“…You Have Not Passed This Way Before,” Joshua 3:4.

At long last, Israel was ready to cross over the Jordan River and possess the land which God had promised her ancestors so long ago.

There’s a lot we could say about all this, but wish to focus on only one thing.

The verse in our title was the instruction for the people to watch for and follow the ark of the covenant.  Granted, they could not see the actual ark for that was covered when being moved and was not simply to be an object to be looked at, Numbers 4:5, 6.  It was the place where God met with His people under very strict conditions, indeed, only one man was permitted once a year on the Day of Atonement to enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood of a specific sacrifice on it.

We no longer have an actual piece of furniture called an ark.  All the things the Old Testament tabernacle and Temple foreshadowed are found in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We no longer are forbidden to enter His presence except on one day of the year.  We have freedom to come into His presence and seek His blessing and aid at any time, Hebrews 4:14-16.

The point is that even as Israel was to look to the ark as it entered the land, so we must look to the Lord Jesus as we enter a new year.

I’m actually writing this post a few days before Christmas, to be published on New Year’s Day.  I don’t know what will happen next year; I don’t even know what will happen in the few remaining days of this year.

I am very concerned with the direction this country is being taken by its leadership.  I’m very concerned with the direction the organized church, for the most part, is taking.  Wolves have indeed taken over.

Things which were unthinkable just a few years ago, to say nothing of in my youth more than a few years ago, are now commonly accepted and are considered “rights” by many. Considering where this year has taken us, I can’t begin to imagine what might happen this next year.  And I don’t want to.  The tipping point may finally come when this country crashes and burns, to become a smoking ruin on the trash heap of history.

Yes, I am pessimistic.  It will take more than a new Congress or a new President.  The problems in our country aren’t merely political or economic or social.  They are moral and spiritual.  It will take a mighty moving of the Spirit of God.  It’s certainly not beyond His power.  It just may be that we’ve told Him to go away, and He has.  I do not mean this in the sense that we somehow have defeated Him or made it impossible for Him to work.  There are no such foolish limitations on Him as that.  I think it’s just that we’ve told Him to go away, and He’s showing us how that works out.

Not well.

So, this new year, let us reject self-will, self-assurance and self-image and return to the only One Who can really do anything about it.

Because.

We have not passed this way before.

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The Seriousness of Christmas.

This will probably be the next to last post until after Christmas.

Though it’s almost the last, I hope it’s won’t be the least.  It’s about something which will still be here long after the tree is down, the lights and ornaments are put away and the Santa figures and snow men are stored back in the attic or shed.

It’s about what the angel told Joseph after it was discovered his affianced wife was pregnant,

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins,”  Matthew 1:20, 21.

Christmas is about salvation.

“He will save His people from their sins.”

Some folks focus on this statement, which they see as an indication of what might be called the definite purpose of salvation.  They will always emphasize that Jesus died to save His people.

Others, with what they consider a wider view, proclaim  “Whosoever will”.

Both are true.

Neither of them, in and of itself, is the Gospel.

You see, the Gospel isn’t so much about “who,” but “how.”

Even the salvation of “whosoever” is limited to those who believe.

And even that is limited:  “whosoever believes in Him..,” John 3:16.

And how does He “save His people”?  Through faith in Himself.

Yes, but can’t God just “forgive” sin?  After all, He’s a God of love.

True, but He’s also a God Who is holy, righteous and just.

His holiness requires absolute perfection in our dealing and views of Him.  His righteousness demands absolute perfection in our dealings with ourselves and with others.  His justice says there are consequences if we fail in any of the areas.

In other words, He requires perfection in life.

And who of us can truthfully say that we haven’t failed – times beyond counting?

Regardless of how we may dress things up or explain them, the sad truth still is, We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.

But because God IS also a God of love, He sent His Son to remedy that situation.

His Son, Jesus, was born as a helpless babe, in order that He might grow and develop and mature and experience everything there is to life.  The fact that He never drove a Chevrolet or had a facebook account has nothing to do with it.  These things, and all the other modern “conveniences,” are secondary to life, which has to do with how we react to ourselves, to others and to God.

He’s the only One who could truthfully say, “I always do those things which please Him,” John 8:29.

That goodness of life, that righteousness, is what we need if we’re ever to stand uncondemned before God.  I used this phrase in talking to a Jehovah’s Witness, but I may as well have talked to the chair he was sitting on.  He had no idea what I was talking about.  During our conversation, he told me that he thought he had a pretty good chance of making it to Paradise.

I was talking with a young lady and I asked her if she loved the Lord with all her heart, mind and soul.  She replied with an emphatic, “Yes, I do!”  I resisted the temptation to tell her that when she got to heaven, she could go up to the throne and say, “Move over, Jesus.  Now there are two of us.”

It’s sad that we can think that we’ve “got it,” when we don’t even come close!

