Follow Jesus to the Ends of the Earth

Category: Bible (page 1 of 4)

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Martin Luther King Jr. quoted scripture regularly, often encouraging people with the prayer above from the Old Testament prophet Amos (5:24). King reminded our nation that social justice is biblical. Today we remember and give thanks for a man who’s legacy continues to remind us what’s on the heart of God.

Shepherds and Kings

Ever wonder why the shepherds, quietly keeping watch over their flocks at night, were the first people on earth that God choose to tell about the birth of his son? Why wasn’t the birth of Jesus announced in Rome, the capital of the empire? Or in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith? Why wasn’t the birth of the coming king announced to the powerful or the mighty, or the well-connected? I suppose you could say it was, in that the Magi, kings from the East, read the stars and came to honor Jesus. But while they got a star, the shepherds received a declaration by an angelic mob. Heavens split open in joy.

The first to get to the manger? Shepherds, not Kings. Appropriate for a barn. God chose a group of smelly guys who made a living by watching animals to receive the greatest announcement in history, namely that God was born into flesh and the world will never be the same. After mom and dad, the first people to greet Jesus was a group of herdsmen.

This says a few things to me. First, God cares about everyone, rich or poor, powerful or weak, in or out of the right crowd. In fact, God often favors the weak and those outside the mainstream, which gives me pause. Second, God doesn’t tone down the show for the shepherds. He gives a lavish glimpse into heaven, a peek into a terrifying, otherworldly reality. Third, the shepherds run straight to Jesus, and then after meeting him go out and spread the word concerning this magnificent child. They were the first missionaries.

Why were the Shepherds first? Why not the Kings? The order should tell us something. God will use shepherds, God will use kings, God will use you and I, if only we’ll let him do so. Enjoy the Christmas holiday and as you gaze out in the night on Christmas, remember those shepherds who were watching in the dark as well.

Fulfilling Our Deepest Desires

Greek sculpture of a sea nymph found at the British Museum in London. An example of human sexuality as portrayed by the ancients.

Today’s blog post comes courtesy of Dr. Lewis Winkler, professor at East Asia School of Theology in Singapore, a good friend of mine for many years and a thoughtful blogger at lewinkler.com. I found his thoughts on our society’s views toward sexual fulfillment powerful and insightful. As we continually find ourselves hearing this topic on the news and though our entertainment venues, these thoughts are timely, so say the least.

I greatly appreciate Dr. Winkler’s views as he focuses on the issues and shares a Biblical response:

The recent death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was another reminder of the radical and sweeping changes over the past 40-50 years regarding popular attitudes toward human sexuality. While many things could be said about these seismic transformations, two major and interrelated claims have emerged which bear special mention.

First, sexual fulfillment—whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature—is now considered centrally important to human identity and flourishing. Second, and closely related, we are told that suppressing and rebuffing strong sexual desire not only leads to unhappiness, it is detrimental to human well-being and may even lead to psychosis.

The idea that strong personal desires should be sublimated (redirected) and subjugated (denied) in contemporary life is not only considered unreasonable, it’s deemed downright dangerous. Instead, we are repeatedly told that life is fuller and more meaningful when we pursue and fulfill the deepest and strongest desires of our hearts, especially those that are sexual.

It may come as a surprise to some, but the fulfillment of our heart’s desires is actually biblical language. Consider, for example, Psalm 37:4 where David says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

There are at least two things to notice here. First, the desires of our heart arise from delighting first and foremost in the Lord. When we delight in God, He gives us desires for good and noble things, and then fulfills those desires as we trust and seek Him. Second, however, there is an implication: Our heart’s desires could also be directed toward what is evil and base. This is why Jeremiah 17:9 warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” In fact, we have a choice in the matter.

The decision to delight in the Lord above all other persons and things is the essential and indispensable prerequisite for experiencing divine fulfillment of our heart’s deepest desires. Our heart has to be redirected and reshaped by the things that the Lord loves and values. When we consciously and continually choose to delight in Him, our desires become very different than what they used to be.

