Category Archives: Christian Life
Photo By Visitor7, wikimedia.
You’ve heard the old saying that less is more. Sometimes that applies to God’s provision for us as well.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus acknowledged our physical needs as humans for food, clothing and shelter with the promise that God will provide those things when we seek Him above all else.
“But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” Matt. 6:33 (HCSB)
Mostly, I’ve taken this to mean that sometimes I’ll have some unexpected extra money, or a bonus in the paycheck, something extra somewhere to take care of unexpected expenses. And that is often the case. But, as I’ve come to discover, sometimes God provides by taking away costs.
My wife and I recently moved to a new home and, if you’ve ever moved, you know that involves myriad unexpected costs that can crimp the budget. The move also put some extra grime on our vehicles. So when I pulled into a car wash that had just opened, I planned on the cheapest wash available.
But even before I could debate how much to spend on the wash, the attendant informed me that the company was offering free $20 washes that day as a promotion. Well, count me in on that. I called my wife, who was planning to wash her car, so she could get in on the promotional freebie.
Then later that night, we saved another $20 because one store accepted a competitor’s coupon. So in one eight-hour period, we managed to save $60! That was a much-welcome savings for our move-challenged budget.
After a while I realized that this was part of God’s provision for us. If someone had handed me three twenties, or my wife or I had received an unexpected $60 bonus, I would have immediately thought of it as God’s provision because, like most Christians, I consider God’s provision to be when He gives us more.
But sometimes God provides by giving us less – or in the case of the car washes, nothing. And sometimes that’s better than receiving the money because it removes the temptation to spend it on things we don’t need.
“When you thank God for all the things you have, remember to thank Him for all the things you don’t have that you don’t want.”
The whole less-is-more concept reminds me of the words I received many years ago from a wise older woman at my church (she was in her 90s then and lived to age 100), who dispensed wisdom in Yoda-like fashion. She told me, “When you thank God for all the things you have, remember to thank Him for all the things you don’t have that you don’t want.”
It took a few moments for that to soak in but then I got it – by the things we don’t have that we don’t want she meant diseases, accidents, pain, heartache, sorrow, hunger and all the other things we don’t want in our lives.
I know I’m guilty far too often for thanking God for His provision when He gives me stuff I need or want but forgetting to thank Him for the stuff I don’t have – I don’t suffer from hunger, I don’t have any major illnesses, I don’t have kids in jail, I don’t have any addictions and, thanks to God’s provision, I don’t have a dirty car.
Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways. So while my imagination is limited to solving issues with more, sometimes God provides by giving less – which results in more.
What is the most important Christian holiday? Based on the amount of time and money spent on it, you would think the answer is Christmas. But according the Bible, it’s Easter.
While the Christmas story is mentioned briefly in two Gospels, the resurrection is referenced dozens of times, in all four Gospels and in most the epistles. Paul makes it the central theme of his writings. He insists that if Christ wasn’t raised from the dead, then our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:17).
Even Good Friday, which celebrates the death of Jesus on the cross, is meaningless without the resurrection.
Why should the resurrection mean so much to Christians? Here are a few reasons.
It validates everything Jesus said and did. The son of God came to earth to show us how to live a completely new life. But if he had simply taught a new moral code and then died he would have been no better than any other religious leader. It was only by his rising from the dead – conquering death – that everything he said and did took on significance. Otherwise, as Paul says, we have no foundation for our faith.
“If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith.” (1 Cor. 15:14, HCSB)
Through his resurrection we begin living a brand new life through his power.
It gives us new life. When we commit to following Jesus, he doesn’t just make our lives better. We die to the old life we had and through his resurrection we begin living a brand new life through his power.
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead….” (1 Peter 1:3, HCSB)
It sealed God’s plan to send the Holy Spirit to all humanity. Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit came only to a few people who God selected. But the plan all along had been to send him to all people. The resurrection made it possible to fulfill that plan. Jesus revealed this at the Last Supper.
“’Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you.’” (John 16:17, HCSB)
It gives us eternal life. Jesus’ death on the cross meant the punishment for our sins had been fulfilled. His resurrection meant that he had conquered death, and through him, believers have also been granted freedom from eternal death. While our mortal bodies will die, our souls will live on in eternity in God’s presence.
