Friday, December 23, 2011


--  This is an article written at Christmas 2010.  I hope you enjoy it, and that it stirs some thought.  -- B.D. -- 

10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  —  Luke 2:10–12 (NAS)

The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity—hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory—because at the Father's will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross.  – J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 63

So many people are so very conflicted in mind and heart about this Christmas thing.  In our spiritual fellowship, we have a long history of struggling with Christmas.  We don't celebrate it.  Well, we do, but we don't want anybody to know about it.  Well, that's not altogether true either.  Some of us wouldn't be caught dead with a Christmas tree, and you just try to decorate one of our church buildings with tinsel or garlands.  Occasionally, we'll give in to some poinsettias, but we're not going to have any Christmas programs.  Don't come to our houses, though.  We're too busy going into debt buying presents for our kids.  Who, us, conflicted?  Not a chance.  Well, maybe a small chance.

We know all the odd facts that others seem to ignore.  For example, we know December 25th is probably not the correct date for Jesus' birth.  That right there is enough for us to cancel the party.  We know that nobody knows how many wise men there were, or if they showed up the night Jesus was born or as much as two years later - when he was in a house, not a stable!  Besides, we're theologically smart enough to know that we celebrate Jesus' death, not his birth.

OK, enough.  J.I. Packer observed something we just can't manage to admit.  Watch this:  ". . . at the Father's will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross."  Packer understands that you can't get to the cross unless you first go through a stable, complete with shepherds, and wise men somewhere along the way.

Fear of "Christmas" puzzles me.  Nobody has to think anything about a date that isn't true.  You don't have to make some sacramental practice, or required worship out of the holiday.  But surely it is both logical and true to scripture to celebrate the birth of Jesus as the revelation of God.  Jesus was born to a young woman named Mary, a virgin who had never known her husband.  Angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds, and wise men followed a star until it revealed the King they sought.  That's the truth about the birth of the Son of God.  It's how God came in the flesh and dwelt among us.  We really need to welcome a time of the year when people the world over, celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Here's my best reason for thinking this:  No birth, nothing else.  If there had been no birth of the child, Jesus, there would have been no itinerant Rabbi, no miracles, nobody to believe in as the one who takes away the sins of the world, no hope for redemption and restoration to fellowship with God, no salvation, no resurrection of the dead, no hope for eternal life.  You need to be very glad Jesus was born.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

"And Your Point Is. . . ?"

33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!”  —  John 11:33–36 (NASB95)

     [This] is often called the shortest complete story in English, supposedly written by Ernest Hemingway. It is only six words long:   "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
     That simplest of narratives contain elements of death, loss, brokenness, and a longing for peace. Its power, in fact, reflects a longing that is rooted in the truthful themes of the Christian faith.  –  Gene C. Fant, Jr., God As Author (B & H Academic, 2010), p. 177

Instruction in both writing and speaking usually includes the advice, “Keep it short.”

The most difficult job in writing is editing.  I write.  Then I try to reduce what I wrote.  I’m almost always amazed at the number of words I throw away.  What I wrote still says, and means, the same thing.

The main reason for making things shorter is for the sake of the reader.  Readers don’t have much of an attention span.  You either get their attention or you don’t.  You’ve got only a few words to catch them up in what you want to say.  Otherwise, they’ll move on.

Preaching is much the same.  People keep asking, “How long should a sermon last.”  You’ll hear a lot of sage advice.  “Thirty minutes!”  “No, fifteen!”  I actually sat in a 50 minute class for preachers where a college professor insisted that sermons last no longer than twenty minutes.  I asked him why it took him 50 minutes to tell us that.  He didn’t like my question.

A wise older preacher once gave the best answer to the question about sermon length.  He said, “Fellas, as long as you’ve got something to say, preach.  When you get through, sit down.”  I have found that is wise advice.  I just wish I could follow it.  But it’s generally true that people will listen to a sermon as long as the preacher has something to say.  But they sure wish he would sit down after the third time he says it.

“Short and sweet,” is what people yearn for.  But short won’t always do the job, and I think that’s something that should be said.  We preachers ought never take up the time of others just because we can talk a long time.  But it’s also true that sometimes, a short message won’t communicate all that needs to be said.  Take the gospels as an example.  Mark is short.  I love Mark.  I’ve taught it several times over the years.  One of the things I tell people is that it’s a short book.  It moves fast.  It doesn’t get bogged down in details.  So if “short” is really all we need, then the only gospel would have been Mark.  I guess the Holy Spirit decided that we needed something other than short, so he gave us Matthew and Luke, then threw in John because it was different, but not so short.  Speaking of Luke, put together the gospel he wrote and Acts, and consider that it was written to a particular person, and you’ll have to admit that Theophilus got a very long couple of letters.  How about Paul?  I think Paul would have flunked the college English course I took as a freshman at Ole Miss.  He would have been way to wordy for the lady who taught my class.

