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Seven Reasons I rejoice in the Virgin Birth

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matt 1:23)

Jesus was born of a virgin. This is part of the Christmas story, the Gospel story. This is what Scripture clearly declares.

Yet, it’s hard to wrap our minds around. Virgin births just don’t happen. In fact, many thinkers over the last two centuries have used this doctrine to reject the truthfulness of Scripture itself: “Absolutely not. It’s a cover-up job because this unmarried woman is pregnant.” “Not a virgin birth, but wishful thinking.” “A few generations after Jesus, they fabricated this to help the church worship Jesus.” (Don’t miss the irony: fabricate a story to worship him who claims to be the truth. It’s OK to lie/exaggerate as long as you are magnifying Jesus. Really? They call this a “pious fraud”… and, with that fine-sounding name, tell us truth doesn’t matter).

The Virgin Birth IS an anomaly. In all of history, no one is born of a virgin, save Jesus. No one is born without the need of a father’s seed. Except Jesus.

Why is Jesus born of a virgin, and why does this matter? Let me offer several reasons why it matters, why it happened, why we need not be embarrassed about it, and rather, why we can worship the Lord with even more abandon because of it! (Several of these reasons are adapted from Wayne Grudem, Marv Rosenthal, and others).

First, To show that Salvation is from the Lord. This birth is utterly impossible except by God’s intervention. So is salvation. God must step in to provide the way of salvation, the offer of salvation, the grace for salvation. It’s all on him. Even the birth of the Savior he sent is a miracle that can only be attributed to God’s activity. Sounds like a sign-post to the Divine Initiative to rescue us from our sins.

Second, In the Incarnation of Jesus through the virgin birth, we can grasp (sort-of) that which we otherwise couldn’t grasp at all: How Jesus is both God and man. If God had sent his Son as an angelic being, we couldn’t relate to him at all as ‘one of us’; he’d be so far above us, unapproachable. And, he’d still be “outside of humanity”… and thus unable to redeem us. If God had sent his Son through the normal relations of husband and wife, he’d have no claim to divinity: he’d have the same birth story as us all. No uniqueness there, no pointer to his prior existence, no clear break from the rest of humanity. He’d be one of us, but not God. Jesus is the God-man. One hundred percent God, and one hundred percent man. Unique in all of history & eternity. His birth points to this.

Third, By being born of a virgin, there is a break with the inherited sin of Adam. Adam & Eve both sinned in the garden of Eden. They disobeyed God’s command, followed their own pride/ambition, and fell from a state of innocence to a state of bondage to that pride/ambition. All through Scripture, God speaks of humanity being “in Adam”… that is, in the sin of Adam, the guilt of Adam, the doom of Adam. God looks at all humanity as inheriting the sinful state of Adam, the man in the garden. Only one of all the billions who have ever lived has been born outside of Adam’s fatherly line. The One who was “born of a woman.” The Virgin birth of Jesus points to his unique position of being born of a woman. (It’s true that you could go back one generation to Mary’s birth and say, “but she is in Adam!” Fine. However, the theological point is made: There’s one–and only one–born without a man’s help: Jesus. There is a break in the ‘line of Adam’. Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church handles this by their doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary – that she was conceived without sin. This is unscriptural. And, unwarranted.)

Fourth, On the day sin entered the world, God promised that the Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). Jesus is the only one who can legitimately claim to the be Seed of the Woman alone. He’s the Serpent Crusher.

Fifth, Isaiah 7:14 says that “The virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and he shall be called Immanuel.” (that name means ‘God with us’.) It’s been in vogue to argue that the Hebrew word almah (virgin) can really mean “young woman.” And, much ink has been spilt in some circles claiming this proves the early church read more into things than history warrants: “Isaiah only predicted a ‘young woman’… no need for a virgin birth.” However, 200 years before Christ, when 70 Jewish scholars met to translate the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) into Greek, they used the Greek word parthenos in this passage for “virgin.” Parthenos is the straight up Greek term for a young woman, whose never been married, and is a virgin. (In fact, when one visits Athens today, the greatest temple is the Parthenon… a temple to Athena the Virgin goddess of Wisdom.) The 70 Jewish Scholars had no desire to build the case for Jesus, who in any event was 200 years after this translation effort.

Sixth, Jesus Legal and Physical Genealogies. [You can skip down to #7 if you want. This gets a little involved. However, if you have your bible and take a look at the references, you will be blessed!]

Matthew 1 holds the genealogy of Jesus in three parts: 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the Exile, 14 from the Exile to Jesus. The third section begins with “Jeconiah” (son of Josiah) who was deported in the Exile to Babylon. Jeconiah is the same king as “Coniah” (ie., without the ‘Jeh’) in Jeremiah 22:24-30. In these verses God says that “none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David and ruling again in Judah.” Matthew’s record includes this “dead end” stump in the  genealogy of Jesus the True King, Son of David.

