What Happens to Our Believing Loved Ones When They Die

(I wrote this blog which was first published on March 6 of last year. I have since expanded on this message and published it in the form of a book entitled WHAT LIES BEYOND FOR THE BELIEVER: Answers for those left behind. It is available for checkout in the Stone County Library or for purchase in ebook or hardcopy here)

There is a lot of confusion over what happens after a believing loved one dies. It is a tender subject and one that must be handled gently. There is comfort to be found in knowing what Scripture teaches about the believer’s life after life.

1. Believers do not become angels after they die. This belief may stem from an errant interpretation of what Jesus said in response to a question from the Sadducees regarding marriage and the resurrection. Jesus said, “those considered worthy of the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore because they are equal to the angels…” (Luke 20:35-36). Somewhere along the phrase, “equal to the angels,” got twisted. Again this is understandable, but it is also an error.

Rest in this peace. If you have a believing loved one who has passed, they have attained a status much higher than the angels. In fact, the angels long to comprehend what your loved one has now come to understand (1 Peter 1:12). The angels were not made in the image of God. Though the angels are loved by God, Jesus did not come and die for them. They did not receive the Holy Spirit. Angels do not know what it is like to go from death into life. Your late and believing loved one now has what the angels do not- firsthand knowledge of the life-saving and transforming love of Christ.

2. Believers are not buried. Believer’s bodies may be buried, cremated, or in some tragic cases even lost. However, their soul which is who they really are is transported into the presence of God. I always try to explain this at graveside services. These moments are difficult because we grow accustomed to associating our loved one with their earthly body, but the body is not who they really are. Who they really are, is found in their inner person, their soul.

For the proof of this truth, we turn to 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 where the Holy Spirit gives us a fairly detailed discourse on the soul/body relationship. He explains that our inner person is who we really are. While we reside in these bodies, we long to be united with the Lord. Our inner self yearns, knowing that to be separated from the body in death is to be united with the Lord in everlasting life.

3. Believers do not sleep until the resurrection. “Soul sleep” is a doctrine that is taught by several mainstream Christian denominations. My purpose in rejecting this belief is not to put other brothers down. Accepting or rejecting the notion that the soul sleeps after death is not an issue over which we should divide, but confusion over the doctrine does pose an issue in comforting family members dealing with loss.

2 Corinthians 5:8 states that to “be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” This means that the believer’s inner person is united with the Lord upon their death, while the body, which they have shed, is laid to rest until the resurrection. This is the sleep referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4. The body rests (sleeps), but the soul lives in immortality.

4. Your believing loved ones who have passed are looking down on you from their heavenly home. If you have a believing loved one who is now with the Lord, then you can rest in this. They are just fine. They have no regrets. They cry no tears. The faith that once guided them through this dark and dying world has given way to everlasting light. They have a perfect understanding of what has happened and what will happen. They have perfect peace.

They now dwell outside of the bounds of time in the eternal realm. They know all about you. They know all your circumstances. They cannot interfere with the earthly realm, nor do they want to, because they understand how it all comes together. They along with all the heroes of the faith are looking down and cheering you on to the finish (Hebrews 12:1).


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What Happens When You Follow Jesus

A seminary professor to his Pastoral Ministry students once said, “Ministry is not something you do. It is something that you leave behind when you follow Jesus.” I did not really understand what he meant at the time. I was focused on earning a degree, getting called as pastor to a local church, and finding a full-time ministerial position. I had my head down, nose to the grindstone, pedal to the metal thinking I was doing God a favor by serving Him with all my might.
 
I wish I had understood what my professor had said so beautifully. If I had just focused on following Jesus, I would have saved myself a world of trouble, and I would have accomplished more for him. My calling to vocational ministry was real and obvious, and I thought everything I was doing was in response to His call. Looking back, though, I realize I was impatiently trying to make things happen for myself. 
 
It is only in the last three years that I have really settled down and realized what my professor was saying. A lot of young men are in seminary right now dreaming of being the pastor of a First Baptist Church in a county seat. To be honest, I dreamed of being here… and here I am. The challenge is more than I expected. I do not mean that in a bad way, there is just way more to serving God’s people in this context than I ever dreamed. Also, I did not arrive here the way I expected.
 
