Saturday Music: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Emmanuel, God with us.

That’s what the birth of Jesus Christ means.

He would come and live a perfect life so that we could be reconciled to God and live with Him eternally.

He came and did all of this for enemies.  As Romans 5:8 tell us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

And now we wait for Him again to return.

O come, o come Emmanuel.


“Saturday Music” is a weekly blog series about the music of our lives.  Click here to read all of the posts in this series.

Friday Picture: The Ultimate Humble Brag

img_1811-1This post is probably in poor taste, but I’m going with it anyway.

It’s the Christmas season and with it come many wonderful things.  Christmas trees, both real and fake, decorated nicely.  Lots of wonderful cookies being baked.  Buying gifts for your loved ones.  These things and many more make this time of year really special as we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

And then there are Christmas cards.

I don’t understand how this tradition was started and I really don’t care.  I care so little that I’m not even going to search Wikipedia for an answer.  I do know, however, that each year at this time our mailbox is filled with pictures of other peoples’ kids.

People, why are you doing this?  What makes you all think that other people want to see pictures of your kids?  In some cases, you also send along pictures of yourself.  What am I going to do with a picture of you?  You do know that we open these things and within a few days they are tossed in the trash, right?

I don’t understand this whole wasted time and energy and money process — for several reasons.

First, most of these postcards have nothing to do with Christmas or the birth of Jesus.  Many cards struggle just to find a place for “Merry Christmas.”  Again, I didn’t check Wikipedia, but isn’t the idea to provide some sort of encouragement to others related to the birth of Jesus?

Second, don’t most of you people have some sort of social media like Facebook or Instagram?  Sweet Wife and I don’t have Facebook, but she does have Instagram, but wouldn’t you think that for the majority of people in the United States they could have — or already have — shared these pictures with their “friends” with the click of a button?

Third, by sending these cards, people ignore one of life’s guiding principles:  other people don’t think your kids are as cute as you think they are.  This applies to me and my kids…and it applies to you and your kids.  Unless I’m the grandparent of one of these whipper snappers (and I’m not — yet), chances are that I don’t think your kiddo is quite as neat as you think.  He’s just another kid who likes standing in open fields, sitting on old trucks and taking pictures with dogs.

So why do we bother with all of these fancy, personalized “Christmas” cards?  Yes, these do provide updates for people, but I think most of us like our families and we want to present them in the best possible way.  This time of year gives us a chance to do that.  We dress ’em up, corral them for a few minutes, snap some pictures, edit a snazzy card and then put them in the mail.  Our lives are mayhem, filled with activity, and these postcard moments give us a chance to present our families as we really want others to see us.  Calm.  Under control.  Good looking.  And doing cool stuff like sitting on an antique truck.  We see other families and we’re jealous of how their lives are perceived to be and we fight back by sending our own card that shows peace and prosperity and favor.

But maybe there are other reasons why I don’t like the cards.  For years, our home life has been a roller coaster ride.  There has been one issue after another and at times life has been pretty hard.  Maybe I don’t like the reminders of the perceived perfection of other peoples’ lives.  Maybe this once a year reminder of perfection reminds me of how imperfect our family life has been.  Maybe I’m disappointed that things have been so tough in our lives that we haven’t had the time, energy or inclination to send out a picture of a smiling family.  Maybe I know that if we sent out a smiling picture that it would be a lie.

Well, that may me true, but we’ve still gone nuts with these cards.


“Friday Picture” is a weekly blog series about life…one picture at a time.  You can read all of the posts in the series by clicking here.

A Christmas Message for John the Baptist and Us

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:1-6 ESV)

One of the things I find neat about the Bible is that there are real people in it.  By that, I mean that the human authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, didn’t whitewash people or their stories.  If someone had a flaw or question, it was there for all to see.  Take for example Moses as a murderer and David as an adulterer and murderer.  And, also, take for example John the Baptist.  What did John the do wrong?  Well, it wasn’t what he did wrong, it was that he asked a question.

Remember, John the Baptist is Jesus’ earthly cousin and did a Holy Spirit inspired leap in his mother’s womb when Mary, with baby Jesus insider her, visited his mother.  This is the John the Baptist that was used by God to prepare the way for Jesus by his preaching of a message of repentance.  This is also the same John the Baptist that baptized Jesus in the Jordan at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.   Yes, this is that John the Baptist.

