How I Prayed for the Impeachment Trial

I have Christian friends who prayed that President Trump would be acquitted by the Senate.  I also have Christian friends who prayed that President Trump would be removed from office by the Senate.  Which way did I pray?  Neither!

I think both of those prayers were misguided.  Brash statement, I know, but stay with me. You see, I believe those prayers were theologically misguided, Let me explain: One of the foundational truths of the Bible is what we call, free will.  That is, God has gifted to every human being the ability to make choices. 

This teaching begins in Genesis 2 when God created Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden.  Verse 19 says, “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  That is the first recorded instance of a human getting to make choices.   In my own mind, I can picture God nodding his approval at some choices… and laughing at others.  I believe he enjoyed watching the pinnacle of his creation exercising the gift of free will!

But this gift of free will was intended to extend far beyond such relatively trivial topics. Free will also extended to moral choices.  In Genesis 2:16-17, God had said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  In Genesis 3:6 we read, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”  They ate from the very tree from which they had been told not to eat.   The All-powerful Creator of the Universe who had forbidden they eat from that tree, certainly could have stopped them from eating from that tree.  But he didn’t.  He could have placed an invisible force field.  Or, more in line with our topic, he could have made them choose not to!  But he didn’t. 

God gave to humanity the gift of free will.  There is no Biblical reason to believe he ever withdrew that gift.  Time and time again we read of God giving commands only to have them disobeyed.  He simply does not make humans do what he wants.  It is true that he sometimes makes it hard to disobey; just read the story of Jonah or the story of Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9.  But he doesn’t manipulate minds to force conformity to his will. 

Here’s my point:  To pray that the Senate acquit the President or remove the President was to pray that God would make them vote a particular way.  It would in essence be to pray that God would override their free will.  I think that is misguided praying. 

So how did I pray?  I prayed in keeping with my belief in free will.  I prayed that God would give each senator wisdom, clarity of thought and mind, and that the Spirit would impress upon each of them clear direction as to how they ought to vote. 

When it was time to vote, what they did with that wisdom, clarity of thought and mind, and Spirit-given direction was entirely up to them.  God designed it that way. 

A Call for a Christlike Immigration Policy

For over a century, at the base of the Statue of Liberty, we have proudly exhibited the historic principle upon which we have become who we are: 

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…”

As a nation, we are now implementing a new immigration policy that flies in the face of that historic principle.  The new policy is aimed at screening out the less fortunate and only welcoming the healthier, wealthier, higher educated, higher skilled, and those from the “right” countries.

In a twisted application of President Kennedy’s revered words, the new policy asks not what we can do for others but asks what others can do for us.  In short, the new policy is a self-seeking, selfish policy of prioritizing our own needs while ignoring the needs of those around us.

Furthermore, for those interested in the idea of the United States being a nation with a foundation of Christian values and principles, this new policy not only flies in the face of our historical principle as stated above but also flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching.  Consider Jesus’ words in these two passages:

 “Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’” (Luke 14:12-14, NIV)

 “And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:33-36, NIV)

In these passages, Jesus was concerned about more than financial planning or dinner parties.  Jesus was giving us a life principle:  As his followers, we should love—and show it through kindness and generosity— to those unable or even unwilling (Jesus spoke of our “enemies”) to reciprocate.  As he himself summed it up, he was teaching us to, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 

The Apostle Paul reiterated and affirmed this principle in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

While that might sound ideal and look good on paper, isn’t it risky?  Dangerous? Unsafe? Costly? 

Yes, it is risky, dangerous, unsafe, and costly.  Jesus’ life led to his death and the truth is, living like him is risky and costly.  As Jesus said, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)  And he repeated the principle, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24)

The question we need to cerebrate (“think deeply, ponder, turn over in your mind”), and pray about, is this: Is our position on this issue being formed more by our own logic and natural desire for comfort and security or by the teachings and example of Jesus?

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, January 19th

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached or heard on a previous Sunday.)

One hundred years ago we began a new decade that came to be known as, The Roaring Twenties! It was so named due to the tumultuous nature of that decade.

Thinking about the decade that lies before us, I suggest that with intentionality we strive to make it our own personal, Soaring Twenties!

Isaiah 40:28-31 says,

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Too often on our spiritual journey we grow tired and weary and we stumble and fall. Wouldn’t it be great if instead we could SOAR on wings like eagles? Run and not grow weary? Walk and not be faint? To say that would be great would be an understatement.

The good news is, is that it is entirely possible! Isaiah gives the key: “Put your hope in the Lord!”