Matthew does two things: (1) He traces the legal claim to the throne, and Jesus’ legal family is Joseph’s. Joseph adopts Jesus, bestowing on him all his legal rights. Joseph is of the line of David, Mt 1 clearly says. (2) Matthew also reminds us of the sin of God’s people–highlighting the exile, and even this king who is cut off.  There will be no son/offspring/seed of Jeconiah ever to sit on the throne. The legal throne line of David is a dead end.

But it’s also different than physical descent. Matt 1 records the legal descent of Jesus. Luke 3 records the physical genealogy of Jesus. And Luke works backward through Mary’s bloodline. She descends from David through his son Nathan (not the legal line of Kings through Solomon & the cursed Jeconiah). Jesus is the Son of David, but through a different son than the ones on the throne. Note that while Matthew records 42 generations from Jesus to Abraham, Luke records 56. Why the discrepancy? The legal line in Matthew simply needs to establish continuity, but need not be exhaustive. The physical line is father to son.

Seventh, the ultimate reason that we hold humbly, simply and clearly to the Virgin Birth is that Scripture teaches it. You cannot read Matthew 1 and Luke 1 without seeing how vital to the story is Mary’s virginity. It underlies her own questions in Luke 1. It is the security God gives to Joseph to move forward with this marriage (Matt1). It is spoken of by the narrators, the Angels, Mary and Joseph themselves in the story. It’s just simply part of the story.

And now we know why: Jesus is unique & unparalleled. Even in his birth, he is unique and unparalleled. His birth fulfills the promises of God to David (and the curse on Jeconiah). It breaks with Adam’s sin even while identifying with Adam’s race. It is a pointer to the reality of God & Man dwelling in one. And, it reminds us that Salvation–like this pregnancy–can only be a divine initiative of Grace.

“But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his son. Born of a woman, born under law to redeem those who were under the law that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5). This Jesus is born of a woman to redeem us, and adopt us as Sons of his Father. That’s A Christmas Miracle!

How to Prepare for Christmas

It’s so easy to get off track in the pre-Christmas season, and lose sight of why we’re doing all the things we are doing. We get frazzled, overbooked, over-fed and frustrated.

Let me offer six quick words to help us ready ourselves to celebrate Christ’s birth.

(1) Anticipate. It’s human and helpful to hope. We long for what’s not yet. We see a future that is coming. Anticipation is wrapped up in our belief that God is up to something. Christmas is a time to strain forward; today is not all there is. Christ came to earth as a baby, he will come again as the Redeemer and Judge of all things!

(2) Discipline. The way our culture does Christmas is EXCESS: more music, more food, more drink, more presents. More, more, more. As people of the Cross who anticipate a future “more”, let us be counter-cultural in our disciplined lives. More is not gain; godliness with contentment is great gain (Paul says this in 1 Timothy 6). This means knowing our limits and living into them (dollar limits to spend on gifts, calorie limits at feasting, time limits if we just can’t make every get-together, etc.). Just like a backyard fence brings freedom for a toddler, so discipline brings freedom for us all.

(3) Vision & Perspective. The pressure of others can lead us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t. Don’t lose perspective. Be who God made you to be, and live where God called you to live. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones, or make up for last year, or spend a ‘coming bonus’. Have a clear-eyed vision of where God has you & why.

(4) Encouragement. When was the last time you allowed God to encourage you? To build you up? Ponder: God sent his Son, born to a peasant, and laid in a manger… to “save his people from their sins.” Be encouraged: God is for you. He loves you. He set his love on you before you knew he was there! Repeatedly let the gift in the Manger be the encouragement of God in your heart.

(5) Nativity. This is the center of the whole season, the climax of everything in December. It’s all for naught if we forget the nativity. Refresh yourself with the Story of Christmas (Luke 1-2, Matthew 1-2). Rejoice in the ‘invasion’ from eternity, and the reclaiming of his fallen world by its rightful owner and king. All of this begun as a baby asleep on the hay! Our Christmas season will never be centered if the Nativity is not in the center of it!

(6) Trust. All of life is trust. We trust the chair we sit in, the car we drive in, the plane we board to visit relatives. We trust our boss to pay us, our bank to release the funds, our mortgage company to reduce our loan. We trust our friends to help us, our church body to love us, our government to maintain the peace. All of life is trust. Why? Because that’s the only way we can relate to God.

 

Anticipation, Discipline, Vision, Encouragement, Nativity, Trust. A six-fold orientation us in these December days. You might have noticed they spell ADVENT. I trust you can use them to be a pilgrim through Advent on the way to December 25, and not a passenger carried along by the world!

“Unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord!” Amen and Amen.

