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Salt & Light

Metaphors are powerful figures of speech that use familiar things to shed light and bring knowledge about unknown things. A metaphor describes an object or action in a way that is not literally true, but helps explain an idea by comparison. A teacher may say, “My classroom was a zoo”—which, though not literally true, may have rightly described the teacher’s day.

Jesus used metaphors, comparing physical things to spiritual realities, so people could better understand truth. He referred to Himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:48), to show He was as essential to spiritual life, as bread was to physical life. He said “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), to teach that He was the only way to heaven.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and “You are the light of the world” (verse 14). These two metaphors describe the influence His followers were to have on the world.

Salt and light are totally different, yet closely related. Salt is a tangy, flavor enhancing preservative whose effects are only noticeable when it makes contact with something else. Light penetrates and dispels darkness as it shines. Salt that is not salty is useless—and light that is hidden is hopeless. Jesus used salt and light to picture the essential work of His followers in this world.

Both salt and light impact whatever they touch. Similarly, the Christ follower should influence people around him or her, with flavor and light. President Woodrow Wilson told about being in a barbershop when a man entered and showed such care for others, that they were affected. The man took a personal interest in the barber who was cutting his hair, along with others in the shop. Every word he spoke expressed genuine kindness. President Wilson purposely lingered after the man had left. The barbers did not know the man’s name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts. Later the president learned that it was D. L. Moody who had been in that chair. His manner and conversation evidenced both salt and light.

If Christ’s followers are to be salt and light in the world, what can we learn about that? In the metaphor we can see:

1 The Problem of the Word—Corruption and Darkness

When Jesus called His disciples the “Salt of the earth”—it was because the world was corrupted and needed the preservation only He could provide. In this world, we are surrounded by the moral and spiritual corruption of sin. All of mankind is infected with this deadly virus. God says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The compounded effects of sin can be seen in our society, declining morals, and increasing violence. Jesus calls on His followers to be salt—a preserving and cleansing agent.

Jesus called His disciples the “Light of the world” because the world contains moral and spiritual darkness that needs the light of Christ. Jesus said, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:19-21). The world without Christ is in darkness.

2 The Plan of the Savior—Salt and Light

The world is corrupt—so Jesus calls Christians to be like cleansing, tangy salt. This means if the Lord’s people are to minister to the world, they must be separate from the world and its corruption. Christians cannot offer cleansing if they are participating in the pollution. Jesus said, “but if the salt has become tasteless (lost its savor)…it is no longer good for anything” (Matthew 5:13). Christ calls his followers to be holy and obedient to Him in everything. The only way Christians can be “salt” is to be different than the world.

The world is darkness—so Jesus calls Christians to be like a bright light, illuminating the moral darkness. Light emits brightness that causes darkness to flee. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14, 15). As Christians follow Jesus they too emit light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12)

3 The Peril of our Failure—No Savor and Hidden Light

If the salt loses its savor, becomes stale, it is useless or “no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matthew 5:13). A born again Christian cannot lose his salvation, but can lose his influence and usefulness to Christ. A savorless Christian is a great loss. He or she will fail to lead others to Christ or influence others toward Christ. What a tragedy!

Another peril is the loss of light, which has a natural attraction—“A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). When light shines, things become visible, but when it is hidden, darkness prevails.

4 The Purpose of our Commitment—to Glorify the Father

When Christians are salty—and their lights are shining—God is glorified! Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Good works are never to magnify the Christian—but always to glorify the Father! After clarifying that salvation is by God’s grace through faith, Paul wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Followers of Christ are to “show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). With God’s help let’s be salt and light to this corrupt and dark world, showing the love and salvation of His Son in all we do!

When Leaders Fail

When leaders fail, it creates ripple effects far from the fall itself—like tossing a rock into a pond causes waves to circle out from the source until the whole pond is affected. It is impossible to measure the effects of the fall of a spiritual leader. Whether it happens to a small-church deacon, or to a mega-church pastor—it is catastrophic to the cause of Christ.

In May 2020, a celebrated, world-famous, Christian minister died of cancer. His ministry’s total revenue for 2015 was 25.7 million dollars. Prior to his death, social media and public requests for prayer were uncountable. Following his death there was an astounding 2.3 million expressions of thanks for his life on Twitter. Vice President Mike Pence attended his funeral, along with Tim Tebow, Lecrae, and many other celebrities. 

He died in May. By August, revelations of his secretly sinful, abusive and abominable lifestyle began to leak out. Much of the gruesome details came to light, not exposed by conscientious Christians who surrounded him, but was unearthed through the research of an atheist blogger, who questioned his extravagant lifestyle. How sad that is.

