Ecclesiastes 3:11

Are you beautiful? We women especially tend to wonder about this at various times, but even men can be concerned about their appearances. Yet if we base the estimation of our value purely on that which is physical, we might find ourselves increasingly distraught as the years pass, and our features–with which we may or may not have been previously satisfied–begin to deteriorate with age.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:11‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Some translations say He “makes everything happen at the right time,” but the point is that God structures human physical life so that we are who we are, exactly when we’re supposed to be. You cannot at seventy, sixty or even fifty years old rightly expect to look like you did at eighteen; the increasingly all-too-frequent artificial likenesses of those surgically enhanced to look significantly younger than their chronological age attest to that visual incongruity–it just seems strange when older faces and bodies look too much like younger ones. And while I’m not saying we should give up altogether–that we shouldn’t try to do the best with what we have or enhance our appearance in any way as we age–trying too hard to look like what we no longer are is a bit pointless.

You see, the unique beauty and vigor of a woman’s youth serves a specific purpose above the merely aesthetic–it indicates a capacity for God’s design of procreation. A woman of child-bearing age is physically attractive for a specific reason; to encourage that which her time of life has suited her for–the formation of a marriage and beginning of a new family.

None of which is to arbitrarily restrict or preclude a woman beyond childbearing age from marrying, or adopting or fostering children, or assisting in the raising of her own grandchildren if need be. My point is just that it’s ridiculous to expect fifty-seven to look like twenty-seven because fifty-seven cannot physiologically do what twenty-seven can!

So, what does fifty-seven look like? What can you expect as you get older? More importantly, do we lose value as our appearance changes?

As time progresses and we pass through the natural stages of life, we change. Mentally, we mature; we have the insight and acuity we didn’t at twenty because we have lived through experiences that have (hopefully) caused us to become wiser. But physically, our bodies deteriorate, and as our internal physiology alters, changing hormones eventually impact our bodies’ capacity to maintain our formerly youthful appearance. Even if we’ve lived a healthy lifestyle, we eventually wear down; it is unusual to hear of a person living beyond a hundred, although some rare individuals make it to around a hundred twenty (according to nbcnews.com, “the oldest verified age was 122 years and 164 days: Jeanne Calment of France, who died in 1997“).

Yet this is not necessarily “bad;” it is just the way it is. And while we should do our best to extend our functional years, we should also recognize that regardless of how others, or even we, ever formerly evaluated ourselves–our true worth never was based on our appearance. To the contrary, God has always looked for completely different qualities in us: qualities that we can not only still grow in, but even also become genuinely abundant in! Proverbs 4:18 confirms that, “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs‬ ‭4:18‬ ‭NIV‬‬) We, at the moment of our physical death, should and can be more beautiful in God’s eyes than ever before!

But whether we are young or older, how does God evaluate our true beauty? What does He look for in us? Well, what does He say?

“…What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way…” (1 Peter‬ ‭3:4-6‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

“Since prayer is at the bottom of all this, what I want mostly is for men to pray—not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God. And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it.” (1 Timothy‬ ‭2:8-10‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

“…The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel‬ ‭16:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

God is looking for who we are inside–at the inner quality of our heart. He is looking for a spirit right with Him–one that has submitted itself to Him and placed its full confidence in the forgiveness we have through Christ; one that genuinely trusts He has our highest good at heart; one that evidences Christ’s Spirit working in us: “…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…” (Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬ ‭NIV‬‬) This is what God is looking for; this is what is beautiful to Him, and it is how we can get more and more beautiful as the years progress!

Even more amazingly, the lives we now lead, the decisions we make, who we become through choice and repetition–in other words who we really are, as opposed to how we present ourselves to others–not only impacts our physical visage here in these bodies through an inner serenity and joy that permeates our entire being, it is also what we will carry with us past death to eternity.

Did you catch that? The person we are inside will cross over to eternity! How? Why? Because it doesn’t go away at the moment of death; we really truly don’t simply cease to exist, as some assert. Whether it’s our embracing of Christ in faithful obedience, or stubborn rejection of God’s overtures of mercy and love, our response to Christ is preserved eternally because our spirit is eternal!

