Sunday, December 31, 2017

When God became man: A journey home

“Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matthew 2:22b-23).

When the murderous Herod died, God again directed Joseph through a dream – not once, but twice (Matthew 2:19-23). God led Joseph to take Jesus and Mary out of Egypt. After they arrived in Israel, He warned Joseph, who consequently took his family to Galilee. Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth with a small boy, again fulfilling prophecy: The Messiah “shall be called a Nazarene.”

Joseph, Mary and Jesus finally were settled in a home they would call their own after a tumultuous time in their lives. God the Son was still a small Child, but His Father had provided for Him at every turn. Now, Jesus was prepared to grow as a boy into a man. And as a man, He would demonstrate how He was both a sinless man and God Himself – sent to be the Savior of the world.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

When God became man: The slaughter of infants

“Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi” (Matthew 2:16).

Herod’s wickedness and viciousness were unleashed when he realized the magi were not returning to tell him the location of the King of the Jews. As a result, infant boys died and parents grieved. Herod ordered the slaying of every male child two years old and younger living in the vicinity of Bethlehem. The age range for his order was based on when the magi told Herod they had seen the star in their homeland.

Again, Matthew saw in the Old Testament a prophecy of Herod’s genocidal action. Jeremiah had written of this “weeping and great mourning” in Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15). While an undesignated number of sons died in this effort to destroy the King of the Jews, God the Father preserved the life of His Son so that at the right time He would “give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Friday, December 29, 2017

When God became man: Protection for a King

"Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him'" (Matthew 2:13).

God warned the magi in a dream not to return to Jerusalem and thereby aid Herod in his conspiracy against the new King. He warned Joseph through an angel's message in a dream to take Jesus and Mary immediately to Egypt in order to escape jealous Herod's murderous intent. God was protecting His Son, but He was giving Joseph the earthly responsibility for guarding the life of this Child born to his wife.

Again, Joseph acted obediently without delay, as he had done when an angel told him in a dream to take Mary as his wife. Joseph remained obedient, waiting until Herod was dead before leaving Egypt. In this, Matthew saw another fulfillment of prophecy, apparently citing Hosea 11:1, where it says God called His Son out of Egypt. God's promises continued to be carried out in the details of His Son's infancy.

-- Photo by Aleks Dahlberg on Unsplash

Thursday, December 28, 2017

When God became man: Gifts for an infant King

"When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:10-11).

Magi from the east appeared in Jerusalem at some undisclosed time after the birth of Jesus. Much about the magi is left unreported in Matthew 2:1-12. We don't know their names or how many there were. The magi apparently were a priestly caste that had great influence among the Medes, Persians and Babylonians. Their appearance in Jerusalem greatly troubled King Herod and the people of the city. Herod directed the magi toward Bethlehem at the Jewish leaders' counsel, which was based on Micah's prophecy.

When the magi began the six-mile journey south, the star they had seen in the east appeared to them once again. It led them specifically to the house where the Messiah now lived. No longer was he in a stable. They gave Him gold and frankincense, lavish gifts fit for a king. Myrrh, however, was used at this time for embalming the dead. Even on this marvelous occasion, the sacrificial death of Jesus was foreshadowed.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

When God become man: A widow's thanksgiving

"At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38).

Simeon was not the only devout Hebrew who recognized the Messiah that day in the temple. Anna, an 84-year-old prophetess who had been a widow for several decades, was present, as she apparently always was. "She never left the temple, serving night and day with fasting and prayers" (Luke 2:37).

That day Anna's hunger for God was rewarded. When she encountered the infant Jesus, thanksgiving to the Lord poured forth from her lips. She also spoke continually about this Child to "all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem." It is easy to imagine how many times through the years Anna had shared with these other Jewish people who longed for God's promised redemption. They probably talked of their hope and of the faithfulness of the God of Israel. Now, at long last, they had seen His redemption in a tiny babe.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

When God became man: The end of a long wait

“[T]hen he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Now Lord, You are releasing your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel’” (Luke 2:28-32).

Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate Him to the Lord no sooner than 40 days after His birth, according to the law on purification. Their sacrifice – two turtledoves – indicated how poor Joseph and Mary were. They were required to give no less than two birds.

Into the temple while they were there walked a man, Simeon, as another witness to their Son’s glorious nature. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. When he saw Jesus and held Him, Simeon knew the long wait was over.

Simeon held God’s “salvation,” one for Gentiles and Jews alike. He had a further message, however. He told Mary her Child would bring about both the rise and fall of many in Israel. He also warned there would be sadness ahead, telling her a “sword will pierce even your own soul.” Mary would understand this mysterious saying only years later.

Monday, December 25, 2017

When God became man: A mother ponders

"So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:16-19).

When the angels departed, the shepherds could do no less. They agreed they must go to Bethlehem and find the One they and their ancestors had been waiting for. They excitedly found the Child and told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said about this newborn.

While their report produced outright wonder in others, it resulted in a quiet pondering for Mary. The word for "pondering" means "placing together for comparison." She apparently compared what the shepherds reported with what Gabriel had told her about nine months before.

Like nearly any other mother, she treasured her newly born child and His birth, but no other mother had heard said what was declared about her Son. She weighed in her own heart what was said, unaware of all that was in store for her firstborn as Savior of the world and Lord of all.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

When God became man: A glorious proclamation

"And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased'" (Luke 2:13-14).

The shepherds witnessed even more than an angel's announcement heralding the Messiah's arrival, as marvelous as that announcement was. A multitude of heavenly beings joined the angel and poured forth a message of joyous praise.

The heavenly host gave glory to God and declared there would be peace on earth. That peace, however, would come only to those "with whom He is pleased." Faith in the Savior sent by God was, and is, required to please God, and it is the only path to peace. The Holy One had come to earth to bring peace to those who were His enemies by their sin nature. How the angels marveled at this.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

When God became man: A majestic announcement

"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord'" (Luke 2:10-11).

While the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem was marked by no majesty, the announcement outside His birthplace certainly was.

No mere mortal was the first to publicize this boy's entrance into the world. An angel, accompanied by the "glory of the Lord," appeared to some shepherds in the region. Their fearful reaction was understandable. The angel sought to allay their fears by proclaiming joyous news with global ramifications.

These shepherds, possibly caring for sheep destined to be sacrificed at the temple, were the first to learn God had fulfilled His ancient promise. This Promised One born in the city of David had come to do what the blood of no sheep could do -- save His people from their sins.

