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”

Lift Up Your Eyes for Perspective and Purpose

Though God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, God invites us into his perspective and purpose.

We live “under the sun”, as the writer of Ecclesiastes describes our existence, filled with existential angst.  We live year by year, month by month, week by week, day by day, and moment by moment. The inertia of our lives is focused on the here and now, with our dying always looming in the near distance like a great mountain range rising up to the clouds we cannot conquer.

Our perspective is limited. It is finite. We stand at any given time on a small planet in a small solar system in one of billions of galaxies that exist in a universe. We stand “under the sun”, and our perspective, therefore, limited.

“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)

That verse from Isaiah is a way of saying that God has a different perspective than we do. God has a purpose, and he invites us to consider the difference between His perspective and ours. He desires for us to seek to understand His perspective and to align with His purpose.

When Jesus says my yoke is easy and my burden is light, I believe he was encouraging us, at least in part, to understand and to adopt his perspective and his purpose. Our momentary lives include existential angst, dread, suffering and pain, but God has a purpose and a plan for us that is greater than what we see and experience under the sun, and it is liberating!

I see three concrete examples in scripture of the difference between God’s perspective and purpose and ours. (I am sure there are many more.) As God invites us to consider that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways, I think it is appropriate to consider and meditate on these three examples.

Continue reading “Lift Up Your Eyes for Perspective and Purpose”

An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences: Part 1

The first part of an interview with a secular, materialist scientist who studies near-death experiences.

In the second episode of a two-part series near-death experiences (NDEs), Dr. Michael Guillen interviewed Dr. Bruce Greyson, the Chester Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, on the subject. I wrote about the first episode in which Michael Guillen reviewed evidence that NDEs are “real”.

They really happen, and they happen all over the world, in all cultures of the world, and going back in time. We have enough data to indicate that they are a real phenomenon with certain characteristics that can be studied in the data.

In his second episode focusing on NDEs, Dr. Guillen, an astrophysicist, interviewed Dr. Greyson, who has studied NDEs for decades with scientific rigor and published many articles in peer-reviewed journals. I have linked the 40-minute conversation here:

Guillen began by asking for a definition of near-death experience. Greyson defined them by saying they are “profound, subjective experiences” that people have when they are on the threshold of death.

Characteristics include a sense of leaving the physical body and an overwhelming sense of peace and wellbeing. They sometimes include an experience of leaving this physical realm and an experience of some other dimension or realm. People often describe encounters with other entities they interpret to be deities or divine beings. They often involve a review of their own lives in detail, and many of them conclude with a decision to return to life or being “sent back” against their will. 

Dr. Greyson speculates that the experiences suggest some sort of intermediate state between life and death. All of this may seem particularly unscientific, though.

These conclusions seem like the stuff of pseudoscience or metaphysics, but Dr. Greyson grew up in a scientific household with a materialistic worldview. He had no spiritual or religious familiarity. His background is science, and he still admits that he is more comfortable with a materialist mindset in which the physical world is all there is and everything else is simply fantasy.

Dr. Greyson’s has been trained and works within a scientific framework, but he no longer dismisses NDEs as fantasy. Something happened in his life that caused him to spend the last 50 years studying the phenomenon to try to make sense of it.

Continue reading “An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences: Part 1”

Are Near Death Experiences Real?

I recently listened to episode #47 on the podcast by the Dr. Michael Guillen in which he explored the latest scientific research on near death experiences (NDEs). Michael Guillen is a former Harvard physics professor. You can listen to the half hour episode through Spotify at this link:

I have written on the research by Gary Habermas on NDEs. I chased down a rabbit hole to follow the NDE of an atheist. I also did a candid piece on what NDEs prove and what NDEs do not prove. My fascination with NDEs continues in this article with some of the basic conclusions Dr. Guillen notes from his look at NDEs.

He acknowledges from the start that scientific study of NDEs provides few clear answers. Even defining something as seemingly simple as death has become more difficult, rather than simpler, over time. We have gotten so good at reviving people that people we once thought were dead have been brought back to life.

Most people today define death synonymously with brain death. When brain activity ceases is when death is declared. Even patients who cease brain activity, however, sometimes go on living in fashion. Circulation and breathing may continue, the body may continue to regulate temperature, and the body may continue to excrete urine and feces for instance.

Determining the exact time of death is not an exact science. Dr. Guillen calls death “the ultimate mystery”. Death has been the focus of poets, writers, prophets, and scientists for centuries. For millennia, civilized societies have built elaborate rituals around death and the hope of life after death. Recent scientific studies have begun to shed some light on death.

Continue reading “Are Near Death Experiences Real?”