In John 14:19, Jesus himself proclaimed this. “’In a little while the world will see Me no longer, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live too.’”
Knowing the power of the resurrection should be our goal.
It is our source of power. The Christian life should be lived with great power through God (2 Tim. 1:7). Paul speaks repeatedly of the power of the Gospel, and the point of the Gospel is Jesus’ resurrection. It is by God’s power that Jesus lives. Knowing the power of the resurrection should be our goal, as it was Paul’s.
“My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection….” (Phil. 3:10, HCSB)
It is our source of joy. The resurrection is a historical fact; nothing can take that away. When we find our joy in that fact, we will always be able to experience joy, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. That is how Jesus approached the cross because he knew what was to come afterward.
“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” (Heb. 12:1-2, HCSB)
This past Saturday, groups of young people gathered in various cities around the country for the March for Our Lives movement, a protest against gun violence. This follows a Women’s March, Antifa protests against the election of President Trump and Black Lives Matter marches.
It can be easy, as Christians, to either deem these activities as irrelevant to our lives or to respond in a sort of “Get off my lawn, punks” attitude. After all, most of the people in these marches are young, often pampered and usually fed an unrealistic view of the world by the media, Hollywood and our education system.
But underlying all of these protests is a hunger for relevance. These people want lives that matter, that are relevant, that are bigger than themselves. None of those protests and marches will give them that. They’re would-be Indiana Joneses who find that the treasure they’re seeking has already been moved or didn’t shine nearly as brightly as they thought it would.
But as Christians, we have the relevance – the actual treasure – they’re seeking. Or at least we should.
So the question is, are we as Christians living lives that are relevant?
Jesus said in John 10:10 that he came so we could have an abundant life. Or, as The Message translation puts it, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”
So the question is, are we as Christians living lives that are relevant? By that, I don’t mean whether our pastor wears skinny jeans and spikes his hair, or whether we have a dynamic children’s ministry. I don’t mean whether we know the difference between Instagram and Snapchat. By relevant I mean, are we living lives that are bigger than ourselves, lives that matter? Are we displaying our treasure so that those seeking it will come to us to find it?
Too often, it seems, that as Christians we try to tell the world, “See, you can be a Christian and still have everything the world has, just without as many four-letter words.” But that’s not what Jesus had in mind when he talked of an abundant life. His emphasis was, “See, you can have much more than what the world offers.”
Well, sure, we’ll have more when we get to heaven. But the New Testament writers say that our “more” will be now, here on earth; that living lives that are different will result in great joy that we can’t know as part of the world.
Not only that but living lives that are different will get noticed by those around us. Sure, some of that will result in persecution, which Jesus predicted, but we should rejoice in that (Matt. 5:11-12). Others, though, will be attracted to us when we live the way Jesus intended.
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Pet. 2:12, HCSB)
People want to know that there is hope that their lives will make a difference.
When people are seeking relevance, as so many young people are today, whether your praise band has a smoke machine or you know how to use hashtags matters far less – far, far less – than the message you present with both your words and your deeds. People want to know that there is hope that their lives will make a difference. And nothing can make a bigger difference than being a follower of Christ.
But that requires those of us who are already Christ followers to step up our game, to make sure that we offer them the relevance they desire. That doesn’t mean being thoroughly modern but to be solidly based in the past, like these words Peter wrote almost 2,000 years ago:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet. 3:15, HCSB)
Revering Christ as Lord – making him your reason for living, your treasure – gives us far more power and makes us much more relevant than any marches or protests ever will. In the end, it is the only thing that will ever make a difference in this world.
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, the entire country was caught up in the fad of collecting pet rocks. Yes, that’s right, people used rocks as pets.
These were smooth stones from Mexico that were adorned with googly eyes. They came in cardboard boxes (with “breathing” holes), straw bedding and a 32-page tongue-in-cheek manual on the care and training of your pet rock. Believe it or not, the creator of this fad sold more than a million of them.
Of course, the people who bought them soon became bored with them because, after all, rocks can’t speak or listen to what you have to say.
Or can they?
