Saturday, December 25, 2010


"And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?'" Matthew 27:46

     Christian. The word in Greek, transliterated, is Christianos, and according to Thayer's Greek Definitions means, ". . . a follower of Christ." Merriam-Webster is a little more lenient, defining the word as "one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ."  So what is a Christian, truly? A follower, or one who merely professes belief? Either way, what does it mean, exactly?

     The word, "Christian," did not even exist at the time Mary gave birth to the baby that would be the focus of such tumultuous events in just a few decades. Mary simply knew that she had never been with a man, yet she was pregnant. She had been told that it would be a boy and she was to call him Jesus. She knew that he would "reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there would be no end." She knew that, shortly after His birth, some shepherds came to worship Him and went away telling everyone that the Savior had been born. In the first week or so of the Child's life she was also told many other things, including that "a sword will pierce through your own soul, also."  All these bits of seemingly conflicting information must have been confusing for a young mother. Is it any wonder she pondered them in her heart?

     On this day when we look back to Jesus' birth and the joyful announcement of the angels to the shepherds in the fields, I cannot help but think about the whole span of His earthly ministry. Jesus--God incarnate--gave up the power and glory that was rightfully His, and willingly took on the flesh of a man with all its weaknesses and limitations. No, not a man, an infant! He chose to endure birth, chose to learn to use His hands, to learn to talk and walk. He, the One through Whom all things were created, chose to live in His creation, even to live as His creation. He chose to feel the pull of temptation--and by living a life in abject surrender to the will of God, to overcome it and never sin. He chose to be betrayed, criticized, beaten, and mocked by the very people He came to save. He chose to live out a human life in perfect obedience and surrender and to give His utterly pure life as the ultimate atoning sacrifice for human sin. He chose to die on a tree that He had crafted Himself.

     He did not give gifts that would be consumed or break in a few weeks; He gave Himself. In doing so, He set an example of humility that cannot be matched by human effort. He, the King of kings, knelt in the mud and muck of human existence and made Himself a stepping stone to allow mankind to reach God. It has been said that "religion is man's attempt at reaching God, but Christianity is God reaching down to man to restore a relationship we severed through our sin." This  is true, but may I point out that in Jesus, God did not only reach toward us, He made Himself the bridge for us to walk across! It only remains that we choose Him.
     When I think of the sacrifice that was made on my behalf, my mind shuts down. It is just too much to wrap my head around, too unbelievably perfect an act of selflessness, too incredible a feat of love. I think of living a sinless life, and it is beyond my imagination. I cannot even live a sinless 60-second minute! My very thoughts are drenched in transgression. When I examine my most generous moments, I find some kernel of self-serving or hope of glory within them that sullies the deed. My highest virtue is revealed to be rotten at its core. Christ lived without this, and rather than claiming His right, He instead washed the very feet of the man who sent Him to a prolonged and excruciating death. He did this because He loved him--loved all of us--even though we do not deserve it. He loved without the taint of selfishness we persist in, but truly and wholly, not considering the status or the social acceptability of the people He loved.

     So what does it mean to be a Christian? It is more than professing, I can tell you that. To follow Christ is not to attend church, nor is it to spend our days examining the specks in the eyes of others, as Christ put it in Matthew chapter 7.  To be a follower of Christ means that we should be willing to devote our all to Him, just as He gave up everything that was rightfully His for us. We must not think we can have Christ and our favorite hobby, or Christ and the perfect job. He, in his mercy, may allow that, but we should be, in the very depths of our hearts honestly and completely willing to  let go the job, the hobby, or what have you and have Christ alone. We must live in surrender to the Holy Spirit, which He sent to guide us, so that in His power we can love others as selflessly as He loved us. To be a follower of Christ means that we should show the world that we are His disciples by the love we have for each other. It means laying down our life for our friends. It means that our lives should reflect Immanuel--God with us. It means so much more than I can even find the time or the words for, and yet it is really so very simple. Being a Christian means, in Paul's words, "To live is Christ and to die is gain." It means that Christ, in making Himself next to nothing, has become to us everything.

". . . 'For unto you is born this day, in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.' . . .  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.' "  Luke 2:11, 13-14

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


"Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother, Mary, had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' ... When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him..." Matthew 1:18-21, 24a

Joseph is, to me, the unsung hero of the Nativity story. If not for his absolute obedience, those events would have taken quite a different direction. It was Joseph, after all, who complied with the Lord's command to go through with the wedding to Mary despite what appeared to be indisputable evidence that she was not the chaste young woman he expected to take as his bride. However, he chose to believe the unbelievable and he took her in and cared for her and for the Child. I often wonder what the consequences of his decision meant for him... Was he ridiculed? Pitied? Whatever his lot, he took it willingly.

After the birth of Jesus, Joseph was again visited by a heavenly messenger and told to flee to Egypt. Undoubtedly, this was not an easy task with such a young child, yet he did not hesitate but woke his young family right away and left by night. Imagine, hurriedly packing and preparing for a journey in the dark of night with only an oil lamp to see by--if even that! Again, the command did not make much sense, but in this act of prompt obedience, he spared his family the horror of witnessing the presumably paranoid Herod's desperate act of infanticide.

The Bible records two other brief messages to Joseph: One telling him it was safe to go back to Israel, and the second was an unknown warning that caused him to settle in the region of Galilee in Nazareth. In all instances of contact with a heavenly messenger, Joseph was quietly and simply obedient. The ramifications of his amenable behavior were tremendous--in all cases providing for the life and welfare of the Lord Christ in his childhood--and yet it is rare that his name is mentioned except as the husband of Mary. Personally, I am amazed at the faith shown by what appears to be a very humble and submissive man. In the few passages in which he is mentioned, we see nothing more than calm and immediate compliance to the will of God. I cannot help but remember that even Abraham laughed when he was told the impossible: that he would have a son in his old age. But Joseph, when told that Mary was pregnant, not through the normal means, but by an act of the Holy Spirit, accepted this without documented complaint or dispute and took her and cared for her as his wife.

These ruminations on the life of Joseph began as I reflected on my own heart this past year. I find that I was not compliant to God's will for my life as Joseph was. Rather, I spent the year in discouragement and allowed myself to wander away from the will of my Lord. Rather than forsaking my preferences, as I am sure Joseph would have preferred an uncomplicated marriage or to stay in bed that night in Bethlehem, I found myself instead indulging them. As the year draws to a close, I find myself humbled and repentant. It is my prayer that the new year will see a different me. I pray that I will truly live my life in humility and service to others, living in a place of complete submissiveness to the will of God so that I may understand in each instance what is His will. I pray that I will no longer strive to "do good" without first checking with my Father to see if this is the good He would have me do. I would love for it to be said about me when I am gone from this earth: "We don't know much about her, but what we do know is that she lived in prompt obedience to the Lord."

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.