Revisiting Noah’s Ark

A couple of years ago, I mentioned that we went to see Noah’s Ark. This one really isn’t Noah’s because he’s not here, and he didn’t build it. But according to the dimensions listed in the Bible, this structure is a life-sized model. Is it the exact same shape? We don’t know because no one alive has seen the original ark. Many people doubt whether the flood was world-wide, but their doubt does not disprove what the Bible says.

At the turnoff from I-75 onto State Road 36 in Williamstown, go east for about a mile, and the ark is behind several small hills. When it first comes into view, it doesn’t look so large, but there is still another mile to go. When the shuttlebus drops us off, the ark looks large, but not huge. But we’re still an eighth of a mile away.

As we walk up to it, the enormity of the structure is striking!

How big is this boat? Genesis chapter 6 gives the dimensions in cubits: 300 long, 50 wide, and 30 high. The length of the cubit has varied with time and people, and historically has been between 18-22 inches. The Builders of this model used a nominal 20-inch cubit.

The ark in Williamstown is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. The internal volume is equivalent to the volume of 570 modern railway boxcars.

For size comparisons, a football field is 360 feet long from the back of one end zone to the back of the other, so both the original ark and the model in Williamstown are too long to fit inside the football stadium. The size of the ark is truly impressive!

Can this boat in Kentucky float? No. It wasn’t built to float, but to illustrate what Noah, his boys, and probably many hired hands built. I believe it took Noah and company about 100 years to build the original because of what God told Noah in Genesis 6:3. “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh [meaning, evil]; his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” I believe those words informed Noah that the flood would take place 120 years after that discussion.

Prior to entering the ark, we watched a video of the construction of the ark. It was quite a feat and was done without any government financial assistance. That means, no tax money was involved.

I wish I could show you some of the 545 photos Carol and I took. The builders of this model indicated how the thousands of animals might have been housed or caged. Noah might not have had full-grown elephants, hippos, giraffes, etc., but perhaps young ones. However, it was God who brought the animals to the ark, not Noah, so the age and size of the critters didn’t matter. God somehow tamed all the animals that He brought to the ark, and, as you might guess, the heavier animals were on the bottom of the three decks.

It’s also amazing how food might have been stored for a year for all the animals and for up to two years for the eight human passengers. With our current understanding of how much animals and people eat, and of how many kinds of animals there probably were back then, it’s easy to figure how much food would have been required. And there was still plenty of extra room.

Animal excrement removal must have been a chore!

I enjoyed the way they imagined living quarters for the four families, and the names they supplied for the four wives were relevant to the times. Much geologic, social, and cultural history is shown by several videos, and by many charts and graphs throughout the ark. Cultural history prior to the world-wide flood, therefore, the reason for the world-wide judgment, was highlighted.

In planning for this ark, the people did their research and identified many animals that have become extinct in the past 4,500 years, many of which would have been on the ark. That enhances the educational aspect of the visit to the ark. In fact, we saw four public school buses bringing students to the ark for an educational field trip.

If you ever have an opportunity to go east, go to Williamstown, Kentucky and visit the ark. It’s only 40 miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio.

It rained while we were there, but we were safe in the ark.

Itching Ears, Misplaced Devotion

Carol and I know many people who are dis-satisfied with church-life. They want to go deeper into the Word of God. They want to get into the mind of Christ so that they can know God’s thoughts on every issue, but they think of church services as on the level of kindergarten. They place themselves on a higher plane than the Church and look down on others.

However, when I look at their lives, I find many of them to be spiritually arrogant. Many of them do weird things – in the name of Christ, of course. I am reminded of Second Timothy 4:3-4 that says, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

One Sunday evening, I watched Pastor Frank tell a parishioner, “If you believe and stick your head out the church window and yell ‘Jesus’ three times as loud as you can, you will be healed.” The woman obeyed and Frank victoriously pronounced her healed. When she died a month later, Pastor Frank merely intoned, “She didn’t have faith.”