Meet: Amy Gannett

It is a joy to introduce you to Amy Gannett.  Amy and her husband Austin moved to Kinston to be part of Grace Fellowship’s Church Planting Ministry. Austin is on staff at Grace developing the CP program, and learning the ins-and-outs of pastoring as they prepare to plant a church.

Amy has two jobs right now: Marketing Director for locally-owned Mother Earth Brewing Company, and Founder/Director of Take Root Ministries, a ministry to help every member of the household of faith deepen their faith! She’s hosted several day-long conferences in Colorado on how to “take root” in Scripture for yourself. (They moved to Kinston from Fort Collins.)

Amy has produced an Advent Devotional Study called Grafted In. It looks at the family tree of Christ. I’ve looked through it, and am thrilled to see such quality insights/questions ready to lead YOU deeper into Christ.  It’s primarily written for women.  (But the man who takes this journey will be blessed.)

I asked her a few questions yesterday:

JASON:  Amy, you have a heart to help women study Scripture well. Where does that come from?

AMY:  The Scriptures are at the heart of the Christian life. They are the source of our understanding of God, His character, and His activity in the world. The Scriptures also teach us about ourselves–who God created us to be and how He would have us, as Christians, live in this world. Because of this, there is no more vital resource for God’s people than God’s Word! I am deeply grateful that I was able to attend Bible school and seminary. As a learner at heart, both experiences shaped and equipped me to be a student of the Word, taught me how to explore topics that I didn’t understand, and how to break down complex passages in ways that helped me understand them. This kind of rich, exegetical Bible study has been a game-changer for me, and helped me root my whole life on the Word of God – and that is a skill set I want to share with others. 

How have you seen God open doors for this ministry?

If there is one lesson I have learned through starting Take Root Ministries it is this: our gifts don’t open doors for us – God does. God has been so gracious in providing opportunities for me to share my heartbeat for teaching women to study and teach the Bible. And the response from women has been overwhelming! Women’s ministries all over the country have been asking how they can equip their women with biblical literacy, and I’m deeply grateful for each and every church that has invited me to be a part of that process. 

In the Christmas story, it’s hard to miss the fact that women are center stage—Mary, Elizabeth, even Anna. Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55) is rich with biblical imagery. As you wrote Grafted In how do you hope God will meet someone as they go through it?

It’s easy for us as modern readers to forget that women were considered second-class citizens at the time the genealogy of Christ was written. They were often considered so inconsequential, in fact, that they were very rarely included in family records. But, in the family line of Christ we read the names of four women. Four! And though their stories are very different we read throughout their lives the resounding narrative of God’s constant intentionality to bring outsiders into His family. 

We, as Gentiles, were once outside the family of God, too (something that is particularly easy to forget during the Christmas season). But in Christ, as Paul says in Romans 11, we have been “grafted in” to God’s family tree. It is my hope that this Advent season we are reminded that our God sought us out and made us His children. Not because of anything we have done but by His lavish grace. 

Thanks Amy. I know that folks who read this blog are interested in growing in just the ways you have noted. I hope many people take the Grafted In journey!

 

If you want to order Grafted In, click here.

For more information on Amy’s ministry, visit amygannett.com.  You can read her blogs and articles, as well as shop or book her to speak.

It’s amazing to see God build his kingdom through folks like Austin & Amy… and YOU and me!

The Five Solas

At its heart, the Protestant Reformation was a recovery of direct access to Scripture… and then was that Scripture setting the world ablaze! For many hundreds of years, God’s gospel was obscured by the teaching and practices of the church based in Rome. For a good century, earlier saints attempted to reform this church—John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, James Resby, Pavel Kravar. All of them suffered in attempting to call the church back to fidelity to the Gospel.

 Luther’s generation was God’s time for a massive new work. The Protestant Reformation was born. As Christians looked back, it was clear that this movement centered on 5 truths – the Five Solas of the Reformation.

 This House Church Study is going to focus on those 5, and then turn to one of the great fruits of that next hundred years, the Catechisms. (Michael Horton adds the subtitles to the Five Solas). If you can’t look up every verse, that’s OK.

Sola Scriptura – Our Only Foundation

  • Read 2 Timothy 3:15-17 & Hebrews 4:12. What do we learn about God’s Word here?
  • Read Jeremiah 23:21-22. There are two types of people speaking in God’s Name. Who are they? Why do you think it’s so important for bible teachers to listen to God?
  • How do you think Christians mistakenly build their foundation other than on God’s Word? What types of things are substituted for our most basic authority in life?

Solus Christus – Our Only Mediator

  • Read 1 Timothy 2:5, John 14:6, Hebrews 9:12-15a, 7:25. What do these teach us about the absolute exclusivity of Christ in our Salvation?
  • Many of our Catholic friends pray to the saints for protection. We Protestants rightly demure. But many of my Protestant friends put much focus on “guardian angels” for their protection. Do you think this is wise?

