His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3, CSB).
Our VBS theme verse points to the all-encompassing nature of what God has provided for us in Christ. While we certainly never have everything we want, 2 Peter 1:3 promises us that knowledge of Christ can give us everything required for life. By outlining the daily lessons we covered during VBS, I hope to encourage us to depend more fully upon Jesus to receive everything we need.
*Day 1: Jesus cares about me
Bible Story—Luke 15:1-7 (The Parable of the Lost Sheep)
Just as the shepherd in Jesus’ parable goes after the one sheep who was lost, so also the God who rules the universe pursues sinners. We all long to be known. Yet that natural craving often leads us to look for recognition in the wrong ways and in the wrong places. The Holy Spirit summons us from our fruitless pursuits and redirects our desires toward the One who truly cares about us.
*Day 2: Jesus gives me hope
Bible Story—John 11:1-44 (The Raising of Lazarus)
The story of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead shows us that Jesus is powerful enough to give eternal life to those who trust in him. As Lord of both life and death, Jesus has proven his superiority over everything that might threaten our hope.
*Day 3: Jesus helps me believe
Bible Story—John 20:19-31 (Thomas Believes in Jesus)
Even though we cannot see him in person as Thomas did, Jesus promised us we can still know him through faith. In order to put our faith in Christ, we’re called to seek a living and dynamic relationship with Christ.
*Day 4: Jesus loves me
Bible Story—John 13:1-35; 19:25-27; 21:15-25 (The Apostle John sees Jesus’ love firsthand)
By humbly serving his disciples—to the point of dying in their place—Jesus showed us how much he loves us. Jesus’ love isn’t something for us to question or doubt; on the contrary, he has proven his love for us “in that while we were still sinners” Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
*Day 5: Jesus gives me joy
Bible Story—Acts 16:23-34 (Paul and Silas in Prison)
The same joy that inspired Paul and Silas to sing as they remained locked in prison became evident in the Philippian jailer when he learned the secret to ultimate joy, namely, trusting Jesus—and Jesus alone—for our salvation. Such joy can be ours as well!
We are pleased to recognize these recent graduates who are members, part of our church staff or affiliated with our church:
Trevor MacPherson graduated from the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University with a Master of Divinity degree. Trevor is now serving as our new Associate Pastor of Families.
Connor Strickland, son of Ronnie and Sandy Strickland, received a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Marketing and Computer Information Systems from Appalachian State University. He has started his own digital marketing firm – Dogwood Creative – which specializes in digital marketing for small businesses.
Eva Rushing assisted in our Nursery on Wednesday evenings and has just graduated from Leesville Road High School. Eva is planning to attend Appalachian State University in the fall.
Our congratulations to these graduates and our best wishes for their future activities!
As they came to the edge of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not let them. So they passed by Mysia and traveled down to Troas. In the night a vision appeared to Paul—a man of Macedonia was standing and pleading with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:7-9).
On Thursday, May 17, I gathered with some participants of our Golden Hearts ministry at 118 S. Person Street. Tabernacle veterans will, of course, recognize that address as our church’s former downtown location. Believe it or not, a thriving congregation filled with young professionals and college students has been meeting in the building since 2015. It’s called Vintage Church, and they offer three worship services on Sundays. We were all encouraged to see how God is working in and through Vintage Church.
Still, we might wonder, “I thought part of the reason Tabernacle moved to Leesville Road was because downtown Raleigh was suffering from a declining population, but clearly this church is flourishing now that downtown is being revitalized. Did God move Tabernacle out of the way to make room for Vintage Church?” Maybe. But in light of Acts 16:6-10, I want to share another perspective on what has transpired (a perspective I offered during our worship service in Tabernacle’s old building): God uses human setbacks to multiply gospel impact.
Acts 16 is written with the benefit of inspired hindsight. In the moment, Paul and his missionary companions no doubt viewed their setbacks as failures and disappointments. Looking back, however, they could see how God was saying “no” to Asia and Mysia in order to say “yes” to spreading the gospel in Philippi. And look at what came from those setbacks—the Philippian church was formed, Paul’s “joy and crown”! (cf. Phil. 4:1) Consequently, let’s remember these truths as we face setbacks of various kinds.
