I Think I’m Finished Now

Regular followers to this blog know full well that I haven’t been consistently posting for some time now. My reason is simple: I’ve come to believe that God is putting a period to this particular sentence of my life. It’s not that I’ve run out of things to say or simply gotten lazy. The issue is that, as best I can tell, God is moving me away from blog-writing and on to other avenues of ministry. I can’t even say for sure right now what those other avenues are. All I know is the inspiration, passion, and zeal for writing new material for posting has systematically left me as God has been winding down this season of my life.

My longtime readers might recall that I once took an extended break of almost a year from writing the blog. Then I came back from that hiatus and plunged myself again into posting good material on a regular basis. In my opinion, I wrote some of my best posts during that second phase of the blog. With that said, though, I seriously doubt there will be a third phase. As the title of this post indicates, I think I’m finished now.

I do, however, want to be clear about the fact that the blog will remain alive and well here on the internet. All told I’ve written over 450 posts, and each of them will remain right here to be read at anyone’s leisure. Along those lines, if you like my writing and consider it a blessing in your life, let me encourage you to use either the “Archives” section or the “Categories” section to read the posts you’ve never read. Posts I wrote some time ago will seem thoroughly fresh and new to you if you’ve never read them.

By the way, if you ever go to a post and find an empty space at the top of it, just know that a picture was once there. If you know your way around a computer, you might be able to reload the picture. I myself am not 100% sure why some pictures remain and others disappear after a while. Then again, I’m not exactly a computer guru. Of course, the pictures are only for the “newer” posts anyway. I posted material for years without incorporating pictures into the headings. So if the post is old enough, you won’t have to worry about what happened to the accompanying picture.

One other thing, I’m going to keep the comments option active at least for the foreseeable future. So if you want to leave a comment under some post, feel free. For the most part, the comments have been positive and encouraging. Every now and then, though, I’ve found myself in a running debate with someone. On some rare instances, I’ve even chosen to delete comments or not approve them in the first place. I’ll just see how things trend going forward. If there ever comes a time when allowing comments becomes more trouble than its worth, I’ll shut down that option. Again, though, your comments are welcome for now.

Well, I guess that’s about it. Let me close by offering a profound and sincere, “THANK YOU!” to anyone who has ever read or will ever read anything that I’ve written. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you giving me a hearing. I’m especially grateful to those of you who took the extra step of becoming subscribers to this blog. You’ll never know how much encouragement I drew from your confidence. And let me reiterate that if you will click on either the “Archives” section or the “Category” section you will surely find various posts that you either missed over the years or would do well to read again. Trust me, there’s some good stuff to be found if you’re willing to dig just a little. Is that no more than me trying to keep my readership numbers up? No. I just know how much heart, soul, and prayer I poured into the things I wrote, and God can definitely use such “bread” in your life if you will allow Him to feed you.

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The One Advantage of Getting Saved Later In Life

On his website, my friend Malcolm Woody recently wrote a devotional series entitled “Grace Notes.” Each devotion launched off from a Christian song (either a classic hymn or a contemporary song) to offer some insights into the subject of God’s grace, His completely UNDESERVED favor. You can link to Malcolm’s site at: http://www.malcolmwoody.com.

Those devotions got me to revisiting a thought that first struck me years ago. It’s the idea that it’s very difficult for a child who places his/her faith in Christ to properly understand God’s grace. Mind you that I’m not saying that a child can’t experience salvation and thus ACCESS that grace. I myself was saved by grace through faith when I was a young boy. Certainly kids have no problem accepting Jesus as their Savior. Certainly they can understand a good bit about heaven and hell. Certainly they can be taught what sin is. And certainly they can become full-fledged Christians. What I’m saying is that the typical child can’t properly appreciate God’s grace because, let’s face it, that child hasn’t exactly lived a hard-core life of sin prior to salvation.

Really, when kids get saved from sin, what sins do they have in mind? Lying to mommy? Stealing the change off daddy’s dresser? Thinking bad thoughts toward a brother? Pulling a sister’s hair? Getting into trouble at school? No doubt these are indeed legitimate sins and, therefore, require the forgiveness offered in Christ. But, seriously, when you talk with the average child about becoming a new creation and being born again through the regeneration of the indwelling Holy Spirit, does that child really grasp the major difference between his/her old life and the new one?

