Someone recently commented that manger scenes and songs about the Baby Jesus don’t pose the same sort of threat as other Christian topics do. After all, what could be more appealing than a cuddly infant full of childlike innocence? The story Luke narrates lends itself to sentimental Christmas cards and adorable Sunday School pageants that often cause the most secular eye to moisten just a bit. It seems like these days there’s always “room at the inn” for Baby Jesus.
The Jesus Who calls out sin and commands repentance isn’t quite as lovable to the world. Good Friday and Easter Sunday don’t receive anywhere near the attention that we give Christmas, even though those two holidays celebrate the heart of the Gospel message. Unlike Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Sunday confront us with our sin as well as with Christ’s authority as the risen Savior and Lord. Therefore, Christmas feels much safer, focusing on “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
The sentimentality of the Christmas story, however, gets upset by Matthew, as he writes about the Magi who journey from the East searching for the newly born king of the Jews (please read Matthew 2:1-18). Obviously, I can’t quote the entire passage here. And even if I could, I prefer not to bog myself down in a discussion of the Magi themselves. Rather, I want to concentrate on King Herod and his terror at the announcement that a king of the Jews had been born near Jerusalem.
Over the years, various people have described me as opinionated. Yes. I certainly am. And sometimes, my opinions are actually grounded in Scripture, making them right. Being opinionated, though often considered as a negative personality trait, can show that a person knows what he or she believes and why he or she believes it. Such certainty may be arrogant, or (depending on the context) it may reveal confident wisdom.
Hopefully my opinions reveal confident wisdom.
If you subscribe to The Outspoken TULIP, you may wonder why I haven’t written a word about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Surely someone as opinionated as I would have plenty to say about this situation, and would come out swinging! I usually do things like that.
The invasion does trouble me. John and I have acquaintances from Ukraine who left their parents and siblings to build a life for their children here in Massachusetts. We attended church with them, often entertained by their little boy’s absolute fascination with John. Just a year ago, the mother spent considerable time in Ukraine visiting a sick family member. So when I heard the initial rumblings about the invasion, I began praying for her family and her husband’s family.
You’ve all heard it: “My God would never [fill in the blank]!”
When someone takes offense at a Biblical statement, that’s often the default response. The person doesn’t care what the Bible says about God’s nature; she simply wants God to fit into her preconceived notions of Who she thinks He should be. Sometimes she’ll even picture Him as a She. In essence, people who tell others about their God really believe in a god of their own making.
The God of the Bible, in contrast, has never tolerated such foolishness. As a matter of fact, He opens the Ten Commandments with a clear statement that we must worship Him instead of worshiping gods of our own imagination.
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. ~~Exodus 20:2-6 (NASB95)
Starting with verse 5, God explains His reasons for forbidding idolatry by revealing a few aspects of His character. The first aspect focuses on His jealousy, which few people would dream up if they invented an object of worship.
Until recently, having Cerebral Palsy was little more than a nuisance to me. It always rather shocked me to hear people refer to me as having a severe case. Although I obviously knew that I can’t walk, use my hands or speak clearly, I focused on all my abilities and accomplishments to such a degree that I saw little distinction between myself and others. School and church friends pretty much included me in all their activities, allowing me to feel as if I had a sizeable amount of control in my life. Looking back, I’m forced to acknowledge that I developed quite a sense of pride in my apparent normalcy.
Lately, circumstances have changed my perception of my control. Possibly due to the current health and economic mayhem overtaking the world right now, I’m having trouble getting a weekend Personal Care Attendant, and my weekday PCA often has legitimate reasons for having to call out. The Lord always provides help at least once a day, but sometimes it means I can only get up to use the bathroom. Snowstorms especially confine me to bed, leaving me feeling helpless and vulnerable,
That vulnerability makes me wonder why I struggle so much with the sin of pride.
The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus seems straightforward on the surface. Jesus said that, in order to see the kingdom of God, one must be born again. (John 3:3-7). At least, it did when I was a new Christian.
As a newly saved teenager, I latched on to that passage, zealously quoting it to family and friends in my attempts to strongarm them into salvation. At that time, I believed that I could claim credit for “accepting” Jesus, and I consequently thought I’d made the choice to be born again. I understood John 3:7 as an imperative command rather than as a cause and effect principle. In my mind, someone needed to make a decision to believe in Jesus so that he or she could experience the new birth. Much of the teaching I received back then only reinforced my misunderstanding of the passage.
During my college years, Jimmy Carter popularized the phrase “born-again Christian” as he campaigned for the presidency. One evening, as she got me ready to visit a neighbor’s church service, my mom asked me to explain what Jimmy Carter, my neighbor and I meant by this seemingly new terminology. I merely quoted John 3:3-7, secretly relieved that I didn’t have time to really explain it. Yes, relieved — because deep down I knew that, although I had been born again, I didn’t understand how it actually worked. The expanded passage frustrated me by failing to detail what a person needed to do to make the new birth happen.