And the things we go through–the trials we experience through which we reflect Christ–we know that, “…our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Corinthians‬ ‭4:17-18 NKJV)

So, are you beautiful? Is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” working “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” as you look “at the things which are not seen?” Is your path “shining ever brighter until the full light of day?” Let’s hope so, because that’s the beauty time cannot steal!

Dear Lord God,

Thank You that You have made everything beautiful in its time, and that You have set eternity in our heart! Please work true beauty–a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory–in us as our physical lives progress. Amen.

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John 16:1-4

Is Christianity good–or bad? There was a time in the not-too-distant past that such a question would have been absolutely ludicrous–everyone understood it is good to reverence God and trust in Jesus Christ! Yet today, with a sufficient passage of time since most children were routinely exposed to the teachings of the Bible in school and society, there is an increasing lack of even a basic cultural knowledge as to what, exactly, is taught in the Bible–and yes, as to whether it is even good.

“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith…the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning…” (John‬ ‭16:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

A time may be coming when those who identify as Christians will suffer for their belief, even here in the West–to a great degree, I suspect, because the average person will no longer have a clue as to what Christianity really teaches, rendering them susceptible to every bit of disinformation out there, and eventually to prejudice against Christianity, and even hostility towards it.

Even the online description of a program called The Handmaid’s Tale, reads:

“In a dystopian near-future, the totalitarian and Christian-fundamentalist government of Gilead rules the former United States amidst an ongoing civil war and subjugates women, who are not allowed to work, control money, or even read. Widespread infertility due to environmental contamination has resulted in the conscription of young fertile women–called Handmaids, according to biblical precedent–who are assigned to the homes of the elite, where they must have ritualized sex with the men in order to become pregnant and bear children for those men and their wives.”

I understand that this is fiction, but did you catch the misleading comment that there is a biblical precedent for women called handmaids, who must bear children for infertile couples? The “precedent” referred to is clearly the story of Abraham, Sarah and Haggai, but what the description fails to explain is that this “precedent” was a pagan near eastern cultural practice of the time that Sarah, in her disbelief of God’s promise, succumbed to and goaded Abraham (and forced Haggai) into. But referring to it as a “biblical precedent” implies that the Bible either teaches or condones this practice, when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth! Yet someone who doesn’t know the Bible will subsequently now associate Christianity with this ancient pagan practice!

What about the fact that this dystopian government that “subjugates women, not allowing them to work, control money, or even read,” is identified as Christian fundamentalist? Sects and cults which veer away from what God really says, perhaps, but Christian fundamentalists who cling to the truth of the Bible? No; God’s heart is not the subjugation of anyone, including women. To the contrary, Jesus “…came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John‬ ‭10:10‬ ‭NASB‬‬)

In fact, two thousand years ago when the New Testament was written, God named women in the New Testament fellow inheritors of eternal life alongside of men (a radical concept for that time), empowering them and giving them a status they never had before. God certainly does not subjugate or enslave women; He emancipates them! Yet not only women–He frees everyone who comes to Him. Jesus famously said, “…If you continue to obey my teaching, you are truly my followers. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John‬ ‭8:31-32‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

Getting to know what God says in the Bible frees us from wrong thinking and artificial barriers and prejudices, and aligns our thinking with that which right and good and empowering; it helps us be the best people we can be, the people God planned for us to become! Yet this description of The Handmaid’s Tale misleadingly associates Christianity in the minds of the biblically uneducated with small-mindedness and subjugation of women.