These revelations of abuse brought flashbacks of the moral implosions of other Christian celebrities of the past. But we are also reminded that, “to err is human; to forgive divine.” Every honest person understands that failing is part of the human condition. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), we all fail (Ecclesiastes 7:20), and we all need forgiveness (1 John 1:9). If that is so, why is it such a big deal when a leader fails?

To understand the impact when leaders fall, we need to know:

What God Expects of Leaders

God has no double standards. However, the Bible teaches that Christian pastors, deacons, leaders and teachers are held to a higher standard of conduct than others in the church family. For that reason, the Word says: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).

The Lord expects more from those who exercise authority over others. Jesus said, “unto whom much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). Spiritual leaders “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). More responsibility leads to more accountability.

Paul put it this way: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Stewardship requires faithfulness.

Why God’s Standards are Higher for Leaders

God’s work, above all work, is sacred. The Christian minister, deacon, teacher or leader, represents Him, and does His work. So, when a person engaged in ministry defies God’s holy standards, he brings reproach on His Master and shame to His cause.

In the Old Testament, Israel’s priests were to live according to a higher standard. Those men who served as priests wore sacred garments, worked around sacred furniture, read the sacred Scriptures and carried out sacred sacrifices. When priests failed to maintain holiness, they were removed by God or by His people. Moses wrote: “They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they present the offerings by fire to the LORD, the food of their God; so they shall be holy” (Leviticus 21:6). God’s human spokesmen had to be godly.

Likewise in the New Testament, God’s requirements for Pastors and Deacons were based on high standards (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5—2:15). God’s servants are to be all about God’s glory. His ministers are to lead to the church’s edification—they are, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

What to do When Leaders Fail

First, pray for your leaders before they fall. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men; for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). People are to, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). Thank the Lord for godly pastors, leaders, teachers and deacons, who overcome temptation and choose the holy path.

Second, realize all human beings fail in varying degrees. Only God is perfect; the rest of us are mere mortals, no matter our office or position. This is no excuse for sin, but is an honest and necessary step in dealing with the failure of leaders. God commands: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Restoration of the fallen is to be pursued, as the “spiritual” realize that nobody is exempt from sin’s temptation or the consequences that follow giving in to it.

Third, confront their failures. Praying for leaders does not mean ignoring falsehood or failure. It should be confronted. We should not turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of our leaders. The biblical standards for confrontation and forgiveness apply just as much as those for honesty and repentance. 

Fourth, stay open and in communication with your heavenly Father. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24). Confess your sins and keep your trust in Him.

Fifth, devote your life afresh to the service of Christ. Don’t let the sin and failure of others discourage you, slow your steps, weaken your knees, or lower your spirit. God is still holy, Jesus is still King, and the Holy Spirit still empowers.

No matter what others may do, keep on proclaiming the good news of Jesus, our only Savior!

When Good is Just Not Good Enough

(The following piece was written by Lonnie Wilkey, Editor of the “Baptist and Reflector,” the official news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, used with his permission).  

As December wound to a close, I received word that my great uncle, Blake Wilkey, had died at the age of 98. He was my grandfather’s last remaining brother. I remembered “Uncle Blake,” having visited him many times as a child, but I had not really maintained a close relationship over the years.

Still, I felt like I should attend his funeral, so on New Year’s Day, my wife Joyce and I made the approximately four-hour trip to Robbinsville, N.C.

Upon arriving to the funeral home, I visited with his wife and two children but didn’t really know very many others who were in attendance. They planned a simple country funeral conducted by two pastors. Both men were good friends with my late uncle and spoke highly of him and his family.

One of the pastors began his message by saying, “Blake Wilkey was a good man.” He then went on in great detail about how he was a good husband, a good father, a good family man, a good church member, and the list went on.

Then, the second pastor clearly communicated the point he was trying to make: No matter how good Blake Wilkey was, he was not good enough to go to heaven, EXCEPT for a decision he made decades ago when he confessed his sins and gave his heart to Jesus Christ making Him both Savior and Lord.        

What a great reminder for all Christians as we begin 2021. How many of us know some really “good” people? They may be your neighbors. They could be people you work with or see at the local baseball and football games where your children play. We all know “good” people — people who would give you the shirts off their backs or come over to help you fix the leaking faucet in your house.

But, are they good enough? If they were to die tomorrow, would they go to heaven? Hopefully, we know, but sadly, many of us do not because we never asked. Sometimes Christians assume a person’s spiritual condition because of how he or she lives his or her life. We don’t take the time to ask if they know Jesus.         

In our own state, it is estimated that four million of Tennessee’s more than seven million population are lost, having no relationship with Jesus Christ. I would dare say that thousands upon thousands of those four million lost Tennessee Baptists are “good people.” But being good is not enough.

