A Message in a Manger


I am going to revisit some of the Christmas articles I have written in previous years in the coming weeks, starting with this one. I may freshen them up a bit as I do so. This was one of the first articles I wrote on this blog, and I think the message still resonates today: A Message in a Manger.

Called to the Purpose for which Christ Died

. We may be tempted to assume that we are just biding our time here as God prepares rooms for us in heaven – an escape from the present futility of the world


If we are truly in Christ, we know the love the Father has for us. “For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:16 Often, however, our sense of God’s greater purpose can get lost in the immediacy of our lives in this world.

As heirs of the Father in Christ, together with Christ, we await God’s glory. We may be tempted to assume that we are just biding our time here as God prepares rooms for us in heaven – an escape from the present futility of the world – but there is a catch:

“if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”

Romans 8:17

God emptied Himself of His glory to come to us in human form, and he entered into our suffering. This was God’s purpose from before the foundation of the earth. God became human in Christ as part of the fulfillment of that purpose.

Likewise, Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and to follow him, just as He followed the Father in the fulfillment of God’s ultimate purpose.

This notion of entering into Christ’s suffering, and even rejoicing in suffering, was central to the message Paul preached. Suffering was also the familiar experience of early Christ followers.

As with Abraham, those early Christian knew they were not at home on this earth. They were waiting for a “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God“. Suffering in this life reminds us that we are not home yet. Our home lies beyond.

More importantly, God has a purpose, and His purpose includes us. Just as Abraham lived out his life in seeking to fulfill the purpose for which and to which God called him – by which he was going to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth – we are called to this greater purpose of God.

Most Christians in the western world know practically nothing about suffering for Christ. “Cancel culture” and political disagreements, are not the same as what Christ suffered or even what many Christians in other parts of the world suffer.

Not that we should wish suffering upon ourselves. The reality is, though, that we don’t really have a good personal and intimate sense of what it means to suffer, and to embrace suffering, as Paul and the early Christians experienced it. For that reason, perhaps, these words Paul spoke are not as poignant for us as they should be:

“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”

Romans 8:18

In the United States, we are tempted to fight back against the insults of the world, to assert our political, social, cultural, and even (sometimes) our physical power – to gain advantage. We do this “for the Church”, we say. We say, “We do it for God”, to put God back in schools, to save the family, to reclaim this nation for Christ, etc.

But is that really God’s greater purpose?

Continue reading “Called to the Purpose for which Christ Died”

People Are Enslaved to Whatever Defeats Them

God saves us to set us free from sin. We are meant for a freedom that empowers us to be good, knowledgeable, self-controlled, enduring, godly, filled with brotherly affection and with love.

The words that have become the title of this blog piece struck me in my daily Bible reading this morning. They are pulled from 2 Peter 2:19. I highlighted them in my digital Bible app.

We may tend to focus on the more encouraging provisions of the Bible and gloss over provisions like the one I am quoting here, but the Bible is a double-edged sword. It sometimes cuts to the marrow. It discerns and reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is living and active… if we let it in to our hearts to do its job.

I am convicted today, as I should be, and I am encouraged, because God, the Father, disciplines His children whom He loves. God watches out for the ones He loves. He warns us when we are straying into dangerous territory.

If we are paying attention and willing to respond, these warnings will protect us. If we rush headlong ahead, not heeding the warnings, as we are apt to do, we find ourselves entangled in difficulties that can threaten to undo us if we fail to repent and turn around.

Even then, the going can be difficult. Bad habits are easy to form and very difficult to break. If we go too far down the road with them, we find reversing course to be very difficult, indeed. Forming new, good habits is many times more difficult than the path we followed into those bad habits.

Bad habits are easy to form because they come from a place that is instinctual. They are outgrowths of natural tendencies of people who simply do “what feels good”.

Bad habits form from desires that are common to people – not necessarily bad desires. Evil isn’t a thing in itself. Evil is the corruption of good. Bad habits for when we seek to satisfy our desires in the easiest, most accessible, self-centered and least beneficial ways.

For instance, loving God and loving our neighbors – the two greatest commandments of God – are wrapped up in loving ourselves. If we don’t love ourselves, we have a hard time loving others. If we love others, we usually have an easy time loving ourselves. Loving God and loving people are intimately related to loving ourselves.

The popular idea of “self love”, getting some “me time”, and “focusing on myself”, however, can be a corruption of what is basically good. We are naturally self-centered. We naturally love ourselves more than others. When Jesus told us that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, he was implicitly acknowledging the fact that we are naturally focused on ourselves and our needs.

We instinctually love ourselves and seek what is best for us. We have to be purposeful, intentional and self-sacrificing to consider others, and especially to consider others ahead of ourselves. It isn’t natural, and, therefore, it isn’t easy.

Loving others isn’t hating ourselves; it’s learning to love others on the same level as we love ourselves. It is thinking of others on the same level as we think of ourselves.

Many people today are self-loathing, which is also a corruption of what is good. People who loath themselves are equally as self-absorbed as people who are corrupted in self-love.

We are made in God’s image, so to loathe ourselves is to loathe the very image of God. We shouldn’t confuse loving our neighbors as ourselves with loathing ourselves.

Self-loathing is a kind of self-centeredness. People who are self-loathing are self-absorbed in a negative way. Self-absorption and self-focus are a corruption of what is good, regardless of whether the result is pleasurable or painful.

The words of Jesus are transcendent. They direct our eyes away from ourselves to God and to others. When Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”, he is speaking to the reality that our self-focus (the burden of the self) traps us into unhealthy and ultimately destructive behaviors that are more of a burden than a help to us.