On the other hand, let me offer the hypothetical case of a 50-year-old drug addict who gets saved. This guy has been through two marriages. He’s cheated on both wives. His kids won’t talk to him anymore. He can’t hold down a job. He’s lost everything. He’s ruined his physical health as well as his mental health. He lives on the streets. He steals to get the money for his next high. He cusses. He’s crude. He doesn’t own a Bible. He doesn’t pray. And he’s never once darkened the doors of a church. Then a street-ministry worker shows him kindness, presents the gospel to him, and the guy places his belief in Christ. You see, that man can truly understand what he got saved from!

As we study the New Testament’s salvation experiences, it isn’t hard to see that virtually all of them are the stories of adults. Yes, Acts 16:15 mentions Lydia’s “household” getting baptized, a fact that would seem to imply some small children. The same is true of the Philippian jailor’s household later in the same chapter. But such stories are the exceptions to the rule. Far and away, the New Testament’s salvation accounts are the stories of adults, not children. Take the apostle Paul for example. Before he came to faith in Christ he was a devout Pharisee, a persecutor of Christians, and even an executioner of them. It’s no wonder that someone like that could write so passionately about salvation by grace. Not only did he know full well that his “works” merited eternal damnation, he also knew what a 180-degree change Jesus had brought to his life.

Typically, however, who is it that gets saved in our churches today? Statistics show that most of our baptisms are kids. Getting even more specific, usually these are kids who got saved during Sunday School, Bible school, or a summer camp. So am I complaining about this? No, I thank God for every child who gets saved anytime, anywhere. As I said earlier, I was one of those kids. My point is simply that a child who gets saved is incapable of understanding saving grace the way a Saul of Tarsus can understand it.

It wasn’t a 4th grader who wrote Amazing Grace. It was John Newton, an infidel hard case who worked on a slave trading ship before he alienated his fellow crewmen to the point where they gave him over to become the property of a slave trader in West Africa. You see, it takes a man like that to truly understand what a lost, spiritually blind “wretch” he once was. I’ve baptized a lot of kids in my time, but I doubt that even one of them thought of himself or herself as being a “wretch” without Jesus.

Please understand that I’m not advocating that we make children wait until they are older to accept Jesus as Savior. Neither do I want to see them fall headlong into lives of sin and immorality before they get saved. It’s just that a kid can’t appreciate saving grace as much as a man or woman who has some mileage, much of it over unholy roads, on them. To be sure, there aren’t many advantages to getting saved later in life. There is, however, this one, and it’s a very real one.

Posted in Children, Evangelism, Grace, Salvation, Sin, Sunday School, Witnessing, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Storytelling

We preachers are constantly encouraged to use effective illustrations and make our sermons more like “storytelling.” It’s advice that I really do try to implement. After all, Jesus was the greatest communicator who ever lived and His favorite style of sermon was a parable. He understood that not everybody enjoys hearing a three-point outline featuring alliteration. Everybody does, however, love a good story.

Unfortunately, the New Testament epistles make for difficult storytelling. Preach from the four gospels? No problem. They are nothing but stories from Christ’s life. Preach from the book of Acts? No problem. Acts is simply a continuation of the storyline begun in the gospels. But preach from Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.? Ah, that’s tougher. If you are going to do any storytelling from them, you are going to have to get creative. Can you say, “Hand me my book of sermon illustrations”?

This explains why many preachers find it easier to preach from the Old Testament than the New Testament. You won’t find any epistles in the Old Testament. The closest you’ll get is Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, & the Song of Solomon. It also helps that the majority of the Old Testament is the storyline of ancient Israel and so many of the stories have happy endings. For example, God promises Abraham and the barren Sarah a son and eventually makes good on that promise. Joseph becomes the second in command of all Egypt. Moses leads the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. Joshua leads them into the promised land of Canaan. The shepherd boy David slays a giant and later becomes king. Solomon builds God’s temple. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego come out of Babylon’s fiery furnace unscathed. Daniel comes out of the lions’ den the same way. Esther saves the Jews from being exterminated in Persia. On and on the list goes.

This doesn’t mean that every Old Testament story ends well for God’s people. Far from it. Generally speaking, though, whenever a story doesn’t it’s because God is whipping His people because of their sin. Admittedly, I’m painting with very broad strokes here, but you get the gist of what I’m saying. The Old Testament features a ton of stories that leave us with a smile on our face. Israel at its best, at its pinnacle in service to God, typically enjoyed a favored status in regards to worldly matters.

