gentle and respectful answer as to in whom my hope is found (1 Peter 3:15) was still sputtering and misfiring, my mother-in-law (without skipping a beat) looked over at the young child and said,

 

“You know they’re full of beans, dontcha?”

 

The child grinned one of those, shy, precious, simple smiles and said, “Yeah.”

 

And all was once again right with the world.

 

My mother-in-law has never been to seminary. She is not a deaconess or a holder of high rank in her church. (She has served cake at a funeral before.) And, although she does listen to and support Kinship Christian Radio, she has not been on 27 mission trips, has not published a book, does not record podcasts, has never participated in street-corner evangelism in an inner-city slum, and has not ministered to lepers in the streets of Calcutta. But what she has done is love well.

 

She is a real Christian. 

 

And that’s why what she said to my niece, her grandchild, was the greatest apologetic argument ever made. For all of that child’s life, grandma has been nothing but love. Every time. Consistently, without fail for all the years of that child’s life, grandma has not just symbolized the love of Jesus, she has been the physical embodiment of the unconditional, whole-hearted love Jesus –the kind of love we should all embody.

 

Yes, that’s hard. When it comes to our co-workers, people in traffic, people on social media, even my own family, I often fail miserably. It’s hard to love other people, but Jesus really is the answer. The image of the cross infinitely and indelibly speaks that into all that is humanity even more powerfully and eloquently than my mother-in-law’s full bean statement.

 

So, I guess I will have to change my mind and say that mom-in-law’s statement was not the greatest apologetic statement ever made because clearly the cross takes first place.

 

I’m still giving mom-in-law second place and I’m pretty sure she’s gonna be okay with that.

 

If not, I guess I’m the one who’s full of beans.

 

Today’s Praise 

May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:5 (NLT)

 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I have to confess that occasionally (when I am not listening to Kinship Christian Radio) I do enjoy a good Western. 

 

Now, there are lots of Westerns out there, but nothing beats a good “Spaghetti Western.” (So called because most had an Italian director either with dialogue in Italian or dubbed into Italian. Most were filmed in Spain, generally during the mid-1960’s.) 

 

In my humble opinion, the pinnacle of all Spaghetti Westerns was “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” filmed in 1966 and starring Clint Eastwood as The Good, Lee Van Cleef as The Bad, and Eli Wallach as The Ugly.

 

The cinematography is brilliant, the music (especially the theme song) is inspired, and the acting (especially by Eastwood) is superb. The plot is convoluted and twisted, but the ending makes up for it all. It is the quintessential epitome of its genre.

 

It’s no secret that any good story has to have a good guy and a bad guy. In fancy-schmansy writing classes we call these “the protagonist” and “the antagonist.” But you knew that, didn’t you? The cool thing about this particular movie is that it goes one step further. In addition to a good guy and a bad guy, we have an ugly guy. And, by ugly, I mean evil. 

 

It’s one thing to be bad. It’s an entirely different thing to be evil.

 

And that brings me to a story Jesus told. Charles Dickens once said The Parable of the Prodigal Son was the greatest short story ever told. It’s in Luke 15:11-13 and almost any Christian can tell you what happens. 

 

The younger son, who convinces his father to let him have his inheritance before he should have it, runs off and blows it all on bad booze and worse women. Clearly, he’s the bad guy.

 

But eventually the younger son comes to his senses and repents. He decides to go back to his father and beg him to take him back as a slave, but his father is waiting with open arms and immediately takes him back into the family, restores all of his rights and privileges, and throws him a huge party.

 

Of all the good guys in all the stories ever, the father in this parable is not just good, he’s fantastic. He’s the ultimate good guy. 

 

But the story doesn’t end there. No, the prodigal son had an older brother who never did anything wrong, and now that older brother isn’t just mad that dear-old dad has taken the bad son back, he’s downright ugly about it. 

 

The older brother refuses to go into the party, loudly complaining that he never once did anything wrong ever, yet pops never once threw any kind of a party for him at all, “Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” (Luke 15:30 NLT)

 

Can’t you just see the older brother stomping his foot and shouting with a pointed finger, “Yet when this son of yours…”?

 

See, what has happened here in this story by Jesus is that the bad guy (the younger brother) changed and wanted to become a good guy. His father, the really good guy, was more than happy to help him do that. So, now we have a story with two good guys and no bad guys at all until the ugly older brother enters the scene. 