Friday, December 22, 2017

When God became man: A humble entrance

"And she gave birth to her firstborn Son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).

What a simple way to describe the most important birth in history. In its simplicity, however, it seems we have a profound insight into what it meant for God to come to earth.

God the Son's birth was unremarkable except possibly for the inconvenience of it. He was wrapped in cloths like other children of the time, but His bed was not a normal one. Instead, His mother placed Him in a food trough, which is what a manger is. The bed was typically a provision for animals, but on this occasion it was a place for their Creator to lay His head.

He was born in this place "because there was no room for [Jesus, Mary and Joseph] in the inn." Even his birth may have demonstrated what the apostle John wrote of His life: "He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11). Though God the Son humbled Himself to save the world, from the start there were places that were too full to make room for Him.

-- Photo by Aleks Dahlberg on Unsplash

Thursday, December 21, 2017

When God became man: A fulfillment of prophecy

"Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David" (Luke 2:4).

The Messiah would come from Bethlehem, God had declared in the Old Testament book of Micah. The time had come for the Sovereign Ruler of all to bring it to pass.

A decree from Caesar Augustus, the Roman empire's ruler, sent Joseph and Mary -- residents of Nazareth -- to Bethlehem to be counted in a census (Luke 2:1-5). Their trip was necessitated by Joseph's heritage. Everyone was required to be counted in the hometown of his family. Because Joseph was a descendant of David, Mary and he traveled to David's city.

Bethlehem was about 80 miles from Nazareth, a torturous trip for someone so near the end of her pregnancy. God was acting, however, to fulfill His purpose through not only two obedient people on a difficult journey but a powerful monarch.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

When God became man: A priest's prophecy

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God" (Luke 1:76-78a).

Zacharias had been unable to speak since the angel Gabriel had told him his wife would give birth to a son in her old age. When Zacharias wrote on a tablet his newborn son's name would be John, he finally was able to speak.

Upon hearing his own voice once again, the elderly priest broke into praise to God. At the filling of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:67), he offered a prophecy about his infant. God had provided salvation, and Zacharias' son would go before the Most High as His prophet, preparing the way for the One who would shine light upon those in darkness and direct people to peace. In several months, this One -- described as "the Sunshine from on high" (Luke 1:78b) -- would be revealed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

When God became man: Joseph's obedient response

"And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus" (Matt. 1:24-25).

The angel's visit to Joseph in a dream made all the difference. When he awoke, Joseph apparently was immediately committed to following God's directive. Love, obedience and sacrifice replaced the confusion, sadness and possibly anger produced by Mary's pregnancy that filled his heart before he slept that night.

Joseph "kept her a virgin until she gave birth." For Joseph, God's plan was pre-eminent. God's will and Mary's need came before his desire. Joseph had a great responsibility he was committed to fulfilling. Months later when this Son who was not his own was born, Joseph called Him the name revealed to him in a dream -- Jesus.

Monday, December 18, 2017

When God became man: Mary's song of praise

"And Mary said: 'My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed'" (Luke 1:46-48).

A hymn of glorious praise flowed from Mary following Elizabeth's Spirit-filled proclamation and blessing. This song, as recorded in Luke 1:46-55, is known as "The Magnificat."

In this passage, both Mary's humility before God and exaltation of Him stand out. These verses provide a basis for rejecting the role some have attributed to Mary as a co-redeemer or someone to whom Christians pray. She realized her need for a Redeemer, describing God as "my Savior." She saw herself as a "humble bondslave" who had been graciously favored by the Lord. Like every child of man, she was dependent on the grace of God. She was overwhelmingly grateful when she received it in this form.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

When God became man: Faithful God, trusting maiden

"'And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord'" (Luke 1:45).

Elizabeth blessed Mary in her final recorded statement to her. She commended Mary's faith, saying her young relative had indeed trusted God would do just what He had promised. Mary had cast herself upon the mercy and trustworthiness of God, and He had shown Himself faithful.

Mary may not have been able to tell she was pregnant, but the response of Elizabeth and her pre-born son confirmed she was. Indeed, she could be certain the babe she carried was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary had trusted God's Word, and He had proven her faith well-founded.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

When God became man: Testimonies of mother, child

"And she cried out with a loud voice, and said, 'Blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?'" (Luke 1:42-43).

Mary apparently traveled soon after Gabriel's announcement to see Elizabeth, a relative who the angel had told her was bearing a child. Two supernatural events took place when Mary greeted Elizabeth in her home (Luke 1:39-44): Elizabeth's son leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth immediately recognized Mary was carrying the Messiah in hers.

The Son in Mary's womb was not far removed from conception when these affirmations of His deity took place, based on the information we have in Luke 1. The embryo in the virgin's womb was God, and Elizabeth and her unborn son attested to this miraculous reality. Even then, as the smallest of human beings, Jesus' power and majesty were being manifested.

Friday, December 15, 2017

When God became man: A submissive response

"And Mary said, 'Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.' And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1:38).

Mary, a pure Jewish young woman, had received news that was both rapturously joyous and overwhelmingly frightening. She would become pregnant with the Messiah, but she would do so as a maiden only betrothed and not yet married.

She basked in the glow of the angel Gabriel explaining what would happen because God had chosen her, but she probably could sense some of the cost that would come as well. What would her betrothed, Joseph, think? What would others think? What would happen to her?

Yet, faced with all these fearful prospects, what was her response? "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord" -- in other words, "I embrace Your will for my life." And "may it be done to me according to your word" -- in other words, "do unto me just as You have said You will."

-- Photo by Aleks Dahlberg on Unsplash

Thursday, December 14, 2017

When God became man: To place adopted sons

"But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).

When God the Son came to earth, He lived a perfect life under the Law in order to be an acceptable sacrifice to His Father. The result of His atoning death following His righteous life was that sinners and slaves became sons of God by adoption.

In the great Old Testament chapter on God's Suffering Servant, the prophet Isaiah said this One "will see His offspring" (Is. 53:10). God the Son left Heaven to produce children for His Father. We who have passed from death into life can thank God that He has adopted us because His own Son was willing to come to earth as the child of a woman and place us in His own family.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

When God became man: To save the lost

"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).

God the Son came to earth as a seeker. He came seeking lost sinners who had earned God's wrath but would receive God's grace. The Son's seeking mission took Him to the cross and to a death with saving consequences for those who had no hope of finding their way to God. God acted to redeem the lost, and Jesus of Nazareth was His agent in purchasing our redemption.