If I were given the opportunity to share with seminary students today, or anyone who dreams of doing big things for the Lord, I wiould tell them: You will never make it. You will never be smart enough. You will never be prepared enough. Be patient. Be faithful. Just follow Jesus.
 
When we examine Scripture and the people who did big things for the Lord, we find that no one ever realized their dreams by their own power and might. Peter, James, John, the apostle Paul, and others dreamed of doing big things for the Lord. All of them realized their dreams, but none of them arrived by their own exertion. Paul dreamed that he could get there by studying under the greatest Jewish teachers. Peter dreamed that he could get there by his sincere zeal. James and John thought they could get there on the merit of their mother’s request. All of these guys would have made great seminary students. 
 
These great men reached the pinnacle of their dreams by following Jesus. All of them gave up their own vision of what reaching the summit looked like and just focused on following Jesus: going where he said to go, doing what he said to do, trusting in His power and provision. One day they looked up and they were there. Thousands of disciples had been made. Churches had been planted. Demons had been cast out, sicknesses healed, and the dead raised. The journey had been longer than expected, the challenges greater than what they were prepared for, and the view from the mountain top was much different than they had envisioned. 
 
If we study figures in church history, we find more of the same. Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer all made enormous impacts on the kingdom of God and left behind great ministry legacies. They all did it, not by the exertion of their own human strength and will but by following Jesus. The realization of their dreams came in God’s time with great and unexpected challenges, and nothing turned out exactly as they envisioned. 
 
So, do you dream of doing something for the Lord? I hope so. Do not be afraid to dream big. You do need to be so careful though. Be careful not to force anything. If your dream for your life is also God’s dream for your life, then it will come to pass in His time. There will be challenges that you do not expect. Nothing will happen the way you thought. Thus when you arrive at the pinnacle of your dream, you will find that you arrived there by following Jesus. You will realize that all the good you have done was really not what “you have done” but what you left behind as you followed Jesus. The view from there will be much different than you can imagine now.

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What Are You Stirring Up?

My mom is a fantastic cook. I will never forget the smells of her kitchen when I was growing up. I do not remember her ever using a recipe, but she always used the perfect mix of sweet-smelling seasonings and spices. To this day, when I smell her cooking, I am taken back to when I was only a boy growing up in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
 
There is another childhood smell that I will never forget. In February of 1994, a severe ice storm hit the Mississippi Delta. We were out of power for two weeks. Somehow, our deep freezer came unplugged from our generator; a fact that was not discovered until it was too late.
 
I never imagined that anything in this world could smell so foul. The same food that smelled and tasted so good coming out of mom’s kitchen, was now repulsively rotten. What was worse? The deep freezer sat inside our house, so we had to empty out the rotten meat and the bloody water one bucket at a time. This whole ordeal became one of the most unpleasant of my childhood memories.
 
Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” The author was encouraging his readers to respond to the love of their Savior and High Priest by encouraging and loving others. Christ’s love stirs His followers up to love and good works, thus their love for others also stirs up others in the same way.
 
Every day we make a choice. What are we going to stir up? Are we, with love, going to stir up love? Are we, by our good works, going to inspire others to do good works? Or are we, in selfishness, going to inspire others to be selfish? By evil schemes and gossip, are we going to stir up strife among our brothers and sisters in Christ?
 
If you are a believer and possess any joy, it is because you are loved by the Lord. He sacrificed His life for you. By His kindness, He drew you to faith and repentance. Now you enjoy an intimate personal relationship with Him. Through this relationship, you are being conformed more and more into the image of Christ. It should follow that you too would love others and, by your kindness, stir them up to love and good works.
 
When you seek to be who you are in Christ, you become the sweet-smelling “aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance of death to death, to the other a fragrance of life to life” (2 Cor 2:15-16). When you seek to be faithful to Him, you are, like my mom’s cooking was to me, a pleasing fragrance to God. You smell of life and you enhance the lives of others.
 
When you act out of the flesh, which is rotten and dead, you smell of death to God. Like my rotten deep freezer, you stir up an unpleasant stench in the world. That dead stench only stirs up more death and rottenness in others.
 