1. Never use God’s “no” as an excuse to give up on gospel faithfulness; instead, keep working diligently. God directs our paths and gives growth. Our part is to remain unwavering in carrying out our mission.
2. Prioritize the lost. When setbacks send us back to the drawing board, watch for opportunities to share the Good News with those who, like “the man of Macedonia,” need our help. Look for the lost, the hurting, and the forgotten—both near and far.
3. Learn to appreciate that the Holy Spirit’s agenda is sovereign enough to encompass more than we can imagine. Because the Holy Spirit said “no” to Tabernacle downtown, the Lordship of Jesus is being proclaimed at both 118 S. Person Street and 8304 Leesville Road! To God be the glory forever and ever!
The Tabernacle Learning Center for Preschoolers held its annual Graduation Ceremony on May 24, 2018, and its graduates included two of our own children. Congratulations to all graduates, and thanks to the dedication and support of the staff of TLC!
(Click on the pictures below to see a larger version.)
Before we get too far into our current sermon series through the book of 1 Samuel, I want to provide an overview of what we covered in our series through Ruth. Despite its brevity, Ruth serves a pivotal role in the sequence of Old Testament books. While Israel was floundering under the chaotic leadership of various judges (as recorded in the book of Judges), God was providentially working to bring about redemption in Israel. Starting with a family rooted in Bethlehem (cf. Ruth 1:1), God chose to stop the revolving door of leadership in Israel by raising up a king after his own heart (as recorded in the book of 1 Samuel). This king, moreover, would pave the way for the King—the One we know as Christ Jesus.
So what can we learn about those through whom God fulfilled his overarching plan of salvation?
1. The Lord works in and through our hardships for our good and for his glory. Upon finding herself widowed and childless, Naomi came to believe God had permanently rejected her. Naomi was so despondent, in fact, that she chose to change her name to “Mara” (meaning “bitter”). In the midst of her pain and heartache, however, God provided a devoted daughter-in-law named Ruth. Not only would Ruth take care of Naomi, she would also give birth to a son God would eventually use to change the course of history.
2. To find refuge in our hardships we’re called to act in faith. Even though Naomi chose to remain bitter, Ruth chose to humble herself by going to the grain fields to pick up the leftovers. As she did so, she met Boaz—the one person with both the ability and the willingness to help restore their family. Ruth didn’t know what or who she would encounter in the grain fields, but she believed she would never find refuge in despair and isolation.
3. Don’t settle for good gifts; go to the Giver. Once Ruth and Naomi learned of Boaz’s willingness to help, they chose to go to the source. Merely picking up the scraps in Boaz’s grain field was not enough. With Naomi’s encouragement, Ruth went boldly to Boaz to propose marriage. The God who gives every good and perfect gift intends for his gifts to lead us to a relationship with him. Don’t settle for anything less.
4. Understand the difference between restoration and renewal. Naomi never had her deceased husband restored to her, and her dead sons never came back to life. But God did bring about renewal in her life through Boaz and Ruth’s son. God can and does bring about renewal in our lives by giving us new life. Our part is to bring our hurts and hardships before the Lord in faith. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will be you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We have a standing invitation. Will we come?
Come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with music and song. (Psalm 95:1-2).
Gratitude is a fragile thing. If we’re not careful, it can come and go like a thief in the night. Consider Israel’s experience after God had delivered them from the agonizing humiliation of slavery. Initially, they were exuberantly thankful—“Who among the gods is like you, LORD, who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). Yet before long (just one chapter in Exodus, to be precise) they found themselves in the wilderness feeling hungry and indignant— “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in Egypt!” (Exodus 16:3a).
Gratitude is also a powerful thing. It can spread among God’s people like wildfire and inspire us to act boldly. No one works harder, therefore, to sap the fervor of our thankfulness than our enemy, Satan. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b). Satan wants to steal our joy by subversively magnifying what we don’t have instead of what we do have. And Satan knows that if he can plant seeds of bitterness in our hearts and minds, then he can knock us out of the fight.