At the same time, however, we must admit that our delight in the Lord is never perfect or uninterrupted. We still struggle with those pesky and sometimes overwhelming evil desires of the flesh. As James 1:14-15 explains, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

This dangerous element of strong wrong desire leading to sin is not taken seriously enough in contemporary society, a society that now expects and demands our deepest desires—especially sexual ones—to be granted every right and opportunity to be fulfilled. In this context, we rarely, if ever, want to be told what we can and cannot do as well as when we can and cannot do it. Human selfishness and sin make us prone to demand whatever we want, as much as we want, as often as we want it. But these are the attitudes of spoiled children, not mature adults. Mature adults learn to curb their voracious and capacious appetites. But how do we become mature? We must do two basic things: subjugate and sublimate our desires.

To subjugate our desires means we must bring them under the Lordship of Christ. No matter how strong they are, no matter how much our society has told us we have every right to fulfill them, all our desires must be placed upon the alter of the Lord. As we do, He may or may not see fit to fulfill them, but when we offer them up to Him, He gives us the grace to resist temptation and develop spiritual maturity and strength.

The second thing we are called to do is sublimate our desires. Here, we consciously redirect them so that they might either be fulfilled in their proper contexts or be turned into desires for something or someone better and greater.

In speaking about subjugation in Colossians 3:5, the Apostle Paul uses the language of homicide and slaughter: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

When Paul speaks about sublimation and the redirection of desire in Philippians 3:8-10, he highlights the incomparable joy of knowing Jesus Christ above all else. He knows that without something or someone better and greater to gaze at and aspire to, we would easily fall back into fulfilling our desires for lesser and ultimately harmful and dehumanizing things.

The world is wrong about many of our deepest human desires. Their denial and redirection, far from harming our humanity, is most often the pathway to a deeper knowledge of God and a greater experience of who we as human beings were meant and created to be.

As we continually submit our desires to God, we can, like Asaph in Psalm 73:25-26, honestly say of Him, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”


Thankful or Discontent?

Are you thankful this year or discontented?

I recently read a blog post from Seth Godin called “The engine of our discontent” (his is one of the few blogs I read regularly). These words struck home as I find that I can lack contentment based on what I see around me. I’ll quote his blog post below for you to read and to think about, and I highlight what is for me the most convicting section.

When TV first was adopted, it was a magical gift. The shows united our culture and the ads fueled a seemingly endless consumer boom.

Today, though, marketers have turned television into an instrument of dissatisfaction. The shows alienate many, because they bring an idealized, expensive world into the homes of people who increasingly can’t afford it. And the ads remind just about everyone that their lives are incomplete and unhappy–unless they buy what’s on offer. Worse, cable news is optimized to shock, frighten and divide the people who watch it.

Social media can amplify all of these downward cycles. It’s TV times 1,000.

Hence a middle class, millions of people who would be as rich as kings in any other time or place, that’s angry and disappointed and feeling left behind. Victims of a media regime where they are both the user and the product.

Every time TV and social media become significant time sinks in a household, pleasure goes up and happiness goes down.

The solution is simple and difficult. We can turn it off. If it’s not getting you what you need or want, turn it off for a few hours.

As we approach Thanksgiving, are you truly thankful for all the Lord’s given you, or are you in a state of discontent? Are you aware of the way media feeds your outlook on life? Of all the weeks of the year, this is a good one for us to take a few extra minutes in quiet, away from our screens, and ponder the goodness of the Lord in your life. Our entire nation has set aside a day to be thankful. Perhaps we should take advantage?

That’s My King


Check out this short sermon clip by Dr.  S.M. Lockridge (1913-2000). This is my king!

Enter Through the Narrow Gate

I took this photo on the Camino de Santiago and immediately thought of the words Jesus spoke, recorded in Matthew 7:13&14:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Or, as The Message version of the Bible puts it:

Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

The way to God is vigorous and requires total attention. That challenges me, as the words of Jesus always do. Where might we be following broad, easy paths when we should turn off on the narrow road? In a world where easygoing formulas exist at every hand, our thoughtful attention to the right path requires more of us than ever.