Here are a couple of other statistics that might interest and, hopefully, frighten you. Only one out of 10 of our world’s youngest and largest generation (Gen. Z, those currently between the ages of 4 and 24), will come to faith by adulthood.

Look out your car window when you drive to church on Sunday. Eight out of 10 of your neighbors will not be in any church on any given Sunday. And, if you conducted a survey, you probably would discover that many of those folks are “good” people, but good is not good enough.

 As we enter a new year, make a resolution to really get to know the people you think you know already. Get acquainted with your neighbors and others you are in constant contact with. 

By doing so, if you ever have the opportunity to attend a funeral one day, you won’t have to wonder, Were they “good” enough? You will know because you shared the good news of Jesus Christ with them. –L.W.

Amen to what Lonnie wrote! His words echo the statement of Paul in Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” Our best deeds, our finest intended actions, cannot bring us righteousness or save our souls.

God wants everyone to know that people can only know God’s salvation through “the washing of regeneration”—that soul-cleansing, life-giving new birth by faith in Christ Jesus. Being born again into God’s family only comes one way: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26).

Paul wrote that we could only be saved by, the “renewing of the Holy Spirit.” God wants us to realize that the work of God’s Holy Spirit in salvation makes believers new creatures before God. Believers in Christ get a new start in life. Sins and failures are forgiven, and a new life begins, right here and now. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul put it: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Every conscientious person wants to live right and do well. But sometimes being good is just not good enough! It takes God’s goodness to save. “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8)

Blessed are the Persecuted

Suffering often surprises Christians—but it shouldn’t. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Among the seeming paradoxes of the Beatitudes, this one may be the most contradictory to human logic. Persecution and happiness do not seem compatible. Yet, the Lord warned His disciples that, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). He said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (verse 20). And, He told them, “all these things they will do unto you for My name’s sake because they do not know Him who sent Me” (verse 21).

So, exactly how can it be a blessing to be persecuted?

1. Persecution is a blessing because righteousness triggers it.

People are persecuted for many reasons. Sometimes it is because of their ethnicity, race or national origin. Other times persecution comes because of particular bigotry or bias. Some are even treated unjustly just because they are different. But Jesus said the kind of persecution that is blessed by God is that which happens because of Him.

Jesus promised blessing to those who are “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (Matthew 5:10). The righteous person is the one who is doing what he should, living in a way pleasing to God. He is one who has been made righteous by the gift of God through faith in Christ, and is living right with God and others.

If someone is being persecuted because they are righteous, that is a good testimony. Jesus taught that persecution for righteousness sake was common for the Christian. Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians, “to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith so that no one would be disturbed by these destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3).  Paul wrote, “we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass as you know” (verse 4).

Righteousness brings persecution because it can make others look bad by comparison. Jesus said “men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Remember that Jesus was called a glutton, drunkard, and friend of sinners (Matt. 11:19). His enemies accused Him, a man who did nothing but good deeds, of being demon possessed (John 8:48).

2. Persecution is a blessing because Christ is seen through it.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” The Christian’s identification with Christ was and is the source of persecution. Intolerance and accusations came against those who were most like Jesus in lifestyle, deeds and words—and that is a good thing. Paul told Timothy, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). Note: It is not just good deeds, but living godly in Christ Jesus that triggers persecution.

Persecution among early believers in the first church came upon followers of Christ, who openly avowed Him and identified with Him. Enemies could not reach Jesus to persecute Him, so they reached out to believers who followed Him and lived like Him.

The apostle Peter clearly identifies reasons for persecution in the early church. If a Christian suffered for wrongdoing, that was considered retribution, not persecution. However, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1Peter 4:14-16).

In all reality, the more Christians are like Jesus, the more they will be persecuted. But, this persecution opens a door of testimony: “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (1Peter 3:14-15).

3. Persecution is a blessing because God will reward it.

Jesus promised: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12). Our reaction to persecution should be unrestrained gladness because it brings rewards in heaven later, and identification with Bible heroes now.

 John Chrysostom, a fourth century preacher and dynamic man of God, offended Emperor Arcadius by preaching Christ to him. The preacher was summoned before the emperor and was threatened with banishment if he didn’t stop his strong, uncompromising preaching. Chrysostom responded: “Sir, you cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.” The emperor responded: “Then I will slay you,” but the preacher said, “Nay, you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” Infuriated, the emperor said, “Your treasures will be confiscated” to which the preacher answered: “Sir, that cannot be either, my treasures are in heaven where none can break through and steal.” Finally, frustrated, the emperor yelled, “Then I will drive you from men and you shall have no friends left.” The great preacher said: “That you cannot do either, for I have a friend in heaven who has   said ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” In exasperation, John Chrysostom was banished to Armenia, then to an Island in the Black Sea, but died on the way. The things he valued most—no emperor could take from him.