 

The older brother is ugly because he trying to throw a bucket of cold water on the grace of the father. He’s hurt because someone is getting something he doesn’t deserve–something he wants. He didn’t know he wanted it until the younger brother got it, but he sure wants it now. He wants the younger brother to go back to being the bad guy so he can be the good guy, but in order for that to happen, the father would have to cancel the love he has already offered the younger brother. That’s the ugly and evil part of the story.

 

In order to try and get what he wants, the older brother points the finger and attempts to demonize the younger brother.

 

..this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes

 

And, as I look at the news in our nation over the past week, it occurs to me we have become a nation of older brothers. 

 

There’s a whole bunch of people on one side of the political fence who are convinced that all the people on the other side of the political fence are not just wrong, they are evil. Those “other people” are demons. Meanwhile, the people on the “other” side of the political fence who believe exactly the same thing about the demons on their “other”  side of the political fence.

 

Now, just to make sure I am not misunderstood here, let me be absolutely clear. There are people out on the far edges of both political parties who believe evil things. White supremacy and racism are wrong. Marxism and anarchism are wrong. Both ideologies are dangerous, ugly, evil things.

 

But the number of people who believe those things are a tiny, tiny fraction of our entire population. We all intuitively know that. I don’t know anyone or associate with anyone in either of those political camps. You probably don’t either.

 

And yet, it seems our nation is operating under the premise that these groups are much, much larger than they really are. Both sides seem to act like the other side is a lot more ugly than they really are.

 

What’s happening is that, just like the Spaghetti Western, the story is a lot more interesting and people are far more likely to pay attention if your story has a good guy and a bad guy. In fact, if your story ends up with everybody in it being good and reasonable and willing to listen to reason, the people who write stories think that’s kind of boring. And, the people who write stories find that they tend to get what they want when those stories can demonize someone other than them.

 

In addition, the very few people who do hold those ugly ideologies have found that years of demonizing the other side does slowly draw more people and more support for their cause. 

 

Meanwhile, in the midst of all of this, our real enemies are sitting far out of the fray enjoying a concept they discovered long, long ago. It’s called, “playing both ends against the middle” and it consists of egging on both sides of the spectrum so that, eventually, everyone but them is destroyed.

 

A great Spaghetti Western builds tension and drama and conflict all throughout the movie so that it ends in a really cool gunfight with all the bad and ugly guys lying dead in the dust and the good guy riding off into the sunset at the end. But, while that makes a great movie, it does not make a great country. And that’s why a Spaghetti Western is a guilty pleasure. We enjoy seeing the conflict and we actually enjoy seeing the evil guy die. But no one wants anyone to die or even to be injured in real life. No one in their right mind believes violence is the correct answer to conflict.

 

And yet, we are routinely violent with our words, especially on social media. I see gunfights on social media almost every day as people try to assassinate each other, not with firearms, but with words.

 

But what would happen if love and mercy and grace stepped into the scene>> before any guns were drawn?

 

The difference between The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and The Parable of the Prodigal Son is that, in Jesus’ story, everybody wins. The older brother may have his feelings hurt because his father corrected him, but if he listens to his father, he has the opportunity to join the party and rejoice that his own flesh and blood is alive and well and restored!

 

The only loser in Jesus’ story is the real enemy or our souls, the devil.

 

And that’s as it should be.

 

Today’s Praise

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found.” Luke 15:31 (NLT)

The Year of the Chicken Bus

Pretty much the entire blogosphere, the media, the neighborhood, the city, the state, the country, the planet, and the entire known universe is very, very happy 2020 is over.

 

Yes, it’s finally over! HALLELUJAH!  I will rejoice with those who rejoice, but I’m also aware the Spanish Flu of outbreak of 1918 actually lasted more than two full years. A simple change of date on the calendar isn’t going to end this pandemic. It won’t be over until God says it’s over.

 

Maybe, just maybe, it won’t be over until God has gotten the attention of those whose attention He is seeking. Maybe.

 

And yes, this pandemic has been difficult for people in the United States and Kinship Christian Radioland. One of our governors has decreed that restaurants can serve people at up to 50% of capacity for outdoor dining. While one enterprising restauranteur in Verndale has taken to serving meals in fish houses in the parking lot of his business, the majority of mom-and-pop restaurants are struggling, as are all the people who make a living from the hospitality industry.