I watched Pastor Carey announce to his congregation, “If you believe, and sign the book of life in the back of the church, you’ll never die. No matter how long Jesus delays His return, you’ll live until He comes back.” With people lining up to sign his book, I asked my father, “When Brother Carey dies, that will disprove his theory, won’t it?” Dad responded, “No, son. His followers will just think the pastor didn’t have faith.” Brother Carey died in 1993 and people continue to propagate his fables.

One day while praying, Jack had an experience with the Lord that could have changed his life. Jack was excited and wrote down every detail so he would never forget it; and every time visitors came, Jack excitedly read the experience to them. One day a minister he hadn’t seen for some years came to visit, and Jack went to his room to get the document. The visiting minister wondered what happened when he heard Jack yell, “Oh no! The rats ate my experience!”

Yes, the rodents found their way into the desk and destroyed the document. However, Jack had lost the reality of his experience to spiritual rats long before. Why? He placed his affection on an experience rather than on the Lord of the experience.

Let’s back up for a minute. I am from a Pentecostal background and have been affiliated with various denominations. I’ve also been dis-satisfied with church at times. I always want to go deeper into the Word of God, and I want to know God’s thoughts on every issue. So, what’s the difference?

Many of the folks to whom I referred place their faith in spiritual experiences, spiritual knowledge, and spiritual gifts; but that emphasis tends to overshadow Jesus. Scripture tells us to exalt Jesus, the resurrected Christ, the Giver of the experiences, knowledge, and gifts. That’s where I am. There is a world of difference here. If we are devoted to or focused on Jesus as we study the Bible, He will help us gain the knowledge, experiences, and gifts as He sees appropriate. But our priorities will be correct.

Some friends remind me that First Corinthians 12:31 says “Earnestly desire the best gifts.” They think that’s an exhortation to go after gifts that appeals to them. But I respond, “You are seeking the gifts while side-stepping the Giver of the gifts. That’s backwards. Instead, that verse encourages us to utilize the gift that is most appropriate for the situation, for there is NO spiritual gift that is more important than any other. And if we seek God’s input, He will grant us the wisdom we need as we respond to any and every situation.”

I’ve seen people healed of terminal diseases and seen other miracles take place. But I understand the purpose of miracles and spiritual experiences. Yes, they benefit man, but they are supposed to help us focus our attention on the Lord, to honor and bring glory to God.

First Corinthians 2:16b tells us, “We have the mind of Christ.” That is, Jesus will reveal His thoughts as we remain true to Scripture and turn away from those who exalt either themselves or their ideas.

“Itching ears” generates misplaced devotion and causes us to put our faith in miracles or in experiences. Instead, we should put our faith in the Scripture and on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Water!

“Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” So states the 29th stanza of the The Rime [Rhyme] of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The somewhat confusing poem is too long for me to remember, but those lines stick with me.

One of Bob Nolan’s songs sung by the Sons of the Pioneers is Cool Water. The first stanza is: “All day I face the barren waste without the taste of water; Cool water. Old Dan and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water, Cool water.” By the way, Old Dan is the mule or horse.

There’s much water in the poem and no water in the song – but in both situations, drinkable water is not available. Mankind has fought for thousands of years over water rights, but what’s the reason for this obsession?

Simply this: Humans can live for four or five weeks without food; but barely a week without water.

However, earth is a watery world. Earth is the only planet in our solar system that is naturally and readily habitable for mankind. Water is found almost everywhere either on or under the surface of the earth: from the polar ice caps to boiling geysers.

The oceans are an integral part of our lives because their influence dominates the world’s weather systems. About 96% of earth’s water covers approximately 71% of the earth’s surface. I read that under current atmospheric conditions, the atmosphere can hold approximately 37 million, billion gallons of water – enough to cover the entire surface of the world, including oceans, with one inch of water.

But if the solid earth were a smooth, round ball, one estimate is that the existing surface water – from oceans, lakes, and rivers – would be about 1.5 miles deep.