This passage has also been translated as, “wait up on the Lord.” The term translated as hope or wait comes from a family of synonyms that also include the ideas believe in, trust, long for, and faith. Dr. John Hartley said the meaning is, “Enduring patiently in confident hope that God will decisively act for the salvation of his people.”

To restate it: No matter what else this potentially tumultuous decade may hold, endure patiently, hoping, believing, and waiting for God to decisively act! If you do that, for you, this will be the SOARING TWENTIES!

A Sermon Echo from Sunday, January 6th

(A “Sermon Echo” is a short reminder or elaboration of something I preached or heard on a previous Sunday.)

This special edition, devotional, Sermon Echo is based on Pastor Chelsie’s Epiphany Sunday message.

Epiphany is a day on the Christian calendar set aside to commemorate the visit of the Magi (the Wise Men). The word, epiphany, means revealing or revelation. It’s use in this case is based on the idea that the Magi’s visit to revealed that Jesus was Lord to the whole world,

The Jews had long expected the Messiah or the Christ. His advent (arrival) was a great event. But notice that all involved were Jews, It’s what one would expect for a Jewish Savior.

But Jesus wasn’t supposed to be the Savior for just the Jews. As far back as Genesis 3, when Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was first chosen and called, God had promised that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him. The angel that visited the shepherds proclaimed that Jesus’ birth was good news that would bring great joy to all the people.

Jesus was a Jew, he entered the world through the Jewish nation in a Jewish setting and was surrounded by Jews. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna; all Jews. But Jesus hadn’t come for the Jews alone. The visit of the Magi helped to reveal that all important truth!

A Savior for the Jews would have been big news. But the visit of the Magi revealed the true scope and scale of what God was doing. Jesus was the Savior of the whole world. That isn’t just big, it’s ENORMOUSLY HUGE!

Let this remind of two things:

First, since most of my readers are Gentiles (not Jews), celebrate and be thankful that Jesus is YOUR Savior, not just the Jews’ Savior.

Secondly, in somewhat of a reversal, now that you know he is your Savior, remember that he is not just your Savior but EVERYONE’S Savior. Your Christian friends, of course, but not just them. Also, your non-Christian family, neighbors and co-workers. Also, all those of other races from you, other nationalities from you, even other religions from you. Of course, many of them either haven’t head the good news or they haven’t accepted the good news. He came to be their Savior too. Those of us who have heard and accepted this good news have the responsibility to help tell and persuade those who haven’t.

Epiphany doesn’t get the attention it should!

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Yesterday we looked at an encounter between the Mary, Joseph, the infant Jesus and Simeon.  Right after that meeting, the trio met another person. 

“There was also a prophet, Anna… She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38)

There was a Jewish principle from the Old Testament that, “every matter must be established by two or three witnesses.”  At one point, Jesus even quoted that principle.   Anna, following Simeon, makes witness number two! 

To what was she a witness?  Notice that speaking to people, “who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem,” Anna, “spoke about the child to them.”  Think about the implication of that:  Like Simeon, Anna also somehow knew that this infant was no ordinary infant, but a Savior.  She had connected the dots between this child and redemption and she witnessed to that truth.

But how was she able to connect the dots?  I think it was her devotion.  Broadcast signals are all around us nonstop but you need a receiver tuned to the right frequency to get those signals.  Anna was spiritually, “tuned in,” to what God was doing.  How does one tune in?  Spiritual disciplines!  Anna’s example includes things like prayer, fasting, giving thanks and worship. 

God is still on the move.  Keep yourself spiritually in a place where you’ll recognize it.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas

We call the things we want to do before we, “kick the bucket,” our bucket list.  My bucket list includes things like, “visit all fifty states.”   Simeon was an old man by the time Joseph and Mary made their trip to Bethlehem.  His bucket list was short but huge!  That is, there was apparently only one item, but it was a massive item.  Thinking about it makes me think my own list is too shallow and ought to be reconsidered. 

Luke puts it this way, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel…” (Luke 2:25)  It was a dark and distressing time for Simeon’s people, brought low by sinfulness. Simeon wanted to see that reversed.  

I don’t know if I’ll make it to all fifty states or not.  For Simeon it was different.  “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (Luke 2:26)  There’s an important implication there.  Specifically, it was the coming of the Messiah (Hebrew version of Christ) that would bring the consolation of Israel.  To wait for one, was to wait for the other.