As you face persecution for Christ, may you also “rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great” (Matthew 5:12).

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Peace in this world is a rare commodity. The Bible begins with man at peace with God in Genesis and ends with mankind at peace forever in Revelation. But between the beginning and the end, there is very little of it. The entrance of sin brought an end to lasting peace in this world until the day the Prince of Peace returns.

The subject of peace is popular to talk about, but rarely experienced. Someone calculated that from 36 BC to AD 1968 there were 14,553 known wars.  Since 1958 over 100 nations have been in some kind of armed conflict. Since 1945 there have been 75 wars and over 200 outbreaks of violence. One cynic said, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.”

Why do we have such a lack of peace? James wrote, “What causes wars and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2). A lack of peace is produced by greed, lust for power, pride, and selfishness.

In the section of the Sermon on the Mount called the Beatitudes, Jesus pronounces blessing on various acts of service done by His followers. A promise of happiness follows each of the beatitudes exemplified in Matthew 5. In verse 9, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Jesus calls on His followers to be peacemakers—to be about sowing harmony. However, the peace He desires has nothing to do with politics or armies. Kings, presidents or diplomats will not bring God’s peace. It will not be hammered out around a table at “peace talks.” God’s peace begins internally, on a personal level, and can only be given by God. But when received, it becomes visible in His children.  

1. The Meaning of Peace

The peace Christ desires is more than an absence of conflict. His desired peace goes much deeper. It brings a calm, restores fellowship, and reconciles opposing parties. It recognizes the enemy of peace, which is sin. Sin separates people from God and from one another. Sin results in disharmony, sadness and guilt. Sin brings wars, fights, disputes, arguments and chaos among people and nations.

 If the cause of disharmony is sin—the first step to peace is repentance. To repent of sin  means recognizing and confessing it. When John the Baptist came, he preached “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Jesus began His ministry preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). Later He said, “except you repent you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Peter preached “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). A step toward peace is a step away from sin.

2. The Maker of Peace

God, Himself, is the source of true peace. He is called “the God of peace…through the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:20). The Messiah was prophesied to be called “Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Our Lord Jesus, by His death on the cross, brings us peace with God. “Having made peace through the blood of His cross…to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight” (Colossians 1:20, 22). When sinners repent and trust Christ as their savior, they are justified by faith, and have peace with God. Paul wrote, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

3. The Messengers of Peace

Everyone who belongs to God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can enjoy the peace that only God gives. During turmoil and crisis, children of God can have, “the peace of God which passes all understanding” and it will “keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). This “peace of God” is to “rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15); it is to comfort and control believers during difficult times.

The God of peace longs for those who belong to Him to be messengers of peace to the world in conflict around them. Christians are to be peacemakers. Paul wrote, “God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). In fact, God calls believers to bring peace and reconciliation to others. They have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” and “the word of reconciliation,” and as His ambassadors are to urge people, “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). The message of the saving Gospel can bring sinners into that place of peace and reconciliation with God through Christ.

So, what does a peacemaker look like? Peacemakers have three characteristics:

One: They are people who have made peace with God themselves. Faith in Christ brings peace with God. Peace with God is that calm assurance that, through believing in Jesus, you belong to God, and things are well between you and your Maker.

Two: Peacemakers are people who lead others to make peace with God. All Christians are just sinners saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). True believers are not smug, self-righteous or proud. They want to see others enjoy peace with God. They communicate “peace by Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:36).

Three: Peacemakers are people who lead people to make peace with others. A peacemaker is a bridge-builder between people who are at odds. A bridge requires access and support on two sides. Peacemakers find common ground on which to build communication and coalition.

Peace is a precious treasure. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. When you receive Him, you have all you need to bring peace to others. Jesus promised: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Press On

The year 2020 will be known as the year a tiny mighty virus took over the world. Most of us will not be sorry when the year ends at midnight, December 31. We are limping into the end of 2020, isolated by Covid19, grieving losses of loved ones and friends, separated from our normal gatherings having experienced unbelievable sadness, great loss and profound change. It has been a long, strange, and difficult year.

However, as we enter a new decade, let us take courage and do what we can. Paul wrote, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me” (Philippians 3:14). We too need to press on—continue moving forward in a determined way, regardless of the discouragements around us.

So, what should we do after the darkness of 2020?