What should we do? How should we respond? Clearly, by praying and continuing in God’s Word, because we can’t be effective in any way that counts without Christ working in and through us. But also by knowing and speaking truth to the culture at large as the opportunity presents itself in our daily lives. First Peter 3:15 tells us to “Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life. [And] Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope [in Christ].” (1 Peter‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭CEV‬‬)

Jesus said that everyone would know we are His followers by the love we have for each other, so they will see Him when we are loving and selfless. And Galatians teaches that, “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [That] There is no law against things like this. [And that] Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.” (Galatians‬ ‭5:22-24‬ ‭CEB‬‬)

We may not keep bad things from happening in the future, but if we live holy, selfless lives and remain faithful to the real teaching of God and our Lord Jesus, He may use us to help correct at least some misunderstanding of what Christianity is, and perhaps even help someone see and know Christ!

Dear Lord Jesus,

Please use me to help others get to know the Father and You through me! Amen.

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Isaiah 7:14

What is Christmas to you? This holiday, which originated as an effort by church leaders to redirect dissolute pagan midwinter celebrations toward Christ and a holy time of worship, has today widely denigrated back to a secular holiday characterized less by corporate worship and more by commercialism, gift-giving and private family time. But what, actually, are we remembering or acknowledging today; what is it that we’re celebrating?

Old Testament Prophecy:

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Listen carefully, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will call his name Immanuel (God with us).” (ISAIAH‬ ‭7:14‬ ‭AMP‬‬)

New Testament Fulfillment:

“She will give birth to a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus (The LORD is salvation), for He will save His people from their sins.” All this happened in order to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet [Isaiah]: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND GIVE BIRTH TO A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL ”–which, when translated, means, “GOD WITH US.”” (MATTHEW‬ ‭1:21-23‬ ‭AMP‬‬)

The most important aspect of any discussion of Christmas is a recognition of the fact that the Jesus Christ of historical record was (and still is) Immanuel, a literal interpretation of which means “God with us.”

This is unprecedented! He is not “a god,” as some ancient rulers designated themselves to validate their authority over their people; He is literally the Author and Source of all, living in human form among us as one of us. This is extraordinary and supernatural in nature, and difficult to accept, but nonetheless, literally and completely true.

Those of us who grew up hearing these verses tend not to trip up on the word “virgin,” but it is extremely significant that this is what Mary was; that Jesus was not conceived through sexual intimacy of any kind. Luke records God letting Mary know what’s about to happen to her:

“One month later God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee with a message for a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph from the family of King David. The angel greeted Mary and said, ‘You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant. Then the angel told Mary, ‘Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.’ Mary asked the angel, ‘How can this happen? I am not even married!’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God’s power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God. Your relative Elizabeth is also going to have a son, even though she is old. No one thought she could ever have a baby, but in three months she will have a son. Nothing is impossible for God!’ Mary said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.’ And the angel left her.” (Luke‬ ‭1:26-38‬ ‭CEV‬‬)

Some claim the original word translated into our word “virgin” to merely mean “young woman,” but even a common sense consideration of that meaning evidences its inappropriateness within the context–how would a young woman conceiving and bearing a child be any kind of special sign, as the prophecy in the Old Testament book of Isaiah indicates? Isn’t it young women (not young men or old women or men) who typically conceive and bear children? How would that have in any way been unusual or extraordinary? It would not have been–but a woman conceiving and giving birth without having had intimate relations with anyone would have been. A virgin giving birth is an extraordinary sign from God.

Furthermore, we tend to interpret things through the lens of our own culture. These days it is indeed not only possible, but also increasingly common, for unmarried young women to conceive and give birth to children; clearly it’s physically possible, and the lack of sufficient moral constraints renders it a frequent occurrence today. But within the context of ancient Israel the prohibition against and stigma of childbirth outside of marriage dictated that an “unmarried young woman of marriageable age” and a “virgin” were synonymous–they literally indicated the same thing because unmarried young women were virgins!

But why is it so important that Mary was a virgin–that Jesus was conceived through the direct intervention of God in her physiology, not through sexual relations of any kind?