The rest of the story: 

“Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:  ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:  a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’”

Simeon’s bucket list was complete!  At God’s urging through the Spirit he had crossed paths with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  He realized (I believe God revealed it to him) that this infant was the Messiah he had been waiting for.  Apparently, holding the divine infant flipped on another light switch in his mind.  He had been waiting for God to send necessary help for his own people Israel but now seemed to understand that the Messiah was bringing salvation not just for Israel but for the Gentiles (everyone else) too.

Think of Simeon’s faith to believe that little helpless infant he held in his arms was the Savior for the whole world!   When you think about the birth of Jesus, don’t forget just how incredible and profound that is. 

On the Tenth Day of Christmas

Yesterday’s devotional talked about the shepherds giving us an example to follow because they took action and went to Bethlehem. That’s not the only good example they gave us.  Consider three more.

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:17-20)

First, notice the words, “they spread the word.”  Good news is to be shared.  The shepherds seemed to have done so spontaneously.  They just automatically began telling their story. As Christians we are specifically commissioned (ordered) to spread the word. 

Secondly, notice the words, “the shepherds returned.”  This seems rather elementary but after any spiritual encounter, we should return!  Back to our ordinary lives.  Back to our family.  Back to our jobs.  The vast, vast majority of Christians are not called to cloister themselves away in a chapel somewhere.  We are called to return to the world.

Thirdly, notice the words, “glorifying and praising God…”  I suspect that too often we take blessings for granted and forget to give credit where credit is due.  We don’t have to be literally singing all the time but we ought always to be glorifying and praising God.

At Christmas we often talk about the shepherds AND the wise men.  The truth is, the shepherds were wise men and we’d be wise to follow their example.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas

The night Jesus was born an angel appeared to some nearby shepherds and told them about Jesus being born in Bethlehem and how the sign would be a baby wrapped in strips of cloths and lying in a manger.  The story doesn’t end there.  Luke continues:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

It is hard to fathom what it must have been like for those shepherds.  It was super exciting!  First the good news of great joy for all people, the news of the birth of the Savior and him lying in a manger.  That was followed up with the visit from the angelic choir praising God.  It is exactly what is meant by the expression, emotional mountaintop. 

But notice what comes next:  “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” (Luke 2:15)

The shepherds didn’t just sit around and bask in their good feelings.  They immediately took appropriate action!   The next verse says, “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (Luke 2:16)

There is an example there for us to follow.  There is a sense in which the whole Christmas season is a spiritual mountaintop.  (There is also a sense in which every worship gathering is a spiritual high point.)  I have observed that sometimes we are tempted to bask in the glory of those times but then not take appropriate action!  Think about it…  Have you ever “enjoyed the sermon” then neglected to apply it to your life?   The next time, you have a spiritual high point, hurry off and do the appropriate thing (whatever that is).

On the Eighth Day of Christmas

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.” (Luke 2:21)

When my wife and I were expecting our children we spent massive amounts of time choosing their names.  There were all kinds of factors that entered into our decision-making process.  It was much easier for Mary and Joseph.  Luke tells us that they used the name the angel had given him.  Luke is referencing a story that Matthew wrote about.  “… an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:20-21)

The English name Jesus comes to us from a Hebrew name, having first passed through a couple other languages along the way. If it had come directly from Hebrew it would have been Joshua.  But the name was first translated into Greek, and from Greek it was adapted into Latin, and then from Latin to English.  In other words, when it comes to its meaning, Jesus and Joshua are the same name. 

The original Hebrew name back in the Old Testament meant, “God saves.” The New Testament Greek form is basically, “God is salvation.”  In other words, because Joseph was obedient and used the name the angel gave him, Jesus’ very name expresses the truths that he is God incarnate and that he is our Savior!  Remember that whenever you say or hear his name.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

On the night Jesus was born, an angel appeared to some nearby shepherds and said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)  The angel continued and told them the specifics of the good news:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  The angel went on to say that there would be a sign (signal) for this good news that would be the cause of great joy for all the people.

For such a huge, significant event it is fitting that there would be a sign!  This time of year, when I think of a sign to signify an event I can’t help but think the New Years Eve Ball Drop in Times Square.  It’s a sign that’s big and fancy.  The kind of sign that is fitting for the occasion.  So what kind of sign would be fitting to signal the birth of the Savior of the world? A sign that is big and fancy, of course.

Then the angel announced explicitly what the sign would consist of:  “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

What?!?  That is the opposite of big and fancy!  How could that be the right sign?  But that’s just the way God is.  Even though he’s all powerful he’s also humble. The strips of cloth and the manger set the tone for Jesus’ entire life.  He started in humble circumstances and lived his entire life that way.  It not only signified the birth of a Savior, it signified the kind of Savior he was going to be!