The New Testament testifies to God's initiative in our salvation: "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (I John 4:10). God the Son came to earth to seek souls on behalf of His Father and to bear His Father's judgment so we might be saved.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

When God became man: To serve others

"[T]he Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28).

If anyone deserved to be served, it was the God-man, Jesus. Yet, when His disciples squabbled over position and greatness, Jesus told them even He was not with them to be served. Instead, He -- though Lord -- was on earth as a servant.

The apostle Paul wrote of this mind-set of Christ in his letter to the saints in Philippi. He told them Christ, "although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [clutched and held onto at all costs], but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:6-7).

God the Son provided the supreme example of servanthood. The first steps in a life of service were willingly to be conceived in the womb of a poor Jewish maiden and to be born in a stable. The final step in a life of service was to give His life freely as a "ransom for many."

Monday, December 11, 2017

When God became man: To enrich the impoverished

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich" (II Cor. 8:9).

God the Son left the riches of Heaven, the position He possessed there, and the glory and intimacy He shared with God the Father there to lift human beings out of spiritual poverty. He impoverished Himself to make us rich. He exchanged His riches for poverty that we in our poverty might be truly rich.

He did all this by willfully becoming a human being.

The apostle Paul told the Ephesian believers God “seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6-7).

Through His incarnation, Christ came to give us the true riches that never pass away.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

When God became man: To glorify the Father

"I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4).

When Jesus prayed to His Father on the night before He was crucified, even then He could speak of accomplishing what God intended for Him to do in becoming a man. In so doing, He had glorified the Father, the One who had purposed for the Son to come to earth.

Earlier, when Jesus compared His future death to a grain of wheat that must die before it bears fruit, He said, "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save me from this hour?' But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name" (John 12:27-28a).

Jesus came to die. Even at His birth, this was His mission. In so doing, He would glorify His Father.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

When God became man: To do the will of the Father

"For I have come down from Heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me" (John 6:38).

God the Son came not only to represent God the Father with exactness but to perform the Father's will at the Father's direction.

Jesus did not leave us confused about what He was referring to when He spoke in this verse of the will of God. In the two verses that follow, Jesus said, "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

The Son came to earth as a baby because it was the Father's will. Even then, the Father had a people for His Son to resurrect as a result of their trust in Him.

Friday, December 8, 2017

When God became man: To represent the Father

"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:1-3a).

God had spoken to the people of Israel through His prophets in many ways over many years. There came a time, however, when He spoke through Someone like Him -- His Son, according to the opening of the letter to the Hebrews.

The writer of Hebrews described God the Son as the "exact representation of His nature." Jesus perfectly represented who God the Father is. In His time on earth, Jesus flawlessly portrayed for those who witnessed His life and ministry what the unseen God is truly like. One of the purposes Christ fulfilled in His incarnation was to demonstrate God's nature in human form.

-- Photo by Aleks Dahlberg on Unsplash

Thursday, December 7, 2017

When God became man: The promise to a groom

"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:20b-21).

Mary was betrothed to a man named Joseph when she became pregnant with the Son of God. Joseph knew he was not the father. Betrothal was more binding at this time than engagement is in our day. Because Joseph apparently had grounds to issue a divorce certificate, he sought to break the betrothal while at the same time guarding Mary and her reputation by discreetly sending her away.

God intervened. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and assured him he should take Mary as his wife. She had not been unfaithful. Instead, the child she carried was from the Holy Spirit. The angel told Joseph to name this son Jesus as an explanation of one of His purposes in coming to earth -- "He will save His people from their sins."

Two verses later (Matt. 1:23), the writer spelled out the meaning of the title, Immanuel, spoken in Isaiah long before: "God with us."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

When God became man: The promise to a maiden

"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:31-33).

The angel Gabriel delivered the next promise to a young woman named Mary in the Galilean city of Nazareth. It was the sixth month of Elizabeth's unfathomable pregnancy, but the conception and birth the angel promised Mary would be even more unbelievable. She would give birth though she was a virgin as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit, Gabriel said.

The son Mary would bear would be called "the Son of the Most High," the long-awaited Messiah. The virgin prophesied in Isaiah 7 as the mother of Immanuel was now revealed, and God would become man through this young Hebrew woman. To Mary's astonishment at how this could occur, Gabriel ultimately said, "For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37).

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

When God became man: The promise to a priest

"It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17).

After hundreds of years of no revelation from God to His people, the angel Gabriel spoke to a frightened priest in the temple. This priest, Zacharias, and his wife Elizabeth were not only childless but without any realistic hope of becoming parents because of their age.

That changed when Gabriel told Zacharias his wife would not only bear a son to be named John but this miracle child would be a great man with a great mission -- to go before the Messiah and to prepare the people for His coming. God had again spoken. His promises from long ago were about to be fulfilled. A miraculous reproduction would prepare the way for an even more miraculous birth.

Monday, December 4, 2017

When God became man: The promise of His birthplace

"But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity" (Micah 5:2).

An earthly king would want his son to be born into elegance and prominence, but God promised His Son would be born in a location so insignificant it would find no place "among the clans of Judah."

This one whom God would send to be "ruler in Israel" would not reign over a temporary kingdom, however. Nor would He begin His existence on the date of His birth in the little town of Bethlehem. He also would not begin to exist at the moment of conception in His mother's womb. No, He had existed "from the days of eternity." There was no beginning to His existence. The One who would appear on that future day in Bethlehem would be the God of all ages who had made all things.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

When God became man: The promise of a unique ruler

"For a child will be born to us; a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace . . . " (Is. 9:6-7a).

God promised he would establish a never-ending government upon the shoulders of a tiny child. How could a baby bear such weight? The question is a natural one; the answer is a supernatural one.

This is God in the person of a little boy -- a child bearing one-of-a-kind titles. From the moment of His conception, God indwelt this embryo turned boy turned man. Because this was God in the flesh, we can trust His rule will never end. He will reign as a benevolent monarch, bringing a peace that will go on throughout eternity.

Notice to whom this son is a gift. This prophecy certainly applied to the Hebrews whom God had set apart for Himself, but it also is a particular promise to all of us who have received the gift of salvation -- He has been given to us.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

When God became man: The promise of a unique birth

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel" (Is. 7:14).

