Regarding Jesus, seventh grade boys have three important questions:

  • Is what you’re telling us about Jesus true?
  • Can a person really have a day-to-day relationship with Jesus – even though He left this earth almost 2000 years ago?
  • If I follow Jesus wholeheartedly, will it be worth it?

Jesus is all about truth… in fact, He is Truth. His reality is not impacted by whether or not we believe… but He wants us to know Him. One day, every person will acknowledge and bow to the Truth.

As when He walked the earth, Jesus patiently implores people to believe in Him. Today, Satan continues to use ‘confusion’ to hinder faith. He knows ‘without faith it is impossible to please God,’ so he makes what is pure sound wrong and what is evil sound good. Truth is the remedy to confusion… but we must pursue it.

On trial, Jesus said: “The reason I was born and came into this world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.” A skeptical Pilate asked: “What is truth?” and then walked away.

A while later, two unlikely sinners reached similar conclusions. “Today, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The thief on the cross confessed the truth about himself as he realized the holiness of the Man crucified next to him. By asking for mercy, he shows us the beauty of the Truth that saves. He did not have to understand everything… he just needed to petition the One with all authority. The Messiah said: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

Even a Roman centurion recognized what the Jewish religious leaders rejected: “Surely this Man was the Son of God!” God wants Jews and Gentiles, law-abiding citizens and criminals, rich and poor, seventh grade boys and old men to recognize the truth, embrace the truth, and live for the truth.

In 1980, Lee Strobel, a writer for the Chicago Tribune, was upset because his wife had become a Christian. An atheist with a post graduate degree from Yale Law School, Lee determined to use his professional skills to investigate and disprove Christianity. His search took him all over the world. On November 8, 1981, Strobel surrendered his life to Jesus and began telling the world what he discovered.

The Case For Christ was published in 1998 and a movie with the same title came out in 2017. God has used a one-time opponent of the Gospel to proclaim the miraculous rescue of the world through Jesus Christ. Here’s a quote from Lee Strobel:

In short, I didn’t become a Christian because God promised I would have an even happier life than I had as an atheist. He never promised such a thing. Indeed, following Him would inevitably bring divine demotion in the eyes of the world. Rather, I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus is the one-and-only Son of God who proved His divinity by rising from the dead. That meant following Him was the most rational and logical step I could possibly take.

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying – and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.” I Timothy 2:3-7

The Case For Christ, by Lee Strobel, ©1998 Zondervan

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Susan put together a good-sized box of food and I gathered some clothes to take to Jim Christmas morning. I learned later that the Lord put it on the heart of another couple to take him a few Christmas presents in the afternoon. I think God really loves the homeless.

img_1544At the corner of Euclid and Moreland in Little 5 Points, I peered down a deserted street. When I looked the other direction, Jim appeared in the middle of the road walking toward my car. “Pull in here, Dana, Digger really wants to see you.” He led me to a porch where Digger and three others had settled in. “Merry Christmas,” I said, handing Jim the box. “I thought you’d be asleep this early in the morning.” “We’ve not been to bed yet,” Digger replied. Jim introduced me to the three I didn’t know and we all talked a while before I departed.

Hillsong’s lyrics “Your love’s too good to leave me here…” were playing in my car as I drove through Atlanta. These words reflect God’s heart as He ‘desires no one to perish’… but He will not take away ‘choice.’ Jesus will not force us to follow Him.

“In Him was life and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” But just a few sentences later, the apostle wrote: “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.” (See John 1)

“’The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of Spirit and life…’ From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.” (John 6:63-67)

I think Jesus wants us all to respond the way Peter did. Like him, we do not understand everything… but: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

When family members or friends or strangers do not choose life, we are still to care and pray and love. Jesus tells us His Father waits for the prodigal with open arms. We should remind the wayward, the trapped, the lonely, and confused of such a Lover of souls… One who has the power to rescue, cleanse, and restore.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:17-20

Lyrics from Hillsong United: ‘As You Find Me’; ©2018

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image001“Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death… Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”
(Hebrews 2:14-18)

The hope for the new year rests in our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He lives, we live (see John 14:19-20). Because He overcame temptation, He is able to help us when we are tempted. Because He has overcome the world (and since we are in Him), we are overcomers.