Sola Gratia – Our Only Method

  • Read Eph 2:1, 4-6. What is the basic story of salvation? (where were we, what happened, where are we now?)
  • As if to reinforce the point beyond all reasonable doubt, Read Eph 2:8-9. How many different ways are there by which to be seated in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus?
  • What are examples of “works” that we think earn us some standing before God?
  • If God hadn’t come to us in Christ, could we ever have come to him? (1 John 4:19 adds the ‘cherry on top’ to this gracious truth!)

Sola Fides – Our Only Means

  • Read Acts 4:12, Romans 10:9-10, John 1:12. Why is it so hard to count on faith?
  • Why do so many people shrink back from entrusting themselves & their lives to Christ and his work?

Soli Deo Gloria – Our Only Ambition

Rom 11:36 – For from Him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.

  • What hope can you take from this exclamation?

 

Catechisms & Confessions

The 16th and 17th centuries saw the development of a number of important catechisms and Confessions of Faith. The reason is simple: Having left the Roman Catholic Church (with its well-laid out doctrines), the Protestants had to flesh out what they believe and how to pass it along to the next generations. A Confession of Faith is a “statement of doctrine/belief”, and a Catechism is a training course for discipleship.

Even to this day, many churches and families use Catechisms as a way to help folks grasp their faith. Two of the most famous catechisms are the Heidleberg (1563) and the Westminster Shorter (1640s).

Compare the first question of each. What is the focus of the respective authors? Even without knowing the rest of the questions/answers, how do these set the tone for each catechism?

How might these (and others) be helpful in discipling us today?

WSC Question 1

Q: What is the chief end of man? 

A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

[Glorify God: 1 Corinthians 10:31. Romans 11:36. Enjoy Him: Psalm 73:24-26. John 17:22, 24.]

Heidelberg Question 1

Q: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

A: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

[Rom 14:7-8, 1 Pet 1:18-19, 1 John 2:2, Heb 2:14, Mt 10:29-31, Rom 8:14, 16, 28]

How can we get more prayers answered?

Someone told me the other day, “I’ve learned a lot from you about how to pray.” I was taken aback (because who thinks their prayer life is up to par!!). But, I was also grateful that some of the things I’ve learned from mentors and friends are being channelled through me.

All of us want to be effective in what we do. No one wants to coast or waste time. With our prayer-lives, I think many of us are in this cycle of feeling like “we need to do better,” while at the same time being uncertain of how to grow. Everyone can spend more time in it… but is that the only answer?

What are some ways to grow in effective praying right now and today?  In other words, how can we see more of our prayers answered?

Here are three quick things that I’ve learned from others:

Pray Scripture

God will never break his Word. He just won’t. He will always fulfill it, always complete it, always bring it to pass. The promises of God, the warnings of God, the instructions of God… these are things that will be accomplished. Pray them.

  • Pray the Psalms – These are amazing both for praise/worship and for hurts/deep need. Twenty years ago, when a friend was dying of a long cancer struggle, a buddy and I prayed Psalm 94:18-19 for her many many times: “When I said, ‘my foot is slipping’, your love, O Lord supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” We also prayed for healing of cancer, but we watched God’s love and consolation sustain her in her battle.
  • Pray Paul’s prayers – At the start of most of his letters is a prayer for the growth of the recipients. How you’ll bless family, friends, and local church to pray that for them. “…that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work…” (Col 1:9-10). If God brought these requests to pass in the life of your friends and family, it would be victory!
  • Pray Revelation’s songs – Line for line, there is more worship in Revelation than any other book outside of the Psalms and Isaiah! Work through them, and grow in your adoration of God.  “Hallelujah for the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. let su rejoice and exult and give him glory…” (Rev 19:6)

God will always fulfill his Word. He’ll never turn his back on it. The more you pray it, the more you will see him answering those prayers.

Pray with Single Focus

If a friend comes to you to ask for help, but then can’t decide what they are asking, can you help them?  Or, If a friend comes to you to ask for help, but you see through their request to the “reverse psychology” they are using to get you to do what they want, do you automatically help them?

We often pray without a single focus. Either we don’t really know what to ask for, or we ask for things that will help us get something else.  “Lord, please grow our church,” prays the leaders… all the while because they long to be successful and stroke their ego.  “Lord, please grant my child acceptance at X university,” pray the parents… because their identity is tied to their kids’ accomplishments.

James challenges us – “you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas 4:3). God is very willing to help, but be straight up with him! Ask him for what you really want. Don’t hide what you really want behind a veneer request that sounds more godly. If you want a better job because you are sick of the way this crummy manager treats you, ask him for it; don’t couch it all sorts of “and Lord, then I can be better rested to serve you at church, and paid more to give more…” Just be straight up.