The answer to this is a little more complex, but once you get it, it’s absolutely amazing! It is important to understand that Jesus’ conception was a direct supernatural intervention of God because had it not been He would not have been Immanuel–God with us. And had He not been God, none of the rest of the story would have occurred or even mattered, because He would have been a mere human born infected with a nature as we are and incapable of paying the penalty for anyone’s sin by His death. Yet even though He was born a baby through Mary, the human young woman God chose for this task, He was also God with us–Immanuel–of Isaiah’s prophecy! And a sign–one of the many ways we can know Jesus Christ was who God attested He was through all of the multiple signs and prophecies and miracles that followed–was through this extraordinary and miraculous conception.

So what is Christmas to you? What is it that we are celebrating? Is it snowmen and Santa and gifts and family and friends and cozy hearth fires? No. At Christmas we are celebrating that, “God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.” (John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭CEV‬‬) We are celebrating God coming to us: Immanuel–God with us!

Dear God,

Thank You for remembering us, and coming to us! Amen.

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I John 4:7

Does Jesus bother you? Is His message of sin, repentance, forgiveness and obedience offensive to you? Do you dislike the Bible as a whole–because, let’s be honest, whether it is specifically attributed to Jesus Christ or not, Christianity is a cohesive message of self-denial characterized by love for others and submission to God. Ultimately, do you believe a world without Him would be preferable?

“Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.” (1 John‬ ‭4:7‬ ‭CEB‬‬)

Christ’s message is one of love. Not a cozy “we’re-all-okay-God-loves-the-world-as-it-is” message that requires nothing of us, but an uncomfortable “there’s-a-huge-problem-Christ-solved-we-now-need-to-respond-to-it” one. That’s actually the reason most people resent it; because it requires a change in us–in our thinking, speaking or living.

Yet the defining characteristic of the message of the gospel–and those who have submitted themselves to God’s preeminence in their life–is love. Jesus notably declared, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John‬ ‭13:34-35‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

Regardless of our personal proclivities or preferences, and notwithstanding how we might feel at the moment, as followers of Jesus we respond in love–to the best of our ability and as He empowers us–to those we encounter and interact with in our daily life. Why? Because this identifies and validates us as His! Yet such selfless, sacrificial love is not a universal human norm. To the contrary, it’s absence is characterized by selfishness, misery, abuse and fear.

Perhaps because we’ve been predominantly Christian in the past–because we’ve had great spiritual awakenings like those of the 1730’s, the late eighteenth century, the 1850’s, even the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, that have influenced and shaped our nation’s moral fiber for years afterward–we tend to expect goodness in human behavior as a default setting, but it isn’t. To the contrary, any society–whether of a Christian or other religious tradition–that removes Christ from the equation will invariably find themselves floundering in an abysmal moral quagmire.

The gruesome murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is just the most recent and widely publicized example of humankind’s depravity toward others of its own species. As a matter of fact, the news are pervaded by human rights abuses in multiple countries that lack a strong Christian presence–not the least of which are the incidents of human rights activists, religious groups and others who routinely go missing in China and other oppressive regimes; the abuses against the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar; and the human rights violations perpetrated against women in countries like Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Somalia, Djibouti, Bahrain, Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, and Comoros.

You see, the problem is universal; it is not in specific people-groups but in the human heart, which–without the redeeming influences of God’s light and goodness–perpetrates abominable evil, injustice and abuse. And any culture that wants no part of the love that is God eventually gets what it desires.

The description of a society that has rejected God is one of complete depravity:

People are “…filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy.” (Romans‬ ‭1:29-31‬ ‭CEB‬‬)

This picture is not unlike the world before the Flood, when “…every intent of the thoughts of his [humankind’s] heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)

But what of Christ and the witness of the Bible? Is it offensive? Only to those who hate good–those who want the freedom to do that which is selfish, misguided, unkind or unloving. No, rather than being problematic, the teachings of Christ and the Bible serve a redeeming purpose; they are a preservative–the salt and light–within the individuals and societies they inhabit:

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew‬ ‭5:13-16‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

So does Jesus bother you? If He does, you may not fully understand Him yet because He is truly everything we could ever want–and the love and goodness He brings into our life and the lives of others around us makes this world so much better for everyone!