When doubt floods our minds, we can pray like the father who interceded for his son: “Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) When fear creeps into our hearts, we look to our Good Shepherd: “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

Because we are children of the One ‘greater than all,’ we should not be consumed with pettiness, bitterness, or revenge. “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)

May God’s overcomers shine the light of Christ brightly in 2020!

Happy New Year!

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” I John 5:4-5

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Just as King Ahaz did not deserve the wondrous birth announcement regarding the Son of God, so the world did not deserve the Gift of Immanuel, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins. Just as Mary was overwhelmed by the fact that of all maidens of Israel, she was chosen to give birth to Messiah, so we rejoice because our merciful God has allowed us to know His Son and live on this earth at such a time.

The terrified shepherds knew they did not deserve the angelic announcement: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

Shepherds were the last group most would have chosen as an audience for the heavenly host singing praises to God. They were poor, uneducated, disrespected citizens of Israel, yet God chose them to unveil His world-changing activity. I sometimes think, “Who am I to experience God’s extravagant love? Why is the Father so kind to me? I surely don’t deserve it…”

The shepherds acted upon the revelation: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” We too should be ready for action: “Let’s go visit… let’s go serve… let’s go tell…” This past spring, I had a dream about our friend Jim, who had returned to live on the streets of Atlanta. I often get very frustrated with Jim and in this dream I was angry because of his actions. When I awoke, I sensed God say: “Go tell Jim about Taylor.”

At the time, doctors had discovered a hole in our son’s heart that had existed since birth. Jim has loved Taylor since he was a kid, but I had not thought to share his circumstance. I was scheduled to receive platelets at Emory the day of my dream, so I determined to go afterwards and try to find Jim, as the clinic is not far from where he usually stays.

It was not easy, but I found him. I delivered the message about Taylor, visited a while, then returned to work. Has this event resulted in an about-face for our homeless friend? No… but perhaps the ‘message’ is the main point, rather than the desired response.

“When the shepherds had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what they had been told about this Child…” Did all the Israelites who heard the shepherds’ amazing story eventually follow Jesus as faithful disciples? I doubt it… but perhaps the ‘message’ is the main point.

The message is: God loves us all – rich, poor; old, young; educated, uneducated; Jew, Gentile… and He wants everyone to receive His everlasting love. Let’s praise God for what we’ve seen and heard. Let’s allow Jesus’ light to shine through our lives so the world will see and ‘glorify our Father in Heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16)

“The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:20

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“’Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or the highest heights.’ But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.’” (Isaiah 7:11-12)

On the surface, it looks like Ahaz, king of Judah, gave a humble, spiritual reply to the prophet Isaiah… but this was not the case. Ahaz did not want a sign because in his heart, he did not trust the Lord. Instead, he looked to gods and leaders from other nations. (see II Kings 16 and II Chronicles 28)

“Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals.” (II Chronicles 28:1-2) Ahaz set up a foreign altar in front of God’s temple in Jerusalem. He even gave the silver and gold from the temple as a gift to the king of Assyria.

After the king declined God’s invitation, Isaiah replied: “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:13-14)

To an arrogant, rebellious king, God promised the deepest revelation of Himself the world has ever known. Why was good news given to Ahaz? As Jesus tells us how to respond to opposition, He points to His merciful Father: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45)

Immanuel – ‘God with us’ – the greatest Gift ever – was given to the undeserving.

Merry Christmas!!

More from Isaiah… written over 700 years before the birth of Jesus:

“For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6-7

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and power, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord – and He will delight in the fear of the Lord… Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist.” Isaiah 11:1-5

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