But what about the stories of the New Testament? Well, while there are certainly several that fit this same bill, it’s undeniable that a significant change takes place in the New Testament. The stage for it gets set with stories such as John the Baptist getting beheaded, Jesus getting crucified, Stephen getting stoned to death, and James getting killed by a sword. And once that stage is set, then comes the full on persecution of God’s people (the church). At that point, serving God usually means trouble instead of favor, problems instead of prosperity, and rejection instead of acceptance. As evidence of this, consider Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 concerning the life of the apostles:

To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.

Sometimes I think about how some of those famous stories from the Old Testament would probably have different endings if they took place in the New Testament timeline. Sodom and Gomorrah would be allowed to stand because God would want their citizens to be afforded every possible opportunity to repent and turn to Him. Can’t we make that argument based upon 2 Peter 3:9? The Red Sea wouldn’t part for Moses and the Israelites because God would want them to remain as slaves in Egypt and eventually, through Christian teaching and influence, abolish the practice of slavery in Egypt. Isn’t that how the Christians of the Roman empire eventually brought down slavery in the empire? Goliath would kill David, but David’s courage and zeal for God would cause Goliath to seek David’s God and become a Christian. Isn’t that what happened with Saul of Tarus after he had not only been present for Stephen’s stoning but ordered the deaths of many Christians himself?

Do you see now why I say that a significant change takes place over the pages of the New Testament? And do you also see why I say that preaching from the Old Testament is easier than preaching from the New Testament? You tell me, which is more appealing to our ears, the story of how Joshua and the Israelites defeated Jericho when Jericho’s walls came crashing down (Joshua 6:1-27) or Christ’s teaching about turning the other cheek in regards to your enemies (Luke 6:29)? You know the answer. Would you rather preach a sermon on the Angel of the Lord passing through the camp of the wicked Assyrians one night and slaying 185,00 of them (2 Kings 19:35-37) or one on loving your enemies and praying for those who spitefully persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44)? Again, you know the answer.

At the bottom line, the real question is this: Living in this era in which we live, does God want our lives to look more like an Old Testament story or a New Testament one? I think we know the answer to that too. In light of this, perhaps we need to change our usual way of operating. Rather than always running to the pages of the Old Testament to seek pleasing answers for the troublesome situations in our lives, maybe we’d be better advised to major on what the New Testament has to say concerning those situations. From a preaching standpoint, this won’t make for popular sermons featuring desirable storytelling. It will, however, make for deeper preaching, preaching that is more Christ-centered, preaching that definitely needs to be heard.

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Diving Deep Into the Subject of God’s Will

I placed my belief in Jesus Christ as my Savior when I was a young boy. My belief was sincere and legitimate, and at that moment God the Holy Spirit took up permanent residence inside my body and I was thus “born again.” A few weeks afterward I was baptized by immersion, not to experience salvation and become a Christian but as proof that I had experienced it and was a Christian.

The next few years saw me living the way the average Christian lives. I went to church, prayed, read my Bible, and for the most part lived a moral kind of life. But then came my teenage years. That’s when the wheels fell off my walk with Christ. I stopped going to church, stopped praying, stopped reading my Bible, and replaced it all with other things that I shouldn’t have been doing.

It took a while, but by my early twenties my sinful ways had led me to rock bottom. That’s when I rededicated my life to Christ. Did I get saved again? No. I had never lost my salvation. What I did do was confess my sins and genuinely repent of them. I also did something that I’d never done before: I surrendered myself 100% to Christ’s lordship over my life.

In the wake of my rededication, I began to seek God’s will concerning every area of my life. That included the so-called “little” decisions as well as the “big” ones. And, truth be told, since then I’ve never really had all that much trouble discerning what God did or didn’t want me to do. Oh sure, some decisions take a fair amount of time and a lot of prayer to figure out, and oftentimes I’ve even had to work through the slow process of proving God’s will regarding a situation. In the end, though, I’ve always gotten the answers I needed. I don’t say that to brag. I offer it simply as proof of the Lord’s guidance.

Ah, but there is one particular knot in the wood that has oftentimes plagued me in regards to doing God’s will in my life. It’s the problem of other people preventing me from doing that will. You ask, “But how could someone prevent someone else from doing God’s will?” Oh, it’s not that hard. Consider the following hypothetical examples:

-It is God’s will for Linda to marry Frank, but Frank refuses to submit to God’s plan and rebelliously marries Jennifer instead. Where does that leave Linda?