Reading the Bible may give owners of those rocks hope that their beloved pets aren’t stone deaf or that they live in flinty silence.
At the end of Joshua’s life, after he had led the people of Israel into the Promised Land and won many important military victories, he made his famous vow, “As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh.” The people all agreed with that statement, adding their vows that they, too, would serve only Yahweh.
Joshua told the Israelites that there’s a witness to what they said – a stone.
And then in Joshua 24:26-27, Joshua told the Israelites that there’s a witness to what they said – a stone. “Joshua recorded these things in the book of the law of God; he also took a large stone and set it up there under the oak next to the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘You see this stone – it will be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words the LORD said to us, and it will be a witness against you, so that you will not deny your God.’” (emphasis mine)
Wait a minute – does that mean stones have ears? How can a stone hear anything and how can it serve as a witness unless it has a mouth?
But maybe they do have a way to communicate, if necessary. In Luke’s version of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Pharisees were upset at the praise the people showered on him. They asked him to tell the people to shut up. But Jesus said that wouldn’t do any good.
“He answered, ‘I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out!’” (Luke 19:40)
Stones and rocks are important themes throughout the Bible. God caused water to gush from a rock (Exodus 17:6), fire to burst out of a rock (Judges 6:21) and said He would feed people with honey from a rock (Psalm 81:16). Jesus said God could even create human beings from stones if He chose to (Luke 3:8).
In the Old Testament, God is repeatedly referred to as the Rock. Psalm 31:3 is just one of many examples: “For you are my rock and my fortress; You lead and guide me because of Your name.” God even refers to himself as a rock in Isaiah 44:8: “You are my witnesses! Is there any God but Me? There is no other Rock; I do not know any.”
Jesus is called a stone that at first was rejected but then became the chief cornerstone (Mark 12:10). He is a stone that will break people who fall on it and crush those it falls on (Luke 20:18), and a stone that the Israelites will stumble over (Rom. 9:32-33).
Peter, nicknamed “Rock” by Jesus, presents a final case that stones are, indeed, alive.
“Coming to Him, a living stone – rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God – you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5, emphasis mine)
Like Joshua’s stone, we hear God’s words and are witnesses to them.
We, as Christ followers, are the stones that are built into a living sanctuary for God to dwell in through His spirit. Like Joshua’s stone, we hear God’s words and are witnesses to them. Like the stones Jesus referred to during his triumphal entry, we lift voices in praise of him.
So while pet rocks will never do more than sit in silence, we, as living stones, have a rock-solid calling to bear witness to everything God has done in the past and give voice to what He will do in the future. It’s how we will rock the world.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but often an old dog can teach a young dog a few new tricks.
Recently I saw a video on social media that showed a woman trying to teach her new dog to sit. As an older dog watched, the young puppy danced eagerly around the woman in anticipation of the reward treat, but wasn’t sitting. Then the next time she commanded “Sit!” the older dog reached out it paw and pushed the new dog’s hind end down into the sitting position. The woman rewarded both the young dog for sitting and the old dog for helping in the training.
Perhaps in a sign that I’m getting older, lately I’ve become more aware of the biblical mandate to act like the old dog in the video. The Bible actually has a lot to say about our responsibilities as teachers, especially in regard to parents teaching their children, but also just in general to be an example to and to instruct the next generations. Here are a few:
Ps. 71:18: Even when I am old and gray, God, do not abandon me. Then I will proclaim Your power to another generation, Your strength to all who are to come.
Ps. 145:4: One generation will declare Your works to the next and will proclaim Your mighty acts.
Deut. 6:6-7: These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Titus 2:3-5: In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children, to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, kind, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered.
Recent issues have accentuated the fact that this younger generation views the world differently than the older generations.
The Millennial Generation, those born between about 1983 and 2001, are numerous and are bent on changing the world. The oldest of them are moving into positions of influence and power in corporations and in our churches. Even in Generation Z, those born since 2001, we’re seeing a move toward wanting to make a difference in the world.
Recent issues in this country, from politics to gender differences to responses to criminal activity have accentuated the fact that this younger generation views the world differently than the older generations.