BUT.  BUT.  BUT… weigh your straight-up requests before you ask them of God. Here’s the litmus test for your prayers: are they prayers Jesus would pray? When we pray in Jesus’ Name, we are saying, “Lord, to the best of my ability, I think this is what Jesus would say if he were on his knees right now.” His agenda. His purposes. His kingdom. Remember “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:33).  If Jesus would pray it, and if it’s in line with the Kingdom purposes of God… then pray it out and pray it confidently.

Prayers for healing? YES – pray them. Prayers for provision of needs? YES. Prayers for friends to come to Christ? YES. Prayers for relief from testing/trials/wounds? YES. Ask and ask boldly. Which brings us to the third way to see prayers answered:

Pray Boldly

If you are praying with a single focus, then pray with courage and clarity. Ask God for the things you are convinced of. Ask directly, not indirectly. Actively, not passively. Esteeming his ability, not hoping to squeak one by.

“And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). Jesus then tells the parable of the persistent widow – who finally gets justice from the unjust judge even though she–as a widow–has no real legal standing before the court. Jesus says, God is not unjust, and you are not right-less widows (v7).

Pray without giving up. Pray with tenacity, perseverance, boldness, clarity, courage, conviction. Pray in the night, in the morning, through the day, with a friend, in a group, all alone, out loud, writing in your journal, on your knees, while driving or walking or running… or while doing mindless tasks at work. And, for Pete’s sake, ask using active verbs, not passive ones: “Lord, please heal my sister.” Not: “Lord, please let the disease be treated by this medicine.”

Just pray and pray boldly.

We must reverence the Lord. No doubt. But we don’t reverence him by pussy-footing around what we really want. We reverence him by saying, “Lord, here’s this huge problem, and I think you are the only one who can solve it. Would you? Please?”

 

These are some of the things I’ve discovered over the years. What about you? Leave a comment about thoughts or ideas you use. We’d love to learn them!

How Awesome is Heaven?

My friend and trusted colleague, Haywood Smith, went to be with the Lord this week. Kinston mourns a faithful & Christ-exalting pastor. Westminster UMC will miss him deeply. The Lord Jesus will carry us near his heart! (Isa 40:11)  A couple of years ago, I wrote the following, prompted by a friend’s email about what heaven is like. Here it is.

 

My friend emailed me recently:

“Talked with my doctor the other day, and he wanted to understand about our concept of heaven.  I know you have thought lots about this.  Please give me your thoughts……not religious talk…..just really how you think about what it is like for your Dad.  How will you know him?  Does he know what you are doing?  Can he feel sensory pleasure in heaven?”

His doctor is from another faith, and they were talking.  My dad died 33 years ago, and I have thought lots about the experience of heaven.  My son died 7 years ago in the womb, and I’ve thought even more about it. Here’s what I wrote back:

Hey Brother,

The one word I have for heaven is this: INVIGORATING.  It just has to be if God is there and if we’re free from sin! The greatest experiences on this earth are truly wonderful: the gorgeous sunsets, the joy of snowboarding, laughing deeply, hugging your son, making tender love to your wife, a T-bone steak, seeing a new believer step out to honor Christ… there are so many amazing experiences. And, this is a world coming apart and getting worse, and I am a man who is filled with selfishness and anger and pride and greed and lust and stupidity. Imagine being in a world where I’m not shot through with sin, and the world itself is not decaying and falling apart.

Heaven cannot be boring. Cannot be banal. Cannot be dull or monotonous. Because God is there, and he is not boring or banal. He is the most life-giving and life-loving presence there is.

When Jesus told the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31), he surely indicated there was sensory knowledge in the afterlife: both in heaven and in hell. As well as a remembrance of people on earth (Rich man wanted Abraham to send Lazarus to tell his brothers about the afterlife…). Of course it’s a parable, but it feels like he’s constructing a parable out of principles that are in place. I don’t think I’m in left field to consider that my dad has met my son, Joshua (who died at 20 weeks). Or that Jesus has introduced your dad to my dad… imagine! Why? Because God loves to make relational connections.  I think “holy imagination”—the connecting of dots in Scripture’s laconic record on heaven’s actual experiences—permits us to ponder that my dad knows a good deal about Kinston through your dad and Paige Patty and Robert Singleton.  I wouldn’t split a church over this, but I also don’t think I’m falling into a silly sentimental wishful thinking.

Of course, where the dead are today is not the end.  When Jesus returns to earth, resurrects all people, and renews the heavens and the earth, we will start a whole new story. As NT Wright says, “there’s life after life-after-death.”

