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Showing posts from 2021

Taking Care of Ourselves

This might seem like an obvious statement, but we are supposed to take care of ourselves. As Christians we speak so much about self-denial, and about putting the needs of others ahead of ourselves, that we may sometimes give the impression that there is something wrong with meeting our own needs. I would like to try to clear that up.     Yes, we are taught to look out for other people. When asked which commandment was the greatest in the law, Jesus said to love God with all of one’s heart, soul, and strength. Then He added a second command—to love one’s neighbor as himself. Based on this, we often say the best way to have true J.O.Y. is to put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. But that does not mean that we should never take care of ourselves.    Yes, we are told to practice self-denial. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23).” But this self-denial is not an ascetic lifestyle where we give up f

Mary’s Magnification

  After the angel told Mary she had been chosen to carry the Son of God into the world, she went to visit her relative Elizabeth, who herself was experiencing a miraculous conception with John the Baptist. After the two ladies shared their experiences with one another, Mary burst forth in a song of praise. This hymn is known as The Magnificat, taken from the Latin rendering of the opening phrase, “my soul magnifies [the Lord].”    In Luke 1:46-55 we read her words, saturated with Old Testament language, intended to demonstrate how good God was to her, and to her people Israel. One phrase from the Magnificat says, “for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name (v.49).” I love that Mary introduces this song with the word magnifies; she used her words as a magnifying glass to help us get a better picture of her God.    Did you ever play with a magnifying glass when you were little? Like Sherlock Holmes, I pretended to be a detective on the hunt for clues, putting

Israel’s Consolation

  One of the often overlooked characters in the cast of Christmas is Simeon. Mentioned only in Luke’s Gospel, this man somehow recognized the baby Jesus as the promised Messiah. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord; this was in accordance with the Mosaic law’s requirement concerning firstborn sons. It was while they were at the temple that Simeon perceived that Jesus is the Christ.    From his statement we learn that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had the opportunity to see the Messiah with his own eyes. Having now held Jesus in his arms, Simeon said he could die in peace because he had seen God’s salvation. Although we do not know much about Simeon outside of this passage, I love the way Luke describes him: “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him (2:25).”   What does it mean to

The Lord Remembers

    Have you ever felt like God has forgotten about you? You try your best, you go to church, you obey the law, but it seems like God forgot you exist. What makes it worse is when you look around and see all the people God has not forgotten—all the people who seem to have it so easy, who get whatever they want, and see everything go their way. Has the Lord forgotten about you?     I certainly don’t think so. We get a reminder of that truth in the details from the birth of John the Baptist. In the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel God sent the angel Gabriel to deliver a special message. There we read: “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John (v.13).’” This single verse provides us with three important names.    Zacharias is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Zechariah, and the name means, “Yahweh has remembered.” Elizabeth is the Greek form of Aaron’s wife, and her name m

The Conqueror of Hell

    We all know that Satan is a liar; Jesus called him the father of lies and said dishonesty is his native language. But if the devil would tell the truth for once in his miserable life, I like to imagine how he might describe his feelings when he saw Jesus die and come back to life. I think he would say something like this:    The first time I challenged God I planned it out in my mind, I would ascend to heaven, I would be like the Most High. But my mutiny was thwarted, to the earth I was cast down, Rather than a throne room I now scheme from this old ground.   The second time I challenged God I targeted Adam and Eve. If I could get them to turn on Him then we’d be thick as thieves. I got them to eat the fruit and I thought that they’d drop dead, And even though they were punished, God promised to crush my head.   So 4000 years I spent, leading God’s people to sin, I’d turn them to idols and they’d repent, then I turn them back again. Then Jesus came to earth in the form of a little

Degrees of Punishment

    Are there degrees of punishment for people in hell? The question might seem absurd to some; how could there be degrees of punishment? It isn’t like some people will get out early for good behavior. Some define hell as being away from the presence of God, and everyone in hell will be equally separated from God’s presence. Does God set the temperature to different levels for different people?   Humanly speaking, it seems odd that there might be varying degrees of punishment, but at the same time, doesn’t our sense of justice lead us to feel like there should be? Wouldn’t we expect Hitler to somehow have it worse than, say, that agnostic that just wasn’t sure what to believe? Would the atheist whose life’s work was to disprove God have it worse than the one who just didn’t give it much thought?    I believe the Bible does teach there are degrees of punishment. Hebrews 10:29, for example, mentions the “worse punishment” for those who flagrantly trample under foot the blood of the Son o

The Value of Values

What are your values? I believe that corporations, churches, and even people should have a set of core values. By this I mean there should be some nonnegotiable qualities on which you will not compromise. The makers of Tylenol demonstrated the importance of their company values in 1982.     An accident caused some Tylenol pills to be contaminated with cyanide, which resulted in the unfortunate deaths of seven people. It would be hard for a company to bounce back from a mistake that killed innocent people; after all, how would a customer ever feel safe purchasing the popular pain reliving product again? There are other options on the shelf, so some wondered if Tylenol’s time was up. That is when the company’s chairman James Burke did something unprecedented: he recalled thirty-one million bottles of their extra strength pills, and allowed customers to swap them out for a free bottle that had not been contaminated. This move brought about 100 million dollars in losses. This expensive dec

