Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christian Tolerance

Tolerance is truly a Christian ideal.  But tolerance has become a distorted notion in the 21st century. When contemporary culture espouses tolerance, the oft repeated emphasis is that all paths are equally valid. There is no right; there is no wrong; only diversity. Tolerance demands that each embrace the diverse opinions, experiences, and actions of others as equally valid.

Historically, tolerance has a very different meaning. One acceptable definition is that tolerance is "the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with."  To put up with. To endure. Not rejecting a person because of divergent positions.

In the church, the Body of Christ, we have divided more than we have united. Stories are legion, recounting the point at which holy swords have crossed. Good and godly people have lost their reason dividing over everything from doctrine to decor, and even personal decorum. God's children often find themselves on opposing sides of an intolerant and un-Christian divide.

T.R. Glover is attributed for having said, "Remember that whatever your hand finds to do, someone thinks differently!"

John Wesley in his sermon Catholic Spirit, calls the church to love and unity. He tells the story of Jonadab, the son of Rechab, who joined forces with Israel's new king, Jehu. Two very different men with very different historical agendas united to defeat Baal worship in Israel. Jonadab seems to have done so for religious purposes. Jehu apparently did so for political intent, to secure his throne.

In Wesley's sermon, he calls people to deep doctrinal convictions and commitments to historical Christian orthodoxy. "But while he is steadily fixed in his religious principles in what he believes to be the truth as it is in Jesus; while he firmly adheres to that worship of God which he judges to be most acceptable in his sight... his heart is enlarged toward all mankind, those he knows and those he does not; he embraces with strong and cordial affection neighbors and strangers, friends and enemies. This is catholic or universal love."

Wesley summarizes his view of the catholic spirit. "If, then, we take this word in the strictest sense, a man of a catholic spirit is one who, in the manner above-mentioned, gives his hand to all whose hearts are right with his heart: one who knows how to value, and praise God for, all the advantages he enjoys, with regard to the knowledge of the things of God, the true scriptural manner of worshiping him, and, above all, his union with a congregation fearing God and working righteousness: one who, retaining these blessings with the strictest care, keeping them as the apple of his eye, at the same time loves--as friends, as brethren in the Lord, as members of Christ and children of God, as joint partakers now of the present kingdom of God, and fellow heirs of his eternal kingdom--all, of whatever opinion or worship, or congregation, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; who love God and man; who, rejoicing to please, and fearing to offend God, are careful to abstain from evil, and zealous of good works."  (

Christian tolerance.  We must reclaim it!

Saint Augustine said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dismas: the Penitent Thief

William Barclay tells an ancient legend of Dismas, the thief on the cross whom Jesus forgave and promised "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

"Legend calls the penitent thief Dismas, and tells that he did not meet Jesus for the first time when they both hung on their crosses on Calvary.  The story runs like this.  When Joseph and Mary were on their way to Egypt, they were waylaid by robbers.  one of the robber chiefs wished to murder them at once and to steal their little store of goods.

"But something about the baby Jesus went straight to Dismas' heart, for Dismas was one of these robbers.  He refused to allow any harm to come to Jesus or His parents.

"He looked at Jesus and said, 'O most blessed of children, if ever there come a time for having mercy on me, then remember me, and forget not this hour.'

"So, the legend says, Jesus and Dismas met again at Calvary, and Dismas on the cross found forgiveness and mercy for his soul."

William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1. The Westminster Press: Philadelphia, pp. 25-26.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Spider in a Cave

William Barclay tells a lovely story, a legend of protection for the Christ child on the journey from Bethlehem to Egypt.  Herod's armies were in hot pursuit of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

"When Joseph and Mary and Jesus were on their way to Egypt, the story runs, as the evening came they were weary, and they sought refuge in a cave.  It was very cold, so cold that the ground was white with hoar frost.  A little spider saw the little baby Jesus, and he wished so much that he could do something for Him to keep Him warm in the cold night.  He decided to do the only thing he could do, to spin his web across the entrance of the cave, to make as it were, a curtain there.

"Along the path there came a detachment of Herod's soldiers, seeking for children to kill to carry out Herod's bloothirsty order.  When they came to the cave they were about to burst in to search it, to see if anyone was hiding there, but their captain noticed the spider's web.  It was covered with the white hoar frost and stretched right across the entrance to the cave.

"'Look,' he said, 'at the spider's web there.  It is quite unbroken and there cannot possibly be anyone in the cave, for anyone entering the cave would certainly have torn the web.'

"So the soldiers passed on, and left the holy family in peace, because a little spider had spun his web across the entrance to the cave.  And that, so they say, is why to this day we put tinsel on our Christmas trees, for the glittering tinsel streamers stand for the spider's web, white with the hoar frost, stretched across the entrance of the cave on the way to Egypt."

William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (1958), vol. 1, The Westminster Press: Philadelphia, p. 27.

Monday, December 28, 2015


On a return trip from a holiday train excursion to New Orleans, Beth and I found ourselves aboard a coach car on train #58.  Also in our car was a young woman traveling to Carbondale, Illinois with two small children.  She wore jeans and a black t-shirt, her hair adorned with a black and white houndstooth bow.  The beautiful little brown-eyed, brown haired five year old girl, Jasmine, was accompanied by her blond three year old brother, Colton.

Mother equipped children with sticker books and activities to alleviate their boredom across the many miles. The trip began with Subway sandwiches and chips that were sure to run out. The boy was fascinated with the train tracks, the swamp, unseen alligators, fish, frogs, and an orange and green toy gun that fired with a rat-a-tat sound. The little girl played with princess stickers. The train traveled around the west shore of Lake Ponchatrain, alongside the elevated course of Interstate 10, and then turned north.

Early in the trip, the young mother grew distressed by the conductor's news that she was in the wrong car of the train. Our car contained the passengers bound for Jackson, Mississippi. She was headed beyond.  The conductor sought to comfort her, "I will take care of you when we get to Jackson."

The obviously distressed young woman called a friend.  Fear filled her young voice. Beth and I looked at each other. The young lady misunderstood. We knew it.

I interrupted her phone conversation.  "All is not lost, Ma'am," I said. You are not on the wrong train, just the wrong car."

Her face relaxed. Her story tumbled out to her friend on the phone. She was returning with the children to Carbondale.  A relationship with some certain "him" had fallen through. The police had been called. Someone landed in jail.

Compassion filled our hearts as we listened to the children's playful chatter.  We watched a patient, kind, hurting mother care for her well-behaved children.  I wondered about the details of her story, her background, the “him” she had left behind.  I wondered if this nameless mother had anyone in her life to pray for her in her season of distress.

