Was Jesus an ugly baby?

He had no stately form or majesty to attract us, no beauty that we should desire Him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. 

Isaiah 3:2-3 (Berean Study Bible)

Okay, I know, I know, no baby is ugly, at least not to its mother, but some babies are obviously more attractive than others. Reading this passage in the book of Isaiah, where he describes the Messiah to come, I wondered why in every representation of Jesus Christ, from medieval paintings to modern films, we see an obviously handsome man.

Could it be that our knowledge of the life and character of this man colors our every thought of Him and it won’t allow us to think of Him as less than beautiful?

I wonder how our interactions with those around us would change if we were to judge each other based upon life and character, rather than external appearance. And how would we change our own behavior if we knew we were only being judged the same way? Would we spend less time and money on fashions and polishing our looks and more on building our character into the closest copy of Christ possible?

As you gaze upon the babe in the manger this season, look past the infant’s chubby cheeks to the heart within and His loving sacrifice to come.

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Christmas is a time to love

One of my favorite Sunday school Christmas songs has such a powerful message, one especially apt for today’s current climate of hostility and easy offense. Perhaps if we all kept this little ditty in the forefront of our minds, we might have a truly peaceful and joyous Christmas.

If you begin to worry or stress this month, call this song to mind and fill your heart with gratitude and love.

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear

1 John 4:18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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Fridays, black and good

While lolling on the sofa in a turkey and pumpkin pie induced stupor, my thoughts turned to Black Friday.

Most of us are aware that Black Friday is called that because it is traditionally the date when merchants were finally in the black, financially. It was the semi-official start to the Christmas Shopping Season. In recent years, the chaotic stampedes to be first through the door to get the latest deal have given the name a darker meaning.

In order to try to avoid having their eager customers trampled to death, stores began opening earlier and earlier until now, many of the sales begin on Thanksgiving Day itself, turning a day meant to be spent with family and friends giving thanks for what we already have, into just another shopping spree. Black Friday, indeed.

Another notable Friday that many wonder about is Good Friday, when Christians remember Christ’s brutal crucifixion. People sometimes ask why this day should be called “good” when it is all about death. Shouldn’t this day be called something more like Black Friday, instead?

Unlike Black Friday, a day based on materialism, Good Friday is the day of our spiritual salvation. Without Christ’s sacrifice on that day, there would have been no Resurrection. The process which begins with Christmas is fulfilled on Easter.

Although many disregard the spiritual meaning of the holiday, the Christmas shopping frenzy beginning on Black Friday wouldn’t even exist without the blessing of Good Friday.

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” 

2 Cor. 9:15

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Giving thanks for what you don’t have

Do you ever deal with disappointment by saying, “Oh well, I can’t have everything?”  Do you forget to add a heartfelt, “Thank God?”

When we moan about the things we hope for which don’t come our way, we sometimes forget to be grateful for what we do have, and to be even more grateful for all the painful things we haven’t had to face.

No matter what blessings we receive, we can always find someone else who seems to have received more or better. It is equally true that no matter how ill-treated we may feel at times, if we open our eyes we will see much greater suffering all around us.

While we’re not meant to have everything we may want, if we are prayerfully obedient, God does provide everything we need to fulfill His plan in our lives. 

If you are feeling resentful, deprived, or disappointed with your life right now, you might be surprised at how your feelings may change if you take this Thanksgiving week to truly count your blessings; both those things you have and those you have not.

Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18
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Some thoughts on Justice, social and otherwise

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (ESV)

We hear a lot these days about social justice. In fact for some the very phrase, “social justice warrior,” is synonymous with radical groups trying to push their agenda on others. Where is the justice in that?

Justice is the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; treating all as equally worthy of respect and honor. Pushing our ideas on those who disagree with us is not a respectable or honorable act.

Whenever Christians want to promote justice in the world, we must remember that all our actions should be kind, respectful, and honoring of God. Treating everyone as equally worthy of the kindly respect we want for ourselves is one of the ways we can walk humbly, remembering that this is what God requires of us.

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Praying for others

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:5-13 (NIV)

In the past, when reading the above parables, I thought it was about persistence in prayer and the generosity of the Father. I was focused on myself. Reading these verses recently, I was struck by the fact that the friend in the night was asking for food for his guest, not for himself.

Could it be that Jesus was encouraging us to pray for others with shameless audacity? This would support the view some hold that intercessory prayer is especially effective, perhaps because it is more unselfish than prayers for our own needs.

As I mused over my new insight, something else hit me; the friend asked his neighbor to give the bread into his hands to give to the guest, rather than giving it directly to the house guest. Could this mean that our prayers for others should include the request that God give to us the means to alleviate the needs for which we pray?

God knows how to give His children good gifts, indeed, and one of the best gifts is the ability to help others.

Here’s a thought: The next time you find yourself praying for others, rather than putting the need before God and walking away, ask the Lord to use you to fill the need and to give you the wherewithal to do it.

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Enjoy the sweetness

The beginning of the holiday season always brings to mind memories of popcorn balls, caramel apples, and old-fashioned homemade candies of all kinds. 

Did you ever pull taffy as a child? Homemade pulled taffy was quite a production. Not only did we have to get the ingredients to just the right temperature, but to get the desired results we had to pull it while it was still hot. With well-buttered hands we’d tentatively grab a chunk of the taffy, knowing that it may burn a bit, but eager to see the golden ropes twist and lighten and reach absolute perfection before cooling. This thrilling process was a large part of the enjoyment of this precious confection, and it was absolutely necessary in order to change the sugar mixture into the candy of our dreams.