Consequently, we need to remain vigilant in guarding our gratitude. As we seek to do so, Psalm 95 provides some precautionary guidance—or remedial guidance, if our gratitude happens to be spent already.
1. Remember who God is (95:3-5). If we’re to answer the summons to come before the Lord with thanksgiving, the first step is to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all of creation: “In his hand are the depths of the earth…” (95:4a). Reflecting on God’s transcendent qualities enables us to gain perspective on whatever finite trials we may be facing.
2. Remember who you are (95:6-7). The God to whom the universe belongs lays claim to the lives of believers: “for he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (95:7). If we’re God’s treasured possession, moreover, then we can be sure God will never let his flock fall off a cliff. No matter how devastating our circumstances, remember whose we are.
3. Remember what God has done for you (95:8-11). The Lord’s promise to care for us is not merely an abstract concept. It’s grounded in history. Just as the Passover lambs were slaughtered during the Exodus, so also the precious blood of Jesus was shed for sinners like us. Having received what God has done, may the same Spirit who seals us for redemption also guard our gratitude against the heart-hardening assaults of our enemy.
Once again our church participated in Operation Inasmuch by performing acts of service so that we can be the presence of Christ in our community. We began with a breakfast and send-off prayer at the church. Then we broke into groups and went to a laundromat, a fire station, Lake Lynn, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Wyatt Ministry Learning Center and Welcome House. We talked to people at the laundromat about our church, decorated cookies and wrote thank you cards to local firemen, cleaned up trash at the lake, set up an apartment, and did landscaping. Another group organized clothing at the First Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh earlier in the week.
(Click on the pictures below to see a larger version.)
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord (Romans 12:11).
One of the dear saints from my childhood had a saying, “When you get down, get out.” What she meant was that in the face of discouragement and disappointment (i.e. when we’re “down”) Christians are called to avoid falling into the trap of isolation. While our human tendency is to treat our heartaches with the placebo of self-pity, the only effective remedy is to “get out”—i.e. go serve someone in the name of Jesus!
If you’ve followed the path of Christian discipleship for any length of time you know firsthand how our excitement for the faith waxes and wanes. Sometimes, even though we may earnestly want our spiritual life to blaze like a bonfire, the best we can muster is a mere flicker. These fluctuations are predictable and inevitable. Don’t be caught off guard by them. Instead, learn to embrace your “valleys” and harness them as opportunities to refuel your stamina for the journey ahead. This is the key to maintaining our “zeal” and “spiritual fervor” over the long haul.
Yet what is it about service that results in refueling? After all, going out and dealing with other people’s problems can often feel like the last thing we want to do on the days when we’re feeling down. Notice, however, that Paul’s instructions are not to merely go out and be active. Although getting some physical exercise and/or doing some good in the world can certainly improve our frame of mind, Paul is pointing us to a more specific form of service—namely, “serving the Lord.”
Serving the Lord brings the greatest fulfillment because it restores the vital relationship between our lives and God’s plan for humanity. We were created to live in life-giving harmony with both our Creator and our fellow human beings. But sin intrudes and bends our desires inward on themselves so that we falsely—and often sincerely—believe our ultimate fulfillment will come from satisfying our personal desires for love, acceptance, and happiness.
When we turn to Christ, the One who came to earth to embody the perfect relationship between God and people, we receive the freedom to no longer be ensnared by our false hopes. We can see beyond our own finite worries and catch a glimpse of God’s Kingdom come to earth. Such a glorious vista inspires us with the fuel we need to carry out our calling to be the Body of Christ.
Are you down? Are you discouraged? Has your faith become humdrum? Then let’s get out and serve the Lord together! Not sure where to start? Take a look on the next column and see where you might feel led to serve through Operation Inasmuch on April 28.
On Sunday, April 1, we celebrated the bedrock conviction of the Christian faith—Jesus is risen! Yet celebrating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead doesn’t excuse us from reflecting on the significance of Jesus’ death. Indeed, resurrection presupposes death. Consequently, over the last several Wednesday nights we’ve been studying the question of why Jesus had to die in the first place. For those unable to attend the study, I want to provide the key points we covered in hopes of strengthening your faith in our Risen Lord.