Colton fell asleep a couple of hours into the four hour trip from New Orleans to Jackson.  The little family would arrive in Carbondale in the wee hours of the morning.  Beth and I hustled off the train at the Jackson station.  We had friends to meet, our car to locate in the parking lot, and Christmas presents to seek at the local toy store.

But as we left, we were praying.  We were praying for a young mother, a five year old named Jasmine, and a three year old Colton.

Chance encounter?  Probably not.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Despised, indifferent, or devoted?

Matthew 2:1-18

My Lord and My God!

From the moment of Your birth, people varied wildly in their response to You!  Herod hated You with a despising hostility, pursuing You with one thing on his mind–slaughter!  The chief priests and scribes were completely indifferent, and the wise men demonstrated devoted adoration and worship.

Herod’s insane suspicion knew no bounds.  Someone called him a “murderous old man,” and surely he was.  When the Roman Emperor Augustus learned of Herod’s assassination of three of his own sons, Augustus said that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than to be Herod’s son.  Yes, he built the temple of Jerusalem.  Surely he had moments of generosity, but those moments never seemed entirely selfless.  And then he placed You, the Son of God, in His sinful sights.

The chief priest and scribes did not even seem to care about You.  They were completely enamored with prophecy as an academic study, absent of any wonder or worship.  These spiritual leaders of the Jews should have been the first ones interested in verifying Your arrival.  Their disinterest is astonishing.  As often is true with academics, the chief priests and scribes’ interest never transcended the technical and the theoretical.  You were of no interest to them.  Like the priest and Levite in Your parable of the Good Samaritan, they “passed by on the other side.”

I don’t know all of the details concerning the wise men from the East who attended You in Your infancy.  Apparently, they were experts in philosophy, medicine, and the science of their day.  Apparently, they had some measure of wealth, power, and prestige, but many questions remain. What sense of expectation motivated the wise men to even look for a sign in the heavens?  What was the ancient star which they saw?  How did the wise men know to connect the celestial show to the birth of a king?  Was there some Messianic hope that transcended national boundaries and cultures? How many wise men were there?  How old were You when they arrived?

What about me?  Am I worshiping You in a way that is worthy?  Is my worship despising, indifferent, or devoted?  Lord Jesus, may my worship of You never be conniving, scheming, positioning myself for some advantage.  Help me to worship You with a pure heart of devotion, not from some contemptuous scheme based in intrigue, but from a genuine and transparent heart of perfect love.  I choose to offer You obedient devotion.  

In the Name of Messiah, my Lord Jesus Christ,


John 1:35-42, Isaiah 53:7, I Corinthians 15:3b, Hebrews 9:28a, I Peter 1:18-19, Revelation 5:12

Precious Lamb of God, my Lord Jesus,

I have always been amazed at John the Baptist’s recognition of you and his accompanying proclamation "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Once he knew, John had to tell somebody.

35 years ago, I enjoyed my first visit to Chicago, Illinois. Chicago is a great city. A big city. Big buildings, big history, and big traditions. I remember walking down the streets with college friends. Every new sight, sound, and smell, evoked the same response. We’d poke one another in the ribs, and point. "Look at that!" The gaze inevitably took us upward, as we craned our necks to look at the towers above us. "Look at that! What a sight!" Once we had seen a new, awe-inspiring sight we had to tell someone.

Once John had gazed upon You–the Lamb of God–self was entirely diminished. John did not look at his own reflection, he beheld the Lamb of God. The selfless John referred his disciples to follow You, the Lamb of God.

The Lamb of God. Abel offered the best lamb of his flock as an acceptable sacrifice. Moses offered the Passover Lamb as a sacrifice in Egypt. The Hebrew tabernacle and temple offered the lamb as a sacrifice. Every lamb ever offered pointed to You–the Lamb of God–who would take away the sin of the world. No more lambs ever needed to be slaughtered as a sacrifice for sin. You paid the final price.

Andrew was the first to go and tell. His elder brother, Simon Peter, must know You. The news swept through families and villages.

I remember when my friend David was first saved. David was a 29 year-old alcoholic, running from a call to preach. When You transformed him, David had to tell his brothers Mike, Ab, Harold, and Jim. They had to know Jesus, and David had to tell somebody. David introduced his brother Mike to You, and then You swept through their entire family.

"Behold the Lamb of God." Jesus, Your story is an age-old story, yet fresh as the moment I behold You this morning. I gaze upon You now. I follow You today and beyond. I tell others what I see! Thank You. I am desperate to tell someone today. I need to make some introductions.

In the Name of my Redeemer,


Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas: God Sent us a Savior

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If your greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

Source Unknown.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mary Had The Little Lamb

Mary had the little Lamb, who lived before His birth;
Self-existent Son of God, from Heaven He came to Earth. 
Micah 5:2
Mary had the little Lamb; see Him in yonder stall -- 
Virgin-born Son of God, to save man from the Fall.
Isaiah 7:14
Mary had the little Lamb, obedient Son of God;
Everywhere the Father led, His feet were sure to trod.
John 6:38
Mary had the little Lamb, crucified on the tree
The rejected Son of God, He died to set men free. 
1 Peter 1:18
Mary had the little Lamb -- men placed Him in the grave,Thinking they were done with Him; to death He was no slave!
Matthew 28:6
Mary had the little Lamb, ascended now is He;
All work on Earth is ended, our Advocate to be.
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mary had the little Lamb -- mystery to behold!
From the Lamb of Calvary, a Lion will unfold.
Revelation 5: 5,6
When the Day Star comes again, of this be very sure:
It won't be Lamb-like silence, but with the Lion's roar.
Psalm 2:12
Revelation 19:11-16

Marv & Marbeth Rosenthal - Copies of this poem may be used without written permission from the authors.

Christmas Wishbook

I grew up on the campus of Mount Carmel Christian High School near Jackson, Kentucky.  Mom and Dad were dorm supervisors.  We lived in an apartment in the boys dorm.  My brother, James, and I were only twenty months apart.  Mom liked to dress us like twins.  The only problem was, that by James’ second birthday, he was bigger than I.  Today, he stands eight inches taller, and serves as the Shelby County, Kentucky, Superintendent of Schools.  James and I loved roaming the campus, the nearby woods, and Mill Creek.  The only thing missing from our mountaineer adventures was a gun!

All Fall we scoured the Sears & Roebuck Christmas Wishbook.  We dog-eared pages and circled precious items in our wish list.  This year, we both wanted Daisy BB guns.  Mom and Dad were full-time volunteers in a home mission ministry.  I don’t know how they pulled together the resources, but I know that they scrimped, sacrificed,  and saved so that they could bless us children with a memorable Christmas.  The long boxes enticed and excited us on Christmas morning.  We tore off the paper, and pulled free the metal staples.  Out slid our BB guns.  One for James, and a second for John. 