I’ve already cut words from this article.  I just cut four out of the sentence starting this paragraph.  I’m trying to be short and say what I want to say.  “Which is. . . ?”  I can hear  you thinking.

Preaching and teaching is a two-way street.  The one laying out the information should try to do it as briefly as possible.  The truth is, that’s not always going to do the job.  Sometimes, you need details, and additional information.  When that happens, you must not get anxious.  Take the time to learn.

“Jesus wept.”  Short sentence.  Can you answer the question, “Why?”  That might not be so short.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Here's To Your Health

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.  —   Colossians 3:17 (NASB95)

    Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They're also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy, or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly, and have greater resistance to viral infections.
    Now, researchers are finding that gratitude brings similar benefits in children and adolescents. [Studies also show that] kids who feel and act grateful tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches, and feel more satisfied with their friends, families, and schools than those who don't.  –  Melinda Beck, "Thank You. No, Thank You," The Wall Street Journal (11-23-10)

How about that?  It turns out that being grateful is good for your overall health and enjoyment of life.  Then again, why is this surprising?  The lack of gratitude is often connected to a general pessimistic view of everything.  Pessimists are notorious for thinking negatively.  It’s pretty hard to be grateful when your view of things is constantly critical, unsatisfied, and never quite able to see the good as much as the bad.

Pessimists tend to see where things fall short, or fail.  They see where things lack or just don’t quite measure up.  They tend to focus on where things could have been better, and because they could have been better, then whatever they’re looking at is unsatisfactory.  Sometimes the pessimism causes a person to be unable to see anything positive.  Pessimists seem to believe that regardless what happens, or what they possess, it’s all going to turn out bad.  That makes it very hard to express sincere gratitude.

The Bible frequently encourages us to give thanks, to be grateful, to appreciate good things, to express in our prayers to God that we see the positive blessings in life.  We are taught to appreciate good people and the good things they do.  We’re even encouraged to remember  that God is love, and that his overall actions on our behalf are not negative, but positive and designed for our benefit.

We human beings can be very demanding.  It’s hard for us to appreciate things.  Think about Adam and Eve.  They lived in a perfect world.  The garden was a perfect place.  They enjoyed a personal relationship and experience of God.  What more could anybody ask for?  Ah, but Satan, knew something about our nature.  We’ve got a weakness, and that weakness is very much tied to our ability to see things positively and to give thanks.  Satan pounced on that part of the first woman and man and worked them toward sin.

Don’t you find it amazing that while God gave them freedom to eat of all the trees in the garden, save one, that Satan made the one a source of dissatisfaction?  Instead of giving thanks for the abundance of God’s blessings, Eve was drawn toward what she didn’t have.  She wasn’t grateful to God.  So she chased after what she didn’t have, ended up being deceived, and sinned.  Adam didn’t even give that much thought.  Eve gave him the forbidden fruit and he ate it.  What was he thinking?  We don’t know exactly, but we can safely conclude he wasn’t thinking with a grateful mind, focused on God and all the good that he had because of God’s rich blessings.

That brings us to you and me.  I don’t know about you, but I do know about me.  Gratitude isn’t always simple and easy.  It’s quite frequently the last thing to happen.  It seems that gratitude is something a person must work at.  It’s probably not going to happen automatically.  Yes, there are people for whom gratitude comes easier, but it’s probably true, even for those people, that they have to purposely think positively and express their thanks.  You’ve got a good opportunity coming up this week.  Thanksgiving Day provides a good excuse.  Let’s all promise to be more grateful.  Here’s to your health!  Thanks!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Legalism And Grace

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.  —  Titus 2:11–14 (NASB95)

What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, "What does it matter so long as they are contented?" We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, "liked to see young people enjoying themselves," and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all."  —C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain

There are two basic approaches to living as Christians.  One might be described as legalism.  It's the idea that we've got to be good, godly people because being right with God depends on how good we are.  After all, doing things right counts for something!  The other might be described as grace.  Being right with God doesn't depend on our goodness, it depends on Jesus' goodness.  We are right with God by our faith in Jesus, whose perfect life became a sacrifice for us.  Salvation is a free gift, grace.

The fact is it's that second one that is taught in the Bible.  But that doesn't make everybody happy.  After all, if we're not right with God because of the way we live, then maybe we can just live any old way we want and let grace make up the difference.  This, apparently, was the thinking of some that Paul dealt with in sixth chapter of Romans. Verse 1 says, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?"  So, the danger is a possibility.

But this isn't what grace is, and it isn't what grace is designed to produce in a believer's life.  When Paul wrote, "the grace of God has appeared," he went on to make a bold statement about what grace teaches.  "Deny ungodliness and worldly desires, and live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age."  That's potent teaching.