Dear Lord God,

Help me see and experience Your goodness! Amen.

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Romans 1:20

Who designed snowflakes? Modern photography has captured their endless variety–all symmetrically beautiful, yet amazingly different! What about fur, in which we see not only hairs of varying colors adjacent to each other but also a different color on each individual hair from root to top? Or fire? You know–that phenomenon of nature that can be a lively flickering tip on top of a candle; a cozy warmth in a fireplace; ignited gas on our cooktops to cook our food or in our furnaces to heat our homes or hot water heaters so we can take comfortable showers–or a devastating force like the Camp Fire of Nov. 25th, which took eighty-five lives with eleven still missing and burned 153,336 acres, destroying nearly 14,000 residences. What, in fact, about all of the natural material world around us on Earth and which extends into the vast reaches of space as far as anything that actually exists does exist?

“God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all He has made…” (Romans‬ ‭1:20‬ ‭CEV‬‬)

Do you ever just open your eyes and look around yourself at that which exists apart from any human contribution–because it’s amazing! And however you parse the evolutionary question, don’t you inevitably and eventually come back to the question of origin–how it all started?

I know, the Big Bang, but if so, Who caused the conditions that generated that? And who structured what we call the laws of nature–the rules and mechanisms for everything to develop as it does? Why is there the predictability and order and structure we observe throughout millennia? Why, for example, are babies of all species conceived and develop and are born and mature and age and eventually die–Who programmed them to do so? What about the unique set of circumstances that are conducive to life on earth above any other planet–our orbit around the sun at just the right distance, not too hot or too cold; a habitable zone where water can exist in liquid form; a moon that creates a gravitational pull; a stable rotation; constant gravity; a protective magnetic field; temperate zones; abundant liquid water; photosynthesis; electricity–all of the conditions that generate and sustain life? (https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.livescience.com/21546-earth-facts.html)

We can observe how our world functions and even hypothesize about how it began, but if you attempt to exclude God from your ideas, you’re left with the unresolved question of who began the very beginnings–and apart from an Originator far above anything material, no other answer makes sense, because in any experience, conditions have to be set up to facilitate what subsequently occurs. And this is the ultimate question any discussion of origins apart from God fails to answer satisfactorily.

But the Bible answers these questions. God existed apart from and before anything material–before Creation; in fact, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis‬ ‭1:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

And it is Jesus Christ who “In the beginning was…, and…was with God, and…was God…[through Whom] All things were made..without [Whom] nothing was made that was made,” (John‬ ‭1:1-3‬ ‭NKJV‬‬) Who is now “…upholding all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3 NIV)

I suspect part of our problem is that we fail to rightly comprehend God; our minds do not fully grasp Him. Yet God is bigger and greater and so much more incredible than anything that materially occurred in time and space and matter–He is, in fact, its Originator; the Answer behind the unanswerable questions! And whatever childhood impressions of our origins as recorded in the first several chapters of Genesis we retain, they cant’t begin to do the reality justice because of the finite capacity of our human minds and comprehension.

And yet, once we’re done here we will understand it all, just as He now understands us: “Now we see [as if] a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have [already] been completely known [by Him].” (1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:12‬ ‭CEB‬‬)

So, Who designed the snowflakes and everything else we marvel at, or simply take for granted? You know Who!

Dear Lord,

Thank You that You show Your eternal power and majesty through Creation! Amen.

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Matthew 13:12

Ok, I get it: it’s increasingly not cool to be Christian anymore. It’s not cool, as a matter of fact, to practice any religion anymore; to believe in–much less reverence or obey–Someone greater than myself, something beyond my own intellectual powers. Religion conjures up images of devout, but perhaps somewhat less “evolved” individuals from the Middle East or elsewhere, with beards and robes or turbans walking around in sandals and engaging in strange rituals–as well as others in odd pockets of society here and there in the West who also still cling to those ways. In other words, it seems increasingly irrelevant and strange in today’s world. Most trust in reason, science and the powers of their own observation; only those who can’t or won’t seem to remain mired in the superstitious clutch of religion. But is belief in a Higher Power just a backward relic of archaic societies–an “imaginary friend” or sign of personal weakness–or is there a Divine Supernatural Entity behind it?

“Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew‬ ‭13:12‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

It’s difficult to convince people of something that happened a long time ago. If you had your appendix taken out thirty years ago as a child the memory may be practically non-existent, but you can point to the scar on your abdomen and be assured of the fact that you did, indeed, go through that experience. If, however, you were emotionally scarred–that’s a little different. In the absence of any physical tangible reminders your mind can begin to play games with you, so that if you haven’t dealt with it, in time you can begin to question whether it ever even happened.

It’s the same with the events centering on the person called Jesus Christ that transpired two thousand years ago in what is now modern-day Israel; if we don’t keep referring back to the Bible–to the collected testimonies of those who lived through these events and recorded them for all who would come after them–our recollection can threaten to enter the realm of fairytale and fable to the degree we can begin to question whether any of it ever happened. But it did–just as any other factual occurrence in the now distant past–and while the passage of time may have dulled our collective memory, it has not cause it to not have happened.

So what did happen? Why are we increasingly beginning to feel that it didn’t–that it’s all just fables? And what can we do to keep the memory alive–from losing it altogether?

What happened? Well, read the source document–the Bible! It’s been collected and republished under one cover for our benefit, but it’s the writings of various individuals from the time of Christ going back several thousand years. And just as the recordings of a court proceeding, investigations like the one being conducted by Robert Mueller, or any other occurrence typically require you to examine the various first-hand documents, rightly understanding who Jesus Christ is and why it’s so significant also requires that you read the source documents.

But why are we beginning to feel that it didn’t happen? The short answer is because we’ve cut ourselves off from it–as a society we’ve stopped studying it. If we decided to do the same with the Civil War, or the Holocaust, or any other event that happened in the past–if we took all mention of it out of our textbooks, never reported on it in the media except to cast doubt on it and question whether it really happened or happened the way those who were there said it happened or questioned the reasons why it happened–well, we can’t really rewrite history because what happened isn’t going to unhappen, but we can certainly start believing a very distorted and untrue view of it–and that is exactly what we’ve done with Christ Jesus.

We’ve stopped teaching what happened in school and referring to it in the media, except to question or scorn it. We’ve made it seem like no self-respecting reasonably intelligent forward-thinking person could still believe it–that it’s incredibly backward to accept that Jesus was not humanly conceived, that He healed people merely by speaking it; that He brought back to life a man so clearly dead that he had already begun to decay; ultimately, that after being tortured and mutilated and executed by crucifixion–and having a Roman sword thrust into His side to ascertain His death–He came back life Himself and huge numbers of people saw and attested to it.

No. We’re incredulous; we’d rather believe it didn’t happen–that it was somehow staged, or made up after the fact, or faked or lied about. But it wasn’t; there were too many people who saw it and heard about it and knew–too many witnesses. It’s the incredulous comment of Cleopas recorded in Luke 24:18, “…Are you the only person from Jerusalem who didn’t know what was happening there these last few days?” (Luke‬ ‭24:18‬ ‭CEV‬‬). The Bible is that record.

And the people who still believe; who pray–they’re right, because Someone is there. How do we know? Because Jesus Christ told us about Him and did the things no one else does–that can’t be done–to prove it. He said,

“Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do.” John‬ ‭14:11‬ ‭CEV‬‬)

What happened? God reached down to humankind through Jesus Christ so we can be forgiven and accepted because of Him. He died in our place so we can know and experience God, the Father, and love and be loved by Him now and forever.

Why do we increasingly feel like it didn’t happen? Because we’re not reading and listening enough to others teach from the document that tells us what happened–and that’s what Jesus was talking about in today’s verse. When we read and study what happened and was recorded for our benefit–what God, who showed Himself to us through Jesus, wants us to know–we grow in our understanding of who He is and we get closer to Him. But when we avoid any contact with God–when we don’t read the Bible, don’t pray on our own, avoid going to church, never listen to Christian podcasts or radio programs or hang out with people who know and love Him–then, even what we had goes away.