I treasure those precious Christmas memories.  I treasure the memories of sitting on Dad’s lap as he read the Christmas story.  The gifts, the giving, the love, the warmth, and always an emphasis upon our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s greatest gift.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Lights of Christmas

John 1:1-5, 8:12, Genesis 1:1-5, Luke 2:8-15, Matthew 1:1-11

Eternal Word,

Why do we have lights at Christmas? I think that it’s because of the lights of that first Christmas when You entered the world. Heaven shone the light of the angels upon the shepherds. Eternal Father positioned the star whose light led the wise men from the East to the house where You were staying. You are the Light of the world, and the lights celebrate Your arrival to a sin darkened planet.

It’s interesting to observe the secularization of Your birthday. I remember a book someone wrote a few years ago titled, "The War on Christmas." They author described the symbols of Your birth that are no longer politically correct, and that are being cast aside in an attempt to remove You from our lives. But in spite of all the anti-Christmas and anti-Christ rhetoric, Christmas fighters have not mentioned or attempted to ban one of Your most important religious symbols of the season. It’s the lights! Your light may be one of the most important symbols of this season.

"In the beginning was the Word." Your creative word called this world into existence out of nothing, proclaiming, "Let there be light!" Sometime ago I read that of the 800,000 words in the English language an average person knows 10,000 words and uses 5,000 per day. You spoke Your creative word, and worlds came into existence. Only God can do that, and You did.

Even the godless have to reckon with Your reality. I once read that near the end of his life, the godless philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, told someone: "I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God."

From the beginning of time, You were consumed with Light. You live in Light. Your first Word of creation was light, and I along with John recognize You as the Light. You are the Light of the world. Light has conquered darkness! Light conquered darkness in Creation. Light conquers the darkness of sinful culture from the first century to today.

Jesus, Light of the world, You are our victory over darkness. That’s why we have lights at Christmas. You are the Light of Salvation. You are the Light of the World. Light my world this Christmas. Help me to reflect Your Light to another.

In the Name of the One who is Eternal Light,


Monday, December 21, 2015

Singing Handel's Messiah

As a college student, I sang in a Christmas chorus performance of Handel’s Messiah. I remember the soul-stirring solo arias and choral selections of that great oratorio. 

I remember Carla’s aria as she intoned the mystery of the virgin birth. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive!” was punctuated with laughter at rehearsal as we witnessed the incongruity of Carla’s form, seven months pregnant with her third child. Needless to say, someone more suitable had to perform the solo at the public performance!

My friend, Tim, sang the tenor solo, “Comfort ye. Comfort ye my people.” His clear tenor voice rang out with the message of Christmas. Tim went on to graduate from Wesley Biblical Seminary and to become a great leader in the church. Todd’s bass voice resonated the mystery of the resurrection “The trumpet shall sound.” Hours of intense rehearsal were required for me to master some lesser known solos, “Thy Rebuke has broken his heart” and “Thou didst not leave his soul in Hell,” detailing the suffering and death of our Lord. And then there were the favorite choral selections of the Christmas season, always ending with the “Hallelujah Chorus!” 

I remember the story of Handel’s recovery from an incapacitating stroke, and only shortly thereafter rapidly composing the great oratorio in the summer of 1741. I always marveled at the story of his assistant finding him upon completing the Hallelujah Chorus, and Handel’s words through a tear-stained face, “I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God.”

The message of Christmas is the miraculous message of Messiah. Embrace the glory of the most astonishing theologies of the Christian church: the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit and Mary’s virgin birth. The greatest minds of the church have tried to unravel these mysteries. I pray that you have a fresh encounter with the Messiah this miracle-filled Christmas season.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Save Us!

Matthew 1:25, 21:9, Psalm 148:1

Dear Jesus, Savior,

Save us!  “Save us” is the cry throughout the centuries.

When the Hebrew people called the name of their General Joshua, they were crying out “Save us!”  You raised up this leader to be a savior to his people.  What did he save his people from?
Joshua saved his nation with a good report of the land of Canaan. When the 10 spies rebelled with an evil report, Joshua saved everyone under 40 years of age when the people refused to enter Canaan at Kadesh-Barnea.  Joshua saved the Hebrews during forty years of wandering in the desert.  Joshua saved his nation at the flood-tide of the Jordan.  He saved his nation in the conquest of Canaan.  He saved Rahab, the harlot,  at Jericho, and she became one of Your ancestors. He pointed us to You, the One who would “save his people from their sins.”

Hosea, the prophet, saved Gomer, his slave-wife, from the life of prostitution into which she sold herself.  God broke Hosea’s heart for the spiritual prostitution his people had committed against You.  Hosea sought to save the people of Judah who had prostituted themselves after the gods of other nations.  Hosea pointed us to You, the One who would “save his people from their sins.”

Your birth and death were marked with “Save us.”  Mary and Joseph named You Jesus–Hoshea in Hebrew–because You would save Your people from their sins.  On Palm Sunday, the crowds mobbed You crying “Hosanna, to the Son of David!”  They spread their coats on the road as a pavement for You as You rode the donkey into Jerusalem.  “Hosanna, to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”

What did it all mean?

“Save us!”

The Hebrew people thought You would be their Savior from international military oppression.  One nation after another–Babylon, Egypt, Rome–had oppressed them.  They wanted a political savior.  They wanted a military savior.  You came for something more.  True salvation. You came to save Your “people from their sins.”  You simply want me to cry from the depths of my soul, “Hosanna, Jesus!  Save us now, Savior!”

Hoshea.  Hosanna.  Jesus.  Save us.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why do so many babies have to die?

Matthew 2:13-23, Jeremiah 31:15

My Precious Lord,

Why do so many babies have to die?  I remember standing by a grave side as a twenty-four year old minister.  I knew little about death, and even less about the death of a baby.  I remember that the baby was stillborn.  It was the young couple’s first child.  The grandparents were grief-stricken.  The mother, still weakened by childbirth could barely stand.  My senior pastor was out of town, and I was called upon to minister to the family at a simple grave side service.  They requested that I read some Scripture and pray.  I did.  If felt miserably weak, helpless, as if I were no comfort to them whatsoever.  Why do so many babies have to die?

And then, it all came home to me.  In 2015 our daughter lost a baby at 20 weeks of pregnancy.  How could I feel so much love for a little one whom I have never even met?  The women of my family have experienced 5 miscarriages of which I know between them.  Mom reminds me of the baby she miscarried before she conceived and bore me.  Why do so many babies have to die?

I remember a favorite high school teacher remarking, “The old must die.  The young may die.”  Then he died of electrocution in a construction accident at age forty-six.  I was 17 years old, and this was my first brush with deep grief.