 

Hotels, sports-related industries, the motion picture industry, dentists, laundry services, clothing industries, and amusement parks and casinos have been hit hard, but the “scenic transportation” sector has seen the greatest decline. It’s not a big surprise that no one is standing in line to take a scenic cruise with thousands of other people confined to a large boat during a pandemic. I get that.

 

While life has certainly been changed here in the United States and it’s not been easy, we have rather easily forgotten what this pandemic has done in countries with less vigorous economies than our own.

 

Many of you may remember that I’ve been blessed to have been called to mission trips in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. For people in countries likes these, and many others all over the world, COVID19 has been devastating. Prior to the pandemic, many people in lower income countries lived on less than a dollar a day. Once the pandemic hit, many of these people have been reduced to no income at all.

 

Tourism in these countries, which brings in critical money because it comes from outside the country, had ground to a virtual halt at one point. The ripple effect worked its way through their entire economies and the level of poverty has soared. Even their agricultural systems have been strained to the breaking point by lockdowns, quarantines, and illness. While we were concerned about a second toilet paper shortage, they were struggling to find ways to eat.

 

There is a serious crisis going on outside our borders, and most of us know little to nothing about it. Apparently, the national media has been far more concerned with politicizing events within our borders to turn their collective attention to places where there are reports of families selling their children into human trafficking to put food on the table.  

 

And, while we in the higher-income countries have the hope of a vaccine coming sometime this year, those vaccines most likely won’t be coming to the lower-income countries until 2023 or 2024. 

 

We are blessed far, far more than we know. 

 

Organizations like Compassion International, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and many, many others are doing their best to help in these countries. Charitable giving to organizations like these dropped at the beginning of the pandemic, but has since rebounded. Praise God! 

 

It goes to show that hope is still alive. God is indeed working in the midst of this sin-sick and broken world. God is indeed good –all the time.

 

And I recently got to participate in a little of that the other day.

 

A dear Christian sister from Guatemala got in touch with me the other day and said her uncle had lost his job in the factory where he worked. With no income, he was struggling to feed his family –but he had discovered an opportunity.

 

He found a man who was willing to sell him a bus. He would have to trade in his 4×4 pickup and come up with another $5,000 quetzals (roughly $640) to fix it up, but it would give him a chance to make an income and feed his family.

 

For those of you who have not been to Guatemala, you probably do not know about the phenomenon of the “Chicken Bus.” For a many years now, enterprising people from Guatemala (and many other Central American countries) have been buying used school busses from people in the United States, painting them bright colors in bold patterns, and using them to transport the local citizenry in these countries for affordable fares. This works because most people in these countries do not own their own cars or trucks. They are called “Chicken Busses” because people commonly transport livestock on them. It’s not unusual to see crates of chickens strapped to the top of these busses as they are taken into the city to be sold and generate income for a family fortunate enough to be able to raise and sell chickens. It is also said they are called “Chicken Busses” because people pack into them like chickens. 

 

So anyway, I was asked to grant a loan of $5,000 quetzals to my sister in Christ’s uncle. I politely declined, but did offer to send a smaller amount just to help out. My sister was deeply appreciative, and (with the help of Western Union) the funds had been sent later that day –using a credit card with a very low maximum spending limit. 

 

Now, since I am writing this onto the blogosphere where the entire known world can see this, please know for an absolute certainty that I am NOT offering to finance every Chicken Bus opportunity that may come my way. 

 

Although my sister promised to repay my meager investment, I sent it as a gift, not a loan. Nonetheless, please do not contact me with offers to cut me in on the ground level of every Lower Elbonian Goat-Dancing Clogs business opportunity you may come across. I will politely decline. 

 

Yes, I am taking a risk. Yes, as a write this in a blog, I may find myself coming in contact with people looking to scam me. 

 

And yes, so did Jesus. 

 

That’s the point. We live relatively safe, comfortable lives. We are blessed beyond measure. But a true disciple of Christ takes risks when the Kingdom of God is at hand. COVID19 might cause untold pain and misery and suffering, but I am a follower of Jesus. I trust in Him and I know that love is more important than a few quetzals I may never see again. 

 

I hope Jesus counts what I sent to Guatemala that day as an investment of treasure stored up in heaven. I trust that it’s in His hands now. If I am wrong and I am a fool soon parted from his money, so be it.