It is much more fun to be who you are in Christ and know that you are pleasing the Lord. Living a life that is pleasing to God will not always be pleasing to others, but you will always have the joy of knowing that you have pleased the Lord. Every time you encourage rather than discourage… love rather than hate… refuse to give ear to gossip… refuse to repeat gossip… and flee from temptation, you will have the joy of knowing that you are living out what the Lord has done in you. You will be who Christ said you are: a city on the hill and the salt of the earth.
 

Encourage somebody today. Think of someone whose love and good works have been a blessing to you and consider how to stir them up to even more love and good works. Do not just tell them “thank you.” Explain to them in detail the blessing that they have been to you, and how they inspire you to want to be a better person. Has someone wronged you? Take the opportunity to show them the same grace that was shown to you by Christ. Love them. Forgive them. Refuse to return evil with evil. Be who you are in Christ.


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Considering The Wonderful Works of God

One thing that never ceases to amaze me about the Lord is the diverse methods He uses to accomplish His perfect will and plan. My heart resonates with the Psalmist who writes in Psalm 139:14, “Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.” Indeed, my soul knows it. I know that His works are wonderful, because I read of them on the pages of scripture. I know that His works are wonderful, because I experience them in my own life.

 

There are times in the gospel story where God worked in gloriously magnificent and public ways. Like in the book of Exodus, God humbled the Pharaoh with severe plagues. He led the Israelites in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, both of which could be seen from miles around. He fed them with manna and quail from heaven. He made clean water come out of rocks. He met with Moses under the backdrop of something much like a volcano.

 

There are also times when He worked in subtle ways to accomplish mighty feats. In the book of Esther, His name was never mentioned, yet His presence in the situations cannot be missed by the modern day reader. He raised up the mighty kingdom of Persia, and He also brought down that mighty kingdom. He built up, and He divided. A popular queen was deposed, and God’s queen was propped up. A plot to kill the king was uncovered. A plot to slaughter the people of God was exposed and the perpetrator was adjudicated. God’s people prospered. What is most amazing of all is that nobody even knew all this was happening until it was done.

 

I am reminded how God has worked in my own life.  There have been times when God has showed up out of nowhere to comfort, heal, and vindicate me. I am reminded of my conversion when God met with me in a real and public way. I am reminded of when he called me to preach. I have never been so sure that God was speaking to me than the very first time I stepped up to the pulpit to preach. In the flash of a moment, I knew the purpose for which I had been placed on this earth.

 

I am reminded of other times when God worked in subtle but powerful ways. Looking back, there were times that I know He was working in my circumstances even though I was completely oblivious at the time. I have doubted God many times. In many circumstances have I wondered if God was dead. Daily, He has proven His great faithfulness to me. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 19:12, He has raised me up on eagle’s wings with a familiar but still small voice. My heart resonates with David in Psalm 23:3, “He restores my soul.”

 

It is wonderful that God can even work at all. Two thousand years ago He took on flesh. He made himself like one of us, and He died. You and I should be lost and without hope. Our human situation would be without hope if not for one detail — The tomb that was borrowed from Joseph of Arimathea is empty. Jesus is alive, and He reigns!

 

This means that we can trust that Jesus is present and at work in all of our circumstances. When our politicians cannot agree and the government shuts down, Jesus is still on the throne. No matter what happens this week in the nation’s economy or your own household’s economy, Jesus will still be on the throne. If you lose your job, your spouse, or your child, Jesus will still be on the throne. He will be there working in awesome and public ways; He will be there working in quiet but still mighty ways all to one ultimate end: that He might glorify Himself in you.

 

Be reminded today of the wonderful works of the Lord. Consider the times God has worked powerfully and publicly in your life. Consider how He works in everyday ways to quietly and tenderly to accomplish His will for your life. Can you say with the Psalmist, “Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it well?


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His power is made perfect on bad days.

You have heard of Jesus feeding the five-thousand with the five loaves and two fish. You have heard about Jesus walking on water. You may not remember, though, that both miracles happened in the same 24hr period. You also may not remember what had happened earlier on that same day.
 