I hear the tragic stories of babies dying from sudden infant death syndrome.  Recently, a family member told me of a married colleague who was pregnant, and could not afford to birth and feed a fourth child.  Selective abortion was their tragic choice.  Millions multiply this awful sin.  Why do so many babies have to die?

Herod’s  paranoid, delusional mind could not face the possibility of a competitor.  He had already killed and assassinated others his psychosis had suspicioned.  A newborn king of the Jews?  Survival was not an option!  His throne would not be challenged!  His lineage would not be threatened!  No other king of the Jews must be allowed to live!

Your parents secreted You out of Bethlehem.  Your earliest months and years were spent as an alien in a foreign land, Egypt.  You learned to walk as an undocumented alien.  You learned to talk as a foreigner with a foreign tongue in a strange land.  The earliest sand Your mother brushed from Your feet was Egyptian sand.

In the wake of Your departure from Bethlehem, babies died.  Herod killed them.  Josephus did not record it.  Not so much as a blip on the screen of history.  Twenty or thirty dead Bethlehem babies is the estimate.  Not as many as wars and genocides, but each one left an empty cradle and a grieving mother.  It happens time and time again.  Why do so many babies have to die?

Lord Jesus, Lord of life, we are living in a broken, sin-cursed, hurting, grieving world.  Speak peace, hope and life into my world, filled with doubt, questions, confusion...  and dying babies.

In Your Name which is Hope,

Friday, December 18, 2015

I Can't Wait

Genesis 3:15, 49:10, Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 9:2-7, Micah 5:2, Revelation 13:8

Precious Savior,

I remember the longing and anticipation I felt as a child waiting for Christmas morning so.  I remember studying the old Sears and Roebuck Wish Book and dreaming of Christmas.  I remember saying, “I can’t wait till...”  But alas, we had to wait.  I remember waiting until that Christmas morning.  I had asked for a BB gun.  I had it all picked out in the Wish Book.  It was lever action, modeled after the 30-30 lever action rifle.  It looked like the guns on the cowboy movies.  It looked like the gun that won the West.  I remember that Christmas morning when I saw the long narrow package under the tree.  James and I both had one.  We had to wait until Dad read the Christmas story.  “I can’t wait...”  We had to wait until Dad prayed the Christmas prayer.  “I can’t wait...”

As soon as Dad said “Amen,” it was like the starter’s pistol at the track meet had fired.  We were off!  We tore at the paper!  I remember getting through the paper to the box.  It was my BB gun!  I tugged at the huge staples at the end of the box.  Dad pulled out his pocket knife to work at them.  They finally came loose and I slid my new BB gun out of the box.  There it was, my new BB gun!  I had said, “I can’t wait!”   But I had waited, and it was worth it.

Perhaps my waiting for Christmas gives me an insight into the longing of the ages–the wait for Your promise.  The wait had started in the Garden of Eden.  The wait for the promised offspring of woman that would set Your people free from the bondage of sin.

Isaiah describes humanity waiting in the dark, until that darkness was penetrated by God’s promise of the Prince of Peace, the Messiah.  Help me to wait in anticipation for You to shatter darkness.  Help me to see You as my hope and deliverance in the face of drudgery, death and oppression.  You are Immanuel, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, the Righteous King, the Divine Servant, the Anointed Preacher, and the Mighty Savior.  You are worth the wait!

As I wait for You to come in a fresh and new way, fill me with wonder at Your first coming.  As I ponder a loving couple, a virgin mother, a long trip, government taxation, angelic hosts, shepherds, and a packed village, help me to make room for You.  I am leaving the VACANCY sign of my heart lit for You.  I wait with anticipation of Your fresh arrival to my heart, dwell in me.

“O come to my heart, Lord Jesus.  There is room in my heart for thee.”


Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Crucible of Leadership

Luke 6:12-16
12 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; 15 Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor.

I Corinthians 12

Dear Jesus,

You were incredibly skilled at taking a group of diverse men and melding them into a cohesive unit. Of course, there were moments that the group called disciples looked anything but cohesive, but those moments were really temporary.

"There is nothing which the church needs more than to learn how to yoke in common harness the diverse temperaments and qualities of different people. If we are failing it is our own fault, for, in Christ, it can be done--and has been done." (William Barclay in The Gospel of Luke, 1953, p. 96).

Thank You for diverse gifts and abilities in the Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul described this unity within diversity beautifully. "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit... But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ... But now indeed there are many members, yet one body... Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually."

Teach me how to unite people around a shared vision that can inspire, direct, and move them forward in Kingdom purpose. When I pray, "I want to lead as You led," I have to remember that You were headed to a cross. Eventually, most of Your faithful apostles would die as martyrs for their faith and obedience to You while they were taking the Gospel to the nations. 
  • Andrew--beaten severely and crucified in Edessa, Greece.
  • James, the brother of John--the first martyr of the church.
  • Philip--martyred in Syria.
  • Nathanael--martyred in India.
  • Thaddeus--crucified in Edessa, Greece.
  • James, the son of Alphaeus--thrown from the temple tower and then clubbed to death.
  • Matthew--axed to death in Ethiopia.
  • Simon the Zealot--crucified for his missionary work in Britain.
  • John--survived being deep fried in oil and died of natural causes in Turkey.
Teach me this surrender of sacrifice that I may lead as You led.
I embrace the crucible of leadership. I recognize that this journey is more about melting me down to be reformed in Your likeness than it is about manipulating others to perform my will. Thank You for inviting me to serve You by serving others.  

In Your transforming Name,

Sexless Scandal

John 1:1-5, Luke 1:26-55

Precious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

The miracle of a baby is one of the most thrilling miracles of all.  Witnessing the miracle of birth is one of the premier soul-stirring experiences of life.  In the birth of my children, I witnessed the smallness of myself, the greatness of God, and one of the most significant contributions I can make to Your Creation!  I have held my own newborn infants.  I have cuddled them, changed them, and kissed their indescribably soft skin.  Miraculous!  And You created all of this!

The miracle of a virgin-born baby, Fathered by the Holy Spirit, is the scandal of religion!  Your plan to introduce God into humanity was one of the riskiest plans of all time.  You risked God being a baby in a world where infant mortality was high. You risked God being birthed by a virgin girl in a world that might stone her as an adulterer.  You risked Your Son suffering cruel rumors of illegitimacy throughout His childhood.  You risked Joseph’s reputation.

When You perform a miracle, You perform it in a big way!  Creating a bit of a scandal is not beneath You!  You can even use scandal to advertise Your miraculous act!