When God became man, it was through a conception and birth like no other. Isaiah prophesies a virgin -- a woman who has no natural means of procreation -- will give birth to a son. This impossible pregnancy and birth will constitute a sign -- a sign of the most miraculous kind.

The father of this child is not mentioned in this verse. Only later is it spelled out this son has God as His Father, but we certainly can deduce this reality from Isaiah's prophecy. Only God can do something so impossible. This child will be human and divine. In this baby boy, God would fulfill His promise from long before.

Friday, December 1, 2017

When God became man: The first promise

(In this Christmas season, I plan to post daily a revised version of each devotional Linda and I compiled in a booklet as a gift to the church in 2004.)

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel" (Gen. 3:15).

The initial promise of Christmas came at the moment when humanity's greatest need was realized. God pronounced judgment on the tempter, whose beguiling ways had persuaded the first woman and man to rebel against their Creator. But in His sentencing of Satan, God presented what is known as "the proto-evangelium," the first gospel.

The seed of the woman, not the man, promised by God was His own Son, who would appear in fulfillment of this promise thousands of years later. In humanity's darkest hour, God provided hope for a fallen race. He fulfilled that hope through an unborn child in a virgin's womb, through a baby born in Bethlehem, through a man who lived a perfect life, and through a suffering servant who delivered a crushing blow to the evil one -- though He would not escape unharmed -- through His crucifixion and resurrection.

-- Photo by Aleks Dahlberg on Unsplash

Monday, November 6, 2017

News and Good News

The horrible, sickening slaughter of the saints of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tex., reminds us such evil acts sadly are part of a world where sin is present, prevalent and powerful. Only the triumphant return of King Jesus will cleanse this world of wickedness.

Such a gospel-focused view is only part of the Christian response to this murderous rampage, however. We lament it. We mourn with those who lost members of their nuclear and spiritual families. We intercede for them and those injured. We pray for a church that has been decimated. We petition God for a pastor who ministers to the grieving while he grieves himself. We pray for the advance of the gospel.

Those of us who are elders also pray and ponder how we, as shepherds, can provide for the physical safety of the flock that gathers for corporate worship each Sunday. The elders of our church value your prayers at this time.

We also seek to think and guide others biblically in the wake of such an atrocity. Some already have written wise, helpful words. Undoubtedly, others will.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), wrote a column for The Washington Post on why such shootings don't intimidate the church. In it, he wrote, "To eradicate churches, our opponents will need a better strategy. They should see that Christianity can be easier suffocated with comfort, to the point that we forget who we are, than it can be terrorized with violence." You can read it here.

John Piper of Desiring God wrote here on the ministry of our Savior to those who suffer such cruel blows.

Phillip Bethancourt, the ERLC's executive vice president, provided thoughts here on how parents can discuss such an event with their children.

Our ability to prevent such wicked actions toward others and ourselves is limited. But we have good news that provides us with hope. We need not be fearful. All who trust in Christ have a confident expectation of not only His righteous, peaceful reign in the future but His unshakable grip on us now and forever.

Yesterday was International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Here are some news reports about persecution and other matters of interest to evangelical Christians:

1. U.S. to help persecuted without U.N. -- Vice President Mike Pence recently announced the United States will work directly with private organizations and not just the United Nations to help Christians and other religious minorities suffering at the hands of ISIS.

2. Syrian woman testifies to wickedness of men and sufficiency of Christ -- The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative recently shared a testimony from a Syrian woman named Haya. A mother of four, she and her family were captured by terrorists who committed great atrocities against their community. She shared, “Even though I lost everything, I gained Christ.” Warning: This includes descriptions of great evil against human beings.

3. Hindu-dominated Nepal bans conversion -- The government of Nepal passed a law last month that prohibits conversion from one religion to another. In a mostly Hindu country, this act threatens Christians and churches, as well as their evangelism and ministry.

4. Republicans' tax proposal would eliminate adoption tax credit -- The GOP tax reform plan unveiled last week in the U.S. House of Representatives excludes a tax credit for adoptions that has existed for 20 years. The credit has helped many couples adopt, and its elimination would result in fewer children being placed in families permanently, adoption advocates say. In addition, the ACLU is seeking to prevent faith-based adoption agencies in Michigan from refusing to place children with same-sex couples.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Reformation and a singing church

'St Ebbes 11:45 Service' photo (c) 2011, Jimmy and Sasha Reade - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/We may overlook at least one benefit of the Protestant Reformation: Congregational singing. This day -- the first after the 500th anniversary of the event that ignited the Reformation -- is a good time to ponder the lasting impact of that movement of God on music in the church.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door Oct. 31, 1517, congregational singing was prohibited in the Roman Catholic Church.

"What many people do not know is that while Luther's 95 Theses of theology may have opened the floodgates for the Reformation, his insistence upon a return to, and celebration of, the sacred act of congregational singing in the people's known language built the community apparatus that kept those floodgates open for years to come," modern hymn writer Keith Getty said yesterday in a news release.

Getty -- co-writer of such songs as "In Christ Alone" and "The Power of the Cross" -- said Luther believed a truly biblical church is one in which every Christian participates in corporate worship, including singing.

"Luther had come to realize what his ancient predecessors had always known: God's people are catechized by what they sing," Getty said. "A preacher can teach what the Bible means, but people 'carry out' the Bible by the songs they sing. Singing affects people's minds, emotions, hearts, memories, prayer lives -- and ultimately, their thoughts and spoken words."

Singing by the entire church gathered for worship is consistent with the many appeals in Psalms, the example of Jesus and His disciples on the night before He was crucified (Matt. 26:30) and the apostle Paul's instructions to churches (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). It is consistent with the truth the entire church is to worship when it is gathered, not just some who are leading. It is consistent with what we have said since we began meeting as a body of believers -- corporate worship is for participants, not spectators.

We practiced this again last Sunday, when we sang hymns from centuries ago -- such as "And Can It Be?" and "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" -- and hymns and songs from the last 20 years, including "In Christ Alone" and "Ancient Words." And as we sang, we confessed common beliefs of the Christian faith we share. We also proclaimed the gospel.

Think with me how we declared in morning and evening the joyous news that salvation is in Christ and His work alone as our substitute, not in any merit or works we would offer:

-- "Could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no languor know, these for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone. In my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling" from "Rock of Ages."

-- "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied; for ev’ry sin on Him was laid -- here in the death of Christ I live" from "In Christ Alone."