People in Generation X, born between 1965 and 1983, seem particularly irritated with these younger generations, dealing with them in the “Get off my lawn, you whippersnappers” vein. Baby Boomers and the last vestiges of the Greatest Generation seem to, by and large, pretend the Millennials and Z’ers don’t exist.
The Bible has a clear mandate for those of us who have more years behind us than in front of us.
Millennials and Z’ers are now populating our churches as well and bringing new ideas with them, often influenced far more by secular ideals than by the Bible. Rather than simply complaining about them, or ignoring their existence, the Bible has a clear mandate for those of us who have more years behind us than in front of us – we are to be the equippers, the instructors and the influencers for the generations coming after us.
That’s an awesome task for those of us on the north side of 50, in both senses of the word awesome – a great privilege and an overwhelming proposition. But it’s important, so here’s what you’ll need to carry out God’s commands.
Knowledge – If we’re going to teach those coming behind us, we have to know what we’re talking about, which means we’ve got to be reading and studying the Bible. Too often we rely on church tradition or what we’ve heard rather than really examining for ourselves what Scripture says. The more we know, the more we can pass on to the next generations.
Relationships – We can’t ignore the younger generations (or yell at them to get off the lawn) and expect them to learn anything from us. We have to get to know the Millennials and Z’ers at a personal level, and let them get to know us. On a positive note, research has shown that Baby Boomers and Millennials often develop a strong connection with each other.
Confidence – Modesty and insecurity often kick in when it comes to teaching others. “Who am I to tell someone else how to live?” is a common question. Well, the answer to that is, “God tells you to.” Unless you’re a very unusual specimen of a human being, you’ve lived a life that has strayed from perfection, sometimes far from it and with more frequency than you’d like. Instead of destroying your credibility, it actually enhances it. We’ve all experienced the mistakes that make life hard and have found the better way to live. We can use our experiences to help others keep from making and experiencing those mistakes.
Kindness and patience – Remember, we’re passing on our knowledge of God’s kindness toward us (Titus 3:3-5), so we need to use kindness when instructing others. It will be tempting to be harsh, or at least roll our eyes, when they don’t “get it” right away. I know I didn’t learn all my lessons in one easy step, and I’m sure you didn’t either. God shows patience with all of us, as He will with those in the next generations. When we pass on God’s Word with patience and kindness, we have a better chance to make a lasting impact on the future generations.
Equipping future generations isn’t an easy task but it can be fun task. And the interesting thing is that as we instruct the next generations we’re going to be learning even more ourselves. Turns out the old saw I quoted at the beginning isn’t quite accurate – even us old dogs can still learn a few new tricks.
I have rarely talked to a fellow Christian who hasn’t expressed a desire to improve the amount of time he or she spends reading the Bible. And that is a worthy goal – we should continually be devoted to reading the Scriptures.
Reading God’s word is important, as Paul tells us in 2 Tim. 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” It also keeps us from being led astray, as Jesus warns in Matt. 22:29: “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.” Acts 17:11 echoes this, where we read that after hearing Paul’s teaching, the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily to see if he was telling the truth.
The Bible is written is such a unique way that even devout Christian scholars who have been reading it for 50 years delight in finding new insights in it.
It seems increasingly rare, though, to find a Christian – even one who has spent decades in the faith – who has read the entire Bible. Some have admitted that they’ve never read the Old Testament. Many have haphazard reading patterns of a few days of intensity followed by a month of never cracking the cover. For many Christians, it seems, their entire Bible reading plan consists of the Verse of the Day from a Bible app and reading along with the pastor on the handful of verses he projects onto a screen during his sermon.
Why do so many Christians not make Bible reading a regular part of their day?
So if the Bible is important, if it holds decades’ worth of insights and most Christians desire to know more, why do so many Christians not make Bible reading a regular part of their day?
There are several reasons, one of the biggest being that reading in general has fallen out of favor with most Americans. Many people say, some with chagrin and some with pride, that they’ve only read one book in the past year – or maybe none. Christian comedian John Branyan says, in a hilarious retelling of the Three Little Pigs, that Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 55,000 words; the average American has a working vocabulary of 3,000 words. So we’re much more likely to look for a theatrical version of a story on DVD than picking up a book.