As this passage notes, John is now in prison.  And despite all of the things he’s done and seen and felt, he now has a question:

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

When I would read this question earlier in my Christian life, I have to admit I would sneak in a condescending thought about John.  “What?  You are John the Baptist!  You baptized Jesus and told people to repent!  And now you’re having doubts?”  But now, as an older Christian, I read this with a lot more empathy and it now strikes me as one of the saddest verses in the Bible.

John is in prison and not the cushy federal kind where he gets to play cards and golf all day.  No, he’s in a prison and in the not too distant future, he will beheaded based on the whim of a leader.  He’s in prison.  He may be all alone or he may be in the company of his society’s worst and meanest.  The conditions are probably deplorable and at best he’s separated from friends and companions.  And it’s in this dark moment that he sends a question to Jesus: “Are you the one?”

To someone with an accounting background (like me), a more succinct answer may have seemed the better option.  “YES!” Instead, Jesus answered in a different way.  Instead, He said this:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Jesus didn’t answer like an accountant, “Yes, John.  The Holy Spirit told you in the womb!  You should know this!” Instead, He gently reminded John of the truth.  Jesus told the messengers to go and tell John what they had seen and heard:  the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are clean, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor receive good news.

Can you see how this message and the delivery of this message would be an encouragement to John’s faith?   The messengers would go and say, “We’ve seen these things!”  And John would likely tell himself, “Yes, and I’ve seen them to.”

John asked the question even though he knew the answer.  John wanted to hear again the answer to the question, “are you the one?”  Jesus, are You the messiah?  Are you the One who was promised?

Jesus’s answer to Him was essentially the Christmas message.  Yes, Jesus is the One.  Jesus, God’s Son, has come to us.  He is God with us, Emmanuel.  And no matter who we are or where we are, we need to hear this Christmas message too.  If we are long-term followers of Christ, we need a reminder of the gospel.  Or, if we’re that lost soul staring at Christmas, we need to hear the message.

As James Macdonald reminded his listeners this week, during this time of year, the gospel message is being pumped through malls and stores and through radio stations and through music services!  The world is being told that Jesus has come!  Every year, regardless of how crass or over the top with consumerism the Christmas season seems to be, God is blessing us by using this holiday madness to prime others to hear the gospel.  We have the opportunities to either ask the question “what does this mean?” or we have the opportunity to be the ones who explain what we’ve seen and head.

 

What’s The Statute of Limitations on Paddling?

After reading this story, I may need to call someone:

Attalla Police Chief Doug Walker said Ayers was arrested following an investigation that began in September related to a “paddling incident” at Etowah Middle School, where Ayers works.

I’m kidding, of course, but there’s nothing funny about this story.  Either a child was really and truly abused, or a teacher has been accused of a felony over a paddling.

Up through the sixth grade, getting a “paddling” was the stuff of nightmares.  I was scared of getting into trouble, scared of the pain that would be induced by the paddling and scared because my parents had promised to duplicate the punishment at home if I received a spanking at school.

I used the word “scared” above because I was scared.  I feared the process and everything that was involved, therefore, I stayed away from the process.  But “scared” here doesn’t mean I feared being abused, a situation where punishment is received way in excess for some real or imagined fault.  No, I just feared the justly deserved pain and I feared letting people down by getting into trouble.

Once I hit seventh grade, though, things began to change.  I guess this had something to do with going through the paddling process and making it through and finding out my fear exceeded what actually happened.  About that time, I found out that getting into trouble — i.e. getting paddled — was a way to create street cred (ha!) and have some fun with my friends.  Later in school, I remember conversations with classmates that went something like this, “Hey, you want to try to get paddled this period?”  And then a paddling was likely forthcoming.  We also did our best to get other classmates caught up in the paddling fray.

But we did have our limits.  We did not want to get paddled by certain coaches or teachers, though this couldn’t totally be avoided.  I remember distinctly during my senior year in the gym before a pep rally, when one school administrator — who now happens to be the father of one of Alabama’s best all-time football coaches — lit a younger student up with a baseball bat paddle.  This paddle was bat sawed in half long ways.  And lit really isn’t a good enough word to describe how this young man’s backside was sent into orbit when he was hit by this instrument of torture.