The miracle of a baby who would become the Savior of the world!  God made flesh!  He was born without the taint of sin.  He lived a sinless life that no other person was able to achieve.  He was perfectly holy.  His accusers said that He had to die for it!  You, Holy Father, said that He must die for it... for us... for the sins of the whole world.  He must be the blameless sacrifice, and the only way there could be any redemptive merit to His sacrifice were if He were the sinless Son of God, God made flesh.  He had to be born of a virgin–a sexless scandal.

Thank You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the miracle of the Virgin Birth.  I cannot wrap my mind around it all.  I cannot comprehend Your perfect plan envisioned in eternity past.  I cannot comprehend the Holy Spirit’s brooding over Mary and conceiving the Christ in her womb apart from physical copulation.  I cannot comprehend that You, my Lord Jesus Christ, would participate in such a humiliating plan as to be born as a baby.  I cannot comprehend all You gave up to identify with me and my kind... to save us.  I cannot comprehend an entirely holy life, without ever a sin.  I cannot comprehend the voluntary sinless sacrifice of Yourself.

Although I do not understand it all, I believe.  I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin girl.  I accept by faith all of the provision You make for me through that scandalous act.

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What a Risk!

John 1, 3:16, Hebrews 9:26, I Peter 1:20, Revelation 13:8

Heavenly Father,

I have recently been pondering the risk You took by sending Your Son, Jesus, to earth.  When I think about it, I am amazed that any Father would risk so much with His own Son.  I never liked to expose my children to risk.  I remember feeling obligated to run to my daughter’s defense and protection.  When I tried to protect my son from risk, he finally told me, “Dad, I’m old enough to fight my own battles.  Don’t try to fix it for me.”

Surely, my instinct to protect my own children is part of Your image stamped on me in Creation. You made this way.  But Your likeness is diminished in me because I suffer under the curse of the Fall.  If I feel this God-given desire to protect my own, You must feel it all the more so. How could You, the Loving Heavenly Father, take such a risk with Your only Son?

You risked His life!  Life expectancy in the first century Roman world averaged twenty to thirty years.  If one lived to age ten, life expectancy might extend to age 45!  The average life span was lowered by a 25% or higher infant mortality.  Nearly one-half of all babies born never saw their tenth birthday!  Yet childbirth was the delivery system You chose to introduce the Savior of the world!  What a risk!

You risked His being an inconvenience.  Parentage by the Holy Spirit is a once in a Creation event!  You performed repeated miracles and angelic announcements to convince even Mary and Joseph, the main players in the saga, of the veracity of such a miracle.  Today, such a conception would be regarded as an inconvenience, and would be ended.  What a risk!

You risked His being an embarrassment.  Apart from Your angelic proclamation, Mary would have been irreversibly embarrassed, exploited, divorced, or even stoned to death.  Her family would have suffered shame.  Perhaps they did anyway.  Your Son would have suffered cruel shame and ridicule.  Perhaps He did anyway.  What a risk!

You risked His rejection.  You placed a radical message of love in Your Son’s heart, and we killed Him for it.  What a risk!

I don’t think I would be willing to risk my children like You risked Your only Son, Jesus.  I am humbled to think that You would take that sort of risk for me, for my sinful soul, for my salvation–all because You want relationship with me.  Thank You.

Thank You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the risk You took for me, and for the entire human race,

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Dangerous Way of Love

Romans 1:18-23 NKJV  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Dear God,

Thank You for my free will.  Thank You for the power of volition.  Thank You for the incredible lengths to which You went to grant me choice.  You created a human race with free will.  The inevitability of sinful rebellion was obvious.  Yet, You created us with the power to choose. 

Your creative act to grant humanity the power to choose, had the most profound consequences for You.  Humanity would become spiritually lost, morally depraved, and relationally deprived of intimacy with You.  You made a choice to declare Your own Son to be the Savior of the world, and You did so before You even whispered the first creative Word.

You spoke to Moses, "... I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days..." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

"The tremendous truth of Christianity is that the coercion of God is not of force but of love. It is precisely there that we can glimpse the sorrow of God. It is always love's greatest tragedy to look upon some loved one who has taken the wrong way and to see what might have been, what could have been and what was meant to have been" (William Barclay in The Gospel of Luke, 1953, p. 90).

G.K. Chesterton wrote, "God had written not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play He had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage managers, who had since made a great mess of it."

Lord God, grant me the courage to choose well.  Help me to subordinate all of my choices to Your will.  Most often, humanity gets off track with priorities, friendships, education, career, and romantic relationships that are oppose or compete against Your will.  Help me to keep my body, my mind, and my emotions surrendered to Your Lordship so that I love what Your love.  Help me to use my love, my mind, my body, my passions, and my desires to advance that which honors and pleases You.

Barclay exclaimed, "God save us from making shipwreck of life and bringing heartbreak to Himself by using our freewill to frustrate his purposes... Men may misuse their freewill to frustrate God's purposes; men in their perversity may be blind and deaf to all His appeal. Had God used the force of coercion and laid on man the iron bonds of a will that could not be denied, there would have been a world of automata and a world without trouble. But God chose the dangerous way of love, and love in the end will triumph" (Ibid, p. 91).

I am not automata.  Form my will through Your Word.  Form my thoughts through conversations with You.  Form my character through minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, and a life lived in communion with You.  From the depths of intimate relationship, Creator with created, teach me to serve You with the worship of volition.  I choose the "dangerous way of love."

I love You, I need You.  I was made by You, for You, and am only complete in You.

Monday, December 14, 2015

I'm Running out of Time to Get Ready for Christmas!

Luke 2:21-40

My Loving Lord,

The holidays are hectic.  In the midst of the artificial, I am inclined to forget the real.  Glitz, glamor, and lights sparkle and shimmer.  Shiny wrapping conceals contents unknown, precious or base.  Snow covers a brown earth, turned muddy by spring.  Sales and advertising attract and allure me toward the shopping mall.  My credit card statement climbs higher and higher.

I am preparing for Christmas, but am I making the right preparations?  Am I preparing, or am I participating in a parade of pretense that misses the meaning of Christmas altogether.  Am I constructing a sort of glitz and glamor of Christmas that obscures its true meaning?

My Christmas preparations are consumed with shopping, wrapping presents, dashing from parties to programs, house-cleaning, cooking, and entertaining.  I am exhausted.  I have too much to do!  I get so tuckered out with it all, I don’t know if I will have the time or strength to even get to the Christmas Eve service at church!

Am I missing something?  Preparation is about priority. Are my priorities misplaced?  Christmas is about Your coming.  Do I even know how to get ready for Christmas?  Lord Jesus, how should I prepare myself to celebrate Your birth?  Teach me.

I think of Simeon waiting at temple.  Perhaps Simeon was a retired priest, lawyer, or even a past president of the Hebrew Sannhedrin.  He waited for You in the temple, assured by the Holy Spirit that he would see You, Messiah, before he died.  A lifetime of preparation and waiting lived for a moment of assurance and hope!