Have you ever felt a bit pulled and twisted during the holidays just like that sweet candy?

The annual holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve bring with them not only warm memories, but a generous helping of stress, as well. The demands and expectations from family, friends, and even ourselves, can make us feel pulled in several directions at once as we try to create delicious, golden experiences.

That wise ancient, the Apostle Paul, advises us to practice having contentment in all circumstances.

… for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Philippians 4:11

He says he learned to be content and he faced some pretty harrowing circumstances. In his letters he explains that he was able to be content because he always “kept his eye on the prize,” the delightful reward he looked forward to, while trusting the Lord to take care of the details.

If I can follow his example this year, perhaps I can avoid the stress and worry of this busy season. I can practice contentment in the journey, anticipating the joy and peace of the season, without getting caught up in trying to replicate some nostalgic perfection.

Just as with the taffy of yesteryear, trying to force circumstances into some perfect fantasy can result in burnt fingers. Be content to let the days roll by, focusing on what is truly important this year, and you may have a sweet, stress-free reward.

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What’s your power source?

I live in Northern California, so I’m one of the thousands of people subjected to Pacific Gas and Electric’s rolling blackouts. We’ve just received notice of another planned electrical outage over this weekend. I’m not looking forward to another forty-eight hours without electricity, but at least I’m on city water. Many of my rural neighbors must rely on wells and cannot access water without electricity to power their pumps.

For a good many people, life without electricity is much worse than an inconvenience. Loss of income, loss of communication when the cell towers are down, and even threats to health accompany these outages. My own son was involved in a minor collision as the result of inactive traffic lights during the first major outage.

There are many opinions as to how we’ve reached such a situation, but what I’ve been thinking about is how dependent we have become on a single source of power. And how vulnerable we are.

While electricity is the primary power source in my physical world, the Lord God is my power provider in the spiritual realm. How fortunate are those of us who rely on Him every day and never need to worry about a blackout of His love.

Those who can afford them are turning to portable generators to see them through during these rolling blackouts. Christians can get a power boost from the Scriptures whenever we need one.

Our regional electrical utility company has let us down in California.

Praise God He will never fail us.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6
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Who do you say you are?

This morning I saw the results of another survey showing the steep decline in people identifying themselves as Christian. While I am skeptical about putting too much faith in polls and surveys in general, this is still a disappointing trend.

The results of any survey depend upon the representational accuracy of the sampling polled, and I don’t know where these responses came from, but I’ve seen similar results published for decades. As a Bible-believing Christian I am concerned and wonder what could be driving this trend.

I believe a major influence is the increasingly hostile environment toward Christianity in our culture. For most of our history as a country, being American was practically synonymous with being a Christian. As our culture, and especially the education system, have become more progressive, the values taught in Christian homes are often undermined and overwhelmed by what is taught in the classroom. Today, being Christian has gone from being “not cool” to being a target for all sorts of spurious attacks. When surveyed, it takes courage to declare oneself a Christian in such an atmosphere. The survey may claim to be anonymous and confidential, but we’ve all seen what technology has done to confidentiality.

Who do you say you are?

When you add to this the lukewarm nature of many of our churches, the lack of involvement of parents in their children’s religious training, and the years of the media treating Christians as either ridiculously deluded or dangerous, it is not hard to understand the declining number of declared Christians.

On the other hand, is it possible, as I suspect, that the actual percentage of true Christians has remained fairly stable throughout the years? There have always been cultural Christians, as there are cultural Jews, Muslims, and others who simply go along with the dominant culture, without believing the tenets of their faith. There was a time in the U.S. when to many people being Christian simply meant being an honest, upstanding citizen, not that you believed the Bible or had placed your trust in Jesus Christ. That is no longer true.

Is it possible that the sixty-something percent result on today’s survey reflects the number of dedicated Christ-followers; those unashamed of their faith? If so, it would probably be an increase. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.

Luke 12:8

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The lost art of humility

[Originally Posted on November 3, 2017]

I frequently hear the lament that in the age of cell phones and social media conversation is becoming a lost art. It’s common to see a group of people sitting together, eyes glued to their phones and thumbs twitching, as they interact on-line, rather than face-to-face. In the process, our society is losing a sense of intimacy and personal empathy. An even greater loss, and one I think is responsible for much of the current coarseness and hostility in our society, is the absence of genuine humility.

After decades of the “have it your way” and “I’m worth it” philosophy underscored by an educational system with a focus on building self-esteem rather than capability, a me-first mindset has infected our culture. Rather than humble gratitude for our blessings, we are an entitled mob marching roughshod over others with a huge chip balanced precariously on its shoulder, on the constant look-out for slights to which we can become outraged.

While a mass of self-important people, each one convinced he or she is the most entitled, may influence the culture in the name of working together for a common goal, each individual in the mass feels more entitled than the others. Look at the flow of evil oozing out of Hollywood when the sex abuse scandals burst into the open: this is what happens when someone feels entitled to use others. The self-entitled inevitably step on each other while clamoring to the top of the heap.

What’s the antidote to this painful situation? Humility.  A humble person respects all people as being equally worthy of respect. A humble person is grateful, not demanding. A humble person gives the other guy the benefit of the doubt.

Walk humbly

Genuine humility may be a lost art, but it is one anyone can learn by sitting at the feet of the Master.

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