 

And, while rust might eventually destroy the Chicken Bus or moths eat its seats, nothing can change the fact that, at one point in my life, I was a financier of a Chicken Bus.

 

Who knows? Maybe when I get to heaven, there will be a bright green and yellow bus running up and down the streets of gold with “My Princess” written on the windshield. 

 

That’s an idea I did not see coming when I woke up in 2021.

 

Today’s Praise

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:34-36 (NIV)

 

(Submitted photo of the actual Chicken Bus.)

Party Time!

One of the greatest tragedies of modern Christianity is its image as being the religion of a bunch of somber, dour, legalists moaning and wailing their way through this life until we finally leave this “veil of tears” and fulfill our eternal destinies of sitting on clouds and playing harps through all eternity.

 

Frankly, a lot of people think we’re pretty boring.

 

Jesus, on the other hand, spent a lot of time talking about –and participating in– parties.

 

His very first miracle was turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. (John 2:1-11) In Jesus day, weddings typically lasted for five to seven days, and usually in the autumn after harvest was over and there was plenty to eat and drink. The cool nights also made it pleasant to stay up until all hours of the night eating and drinking. The entire village usually participated in the wedding. Their would be a procession, led by the bridegroom and accompanied by his friends, to the home of the bride’s father. Both the bride and the groom would be wearing particularly splendid clothing. Sometimes, the groom even wore a crown. There would be singing and dancing and games for days. It was considered a holiday for the entire village. 

 

Right after Jesus calls Levi the tax collector (Matthew) to be a disciple, he throws a banquet in honor of Jesus in his home. (Luke 5:29)

 

When Jesus called Zacchaeus (another tax collector) down out of the sycamore tree, Zacchaeus threw a party for Jesus in his home. (Luke 19: 1-10)

 

Jesus made a habit of this often enough that the “religious people” complained about it.

 

The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” Matthew 11:19 (NLT)

 

And Jesus often spoke of a great feast in the Kingdom of Heaven:

 

And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 8:11 (NLT)

 

Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:15-24 records Jesus’ parable of the Great Feast, where a great king holds a wedding feast for his son, but many refuse to come so he sends his servants out to gather anyone they could find to fill the banquet hall with guests.

 

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, (Matthew 25:1-13) is about bridesmaids waiting for the groom coming to collect his bride for the wedding and the great celebration to come.

 

References to the party to come are not limited to the New Testament. The prophet Isaiah foretells of a great banquet:

 

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. Isaiah 25:6 (NIV)

 

And who can forget what David wrote in the Twenty-Third Psalm?

 

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Psalm 23:5 (NLT)

 

But perhaps the clearest illustration of the festival to come is The Parable of the Prodigal Son. The prodigal, having wasted his inheritance on worthless self-destructive partying (Note the difference here, folks.) comes to his senses and returns to his father with a rehearsed speech about how badly he messed up, but his father is so overjoyed he doesn’t even let him finish the whole speech. He’s calling his servants to kill the fatted calf and dressing his son in the best he’s got while the son is still standing there trying to convince old dad to take him on as a slave. 

 

We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. Luke 15: 23b & 24 (NLT)

 

Now, a lot of us end the story there, but Jesus was telling this parable not just to the prodigals listening to Him, but also to a gaggle of party-killing Pharisees who stood criticizing Him. 

 

Jesus goes on to tell them about the old brother who was spitting-mad that this worthless younger brother was getting this great party while he had been the good kid his whole life and gotten nothing out of it. While great crowds were going in to celebrate the return and reform of the younger brother, the older brother was standing in the dark outside the party room door complaining about it and enjoying none of it. If it had been in his power, he probably would have prevented others from going in to that party. 

 

But his father did not apologize. He gently and lovingly explained why there was due and ample cause for a great and glorious and extravagant celebration:

 

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” Luke 15: 31-32 (NLT)

 

Today’s Praise

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:9 (NIV)

Christmas Freedom

I admit it might seem a bit odd to be writing about freedom this Christmas.

 

In many ways, we have less freedom this Christmas than many of us have ever had in our lifetimes.  Freedom to gather for worship, to eat in restaurants, even to come together as family are all under some form of restriction in some way or another. 

 

Some of us are even under quarantine.

 

It’s been a rough year.