But on Jan. 1, many well-intentioned Christians will select a Bible reading plan, determined that this year they will read all the way through the Bible. I can tell you when most of them will be waylaid – in about the middle of Leviticus. Some will get bogged down by the middle of Exodus, some will dutifully, possibly with glazed eyes, fight their way through Numbers and even Deuteronomy. But the majority won’t make it into April with their Bible reading.
But if you really want to achieve your goal, here are a few tips, and a link to my own Bible reading plan.
Set aside time each morning: Yes, mornings can be chaotic, especially for those with school-age children. But getting up just 20 minutes earlier can give you some peace and quiet to read God’s word before the chaos commences. Giving up sleep is hard but, believe me, that time reading will be more refreshing than the extra bit of shuteye.
You can try other times of the day, but I’ve found that it is far easier to put off the reading later in the day than getting up earlier intentionally to read.
Just read: Often people assume that they need to discover deep meaning in every verse they read, so they plod through them slowly, pondering each one. Soon they’re consuming an hour to read three chapters. Instead, just read. You may read three chapters and go, “Huh, I didn’t get much out of that.” That’s perfectly OK, because there will be plenty of mornings when you find juicy nuggets.
Just reading also helps you see the broader picture of the Bible.
One thing I’ve found is that each time I read through the Bible, I notice new things. That information had obviously been there the previous year when I read the Bible, but my mindset a year later is different, and different passages will mean more to me.
Just reading also helps you see the broader picture of the Bible, and how it all forms a complete narrative, rather than just seemingly random sections of words.
Find a readable translation: Many readers get bogged down by feeling they have to read the Bible in the King James Version. There is nothing wrong with the KJV; it’s just harder for the average American to grasp (remember, it was written at the time of Shakespeare, when people had a much broader vocabulary, plus used words that didn’t mean the same as they do today). There is a wide array of translations available today, ranging from word-for-word translations to ones that merely translate the meanings, with many variations in between. I personally feel the Holman Christian Standard Bible (recently renamed the Christian Standard Bible) is a great mix of readability and accurate translations. The New International Version (NIV) is also popular for its readability, although I find it is sometimes a bit loose in the translation. The English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) give more word-for-word translations that are still relatively easy to read through.
Give yourself some grace: Most reading plans break the scriptures into 365 sections – read one section per day and you’ll make it through the entire Bible in a year. But what if something unexpected happens – a hospital stay, out-of-town guests for the weekend – or even planned events like a vacation keep you from reading? Often, a day or two or even three or four can pass without getting to your daily reading plan. Then once you return to it, you’re faced with the daunting task of reading eight or 10 or more chapters to catch up. You fall behind, and then further behind, and soon you give up.
My reading plan offers a little more forgiveness – it is based on 338 days. You could miss almost a whole month of reading and still finish in a year. You could even start in the middle of January and still easily finish in a year.
If you miss a couple of days, there’s no catching up to do.
It is also not based on the actual calendar date. If you miss a couple of days, there’s no catching up to do. Just pick up where you left off.
I also tried to base the daily reading on a similar number of verses. Sometimes that means reading just one chapter but other times it could be six chapters – although the most common amount is three chapters. But it is essentially the same length of reading per day, about 20 minutes. That allows you to easily slot it into your daily routine.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect plan, and there are many other good Bible reading plans available. But I do think it’s a good way to get started that makes reading the Bible a bit of an easier task.
Joy to the world! It’s a popular expression at this time of year as we focus on celebrating the birth of Jesus.
We sing about joy in song, post it on walls and send it in Christmas cards. Joy is all around us. Right?
Unfortunately, not always. The holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, can be a tough time for many people. (Although it is frequently reported that suicides increase during this time, statistical analysis shows that the rate actually declines right before Christmas.) People dealing with their first Christmas following the death of a loved one, losing a job, dealing with exes and step-children during the Christmas week, going into debt to buy gifts, negative family situations – all of these and more can leave people feeling anything but joyous at the holiday season. This is even true for many Christians.
So why doesn’t the joy from the Christmas carols translate into real lasting joy?
For starters, many people rely on their circumstances or their relationships to bring them joy. At this time of year, they also hope to derive joy from the songs, sights and traditions of the season.