-- "Therefore my trust is in the Lord, and not in mine own merit; on Him my soul shall rest, His word upholds my fainting spirit; His promised mercy is my fort, my comfort and my sweet support" from "Psalm 130 (From Depths of Woe)."

-- "The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend, the agonies of Calvary; You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son, who drank the bitter cup reserved for me" from "Jesus, Thank You."

The gospel recovered in the Reformation is the gospel we proclaim in our singing together. May we do so each Sunday "with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God" (Col. 3:16b).

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

News and Good News

Three devastating hurricanes have struck the United States and/or the islands of the Caribbean since late August. A gunman massacred concert-goers in Las Vegas only this week, killing at least 59 image bearers of God and injuring more than 500 others.

In response, some Christian pastors and leaders have spoken and written biblically -- displaying wisdom and compassion while making much of Jesus and His gospel. In our own church, Jim Smith preached a message Sept. 17 in which he showed us from Luke 13 how Jesus taught us to respond in the case of such tragedies. I commend his sermon, which you can listen to here.

Regarding the killings in Las Vegas, author Jared Wilson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote here what I consider a helpful piece on what God is saying when such evil occurs.

We have heard and read about a lot of bad news recently -- and there is a lot more we probably have not paid attention to. When we receive such news, may we not take long to think about God through the lens of the gospel. The good news that never changes is the supreme and holy God loves the world and has sent us a Savior who took our place in absorbing the punishment that we deserved. His life, death and resurrection have purchased perfect justice and peace.

Here are articles on some other recent news items of interest to evangelical Christians:

1. Half million people flee Burma -- More than 65 million people in the world are refugees, according to the latest report from the United Nations. The causes for their displacement from their homes and sometimes their countries are war, violence and persecution. Ethnic cleansing by the Burmese army has forced about 500,000 people, primarily Rohingya Muslims, from the country also known as Myanmar. This is the story of a man and his family who fled their home and finally reached a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

2. Nabeel Qureshi dies -- Nabeel Qureshi, a Christian apologist whose three books focused on Islam, died Sept. 16 at the age of 34 following a year-long bout with stomach cancer. This tribute by Justin Taylor, an executive vice president with Crossway, serves as a helpful retrospective on Qureshi's life. The excerpts of Qureshi's testimony about how his conversion from Islam to Christ brought pain to his family and him are particularly poignant. Videos are included.

3. China's unregistered churches prepare for crackdown -- Churches that refuse to register with the Communist regime are making changes in response to increased pressure from government officials, and they are expecting greater restrictions in the months ahead.

4. The Village Church changes course -- The Village Church, the multisite megachurch in the Dallas/Forth Worth metroplex, will turn each of its campuses into an autonomous church in the next five years, lead pastor Matt Chandler announced Sept. 24. This appears to be an important development. The multisite approach that uses such slogans as "One church, four campuses" does not seem to match what we see in the New Testament, where each body of believers appears to be treated as an autonomous church. With Chandler's status as president of the Acts 29 church-planting network, The Village Church's action could influence other multisite congregations to go to the Scriptures regarding their practice.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The church: The Christian remedy for isolation

Americans increasingly can live their lives without leaving their homes and without coming in contact with other human beings. And in this reality exists both a temptation and an opportunity for the church of Jesus.

Many of us in the workforce are able to do our jobs from our homes all or part of the time -- even in our pajamas. By and large, we don't have to go to the store for groceries, clothing, housing supplies, books, toys or most other items. Blue Apron and Hello Fresh will deliver meals to our door, and Amazon will send us food and nearly everything else. As consumers, we can get along just fine, thank you, with little, if any, human contact.

We don't have to go to someone's home, meet them at a coffee shop or talk to them on the phone to carry on what might be a meaningful conversation. Instead, we can communicate via desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

And our neighborhoods -- especially in suburbia -- often remain miniature ghost towns of empty streets, yards and porches as a result of the decades-long prevalence of air-conditioning and television.

As Christians, this culture of isolation can easily mold us into its image. It is a temptation especially enticing for the introverts among us or those who have been deeply wounded by others.

We must resist this pull toward separation from others. We are intended to have in-person relationships with other image bearers of God. After all, our Creator sent us not just a message but a Savior. God the Son came to us. His was an incarnational ministry. He grieved with the grieving. He embraced and blessed children. He touched and healed the afflicted. He spoke to individuals and massive crowds. He listened to His followers and those who were not His followers. We are to be incarnational in our ministry as well, spending time with friends, strangers and all other neighbors -- incarnating the gospel of our Servant King to others and being affected for good by them.

As followers of Jesus, we also must recognize the indispensable role of the church in responding to this challenge. It is as a church we learn what it means to be the family of God. It is as a church we grow together toward likeness to Jesus. It is as a church we agree to be held accountable and to hold others accountable -- even if it means being disfellowshipped because of a lack of repentance. It is as a church we remember Christ's death in the Lord's Supper and proclaim the gospel in believer's baptism. It is as a church we bear one another's burdens and share our burdens with others. This requires being present with others of the same fellowship.

Jesus has promised to build the church. It is unique. A community on Facebook or other social media can be good, but it is not the church. An inter-church mom's group can be good, but it is not the church. An interdenominational men's breakfast can be good, but it is not the church. A community-wide Bible study can be good, but it is not the church. A nondenominational Christian youth ministry can be good, but it is not the church.

In light of this truth about the church, what should a Christian do? Here are two steps every follower of Jesus should take:

1. Join a church. To become a member of a church is to signify I am making at least these statements: I demonstrate I love Jesus by loving His church enough to be identified with a local body of His followers. I see the other members of this church and myself as united not by our mutual interests but by our mutual Savior and Lord. I submit myself to this specific church for the benefit of my growth and ministry as a follower of Jesus. I agree with what this church says in its confession of Christian faith. I pledge to live as a member of a committed, sacrificial community according to this church's membership covenant. I agree I am willing to have others confront me graciously in my sin. I commit to help make disciples as a part of this church's fulfillment of its commission from Christ. I promise to consider others in the church as more important than myself and to look out for the interests of others and not just my own.