Do Your Prayers “Fall to the Ground”?

We find a fascinating description of prayer in 1 Samuel 3:19. The writer describes Samuel as he grows up in the temple under the tutelage of the high priest, Eli. The scriptures say that, the Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.

So, apparently you can pray and have your words, fall to the ground. I wonder how many of my prayers have done so? I’m guessing enough to trip over, or even enough to be buried under. How many selfish and insincere prayers never make it to the Lord? Across my lips and straight to the earth.

Food for thought the next time you pray. Try to imagine where your prayers might be going – to the Lord, or to the floor?

Racial Supremacy and the Bible

How do you approach the controversy that has sprung up this year concerning racial supremacy? As one who tries to live with the Bible as the primary guide to how to live and how to relate to others, I want to let the Scriptures inform my thoughts.

Here are two passages that have been in my mind the last few weeks:

Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This is a radial passage and was understood as such when Paul wrote it. He intended it to shock, to show his readers that all are valuable in the economy of eternity. There are no differences before God. All ethic groups, all genders, all stations of life are of equal worth to Jesus.

Revelation 7:9&10

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.

The language used here for “nation” means “ethnos.” So, literally every ethnic group in the world will stand before the throne of God and worship. The only supremacy belongs to the Lamb of God.

If this is the picture of the future the Lord has planned for us, then I can see no reason to hold to a theory of racial supremacy today. All are valued by God and all will be represented before the throne. Let us treat our fellow citizens with at least some of the respect that the Lord has endowed into each person born into this world.

A Lion, A Pit and a Snowy Day

Of the many intriguing people you read about in scripture, Benaiah is one of my favorites. He was a famous warrior, one of King David’s “mighty men.” He fought and defeated powerful enemies of Israel. And while there were other great warriors in that day, Benaiah performed something unique, described in 1 Chronicles 11, which fascinates me to no end.

We are told that he “climbed down into a pit and killed a lion on a snowy day.” Wait, what? It seems that there are three unusual aspects to this story. One, snowy days were rare in this part of the world. Two, a lion in a pit was also uncommon. And three, a guy that would choose to climb down into that pit and fight that lion was one of a kind.

Was this a trap of some kind? Was the lion defending something valuable? Or when coming upon the lion in the pit did Benaiah’s buddies say, “I bet you can’t kill that lion,” and Ben said, “watch me,” and then hopped into the pit. I suspect it’s reason #3. That’s how guys role sometimes.

I don’t know why this story is included in the Bible, except that Benaiah is so badass that the author just couldn’t leave it out. You can’t make this stuff up. Regardless of the circumstances, all I know is that if there’s one guy from the Bible I’d want on my side in a fight, it would be Benaiah.

God is Found in the Whisper

We find the story in 1 Kings 19. As Elijah stands outside his cave and waits for the Lord to speak, he first experiences a mighty rushing wind, near hurricane force. So powerful, this must be the Lord!

But the Lord was not in the wind.

Then, a massive earthquake. Surely, this is how the Lord sets foot on the earth.

But the Lord was not in the earthquake.

Next, a wildfire consuming the countryside. Of course, the Lord is like fire and everything He touches is lit ablaze.

But the Lord was not in the fire.

Then Elijah hears something soft. He turns his head in that direction. It’s an almost imperceptible brush against his ear, a quiet passing, merely a whisper.

It is the Lord. God is found in the whisper.

I love the way the Lord is so counter-intuitive. We think that when the Lord speaks He does so by smashing his way into our lives. God finds it better to whisper. We must listen, pay attention, cock our ear away from the noise of our culture and towards quiet places. Why do so many people find that they feel closer to God when out in the nature? Because it’s quiet. Learn to cultivate times and places of quiet, for it is there that we find the Lord.

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