1. Jesus died to demonstrate the depth of God’s love. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8, NIV). The desire to be loved is common to the human condition. Among people, however, love is rarely—if ever—unconditional. We might be willing to die for a family member or a loved one, but an evil person? No way! Christ Jesus came to die for sinners, for the least deserving—for you and for me. That’s a quality of love we cannot find in any other source on earth.
2. Jesus died to satisfy the requirements of God’s righteousness. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV). Our predicament as sinners estranges us from a holy and righteous God. Compared to other people we might think we’re pretty good. But other people are not the ultimate standard of judgment; God, and God alone, is. In order for sinners to be reconciled to a holy God, therefore, a substitute must stand in our place. As our church’s statement of faith puts it, “We believe in salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone who assumed the judgment due sinners by dying in our place.” Because Jesus, the Righteous One, died in our place, we can be reconciled to a holy and righteous God. The guilt and condemnation of sin no longer has the final word over the believer’s life.
3. Jesus died to defeat death itself. 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 (Hebrews 2:14-15, NIV). Jesus carried out his incarnational mission to its inevitable end, namely, death. He experienced the just penalty for our sin. As the Lord of Life, however, death couldn’t hold him in the grave. The Son of God triumphed over the power of sin, and he has made a way for the believer to experience abundant and everlasting life.
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
(1 Corinthians 15:54b-55, NIV)
Jesus said, “No one who puts his or her hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
As Holy Week approaches, we all have a decision to make. The question is not whether or not we’re ready to celebrate what Easter Sunday signifies. No doubt we all want to share in the jubilant euphoria expressed by “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!” If we believe Jesus has defeated death on our behalf, then who wouldn’t want to follow Jesus into eternal life? But that’s not really the critical question. The question is whether or not we’re willing to follow Jesus on the path that leads to the resurrection.
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
It would be far easier to jump directly from the parade of Palm Sunday to the empty tomb of Easter. Yet that’s not the path our Savior took. If we’re to follow him, we cannot avoid the Last Supper. Jesus knew full well what it means to obey the Father wholeheartedly, even when such obedience calls for saying goodbye to those you love (cf. Lk. 9:59-60).
Though none go with me, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.
We might even wonder why anyone would choose to commemorate something as seemingly bleak and gory as Good Friday. “Surely,” we may think, “it’s more healthy to stay positive and “ ‘keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side…’” Yet that’s not the path our Savior took. He didn’t relish the prospect of Calvary’s agony, but he went—for us. Some will allow the concerns and the pleasures of this life keep them from following (Lk. 9:61-62). Will you? Will I?
My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.
Some might question why such bloodshed was necessary. Could the Sovereign Lord of the universe not figure out a better way? “After all,” some may say, “are people really that bad off? Sure, no one is perfect, but did Jesus really need to die to reconcile us to God.” Yet that’s not the reality that sent our Savior to the cross. He didn’t approach the cross in hopes of encouraging basically good human beings to live better. Jesus died on the cross because there was no other way to make hopelessly depraved sinners acceptable to a holy and loving God. Some will treat the cross as optional or as a tragic accident of history. What about you? What about me?
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.
As our only sure and certain hope of salvation, Jesus demands more than our shallow celebrations. He calls for radical and unreserved loyalty. Consequently, may the Spirit use our Holy Week services this year to cultivate such discipleship in us.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).
How often have you prayed what the apostles asked of Jesus? Like the apostles, we want to rely on faith to carry us through life’s trials and tribulations. Yet we question whether or not we have enough. “Lord,” we might say, “help me to have enough faith to endure this season of pain.” “Help me to have enough faith to remain sane during this season of sadness and uncertainty.” “Help me to have enough faith to withstand the stress produced by this conflict.” No doubt the earnest desire for more faith resonates with most believers.