Such is the burden of sin. When we are unable to overcome sin, we are enslaved to it. As Peter says, “We are enslaved to whatever defeats us.” And so, I have come back to the focus of this blog piece: these words in 2 Peter 2:19.

Continue reading “People Are Enslaved to Whatever Defeats Them”

What Does It Mean that the Word of God Was Inspired by God and Received and Passed on By Men?

The Bible, itself, doesn’t claim to be one hundred percent, word for word, accurate (or even inerrant). The closest we get to a statement like that is that it is “God-breathed” (inspired), and that the people who were “inspired” by God received that inspiration and passed it on.

The written word of God was so important to the Jewish culture that scribes were a distinguished, respected and critical role in Jewish society. The importance of the painstaking process and precision with which they copied Torah, the Prophets and Writings was embedded into the foundation of Jewish culture going back to Moses.

Moses produced the Ten Commandments etched in stone. Those stone tablets were carefully placed into the Ark of the Covenant, carried with the nation of Israel as they traveled through the desert, and kept with ritual detail in the most sacred place in the Tent of Meeting wherever they came to rest.

Scribes who carefully and painstakingly copied Scripture were still honored at the top of Hebrew culture in the First Century when Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus, was trained as a Pharisee of Pharisees under Gamliel, the most respected scholar of his day.

For that reason, I find it interesting, to say the least, the way Paul described the process by which the word of God was given by God to the people. He would have been intimately acquainted with the disciplined, careful and thorough way a scribe would copy Scripture. Yet Paul says,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17

God-breathed, or inspired, is the way Paul described how people received God’s word and passed it on. If Paul wanted to convey the idea of dictation from God, as Muhammed claimed with the Quran, he would have likely described the process like a scribe taking dictation from God, but he didn’t.

I wrestled with what inspiration means in recent articles here and here. Given the way people like Paul described the way Scripture was conveyed and received, it is very likely he didn’t mean verbatim dictation from God.

Instructive are the other ways Scripture is characterized in the New Testament. Peter, for instance, wrote the following in his second epistle:

“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture becomes a matter of someone’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

2 Peter 1:21 (NASB)

Peter seems to be saying saying that the prophecy was not initiated by human agency, but by divine agency, and it was not interpreted by the people who were moved to communicate what was revealed. They simply communicated what they received.

The Greek word translated “moved” in this text is φέρω (pheró), meaning “to bear, carry, bring forth”. It has the same connotation as the idea of a conduit or conduction.

If Paul meant to say that the Word of God was “dictated” and copied down verbatim, like the scribes copied Scriptures, he would have likely used a word related to “scribe”, rather than inspiration or receipt, as in conduction.

Paul describes his own encounter with the risen Christ in this way. He says:

“For I would have you know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel which was preached by me is not of human invention. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” 

Galatians 1:11 (NIV)

Paul uses the same language in his first letter to the Corinthians when he says:

“For I handed down to you as of first importance what I also received….”

1 Corinthians 15:3 (NASB)

But what does it mean that the writers of Scripture were inspired, did not invent it, and passed (merely) on what they received without interpretation?

If they didn’t take “dictation” from God, what does it mean that God inspired men, and they passed on what they received?

Continue reading “What Does It Mean that the Word of God Was Inspired by God and Received and Passed on By Men?”

Perspective: As the Heavens Are Higher than the Earth

We can perceive and feel our way to understand that time had a beginning at the point of a quantum vacuum, but we can go no further even to perceive, but for speculation, what lies beyond. We are left to grasp by pure faith that God initiated the universe into being.

Photo from the James Webb Telescope

Perspective can make all the difference in the way we perceive and understand anything. Our view from a position under the canopy of a dense forest will be different than our view from a drone in the same location flying over the same forest canopy. The higher we fly that drone, the more our perspective expands and understanding of our location grows.

From a great height, we see the expanse and contours of the forest, the streams and rivers that run through and beyond it, the mountains in and the oceans in the distance where the forest transitions into the hills, the foothills, the mountains slopes and the peaks in one direction, and the openings, meadow, plains, and coastlands in another direction.

The higher we go and farther out we see, the more we see and understand the forest in relation to other geographical features that surround it and the savannas, valleys, deserts, and coastlands and oceans in the grater world beyond the forest.


“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:9


This verse has become so often quoted that it might seem trite to us. “Yea, yea!” we say. “We need to trust God. I get it.”

It’s hard to grasp and trust in the perspective God has from our place where light filters sparingly through the forest canopy. Our perspective is not much better in the barren expanse of a vast desert or on the waves of a vast ocean as far as the human eye can see. Knowing that the forest canopy, barren desert or vast ocean gives way to a different reality can seem like a small consolation from where we stand.

We have a harder time grasping and appreciating that God sees out over the universe where our planet sits tucked among other planets circling the sun in an opportune place in the Milky Way solar system where we peer out, however tentatively, into an expanse of other solar systems stretching out in all directions beyond our capabilities even to observe.

Ninety five percent of the universe we can see is comprised of dark matter and dark energy that we know exists, but we cannot even observe. Mystery surrounds us in every direction and beyond our capability to go or even to glimpse.

We can perceive and feel our way to understand that time had a beginning at the point of a quantum vacuum, but we can go no further even to perceive, but for speculation, what lies beyond. We are left to grasp by pure faith that God initiated the universe into being by His very Word and expends still into some unknown future and “void”.

Continue reading “Perspective: As the Heavens Are Higher than the Earth”