As CS Lewis writes in the Last Battle, this entire life (we’ll discover) has not been the whole story, it’s only been the prologue! Amazing to consider what it will be like to hike the Himalayas or dive in the Marianas trench or make new symphony music, poetry or novels, create new desserts, and just plain laugh in the company of friends in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

No, if redemption means anything, it means that EVERYTHING in the final state is exponentially greater than ANYTHING in this fallen state. Think about this: What’s the deepest relationship in this world? Husband and wife… who become one in flesh and spirit. But, Jesus says that in the next age there will be no marriage. This deepest of relationships will be “denied” us in the eternal state. A step backwards? Obviously not. That means that the depth, joy and intimacy of marriage even pales in comparison to what our relationships will be.

Invigorating. Fulfilling. Ultimate. Epic. Amazing. Joy-filled. Awe-full. Holy. Finally, we will know what it means to be fully human… and we will fall on our face in worship of the One who bought us and brought us to be with him. And (I think this is right) He will be the lifter of our heads, and will say to us: “Well done… enter into your rest!”

Love you man! I’m smiling now. Jason

Seven Questions if you Wrestle with your Thought Life

Everyone struggles with what goes on inside their head. Whether you’ve walked with Christ for 50 years or 50 minutes, we still struggle of thinking like Christ. “Set your minds on things above” (Col 3:2) will always tussle with “I do what I do not want to do” (Rom 7:20)

The journey of this life is one of pursuing Jesus, fleeing temptation, standing firm against the devil, and taking remaining sin seriously all at the same time.

Sin starts in the mind. James says that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15)

Our thought-life is the start of sin—what we choose to dwell on is what will lead us. We can’t choose what thoughts come into our head, but we can choose which of them stay there. Bitterness. Lust. Selfish Ambition. Worry. Envy. Unforgiveness. Greed. Pride & Conceit. Anger. All of these sins start in the mind.

None of us wants to continue in worry, bitterness, lust, etc. But why are there days when lust wins? Why does worry sometimes take over? Why can’t I be done with these and think godly thoughts all the time?!?!

Let me offer seven questions if your thought-life is just not holy.

1) What’s your first thought of the day?

When the alarm goes off, what’s your first thought? Of God, his grace, his commitment to you and power to accomplish it? Or, is your first thought of the things you have to do, the stress you are under, the concerns you have, etc., etc. Those thoughts are not sin in and of themselves. But instead of letting them have primacy, grab a 3*5 card (as you turn off the alarm), with a promise from Scripture on it? For example, Eph 2:10 or Psalm 138:8. If thought-life is the start of sin, what’s the start of your daily thought-life? Start with praise and promises.

2) What’s your plan for disciplining your thought-life?

To train for a marathon, grab a 16-week plan that gradually increases your stamina and ability to run 26.2 miles straight. What’s your 4 month plan for changing your thought patterns? Lay it out. Work the plan. “Exercise and eat right” in your mind. What redemptive words and truths are you feeding your mind on to build mind-muscle? What Scripture passage are you dwelling in today? What verse are you memorizing this week? What bible study are you moving through? What Worship Music or Hymns are filling your mind? Do you have friends that you can talk about growing in Christ with? What’s your plan? Without a plan, the fat, flabby and disoriented thought-life will never change.

3) What “fighter verses” do you have?

Grab a few “daggers” to jab at the enemy when he comes in close with temptation. He can’t stand up to God’s word. Leverage that. Quote and repeat and speak verses that you’ve tucked away in your mind. My favorite are the “Five Assurances” from the Navigators’ ministry. Click here to get all five of them.

Additionally, these two verses are worth memorizing to give you confidence.

  • 2 Cor 10:5 – “…we take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ…” is a great promise that we CAN change our thought-life.
  • Eph 6:16 – “…take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one…” shows that the evil one can’t stand up to the faith we have in Christ.

4) How wired are you?

It seems to me that 80% (or more?) of our social media is at best “not helpful,” and at worst corrosive, to a holy thought-life. Not that 80% of the content is Satanic, but after a while, seeing all your friends’ Instagram pictures of their Mediterranean vacation breeds envy or discontentment; or going from one article to the next to the next on Facebook just loses you in random thinking. Not to mention the harmful stuff that is out there… and accessible with a click or two. A holy thought-life might be more attainable with parameters on your time in the virtual world: Not before ___ AM, and power down at ___ PM; no tech at certain times with your friends, kids, spouse (e.g., family supper). Give your mind space to breathe.

5) What friends do you have on the journey?

My friend says, “what’s conceived in the dark, and kept in the dark has a hold on you until you bring it to light.” Bring a friend into your desire for a holy thought-life and your struggle in it. Don’t bear this burden alone. Let Christ minister to you through his body. Agree in prayer together (Mt 18:19) & set goals for holiness (see #2).