According to Jesus, however, faith is measured by quality, not quantity. First, Jesus compared faith to a tiny seed: “If you possess faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and the tree will obey you” (Lk. 17:6). Jesus is saying, in effect, stop worrying about whether or not you have enough. Focus on determining whether or not your faith is wholehearted and genuine. Such faith is powerful—powerful enough to deliver you safely on the other side of any season of life.
Second, as Jesus was wont to do, he told a parable about a master and servants. For the sake of argument, he invited his audience to put themselves in the position of a master wealthy enough to afford servants (quite a stretch considering the social status of Jesus’ first followers). When the servants return from completing their tasks, do you think the master will say, “Welcome home! Sit down and make yourself comfortable while I prepare your dinner!”? Of course not, says Jesus! The master will say something like, “Wonderful, you’ve finished plowing and tending the sheep! Now, get in the kitchen and make my dinner the way I like it!” Servants work at the pleasure of their masters, not the other way around. They don’t expect to be rewarded for simply doing their job (Cf. Lk. 17:7-10). Similarly, disciples maintain a firm grasp on where they stand in relation to the Master. They don’t consider themselves more highly than they ought to.
In light of Jesus’ teaching, at least two points of application come into focus: (1) Christian grammar calls for caution when using the word “deserve.” All we deserve, strictly speaking, is the punishment due sinners. Which Scripture clearly affirms to be death (Rom. 3:23). Consequently, beware of “woe is me” thinking when facing hardship or suffering. Receiving God’s grace should exceed any disciple’s wildest dreams. (2) Instead of wringing our hands and fretting about the quantity of our faith, we’re called to be about our Master’s business. Genuine faith will manifest itself in dutiful action performed unconditionally. May the Lord give us such faith as we get to work!
At that time, large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—indeed, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-27).
Has this ever happened to you? You’re making a significant purchase or signing a binding contract, either online or in person. It’s time to check a box, make your mark, or otherwise signify your approval. But just above the signature box you notice lines upon lines of miniscule and indecipherable legalese. Even if you could understand it, you know there’s just not enough time to read every word. So, we usually just gloss over it and—for all we know—sign our lives away along with our children and grandchildren!
While this tactic is often utilized with the best of intentions to protect the business with which we’re negotiating, we can’t help but suspect that all the fine print is masking something vitally important. We rightly wonder whether or not someone might be taking advantage of us. And I’m sure you could cite plenty of instances where the fine print came back to bite you or someone you know.
As Jesus was resolutely making his way toward Jerusalem, he noticed that the crowds were quickly multiplying. Maybe they were drawn to his teaching. Maybe they were drawn to his miracles. Maybe they were drawn simply because others were drawn to Jesus, and they wanted to jump on the band wagon. Whatever their reasons, Jesus insisted they all know exactly what they were getting themselves into.
Facing them directly, Jesus said that following him for the sake of rewards was not enough. On the contrary, there would be a cost to pay. Jesus was on his way to lay down his life for the sins of the world. Anyone who would follow him, therefore, must be prepared to do at least two things: (1) love Christ more than anything or anyone else in the world and (2) brace for suffering.
There’s no fine print here. There’s no effort to spin the facts to make them more palatable. Jesus states the cost of finding everlasting life plainly and simply. To follow Jesus is to lay down one’s life for him without exception or qualification. He wants more from us than shallow, lukewarm, and casual obedience. He wants to forgive us, to pour out his grace on us, and to make us holy as he is holy.
As we journey toward Holy Week and Easter this year, may the Spirit lead us to recognize and give thanks for the clarity of Jesus’ call to discipleship. And hearing the call, may we follow wholeheartedly.
In reply the Lord said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the best portion, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
“Unbelievable…” thought Martha as shook her head in disgust while frantically jumping around from one task to another. “Jesus has come to our house, and Mary can’t lift one finger to help! Could she be any ruder to our guest? What is she thinking, just sitting there at his feet? And why is Jesus letting her get away with it?” Peeved to the point of exasperation, Martha just couldn’t tolerate such blatant injustice for one more second: “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left all the work for me to do alone? Tell her to help me!”