2. Be actively engaged in the church you join. The gathering of the church for corporate worship each Sunday is essential for a Christian. It is the weekly time we confess with one voice the truth about God and His gospel. It is the weekly time we sit under the preaching of the Word that gives life and corrects us. It is the weekly time we encourage one another in person. It is the weekly time we are together as the forever family -- hopefully from before the opening song until the closing of the last class and prayer time. Being actively engaged in the church you join also means participating in the fellowship's Bible studies, small groups and service efforts when possible, as well as spending time together as individuals and households. This may often be uncomfortable or inconvenient, but it is called for and crucial in the life of each Christian.

In these ways and more, the church can be the remedy for seclusion and loneliness in a Christian's life.

The church of Jesus has the opportunity in this increasingly isolated and fragmented society to show a watching world what it means to have deep, meaningful relationships based not upon our tribal preferences but upon an unchanging relationship with one another as children of an unchanging Father by the power of an unchanging gospel. The church of Jesus has the opportunity to show a hurting world of disenfranchised people how true grace and love are lived out. May we do so joyfully and sacrificially because God the Son became a member of the community of humanity to make us members of the community of heaven.

-- Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Why say, 'Black lives matter'

Post-Charlottesville, the time seems right to respond to one aspect of this country's disturbing divide in black-white relations.

Some white people, including some conservative Christians, have reacted negatively in recent years to the use of the term "Black lives matter." (What I refer to in this post is simply the phrase, not the activist movement by that name.) Critics of the term have reacted by championing such slogans as "White lives matter" and "All lives matter."

A recent email from the head of a conservative, Christian organization said, "[I]f a group of white Senate and House members established a 'White Caucus' for white elected officials in Washington, D.C., the 'race-baiters' would go bananas. If the Left is to be consistent, they should speak out against the Congressional Black Caucus. If a group of 'Big Business' representatives established the National Association for the Advancement of White People, the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would have a field day."

This type of reaction -- asserting "White lives matter" and decrying the existence of organizations affirming African-American causes -- might be understandable if our history were different. We cannot change our history, however.

If all of those who came to this country did so freely and lived freely, there might be no need to assert the lives of a specific group of people matter. If the laws and law-enforcement officials of this land had always treated all Americans equally, there may be no need to profess the importance of a particular group. There also might be no need to create organizations that defend the rights and express the experience of a distinct group.

Context is critical on this issue. The context for Americans is this: The forced enslavement of black people by white people in this land began nearly 400 years ago. Slavery was finally abolished in law about 250 years later, but the legal subjugation of African Americans continued in at least part of the country. The Jim Crow laws of the South made black people second-class citizens for decades. Dixie's white-controlled society made possible a reign of terror against blacks that trampled upon human dignity, resulting in thousands of lynchings and multitudes of other grievous offenses. Racism and bigotry were not limited to the South. Angry white protesters in Boston -- yes, the one in the liberal state of Massachusetts -- used bricks and bottles to bombard buses carrying black students to desegregate the city's schools in the mid-1970s.

The racism and unequal treatment continue today against image bearers of God. All those of us who are white need do is ask a black friend or fellow Christian about the racial profiling he has experienced from law enforcement or the racial profiling she has undergone in retail stores.

When the shooting deaths of unarmed black teens or men by police or civilians are reported by news outlets or displayed in online videos, it should be no wonder the cry of "Black lives matter" goes forth. To say, "Black lives matter," is not to assert other lives don't matter. It is to declare in this country at this time without equivocation "Black lives matter" just as much as the lives of whites or any others. It is to refute this shameful part of our country's history and too much of the practice within this country even to this day.

Barely 50 years ago, there seemed no need for Americans to assert the right to life of unborn children. No states had legal abortion. That all changed by 1973. The Supreme Court's decision that year to strike down all state laws prohibiting abortion resulted in the legalization of the lethal procedure effectively for any reason at every stage of pregnancy. Most conservative Christians would have no problem now proclaiming: "Unborn lives matter." To make that judgment is not to judge other lives as unequal or less worthy.

So should it be in our country when African Americans are repeatedly given evidence their lives are not treated as equally worthy. We all should proclaim this together: "Black lives matter."

-- Photo by Ryan Holloway on Unsplash

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

News and Good News

The evangelical church is not without challenges to its unity on various issues. One of those challenges regards sexuality and marriage.

Evangelicals have been at the forefront of defending the biblical views that marriage is a covenant relationship only between a man and a woman and sexual intercourse is an expression solely for a husband and wife. Yet, some self-identified evangelical individuals -- such as popular author/speaker Jen Hatmaker -- and churches -- such as GracePointe in the Nashville, Tenn., area -- have decided in recent years Christians should affirm same-sex relationships. Others in evangelicalism have recently declared the issue should not divide evangelicals. They have proposed an "agree-to-disagree" approach that would prevent evangelicals from breaking fellowship over the matter.

A coalition of evangelical leaders has stated unequivocally that is unacceptable biblically. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood announced today (Aug. 29) release of The Nashville Statement, a document of 14 affirmations and denials regarding the biblical view of sexuality. Among its articles, the statement says:

“WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness. WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”

In other words, this document's signers -- and they include many well-known heavy hitters in the evangelical world -- are saying the biblical view of homosexual practice and gender identity is not an issue to be minimized or compromised. All who belong to Christ by grace through faith should affirm the truth that an endorsement of homosexual behavior or transgenderism clearly contradicts Scripture.

As a church, we added an article to our Confession of Faith last year that briefly spells out the Bible's teaching on marriage, sexuality and gender identity. Each membership candidate must affirm the confession, including this article, to enter into a covenant with our current members. The Nashville Statement's guidance provides helpful guidance to Christians and churches as we navigate a sexually confused culture.

Here are articles on The Nashville Statement and other recent news items of interest to evangelicals:

1. Evangelicals say view of homosexuality and transgenderism is essential -- Southern Baptist and other evangelical leaders strongly endorsed The Nashville Statement on sexuality. By the way, Jen Hatmaker criticized it today in a series of tweets.

2. Acceptance of polygamy on the ascent -- More Americans consider polygamy "morally acceptable" then ever, according to a Gallup poll released in late July. The survey found 17 percent of Americans say it is acceptable for a person to have more than one spouse, an increase of three percent from the previous year. The percentage may seem harmless, but the fact nearly one in five Americans has no problem with polygamy does not bode well for our future.

3. Iceland has almost totally eliminated Down syndrome babies -- Iceland has used prenatal testing to prevent nearly completely the births of children that test positive for Down syndrome. This CBS report offers a sad look at the mindset of a country practicing the quality-of-life ethic.

