Let Them Be Afraid

“The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Him to death, because they were afraid of the people.”
Luke 22:2

Because they were afraid of the people…  God put His heavenly highlighter on those words the other day.  Because they were afraid of the people.  I find it interesting that the reason the priests and scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death was because they were afraid of the people.  One would think they’d be afraid of Jesus.  Yet this verse doesn’t say they were afraid of Jesus; they were afraid of the people following Jesus.

Think about it. Before Jesus came, the system was set.  The religious leaders knew where they stood; the people knew where they stood.  Whether or not they agreed with the way things were, very few dared question the status quo.

Then Jesus came.

I repeat: then Jesus came. And the people not only followed Him and listened to Him but also hungered to hear Him speak.  The last verse of the previous chapter even testifies of the influence of Jesus:  “Then all the people would come early in the morning to hear Him in the temple complex” (Luke 21:38).  The people were not getting up early to listen to the religious leaders share the same old message; they were getting up early to listen to Jesus–to listen to hope.

Even more, the people kept discussing the coming kingdom of Jesus.  Sure, many were mistakenly thinking Jesus was about to usher in an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly one; but regardless, the chief priests knew the danger of such practices.  They foresaw what might happen if the people continued listening to and following Jesus.  And they didn’t like it.  They were indeed afraid of the people–and the power of a unified following.

Thus the chief priests and scribes began looking for a way to put Jesus to death before Jesus’ followers attempted to crown Him.   I’m sure they probably hoped and even prayed that by doing away with Jesus, the followers would scatter.  I’m sure they assumed without the shepherd, the sheep would flee. Yet the religious leaders were only partially correct in their thinking.  Yes, without a shepherd, the sheep do scatter.  But Jesus is not a normal shepherd.  He is I AM; He is the Good Shepherd.  And the Good Shepherd came to earth to lay down His life for His sheep (John 10:11). Killing Jesus on the earth did not end His reign; it solidified it.  By crucifying Jesus, they were actually fulfilling His ultimate plan.  For Jesus knew that in order for there to be a resurrection into eternal life, there must first be a death–the death of a Savior.

So as we say goodbye to 2016 and welcome in 2017–as we discuss what has been and look forward to what might be–I ask you, is the kingdom of darkness afraid of you? Does the ruler of this world tremble at your name?

Whether or not you can answer the above in the affirmative, I encourage you to join me in making it our resolve to follow Jesus in 2017.  Let us not look to the left or to the right, but rather, let us keep our eyes fixed on the author and finisher of our faith.

Let the enemy be afraid of us.  Let him tremble in fear as each of us chooses to faithfully follow our Lord. Our Good Shepherd may not lead us through the places we want Him to lead us; He may even lead us through the places we least desire to go. But regardless of where He leads us, we can trust that following Him will always lead to Him.  And with Him is where we want to be.

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Not The Same, But One

“I have given to them the glory and honor which You have given Me, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected and completed into one, so that the world may know [without any doubt] that You sent Me, and [that You] have loved them, just as You have loved Me.”
John 17:22‭-‬23 AMP

What an honor to know Jesus prayed for you and for me even before we were born–and before we ever called upon His name. Knowing the above is Jesus’ prayer for me motivates me want to pay attention to what it is He asked of the Father on my behalf.  So today as I focused on the words He prayed, I noticed Jesus repeated “one”  four times within four verses. Furthermore, He specifically prayed believers would be one as God is one.

Why is this important? Well, God is a triune God–one God, yet three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each is God, yet each has His own personality and purpose.

Not the same, but one.

Now think about this in relation to Jesus’prayer. He prayed we’d be one as He the triune God is one.  This means God doesn’t want cookie cutter Christians. He doesn’t want an army of exact replicas marching off to battle. No! He wants us to be one as He is one. We will not all be the same, but we should all be united. United in purpose. United in love. United in service to our King.

We don’t have to be the same to get along. We don’t have to be the same to work together. Honestly, it is most often those who are not the same who work best and most effectively together. It’s actually our differences which have the tremendous power to unite us. Instead of viewing differences as divisions, we must alter our attitude and see them as opportunities to build bridges and forge new paths. Are you a Presbyterian and your neighbor a Baptist?  Great!  I bet you both love Jesus and could work together to reach your community. Are you a gifted writer but your best friend is a gifted musician? Awesome!  Imagine the songs you could compose that she could perform for the world to hear. Do you hate to speak in front of large groups while your ministry partner thrives on public speaking? Praise Jesus!  While you work the small groups, your partner can take on the large. God uses His children to speak to the masses in the same we He can use the introvert to share with the few.