 

Countless memes have likened 2020 from everything from a line of burning porta-potties to a dumpster fire to an ice cream truck dispensing liver and onions. 

 

This morning, as I was re-reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning one more time, I came across this quote by theologian Robert Hotchkins:

 

“Christians ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be preoccupied with parties, banquets, feasts, and merriment. We ought to give ourselves over to veritable orgies of joy because we have been liberated from the fear of life and the fear of death. We ought to attract people to the church quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.”

 

“…liberated from the fear of life…”

 

I don’t know about you, but I have known many a Christian in my lifetime that seemed to be living in fear of life –or at least the fear of messing up some “church thing” that would result in someone somehow not being good enough for God.

 

Whether it was how the bread was sliced at the potluck or the particulars of cake placement on paper plates at a funeral, we can be awfully picky and even legalistic when it comes down to what’s “right.” 

 

It seems we have this natural tendency to want to make up more rules than God Himself would have us obey. 

 

Paul himself absolutely tore into the Galatians about that tendency:

 

Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Galatians 3:1-3 (NLT)

 

I can literally see Paul, who spent quite a bit of time imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, stamping his foot and pounding the desk as he wrote this. At least one translation uses the word “stupid” in that first sentence. 

 

Verse after verse in the Bible tells us Jesus came to set us free. 

 

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV)

 

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12 (NIV)

 

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

 

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32 (ESV)

 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)

 

Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. Psalm 118:5 (ESV)

 

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39 (ESV)

 

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32 (ESV)

 

That’s what that little baby in the manger came to do. 

 

On that night when the heavens opened up and God became flesh, He did it to set us free.

 

He did it that we would no longer have to strive and struggle and nit-pick about a law we could not keep. No matter how bad we were, whether we were tax collectors or shepherds or fishermen —or worse– this little baby had come to fulfill all that law for us when there was zero chance we could do it ourselves.

 

God Himself put on flesh. The King had come to a humble little corner of a humble little town called Bethlehem and He would change the world forever. He would do what none of us could do.

 

He would keep the law perfectly.

 

He would be not just “good enough.” He would be perfect.

 

And, in His perfection, He would make us good enough for God. 

 

He would set us free, not by any merit of our own, but by His love for us.

 

And all we would have to do is believe in Him.

 

Faith. All it takes is faith.

 

That’s one reason there is so much joy in Christmas. The manger, the star, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph in that stable…it’s such a beautiful story… we all find it easy to believe in that. We all sing “Silent Night” like we really mean it and believe it.

 

It’s when the cares and troubles of this world creep up on us that we forget about that. We lose sight of the beauty of that Silent Night. We forget about the simple freedom of believing in that child in the manger.

 

The masks and the restrictions and all the rules seem so different than what we were designed for. 

 

Our hearts yearn for freedom. We yearn to live in that world where we all believe we were born to be free. 

 

And, as I was pondering what I would write in this blog about freedom in Christ, just this few days before Christmas, another verse struck me:

 

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19 (NLT)

 

Jesus sent the disciples out in freedom. All the world lay before them. All the peoples and tribes and tongues of the world, all the regions yet unexplored, so much yet unknown to them but known to God, not just in physical space but in time. 

 

So, here we are, some two thousand years later. The Great Commission still stands. There are peoples and places yet to be reached. There are people who have not yet heard of that little baby born in a stable who came to set us free.

 

Yes, there are still restrictions on our travel. There are road blocks and detours and speed bumps to our freedom to speak the Gospel. But the Gospel still goes out via Kinship Christian Radio and a thousand other radio stations all over the world. It still goes out over the internet. It still goes out when you share the love of Jesus with your neighbor. If the world could not stop the Gospel by putting the Apostle Paul in prison, can it stop you?

 

That little baby from the stable would one day be crucified on a cross. They would put Him in a tomb and seal it with a stone. 

 

And death itself would not stop Him.

 

Freedom would triumph as the ultimate freedom –the freedom from death itself.

 

So yes, we ought to be preoccupied with joy. People ought to be joining churches in droves to get in on the joy and fun. 

 

And when all this is over, when this disease is a distant memory and we are all free to travel wherever we want, let us never forget what a joy it is to be free to share that Good News all over this world –even if it’s with our next-door neighbor.

 

AMEN and HALLELUJAH!

 

Todays Praise

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4: 18&19 (NIV)