I think of Anna waiting at temple.  She had spent a lifetime preparing for Your arrival.  Widowed at a young age, now over one hundred years old, Anna lived in a side room of the Jewish temple.  Anna had readied herself through decades of prayer, fasting, and waiting, and then Anna met You!  A lifetime of preparation and waiting lived for a moment of assurance and hope!

I think I understand a little bit more.  You are teaching me that I must prepare myself to receive You afresh this Christmas, by waiting in preparation in Your Presence.  I must make knowing You my primary priority. So I wait.

In the Name of my precious Savior, Jesus, for whom I wait,

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Grandma Ressie

When my godly Grandma, Ressie Creed, went to heaven in 1989, my parents thought it important that I have something of hers.  Dad had purchased a set of William Barclay's Daily Study Bible commentaries as a gift for Grandma.  She used them in preparing her weekly Sunday School lessons for the young adult class she taught.  Mom and Dad saw to it that this set of Grandma's commentaries were mine.

In 2015, I felt prompted by the Lord to use Grandma's commentaries for my daily quiet time.  I read both volumes of Matthew and both volumes of the Revelation.  In December, I started The Gospel of Luke.  Many times, I would find Grandma's jagged underlining.  Each time, I felt closer to her.  I also discovered date I had inscribed where I had read a passage earlier.  It was a great spiritual journey.

On December 11, 2015, I was reading in Luke 6 about Jesus' selection of his disciples. I found a sentence marked with Grandma's uneven underlining. It read: " It is only in Christ that we can solve the problem of living together; because even the most opposite people may be united in their love for him. If we really love him, we will also love each other." (William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, 1953, p. 73).

My mind reached back across the years to 1946 when Grandma, my momma, and others of Ressie's six daughters were born again at a Baptist revival in Prosperity, West Virginia.  I remembered how my grandparents were married for another 33 years before Grandpa Creed found Jesus.  Then I thought about how Grandma Ressie prayed for my papaw, Clarence Ruthven Creed's salvation.

I'll never forget my dad bursting into Miss Elma Reed's choir class at Mount Carmel High School in the spring of 1979, during my Senior year.  "Papaw Creed just got saved!" was his euphoric announcement.  I weep today at the thought of it. 

I remember my grandparents 50th anniversary.  I remember Grandma shouting in church, her little feet beating a tap dance sort of tattoo on the tile floor, forever pock-marked by repetitions of that holy dance.  I remember Grandpa praying around family altar and testifying in church.  And then I think about Mamaw's love that endured, prayed, remained faithful, and loved my Papaw Ruthven to Jesus.  

"If we really love him, we will also love each other."

Friday, December 11, 2015

Righteous Praise!

Psalm 146

1 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

3 Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
4 His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish.

5 Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever,
7 Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.

8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down.

10 The Lord shall reign forever—Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

Lord God,

In an age when fear abounds on every side, I choose to praise You.  The Psalmist points me to praise You even when my surroundings invoke  paralyzing fear and not perfect praise.  I need that.

You remind me that political powers and authorities are not worthy targets of trust.  We are in an election season in my country.  Would be national leaders often serve as fear mongers, stirring up the passions of the people.  Others seek to narcotize the nation with empty prosperity promises.  My hope is not in princes or politicians.  People will fail me.  People die, and their plans die with them.

Happiness is found in right relationship with You.  A true and worthy personal identity is only possible as it is derived from living in relational intimacy and communion with You.  You form and inform my identity!  

You are the only wise and only just God.  Our culture screams for "social justice." You never promise "social justice."  You offer a much stronger, holy, true version.  You offer "righteous justice!"  You provide liberating justice for those bound in the prison house of sin, and place us on a trajectory of hope in You!  

Blindness becomes sight.  Humiliation is transformed to exaltation.  Sinfulness is replaced with holiness and righteousness.  You reign.  You reign forever.

You are the basis for righteous praise!  So I praise Your Name!  I worship You, my Lord and my God.  You are worthy.

In Your most exalted Name, 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Grandpa's Shotgun

I never got to know my Grandpa well.  He died before I turned three years old.  My only memory of him, apart from a few photographs, is his giving me a spanking in the bathroom of his home in Northern Kentucky.  As a boy, I enjoyed staying at that home with my saintly widowed grandmother. 

I was in my mid-teens when Grandma had to break up housekeeping and move in with my parents.  Actually, Grandma had two rooms, one at our house and a second at my aunt and uncle’s home in Ohio.  My dad and my aunt shuttled Grandma back and forth between their homes every two or three months for the final 10 years of her life. 

When Grandma moved out of her home that she had shared with Grandpa, my brother James and I helped dad move load after load of furniture and possessions.  Some things came to our home in Kentucky.  Other things went to my aunt. 

Among Grandma’s possessions was a shotgun that had belonged to Grandpa.  Grandma opened a cherished ancient tin box labeled “Sucrets” to reveal trinkets and treasures.  She lifted a slug of scared lead, and informed me that this slug had been fired from Grandpa’s shotgun when he killed a deer in some ancient hunt.  Curiosity and wonder filled my young mind as I felt the weight of the lead slug in my hand. 

There were two old firearms that belonged to Grandpa, an H & R 12 gauge shotgun, and a 22 revolver.  Dad informed James and me that these two treasures were our bequests from Grandpa, our memory, our connection to an ancestor we would never really know. 

James and I cherished our guns.  I laid claim to the shotgun, and James laid claim to the revolver.  I shot my first squirrel with that shotgun.  I blasted cans and glass jars with it. 
When James was about 13, he took the shotgun out into the Appalachian foothills that we called home.  He had spotted a lone domesticated goose whose ownership was unknown.  The goose was wandering the river bottom farm land along the North Fork of the Kentucky River.  James helped work on that farm.  The goose proved to be an irresistible target to a 13 year old boy with a shotgun and a pocket full of shells.

James brought the goose home to Mom and asked her to cook it!  The tough old bird surprised our teenage teeth.  The longer we chewed, the bigger that goose meat grew in our mouths.  The only thing that James got out of the goose, besides a good story, was a nickname, “Goose,” and he bore that moniker throughout his early high school years.

James and I thought that the old gun needed a makeover.  Someone suggested to us that the barrel needed “blued.”  We found the supplies at the local Maloney’s discount store, stripped down the shotgun in Dad’s shop, and set about an ambitious project as gunsmiths.  Carefully following the directions, we cleaned the barrel of its bluing.  We sanded the wooden stock, removing the ancient varnish.  We re-blued the steel pieces of the shotgun, put a fresh finish of varnish on the stock, and admired our restoration of Grandpa’s cherished shotgun.

