Monday, December 11, 2017

Why Did Jesus Come?


Many people assume, or claim to have studiously arrived at the conclusion, that Jesus was not born of a virgin and was just an extraordinary human being who had a gentle predisposition for kindness that resulted in moral living.

Some of the people who assume or claim this, but not all, have decided that they will take Jesus—along with other self-appointed role models and heroes—and aim to incorporate some of their traits into their own life.

N.T. Wright, writing in his book, After You Believe, makes an excellent point about “Jesus as only a moral teacher”:

“...the suggestion that we treat Jesus as a moral example can be, and in some people’s thinking has been, a way of holding at arm’s length the message of God’s kingdom on the one hand and the meaning of his death and resurrection on the other. Making Jesus the supreme example of someone who lived a good life may be quite bracing to contemplate, but it is basically safe: it removes the far more dangerous challenge of supposing that God might actually be coming to transform this earth, and us within it, with the power and justice of heaven, and it neatly helps us avoid the fact, as all four gospels see it, that this could be achieved only through the shocking and horrible event of Jesus’s death. Jesus as “moral example” is a domesticated Jesus, a kind of religious mascot. We look at him approvingly and decide we’ll copy him (up to a point at least, and no doubt he’ll forgive us the rest because he’s a decent sort of chap). As if! If all we need is a good example, we can’t be in quite such a bad state as some people (including Jesus himself) have suggested.”

N.T. Wright goes on to say that the result of this line of thinking is that the teachings of Jesus become, not only voluntary, but “a suggestion that an ordinary human being can actually resist sin if he or she tries hard enough, and that observing how Jesus did it will enable us to do so.”

While Jesus, indeed, does model the way to live and be, so that we might live and be the same, what Jesus models can be comprehended only with the open eyes of someone who is indwelt by His Spirit through faith in Him. As 1 Corinthians 2 makes clear:

“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:12-14.

So try following Jesus' "moral example" on your own. It can't happen, because we won't even know where or how to begin. This is the spiritual blindness Jesus came to cure. 

Jesus is not a man-made good chap, enlightened thinker, or chill guru, as many would have—and especially desire—us to believe.

Jesus is the Lord God our Savior. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a Virgin and came to free the captives (us) from ourselves, from evil, and from worldly darkness.

He came so that we do not have to endure the futility of trying to save ourselves and live according to a constantly morphing morality of our own, or another person’s, making.

He came to set things right: the world and everything in it.

He came to do what only He can do. If humans could have done this of their own volition, then He wouldn’t have needed to come. But as the Corinthians verse points out, we cannot discern the things of God until we enter His Kingdom. And that’s why Jesus came: to bring the Kingdom to us so we can enter it here and now.


Copyright Barb Harwood



“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14



“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-20



Sunday, December 10, 2017

Rejoice!


"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,..."
Zechariah 9:9a


Friday, December 1, 2017

Hope


"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, 
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, 
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."
Isaiah 40:28-31


Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Chasm That Humans Can't Bridge


Here is a wonderful depiction, written by Ray Pritchard, of how sin keeps a non-believer from connecting with God:

     "We were made to know God and we want to know Him, but our sin has separated us from God. As a result, we are left with a deep 'Father hunger' that won't go away.

     So what do we do? We look for love in all the wrong places. We can illustrate this using a pen and a piece of paper. Draw a cliff on the right side of the paper and label it 'God.' On the left side draw another cliff and label it 'Us.' Label the gap in between with the word 'Sin.' That's the problem we all face. We're on one side, God is on the other, and our sin stands between God and us. Something deep inside tells us we belong on the other side with the God who made us. So we set out to build bridges across the great chasm.