That day Jesus had received the news that his relative and friend John the Baptist had been executed. He learned that Herod’s daughter by Herodias had asked for the head of John the Baptist head on a platter. Having made a rash promise to the girl before many witnesses, Herod was obliged to grant her request. It was a grizzly scene. John’s head was placed on a platter and presented to the girl who then presented it to her mother, Herodias.
 
For Herodias, John the Baptist’s brutal murder was the settling of a score. For Jesus, it was devastating. The pair had much in common. Their mothers were from the same family. John’s birth had been only a little less a miracle than Jesus’ birth. They both preached that the Kingdom of God had come. They both battled with the religious leaders of their day and they both had a common enemy, Satan.
 
John was the first to recognize that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Now he was gone. Jesus knew better than anyone the hope of eternal life and the resurrection from the dead. Still, He grieved the loss of his friend. As soon as He heard the news the text says that Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). He wanted to get away and be by himself to mourn the loss of His friend. When you are the hope of all the world, though, it makes it difficult to have time for yourself.
 
When the crowd, to whom He had been ministering, heard that Jesus had left in a boat, they made their way around the sea and met Him at the shore. Matthew reports, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14). Jesus, who had stolen away to mourn His friend, ended up ministering to the great crowd until well into the evening. Then He fed them with just five loaves of bread and two fish.
 
After the feeding miracle “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:22-23). Finally, He was able to commune with His Father and receive restoration for His own soul. He remained there on the mountain until about 3 a.m. That is when the disciples awoke to see Him walking on the water.
 
What we see in this story is the power of God being made perfect in the weakness of the minister. We see how His grace is sufficient to sustain His servants who are suffering in the midst of depressing circumstances. This is the type of thing to be expected by one who commits to following Jesus.
 
The Lord recently reminded me of this characteristic of following Him. Two weeks ago, I helped to bury a man that was like a father to me. This week I will attend or officiate four more funerals. Meanwhile, my family is recovering from the flu. I know my circumstances are not the worst, and some of you are suffering through way more difficult situations. That is why I am putting these thoughts down for you.
 
How will I do it? How will I minister to others at a time when I, myself, need comforting ministry? I am so weak and tired. The burden the Lord has called me to carry is more than I can bear alone. Yet, I am encouraged and you should be as well.
 

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10


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Consider Journaling as a Spiritual Discipline in 2018

It is a brand new year; a time when everybody is looking to begin new and healthy practices. People are starting diets and buying gym memberships. Others are committing to organizing their home or office. Still, others are seeking to begin new spiritual disciplines such as beginning Bible reading plans and committing to more regular quiet times with the Lord.
 
If it is not too late, and you have not already ambitiously overcrowded your list of New Year’s resolutions, I suggest that you consider journaling as a spiritual discipline in 2018. I began this discipline in 2017, and I can tell you that, besides regular Bible study, no other discipline to which I have ever committed has added so much to my walk with Christ. I have grown more in grace and faith over the last year through my commitment to honestly and regularly write down my confessions, thanksgivings, and prayers.
 
Here are the four rules I have established for my own journal writing that will help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made in the beginning and ensure that you get the most out of journaling as a spiritual discipline.
 
1. Every entry must be honest. If you want to practice journaling as a spiritual discipline, then you should not write for posterity sake. You will not be honest if you are constantly thinking about what your children might think about what you wrote after you have passed on and they find your journal in your nightstand. It is important that you write out your confessions. You will find this the most difficult aspect of journaling, but it is necessary. Be honest with yourself and with God concerning your shortcomings and failures. Remember there is no forgiveness without confession, but with honest confession comes complete forgiveness. (Cf. 1 John 1:9)
 
2. Every entry must contain a thanksgiving. There is something to be thankful for no matter what is happening in your life. It is important to write those thanksgivings down and give God praise for them. Do not merely write to record the events of the day. My experience is that you will burn out and quit writing. However, you will grow a great deal by writing down the things that God has made you thankful for each and every day.
 
3. Every entry must contain a prayer. You should not write, “dear journal,” for your journal has no power in itself. Every entry should be written to God and to yourself, for God has the ultimate power and He has placed the Spirit of “power, love, and self-discipline” inside of you (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7). Every entry will contain some entreaties to yourself, and some petitions to God on your behalf or on the behalf of others. I have found simple, one sentence prayers to be extremely effective. Most of them begin with, “Help me, God.” Ex. “I was rude to ______ today. That is not who I am or who I want to be. Help me God to be more Christ-like in the way I handle _____.”
 
