Christians have been born again. That is a remarkable reality that has gotten lost in the current marginalizing of religion. “Church” has been reduced to little more than a place we go on Sunday if we can squeeze it into our schedule. Rather than defining who we are, it is simply seen as a building. That is just one of the symptoms of a much deeper problem.
What is the real issue? The word of God speaks in terms of Christians being new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). That does not indicate that we are the same old people who just happen to come together on Sunday. It is more than an external makeover. It is not cosmetic, it is a transformation deep within the heart of a person. Christians do not merely look different. Their essence is changed, and that controls their behavior.
The Lord deals with people at their deepest level. Jesus turned the religious world upside down with His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. His audience knew the Law and its prohibition on such practices as adultery and murder (Matthew 5:21-29). His exposition of those principles took them far beyond the visible actions to their roots in anger and lust. Deal with them, and the actions will take care of themselves.
God wants our hearts. That is more than what we do. It is who we are. Change our identity, and behavior follows. Long before Jesus presented His revolutionary teachings, the prophets told of a coming day in which God would do His work within people (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The time would arrive when He would engrave His words inside of His children (Jeremiah 31:33). Commands etched on hearts are much more meaningful than those written on stones.
The word of God is the best cardiologist in the world. It will probe us way beneath the skin and expose what is within. We can cover our lives with the holiest veneer money can buy, but we cannot fool Him. We see actions. He examines motives and desires, and His word will reveal them to us as well. It is a look worth taking. He is fully aware of our condition. We better be, too.
Becoming a Christian changes a person’s perspective. They are united with Christ in baptism, and their lives reflect it. Goals and strategies are altered. There is a fresh outlook. Their focus is less on self and more on the Lord and their fellow man. Love is the underlying principle in their interaction with others, serving instead of being served. Giving replaces taking, as they start to understand what constitutes a genuinely blessed life.
The journey begins with something as simple as hearing the message of one who loved us enough to die for us. Convinced of that, we begin an investigation which brings us face-to-face with the Savior. He came to give us a fresh start. It shows. We are new creations.
“A Message of Hope”
We live in a sea of uncertainty. Lives are invested in that which is not trustworthy. Endless hours, weeks, months, years, decades are dedicated to accumulating material wealth and possessions. People buildup big bank accounts, nice cars and expensive houses only to see a hurricane wash them all away. We long for stability, and there is none. At least, none that will hold up to the storms of life. We can know with total certainty that everything and everyone in this world is destined to perish. Then what?
Jesus warned against placing too much value on the things of this world. There is no doubt that something will take them away from us (Matthew 6:19-21). It might be something as unnoticeable as insects or as powerful and frightening as Florence’s recent visit to our coast. Stock market crashes and scam artists have robbed Americans of untold fortunes. It seemed so safe and secure. It was not.
The Lord is completely, eternally trustworthy. He does not change (Hebrews 13:8). As fortunes ebb and flow in this world, security is elusive. Wisdom dictates that resources be invested in a way that guarantees a yield that cannot be lost. No financial institution on earth can promise that, but God can and does. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a properly placed cup of cold water is not irrelevant in the eternal scheme of things. God notices and rewards the smallest actions.
Children of God are born again into a family with an extraordinary inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-5). The past decade has exposed the fragile nature of our economy. The Dow Jones is on a roller coaster. Retirement accounts can evaporate in the twinkling of an eye. Investments soar then tumble. Fortunes are made and lost overnight. Such volatility yields a return of high stress and sleepless nights. The Lord’s inheritance is not that way. It will never lose its value, and it is stashed safely away in heaven. Eternal security awaits His family on the other side of the grave.
Jesus promised His disciples that He had gone to prepare a place for them (John 14:1-3). Their future was secure and assured by the no less than the Son of God. It is a guarantee that they could trust. In a world of trials and tribulations, it is a remarkable possibility. A beautiful house excites the senses but cannot compare with what awaits us. There will be no payments (It’s already paid for!) and no foreclosures. Talk about a forever home, that is it.
The Lord had a place prepared for the Israelites, too. They marched right up to the water’s edge and saw an exceedingly great land, but few experienced life in that glorious new home. Why? Too much opposition and not enough faith (Numbers 13, Hebrews 3:19). That will stand between us and our eternal home, too, if we let it.
“I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).” How real to us is the promised presence of the Lord? When our world seems totally topsy-turvy? When a best friend turns against us? When our month lasts longer than our money? When life stinks? Jesus assured His disciples that He would always be with them (Matthew 28:20). God has made that same promise to us if we are His people.
Gideon was not in the synagogue when the angel approached him (Judges 6). He was not a powerful spiritual leader. His resume was not impressive. He was in the midst of hiding wheat from the enemy. He and the Lord’s people had lived under their thumb for seven years, and it was their own fault. Deliverance seemed a pointless dream until that supernatural messenger approached. Then, Gideon’s doubts bubbled to the surface.
The angel’s first words were ones that hardly seemed real, “The Lord is with you…” Really? Everything Gideon could see denied it. His emotions told him that God had abandoned them. All of the visible evidence supported such a conclusion. The Midianites and their cohorts had raided the land and robbed the resources. Israel was a mess. Why? If the Lord was really with them, what could possibly explain all of this suffering? Where were all of the old-time miracles he had heard about that had saved them from Egypt? God could not possibly be with a terrorized nation like this, could He? Surely, He had forsaken them.