     Now draw lines that start on the 'Us' side, ending each line somewhere in-between the two cliffs. Each line represents a human 'bridge' we build in our attempts to find our way back to God. One bridge is labeled 'Money,' another 'Education,' another 'Good works,' another 'Sex,' another 'Power,' another 'Science,' another 'Success,' another 'Approval,' another 'Relationships,' and another 'Religion.' You can make as many bridges as you like, but they never seem to reach the other side. Each one ends somewhere in the middle, illustrating the truth that you can never find God by starting where you are. No matter which road you take, you fall into the great chasm and end up being broken on the jagged rocks of reality.

     That's what I mean by searching in all the wrong places. Nothing in this world can satisfy our longing because nothing in this world can lead us back to God. The answer we need must come from outside this world...

     Here is our problem in a nutshell. We were made by God to know God. There is a 'God-shaped vacuum' inside each person that causes us to seek after the One who made us. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God 'has put eternity in their hearts.' Because we search in all the wrong places, we can never find Him. Our eternal longing for God is not fulfilled." Ray Pritchard, An Anchor for the Soul


Those of us who have made this journey and come out on the other side, now seated with Christ at God's right hand, know this to be true. 

Yet, many people accede no Godly foundation to this earth or any living being in it and therefore, are not inclined to give any thought to what to them are trivial and banal matters. 

Many more are still sure that they can live according to a personally-defined god. 

To them, Jesus is a mockery, or, as one relative of mine put it, a "fairy tale." The chasm, for them, remains.

Jesus says, in Matthew 11:6, "blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."

Peter, in 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."

Then, after denouncing the cities in which most of his miracles were done because the people did not repent, Jesus says, in Matthew 11:27-30,

"All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." 

Jesus bridges the chasm. 








Saturday, November 25, 2017

We Can't "Make Up For"


The online dictionary defines the attempt to “make up for” as this:

“serve or act to compensate for something lost, missed, or deficient.”

We, out of our own personal sense of goodness, or attempts to be good, or willing ourselves to be good, cannot atone for past, present and future sins.

We can apologize to others, and even forgive ourselves, but since sin is ultimately committed against God (Psalm 51:4), we must repent of sin to Him for redemption from the sin.

Jesus repeats many times that we must first repent and then be saved. The repentance is to Him, who is Lord God, and salvation is through Him also.

The people who heard Jesus speaking in Luke 18 were amazed to hear that even the rich needed to repent. The rich in that culture were perceived as having received special blessing from God. So if even the rich must repent, the question was asked of Jesus,

“Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:26).

Jesus answered, simply and beautifully,

“The things that are impossible with people are possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

That is the great triumphant freedom we have in Christ: to have our sins washed away by the blood of Christ.

Why would Jesus repeatedly command people to repent if it were unnecessary?

Yes, he died on the cross for everyone, meaning He opens the door to this freedom in Himself to everyone who—what? Repents.  

How many of us have attempted to assuage all guilt of past mistakes, improprieties, failures, selfish attitudes and ill-will by serving in some capacity?

We think that by teaching Sunday school, delivering Meals-on-Wheels, singing in the choir, serving at the local food pantry or volunteering at the local nature center that we can make up for the regrets and failures of the past.

We run for local office, join the EMT’s, volunteer at the library, hospital or retirement home and knit baby blankets for preemies.

Perhaps we hone a skill like painting or woodwork and attempt to refine our image that way.

The question is, does that do it

Is our guilt assuaged?

Are our past mistakes blotted out? 

Do we actually feel and, more importantly, know we are redeemed?

The answer for me was “No.” 

I, myself, could never redeem myself, and until I met Christ, I never understood this.

But when I did finally meet Christ, I met sin 
(take a look in Scripture at how often people felt personal conviction in the presence of and in their meeting with Christ).

And when I met sin, I met repentance. 

And when I met repentance, I met Christ’s forgiveness.

And when I met Christ’s forgiveness, I met Christ’s redemption. 

And when I met Christ’s redemption, I met Christ’s salvation.

And when I met Christ's salvation, I went from meeting Christ to knowing Him. 