4. You must be consistent. I did not become regular in my journaling until I made this last rule for myself. I made the observation that if I was not writing down my confessions, thanksgivings, and prayers, then I was not communing with God, and I was not keeping watch over my heart. If I was not communing with God and keeping watch over my heart, then I was not growing… I was dying. For this discipline to be effective in your growth as a Christian, it has to be consistent. Do not be concerned with how little or how much you should write, just write something each day making sure that you include at least one confession, one thanksgiving, and one prayer.
 

Just like any other healthy discipline, it is important that you make this one your own. I only mean to teach you what has worked for me. Much trial and error have gone into my four rules of journaling. You will need to make your own rules for yourself, but I hope I have given you a place to begin. I recommend you take it up and give it a try. If you can find a way to be consistent, you will enjoy the growth that comes through journaling as a spiritual discipline.


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The Epic Gospel Story

The story of the gospel is a gloriously epic story. It is not a tale. It is the grand narrative of history. It is the saga in which we are living.
 
It began at creation when God existed alone in the three persons of the Trinity. All of His goodness, love, and mercy was singularly condensed in Him. But God was not content to remain alone. His love demanded to be revealed, so He said “let there be light… and there was light.” He separated the waters with dry land. He divided the firmament creating the heavens above and the earth below. He caused the plant kingdom to spring up from the ground. He created and positioned the sun and the moon in their places, and filled the sky with stars. He created all the animals that dwell on the land and in the sea.
 
God’s glorious act of creation was complete when He formed man in His own image and granted man authority over all created things. On top of the Lord bestowing upon man the ability to create, rule, and love, God gave the man a beautiful garden to call home. He made for him a helper and mate with whom the man could share his life. God planted a tree in the garden and told the blessed pair not to eat of it. In this way, God gave mankind the free will, just as He had free will, that man might choose to do good just as He had chosen to do good.
 
God’s glorious act of creation was completed in only six days. On the seventh day, He rested. He saw all He made and declared that it was good… very good. When God looked upon what He created, it was like looking in the mirror. All of His love and goodness, which was once hidden in Him, was fully revealed and expressed in this creative masterpiece.
 
What happened next was the first and greatest act of treachery in history. Mankind rebelled against his Almighty Creator. Unlike God who always chose what was good and right, mankind chose to do evil. He foolishly believed that he could, by his own free will, become equal with God and disobeyed the one rule that was set over him.
 
With one duplicitous act, Mankind fell out of the grace of God. All of creation fell with him. Darkness entered into God’s perfect creation. Man was set at odds with the rest of creation. Enmity divided him from his God. Mankind was even set at odds with one another.
 
The only flicker of hope in the midst of the darkness wrought by man’s sin was the promise that God made to send a Savior who would set all of creation back in order. That little flame of hope endured for thousands of years, while God worked out His perfect plan of salvation. Mankind continually rebelled, but God set His face toward redemption and would not cease until His love prevailed over the darkness.
 
At last, the Savior was born. The Second Person of the Trinity came into the world wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. That child grew up, and even though He was God in the flesh, He humbled Himself and permitted that He should suffer as a human being. He experienced every sorrow. He endured every temptation. In all of this, He did not sin or rebel against His father. He was obedient even to the point of dying on the cross at the hands of pagan executioners.
 
Of all the dark moments in creation’s history, the three days Jesus’ body lay lifeless in the grave were the darkest. Then, at last, God was gracious and faithful to raise Him up from the dead and the hope that flickered for millennia became a raging fire that spread throughout the known world as millions came to believe in Jesus as their Savior to the transformation of their entire beings.
 

Today, the redemption of all creation is underway. Very soon, after this gospel has spread to all nations, and after a remnant of every people is saved, Jesus will return. In an instant, the perfection of the seventh day of creation will be restored. Every enemy will be destroyed. Every creature will rejoice, especially us, for when God had every right to write us out of this grand and glorious saga, He made the choice to love us and show us mercy.