James decided that the newly refinished shotgun needed a trial run in the woods.  We had discovered a loose firing pin in our restoration project.  If not handled carefully, the firing pin would fall out of the gun when the hammer was cocked.  After that trip to the woods, we never found the firing pin again.  Now, the old gun was simply a useless piece of décor, a sad reminder of a grandfather we would never get to know. 

It was twenty years before I discovered a friend with incredible handyman skills.  Among those skills were metal work and machining.  I told him about my grandfather’s old shotgun.  The gun had followed me from youth to marriage and fatherhood.  The gun had been stored in one closet after another in different homes in which I had lived.  Suddenly, there was hope that it might fire again.  My friend Jim expertly held the old gun.  He studied the firing mechanism.  He said that he thought he could make a firing pin!

I watched as Jim took a heat-tempered drill bit and cut it to size.  He placed it upon a metal lathe and began shaping.  Once shaped, he fit it perfectly in its rest in the firing mechanism.  We just needed a spring.  A spring from an ink pen would do!  Hope was birthed that the old treasured shotgun would fire again.  It did.  I inserted a shell, locked it into place, pulled back the hammer, and the 12 gauge roared to life!

A few years later, my wife and I bought a little cabin in our Appalachian hills.  One of the rooms in the cabin became the cowboy room.  I made a log bed out of limbs from an old beech tree.  Lariats, horseshoes, worn out cowboy boots, hats, and bandanas graced the décor.  And there, above the window, grandpa’s shotgun graced the room from its rest in a couple of horseshoe hooks.  I pulled the shotgun down at Christmas to shoot some mistletoe out of a black gum tree.  Apart from an occasional firing, it enjoyed its slumber.

After 10 years in the old shotgun’s place of honor, my wife and I moved from Kentucky to Mississippi.  We rented the cabin in the hills to vacationers.  In preparation for renting the cabin, we removed our most cherished possessions, including the shotgun, which found its temporary home in the bottom of an old cedar chest.  That bothered me.  I was bothered that I did not have a place to display the old gun. 

At Thanksgiving, our family always gets together in the hills of Kentucky.  My sisters come home from Florida.  My brother, James, lives in the Bluegrass.  My wife and I make the pilgrimage to our homeland.  We have a Thanksgiving feast, followed by an early Christmas gift exchange.  One year, my sister said, “Next year, let’s not spend any money on gifts.  Let’s just bring something from our homes.  It may be a useful something that we give.  It may be a family heirloom that we share with one another.”

I knew what my gift must be.  The shotgun.  And I knew whom I wanted to have it.  My brother, James.  I placed the shotgun in two large gift bags.  No one knew the contents of the oddly shaped package.  It was overlooked by one family member after another.  Finally, it came James’ turn to pick.  I urged him toward the package.  He moved that direction, and lifted the awkward weight.  Seated, he began to open it.  He knew the contents immediately.  Tears glistened in James’ eyes as he caressed the smooth stock and broke open the barrel.  Memories flooded his mind and mine.  A look of understanding passed between us. 

Cherished stories of youth filled the next moments, and continued to flood my mind.  As children, my closest sibling in age was my brother, James, as we are separated by a mere 20 months.  Sibling rivalry, competing, rooming together, fighting, living, and loving had been a part of our youth.  Now, as graying, middle-aged executives, we were bound together yet again by family, Christmas, shared experiences, a cherished old shotgun, a grandfather we never really knew, and a legacy of love—brothers.

At this Christmas Season, give.  Give generously.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

Don't Give Up!

Luke 5:1-11 NKJV
So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, 2 and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. 3 Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.
4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
5 But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” 6 And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

Dear Jesus,

Peter was giving up. Fishing was unsuccessful. The long night had ended without a single fish. Hungry, tired, cold, and exhausted, he was ready to quit.

But You would not let him quit.

"For most people the disaster of life is that they give up just one effort too soon" (William Barclay in The Gospel of Luke, 1953, pp. 53-54).

I hear Your words to Peter as he was cleaning his fishing nets.  

"Don't give up."

All of the other fishermen had left for the day.  The night fishing hours had passed.  Dawn had broken hours before.  Peter had tried longer than any of the others.  Now he was cleaning his nets, and You told him to “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

The crowds had already gathered on the shore.  You were already teaching and preaching.  You interrupted the spiritual care of hundreds, turned toward Peter, and in front of the entire congregation, You called him out!  “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

"Don't give up."

It was embarrassing for Peter to resist You.  To just finish cleaning the nets, put them out to dry, and return home for the day would have been an act of disrespect to You, Peter's rabbi.

"Too often we wait because the time is not opportune.  If we wait for a perfect set of circumstances we will never begin at all.  If we want a miracle we must take Jesus at His word when He bids us attempt the impossible" (ibid., p. 54).

Peter didn't give up.

Lord, help me not to give up today.  Help me to listen for Your whisper, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

In the Name of Jesus who knows the timing of the miracle I need,

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Incarnation

Romans 5:6-21, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:12-20, I Peter 1:13-23

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

What were You thinking when You became human?  What was in Your mind when You came to earth in the form of a baby?  Why would any god set aside all of the privileges of being God?  God just doesn’t do that!  But You did!  And You planned it that way.  Your coming to earth as the Savior of the world was not an afterthought.  It was Your plan all along.

You know what we need.  We need a Savior.  Sin and rebellion has so twisted and distorted our human character that we are estranged from You.  We are separated with a chasm that we cannot cross.  We are darkened in our understanding, corrupted in our moral nature, and desperate for You.

The prophets said You were coming.  They called You names like Immanuel, Messiah, Branch, Joshua, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.  They were telling of the details of Your birth 700 years in advance!

What a plan!

And then God became flesh.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin girl, born into poverty and relative obscurity, and raised by an earthly surrogate.  You went from the carpenter shop to the cross because You were born to die!

What a plan!  God–born to die!  No other god, no other religion, no other idol would ever construct a bold myth to match the truth of Your Incarnation.

Thank You for Your plan, Holy Father, to send Your Son to be the Savior of the world.  Thank You, Holy Spirit, for implanting the seed of God in Mary’s womb.  Thank You, Jesus, for all You left behind to become the Savior of the world.  You endured the shameful rumors of illegitimacy.  You became poor that we could be rich (II Corinthians 8:9).  You embraced the cross, raised Yourself from the dead, and returned to the Father to pray for us!

God made flesh.  Why did You do that?  It is too great for me to comprehend.  All I can do is to thank You and offer myself to You.  I love You.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Isn't There an Easier Way?