4. Turkish ordeal continues for American pastor -- Andrew Brunson, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years and served as a pastor there, not only remains in prison but now is facing additional charges that could result in four life sentences. Brunson was arrested last fall for alleged connections to a group blamed in a failed overthrow of the government. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently said the United States continues to seek Brunson's release.

5. Iranian Christian convert released after 4 years -- Maryam Naghash Zargaran, a convert from Islam to Christianity, was released from a Tehran prison Aug. 1 after serving four years. She was arrested in 2013 at the same time as Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, who was released last year.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The blessing of marriage separated only by death

August 13 is a special day in our family.

It was 39 years ago yesterday I asked Linda Stark to marry me. Fortunately, she said, "Yes." Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had proposed on the same date her maternal grandparents were married. They remained husband and wife for 57 years until death separated them. In 2005, the wedding of our daughter and our now-son-in-law took place August 13.

At the time we were first engaged, then married about four months later, I could not envision all it would mean. I can say after nearly four decades, however, I not only am thankful for my bride but for the institution of marriage. It is God's exceedingly good gift to human beings. A marriage separated by nothing but death brings blessings a husband and wife likely never could have foreseen. I know that is true of me.

This reality dawned on me six years ago. Our daughter was experiencing difficulties with her heart after giving birth to their second child. As her parents, Linda and I were deeply concerned and called out to God for her welfare. I was driving home from the train station one evening when a thought strongly affected me: "I cannot imagine going through this burden over Catherine without my wife." What if we were no longer married? What if I did not have the mother of my children with whom to share this weight as my wife? What if we related to our daughter as two people no longer united as her parents in marriage? Thankfully, God restored our daughter's health through the means of a heart procedure.

I remain grateful in other ways for the permanence God designed for marriage and the gracious blessing that Linda and I are still united. I am thankful we truly share in all the joys and concerns regarding our children now that they are adults and have families of their own. I am thankful our children, their spouses and their children don't have to divide time between two households when they visit us. Linda and I are able to welcome them into our home. We share the same experiences and memories of them from their visits here, our visits in their homes, family vacations and holidays.

That was not the experience of my parents, who divorced when I was in college. My children, and my brother's children, did not know Granddad and Nannie as a unit. They had to go to separate homes hundreds of miles apart to see them. Our parents never welcomed them into the home they shared and experienced the joy of life together with grandchildren the way God intended. I wonder what unspoken regrets they harbored as a result.

Of course, keeping the covenant of marriage for life is not primarily about the benefits it brings. Marriage is, first and foremost, a display of the gospel -- of Christ coming for a bride He will love and keep forever. Marriage is established by a vow to God and to another person that is to be fulfilled come what may. That picture and that promise provide all the reasons we need to persevere through the trials marriages typically experience.

Yet, it is encouraging to know God has backloaded marriage with benefits a young bride and groom could never anticipate.

(Addendum: Some of you who have read this post might say, "I wanted a life-long marriage, but my spouse ultimately did not. So I have no way of sharing in these benefits." I am sorry for your spouse's sin and the consequences it has had for you. This was true in my parents' marriage. Please know, however, marriage -- as wonderful as it is -- is not a substitute for the greatest treasure in life. If you have trusted in Jesus to save you from your sins, He is your life and joy. In Him is the deepest delight, and He has placed you in a family that will bless you and be yours forever.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

News and Good News

Many ethical, moral and social issues continue to confront evangelical Christians as this latest edition of "News and Good News" arrives, and the sanctity of human life remains at the forefront.

As followers of Christ, we respond to questions about such matters as abortion, gene editing and care for disabled children with this biblical foundation we are introduced to in Genesis 1 -- every human being is an image bearer of God and possesses a life that should be valued and protected regardless of:

-- His or her stage of development from conception to natural death;

-- His or her condition physically, mentally and emotionally;

-- His or her ethnicity, skin color, nationality and legal status.

This means the embryonic child, the baby two months into an unwanted pregnancy, the Down syndrome newborn, the discarded orphan, the permanently disabled teenager, the terminally ill adult, the Alzheimer's patient and the minority person out of fashion with the majority are all as valuable as the epitome of health, power and popularity in any culture.

Such a worldview provides surety when others depend on subjective and qualitative judgments in ethical debates involving life issues.

Here are some recent news articles of interest to us as evangelicals:

1. Charlie Gard dies after parents' long battle on his behalf -- The British infant whose case gained international attention died only days short of his first birthday. His parents surrendered their battle with a hospital and the courts when they learned it was too late for the experimental treatment they had been seeking for months.

2. Human embryos edited for first time in United States -- Oregon researchers edited human embryos for the first time on American soil to correct a genetic mutation in what might be described as the first step on the path to the original genetically modified human beings. The research not only raises ethical questions but is unethical itself, a Southern Baptist bioethicist said. here.

3. Abortion still divisive after all these years -- A Pew Research Center survey demonstrates the divide that continues among Americans 44 years after the legalization of abortion. Overall, 57 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, while 40 percent think it should be illegal in all or most cases, according to the survey. The poll does not appear to have asked for opinions on abortion at certain stages or for certain reasons or by specific methods.

4. President Trump announces ban on transgender military members -- People who identify as a different gender than their biological sex will be unable to serve in the armed forces, the president tweeted in a move that apparently caught the Pentagon off guard.

5. Christians receive long prison sentences in Iran -- Christians continue to face persecution in Iran, one of the world's most severe violators of religious liberty. This report says 11 converts to the Christian faith have received lengthy prison sentences in the last couple of months.

Despite the attacks on human life and religious belief, the Good News of Christ's life, death and resurrection for sinners makes us free no matter where we live.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The need for confessions of faith to address sexuality

(This is a revised post in light of the clarification today [July 13] by Eugene Peterson that he does not support same-sex marriage.)

I have not read anything by Eugene Peterson, retired pastor and well-known author of The Message paraphrase and many other books. Many evangelicals I respect testify they have benefited greatly from his writings.

In an interview published Wednesday (July 12), Peterson is quoted saying he now supports same-sex marriage. A day later, he issued a retraction and clarification, saying he does not support same-sex marriage. By doing so, he removes his name from being likely the best known person identified with the evangelical movement to change his mind about this contentious issue. Instead, other individuals -- such as author/speaker Jen Hatmaker -- and churches such as GracePointe Church in Nashville, Tenn., continue to lead the way among those identified with evangelicalism in adopting a position on human sexuality contrary to the Bible and millennia of church teaching.