-It is God’s will for Phillip to get a certain job, but Jeff, who is in charge of the hiring of personnel, isn’t a submitted Christian, has his own agenda for who he hires, and subsequently gives the job to Ray instead. Where does that leave Phillip?

-It is God’s will for little Joey to attend church, but his parents, Steven and Monica, have no interest whatsoever in attending church themselves or taking him. Where does that leave little Joey?

On and on we could go with the hypothetical illustrations, but these three are enough to make the point. We just can’t get around the fact that other people can and do sometimes prevent us from getting in on God’s will for us. Let’s say that God speaks to me through the still, small voice of the indwelling Holy Spirit and says, “Russell, I want you to send $100 to the Salvation Army.” Okay, I alone am solely responsible for whether or not His will gets done there, right? But what if He says to me, “I want you to tell each one of your church members to send $100 to the Salvation Army”? Well, that’s different, isn’t it? I can’t force other people to mind God and carry out His will. Maybe they will or maybe they won’t, but either way I won’t have the control over the outcome.

And just to show you how big a problem this is, let me remind you that the vast, vast, vast majority people living on planet earth DON’T attempt to discern and do God’s will concerning the countless circumstances and decisions that life presents. That means that we all at various times get caught in the backwash of a whole lot of rebellion against God’s will. Call it unfortunate. Call it frustrating. Call it complex. But whatever you do, call it life.

So where does all this leave us? Well, know this about God’s will: When someone knocks you out of getting in on it for your life, God will move you on to something even better. Let me go back to my three illustrations. Frank refusing to marry Linda will result in God sending Linda a wonderful man to marry. Jeff refusing to hiring Phillip will result in God opening a door for Phillip to get a job that will be even better for him. Steven and Monica refusing to take their son Joey to church will result in Joey enjoying church all the more when he is grown and allowed the opportunity to attend himself.

Let me explain how this works. God has perfect foreknowledge of everything. That means that no act of rebellion catches Him off guard or unprepared without what we might think of as a “backup” plan. The perfect illustration of this is Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. They went against God’s will by eating the fruit from the knowledge of good and evil. In so doing they fell into sin. But did God panic? No. Instead He instituted the concept of a substitutionary sacrifice as He killed two animals and used the skins to make clothing for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21, Hebrews 9:22). This shedding of blood was an early foreshadowing of all the animal sacrifices that would be offered up during the Old Testament period under the law. Taking things even further, all of those Old Testament offerings eventually found their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus offering Himself up on a Roman cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Now here’s the thing: From eternity past, God’s main plan was NOT that Adam and Eve and all their descendants would live in endless sin in the garden of Eden; it was instead that Jesus would die as the substitionary sacrifice for the sins of the human race. Consider the following passages:

…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you… (1 Peter 1:18-20)

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Revelation 13:8)

You see, this is how God works. In some strange way that you and I can’t fully fathom or grasp, His original will doesn’t have to be His primary will. Even more than that, His original will doesn’t have to be as good as His primary will. Have you ever thought about what would have happened if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned? I’ll tell you. They would have lived forever on earth in the garden of Eden. Keep in mind that bodily death is the result of sin (Romans 5:12). So if you eliminate sin altogether, you eliminate death altogether. That means that a sinless Adam and Eve would have been immortal there in the garden of Eden. Admittedly that would certainly have been an awesome existence for them, but it does have one major drawback: They would never have seen the inside of heaven or been able to spend eternity in direct fellowship with God on His throne.

So do you see now how what seemed to be God’s “backup” plan of Jesus dying on a cross to eternally pay their sin debt was really the better plan for them? This explains why the Genesis story makes special note that God drove them out of the garden after their sin and posted cherub angels and a flaming sword to prevent them from continuing to have access to the garden’s tree of life (Genesis 4:22-24). Evidently it was the fruit from that tree that gave them their bodily immortality. If they had continued to eat that fruit after they had sinned, they would have been forced to live endlessly on the earth in their pitiful, sinful state.

And so where do this whole subject matter find you? Can you think of a situation in your life when someone else prevented you from getting in on God’s will? If you can, then take some time right now and meditate on how things played out for you in the wake of that debacle. When you do this, I think you’ll find that God’s “backup” plan for you concerning the situation actually turned out better for you than His original plan. Dare I say that because of His foreknowledge it’s even possible that His “backup” plan was what He was truly up to all along. Is this a deep subject? You bet. But is it a Bible one? Absolutely. And I hope that this post has helped you to understand it at least a little better.