6) Do you know your low points?

When do you most often dwell on the unholy thoughts? When you are tired? Lonely? After work? Are you filled more with self-pity at certain points in the week or month? (like Friday night when “everybody else” has plans). Are you more likely to indulge lust if you are alone and awake after midnight? Know your low points, and then guard them: get a friend to call you, put a “fighter verse” near your TV, etc. Keep track of your patterns, and when you sense you are thinking least godly thoughts… and then address those specific moments.

7) Do you know that God is for you and His Spirit is in you?

  • Romans 8:31-32 – “Since God is for us, who can be against us?”
  • 1 John 4:4 – “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.”

These verses give us the confidence on two levels: first of all, God WANTS us to have a holy thought-life; he’s rooting for us to grow. Second, he’s given us the power to do it by living inside of us. The more I ask the Spirit to lead my thoughts, the more he will.

 

Seven questions if your thought life is just not holy. You’re not alone, but you are also not doomed. Where do you need to start? Leave a comment or a tip that has helped you.

Weeping in Vegas with Hope

Another Murderous rampage. It boggles my mind. As one witness at the concert in Las Vegas said, “it was a kill box.” (Wall Street Journal, 10.3.17)

What to say in a blog post?

Well, to start with, the world is broken, and there is real evil. This is undeniable. A funny thing happened since 2001: Nobody argues against the existence of sin anymore. When hijackers self-consciously fly planes into buildings, the illusion that “environment or education” causes society’s troubles vanishes. There is sin in the world. There is evil, darkness and horror. It’s not everywhere, by any stretch. But it’s out there, lurking, creeping, overpowering at times.

The world is broken and evil is real.

People are broken too. There’s no other way to say it. Stephen Paddock was messed up. Was it for all of his life? Did he harbor a deep grievance? Was there a vengeful pathology? Were there wounds that cannot be named? Right now, let me say respectfully: who cares! It does not matter what caused Paddock to act like this. The fact that he did shouts to us that people are broken.

Not just brokenness, but evil lurks in our hearts and characters too. We don’t have to be a mass murderer to know it. In the quiet moments, we harbor a vengeful grudge, or let fly a rage-filled tirade.  As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.”

The world is broken; so are people. The world is evil; so are people.

Are things hopeless?

Yes. If you hope for Utopia. A world without sorrow or death… that’s a hopeless cause. A world with no pain or suffering… we just won’t be able to marshall enough resources to bring this to pass.  I’m not saying there’s no good anywhere; there is. And I love it. Kindness of strangers. Goodness in folks’ actions. Genuine love and concern for the plight of others. But on a macro level, on a once-and-for-all level, on a “I guarantee that nothing bad will happen to you baby”, this world is hopeless.

We all know this in our hearts. And it’s disheartening.

Here’s my question, then. If the world is hopeless, why are we so filled with hope?

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” we read from someone who knows. Everyone still has children, counting on something in us that says the next generation will see some great advances. Orphan Annie’s song resonates: “The Sun’ll come out tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun.”

Why?

In this broken, evil world (filled with broken, evil people) we see where hope comes from: it’s the footsteps of the One who walked into it. In a corner of the world some 2,000 years ago, there was One who sat with broken people under an evil political system. There was One who loved evil people with broken hearts. We meet One who said “come to me with your weariness and burdens, and you’ll find rest with me… hope, peace, joy, love with me.”

Some 2,000 years ago, there was One who was brutally, thoroughly, utterly broken as they nailed him to a Roman Cross. It was hanging by those nails, scorned by all around, in agonizing pain that he became–for us and our sin–he became evil-incarnate.

“God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor 5:21). Martin Luther called this the “Happy Exchange” – Christ offers to us his righteousness if we will give to him our sin. We can carry our sin, guilt, shame, evil and brokenness… or we can give it to him. As long as we carry it, we are sinful, shameful, guilty and evil. But, if we give it to him–Lord, please forgive my sins!–then he gives to us his righteousness… his wholeness, beauty, right-ness before God, adoption in God’s family, and joyous future.

This is where hope comes from. In our broken, evil world, hope spring eternal from the Cross – that place of worst evil and greatest brokenness.

As we grieve for the people in las Vegas (and everywhere), let us grieve as those wiht hope – knowing Christ’s only answer to evil was to endure its worst! And, to come out on the other side, the Victor!

Does God Initiate or Respond?

Think of the first two books of the bible – Genesis and Exodus. How do we see God?

In a few words, Genesis is all about the God who initiates. Think about it: he starts the whole universe in chapter 1. He initiates all the astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, zoology in that one chapter of Scripture. Then, he initiates life in his image—by creating humanity. And thus he initiates family, relationships, society.