Undoubtedly, they will not be the last to abandon Scripture and Christ's church on this issue. It is possible theirs could eventually be remembered as the early faces of what turned out to be a wave of professing evangelicals who departed from orthodoxy on marriage and sexuality. I hope no such wave develops, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christians to withstand the cultural pressure to compromise.

For now, such desertions by people and congregations regarded as evangelical constitute part of the reason for churches to make clear what they believe about marriage and sexuality. That is why the members of our church, Covenant Community Church of Fredericksburg, Va., adopted last year a new article in our Confession of Faith to explain what we believe based on the Bible.

Here is our article on "Gender, Marriage, and Sexuality," with Scripture references included:

God has created each person as either male or female. Rejection of this biological state is a rejection of the role of each person in bearing the image of God. Marriage is the uniting of only one man and only one woman in a lifetime covenant, providing a picture of the union between Christ and His church, the exclusive context for sexual expression, and the means for procreation of the human race. (Gen. 1:27-28, 2:18-25; Ex. 20:14; Ps. 127:3; Prov. 5:15-20; Mal. 2:13-16; Matt. 5:31-32, 19:1-9; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18; Rom. 1:18-32; I Cor. 6:9-20, 7:1-16; Eph. 5:22-33; Heb. 13:4)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Corporate worship prep 101 (Redux)

(This blog post appeared for the first time in November 2015. I am reposting it in order to reboot, in essence, a series on corporate worship that went no where after the initial post. I hope this series will encourage Covenant Community Church -- and others who may follow this blog -- toward a deeper understanding of and commitment to corporate worship.)

To worship faithfully with other Christians who are part of the same church family is a battle -- a battle we seem to fight with our culture and ourselves.

Some of us are old enough to remember when our society carved out time from business, sports and other enterprises in deference to Christians who gather to worship. That time is long gone. The church is not dependent on the culture for its help. The church must be the church. Sometimes that means doing things that are counter-cultural.

Increasingly, worshiping publicly with a church family is counter-cultural. By merely leaving our homes Sunday after Sunday to worship a crucified and risen Galilean, we are giving witness to the value of Jesus the Messiah in our lives.

Yet, we struggle with ourselves, it seems, to value that corporate gathering and to esteem our fellow Christ-followers the way the New Testament demonstrates we should.

Much of this battle within the believing community appears to be in how we regard Sunday's corporate worship in comparison, or contrast, to other activities that cry out for our commitment. Here are a few questions to ask yourselves that I hope will stimulate Covenant Community Church and others in considering how to think about the gathering of God's people on the Lord's Day:

-- Do I and the other members of my household consider Sunday's worship as a church the most important gathering we will participate in during the week?

-- Do I recognize God awaits and desires my presence to worship Him as part of His redeemed community?

-- Do I realize Jesus has rescued me so that I might be one of the "true worshipers" (John 4:21-24), including in the weekly gathering of the church He has founded and is building?

-- Do I regard my brothers and sisters in the church as more important than myself, recognizing my presence is a first and indispensable step in the New Testament charge to encourage and "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24)?

-- Do I cordon off the time my church meets for worship to prevent other activities from intruding?

-- Do I schedule my Saturdays so that I will be rested for full participation in worshiping God with His people?

I realize there are exceptions to every general rule. This is not an attempt to establish rules for our church. Grace still rules in our fellowship.

Christianity is much more than corporate worship. But it is not less than faithful corporate worship.

* -- Photo attribution

Friday, July 7, 2017

News and Good News

This latest edition of "News and good news" arrives during the week we celebrated our country's birthday.

It is a blessing to live in a constitutional republic with its guarantees of such freedoms as religious exercise and speech. This country has benefited not only its citizens but those beyond its borders, extending a helping hand to many beleaguered people around the world. Yet, we also have failed to live up to our founding promises, and we continue to do so.

As usual, the Fourth of July found evangelical churches responding to our country's birthday in a variety of ways. Some may have ignored it; others celebrated it with patriotic services. The choir and orchestra of one Southern Baptist mega-church even performed a "Celebrate Freedom" concert July 1 at the Kennedy Center at which they premiered the new song "Make America Great Again" with President Trump in attendance.

In our worship as a church last Sunday, we had no patriotic service or sermon. Our acknowledgment of the Fourth of July came in prayer. I expressed thanksgiving for our country and prayed for our leaders, especially our president, during a prayer of intercession. During our corporate time of sharing and prayer, we prayed again for God's guidance for our governing leaders. As we do each Sunday, we sought to indicate in all we did Jesus is the Head of the most important government and reigns as Lord, while we live under the human authorities God has placed over us.

In all the messages I came across in recent days regarding evangelicals' thoughts about our country's birthday, this tweet by Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Mich., was my favorite: "Jesus didn't come to build a Christian nation, he came to build his church as a refuge & witness to the nations."

Here are some recent news articles of interest to us as evangelicals:

1. Child caught in battle between parents and hospital -- This heart-rending case of a British infant has gained worldwide attention. So far, the parents of Charlie Gard have lost their battle with a hospital and the courts to gain experimental treatment for him or take him home to die. Today (July 7) brought some hope the hospital might change its position. Evangelical ethicists discuss the issues involved here.

2. New survey shows generational divide among evangelicals over same-sex marriage -- A new public opinion poll shows nearly half of white Gen X and millennial evangelical Christians (those born after 1964) support gay marriage, far more than evangelicals of older generations. Is that support by younger generations "paper thin," as a Focus on the Family spokesman contends?

3. Will the separation of sex from procreation be complete in two or three decades? -- In a prediction that seems to be out of the movie "Gattaca" or the book Brave New World, a Stanford professor says babies will be made out of skin and other stem cells within 20 to 30 years. This will not only further transform the meaning of sex but raise ethical questions about genetic screening and other issues. Even the professor acknowledges: It implicitly suggests that some traits, and thus some people, are preferable to others. This article opens and closes crudely, but it raises questions the church must confront.

4. Supreme Court delivers important win for religious liberty -- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 a state violated the free exercise of religion when it prohibited a church from participating in a government-run, playground-resurfacing program. Despite the specific issue, the opinion could ultimately be far-reaching in its effect. This article assesses what its impact could be on school choice programs.

As usual, some of the news is encouraging, some discouraging. Regardless, the good news remains gloriously the same: Jesus Christ came to save sinners.