First, let’s not doubt in the darkness what God has promised in the light. God’s Word is true whether things are happy or dreary, encouraging or deplorable. God does not change, and neither do His promises. The 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, declared, “I would sooner walk in the dark and hold hard to a promise of God, than to trust in the light of the brightest day that ever dawned.”

Also, most of our forefathers have had it much worse. Ted Bauer, editor of White Rock Locators, wrote: “It’s a mess out there now. But for some perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. On your 14th birthday, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday. Later that year the Spanish Flu hits the planet and runs until your 20th birthday, and 50 million people die from it in those two years. On your 29th birthday, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, and that lasts until you are 33. Around your 39th birthday, World War II starts, and from then until your 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war. Smallpox was epidemic until you were in your 40’s, and it killed 300 million people during your lifetime. At 50, the Korean War starts and 5 million perish. At 55 the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for 20 years. Four million people perish in that conflict.”

Bauer ends his blog with this: “Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How did they endure all of that? When you were a kid in 1985, you didn’t think your 85-year-old grandparent understood how hard school was. Or, he didn’t get how mean that kid in your class was. Yet your grandparents survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an amazing art. Refined and enlightening as time goes on. Let’s try and keep things in perspective. Your parents and grandparents were called to endure all of the above—and you are called to stay home and sit on your couch.” (www.WhiteRockLocators.com).  

Additionally, Christians need to remember: If you are living and breathing, God has a plan for your life. For believers in Christ, when life is over for us here, we will go to meet the Lord in heaven and as future believers, will “rest from their labors” (Revelation 14:13). But until your last “Goodbye”—God wants you to serve Him. There is a purpose for your life as long as you have breath. Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). So, if you survived 2020—Get busy serving the Lord! He is still working on, in and through you!

The psalmist Asaph must have faced similar problems when he wrote, “In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; In the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; My soul refused to be comforted” (Psalm 77:2). What follows are several ways Asaph dealt with his troubles, which may help us. When facing dark days, what can encourage you?

1. Remember God’s Wonders—“I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11).

When Asaph remembered God’s wonders, His creation, His handiwork, and all the things God had done in the past, it encouraged him. The beauty of God’s creation, its vastness and majesty, helps put our small problems into proper perspective. Stop and remember what God has done.

2. Meditate on God’s Character—“I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; What god is great like our God?” (verses 12-13).

To meditate is to turn a truth over and over, as you consider it from every angle. Asaph quietly focused his thinking on God, His work, His deeds and His ways. In the midst of trials, don’t forget the holy, sinless, perfect character of the God you serve.

3. Consider God’s Power—“You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples” (verse 14).

When overwhelmed and overpowered by negative news or outright assaults, consider the power of the God you serve. He is the God who works wonders. He is all-powerful. When overcome by the storm, call on Him who can still the storm with a spoken word.

4. Trust in God’s Redemption—“You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph” (verse 15).               

In the midst of trials, trust in the One who redeemed you. God gave His Son for your salvation and redemption from sin. This truth drove Paul to write, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us” (Romans 8:31-34, NLT). So, my friend, press on.

The Arrival

The arrival of most babies is the culmination of nine months of preparation, planning and anxiety. When the time arrives for the baby to be born, it will happen—ready or not. Our first child was born 2 weeks late, according to our reckoning. Pat and I were most anxious, having never trodden this path before. So, she quizzed our OB doctor pointedly about the delay in Daren’s birth. Doctor Grizzel was a seasoned veteran of thousands of pregnancies and deliveries, and his answer to her was simple. He said, “Ripe fruit falls from the tree.” Of course, he was exactly right, and it wasn’t long before we carried a baby home from the hospital.

When Jesus was born, it was the culmination of God’s plan from before the creation of the universe. Peter wrote that Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20). His appearance in human form came that significant night in Bethlehem—the first Christmas.

The arrival of the King of kings and Lord of lords was surrounded by several unusual events. All these came together in one glorious night like no other.

1. His Arrival was Directed by Unusual Circumstances

The prophecy of Micah (5:2) stated the Messiah’s birthplace was to be Bethlehem in Judah, but Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth in Galilee. If Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, something had to happen to cause Mary and Joseph to be there at just the right time. That “something” that allowed Jesus to be born in Bethlehem was a world-wide decree from Caesar Augustus, “that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth….And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city” (Luke 2:1, 3).  Joseph had to return “to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary” (verses 4 & 5).

That Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem was well known because some of the Lord’s critics pointed out: “Has not the Scripture said that Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” (John 7:42). The 90-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem must have been torture for Mary, who was “great with child” (Luke 2:5).