According to scripture, we can be full of joy even when our circumstances are less than ideal.
They are, however, confusing happiness with joy. Happiness depends on things going well for us. But according to scripture, we can be full of joy even when our circumstances are less than ideal.
Jesus and the apostles often talked about joy in the midst of persecution and suffering. Jesus endured the suffering of the cross because of the joy he knew would result from it (Heb. 12:2); the Macedonian churches exhibited great joy during affliction and deep poverty (2 Cor. 8:2); the Hebrew churches accepted with joy having their possessions seized from them (Heb. 10:34); and Peter urged his readers to rejoice when suffering for Christ (1 Peter 4:13).
So if not the circumstances, where does the Bible tell us to find our joy? Surprisingly, it’s not in the birth of Jesus, which is when we most commonly think of joy. Not that we aren’t to rejoice at his birth – the wise men were overjoyed beyond measure when they saw him, and the angel told the shepherds that Jesus’ birth signaled great joy for the world.
But other than the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ birth is never mentioned again.
Instead, we read that we derive joy from entering into the Kingdom of God (Matt. 13:34), serving God faithfully (Matt. 25:21), the repentance of sinners (Luke 15:4-10; Acts 15:3; Rom. 4:7-8) and living out our faith (Phil. 2:2; 1 Peter 1:8-9).
Jesus’ birth was the promise of joy; his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of it.
Primarily, though, our joy is in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this fact that makes our salvation possible, gives us our entrance into the Kingdom, empowers us to live out our faith and offers us hope for eternal life after death. Jesus’ birth was the promise of joy; his death and resurrection were the fulfillment of it.
Notice that the death and resurrection is a fact. We don’t hope that Jesus will die for us and then be raised to life. It already happened, in a specific time and place, nearly 2,000 years ago. It validated everything Jesus said and did.
And because it already took place, we know that we already have all the things Jesus promised (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Since that is true, we can live life in great joy, no matter our circumstances. Whether we have abundance, health and are surrounded by loved ones, or we’re persecuted, destitute and bereft of close relationships, we still have the same source of joy anchored in a fact that already happened. That source of joy can never be revoked or taken away from us.
People and situations will eventually disappoint us. Jesus never will.
That is so much better than relying on circumstances or relationships as a source of joy. People and situations will eventually disappoint us. Jesus never will.
The fourth verse of the hymn Joy to the World says, “He rules the world, with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness, and wonders of his love.”
The wonder of his love is not just that he came into the world, born in a stable, but that he died to cleanse us of sin, and rose again to give us new life in him. That truly is joy in our world.
For the past few months, our nation – our world, really – has been reeling from one tragedy after another. A mass shooting in Las Vegas, shootings in churches in Tennessee and Texas and trucks driven by terrorists plowing over people in New York City and Barcelona.
But it isn’t always a deliberate attack causing tragedy – back-to-back hurricanes hit the United States, while at the same time an earthquake caused mass death tolls in Mexico, and fires burned homes and took several dozen lives in California. All the while, car accidents, home mishaps and life in general exerted their toll.
In the wake of these tragedies, people around the world – including many Christians – ask, “Where is God in all of this? How can a loving God allow tragedy like this? If God is really love, wouldn’t he have stopped this?” Others have asked, “Is this God’s way of punishing our nation (or world) for all the sinful acts we allow?”
This generation is hardly the first to ask those questions. In fact, the oldest book in the Bible, Job, asks this question. Many of the Psalms resonate with us because the writers ponder these same questions. And in Luke 13, we find Jesus confronted with these questions as well.
Some people, who aren’t identified, asked Jesus about what must have been a relatively recent tragic event in Jewish history. Pontius Pilate, the same man who would later condemn Jesus to the cross, had killed some Galileans. The incident is not recorded in history, but the Jews at that time had a history of revolt and we know from Acts 5:37 that at least one of the revolutionaries came from Galilee. It is probable that the incident mentioned was the Roman response to such an insurrection.
We aren’t told the specific question the people asked Jesus, but based on his response, it was probably along the lines of, “Why would God have allowed that to happen? Is it punishment for their sins?”