I do have to say, though, that any of the paddlings received by my classmates or myself were justly deserved and, in fact, we probably deserved a few more.  We weren’t bad or mean kids (for the most part), but we were disrespectful and we did cause trouble and we did deserve punishment.  In hindsight, a far greater punishment would have made a greater impact on us at the time.  Had we been suspended from school or had there been some sort of punishment that affected our athletic playing time or our grades, then I’m sure all or most of the raucous behavior would have ceased.  But it didn’t and we received the punishment of the day:  swats with a board.

These swats didn’t harm me long-term and they didn’t harm my precious self-esteem.  They did likely leave marks — after all I was hit with a piece of wood — but my fleshy backside is no worse for the wear today.

So when I read an article like “teacher arrested for paddling,” my reaction is that society continues to go nuts.  But I’m sure the reality is much different from my reaction.  In reality, that sort of punishment is generally frowned upon in school’s today, so when it happens a teacher may be considered to have gone rogue.  Also, teachers and school systems today do all sorts of nutty things and parents often find themselves doing extra work to protect their kids from these teachers and systems.  In my case, my parent’s would almost always have sided with a teacher, but today that same grace can’t always be given.

Ah, the times we live in today.  Aren’t they interesting?

How to be Acknowledged by Jesus Before the Father

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 10:32-33 ESV)

There are certain verses in the Bible that give me a real long pause.  This is one of them.

In this passage, Jesus is telling us how He will respond to the Father on our behalf.  If we acknowledge Jesus “before men,” then there will be a positive acknowledgement on our behalf to God the Father.  But if our witness for Jesus is shown as a denial, He will also “deny” us before God.

For me, there are a lot of questions that flow out of this:

  • When do I actually acknowledge Jesus before men?
  • How am I doing at acknowledging Him?
  • Have I ever denied Jesus before me?
  • Do I deny Him and not really know it?
  • What about all of those times in the past when I may not have done my best?
  • Does this relate to one big event where I have to acknowledge Jesus?
  • And what if I blow it at that one big event?

The questions could go on and on for me, but what I really want to know for sure is that Jesus would give me a positive recommendations before my heavenly Father.  So how can we be sure of this?   To help, here are some things to consider.

Confess Jesus

First, we need so make sure that we actually have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Romans 10:9-10 helps to explain how we can have this relationship:

Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  (Romans 10:9-10 ESV)

As we can see from this passage, there appear to be two central things that occur.  We see that there is something that changes in a person’s heart and we then hear an outward confession of Jesus Christ.  A heart change can only occur from God’s gospel and His Spirit being at work and once that work has occurred, there is a willingness — and need — to confess what has happened.

The gospel is telling us that we are sinners and we are told that the penalty for our sin is death.  Because of this we a need a Savior that can reconcile us back to God by paying our penalty on our behalf.  We have this in Jesus.  And when we accept Him by faith, we receive a pardon for our sins and the ultimate reward of eternal life with God.

Naturally, our response will be to tell the world!

Follow Him

Once we know Jesus, we are commanded to walk as He did.  We are told this in Colossians 2:6:

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.  (Colossians 2:6 ESV)

Christianity isn’t simply a one-time decision.  It’s a lifetime and lifestyle of following Jesus Christ.  He came to give us life and to give us that life abundantly, but that life is found in Him.  We can best live this life when we daily choose to follow Christ as we read in Luke 9:23:

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23 ESV)

Make Disciples

Once we are followers of Christ, we will want to obey Him and one of the principle commands He gives us is to multiply His gospel message so as to make more disciples.  We read this in Matthew 28:19-20:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV)

Making disciples, by its very nature, would involve “confessing Jesus.”  It would be very hard to simply show someone Jesus, as if painting a picture.  Calling others to follow the Christ would obviously involve a “call” as we explain the need for a Savior and the purpose of serving Him.

Practice Repentance

Following Jesus Christ does not mean that we will be perfect.  Hopefully, as we practice following Jesus there should some sort of change in our behavior.  Hopefully, if we came to Christ while committing outward, egregious sins those would decrease.  But…as we draw closer to Christ and as He continues His sanctifying work in us, we may actually find that we are even more aware of sinful practices in our lives, even though the world outside of us may not see them as we do!  What I’m trying to say is that we will be sinners until we are called to be with the Lord and because of this, we should continually practice repentance until we see Him.