Luke 4:1-13
Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.
3 And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
4 But Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’”
5 Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.”
8 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
9 Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here.10 For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you,’
11 and,
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
13 Now when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for enduring harsh temptation throughout Your ministry.  Certainly, this first recorded round of temptation must have been especially crushing.  I wonder what it must have been like to have heard you give a firsthand account of Your temptations to Your disciples around a campfire in the Galilean countryside.  

Satan's taunts were not new to You.  You had observed Lucifer's service and rebellion.  You knew him in eternity past from the moment Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had launched his angelic presence into being.  Then he turned.  Lucifer rebelled. "Son of the morning" became Satan.  Each interaction with him must have been a knife to Your heart.  

You refused Satan's order to turn the stones to bread.  He has distracted the church throughout the centuries with bread making.  There is nothing wrong with feeding the hungry.  You did so Yourself. You command us to give food and water to the hungry and thirsty, but that alone will not change the world.  "The task of Christianity is not to produce new conditions, although the weight and voice of the church must be behind all efforts to make life better for men. Its real task is to produce new men; and given the new men, the new conditions will follow" (William Barclay in The Gospel of Luke, 1953, p. 39).

You refused Satan's temptation to bypass the cross in favor of an easier way.  You resisted the temptation for the easier way, a temptation that I face daily.  "It is a constant temptation to seek to win men by compromising with the standards of the world. G. K. Chesterton said that the tendency of the world is to see things in terms of an indeterminate grey; but the duty of the Christian is to see things in terms of black and white. As Carlyle said, 'The Christian must be consumed by the conviction of the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin.'" (William Barclay in The Gospel of Luke, 1953, p. 39-40).  Your cross would be that dividing line.

I know the temptation to do something foolhardy, dramatic, and sensational.  You refused to become the sensationalist depicted in Satan's driving assaults. "Jesus saw quite clearly that if he produced sensations he could be a nine days' wonder: but he also saw that sensationalism would never last. The hard way of service and of suffering leads to the cross, but after the cross to the crown." (William Barclay in The Gospel of Luke, 1953, p. 40).

Thank You for enduring temptation. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Grant me victory over the temptations with which the enemy attacks me today.

In the Name of Christ Jesus, my Lord,

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Savior for All People

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Luke 3:23-38 Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat,[d] the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathiah, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Semei, the son of Joseph, the son of Judah, 27 the son of Joannas, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmodam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Jose,the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonan, the sonof Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menan, the son of Mattathah, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber,the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem,the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch,the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enosh,the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

My dear Lord Jesus,

Thank You for coming to earth to become the Savior of the world.  

In the Incarnation, You laid aside Your heavenly glory.  You stepped away from the eternal regal royalty belonging only to Creator God, to be born of woman.  The Holy Spirit conceived You in the womb of Virgin Mary.  You are completely God and completely human.  

Your earthly lineage is compelling.  Both Matthew and Luke attempt to describe it, taking unique approaches.  William Barclay writes, "Matthew stops at Abraham; Luke goes right back to Adam. To Matthew, Jesus was the possession of the Jews; to Luke, he was the possession of all mankind, because his line is traced back not to the founder of the Jewish nation but to the founder of the human race. Luke removes the national and racial boundaries even from the ancestry of Jesus" (Barclay in The Gospel of Luke, 1953, p. 37).

You are the Savior of the world.  You came to save the polytheist, the animist, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the pagan, the Muslim, and the cultural, yet nominal,  professing Christian.  "For God so loved the world!"  Some err by limiting Your sacrificial life and death by saying that Your blood was only shed for those who were pre-determined by God to be saved.  But You spread Your arms on the cross and died for all.  Thank You.

Because of Your humanity, "There is no problem in life and living which we face which Jesus did not also face" (Barclay, p. 36). "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).  Perfect empathy!

You are the only Savior. You understand me because You became flesh. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

Thank You. I love You. I need You.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How direct are you willing to be?

Luke 3:18-20 NKJV And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 20 also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.

Jeremiah 37:11-17 NKJV And it happened, when the army of the Chaldeans left the siege of Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh’s army, 12 that Jeremiah went out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin to claim his property there among the people. 13 And when he was in the Gate of Benjamin, a captain of the guard was there whose name was Irijah the son of Shelemiah, the son of Hananiah; and he seized Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “You are defecting to the Chaldeans!”
14 Then Jeremiah said, “False! I am not defecting to the Chaldeans.” But he did not listen to him.
So Irijah seized Jeremiah and brought him to the princes. 15 Therefore the princes were angry with Jeremiah, and they struck him and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe. For they had made that the prison.
16 When Jeremiah entered the dungeon and the cells, and Jeremiah had remained there many days, 17 then Zedekiah the king sent and took him out.The king asked him secretly in his house, and said, “Is there any word from theLord?”
And Jeremiah said, “There is.” Then he said, “You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon!”
II Corinthians 11:22 NKJV Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripesminus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 injourneys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my owncountrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. 31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me;33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.

Our Father,

John the Baptist was a direct preacher!  "John was so plain and blunt a preacher of righteousness that he was bound to run into trouble" (William Barclay in The Gospel of Luke, 1953, p. 30).

Jeremiah was a direct preacher.  So much so that the authorities consigned him to a dungeon.

The Apostle Paul was a direct preacher.  So much so that he was imprisoned repeatedly for his articulation of his faith.

What about me?  What am I willing to stand for?  Will I stand for You when You require suffering of me?

Uncle Bud Robinson (1860-1942) famously prayed: "Oh Lord, give me a backbone as big as a sawlog, ribs like the sleepers under the church floor, put iron shoes on me and galvanized breeches, give me a rhinoceros hide for a skin, and hang a wagonload of determination up in the gable-end of my soul, and help me to sign the contract to fight the devil as long as I've got a fist and bite him as long as I have a tooth, then gum him till I die. All this I ask for Christ's sake. Amen."

Work Your character into my life.  I don't want to be offensive for my own sake.  I am perfectly capable of brutish, selfish, and offensive behavior in the interest of self-promotion.  That is not what John, Jeremiah, or Paul model.  They model a courage quest to discover and proclaim Your truth regardless of the personal consequences, punishment, or suffering they must endure. 

So, Lord, I don't possess that kind of courage.  I want to be accepted.  I want to be liked.  But I sense that is not enough for You.  You demand courage and obedience.  You provide me with no room for self-preservation or self-promotion.  You simply want my loving service.  

"It is  always a dangerous thing to speak the truth; and yet the man who allies himself with the truth, may for the moment end in jail or on the scaffold, but in the final count he is the victor" (William Barclay in The Gospel of Luke, 1953, p. 31).

Here is my commitment. I will obey You, and speak as you direct me regardless of the consequences. "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ..." (Ephesians 4:15). Empower me with Your Holy Spirit unto that end. 

In the Name of the One who fills me with His Word,