Posted in Adversity, Choices, Christ's Death, Disappointment, Disobedience, Dying To Self, God's Love, God's Omnipotence, God's Omniscience, God's Provision, God's Will, Perseverance, Personal, Problems, Rebellion, Reward, Sin, Submission, Trials, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spaceships & Bird Cages

You would be correct to label me as a big fan of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve seen every episode many times and have also seen every big-screen movie based upon the series. While I enjoy the first Star Trek shows and movies (the ones with Captain Kirk, Spock, Bones McCoy, Scotty, etc.), William Shatner as Captain Kirk is a little too much for me. I much prefer Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the starship Enterprise in The Next Generation series. As for all the other Star Trek spinoffs (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise), I never really got into them. My apologies to any rabid “trekkies” out there who might take offense to that. Also, I don’t want any Christians hating me over the fact that the entire Star Trek universal view builds off a basic foundation of evolution. I’m perfectly capable of enjoying some sci-fi entertainment without forsaking my belief in the Biblical account of creation.

The only place I can find Star Trek: The Next Generation these days is on BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation channel, and a few weeks back I happened to catch an episode entitled “Homeward.” The storyline involved Captain Picard and his crew violating the “prime directive.” For those of you who don’t know, the “prime directive” is Starfleet’s most important rule. It forbids interfering with the natural societal development of an alien civilization and culture. For example, a Starfleet officer can’t just beam down to a planet populated by a primitive, backward people and say, “Hi, I traveled here in a spaceship from Earth. Let’s talk.” That, you see, would inflict that alien race with a knowledge they simply aren’t ready to handle. It’s only when an alien race starts sending out spaceships themselves that Captain Picard and his crew can rightfully initiate contact with them. Of course, the “prime directive” gets violated multiple times over the course of the series, always resulting in major problems. Evidently the show’s writers thought such problems made for good t.v.

Anyway, let me get back to the “Homeward” episode. I won’t bore you with all the details, but a certain Starfleet anthropologist has been working in a disguised observation post on an alien planet to covertly study a race known as the Boraalans. Unfortunately, the whole setup goes awry and Captain Picard and his crew are forced to get involved in an effort to salvage the situation without the Boraalans finding out about deep space, starships, advanced technology, and other races. As usual, however, problems arise. In particular, one young Boraalan ends up walking the corridors and halls of the Enterprise, seeing wonders he can’t fathom and meeting crew members he never dreamed could exist.

In the end, the young man is faced with a choice. He can remain on the Enterprise and build a new life for himself out there roaming the galaxies or he can return to his home planet and basically fake it for the rest of his life, allowing his people to continue to believe that their planet and race are utterly unique in the universe. Sadly, he can’t reconcile himself to either option and chooses instead to take his own life. Overall the episode has a happy ending, but the casualty bothers Picard and he regrets that the young man couldn’t return to his home and ultimately become a bridge to link his people with Picard’s people.

Okay, so where am I going with all this? Well, it strikes me that sometimes in this life we get to the place where we have simply outgrown our little world. At that point, like that young Boraalan, we can either embrace the newness of the great unknown and step out in faith to meet it or timidly shrink back to the comfortable confines of the life we have always known.

As long as I am running with t.v. illustrations today, I’ll also throw in a word about the famous episode of The Andy Griffith Show where Opie kills the mother bird with his slingshot and then takes up the responsibility of raising her babies. He keeps them in a cage until he realizes they are flipping and flopping all around the cage as they are trying to fly. Opie says to Andy, “Pa, I think they need a bigger cage,” to which Andy responds by explaining that they do need a bigger cage, the cage of flying free in nature. Opie then sets them free and watches each one fly off. Christian, what I’m saying is that sometimes you reach a place in your life where you need a bigger cage if you are going to continue growing and thriving in your faith-building adventure with Christ.

It is with all of this in mind that I encourage you to use the beginning of this new year to take real stock of your life. Where are you these days? Are you happy with your current situation? Are you content to continue on down the road you are traveling? Are you satisfied with your place? The truth is that many people are. And, for that matter, God may want you to remain right where you are, doing exactly what you are doing, for many years to come. That’s a very real possibility that you need to consider.