Surely Jesus’ repetition of her name—“Martha, Martha”—conveys both the tenderness and the urgency of his reply. “I hear you,” says Jesus, in effect. “I know you’re stressed out and overwhelmed. But the furious energy you’re expending is entirely misdirected.” Although his answer is somewhat cryptic—what exactly is the “one thing”?—Jesus is steering Martha toward a more focused understanding of what counts as worthwhile work.
To say we live in an easily distracted culture is patently clichéd. It’s obvious that smart phones, social media, and clickbait marketing have nearly perfected the ancient craft of seizing human attention. Some websites have even developed a complex algorithm to ensure their site is as “sticky” as possible. By aggregating the kinds of topics and products you’ve shown interest in online—an approach drawn from the “deep neural network” concept (just Google it!)—companies seek to keep you “stuck” on their website. It’s a proven strategy.
Yet the overlooked irony in all of these well-known tactics is that it is precisely distractions that are used to hold our attention. To put it bluntly, human nature has a way of gravitating toward junk. Of course, we’d all prefer to believe we’re too shrewd and sophisticated to fall prey to such blatant, lowbrow tricks. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit we can do lots of things, watch lots of things, read lots of things, and say lots of things without ever really accomplishing anything.
Which brings us back to busy Martha. Jesus isn’t commending Mary for not working; Jesus is highlighting Mary’s priorities. Because of the omnipresence of diversions in our lives we, like Martha, are prone to confuse our busyness—especially busyness conducted on behalf of Jesus—with productive faithfulness. Ultimately, however, Jesus didn’t want the banquet Martha was fretting over. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t want to know how many hours of Christian service we’ve logged. He wants us, all of us—heart, soul, mind, and strength. May God, therefore, help us prioritize our work so that our busyness serves our greatest and highest purpose—“to know God and enjoy Him forever.”
Each Monday, Pastor Dane hosts a lunch for Leesville Road High School students at the TBC Youth House. The lunch on February 6, 2018 had a record crowd of 26 students. Lunch is prepared and served by TBC members Dottie and Errol Fogg and Beth Obenschain.
(Click on the pictures below to see larger versions.)
Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back what was borrowed. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting any repayment. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:34b-36).
We’re living in especially volatile times. To be sure, every generation faces explosive issues and polarization. Mean-spirited rhetoric and fiery outrage are nothing new. Yet clearly the pendulum has swung in the direction of entrenched animosity. Other than shake our heads in despair, what are we to do? More specifically, what are we to do as Christians?
Probably the easiest option is to pick a side. Isn’t this what the roaring and bombastic voices around us are clamoring for us to do? If we’re to be informed and engaged citizens, then surely we must weigh in and lend our voices to the cantankerous chorus of outrage, right? Unless there’s a better way…
Of all the counter-intuitive, upside-down, and other-worldly things the Lord Jesus ever uttered, his teaching on loving our enemies must rank toward the top. “Tolerate our enemies?” Sure, no problem… “Refrain from violence toward our enemies?” Fine, if we must… “Recognize the humanity of our enemies?” I guess so… But to join together the words “love” and “enemy” just seems ridiculous! Nevertheless, Jesus says his followers are to go so far as to show kindness and mercy toward those who hate us.
On what basis? God the Father—the Most High—shows kindness toward the ungrateful and the wicked. Even though human beings refuse to acknowledge God’s existence and sovereign rule, the Lord gives breath and life. Even though human beings fail to give thanks for every good and perfect gift that comes from above, the Lord provides ongoing nourishment for both the just and the unjust. Even though human beings actively rebel against God and spit upon the abundance of his grace and mercy, the Lord sent God the Son to become one of us. Even though human beings crucified their one and only Savior, God continues to hold out the offer of salvation from his righteous judgement. Indeed, God is kind to the wicked.
So, in the midst of today’s pervasive hostility and vitriol, what are we to do? Although we will have our opinions and although we will sometimes need to speak our opinions, we will always strive to ensure our attitudes reflect the kindness of our loving heavenly Father. Take heart, no matter how bad it may seem out there, nothing and no one can ever take our Lord off the throne of grace. Confident of that truth, may we also show kindness to all.
Since many have attempted to set down an orderly account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were passed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after researching everything carefully from the very first, to write an accurate and orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).