2. His Arrival was Surrounded by Extreme Poverty

When God the Son became the Son of God by human birth, it fulfilled several Old Testament predictions. Isaiah had prophesied that “a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).  Matthew records this verse and adds, “Immanuel, which translated means, ‘God with us’” (Matt. 1:21). When Jesus was born, God came literally in human form. Isaiah also prophesied: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa. 9:6). The Messiah would be a child born and a son given, who would later rule the world.

However glorious the future would be, the birth of Jesus was surrounded by extreme poverty. Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger.” The King who should have been clothed in linen was wrapped in pieces of cloth. The One who sat on a throne was laid in a cattle trough. The very One who made man, was neglected by man, “for there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

Jesus was surrounded by poverty, so He could later share His riches: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you, through His poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  

3. His Arrival was Accompanied by Unparalleled Glory

Unusual circumstances and extreme poverty could not dampen the unparalleled glory of heaven at the Savior’s birth. The arrival of the Lord of Glory, the Messiah of God, the King of all, was accompanied by the unimaginable glory of an angelic host. As the angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened”(Luke 2:9).

Then, “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’” (verses 13-14). Their visit with the newborn Child, and the glory of the Lord with the multitude of heavenly angels caused the shepherds to go home “glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen” (verse 20).

4. His Arrival was the Fulfillment of an Eternal Promise

The birth of Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to provide a Savior for fallen mankind. In the Garden of Eden God promised One would defeat the devil. God told Satan that a “seed” (descendant) from the woman “shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Jesus won this victory on the cross when He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He claimed this conquest the night before when He said, “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:31-32).                                                                       

The attending angel declared “good news of great joy which will be for all 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). God’s promise of salvation came in the form of a baby lying in a manger that Christmas day.

Because of Christ’s coming, life, death and resurrection, salvation is proclaimed in His name for all people in all places. We can be redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ” because “God chose Him for this purpose long before the world began, but now in these final days, He was sent to the earth for all to see. And He did this for you” (1 Peter 1:20 NLT).  

The Announcement

Announcements of the upcoming birth of babies are exciting. I will never forget the surprise announcement of the expected birth of our first grandchild. We, and our daughter-in-law’s parents and some friends enjoyed a great meal in a restaurant. Following the meal Jenny handed Pat and her mom, Paula, a gift. Both ladies tore the wrapping away and stared at a book entitled, “101 Ways to Spoil Your Grandchild.” Jenny’s sheepish grin and Mark’s broad smile told the story—They were going to have a baby! We were going to be grandparents!

There is something thrilling about an impending birth. Childbirth is an amazing event. The birth of a baby is both exhilarating and mortifying. To be there when that breath is taken, the cry comes forth, and that little one begins to move is simply awesome. Then to hold that newborn in your arms is beyond description.

In last week’s devotional, The Anticipation, we learned that some people had been anxiously waiting for the Messiah to be born. Four hundred years of silence had followed the death of God’s last prophet, Malachi. During these four centuries Israel had fallen under the domination of Persia, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, and then Rome.

The coming of Jesus was right on schedule according to God’s plan. The Bible tells about the most unique conception and birth of the one-and-only God-Man in the history of humanity—Jesus! There were three things that make His Birth Announcement the most amazing of all:

1. The Angelic Mission….”the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee” Luke 1:26

During the “sixth month” of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, before she gave birth to John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel came to Mary with a message. This angel seems to be one appointed to carry messages from God to people on earth. Over 500 years before, Gabriel revealed to the prophet Daniel, God’s plan for Messiah’s birth (Dan. 9:20-27). The angel Gabriel was the one who brought word to Zacharias about the future birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19). Now, six months later, Gabriel is dispatched to northern Galilee with a message from God for this young woman.

The angel’s mission originated with God, for he “was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth.” The heavenly message was “to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph” (verse 27). This chosen mother of the Lord Jesus had to be a virgin because of morality, but much more; because it was prophesied: “Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son” (Isaiah 7:14). The Savior had to be virgin born because He would be “Immanuel,” or “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). The Child born to Mary would be God’s “only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

2. The Astounding Message…”you will conceive in your womb and bear…Jesus” Luke 1:31

 Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s announcement was understandable as, “she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept wondering what kind of salutation this was” (verse 29). The angel announced that Mary had found favor with God and would bear a son, “and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (verses 31-32). The name “Jesus” in Hebrew means “Savior” and that is what He was. “You shall call his name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

3. The Awesome Miracle… “the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” Luke 1:35

For one man to be the Savior of the world required one special birth—one unique Man—and one exclusive sacrifice—and that is what Christmas is all about. Virgin women do not give birth to children, so Christ’s birth required an exceptional miracle for all ages. Mary’s conception was a result of divine, not human, action. Gabriel explained: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (verse 35). Mary must have looked dumbfounded, because the angel reminded her: “Nothing will be impossible with God” (verse 37).

