What God Thinks of You

This morning I pulled out the hymnal during my worship time, and one of the songs I sang was “What Child Is This?”, a Christmas carol. I’ve sung it and heard it all my life, but never had really considered the second verse before. The wording is a little confusing:
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

The first half is pretty obvious. Why would any child be born in a barn and laid to sleep in feed trough? That’s pretty lowly conditions (“mean estate”). On top of that, the chorus has already identified Him as Christ the King. But the second half of that verse is where, when you are singing, or listening to, the verse, it is easy to miss the punctuation. It sounds as though Christians are being exhorted to fear on behalf of sinners. But then, that leaves the last phrase kind of just hanging.

Why is this child lying in a hay bin in a barn? Because here, in this place, at this time, this child is the logos, the thought of God regarding mankind and the reconciliation of sinful man to God. He is the living Word of God, expressed into the world in the human form of a tiny, newborn infant. He is the Word, made flesh and living among us in the simplest, most common, humble form. He is God’s own intercession, pleading for sinful man.

God loves you. The creator of the universe compacted Himself into the form of an infant and slept in a box made to hold hay for cattle or sheep. Calvin Miller, in his book “A Symphony in Sand” gives several eloquent descriptions of this event:

“God has umbilicaled Himself to straw,
Laid by His thunderbolts and learned to cry.”

“No shot was ever heard around the world.
In fact, in all of human history
Only two sounds have been heard around the entire world…
The first:
A newborn baby’s cry, saying, ‘It is begun.’
The second:
A young man’s dying cry, saying, ‘It is finished.'”

“The vast Earthmaker, cosmic in His Grace,
Has locked Himself within a little space.
Behold, He whimpers weakly in a world
He made in strength. He who owns all lands
Is now reduced to poverty. He cannot walk
Who strode the galaxies. His tiny hands
Once light-years wide, are chubby-fingered now.
His dying world was weeping in the night.
He would not let it languish without light!”

Here, in this manger, this feed trough, God’s thought, His logos, the Living Word of God, bundled in a tiny, silent, sleeping infant, is the expression of His intercession, His pleading, for fallen man.

Here in this feed trough, the living Word of God, bundled in a tiny, sleeping infant, is the expression of God's own pleading for fallen man. Click To Tweet

What does God think of you? He thinks Jesus. He thinks He should confine His infinite, divine nature in human flesh. He thinks, in His purity and holiness, He should die for your sins, to wash you clean, to forgive you, make you pure and without fault or blemish, so that you can live every moment of every day in fellowship with Him. You can be in His presence. You can be His dwelling place. When God thinks of you, He loves you, and expresses it by taking on a human life, so that He can lay that life down for you, the ultimate expression of love.

God's thoughts about you are shouted into reality through His living Word expressed in a silent, sleeping baby. Click To Tweet

Don’t Need Religion; but Could You Use Some Love?

A young person told me not too long ago that he “has no use for religion.” While my initial thought was, “neither do I. In fact, I have less use for it and interest in it than you do,” his comment got me thinking. I have proclaimed for decades that Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship; and, no, I didn’t originate it, nor am I the only one who holds that position.

The word religion commonly refers to some concept of reverencing God, or gods. It can refer to a particular set of beliefs, or a system of beliefs, or set of behaviors revolving around a concept of deity. It can also refer to “any object of conscientious regard and pursuit.” In other words, one can be “religious” about pretty much anything. Frankly, some of the most religious people I have ever known are atheists who fervently seek out ways and opportunities to deny the existence of God. Some pursue science with a passion more intense than that which drives most Christians. Many are aggressively “evangelistic” in proclaiming their message.

Here’s the kicker. The word religion comes from the Latin word “religare,” meaning to bind back, to restrain. It suggests the use of strong force or authority to hold back, prevent, suppress or control.

Jesus said He came to give us abundant life. He said we would find freedom in Him. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, Paul said, “the love of Christ constrains us.” Of the three Greek words that could be translated “constrain,” two hold the idea of using force or entreaty to make something happen, even against nature, somewhat like the Latin religare. The one Paul chose means “to hold or keep together, confine [as opposed to allowing to fall apart], to secure.”

In other words, we are not forced or manipulated or otherwise made to believe in Jesus, we have found His love, and it embraces us, hold us together, and we revel in it. It is a relationship, not a set of rules or beliefs, not a system of beliefs or behaviors. It is not law, it is Spirit and life and grace. Rituals, systems, or methods can be used to help us learn and grow. They may help some enrich and better understand their relationship. But when these things get in the way of grace, when they become laws to live by, they are just dead works without any positive, eternal effect. (That’s why Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, see Gal.5:4).