A water molecule is made of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom – H2O – and water aids in sustaining a breathable atmosphere and a viable temperature. It is water that keeps vegetation, animals, and people alive.

Solar radiation heats the atmosphere, land, and oceans. As the warm air rises, water vapor rises with it. As the moisture enters the upper atmosphere, it cools, forms clouds, and spreads the live-sustaining liquid across the world as rain, hail, and snow.

Water is the world’s greatest solvent – humorously, but correctly, called dihydrogen monoxide (H2O). It is called the universal solvent because it dissolves more minerals and compounds than any other chemical known. Scientists have proven this by extracting gold, silver, lead, copper, and a host of other elements from sea water. Water from rain and snow dissolves those minerals from mountains and prairies and deposits them into lakes and oceans.

As corn, beans, wheat, potatoes, and all the other crops grow, their root systems absorb these minerals, and they become part of us as we eat the food. It takes water a long time to break down organic material; therefore, the body creates HCL (hydrochloric acid) to break down or digest food, and the watery blood system distributes food, vitamins, and minerals to every cell of the body.

Water is a major component of the human body. Bodies of newborn babies average 78% water but the adult body averages about 60%. The average water content in adult blood is 80%, and lungs are about 90% water.

Water has enabled mankind to build or advance civilization in many ways. Rivers, lakes, and oceans have been major highways of the world for thousands of years. Dams have been built across major rivers around the world, and the rushing water turns huge hydroelectric turbines to produce electrical power for untold millions of homes and factories. The oceans provide food for people and help to regulate climate by redistributing heat around the world.

Water is critical for life; and without water, live cannot exist.

But there is another kind of water that is critical for humanity. As H2O is mandatory for human life, Jesus has provided “living water” that is mandatory for Eternal Life. Jesus said in John 4:14, “Those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.”

How? That means He will sustain or help us throughout life. We “drink” of this living water by learning to know Jesus, purposely obeying Him, and living to please Him. This water includes wisdom that we need as we interact with others; and this water is necessary in every other aspect of human life.

Without this living water, we cannot enter the kingdom of God. Have you partaken of God’s living-water? Quench your spiritual thirst. Start by reading the Gospel of John. Follow it up by reading the book of Romans.

God’s Instruction Manual for Christians

Have you ever struggled with trying to assemble a piece of furniture you bought in a kit? These so-called “easy to assemble kits” can soon raise your blood pressure if you fail to read and follow the instructions accompanying the kit. However, even reading the directions carefully can still present problems because they’re not always clearly understandable to the reader.

In like manner, sometimes we have problems understanding portions of Scripture – even while reading carefully. Why is that? The Bible was written in a different time zone, in a different culture, and in a different language; and at times it seems to be hard to understand.

This book, Charter of the Christian Faith, could well be titled “God’s Instruction Manual for Christians.” My friend, Gene, has brought to life these vital truths through numerous illustrations from Scripture, his own life, and the lives of others. This portion of scripture is foundational if we are to attain to Christlikeness. Sadly, we so often skim over the beatitudes in our attempt to finish our designated daily reading on time.

This teaching is by no means ‘fast food’ to be eaten in haste, but rather a fine meal to linger over as you allow the Holy Spirit to apply these truths to your life. Why not find a quiet place and feast your soul? Take as long as you need; the longer you chew the more you will profit from it.

Rev. David Ravenhill: Pastor, Evangelist, Author, Teacher

Do You Trust God?

What in the world is “trust”? Can “trust” be qualified? What I am getting at is… oh, let’s start over.

Let’s define the word. Trust is a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. It is conviction · credence · reliance

Can a person live without ever trusting someone or something? No.

You think I’m wrong? Let’s check it out.

Are you sitting on a chair or standing up? Either way, you are trusting something. You either trust the chair to hold you – as I am doing right now – or you trust the floor to hold you; and the floor is holding the chair. I don’t care if you weigh 75 pounds or 575 pounds: you trust the floor, chairs, the bed, even a motor vehicle to hold you; which proves you trust their manufacturers. So we just proved that everyone on earth trusts someone or something. It’s just a matter of in what or in whom we will place that trust.