This miracle—the virgin birth of Christ—receives the harshest criticism of any doctrine of Christianity. Even among believers, there are doubters. In a fairly recent survey of protestant students of theology (people who become pastors and missionaries), 56% rejected the truth of the virgin birth of Christ. The reason for such unbelief is that it is humanly impossible—but there is no doctrine more essential in God’s plan. If there is no virgin birth, there is no one qualified to be Savior. The only One who can bear the sins of people is the One who had no sin, in His nature or practice; the only natural born son of God!

So, why is the virgin birth of Christ so important? Three Reasons:

First: Because Jesus had to be like us: “Therefore He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus could die for our sins because, with Mary as His mother, He was a human being. A human had to pay the price for humans.

Second: Because Jesus had to be unlike us: “For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). Our Savior had to be human—yet sinless—hence divine (Heb. 4:15).

Third: Because Jesus had to die for us. The Lord’s birth made Him one of us—His virgin birth made Him sinless—so He could sacrifice Himself for sinners: “Who does not need daily to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7:27).

Christmas is special because of The Anticipation…The Announcement… and next: The Arrival!

The Anticipation

As a child, my anticipation for Christmas grew from Thanksgiving until December 25. I focused on gifts, parties, family gatherings, food and fun—but rarely on Jesus. I knew Christmas was about the Christ-child, but somehow, He always fell behind the tinsel and trinkets.   

What are you anticipating this Christmas? Around the time of the Lord’s birth, people were not anticipating Christmas at all, but a few were looking for the Messiah (Christ) to be born.

Who anticipated the coming of Christ?

Bible scholars may have anticipated the coming of Christ. Around 600 BC, the prophet Daniel, wrote out an event sequence revealing the time for the coming of Messiah: “From the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks…Then after sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off, but not for himself” (Daniel 9:25, 26). Everyone knew the degree by Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem was in 445 BC (Nehemiah 2). In calculating the time, Daniel referred to weeks of years, not weeks of days, so 69 times 7 would be 483 years. When you take 483 years and subtract 445 BC (year of the decree) it equals AD 38—the year the Messiah was cut off on the cross. Daniel said the Messiah would be cut off, “not for Himself,” but for all of us.

The Magi, or Wise Men from the East knew about when the King of the Jews would be born. They came to King Herod and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). The wise men had probably learned the time frame, and the appearance of the star, from the legacy of Daniel in Persia; so, they journeyed to Jerusalem, to worship the newborn Messiah.

Others who anticipated His coming were the priest, Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth. The angel Gabriel revealed they would have a son, John the Baptist, and a few months later, Jesus would be born. The angel said: “he [John] will go as a forerunner before Him [Christ] in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).

There was another unlikely couple in Jerusalem who anticipated Christ’s arrival. Simeon and Anna were senior citizens who ministered daily in the temple. Luke 2:21-38 reveals Simeon was a “righteous and devout” man, who was “looking for the consolation of Israel” (verse 25)—anticipating the promised comfort of Messiah. God picked Simeon to see, hold and bless Jesus, for “it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (verse 26). The other senior saint was Anna, an 84-year-old prophetess, a widow from the tribe of Asher who “never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers” (verse 37).

What are you looking for when you consider the birth of Christ? What did Christmas bring to the world that could be found nowhere else? In Jesus, Simeon and Anna saw three things we need:

1. In Jesus They Saw God’s Comforter…”looking for the consolation of Israel” v. 25.

Simeon was waiting for the “consolation” or the comfort that would only be brought to Israel through the long-awaited Messiah. Most Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah promised He would bring peace, victory and comfort to His people.

However, Jesus came to bring more than temporary comfort, He came to bring everlasting peace. He brings comfort like no other, as Hebrews 4:15-16 reads: “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Because Jesus came, He can comfort us in all our sorrows.

2. In Jesus They Saw God’s Messiah…”before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” v. 26

Simeon’s special visit by the Holy Spirit revealed he would see the Christ—the long awaited Messiah, before he died. The word “Christ” is Greek and means anointed, while the word “Messiah” is the Hebrew word for anointed.

For hundreds of years God had promised the “Anointed One” of God would come to bring salvation, peace, comfort and freedom to this sin-saturated world. Through God’s plan, Jesus was rejected and died a sacrifice for all sin, to provide eternal life for all people who will believe in Him. When Jesus came, the Messiah came – and we celebrate His birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and soon return. Jesus is “the Lord’s Christ.”