All that we have is unrighteousness.

Sinfulness.

Even our best is bad.

Isaiah 64:6, though it’s Israel’s lament, could just as well be ours, But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.  We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. 

“Our righteousnesses” – those things we think are on the positive side of the ledger, the “good” we do, are just like “filthy rags” in the sight of God.  These were menstruous cloths, or the rags a leper might use to dress his sores.  Not very pretty, but graphic.

And we all know that we really have very few “righteousnesses” when it comes right down to it.  If our “best” is this foul and disgusting in the sight of God, what must our “unrighteousnesses” be??

I’ve made the comment before that Jesus is the only historical figure who’s never allowed to grow up.  He’s always viewed just as “the babe in the manger.”  Nelson Mandela died the day before my birthday – that’s how I can remember it.  This year, there was a news item about the observation of the anniversary of his death.  It was a very short item, but it still was from the standpoint of what he had become, not just that he was born.

Somebody made the point that we do celebrate the death of Christ.  That’s true, but still, the two events aren’t really connected in our minds.  We normally don’t think of His death at this time of the year and we won’t think of His birth next Spring.  And what happened between those two events is just as necessary as the events themselves.

What happened was His life – that perfect, sinless, righteous life.

That life we can never live ourselves.

And yes, He died.

Though He had no sin of His own, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 

I don’t even know how to do justice to that verse!  It says that Jesus took to Himself all the foulness of sin, all the filth of sin, that leprous cloth, that menstruous cloth, as if it were His own, and God treated Him as if it were His own.  Jesus felt the full weight of the wrath of an offended holy, righteous and just God.  We don’t ever think of God like that in our superficial and sentimental Christianity, but Jesus experienced every ounce of it for those for whom He died.

But just as there came a time for Him to be born, and a time for Him to die, so there must come a time when we, too, must come, not to that cradle, for there is no salvation there, but to the Cross.  It is only there that our sin question will find an answer.

The Apostle Paul answered one such individual, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.

“To believe” means “to trust,’ to so completely trust that if He were to fail – and He cannot! – if He were to fail, there would be no other escape from our sins.  There IS no other escape!

“That we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

There are two sides to the coin of salvation.  One side is that Christ took our sins.

The other side is that God gives us Christ’s righteousness.  He imputes it to us, credits it to our account.  This is called justification.  In addition, He treats us as if we were righteous, just as He treated Jesus as if He were sinful.  The work of the Spirit is to show some evidence of that righteousness in our lives, lives which show conversion, no matter how imperfectly it may show.  This is called sanctification.  Paul wrote that we are God’s workmanship, Ephesians 2:10.  The Spirit’s job is to make sure that we look something like it.

Oh, that today, God might do His work through the Holy Spirit, that there might be some, perhaps even you, who come to Bethlehem to find that One Who was born in order that He might live and die for sinners.

Christmas is serious!

 

The Splendor of Christmas

And, no, we’re not writing about all the glitter and glitz of Christmas as it’s celebrated today.  Without doubt, there are some gorgeous displays of lights and ingenuity this time of the year, but, as with our last post on Christmas, we’re thinking of another day, a day which could not have been more opposite to today.

True, there were a couple of bright spots in that day of scandal, as we labeled it.  There was a visit by a few shepherds at the birth itself.  There was a visit perhaps a year or two later by an entourage which had traveled hundreds of miles to bring gifts to and worship the little one.  Their gifts, by the way, probably financed the family’s trip to and stay in Egypt.  This is not to leave out the angelic visits to Mary and Joseph explaining what was going on.

But for the most part, there was more shadow than light in that event.

So what was it that made this day worthy of remembrance?

Why should we care about something that happened 2000 years ago?  Is there anything else that happened back then that anybody cares about today?

Why this day?

It’s not about anything that happened “outside”.  It’s not even about Joseph or Mary, though a large part of professing Christendom has made it about her.  Indeed, it seems, for the most part, that they’ve made everything about her.

No, no, the day is special because of the Baby Himself.

But why this baby?  There may have been several other babies born in Israel that day. Certainly, world-wide, there were probably hundreds of babies born that day.

So. why this One?

John 1:14 says that He became flesh.  Philippians 2:7 says He took the form of a servant. 

What?

“Became”?

“Took”?

Who does that?  Nobody has any choice in the matter.  We don’t ask to be born.  Our kids will sometimes remind us of that.

This One did ask.

All the arrangements for what happened at Bethlehem, both leading up to and after, were made before God said, “Let there be light,” Genesis 1:3.  See 1 Peter 1:20.

You see, John 1:1 says that this One Who became flesh was God.  Oh, I know there are some who knock on your door who will say that He was only “a” god.  But if that were true, and it isn’t, then there is no salvation.  If only a creature, as JWs insist, then Jesus would have had all He could do to make it back to heaven Himself, let alone bring anyone else with Him.