So what can we do to keep from losing our consciousness of God–to keep what we have from being taken away because we avoided Him and wanted no part of Him? We have to back to Him! This is what He said:

“When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed…” (Jeremiah‬ ‭29:12-14‬ ‭MSG‬‬)

He’ll give us Himself when we look for Him; He promised!

Dear Lord God,

Open our eyes so we can know You! Amen.

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Luke 18:13

Oh my sins! Have you ever felt a sentiment like this? Such a consciousness of your inadequacy before God that not just the words out of your mouth, but even–at long last–the justifications coming out of it are stopped? I hope so, because that’s the only way to be made right through Christ–by coming to a point in our self-awareness that we correctly see our spiritual insufficiency.

“The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, ‘God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.'” (Luke‬ ‭18:13‬ ‭CEV‬‬)

Being an IRS agent is a perfectly acceptable career in our culture, but first century Jewish tax collectors were collaborators with the occupying Roman government and extortionists–the epitome of a sinner; that’s why Jesus chose one for His parable. Yet the irony is that we don’t have to have done anything “bad” to recognize our true condition. We might have; it might be a particularly onerous transgression that scares us into our senses and finally humbles us–but it doesn’t have to be. The point is that we desperately need to come to a recognition of who we really are before God–and it isn’t pretty.

You see, the human condition is one of pride; we naturally think highly of ourselves. Even those of us who are more balanced in our self-evaluation tend to become defensive about the value of our accomplishments and contributions, and can get quite bent out of shape when others don’t recognize them.

But that’s just it. Those things you’re so proud of–the ones you feel define you and make you particularly valuable as a human being–they can never make you holy. It isn’t that we can’t ever do anything that’s good–we can and do. Human beings can do amazing things! It’s just that from the perspective of who God is–from the vantage point of pure and unapproachable holiness–what is any of that?!

Listen to St. Paul’s own admission:

He goes through a litany of his human lineage and accomplishments, then says, “But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses [by doing something about it myself]. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ. All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. I want to suffer and die as he did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life.” (Philippians‬ ‭3:7-11‬ ‭CEV‬‬)

What we feel defines us and gives us value as people is absolutely useless and ineffective in its capacity to justify us before God–to undo the effect of the unholiness and sin we live and breath before Him each day. Older translations call it filthy rags; it’s garbage, ashes, filth, that which is completely dirty, valueless and meaningless–they are not sufficient credentials to allow us access to the unapproachable holiness of God.

So, how can we approach God? And why is it so important to feel our spiritual impoverishment before Him so acutely? It is so vitally important that we recognize our true standing before God apart from what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross because–as today’s verse shows–God forgives and accepts us through Him when we acknowledge our true condition–when we stop trying to get Him to accept us on our own merit.

Look at the contrasting prayer from the religious man, the Pharisee:

“The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn.”” (Luke‬ ‭18:11-12‬ ‭CEV‬‬)

Maybe this man really was what he said he was–maybe he tried his best to not be greedy or dishonest, maybe he remained faithful to his wife; maybe he gave every bit of what the Old Testament Law mandated as an offering. That’s not the point; the point is that he thought doing these things made him acceptable to God–he failed to recognize his spiritually impoverished condition. And the point Jesus was making is that no matter how great your guilt, God can and does forgive when you acknowledge it–rather than deny or try to hide it–and humble yourself before Him.

So, how big are your sins? No matter how little or few, without the perfect holiness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, attributed to us through faith, they are enough to separate you eternally from Him! But–“How great is God’s love for all who worship him? Greater than the distance between heaven and earth! How far has the Lord taken our sins from us? Farther than the distance from east to west!” (Psalms‬ ‭103:11-12‬ ‭CEV‬‬)

Dear Lord God,

Have pity on me, not because of anything I am or have done, but because of Jesus Christ. Thank You for Him! Amen.

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