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The Adoration of Christmas

In Matthew Chapter two, we read of how a group of wise men came from the far east to visit Jesus after His birth bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. For most, this is the extent of their understanding of the story of the wise men’s visit. There is more to the story, though, if you read it in its larger context. The story contrasts how wise men when they come to the knowledge of the truth, go to great lengths to worship and adore the king. Fools, on the other hand, are troubled by the truth and seek to subvert the King by every possible means.
 
If you read carefully, you will see that the wise men had studied to know the truth. They pored over what must have been the most obscure manuscripts in Babylon. They searched for signs in the stars. As soon as the wise men saw the bright star in the west, they made the connection with Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near, a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab.” The wise men, armed with faith in the prophecy and a sign in the sky, struck out following the star. It would take them on a forty day, 800-mile journey, to Bethlehem.
 
Now, it gets really interesting whenever the positive reaction of the wise men to the truth is contrasted with Herod’s negative response. When Herod heard that the King of the Jews had been born, he was troubled (Matthew 2:3). He had good reason to be troubled. Herod held the official title of King of the Jews, but his legitimacy as king had been a major point of contention throughout his reign. He was troubled because it appeared that the rightful king was born. The wise men and even the stars in the sky bore testimony.
 
Herod summoned all the important people in Jerusalem—the chief priests, and scribes. The wise men were likely present as well. He questioned them about the prophecy and learned that the King of the Jews was to be born in Bethlehem. Herod then secretly summoned the wise men and bid them to report back to him when they found the child, that he too might go and worship Him.
 
Herod had absolutely no interest in worshipping the Christ child. The child was his enemy. The wise men, however, wanted to see Jesus. They wanted to worship Him and give Him their gifts. Herod’s pride stands in stark contrast to the humility of the wise men.
 
What happened next was a testimony to what Peter wrote to his people: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The humble wise men were able to see Jesus. They rejoiced with exceedingly great joy, but Herod’s evil plan was thwarted. God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to the king, but to travel back to their homeland in the East by a different way.
 
This is just one of many stories in Scripture where wise men are rewarded and proud men are put to shame. The stories of Saul, Absalom, Ahab, and Jezebel are found in the Old Testament along with many others in the gospels, Acts, and the Epistles of the New Testament. Wise men always win, and fools always lose in the end.
 
In our day, wise men still seek Jesus. They still worship and adore Him, and fools still scheme in futility. We find the wise men of today faithfully serving and worshipping the Lord, humbling themselves and laying their gifts at Jesus’ feet. We find fools desperately seeking to hold on to their power, studying to learn just enough about Jesus that they might subvert His authority. The fools, like Herod, will be exposed and destroyed.
 

Here is the proper exhortation that flows out of the story of the wise men: Be wise; do not play the fool. Jesus is the way the truth and the life. God will not be mocked. No one comes to the Father except that they first bow down to the King of kings and receive his righteousness as their own. The ones who are wise enough to humble themselves will get to see the Savior face to face at the completion of life’s long journey.


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The Love of Advent

There is no word in the English language that is more misused and abused than the word “love.” People say that they love God, and in the next breath, they say that they love their car. People say that they love their spouse, and in the next breath, they say they love their favorite pair of blue jeans. The word “love” is never used so flippantly in the Bible.
 
Love is not common. Love is holy. Love is just. Love is pure and selfless. Moreover, love is a person… a person who came into the world on that first Christmas night.
 
1 John 4:9 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” On that first Christmas all that is good, and holy, and just, and pure was manifested in that baby boy that was born in a feed trough in Bethlehem. He was God in the flesh, and since God is love, we can also say that He was love wrapped in human flesh.
 
Why did He come into the world? The text says He was sent to the world that “we might live through Him.” Love was manifested among us so that we might live in love. Before His coming and before our receiving Him, we could not love. We did not know what love was. More accurately, we did not know who love was. All we had to live in was our passions and desires, but on the other side of His coming, we came to know love. We were transformed by love. And we were made to live in love.
 
We celebrate Christmas because through His birth into our world, we learned what love was. 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Propitiation is a big scary word, but it is also a big beautiful word. It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word which means “cleansing.” This is love, that He sent His Son to be the cleansing for our sins. He came and sacrificed Himself to rid us of guilt and iniquity.
 