The apostles were willing to die for their risen Lord. Religion didn't make them do that Click To Tweet

The apostles all died for their faith, most by cruel, unthinkable torture. They did not die for a system of beliefs. They did not die to defend a set of rituals, or even a way of life. They certainly did not die just to hide a lie. Do you really think if they had stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb they would have allowed themselves to be persecuted, tortured and killed without confessing? They knew the resurrection was real, and they were willing to die for their risen Lord. Religion didn’t make them do that.

So, to my young friend, believe me, while you may say you have no use for religion, no one has less use for religion than one who has experienced the love of Jesus. Do you have any use for love? You will never find deeper, wider, higher, longer love than the love of Christ. You will never find greater, more lavish, more intimate, more liberating love than you will find through Jesus.


God Is Faithful

God is. And, He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. If you are seeking Him, what are you looking for? Him, or some material reward. He is the reward.

Seek Him first and all these things will be added to you. Are you seeking Him, or all the things you are hoping will be added to you? Material things? Health? Happiness? Family? Security? He will supply all your need in proportion to His riches in glory. But, we don’t seek the supply, we seek Him – and, oh, by the way, He is the supplier.

Resurrection Day

The newsletter the  church mailed out had an article reminding everyone that April 20th is “Resurrection Sunday.”  The purpose of the article was to remind members to invite people, because it is one of the most attended Sunday’s of the year.  And, because of that, protocols are needed to make sure the guests feel welcome.  For example, park near the back of the lot so guests can find spaces closer to the building.  Sit near the back of the auditorium so guests aren’t shunted to the back and can sit closer to the front.  That’s all well and good.  I was mostly just kind of excited they were calling it Resurrection Celebration and not “Easter.”

Still, it begs the question:  If this is the “resurrection celebration Sunday,” why do we gather on Sunday the other 51 weeks out of the year?

The early Christians understood Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, so they considered themselves to still be Jewish.  As such, they still met on the Sabbath, the 7th day of the week.  Until they were thrown out, they met in the temple or synagogue with other Jews.  They also met on the first day of the week, because it was on the first day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead.  They didn’t do this once a year.  They did it once a week.  In other words – every Sunday was a resurrection celebration.  That was the whole point of meeting on the first day of the week.

It’s really a little sad that the modern church misses this, and gives a nod to the resurrection once a year.  When they do, they blur it even more with Easter egg hunts, etc.  Now, I understand, and see the value in activities like this engaging the community and getting more people in to hear the message.  Even so, I can’t help but acknowledging that we wind up celebrating a pagan fertility idol instead of the Creator of life.

Spring is a beautiful time of the year.  As I get older, I’m learning that every season of the year is beautiful, even brown, barren Winter.  But there is no denying that Spring is special.  I love it when the redbuds begin to bloom with a soft pastel mist of green from all the billions of little seeds covering the elm trees.  It means it won’t be long until Spring actually arrives with its array of colorful blooming flowers and layer upon layer of shades of green.  It is a time of wonder and delight.

Rom.1:20

Spring is a season of opportunity.  The greatest opportunity is that of pointing to all the new growth and changes and beauty and teaching our children of the amazing creator who made it all.  The beauty of creation testifies of His eternal power and divine nature.  It isn’t about appeasing an idol in order to have an effective planting.  It isn’t about worshiping some “lesser” god or goddess of the season who is bringing an end to winter.  It really is just another revolution of the seasons.  But it is beautiful to our eyes, and that does make for a unique opportunity to tell of the handiwork and majesty and love of God the Creator.  Click here to see the description my 2nd great grandfather gave in the 1860s.

Bottom line:  We need to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus year round.  Without it, the grave wins.  Without it, death wins.  Because of it, we have eternal life.  Because of it, we can abide in the presence of the living, holy creator God, the one true and living God.  It is our victory.  On the cross Jesus paid the price for our sins.  Spiritually, His death there is our death, our penalty paid, our death because of sin and our death to sin.  But what then? Resurrection!  New life in Christ.  The resurrection is what separates Christianity from all the religions of the world.  In no other religion does God Himself take on humanity, live a sinless life, die because of the sins of man and because of His love for man (not because of the sins, failure, foolishness of the god himself) and rise from the dead for the purpose of making man holy and pure and able to enter into a relationship with God (not in order to bring an end to winter and make the land fertile for Spring planting).  It is what makes relationship with God possible, and is why many assert that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion.  It is a once and for all atonement, not an annual, recurring event.  We should celebrate it every time we gather, and not just once a year.