Next: can “trust” be qualified? That is, can you partially trust someone? Or is it an all-or-nothing concept?

When I was five years old, we lived in El Cajon, California. My dad put me on the top bunkbed, and said, “When I say ‘jump’, you jump to me. (Yes, the lights were on.) But I was afraid of falling, so I told dad I didn’t want to jump. Dad promised me that there was absolutely no way I could fall; because even if I jumped awkwardly or inadvertently fell off the bed, he would still catch me.

I don’t know if you understand the fear of falling, but I was almost scared to death! I was emotionally paralyzed. But dad said very gently, “Eugene, if you can’t trust me, how will you ever learn to trust God?” You see, the proof or result of trust is obedience.

 Well that made sense – even to a 5-year-old.

So I suddenly leapt off the bed and hit dad in the chest with my 40 pounds and nearly knocked him over. Dad caught his balance and asked, “Why didn’t you warn me you were going to jump?” I responded, “You said you would catch me.” Dad chuckled, hugged me, and said, “Good job.”

Dad taught me about trust. Dad taught me a lot about life.

Did I fully trust dad, or did I partially trust him? If we consider my fear, we might say I partially trusted him. But if we consider my obedience, we say I absolutely trusted him. Obedience verifies trust.

What was it dad said? “Eugene, if you can’t trust me, how will you ever learn to trust God?”

As I grew older, I learned to trust God with my entire life.

How would my faith in God have been affected if dad dropped me? That’s hard to say because dad caught me. However, Dad most likely would have picked me up, apologized profusely to mom (who was watching), and tenderly talked to me about what went wrong. And because of that, I think I would still have learned to trust God.

I’ve experienced many situations since I left my parents’ home where I could have forfeited my faith and lost trust in God. But I am reminded of John 6:65-68. Many of Jesus’ disciples left Him, and Jesus asked if the twelve would also leave. “Peter responded, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Job was one of the richest men in the world, and he lost everything. He lost his children, livestock, respect and admiration of friends and business associates, and was accused of being a terrible sinner.

But in spite of all of that, Job never lost his faith in God. He wanted to talk to God face-to-face and defend himself, but he never lost his faith. Job 13:15a says, “Though he [God] slay me, yet will I trust in him.” In chapter 19 verse 25, Job proclaims, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will eventually come to the earth.” And God, in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, did come to earth to redeem us.

Human mistakes and misfortunes should not deter us from trusting God. Jesus said if we love him, we will obey him. And Obedience is a manifestation of trust.

So, do you trust God?

THE BE-WHATITUDES?

For many years I’ve taught about the Bible and from the Bible. One of the series I’ve been asked to teach on quite often is found in the 5th chapter of Matthew. Because of the profound nature of that section of Scripture, I call this teaching, Charter of the Christian Faith. Today’s blog is a portion of the preface of my book by the same name, and will give you a feel for what’s in the following pages. The foreword is written by Rev. David Ravenhill.

I remember as a child in Sunday School, one of my teachers wanted us to memorize the be-something-or-others; but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. I hated memorizing, and these things didn’t make any sense to me. Not only did I not understand them, but the teacher also couldn’t adequately explain them, either so I never got a gold star for learning those be-whatitudes.

But I did mentally retain other verses that made sense to me. Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” And John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” I understood those verses, even in the King James Version. In fact, most of what I committed to memory was from the KJV.

Also, Acts 1:11 clearly told me that while the people stood watching the incredulous sight of Jesus ascending into the sky, angels told them how Jesus will return. Men of Galilee, they said, why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go! (NLT). That gave me confidence that Jesus would come back, and it told me how He would return. No questions, no guesses. No less than 67 famous people, and more than five hundred others, have claimed to be the returned messiah; but people should have understood they were fake messiahs because not one of them came the way the Bible says Jesus would return.