So what's the difference between legalism and grace?  Both say that we ought to live in a way consistent with God's will.  The difference is in when you fail.  You have, and you will again.  The legalist, depending on his own righteousness, is doomed from the start.  Righteousness isn't an occasional thing.  It's a total thing.  Only God is righteous because God has no sin.  The legalist is fooling only himself.  The believer living under grace can freely admit his sin.  Jesus makes us right so we can keep on trying to get it right.  The difference is huge!

Just Think About Climbing

13 My friends, I don’t feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. 14 I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done. 15 All of us who are mature should think in this same way. And if any of you think differently, God will make it clear to you.  —  Philippians 3:13–15 (CEV)

A father was trying to teach his young son to climb tree.  He lifted the boy up to the lowest limb and then encouraged him to carefully stand up and reach for the next limb, then move toward the center of the tree where it would be easier to climb higher.  But the boy was frightened and kept crying out, "I'm going to fall, I'm going to fall!"  No assurances seemed to help.  Finally, the father called to the boy, "Son! Listen to me!  Stop thinking about falling.  Think about climbing."  The boy focused on those words, and then stood up, reached the next limb, moved to the center of the tree and began climbing.  "I'm not afraid now, Dad," he said.  "I'm just thinking about climbing!"  –  (adapted from

It's easy to be like that little boy, even if you're not climbing a tree.  If you get too focused on all the terrible possibilities, it can paralyze you and scare you to death!  That happens more often then any of us want to admit.  We often can't see the positive possibilities because we're too focused on the negatives.  We see all the potentials for failure, for disappointment, for pain.  Never mind that the rewards for success, the emotional charge of accomplishment, and everything good that might come from doing what we want.
It's no less true when it comes to our faith journey.  It looks so hard.  It appears out of reach.  It's beyond our abilities.  It's too high.  The potential for failure, for falling, is so great.  Maybe we shouldn't try at all.  But that, of course, would be counter to God's call and our own hopes.

This is something like Paul's point to the church at Philippi.  "I'm not there yet," Paul would say.  "I haven't arrived.  I've got a long way to go.  But I'm not looking back, not looking down, not going to get all caught up in the frightful things around me.  I'm going to think about climbing."  That's not exactly what he said, but it's what he meant.

You need to think about your own life.  Are you standing on a shaky limb afraid you're going to fall?  Scared you're going to slip and take a dive?  Are you aware how debilitating it is to focus on falling instead of climbing?  Look up!  Look ahead!  Think about climbing ever toward the goal for which you have been called by the gospel of Jesus.  If you ever want to get there, you've got to focus more on the goal than on where you are, or where you've been.  I'm just thinking about climbing!

Friday, November 11, 2011

You Really Are Something!

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. — 1 Peter 2:9–10 (NASB95) 

Remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. —C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory

Who are you? We answer that question in many ways. We pull out our genealogy charts and point to ancestors. Or we generalize it a bit and find identity in our race or ethnic group, our nationality, or maybe we use our profession or some other means to explain who we are.

Whoever you are, C.S. Lewis had it right. You are no mere mortal. I've read that at times, somebody takes on the identity of a comic book superhero. They actually don a costume and some of them even go out into the community and do good deeds, or try to fight crime. A lot of people want to be a superhero. They aren't satisfied with being a "mere mortal."

It sounds a bit far-fetched, doesn't it? Take a good, long look in the mirror. See anybody who looks like something but a mere mortal? Probably not, but you aren't looking deep enough. You need to look past the externals. You need to get to the heart of man, the spirit of man, and to things eternal. You were created in the image of God. That's right there at the beginning of the Bible. From the start, God intended things for you, and from you that stretch far beyond mere mortal.

The apostle Peter knew something about you as well. Mere mortal? No way. Chosen race, royal priesthood, specially chosen by God to be one of his people. No, if you think "mere mortal," you'll always shortchange your real identity. It's not something you can see with your physical eyes, but it's no less real. You were created for amazing, fantastic, mind-blowing things. Stand tall, Christian. You are really something!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Have You Missed Me?

A lady went on a three week vacation. When she returned home she was busy unloading the car when her neighbor stepped out into yard and waved.  The lady shouted to her neighbor, "Did you miss me?"  The neighbor paused with a slightly puzzled look on her face then replied, "Did you go somewhere?"

And perhaps that's how my readers will respond to me.  It's been a while since I posted to the blog.  It's also been a while since I sent out articles to my CrossTies email list.  We had some minor problems with email and internet service for a while. To be honest, I got out of the routine of sending articles and blogging. I'll be more honest.  The articles have been a regular routine for years, but the blogging has always come in spurts, so it was easy to let that one slide.

So, here's just a little note to say, I'll be combining the two efforts.  I'll post CrossTies articles here, and occasionally I'll add a blog post that's totally different.  I've toyed with that idea in the past, just never managed to make it happen.

I hope you'll read the blog, get something from the articles, and share with others.  Thanks to that handful of people who continue to encourage my writing efforts.  You know who you are.  I know who you are.