Philippians 1:6 says that this One Who took the form of a servant, before then was in the form of God .  He didn’t think that exalted position was something to be selfishly clung to, but made Himself of no reputation.

“The form of God” means that He was truly God, just as “form of a servant” means that He was truly human.

“Made Himself of no reputation.”

Reputed illegitimate Son of a reputed adulteress.

Scandal.

No reputation.

Indeed.

There is an old hymn which says, The Son of God goes forth to war.”

Yes, He did.

As a baby.

That is the splendor of Christmas.

The Heartbeat of a Mother.

Since I’m only a son, grandson, great-grandson, father and grandfather [no “greats” there yet, though our grandkids are great], I don’t know that I’m particularly qualified to write about being a mother.  But I’ll do my best.

A young woman once apologetically told me that she didn’t work outside the home, that she was “just a mother.”  At once, I told her that no woman was “just” a mother.

A mother is the first, and the most important, part of a baby’s life.  One of the very first things the little one must be conscious of is the nearby heartbeat of that one whose very body is involved in nurturing and protecting this new life within it.  Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. The rhythm of life.  For nine months, that sound is the background of existence, the assurance that all is well.

Then comes the trauma of birth – for both the mother and the child.

For Mom, “Whew, I’m glad that’s over!” – though it’s really only a new beginning.  For the child….

I had a good friend in college whose home in another state I would sometimes go with him to visit.  One time in particular I remember.  I slept in a room where the air-conditioner perched in a window.  This visit my friend’s folks turned it on.  Summer can be hot in Tennessee.  The conditioner was noisy, and I didn’t sleep very well.  Then morning came, and they turned it off.  That’s what really woke me – that deafening silence.

I wonder if that’s what it’s like for a newborn.  All kinds of new stimuli to be sure, new environment, lights, sounds, and yet…

Silence.

Where’s the heartbeat?

I wonder what the newborn feels?  Loss?  Confusion?  Panic?  The one constant of the old life is gone.  There’s no connection with this new life.  There’s nothing for the baby to hold on, so to speak.  How does he or she feel at this turn of events?

Then…

the baby is given to the mother and she cuddles him close.

Ah!  The baby relaxes; there’s the heartbeat.  There’s the connection.

Do you know why mothers are so special?  It’s their heartbeat….

Their love, their care, their concern.  Their “thereness”.

If things go as they should, there will be other “connections” made in life: dad, perhaps brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, grandma and grandpa, friends, a special “other” down the line, children of their own….

But it all starts with a mother’s heartbeat.

Thanks, Mom.

NOTE:  I’ve published this post before.  It’s slightly edited from having been done before, but it’s still relevant.  My own mom would have been 100.

Happy Mother’s Day, all you moms out there.  We’ll never know how much we owe you.

The Reason for the Season

I know a person who always uses the slogan “Jesus is the reason for the season” this time of year.  I appreciate the sentiment, trying to draw attention back to the reason we celebrate Christmas and to get it away from all the sentimentality of “twas the night before Christmas,” etc., etc. Now that we’ve gotten past “Black Thursday” and “Black Friday,” and are preparing to enter “Black December,” with its incessant advertising and programming to get us into “the holiday spirit,” perhaps it’s time to look at the slogan again.

By the way, if Christmas is such a wonderful time, why is everybody always so glad when it’s over?  Forgive me if I sound like the Grinch, but I have no particular fondness for all that Christmas has become.  I was really upset to see the first Christmas advertising two weeks before Thanksgiving.  They used at least to wait for Thanksgiving to pass to start Christmas ads.  I rejoice in the Virgin Birth, but really dislike all the barnacles that have attached themselves to “the good ship Grace” about this and other things over the centuries.  (If you remember that phrase, then you’re giving away your age.)

Back to the slogan.

“Jesus is the reason for the season.”

That just brings up another question.  WHY is Jesus the reason, etc.?  Why did He come to this earth in the first place?

Galatians 4:4 (NKJV)  gives us the actual “reason for the season”:  But when the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.  Another verse takes us even deeper into the divine counsel, that in the dispensation of the fulness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him, Ephesians 1:10.

You see, there has been a disruption in creation.  In the words of Romans 5:12, sin entered.  It’s no use trying to figure out the whys and the wherefores; the fact is that it happened and we see the results around us, and in us, every day.  The reason for the season is found in the mind of God.  He would “answer the sin problem.”  He would heal the disruption.  The manger was just the first step in that answer, that healing.

Mary wrapped the Infant in “swaddling clothes,” that is, with strips of cloth.  That’s how they took care of babies, and that’s how they prepared a body for burial.  Even in His birth, there was a foreshadowing of His death.

However you observe Christmas, please remember that He wasn’t born so we could give each other gifts, put up all kinds of decorations, get together and have fun.  These may be all well and good and have their place, but….

Jesus was born in order that He might live, and then that He might die….