The next words were just as unbelievable, “…O, valiant warrior.” Who me? I am the littlest guy in an insignificant family. How can I possibly do this? Self-doubt seems to plague God’s chosen soldiers. Not to mention the skepticism that might greet them from those who know them best. From the “Who am I” of Moses to the “I don’t know how because I’m just a kid” of Jeremiah, chosen vessels rarely feel adequate. Gideon found himself in good company. He felt God-forsaken and inadequate. Yet, he was the Lord’s chosen man for the super-sized task.
One promise changed the whole equation: “Surely, I will be with you…” Undersized and outmanned from a human perspective, Gideon had a huge advantage: God. It took a bit of convincing, but the Lord guaranteed victory. He delivered on that promise.
The evidence never looks like it’s in our favor. Our nation grows increasingly secular. Educational institutions from grade school to grad school have joined the chorus of voices singing out against the Lord. We feel overwhelmed. A handful of Christians against the powers of the age seems like an unfair fight and it is, just not in the way it appears. The opposition may have numbers, but we have the assurance of the Lord that He would always be right there with us in the trenches. How real is that promise to us?
The stress weighed heavily. His mission was about to reach its monstrous conclusion. It was why He came, but oh, how hard it was. Prophecies were reaching their fulfilment and the eternal plan was coming together for one spectacular confrontation. The enemy’s forces gathered and anxiety filled the air. A cross awaited, and He knew it. Jesus prepared.
“Sit here until I have prayed (Mark 14:32-42).” He took a small, select group of His apostles with Him, but He would face this alone. Distressed and troubled, He left them all behind, walked away and collapsed. Reality was harsh and painful. There was a terrible penalty to be paid, and He was about to pay it. There was no assistance and no other option. He asked, but His time had come. It would be brutal. The answer to His prayer was, “No.” It was His hour and no one else’s.
We might think that a “No” answer to our prayers is a troublesome indicator. We could assume that it reveals a problem in our relationship with God. Is He not listening? Does He not hear me when I’m pleading? “…He offered both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the one able to save Him from death…(Hebrews 5:7).” No one ever made a more passionate plea with the Father nor with more certainty of being heard, “He was heard because of His piety.” Yet, the response was negative.
The relationship was rock solid. “Abba! Father!” It had been that way forever, literally, united in character and purpose from times eternal. There had never been a single second in which they had been out of harmony. That would change. Sin does that, rips apart the inseparable. Soon, that paternal plea would turn into, “Why have you forsaken me (Mark 15:34)?” The shock waves would stretch from Golgotha to God’s heart.
Jesus had great confidence and even greater submission. “All things are possible for You.” He was not haunted by doubts. He knew the power of His Father but was also aware of His ultimate design. He was pulled in two directions. What lay ahead was dreadful, and He pleaded for a change of plans. None would be forthcoming, and He yielded to that.
His disciples dozed as He begged. He suffered, struggled and stressed as they took a nap. They could not maintain their focus for an hour. How quickly we drift into dangerous waters. The Lord’s strategy in dealing with sin requires attention. Flesh is weak, but we often cave in to its inclinations. The spirit is willing, but we are soon overcome if we do not join Jesus in prayer.
The one who was betraying Him lingered. A few apostles slept. Jesus prayed. In the plan of God, we’re all someplace in this garden picture: praying for the Lord’s will to be done, losing focus or joining the enemy. Which are we?
“Remembering Jesus Christ”
The opening chapter of the New Testament introduces us to the family of the Lord. We would expect to see the famous and righteous. We look for the names that stand out among history’s best and brightest, and there are a few. We would anticipate their inclusion and the exclusion of the sketchy and shady. It doesn’t take long to discover that’s a mistake. In a handful of verses, we encounter a most unexpected family tree.
Take the case of Judah. The genealogy of our Savior traveled an embarrassing route through his biological household. The entire sordid story is told in Genesis 38. It involves a man, his son’s widow and illicit relations that resulted in the twins Perez and Zerah. We might sweep them from our personal history, but God did not. It only took three verses to get to the imperfections through which He worked to bring salvation.
Rahab was a woman with a questionable background, but her name is not far behind. She was an outsider (Canaanite!) who exemplified what genuine faith is all about (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). Bloodlines were expected to be pure, and she brought impurity into it. It was further diluted with the addition of Ruth’s (A Gentile) child into the mix. At least, one of the heroes came from all of this. David is just a few generations away. Did we say heroes?
His contribution is hardly one of nobility. We remember his wandering eyes and lustful heart. His adultery led to unintended consequences, failed attempts to evade detection and ultimately murder. He felt the guilt and shame, and the fallout lasted beyond his years. Yet, here is another example of the unexpected. His union with Bathsheba led to another name in the list that we might have left out. The Lord did not.
We get it all in this opening chapter of the New Testament. The roots of the Savior are anything but pure and perfect on the human side. Sinners, outsiders and unknowns are included. The famous and the infamous are all part of the biological chain that led to a manger in Bethlehem. The baby who entered the creation was very human. His family was a mixture of the righteous and the downright shameful. Israelite and Gentile blood mingled. It is a snapshot of the eternal plan of God.
Jesus introduced something different through His life and death, a new humanity. An investigation of His ancestors gives us a hint that this was not your run-of-the-mill family. Or, maybe it is. His descendants are likely a mirror image of them. Just like all families. Some we want to hide. Others we showcase. The Lord’s kin folks are no different. Some spent time in bars, others behind bars and a few have passed the bar. We bring our histories to a God who forgives and adds us to His family, flaws and all.
“No Crop Failure”