Nevertheless, I had a hard time with the Beatitudes, but I wasn’t alone. Author Philip Yancey said in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, “I learned the Beatitudes [as a teenager] yet I never faced the fact that none of us—I above all—could make sense of those mysterious sayings, let alone live by them.” He later said, “If I fail to understand this teaching, I fail to understand Him [Jesus].” That is a powerful statement.

Teacher and song-writer Bill Gaither said, “What we call the Beatitudes still challenge our value systems every day.” Many people—including many in the Church—view the Beatitudes merely as lofty ideals: holy-sounding platitudes which are beyond our grasp. Some people think of them as verses or sayings to comfort the spirit in time of trouble. But is this the primary intent of the first major teaching that Jesus gave us in the New Testament? I don’t think so.

I believe Matthew 5:3-12 is the Charter of the Christian Faith, and this Charter is developed in the full Sermon on the Mount in chapters five through seven.

Again, quoting E. Stanley Jones, “Years ago when I asked Mahatma Gandhi what we could do to naturalize Christianity in India so that it would cease to be a foreign thing, among other concepts he replied: ‘Practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down’—and he had in mind the Sermon on the Mount.… This fresh discovery, by a Hindu, of a truth long buried beneath the armaments of the fighting West, has been one of the most important spiritual discoveries of modern times.”

In order to properly understand the Beatitudes, we must realize they were not originally intended for our consolation, and they’re not statements to make us sound spiritual. Rather, they comprise one of the most important sets of instructions we could ever receive.

I’ll share more highlights in weeks to come, but you can order your copy on Amazon today. Also, check out my website at genelinzey.com.

What’s the Problem Here?

Why is there an uproar in America about having the Ten Commandments posted in public view? You might have been told the issue is separation of church and state, but that isn’t true. Some of my friends who call themselves atheists, and with whom I get along fine, don’t have a problem with the Ten Commandments being posted. Granting me the freedom of expressing my faith grants them the corresponding freedom to express theirs.

Although many faiths could be mentioned in this blog, I will mention only Islam, Judaism, and Christianity: three monotheistic religions.

Let’s briefly look at and comment on the commandments found in Deuteronomy 5: 6-21. The first four reflect on our relationship with God.

  • You must not have any other gods before [in priority over, or other than] me. Every person in the world is religious, and every country in the world has its own god or gods. Other nations place great importance on their god or gods without worrying about offending others – Islam being the most dynamic about this – so why are Christians being forced to change?
  • You must not create an object to worship. Adherents of Judaism and Islam agree with this, and many agnostics and atheists don’t care about it.
  • You must not use the name of God thoughtlessly or loosely. Although most people misunderstand this one and ignore it, adherents of Judaism and Islam agree with this principle.
  • You must honor the Sabbath day. Labor unions worked hard to give their members one or two days off from work each week, and the courts who invalidate the commandments won’t sit in session on Saturday or Sunday. Also, Judaism and Islam have their day of rest.

The next six commandments relate to human interpersonal relationships.

  • Honor your father and mother. Properly understood and applied, this command is one of the primary supports for most civilizations on earth.
  • You must not commit murder. We have stiff laws prohibiting murder. This command attempts to protect us from mentally sick and evil people who purposely kill others. Islam does not agree with this one.
  • You must not commit adultery. When this was observed and upheld in our culture, our society was strong. However, many people – including members of our courts, legislative bodies, and some presidents and pastors – have disregarded this one simply because sexual perversion is one of the world’s primary joys.
  • You must not steal. We arrest people and send them to jail for this.
  • You must not lie. We have contracts to keep people honest, and we can arrest people if they break contracts or commit perjury.
  • You must not think of taking your neighbors wife, house, land, or whatever else belongs to him. This command covers a lot of territory, and the courts are busy tending this every week of the year.

We’ve just seen that US citizens are not against at least seven of the rules, so what’s the problem with the Ten Commandments?