Ah, but then there are those other seasons in life, those where God is leading you to explore a brand new world or fly out of your confining cage (depending upon which of my two t.v. illustrations you like best). He called Abraham to leave his hometown of Ur and journey to a new land, the land of Canaan. He called Moses to leave his comfortable existence, return to Egypt, and take up the biggest challenge of his life. He called Nehemiah to leave behind his life in a Persian palace, travel to Jerusalem, and lead a small group of followers in the rebuilding of the city’s walls. Jesus called Matthew to leave behind his occupation as a tax collector and follow Him into a new existence. He did the same thing in calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John to drop their fishing nets and  go with Him wherever He went.

You see, the Lord knows that one of the greatest killers of faith and dependence upon Him is the blandness of a humdrum existence in which we know all the answers before the questions are even asked because we’ve got the test memorized. That’s what can happen when we stay in one place, doing one thing, for too long. We become too comfortable, too confident in our own abilities, too predictable, and too spiritually complacent. That’s when a new galaxy or a bigger cage is needed. Such times of drastic change and upheaval drive us to the Lord and compel us to seek His daily guidance and provision. And that, after all, is how He wants us to live.

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A Few Unanswerable Christmas Questions For You

Every Christmas I preach the familiar story of Christ’s birth. Over the course of twenty years of doing that, I’ve come up with a list of questions the Bible simply doesn’t answer concerning the story. Here are seven of them. Don’t worry if you can’t answer these because no one can. This is just to get you to thinking in a fresh way about Christ’s birth.

Question #1: Exactly how did Joseph and the very pregnant Mary travel to Bethlehem? Did they walk? Did they both ride donkeys or camels? Did Joseph walk while Mary rode? Were they are part of a caravan that was traveling that way?

Question #2: Was Jesus born during the day or at night? I know, I know, the shepherds were watching over their flocks by night. But that’s only when the angel appeared to them and announced the birth. The way the story reads Mary gave birth shortly after she and Joseph arrived in town and found the local inn full. Well, they certainly wouldn’t have been traveling at night, would they? It’s probably best to guess that the couple arrived in town in the afternoon and she gave birth that night.

Question #3: How long was Mary in labor? Some births happen fairly quickly. Others drag on for hours. What was the case with Christ’s birth?

Question #4: Who delivered the baby Jesus? If we stay strictly with the Biblical account, the only candidate is Joseph. That would make him the very first person who ever saw God in human flesh, touched Him, and held Him. I like that idea. But did Joseph know anything about delivering babies and cutting umbilical cords? Or did someone (a doctor? a woman?) from the crowded town of Bethlehem deliver the baby?

Question #5: Exactly where was Jesus born there in Bethlehem? His first crib was a manger, and a manger is an animal’s feeding trough. So the birth must have taken place in a livestock pen. But what kind of pen was it? Was it a local cave? There is a famous cave in Bethlehem that purports to be the site. Or was it some kind of building, perhaps one that housed the animals of the travelers who were staying overnight at the inn?

Question #6: When the shepherds made “widely known” what they had seen that night, did any of the listeners go to the site and see the baby? The Bible doesn’t mention anyone doing so, but I kind of suspect that some folks did. I think that I’d have gone out of curiosity if nothing else.

Question #7: When did Jesus fully understand who He was and what He came to do? It’s hard to believe that He was lying there in that manger, looking around at Mary, Joseph, and those shepherds, and thinking to himself, “I came to die for you people.” What do little babies think about? I don’t know, I can’t remember. Some people point to the story from Luke 2:41-50 as conclusive proof that, at the very least, Jesus fully understood by the time He was 12. I don’t disagree with that, but it still leaves the exact time of His realization open for debate.

Okay, all you Bible students mull these questions over for a while and see what answers you think best fit. Like I said, there aren’t “right” or “wrong” answers here, at least not while we’re on this earth. I just wanted you to spend some time really pondering the reason for the season. Merry Christmas from the Mckinneys, and may we all give our lives unreservedly to that little baby who grew up, lived a sinless life, died on a cross for the sins of the human race, arose from the dead, ascended back to heaven, and now offers salvation to anyone who will believe in Him as Savior.

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Who Is Bombing Our Nest?