We may not all be the same, but we can and should be one as He is one. Why? That the world may know God sent Jesus and that Jesus loves the world (John 17:23). Being one doesn’t mean we’re the same in word and deed; it does, however, mean we’re united.  So I encourage you today to walk in love–with your neighbor, with your enemy, with the world.  Live each day knowing different does not and should not mean division. God used quite the assortment of men, even a betrayer, for His eternal purpose.  And if God can use a variety of unlikely men to accomplish His will, then we too should go forth in love and grace knowing God is in everyone who believes.  We may not all be the same, but we can and should be one.  For as one, we will change the world.

Hope-Filled Christmas

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:1-2, 14

Experience has taught me that oftentimes it’s within the midst of change and the unexpected that we learn what we truly hold dear. So as I’ve decorated our new home, shopped for presents, and prepared holiday meals, I’ve also been asking myself why I celebrate the holiday–what does Christmas mean to me. I’ve been asking this question in recent weeks as I’ve faced a Christmas that looks a bit different than Christmases past. I’ve wondered if the joy of Christmas would be different this year than in years past, if my love of Christmas would move with me. For if you have read any of my prior posts, then you know my family and I recently relocated. The place from which we moved I called home for about 20 years; nine of those years were at the same church, surrounded by many familiar faces. Those faces may not have been related by blood, but they were indeed family to me.

Yet as we attended the Christmas Eve service at our new church home yesterday, I found myself able to worship God in full assurance that yes, yes my love of Christmas did go with me.  In fact, I dare say my love for Christmas has deepened.  For God has taught me some amazing things about Christmas I would not have grasped within the familiarity of my comfort zone.  God has used a new place to instill in me an important truth: Christmas marks the beginning of God’s perfect plan–a plan foretold yet unforeseen.

As my pastor stated at our Christmas Eve service, the birth was just the beginning. Think about that for a moment.  The birth of Jesus  was just the beginning–the catalyst that set into the motion the final stages of God’s eternal plan.  Jesus’ birth was the beginning of the next chapter of God’s eternal plan of salvation for His children. Before the foundation of the world, God knew we’d sin; He knew we’d need a Savior.  And He knew He’d send His son.  The cries of that baby Jesus, which I’m sure reverberated throughout that barn, signaled the arrival of God’s promised Savior. Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus alone didn’t save us.  It was the beginning. It took 3o years of righteous living, 3 years of dedicated ministry, and the selfless sacrifice on the cross to fulfill the purpose for which Jesus was sent. In other words, Christmas is not just a celebration of a birth; it’s the celebration of salvation’s plan coming to pass.

Furthermore, in addition to His birth being just the beginning, Jesus’s birth as well as His ministry were foretold yet unforeseen.  Jesus was not the Savior people thought He’d be. Yes, His parents knew Jesus was destined for great things; after all, the angels told them such.  Yet even though God foretold them of Jesus’ mission, the details of that mission unfolded in a way unexpected and unanticipated. Jesus was not of noble birth; He was actually born in a barn.  He didn’t one day grow up to physically overthrow the government and reign on an earthly throne.  He grew up to be despised and rejected and to die a death He did not deserve. From before He was born, Jesus was destined to die. And as God’s perfect plan unfolded, it appeared to man as an awkward way to save the world. Jesus our Emmanuel was foretold, yet not foreseen.

So how does this deepen my love of Christmas?  One word:  hope.

Christmas brings hope. Hope that regardless of where I am and what I may be going through, God has a plan. Remember that job way back when that I could not get back?  I see now the necessity of me being without commitments at that moment in my life.  What I thought devastating was indeed necessary.  Saying goodbye to the church family I knew so well?  I see now how God has strengthened my relationship with Him while  also expanding the number of people in my life who will encourage me to draw closer to Jesus.  I’ve been able to maintain a few relationships while forming new ones.  I see now how the same God who began His plan of salvation with a baby in a manger also works within every detail of my life, even the seemingly yucky ones.

Christmas is not about where we live.  It does not depend on the church we attend, the friends we have nearby, the parties we host, or the number of presents under the tree. Christmas goes much deeper.

Christmas is hope. Yes, hope. Christmas is God working out all things.  It is God fulfilling His promise through a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a  manger. Christmas is knowing that even though we may not understand what is going on, God knows.

So when you look at the Nativity this year, I encourage you to look at it through eyes of hope. Hope and faith knowing God hears your prayers. And He’s answering them. Sometimes He answers right away and gloriously obvious. Other times He answers in an unlikely way over a span of several days, several months, or several years. Sometimes he will answer in eternity. Nevertheless, regardless of how He answers, we can know with certainty God hears,  God sees, and God moves.  So go forth today and everyday knowing “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

 

No Compromise

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

In the moments before communion a few weeks ago, our youth pastor shared the image of two opposing groups of protesters, one on each side of the road.  At one point, while the groups shouted across the divide at each other, one person from each side actually took action; the two protestors met in the middle to talk.  And even more incredible, they reconciled. This reconciliation at first shocked the other protestors, but in the end it led to everyone from both sides meeting in the middle. What began as an ugly battle of beliefs became a beautiful picture of peace–all because two people chose to take that first step to peace and compromise.