Sinful people attempt to define love by what sinful people do. In our culture, to love someone is to not be hateful to them… to not want to hurt them. To love God is to be a generally good person and not cuss too much, go to church when you can, and give what you can spare. But love cannot be defined by what we do. It must be defined by what God has done.
 
Love is self-sacrificing. Love is cleansing. Love is transforming. Love is humbling. Love is the acceptance of pain and suffering on behalf of the one who is loved.
 
This sacrificial and transforming love was commissioned by God at the Bethlehem manger. 1 John 4:11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Remember the who reason why love was made manifest to us in the person and work of Jesus was so that we might live through Him. He loved us so that we, by His love, might also love others.
 
If you have received the gift of God’s love and been transformed by its power, then it logically follows that you ought to love your neighbor. You ought to love them especially if they will not love you in return because God loved you when you could not love Him in return. You ought to love them especially if they have nothing to give because true love is sacrificial and expects nothing in return. You ought to love not just in words but in deeds because God’s love is always backed up by action. Love that God has shown us should be the motive of all our generosity, the aim of every gift we give and the theme of every song we sing.
 

Love is not an abstract rhetorical concept. It is not a subject confined to poets and philosophers. In the Christmas story, we see sanctified love manifested, defined, and commissioned. Love is a person… a person who on that first Christmas came to us, transformed us, and gave us life. It is for love that we ought to be most thankful this Christmas.


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The Joy of Christmas

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:9-11
 
Joy to the World is one of my favorite Christmas carols; one that I wish we would sincerely think about when we sing it. Joy… everlasting joy… all-surpassing joy… joy that gives us strength in every circumstance is what came into the world when the Lord was born. This joy is what the angel announced to the shepherds that first Christmas night. Let us take a deeper more detailed look at the angel’s announcement.
 
“Fear not,” were the first two words that the angel spoke. Before he could deliver his announcement, it was necessary to calm the shepherd’s fears. They feared for several reasons. First, angels are scary creatures. If you look at the accounts of angel visitations in scripture, you find that such visitations we always unexpected. It was a little like getting struck by a hurricane with no advanced warning.
 
The glory of the Lord that shone around them was even more frightening. Everyone in Scripture who ever caught a glimpse of the glory of God had one thought, “Oh no I am going to die! We are all going to die!” The glory of the Lord revealed His holiness and exposed the shepherd’s sinfulness. There could not have been anything more frightening.
 
After calming their fears, the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy.” A precise summary of what was the good news was recorded in verse 11, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
 
The baby born in the manger was a Savior who was also Christ, the promised Messiah. One come to rescue them from hopelessness and sin, deliver them out of darkness, and transport them to His kingdom of light. He was the great high priest—The King of kings and the Lord of lords.
 
He was the Lord. The image of the invisible God: the firstborn over all creation… the One by whom, and through whom, and for whom all creation existed. He was the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature and He was born in Bethlehem.
 
He who existed even before time began stepped into our present reality. He drew near to His people. The news was not just great news. It was the greatest news ever reported!
 
Along with good news came great joy. Heaven came to earth that day. Just as light penetrated the darkness at His command on the first day of creation, so light shined into the world on Christmas day. The joy of the Lord shined into the hearts of men. Wild things happened. Lame men walked. Men, women, and children were healed. Water was transformed into wine. Demons came screaming out of the possessed. Dead men were raised from the dead. Joy unspeakable entered into the world through that baby boy.
 
The angel reported that the good news of great joy was, “for all people.” The report of His birth was good news and great joy for Jews and Gentiles, men and women, freemen and slaves, the Kings and rulers of the earth as well as the beggars. All who would receive Him were given the right to be called sons of God.
 
This was the point of the angels announcing His birth first to the shepherds… the lowest of men. This was the point of providing a star to guide the wise men… the highest of men. This was the point of His being born in a manger… the lowest of places. This was the point of His being born in Bethlehem, the city of David… a most notable place. The news was good and the joy was great for all people.
 

I hope you see, friend, that the report of His birth by the angels is good news and great joy for you as well. May the joy of this season radiate in your heart and on your face melting away all fear, doubt, negativity, and anger.


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