Here it is: the sound of “The 10 Commandments” reminds people of the God of the Bible. They may not be against a moral code; they are against God. And many who are NOT against God have been deceived into thinking the vast majority of people have to change our culture in order to keep from offending the miniscule minority. However, any culture that adheres to and lives by these ten laws – including honoring a Sabbath day – will be a healthier society. And most people know it.

I am still convinced these laws are the basic foundation upon which our nation was founded, although some folks disagree with me.

When we examine the Ten Commandments, it’s likely that only three of them are offensive to the general public. They are numbers 1, 3, and 7: many people don’t want God in their lives because they want the freedom to enjoy their evil, sexually-perverted lifestyle.

Some adherents of Islam agree with the ideals included in nine of the Ten Commandments. But they disagree with it all simply because the laws originated from the Judeo-Christian God; and, of course, command #1 disallows serving another god.

Other people all around the world have their own gods, and they don’t change their religion in the face of disagreement or opposition. But we in America are changing our historical, foundational belief in God simply because people disagree with us. But removing our historic foundation is outlawing moral integrity, and approving immoral hypocrisy. And that could destroy the fabric of our society. What’s the problem here?

I’ll tell you.

Many Americans have been convinced that in order to be tolerant, we must set our own beliefs aside. We have been deceived into thinking that stating our own faith is an intolerant act.

But our country has lead the way in guaranteeing personal freedom. We have openly offered freedom of expression of faith for all religions. So in keeping with the concept of religious freedom, and refraining from being ignorant hypocrites, we should not deny our own citizens the freedom of expressing their faith in Jesus Christ and Almighty God.

Christians, Pay Attention

This week, all non-Christians may disregard this blog because I’m not talking to you. I am speaking to the Church.

Well, okay. As long as you’re here, you may continue reading if you so desire.

It appears to me that many in the Christian Church have corrupted their understanding of their position in Christ, or with Christ. More and more people imagine that Christ exists for our sake; that He came to earth to bless us and give us a wonderful life; that the riches and authority of the world belong to us – or should belong to us. Many folks have been taught that we can even tell God what we want, and out of His love for us He will grant our desire.

When I worked for an automobile dealership in 1980, a well-known pastor came to me and told me he wanted a Cadillac. He specified all the details, how much he would pay for it, and wanted me to order it so I could “get in on the blessing.” When I said I could get it for him but that it would cost him approximately $8,000 more, he laughed and said, “I told Jesus what I want; and because of my faith, I’ll get it.” Walking away, he said he would offer the blessing (of getting it for him) to someone else.

About three weeks later he drove back to see me – in a new Cadillac. As he was bragging about it, I pointed out several major details that conflicted with the itemized list he handed to God. He said, “Well, I got most of it.” But when I asked him how much he paid for it, he looked down and muttered something like, “It was several thousand more than I wanted to pay” and quickly drove away.

This man had probably been listening to a song from a well-known writer that included the words: “Say it, believe it, receive it, tell Jesus.” But that theology is totally backwards, and is an affront to God. That is deciding what we want, convincing ourselves it is right to have, claiming it as ours, then – THEN – telling Jesus to get for them. This is wrong.

 The truth is: Christ does not exist for us; we exist for the sake of Christ. We have no business itemizing our demands, then handing the demand to God as though He was waiting on our table at the local restaurant.

Yes, Jesus came to earth as a baby, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified, died, and buried. He rose back to life on the third day, and spent the next forty days walking among people, ministering to them, proving he was alive – and proving His divinity. He came to earth in order to remove the breach between man and God that was placed there when Adam sinned. But although Jesus taught us to be servants to each other, Almighty God is not our servant.

In the late 1890s, the theologian/politician/scholar Abraham Kuyper (Abraham Kuijper) said, “We Christians regularly fail to acknowledge our true place in creation. We aren’t just God’s creation; we are God’s possession.” I agree. We need to understand that the book of Job clarifies that no one tells God what to do.