At first one might think this a beautiful picture of what Christ did for us. Two opposing sides meeting in the middle to work things out.  But, as our youth leader pointed out, it’s not.  It’s not even close. Compromise is defined as “a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions” (Oxford definition).  Yes, compromise is crucial to successful interpersonal relationships on this earth.  After all, we are human, and we are imperfect.  Therefore compromise is essential when imperfection dwells alongside imperfection.

Nevertheless, although such compromise is desirable within the earthly realm, it does not accurately portray the spiritual.  Our relationship with God is not one of imperfection working alongside imperfection; it’s one of imperfection opposing perfection. Furthermore, it is a holy God actually desiring a relationship with an unholy people.  Yes, a holy, perfect God longs to fellowship with the very creation who rejected Him. Of course, even though God longs to fellowship with people, perfection cannot dwell with imperfection…unless, of course, the imperfection is perfected–a feat only possible through sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice.

And this is where salvation comes in.  Salvation is not a compromise; it’s the solution.  Salvation is God’s answer to sin.  God didn’t meet us halfway with salvation. God didn’t require we follow a 12-step plan to right standing with Him. God did it all. God didn’t just go to the middle in hopes we’d concede. No. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  While yet sinners. This means while we weren’t even looking for a compromise, while we were still protesting, God sent Jesus to pay the price for our sins.  He didn’t just meet us in the middle; he came over to our side and paid our debt.

No compromise.

Just sacrifice.

Wow.  Humbling, isn’t? God didn’t compromise His character so we could be saved. He sacrificed His Son. God didn’t concede to allowing sinful man into His presence. He sent His Son to cover us in His righteousness.  Jesus is not a compromise; He’s the answer. We did nothing to earn or to deserve salvation.   All we have to do is accept it.

So take some time today–take time every day–to thank our Lord for the good things He has done.  Thank Him for sending Jesus to die for our sins.  Thank Him for loving us enough to bridge the gap between imperfection and perfection. Be grateful knowing it is “…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

You Are His

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father….
John 14:30‭-‬31

“Hey!  That’s mine!”

Ever heard that before? Ever said it? Probably. After all, from a very young age we as humans love to lay claim to things. Whether we’re like the seagulls in Finding Nemo repeatedly crying out “Mine! Mine!” at the very sight of something appealing or like a child proclaiming, “I had it first!” when someone wants to play with his toy, we all know the feeling of wanting something to be ours.

Well, in the passage above, Jesus touches on the idea of claiming.  Yet instead of declaring what is His, Jesus reminds His disciples whose He is.  In His parting words to His disciples, as the day of His arrest loomed closer, Jesus wanted His disciples to remember He came from Heaven–and He belonged to Heaven.  No one could claim Jesus unless Jesus allowed them to do so.

And He didn’t.

Jesus knew He was God’s, so He did not let anyone else take that from Him, especially not the devil. Jesus did not die because He submitted to the devil; He died because He surrendered to the will of His Father.  He was not overcome; He overcame. Even from the beginning, it was Jesus’ choice to follow His Father’s plan.  It was Jesus who chose His betrayer Judas to be a disciple.  It was Jesus who chose to allow the guards to arrest Him. It was Jesus who chose to keep silent and to lay down His life for mankind.

It was Jesus who chose to save us.

Do you see the key phrase? It was Jesus’ choice.  The ruler of the world had no claim on Jesus. It was Jesus’ choice to follow His Father’s command at any cost. He could have chosen another disciple. He could have chosen to assert His true authority by calling down the angels to smite the Romans. He could have removed Himself from the cross at any time. But He didn’t. He did the will of the Father. He denied that fleshly pride that plagues us all– that desire to be vindicated, to appear righteous, to be understood, to declare what’s ours. Jesus chose to appear sinful that we might be saved.

How could He do this?  Why did He do this?  Because Jesus knew full well whose He was.  And it is because He knew full well whose He was that He was able to fulfill the purpose for which He was sent.

And so I encourage you today to remember something very important:  you are God’s child.  You are His.  God claims you. Therefore do not to let Satan convince you otherwise. The devil has no claim on you, so don’t give him any. Do not allow anyone else to claim you but God. Choose this day–choose every day—to serve your Savior. Walk with a confidence rooted in knowing God is your Father, and no one else can claim you but Him.

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1