When I was young, let’s say ten years old or so, I spent a lot of summer days with my cousins, the Bennetts (Darrell, Susie, Billy, and Roger). Since both my parents worked, I didn’t have anyone to chaperone me when school was out. The solution was to let me spend the days at the Bennett house. Their mother, Betty Jean, was my dad’s older sister. She was a stay-at-home mom who had a P.H.D. in babysitting. Of course, the problem with that whole arrangement was the fact that my cousins and I never stayed in the house where she could adequately keep an eye on us. Instead, most of our time was spent out and about exploring the local woods.

A dilapidated old car sat in the woods just above the Bennett house. I didn’t know who the car belonged to at the time, but I’ve since learned that Betty Jean’s husband Bill had parked it there when the motor had gone bad. Trust me, he had no plans to fix that car. Its windows were all busted out, the interior was little more than a shell, and the whole thing was well on its way to rusting down completely. For all I know, what’s left of it is still sitting there.

One day as our crew was out patrolling the area we noticed that bees had built a huge nest inside that car. I’m thinking that it was a yellow-jackets nest, but it could have been hornets. I do vividly recall that the basketball-sized nest was located just above the driver’s side door. Naturally, kids being kids, we took it as a personal challenge to bring down that nest. It was just the kind of project for which lazy summer days are made.

After studying the nest for a while, we noticed that its one entrance was in the front at the bottom. Since bees were constantly flying in and out of that entrance, a frontal attack wasn’t advisable. So we made our way around to the car’s passenger’s side. I can’t remember if we opened the passenger door or if it was already off the hinges, but somehow we snuck our way inside that car and got behind that massive nest. Now the only question to be answered was, When we started pelting that nest with rocks, would those bees fly out the front or the back to attack? We gambled on the front, gathered our rocks, and cautiously, one kid at a time, began bombing the nest.

We grew more and more bold with each thrown rock because no matter where the rocks struck the nest, the bees flew out that one hole in the front. They just kept roaring out, stingers locked and loaded, seeking to deal with their attackers, but they couldn’t find us. The air was dark with them just outside that driver’s side window, but all remained clear on the other side of the car where we were. That allowed us to take turns easing inside the car and throwing our rocks. I can just picture us there, laughing like crazed madmen, as one by one we stoned that poor nest into oblivion. And throughout the entire affair not one of us got stung. If only we had channeled such genius toward purposes that were less mischievous and more productive for society. Oh well.

As I think back upon that day from my childhood, I’m reminded that we Christians oftentimes have our own trouble figuring out where the attacks upon us are coming from. We fly around, all stirred up and righteously indignant, but our holy zeal is misdirected and our efforts ultimately fail. Why? It’s because we have trouble locating our true attacker. And just who is our true attacker? It’s Satan. The abortionists are carrying out his agenda. The gambling industry is doing his bidding. He convinces the homosexuals that what they are doing is morally acceptable. He energizes the pornographers. He inspires the producers and directors of filthy television shows and Hollywood movies. He is the power behind the throne of evil dictators and warmongers. Yes, he’s the one who is constantly bombing us and thus creating the mess that we call this world.

Notice carefully what the Bible teaches in the following passages:

Then Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him (Elymas the sorcerer) and said, “O full of all deceit all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:9-10)

In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10)

“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do…” (John 8:44)

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world… (Revelation 12:9)

You see, Christian, the one who is bombing our nest from behind is Satan and the people he uses to accomplish his work are merely the rocks thrown from his hand. I’m not excusing these people or letting them off the hook for their sins. Surely God will hold each one accountable for his/her actions. I’m simply pointing out that, in a very real sense, these folks don’t even do their own bidding. They think they are free and liberated to do as they please, but in truth they aren’t independent at all. Satan has them deceived. He has their minds blinded. They want to do the desires of his heart rather than the desires of their own hearts.

Please remember this, Christian, whenever you find yourself out there on the front lines of the cultural war. It’s so easy to despise or hate the people who think and act in ungodly ways. But don’t let yourself fall into the trap of failing to see them for who they really are. They are pawns in the hands of an evil lord. They are puppets dancing on the strings of a wicked puppeteer. They are children whose minds have become warped under the tutelage and training of their twisted father. They are the victims of a sinister brainwashing carried out by a master in the art. Again, I’m not attempting to alleviate them from all their guilt and accountability. There’s no doubt that each of them currently stands under the foreboding shadow of God’s impending judgment. I just want you to understand that the one who is doing the actual rock throwing is Satan.

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