Yes, we need to remember James 4:2-3 which says, “And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure” (GNT). What it does not say is that sometimes we “ask God” for something, but then we bypass God and appropriate it with human efforts. That is not trusting God. Rather, that is works of the flesh, and Scripture has a strong admonition against that.

Reflecting on Kuyper’s thought, what IS our place in creation?

I think it is summed up quite succinctly in Jesus’ words in John 4:34. “My meat [sustenance] is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Since Jesus is our example of how we are to serve and honor Almighty God, we can truthfully say that OUR job is to do the will of Him that sent us, and to finish what He has asked us to do.

God didn’t ordain that we become crucified; but individually, our job is to discover what God wants of us, and do it. God’s will includes a vocation of some kind; but specifically, it is to honor Him in everything we do in life.

Our place in creation is not to tell God what we want. Rather, it is to discover what God wants of us, and obey.

What has God asked you to do?

Look Into the Face of Jesus

Who is this baby we call the Messiah? John 1:1-3 starts at the dawn of human history. “In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him.” Verse 14 says, “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth” (NLT). The baby, Who was (translated into English) named Jesus, was previously called both the Word and God.

Luke 1:26-35 tells Mary’s side of the story. The angel appeared to Mary, informed her that God favored her and chose her to be the mother of the Messiah. The angel told her to name the baby Jesus.

Can you imagine Mary’s shocked response? “I’m engaged, but I’m not married yet, and am still a virgin! How am I going to have a baby?”

The angel replied essentially, “Mary, this is an act of God. If you’re willing, God will supernaturally plant the seed within you, and you’ll remain a virgin until after the baby is born.”

With trepidation, Mary agreed with the angel. But Joseph, Mary’s fiancé, had a different reaction.

Matthew 1:18-25 gives us Joseph’s viewpoint. Joseph wanted nothing to do with an unmarried, pregnant woman! He intended to dump Mary for being pregnant out of wed-lock, but the angel finally convinced him of God’s plan, and that Mary was honest, undefiled, and still a virgin. The angel told Joseph in a dream that God wanted him to marry Mary, the baby was to be named Jesus and would [eventually] save people from their sins. Understanding the shame and derision they would endure, Joseph accepted Mary as his wife and adopted Jesus as his own son.

The Imperial decree ordered all men to return to their town of birth for the Roman census, so Joseph took Mary and went to Bethlehem. On the night of Jesus’ birth, the first yard to light up the community on the first Christmas was the field just out of town.

That’s where we read that after the angel scared the daylights out of the shepherds, the angels gave the world-changing announcement that God had entered humanity in the form of a baby. When the shepherds calmed down and believed the angelic message, they were the first visitors to look into the face of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and to welcome God, in the form of a baby, into the world. I also believe they were the first to offer a gift on Christmas night. They gave a lamb to the new-born King.

The wise men, Persian scientists, received the message of the new King as they studied the sky. Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known” (NLT).

About a year later, these scientists were the first visitors of their kind to welcome God into the world. Looking into the face of our Savior, in the form of a toddler sitting in His mother’s lap, they gave Him gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Remember that I said Joseph adopted Jesus – the Son of God – as his own son? Now the situation is reversed. If we accept Jesus as our Savior and live to honor Him, God will perform a miracle and adopt us – humans – into His heavenly family. And that introduces another miracle: Jesus, Who is God, is the best Friend a person can ever have!

Christmas is not limited to a starry-eyed baby lying in a manger. It wasn’t intended to be depicted by trees, lights, glitz, hoopla, parties, noise, and a lot more associated with the secular holiday event.

Christmas is about God entering humanity to rescue us from our uncontrolled descent into debauchery and death. God entered humanity as a baby, died on the cross as a man, but broke the curse of sin and death by rising from the dead as Almighty God on the third day and returning to heaven. That’s what Christmas is really all about.

Give gifts. Enjoy the season. Love your family. But look into the face of Jesus. Honor Him in everything you do.