According to the people who questioned Jesus, Pilate had killed a number of Galileans, probably including a number of innocent people, as a warning statement, then had mixed their blood with the Jewish sacrifices. This not only defiled the sacrifices, but went against God’s prohibition of offering humans or blood as sacrifices. Pilate did this as a way to demoralize the people, not unlike terrorist attacks we face today.
We aren’t told the specific question the people asked Jesus, but based on his response, it was probably along the lines of, “Why would God have allowed that to happen? Is it punishment for their sins?” Perhaps even, “You say God is a loving God, but how could a loving God allow this to happen?”
They certainly asked the right person; if anyone could give the right answer, it would be the Son of God.
But Jesus’ response not only doesn’t answer the question, it doesn’t really come across as very comforting.
“Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all Galileans because they suffered these things? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”
The questioners must have wondered how this got turned around to be about them.
Then he brings up another incident, possibly some type of construction accident.
“Or those 18 that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed – do you think they were more sinful than all the people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”
Jesus does seem to answer the question about whether this is punishment for sin – no – but then he calls on the questioners to repent before the same thing happens to them. The questioners must have wondered how this got turned around to be about them.
What Jesus is saying here is that we shouldn’t spend our time worrying over something that happened, how it happened or why it happened to those particular people. We should instead make sure our hearts are prepared for eternity so that if physical death happens we won’t also die spiritually.
Death is inevitable. Except for Jesus and a couple of Old Testament saints (Enoch and Elijah), everyone who has ever lived has died or will die. Even Lazarus, after being raised from the dead, eventually died again.
Is the tragedy any less real for parents who lose a child to brain cancer than those who lose a child in a shooting?
Jesus seems to be saying that the method of death is not what’s important. And, in some ways, that is true. Is the tragedy any less real for parents who lose a child to brain cancer than those who lose a child in a shooting? Is death any less real for the loved ones of someone killed in a car accident than for those of someone killed by a terrorist driving into a crowd?
Jesus’ point is that, death is death and it is inevitable. What isn’t inevitable, though, is where you will spend your eternity. You have a choice – accept the loving forgiveness of Jesus’ death on the cross and the new life he provided through his resurrection, which leads to eternal life, or reject him and receive the wrath of God, which is an eternity of pain and dying without relief.
Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, and we grieve for these losses as well.
This doesn’t mean we’re callous toward these tragedies – Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, and we grieve for these losses as well. We don’t become foolish, either. We take measures to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and take steps to prevent such tragedies from happening to others. But we also can’t let tragedy alter our belief in God. Instead, these should be wake-up calls to examine ourselves, our own relationship with God, and serve as an impetus for Christians to reach out with Jesus’ love and salvation to those around us.
We may never be able to answer the question of how a loving God can allow such tragedies. But we can state with joy and confidence that a loving God has provided a way to not only transcend such tragedies, but to transcend death itself.
Money – getting more, investing it for later, giving it away and, of course, spending it – is top of mind for most Americans. We work 40-plus hours a week, 80-plus if both spouses are employed, to move one step ahead of where we are and one step closer to where we believe we ought to be.
So it’s no surprise that Christians turn to the Bible for advice on money. And that’s also why, lately, I’ve seen a number of memes along these variations: “Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic” or “Jesus spoke more about money than (three or four subjects) combined.”
The implication is that if Jesus thought money was important enough to devote so much of his time to, then it’s important to us and we are justified in thinking about it.
I did a little research, something you should always do when faced with these “facts” (and I hope you don’t believe that everything contained in a meme is a fact). First, I looked to see what research people on the internet had already done. I found a wide range of thoughts.
Jesus did indeed use money and financial situations in his parables, but his parables were always about something heavenly.
One commentator on the internet averred that 16 of Jesus’ 38 parables were about how to handle money; another assured us that 11 of the 39 parables Jesus tells are about money. It was interesting that there wasn’t even an agreement on the number of parables, let alone how many dealt with money.
So then I turned to the actual words of Jesus. And here’s how many parables I found dealt with the wise use of money – zero.
Wait, you may say, you know at least one of them was, the one about the wise stewards. And what about the woman sweeping her floor looking for a lost coin?