Years ago, I was talking with a co-worker who claimed to be an atheist.  However, when I spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, he said, “The resurrection is the strongest argument in favor of Christianity.  If it’s true, then what the Bible says about Jesus is true.”

It’s true.  And we, as Christians, need to live in the joy and fullness of it year round, not just one day a year, buried under the trappings of eggs, bunnies and chocolate.

As Christians, we need to live in the joy and fullness of the resurrection year round, not just one day a year. Click To Tweet

Glued Together

When you glue two pieces of paper together, you cannot get them apart again without some tearing and without each one losing a part of itself – forever a part of the other.

I do not usually deal with specific issues on my blog.  I would much prefer to present the spiritual principles and truths and let you learn to apply them in your own life situations. However, this is one I want to throw out because people about whom I care have recently dealt with or are dealing with this.

I’ve been there, too.  I know the pain of marriage that just doesn’t seem to be working, of an unfaithful spouse, of facing my own failures and inadequacies in a relationship, and of going through a divorce.  When you commit to someone in marriage, you are like two pieces of paper glued together.  You cannot divorce without feeling torn, tattered, and hurt.  You feel the loss not only of the other person, but of part of yourself.

In Genesis 2:24, in the story of creation, God created woman out of man and “for this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”  That message of Scripture is the same and it is true whether or not you believe it is historical or just part of the “creation myth.”  The principle was established in the beginning – husband and wife were made to be one.  Referring to this passage, in Matthew 19:6, Jesus says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Yes, we could argue specific cases involving adultery, abuse, crime, and so forth.  Even in those cases, my point isthere is still going to be tearing and hurting and loss caused by the divorce itself, in addition to the pain and hurt that led up to it.

I am not telling you to not divorce.  That is something beyond the purpose of this blog and I will not be baited into that discourse in this context.  That is something you need to work out between you, your spouse, and your Heavenly Father.  Just be aware that a divorce is not a quick fix to the problems of your marriage.  Divorce brings pain all its own.  You need to be very sure that your marriage cannot be fixed, that you are aware of the additional pain and problems that come from ending a marriage, and that it is really worth more to you and everyone else affected by it to end it rather than fix it.

Beyond any shadow of doubt, what I have shared throughout this blog about trusting God and giving thanks will see you through whatever crisis you face.  It isn’t a magical quick fix.  You are still going to deal with hurts and sorrows and all the other emotions of life.  By no means am I discounting the pain you feel.  Cancer, divorce, loss of job, loss of loved ones, PTSD, illness or injury, abuse, bullying, loneliness….  There’s no way I could list every possible hardship.  The ultimate answer is the same.  It comes down to learning to embrace all of life – the good and the bad, and trust God to bring you through.

The principles don’t change just because the experiences differ!  We all have a limited number of emotions with which to respond to life.  (You did see the movie “Inside Out,” right?)  And, quite frankly, all this stuff about “You don’t understand because you haven’t been through what I’m going through” is a bunch of malarkey.  If you want to define “what you’re going through” narrowly enough, then no two people have ever had exactly the same experience.  So, you can find away to isolate yourself all alone in your misery if you want to, and refuse anybody’s help.  The truth is, there are a lot of people who have been through similar things.  And there are many more who have been through things just as intense.  We all had to figure out how to respond based on the basic list of emotions available to each and every one of us.  Find people who have dealt with their crisis effectively and learned valuable spiritual truths from them.  Don’t look for people who share your despair and will encourage you to make the easy, self-centered, and self pitying choices.  It isn’t nearly as important that you become “emotionally stronger” as it is that you become spiritually stronger.  Spiritual strength will lead to emotional, and even physical renewal.  Focusing on the emotional or physical allows you to make the wrong choices, but temporarily feel good about it.  Eventually, you’ll realize your still a torn piece of paper, and you lost a few pieces of yourself along the way.

When Peter got out of the boat and walked on water, yes, he looked around and saw the storm stirring up the waves.  Yes, he got scared and sank.  Yes, Jesus reached out and pulled him up.  No, the storm did not stop immediately.  The Bible says the storm stopped “when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”  Jesus walked Peter back through the storm to the boat, asking him along the way why he doubted?  He’s asking us the same thing.  The problem is still out there.  But, He’s walking with us, asking, “Why did you doubt?”  The storm hasn’t stopped, but it will.  Walk with Him.  Know Him.  Trust Him.  Be thankful.