In the face of the Fall into sin, he initiates a rescue plan – promised in 3:15 and begun by choosing Abraham and his seed in ch12. Indeed, by sovereignly choosing Abraham, God proves again that he is the initiating God.

From there, he chooses Isaac (not Ishmael), Jacob (not Easu). He even initiates a rescue plan for Jacob’s family in the coming famine… by having Joseph down in Egypt as Prime Minister.

Genesis is the story of Initiating God.

What about Exodus? It’s the story of God delivering his people who are groaning under the weight of slavery. He redeems them with an outstretched arm, charters them in covenant (Ex 19-24), and dwells with them in the Tabernacle. It’s the story of him forgiving them at the Golden Calf.

Exodus is the story of the Responding God. He responds in compassion to the groaning of his people. “And God heard the groaning of his people, And God remembered his Covenant, and God saw the sons of Israel, and God knew.” (Ex 2:25)

We see the responsiveness of God to the plight of his people. But we also see his responsiveness in connection to his covenant promises: he will uphold them, fulfill them, be true to them. Exodus displays his utter commitment to his purposes.

So in Exodus we discover the Responding God on two levels: to the plight of those in bondage, and to his Word given beforehand.

Genesis and Exodus. The Initiating God and the Responding God. What hope does this give us? In both books, and in both angles of God’s character, we come face to face with one fact: everything rests on him. Creation. Election. Redemption. Deliverance. Covenant. It’s all his. As the old hymn says, “His grace has planned it all, ‘tis mine but to believe, and recognize his work of love, and Christ receive.”

If this is the pattern in the first two books of Scripture, have you seen this pattern in your life? Times when God initiates new things for you, with you, through you? Times when God responds to your groaning… and (though mysterious to you at first) brings deliverance and help (just like he promised he would)? Pause to give thanks to this initiating and responding God!

Thanks be to God!

Eclipse Day: Why I’m looking at the sun

No I don’t have the right glasses.  I don’t have protective gear. I haven’t even made that “pin-hole” box like we did in elementary school. But I’m going to be looking at something today that is unbelievable.

Eric Metaxas wrote yesterday on foxnews.com:

About fifteen years ago an odd idea popped into my head.  Google was just a gurgling infant. But I happened to have a sturdy Brittanica nearby and I pulled out a dusty volume and quickly discovered the diameter of the sun. It is precisely 864,576 miles. The diameter of the moon was listed at 2,159 miles. I then looked up the distance from Earth to the sun, which varies slightly, but is generally given as 93 million miles. And then I found the distance from Earth to the moon. That varies slightly too, so the average is given as 239,000 miles. 

Armed with these four figures, I did some simple math. I divided the sun’s diameter (864,576) by the moon’s (2,159) and got 400.452. If my strange hunch was correct, dividing the distance from the Earth to the sun (93,000,000) by the distance from the Earth to the moon (239,000) should give me something similar. It certainly did. My calculations yielded 389.121. And there it was. I stared at the numbers, amazed. Was the correlation in these ratios mere coincidence?

Of course what this all meant was simply that these immemorially ancient and vast objects, though as different in size as a single BB and a super gigantic beach ball — one that was over six feet in diameter — would from our perspective here on Earth seem almost precisely the same size.  So if they ever just happened to align in the sky, they would match up perfectly. Not almost perfectly. But perfectly, and bizarrely so. 

What might be the odds of this just happening randomly? Almost all the planets in our solar system have no moons or many moons (Jupiter has 60) of incredibly varying sizes. So this sort of thing doesn’t happen anywhere else in our solar system. But our planet has just one moon that happens to be just the right size and just the right distance from Earth. 

I found the precision necessary for all of this unbelievable. The more I thought about it, the more I knew that there was no way this could be a mere coincidence. It seemed almost planned. In fact, it seemed utterly planned, as all things of such precision must be.

[You can read his whole article on Fox News here. ]

Today, in the 92% Eclipse zone of ENC, I’m going to be looking at God’s calling card… His message to those who have “ears to hear and eyes to see” that He created this whole world.  For us. For His glory. For us to enjoy His glory. The heavens declare the glory of God, David writes in Psalm 8.

Paul goes further in Colossians 1. He looks at the natural world (including orbits in space that cause eclipses) and centers everything on Jesus: “For by him all things were created in heaven and on earth, whether visible or invisible… all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together… For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:16-20)

The “all things” of creation (and history) belong to Jesus, hold together in Jesus, bring glory and majesty to Jesus, and are reconciled (put back together) in Jesus alone.

Today–the Great Eclipse Day of 2017–I’m looking at the SON. Who loved me and gave himself for me, to reconcile me (and all things!) to God.

No glasses needed.  Just eyes that want to see him.

(And, obviously, I’m not going to be staring at the solar eclipse without glasses. Just sneakin’ a peek here and there.)

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