Ready or not, 2018 is in full swing. The warm and fuzzy afterglow of Christmas has faded away. The ball in Times Square has dropped. The daily grind to fulfill obligations, meet deadlines, and check off responsibilities has resumed at full tilt. As a result, we might legitimately question the validity of all those glorious promises we celebrated at Christmas—“Where is this Savior who has been born to us? Where is this peace on earth? ‘Good will’ you say? Bah humbug!” Christmas was wonderful, but the world seems to have transitioned into 2018 with just as many difficulties as we saw in 2017. So what difference did Christmas make?
Enter the Gospel according to Luke. The Apostle Paul’s beloved physician seeks to assure Theophilus (an otherwise unknown Christian reader) that he hasn’t been handed a bill of goods. On the contrary, Theophilus can have certainty regarding what he had been taught about Jesus. Even though human history and its manifold problems continued beyond Jesus’ time on earth, what Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection remains available throughout all generations. The key for Theophilus, and for us today, is to follow the unbreakable chain—link by link—all the way back to the Savior. Or, to use a more contemporary image, we can visualize clicking on one hyperlink after another until we arrive back at the original source—Christ Jesus himself!
Certainty comes from recognizing that the same Jesus who, according to the Apostles’ Creed, was “born of the Virgin Mary” and who “suffered under Pontus Pilate” also calls us to follow him in 2018. Like Luke and like Theophilus, we weren’t there to hear Jesus preach. We weren’t there to see him calm the storm. We never had an opportunity to follow him as he walked upon the water… But we do have the chain that links us to those who saw it all firsthand. We weren’t there to recline with him in the upper room. We weren’t there to witness his crucifixion for the sins of the world. We never had an opportunity to check out the empty tomb for ourselves… But we do have the chain that links us to those who first saw and believed.
May the same Spirit who inspired Luke to write, and who preserved the Scriptures for us to read today, link together “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” and our lives in 2018. And may we, like Theophilus, have certainty about what we’ve been taught.
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5).
By all appearances, Christmas and New Year’s would seem to have nothing in common. Christmas, at least for most Americans, looks like opening festively wrapped presents beside a tree decorated with bright lights and ornaments. It involves singing about snow, Santa, reindeer, the manger, the angels, the shepherds, and the Wise Men. New Year’s, on the other hand, typically looks like postponing sleep to enjoy raucous parties and nostalgic ceremonies, such as watching the ball drop in Times Square. While the Christmas tree may be present for both, Christmas and New Year’s differ drastically in terms of atmosphere, sounds, and traditions.
Nevertheless, in the providence of God, Christmas and New Year’s fall within close proximity to each other. To be sure, diverse historical contingencies contributed to our Gregorian calendar and its placement of Christmas on December 25. Yet the Scriptures show us time and time again how the Sovereign Lord of the universe commandeers the warp and woof of history to accomplish His ultimate purposes. Consequently, it would be a mistake on our part to overlook the relationship between Christmas and New Year’s.
As Paul reminded the Galatians, we measure time by Christ’s life. The time designations BC (“Before Christ”) and AD (Anno Domini=“Year of Our Lord”) hold a sacred significance for Christians—the secularizing trend toward using BCE (“Before the Common Era”) and CE (“Common Era”) notwithstanding. Unlike many other cultures, both ancient and modern, we don’t measure time by leaders or events (e.g. “In the eighth year of so and so’s reign…” or “In the tenth year since the battle of such and such…”). On the contrary, we believe time must be counted, weighed, and determined by Immanuel’s entrance into our finite sphere of existence. The world is qualitatively different because at just the right moment “God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law,” for us and for our salvation.
So, what does Christmas have to do with New Year’s? Although we celebrate them in different ways, the two holidays enable us to approach the future with hope. Because Christ has come into our world, we need not hear the ever-ticking clock of time with despair and cynicism. That sound signifies another moment, another year, lived “in the year of our Lord.” Christmas shows us who holds the future—and the New Year—in His hands.
May we, therefore, approach 2018 joyfully and hopefully. Happy New Year!