3. In Jesus They Saw God’s Salvation… “my eyes have seen your salvation” v. 30

When Simeon looked at baby Jesus, he saw God’s Savior – but he used a word larger than Savior – He saw in that little baby the salvation for all mankind. It’s true Jesus is the Savior – but He is our Salvation as well.

Before His birth, the angel said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). We celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas because “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Jesus is both Savior and Salvation. Neither savior nor salvation is found in any other place or in any other person. “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

On that night, in the dirty stable where Jesus was born, the comfort, salvation and light of the world came forth to offer the only solution to man’s sin and failure. Most missed the meaning of His coming then, but we can clearly see the purpose of His coming now. Accept His gift of salvation and daily live in His hope of life. Let’s truly celebrate His coming this Christmas!

Blessed are the Merciful

James Edward Oglethorpe was a general in the British Army and became a member of their Parliament in 1722. While there, he presided over a committee that brought much needed prison reforms to England. His experience gave him the idea of founding a new colony in North America where the poor and destitute could start fresh, and where religious freedom was allowed. So, in 1733 he secured the charter for a new colony, and came to North America. Oglethorpe founded the town of Savannah, in what is now the state of Georgia, where he later served as governor.               

General Oglethorpe was a very strict and disciplined man. On one occasion, the Methodist preacher, John Wesley, visited him. During their discussion the general mentioned an incident involving a man who had so angered him. Oglethorpe said, “I shall never forgive him. I never forgive and I never forget—“ to which Wesley quickly replied: “Then I hope, sir, you never sin!”

Evidently, Wesley recalled the Lord’s 5th Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Jesus meant that people who are merciful and forgiving, will be treated with mercy and forgiveness.

Mercy is the inward feeling of compassion at the suffering or misery of another. It touches the heart, enabling the merciful one to feel sympathy for the suffering one. The merciful will compassionately move to relieve the affliction of the sufferer.

The concept of mercy fills Scripture from the Garden of Eden, where God provided for the sinful first pair (Genesis 3:21), to the last chapter in the Bible, where God invites all to “come…take the water of life without cost” (Revelation 22:17). God is a God of mercy that, for us, results in forgiveness, pardon, and soul salvation. He says, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). Even the prodigal prophet knew God was merciful, for he wrote, “You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

Since God is merciful to His people, He expects His people to be merciful with others. The recipient of unlimited mercy should become the dispenser of extravagant mercy. Christians compassionately forgive others because God has leniently forgiven them. Believers are to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” as they “bear with one another and forgive each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone: just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:12, 13).

Mercy is an integral part of the Christian life and character. Second century preacher, John Chrysostom said: “Mercy imitates God and disappoints Satan.”

Jesus promised happiness or blessedness to all who are merciful. So, what does that look like in life?

The Meaning of Mercy

Mercy was a rare commodity in Jesus’ day. Among the religious, Pharisees were often judgmental and rarely merciful. In society, most viewed acts of mercy as signs of weakness. One popular Roman philosopher called mercy the “disease of the soul.”

However, Jesus was the perfect example of mercy fleshed-out. He constantly reached out to heal the sick, restore hearing and sight, and even raised the dead to life. Hated tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners felt welcome with Him and found in Him full forgiveness and mercy. Jesus is described as a “merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God” so He could make perfect “reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).

When Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful,” He was portraying His followers as givers, not takers. True disciples of Christ are merciful—not critical. They are concerned about feeding the hungry, comforting the bereaved, accepting the rejected, forgiving the offender, and standing beside the lonely. And above all, God promises blessing to the merciful.

The Practice of Mercy

In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, he quotes Jesus commanding His followers to, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). It is not enough to feel sympathy or compassion for others, Christians must show mercy, through outward, physical actions.

James brings this truth home by writing: “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (James 2:15, 16).

The words of John are even more convicting: “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:17, 18).

Jesus plainly taught His followers to practice mercy when He gave the parable of the Good Samaritan. Of all who passed by the man in need on the Jericho Road, it was the despised Samaritan who was a true “neighbor” and manifested compassion in mercy (Luke 10:25-37).

The Results of Mercy

Not all who have received mercy show mercy to others. But this lack of response carries a high price: “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). Jesus taught this truth in the parable of the unmerciful debtor (Matthew 18:23-35). Though the master of a slave graciously forgave his enormous debt, the pardoned slave showed no mercy as he demanded a small debt be repaid from a fellow slave. The debt of the unmerciful slave was reinstated.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful…for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Because we have received mercy—we should show mercy to others. When we do, we are blessed: “The merciful man does good to his own soul” (Proverbs 11:17).

Salvation and heaven itself is a result of God’s mercy. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5). As we rejoice in accepting God’s mercy—let us be quick to forgive and dispense mercy to any who sin against us, because: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”