All these beloved Christmas hymns exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, boldly proclaiming Who He is and why He came. Since my childhood, I’ve cherished each of them, growing more fond of them once I became a Christian. I love these hymns because they celebrate God’s incarnation. All Christians probably love them for the same reason.
Another beloved Christmas hymn stands out to me as perhaps the one that most magnifies Who Jesus Christ is. Its lyrics beautifully portray His glory and His humility. Maybe the other hymns I’ve mentioned do the same, but this hymn strikes a chord with me far more deeply. Over the years, it seems to grow more profound and wonderous in its depiction of the mighty God as the offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Enjoy these powerful lyrics that exalt our precious Lord Who was born to give us second birth. May your Christmas be filled with glory to the newborn King!
When I posted my first installment of the Keys To Discernment Bible Study on Colossians back in January, I was excited. I had spent several months working through the text. I read commentaries, took notes and acquainted myself with the text. Colossians is my favorite book of the Bible, and the thought of teaching it thrilled me.
When I broke my back at the end of February, obviously I had to discontinue the series for a while. But as my strength returned, I rebooted the series and then managed to write a couple new installments. I covered my very favorite passage of Scripture:
Originally published January 25, 2018. My dear friend Ginny reminded me of this article after getting me up yesterday and witnessing the terrible pain I’ve been experiencing lately,
When doctors discovered that I had serious birth defects, they advised my mother to put me in an institution and forget she ever had me. According to them, I’d be a vegetable my entire life. (Thus John refers to me as his spicy little tomato.) Thankfully, Mom rejected their counsel, put me through college and lived to see me get married a month before my 49th birthday.
My mother didn’t raise a turnip, thank you very much!
All joking aside, I understand that the doctors sincerely believed they made a humane recommendation. Certainly, because they doubted that I had cognitive function, they concluded that I couldn’t possibly tell the difference between a loving home and an institution. And, more importantly (from their perspective), my parents would be spared the anguish of having a severely disabled child.
Mom knew that doctors aren’t God. They have limited powers in predicting an infant’s future. So she brought me home and proceeded to make my childhood as normal and happy as possible. When one teacher told her I’d never go to high school, she informed him that she fully intended for me to attend college. When my occupational therapist insisted that she tell me I’d never marry, she countered, “I can’t tell her something that I don’t know myself.”
Those chilling words, “Put her in an institution and forget you ever had her,” horrified my mother. They horrify me. They horrify everyone who hears the story, as well they should! Doctors have no right to predict a baby’s future and advise a new mother to put the baby away. Had Mom followed their recommendation, both of us would have suffered for the rest of our lives.
I praise God for His sovereignty in giving me a mother who refused to give up her dreams for me. Cerebral Palsy definitely has its challenges, I admit, but the Lord has blessed me with a joyful life.
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. ~~Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)
Thinking about the doctors’ prediction 64 years ago makes me think about present-day doctors who, on the basis of prenatal tests, recommend abortion to women carrying children with potential birth defects. Typically, they reason that such children, in addition to imposing an enormous financial and emotional burden on the family, would needlessly suffer a low quality of life.
But how can anyone accurately predict the future of a baby who is still in the womb, even if genetic testing indicates birth defects? Perhaps a child will be nothing more than a vegetable, but even then, God might have a purpose for that life. As a matter of fact, He used such a man to bring me to repentance of self-pity.
Usually, however, children born with birth defects exceed expectations and live full, productive lives. Aborting them simply because of possible disabilities (especially when the extent of those disabilities couldn’t possibly be determined until well into childhood) seems both arrogant and cruel. Using potential disability as a rationale for aborting a child is horrifying to me.
Actually, the rationale for aborting any child is horrifying to me.
Some of my childhood memories come back as complete narratives. Every detail remains vivid, as does the progression of events. As a storyteller, I particularly enjoy recounting these memories, though John has heard all those stories so many times that I’m sure he’s sick of them.
Other childhood memories come in fragments, with both moments of sharp detail and many more moments so blurred that I can’t distinguish actual events from my guesses of what might or might not have happened. It’s one of those partial memories that I want to share with you today.
I originally posted this article on July 15, 2016. Aside from the particular events mentioned in the first few paragraphs, the thoughts seem all that much more relevant to the situation in 2020. See whether or not you agree.
Still struggling to evaluate my thoughts on the black men who were killed in Minnesota and Louisiana, as well as the police officers who were killed in Dallas, I watched last night’s news of the terrorist attack in Nice and felt numb. How do we absorb all these horrific events?
I didn’t want to blog about Minnesota and Louisiana until more facts became clear. Too often, I’ve made comments on past blogs, Facebook and Twitter before I really understood all angles of whatever situation I happened to opine about. I’d therefore resolved to start holding my metaphorical tongue until I actually developed a decent idea of the matter at hand. Yes, I risk being misunderstood as indifferent to the world around me. But being misjudged beats making misjudgments, as I see it.