One Lucky Fan

  It seems every week NFL quarterback Tom Brady sets a new record. The forty-four year old has been excelling at his position for more than two decades, and the accolades have really begun to pile up. Most recently, Brady became the first player to ever throw for 600 touchdowns (pre- and postseason not included). When his Tampa Bay Buccaneers teammate Mike Evans caught the historic pass, he tossed the ball to a fan in the front row.    The obvious problem is this was a ball Brady would have liked to have. As the old adage goes, possession is nine-tenths of the law, and this lucky fan suddenly had the upper hand in intense in-game negotiations. During the timeout a representative from the Buccaneers went over and approached the fan to see what it would take to get the ball back to Brady. Viewers on TV could see the conversation take place, then a handshake, and finally, the return of the football. The commentators even speculated as to what all he would receive for returning the prized

Concluding God’s Calling

  Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m just trying to figure out God’s plan for my life”? As Christians we want to follow the Lord’s leading. It is good to have plans, but we must be willing to submit to God and conform our plans to His. But how are we supposed to know God’s plan for us? The Lord does not send His plans to us via email, nor does He rent billboard space for all to see.    The Apostle Paul had to discern God’s plan. The famous missionary had devoted his life to preaching the Gospel, especially to the Gentiles, but even that involved finding God’s specific plan. In Acts 16 we read that Paul was forbidden to preach the word in Asia, then Paul decided he would go to Bithynia, but again was stopped in his tracks by the Holy Spirit. In a passage commonly referred to as the Macedonian Call, Luke writes, “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:10).”    The word  co

Remembering and Forgetting

    The Bible has a lot to say about God forgetting and remembering, and if we do not understand these words properly, we may get the wrong idea about some things. The most notable passage about God remembering is associated with Noah when the floodwaters were subsiding. Genesis 8:1 says, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth…”    God remembered Noah? Had He forgotten about him before that? We don’t want to give ourselves the impression that Noah slipped God’s mind, and then one day God thought, “What was I supposed to do today? Oh, that’s right! Noah is on that ark, and I’d better do something to help him.” Remembering doesn’t have the absolute literal usage that implies having first forgotten; the idea is better thought of as God honoring His word. We also see God remembering Abraham (Genesis 19:29) and Rachel (Genesis 30:22), among others. Sometimes His remembering results in punishmen

Heavenly Minded

    Many years ago people used to talk about the importance of keeping our minds on heaven. This evidently led to people becoming so focused on the life that is to come that they neglected the life that now is. The great preacher D.L. Moody began to preach that the church had become “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.” Things like personal holiness, loving ones neighbor, and evangelism were out of sight and out of mind.    When the call came to stop being so heavenly minded, I’m afraid the pendulum has swung too far the other way. I believe the problem with the church now is that we are so earthly minded that we are no heavenly good. We are too wrapped up in our political parties, our sports teams, and our social events, and we rarely think about heaven. Because we are so earthly minded, we are not doing anything for the kingdom of heaven—we aren’t inviting people to church, sharing our faith, or reaching out to those in need. When we focus so much on the here and now,

God Really Exists

  In last week’s column I talked about some of the evidences for the existence of God, including the ontological argument. I want to continue with that thought today and write about the teleological argument for the existence of God. From the Greek word  teleos , which refers to something’s ending or completion, this argument looks at the fact that we see things in nature that bring themselves towards their natural completion on their own. There seems to be an invisible force steering things in nature towards their fulfillment.   Thomas Aquinas used the illustration of an acorn and an oak tree. An acorn looks nothing like an oak tree, but we know that it is the seed that produces the mighty tree. But who or what causes an acorn to develop until it turns into an oak tree? The random chance arguments of Darwinism cannot account for this (did chaos cause intelligence?). Because acorns grow into trees it is evident that something or someone is causing them to do this. An inanimate object m

God Exists

  “The fool has said in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1).” There must be many fools in the world because there are plenty of people who say they do not believe in any God; it isn’t just that they reject the God of the Bible, they reject the idea of any sort of higher power. Over the years Christians have offered several proofs for the existence of God.    One argument points to morality. The human race is a moral race, even though there is plenty of immorality. The very fact that we classify immorality as the opposite of morality speaks to our general moral compass. While some issues are up for debate, there is a universal understanding that some things are definitely wrong. Murder is wrong in every culture. Taking someone’s personal property is wrong in every culture. We operate by a moral code from a young age. When you hear a child say, “That’s mine,” or “I had it first,” they are appealing to a universal standard of right and wrong.   How could this morality have evolved? Mor

Where You Sit

  Hubert Humphrey may be best known for serving as the thirty-eighth Vice President of the United States during part of Lyndon Johnson’s administration, but prior to that post he was a senator from Minnesota. While working as a senator he once made the comment, “In politics, how you stand depends on where you sit.” That quip was a reference to the way members of congress are seated in our two-party system. If you are seated with the minority party, you largely play defense; if you are seated with the majority, you have much more latitude in fulfilling your agenda.   A politician stands for things based on where he sits. Whether that is right or wrong is not what I want to write about. If you are a Christian, where you sit should likewise determine how you stand. In Ephesians 2 Paul wrote these incredible words: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have b

Heaven on Earth

    Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like? The Bible gives us precious few details of the current heaven, but it tells us that there will be a restored earth that will serve as our eternal home one day. John wrote, “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God ( Revelation   21:2-3 ).’”   Randy Alcorn, in his book simply titled  Heaven,  said that we do not need to look to the sky and wonder what heaven will be like; we just need to look around and imagine what this planet would be like if there was no sin. So let’s do that:    Imagine a place that we can go, beyond all that you’ve ever seen, Nicer than any place you’ve been, better than your wildest dreams. It will be heaven on earth   Colors will be