Jesus did indeed use money and financial situations in his parables, but his parables were always about something heavenly – the kingdom of God, the end times, God’s celebration of the lost being found or right living. He used farming, shepherding, harvesting, weddings and other every day earthly situations, including finances, to illustrate those heavenly concepts.
Jesus is not talking about an investment strategy to beef up your portfolio.
Let’s take the story of the wise stewards, for example, most famously seen in Matt. 25:14-30 (also in Luke 19). I have heard Christian money managers and investors use this story to illustrate that Jesus, indeed, is a proponent of the stock market, at least of mutual funds. I have nothing against Christian investing or money managers, but context is very important here to understand that Jesus is not talking about an investment strategy to beef up your portfolio.
In chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew, Jesus is talking about the end times, including some of the signs to watch for when the time is growing near. Then he uses a couple of parables to illustrate the importance of being ready when the he returns.
He starts with a homeowner who was not watchful and let a thief break into his home, then a slave who was put in charge of other slaves and treated them cruelly, followed by a story about 10 virgins who went to wait for the groom, but only half of them were smart enough to take enough oil to keep their lamps lit the entire night. After that comes the parable of the wise stewards, which is followed by an illustration of separating sheep from goats.
In that context, the parable of the stewards is simply about being wise about your time on earth so that you are ready when the Lord returns. If you use the parable of the stewards to say Jesus is teaching about the wise investment of money, then you’d have to say the other parables are teaching about the need for adequate home security, good leadership, astute wedding planning and building separate pens for animals.
No, all of them, including the parable of the stewards, are about being prepared for the second coming of Christ.
I’ve written before about the principle of interpreting a Bible passage by the context it appears in, and in the larger context of the entire Bible itself. If not, we can end up with some faulty theology. The parable of the stewards – and Jesus’ view of money in general – can lead to some skewed viewpoints if not seen within the context of the whole Bible.
Read further about Jesus’ view on money here.
In case you missed it, this past Saturday (Sept. 23) the world was supposed to come to a screeching halt. A biblical numerologist (how do you get a job like that?) had figured it out, based on passages in Luke and various numerology codes.
Since I’m writing this the following Thursday, he was obviously wrong. Just as the hundreds of people before him were when they picked a date for the end of the world.
Even though they may not have a specific date in mind, many people today see the signs of the end times in the world events around them – wars and rumors of war, hurricanes, celestial events, the increasing decadence of the human race. Just as people did 100 years ago, and 200 years ago and 500 years ago and especially at the end of 999 A.D. when many people quit working and sold property for the expected return of Christ on Jan. 1, 1000.
Even the apostles, in their various letters, alluded to the end times being near. Yet here we still are.
One thing I know for sure – eventually someone will be right. The world will come to an end at some point.
I rarely think about the end times, primarily because I have no control over the end of the world, nor do I expect God to consult me on what might be a good time for it. However, the prediction from this past week, some comments my pastor made during a conversation and reading Jesus’ words about the end times in Matthew 24 and 25 during my daily Bible reading caused me to think about it more than normal.
All of us will face an end time, when death claims us and our life on earth ends.
So here’s what I predict: Since I am almost 59, I predict the end times to happen within 40 years or so. If you’re 40, I predict the end times within 60 years, and if you’re 20, I’d say the end will come in about 80 years.
Because let’s face it, whether Christ returns in all his glory tomorrow or a thousand years from now, all of us will face an end time, when death claims us and our life on earth ends.
In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus’ message is that we need to be prepared for the end because we don’t know when it’s going to happen. We don’t know when our end will come, either. But we need to be prepared for the end, whether it’s the cataclysmic last gasp for everyone, or simply our own dying breath.
Every day people all across our country die suddenly in car accidents, of heart attacks and strokes, are murdered or expire in some other tragic fashion. Obviously, they didn’t know their end was coming any more than we know when Christ will return. But even people who are terminally ill don’t know the exact day or hour their body will cease to function.
So we need to be prepared at all times, so that when we meet Christ face to face he can say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
People speak about the end times darkly, because of the promised hardships and pain. But Jesus promised an abundant life, which began on earth the moment we received God’s grace and started following him and continues throughout eternity. We can live life full of joy here knowing that whenever the end times come we will receive an abundance of riches through Christ in the heavenly places.