Merry Christmas, friends.

How Do You Celebrate Christmas?

Do you know that the first hint in the Bible of what we call Christmas is in Genesis 3:15? A lot happened between Genesis 3:15 and Matthew 1:18, but we won’t go into all that today.

My questions are: How do you celebrate Christmas? Do you go over the river and through the woods to visit grandma? Do you read the Scriptures that talk about Jesus’ birth? Do you take a trip? Invite people to your house? Do you watch movies or football games? What’s your favorite Christmas meal?

I looked up historic Christmas celebrations. For about 300 years after Jesus’ resurrection, there were no observances of His birth – therefore, no festivities. The first one recorded was in Rome, on December 25, 336 A.D., but didn’t become a primary Christian observance until the 800s. Decorating trees started in Germany, but had nothing to do with Christmas.

In the fourth century, church officials decided to observe Jesus’ birth as a holiday; and for non-biblical reasons, Pope Julius chose December 25. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 A.D., and to England by the end of the sixth century. By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders thought that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but in doing so, they gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. Therefore, on Christmas, many people attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere.

Hmmmm … It seems like that still happens today.

Noting societal debauchery, prevalent poverty, and abusive child labor in Victorian England in the 1840s, Charles Dickens vowed to do something about it, and writing was what he did best. So, in 1843, he published his novel, A Christmas Carol. Although the book is more a work of sentiment than of Christianity, it captures something of the Christmas spirit.

Dickens wanted to insert joy and gladness into a life filled with drudgery, dreariness and death. While acknowledging the seriousness of life, he portrayed the Spirit of Christmas filled with miracles and laughter. He also reminded society of the importance of blessing others by caring for those around them. Dickens encouraged joy and human-kindness, and inspired a positive change in society.

How do Carol and I celebrate Christmas?

We read about the birth of Jesus in chapters 1-2 in Matthew and Luke. That sets the tone for the celebration. We often visit one of our kids, but this year we’ll visit our daughter’s in-laws, Robert and Phyllis Crawford, near Oklahoma City. And instead of buying gifts for our families who live far away, then pay more for mailing them, we’ll mail the allotted money and let them choose the gifts.

Have you heard of the song, Over the River, and Through the Woods, To Grandmother’s House, We Go? I grew up singing it at Christmas, but it was written as a Thanksgiving Poem by Lydia Maria Child in 1844, and referred to Grandfather’s house. I find it interesting that where Carol and I live, all five of our children and their families have to travel over rivers and through forests to reach us.

My favorite Christmas meal is not turkey. (Shhh…don’t tell Carol.) My favorite is ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams with marshmallows, and fruit salad with whipped cream. Two to three hours later, I want pumpkin or apple pie with vanilla ice cream! Oh, yes – and coffee.

I like to watch football. On this coming Christmas day, the Minnesota Vikings will play against the New Orleans Saints. But I won’t watch it. Not on Christmas Day. This is a time to spend with family, which includes church family, and helping others.

We usually watch It’s A Wonderful Life the week before Christmas. It helps us to realize – again – the intrinsic value of each and every life. I hope that every one of you reading this reflection understands that every person is important. If you are hurting emotionally or are happy, if you are sick or healthy, if you feel rejected or accepted, if you are poor or wealthy, please believe me: you are important! Whatever may be your status or position in life, reach out and help others. THAT, my friend, is one way of manifesting the spirit of Christmas…the Spirit of Christ.

I understand that the covid-19 pandemic is putting a crunch on worship services, family gatherings, and celebrations this year, but you can still give to others. Be creative and find a way.

But stop and think about what this celebration is really all about – Jesus Christ. He came as a human baby, but never relinquished His true identity – God.

That is spelled out in John 1:1-4. “In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him. In him there was life, and that life was the light of all people.”  

Then verse 14 says, “The Word became a human and lived among us. We saw his glory—the glory that belongs to the only Son of the Father—and he was full of grace and truth.”

May the Lord bless you this Christmas season.