It is rather grandiose of humans to think they can become good of themselves and save themselves of their own volition. That’s rather pompous, and at the same time ignorantly stubborn.

Some folks truly believe that if they roll up their sleeves enough times, dig in and do “good works,” or advocate "kindness," they will magically manufacture 100% pure inner goodness. 

Others simply indulge in personal ambition, striving in their own personal definition of goodness as a way to avoid faith in anything other than themselves.

It is in these delusions in which they choose to live removed from "the way, the truth and the life” that is Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

Copyright Barb Harwood


“Be gracious to me, O God, according to your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” Psalm 51:1-17



“From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17.



“Seeing their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you.’” Luke 5:20



“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:11



“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:4-7 
(you can consult commentaries further to understand that “who need no repentance” is to be understood to mean “ninety-nine righteous persons who think that they do not need to repent).



“...I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10b



“...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works...” Romans 3:23-28a




Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How Can I Be Thankful When I'm Not?


Many of us will be visiting extended family on Thursday for the supposed purpose of sharing food and camaraderie in a spirit of thankfulness.

Sadly, many of us feel only guilt that thankfulness for time spent with certain individuals never materializes.

And this is usually because every family has a fly in the ointment. Okay, maybe not every family.

But every family that I have ever encountered has the irascible relative: the critic, the mean-spirited gossip, the angry drunkard.

And if not that, then every family has the proverbial jokester, the political egger-on-er, the braggart, the loud-talking room-dominator, the coterie of drinkers, and so on.

Sometimes it’s easy to shrug our shoulders and slink away to a quiet corner. 

Sometimes we become disgruntled that nobody—including our self, is willing to confront the ne’er-do-well. 

Other times it’s necessary to actually don our coats and take our leave from the premises.

Many of us dig in our heels and weather these gatherings—battered by our apprehension in the days leading up to the festivities, and by our frustrations in the days following.

A friend--a sister-in-Christ--and I recently talked about this very thing. She said she had recently read that, instead of focusing on wishing others would change, or how others need to change, or on God needing to change them, it is better to focus on how God can change us.

God can use any situation or person to tone and condition our patience, long-suffering, compassion and discernment.

Discernment is an attribute I particularly like, finding it quite helpful in combating inner feelings because it incorporates logic and the benefit of objective thinking.

I absolutely love the online dictionary’s definition of discernment:

“(In Christian contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.”

That is the opposite of how I have often conducted myself. In the past it was about my discomfort and my wants (which I often mistook for needs).

The new way, the Christ-way, is to see everyone from His perspective and His alone.

When we do that, we will no longer be discomfited when people who mock Christ act as they do.

We will not despair when the alcohol flows or be surprised at a dumb joke.

We will be unperturbed at someone’s admission of how they cheated the boss or Uncle Sam.

We will remain in perfect peace, steadfast in our trust in Christ, always conscious of the truth that our identity is in Christ, not the world or group of people in which we find ourselves.   

Having an ongoing knowledge of Scripture is crucial in order to practice discernment, and to be able to abide in Christ with a clear conscience before God, come what may.

This is how we stop “weathering the storm” of social get-togethers and instead go forth in Christ’s quiet, humble strength and affirmation.

copyright Barb Harwood



“The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.” Psalm 16:5


“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3



“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:15-19


Monday, November 20, 2017

Thinking We're a "Good" Person Doesn't Save Us


William Barclay, writing in The All-Sufficient Christ, points out that many religious people see salvation as:

"something that a man by merit can win, and not something that in grace God gives. It makes a man think of salvation as something that results from what he is, and not something that results solely from what God is."

Barclay goes on to say, 

"The very essence of Christianity is that in humble and adoring gratitude we can only accept that which God in Christ so generously offers us...
True, such a love drives us to seek to be worthy of it, but that which we do is not the cause but the consequence of our salvation. Every man is saved for works, but no man was ever saved by works." William Barclay


"But God , being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." Ephesians 2:4-10