We are told how to do this in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1 John 1:9 ESV)

Conclusion

Getting to Christ can be very difficult.  The period in our lives before we understand the gospel can be dark and lonely with lots of damage done.  We may have all sorts of habits and practices that make letting go and accepting Christ hard, but accepting Jesus as our Savior involves nothing more than reaching out, like a beggar, to take the crust of bread that is being handed to us.

Once we are His, the world will try to tear us away from Him.  Satan will try to drive a divide between Christ and us.  But once we are in Christ, nothing will snatch us away from Him as we are told in John 10:28:

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  (John 10:28 ESV)

We aren’t promised an easy life in Jesus, but we are promised life in Him.

So what does all of this have to do with Jesus giving a positive witness for us?  Everything.

We are called to the perfection of Jesus Christ, but we will never live up to it.  Therefore, we are constantly called back to His gospel message.  And when we constantly go back to His gospel, we are reminded to constantly confess Him.

If we are in Him we should certainly fear Him — because God has the power to destroy the body and soul in hell — but as long as we are truly clinging by faith to His gospel message we don’t have to fear that He will deny us before His Father.  Instead, we can boldly approach the throne of grace.

 

Who to Rightfully Fear

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  (Matthew 10:28 ESV)

Wow. What a verse. What a game changer. This changes everything.

This year has been a year of fear for me. I have worried and worried and worried over so many things. My only relief has been casting my cares on Jesus, but, unfortunately, I always grab them back from Him.

But this is verse should change my perspective on everything. Should I fear trouble at work? Should I fear failing? Should I fear adversaries? Should I fear the future? Should I fear the unknown? The answer to all of these is the same: no.

Rather, my fear should be toward the one that can destroy my body and my soul in hell. My fear should be toward God.

But this isn’t the fear that we might have toward an abusive parent or violent spouse. No, this is the fear of knowing something is greater than us, that something is our master, that something is our creator, that something is sovereign over us.

This fear changes our perspective. It changes how we view life and the things around us. We are living under the gaze of an all-knowing, all-powerful God.

If we aren’t ever reconciled with this God, our fear is justified. We will be destroyed. That’s a promise.

But this God doesn’t want that to happen. He has made a way for us. He had made a way for us to come to Him. He has done this through Jesus Christ.

Thank You, Jesus.

Father, let me remember this every second of every day. Let me live in this knowledge and let it change me and how I handle things. I pray this in the name of Jesus, amen.

 

Sunday Worship: Your Father Speaking Through You

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:16-20 ESV)

I’ve been stuck for a while in Matthew 10.  There’s lots of good stuff in this chapter.  Jesus is preparing to send out the 12 disciples into ministry and He spends time telling them where they should go, how they should act, what to expect from people and how they should respond.  As He does this, He is also sharing with them the proper perspective of who He is.

The passage above comes from Jesus’ instructions and is one that many Christians cling to for hope and inspiration, myself included.  In any situation — great or small — in which we act on behalf of Jesus Christ I would guess that a lot of us refer back to this passage.

As we act on behalf of Jesus (i.e. “doing ministry”), there is the chance that we will encounter hostility (“in the midst of wolves”) and during those times the intensity of our ministry increases.  As Jesus points out in this chapter, the Gospel creates division as people have to make a decision to follow Him or not.  And as we face this division and potential hostility, we are often fearful of how we will act.  We not only have the anxiety of wanting to honor Jesus, but we also often face the trouble of forcing the right and appropriate words to come out of our mouths.  In the midst of a crisis, its often very hard to get our brains working properly so as to make the appropriate words come out of our mouths!

But in this passage, Jesus soothes us by removing the anxiety.  He says to not worry about what we will say, “For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  This is phenomenal, right?  In this passage, Jesus is speaking to His 12 disciples and remember, they had not yet received the Holy Spirit as it would be given at Pentecost.  Yet Jesus promised that the Spirit would act through them as they were ministering on His behalf.

Today, followers of Jesus Christ already have the “Spirit of your Father.”  We already have the Holy Spirit inside of us.  So, as this encouragement was true for the disciples, it is also true for us today as well.  When we are ministering in the name of Jesus Christ and trying to honor Him, His Spirit that lives in us will also speak through us.  What an amazing thing!

Amen and amen.