Christmas Peace

584px-Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_(1622)During this season we celebrate Christ’s birth and reflect on the events surrounding it. While we focus on the incarnation, there are many lessons to be learned from the stories of those who walked through those times. We see how God worked in their lives to lead and provide as they faced the profound events that unfolded. God continues to lead and provide for His children, so the lessons we learn from their experiences help us in our walk.

Consider Zechariah and Mary, who each experienced supernatural visitations and incredible pronouncements. We can learn from their responses about trusting God’s promises.

Zechariah was ministering in the temple when an angel appeared to him and declared that Zechariah’s elderly wife Elizabeth would soon conceive and give birth to a son who would be great before the Lord. Zechariah replied with uncertainty:

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” Luke 1:18–20 (ESV)

The angel, who stood in the very presence of God, was speaking for God Himself. Thus, Zechariah’s disbelief of the angel was really disbelief of God, and Zechariah was struck mute as a result.

Mary also had an encounter with Gabriel and although it seemed similar, there was a crucial difference.

Mary was betrothed to be married when the angel appeared to her and declared that she would conceive and bear the Son of God. Mary replied with a question.

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” … And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:34–35, 38 (ESV)

Later, Mary visited Elizabeth. When Elizabeth saw her, the child within stirred and she blessed Mary:

And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! … And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Luke 1:41a, 45 (ESV)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth spoke with insight about Mary’s belief in what God had said. Unlike Zechariah, Mary believed what God had spoken to her. “Belief” is sometimes translated “faith”, often with the idea of putting one’s trust in someone or something. In this case, putting one’s trust in what God has said.

The need to trust God’s promises is woven throughout Scripture. Since His ways are not our ways, we cannot depend on our own understanding. Yet, because of His unfailing love, we can trust that He will work all things out for good. His faithfulness is everlasting, so when we have experienced it in the past, we can confidently expect it again. How many times have you faced a troubling situation, only to have Him bring you through it smoothly?

The specific examples of Zechariah and Mary illustrate the importance of believing what God says, which includes promises we have in Scripture. Mary bore a Son just as God promised, and He later taught about God’s provision:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:25,32-33 (ESV)

Jesus did not teach to wait passively, but to deliberately seek the kingdom and righteousness. Lean into it, learn to understand it, strive to see it, work to be a part of it. Into this active seeking, Jesus spoke a promise of provision that echoed the Psalmist’s declaration, centuries earlier, about delighting ourselves in God:

Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

These passages stress the importance of setting our minds on the things above, walking by faith, and focusing on the nature of God and His provision. We can’t simply neglect the physical, but do need to avoid the tendency to focus on it so much that we ignore the spiritual.

One way to start focusing on the spiritual is to approach everything in prayer. Paul taught that to the Philippians in his letter to them:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6–7 (ESV)

Learning from Paul’s instructions to the Philippians, we are to take everything to God in prayer, giving thanks to Him even as we present our requests. This helps us start focusing on the things above, learning to place our trust in Him first. We gain power over anxiety when we turn things over to Him in trust. This is a promise of peace.

Trusting God with everything gives us peace; how appropriate for this season in which we celebrate the Prince of Peace!

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Legalism and the Spirit of the Antichrist

A small cross of twigsMuch of Jesus’ teaching concerned the kingdom of God, and it is the focus of much religious teaching today. It is undoubtedly God’s will and purpose to establish the kingdom on Earth, but there are different views of how that will happen. We can get a picture for the different perspectives by looking at the Lord’s instruction to His disciples in His final words on Earth: Continue reading

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Hope Every Day

A small cross of twigsSpring and Easter go together as they both speak of new life. Spring is the new life of growth after winter, when creation seems to wake from a cold slumber. The warming temperatures and lengthening days remind us of God’s nature to bring light into darkness, beauty from ashes, and life from death. Ultimately, this time of year reminds us of the light of Christ and the reality of His resurrection.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)

The resurrection is not just an abstract historical event, but a personal reality for all who know Him. Because of what He accomplished on the cross, we have become new creations and our old selves have died. Now Christ lives in us, conforming us more and more to His image as we spiritually mature.

In this, we know that God works all things together for our good. We can rest assured that, even though we may face trials in this world, we have hope because He has overcome it. His indwelling presence produces fruit that helps us experience His joy and peace in every situation as we wait on the Lord.

This Easter season, let’s give Him thanks for the hope that we have every single day because of Him.

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A Look at the Great Commission in Acts

A small cross of twigsFor many Christians, the world seems to be growing darker each day. While the occasional event or ministry sees some some success, the larger trends are a shrinking number of believers, growing divisiveness and conflict, and churches that increasingly mirror the world. Since Christians are to be the light of the world, candles in the darkness, one can’t help but wonder if something is being missed. Many mature and educated Christian leaders have wrestled with these things, but there is no clear consensus or solution.

It’s unlikely that I’m going to add anything to the analyses of our leaders, but being led to seek understanding, have returned many times to Scripture for clues. One thing that has jumped out over and over is while many approaches seek wisdom from individual passages or subtle threads, it often seems that they skip over the biggest themes. I’ve often been struck by the fact that all four Gospels end with a commission for believers to go, that the commission is echoed yet again in the beginning of Acts, and the entire book of Acts is about the church obeying that calling. Although a handful of verses give some insight into church life, the whole theme of the book is the early church’s obedience to Jesus’ commission. For example, while prayer is mentioned throughout Acts, only one is actually recorded that they prayed together. It was for boldness and equipping for obedience, for doing the work of reconciling people to God and making disciples.

Jesus’ final direction for the disciples was given in the beginning of Acts:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:6–8 (ESV) Continue reading

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Immersive Explorations of the Spiritual

A small cross of twigsThe vision of The Gate is one of finding creative ways to present spiritual truths in today’s science-saturated world, using concepts borrowed from that worldview. It is based on an exploration of such ideas, ranging from essays to technology-driven artwork. These ideas are sometimes referred to as ‘physical parables”, and one of the key examples is virtual reality photography, which forms the basis for my photography blog. Taking that idea a little further, one of my friends suggested using 3D technologies to help people encounter the spiritual, and so I added this description to the list of physical parables:

In addition to VR photography itself being a metaphor, immersing people in a virtual reality space can be used to bring spiritual concepts to life. This would be especially effective if used with immersive 3D technologies such as VR headsets that include audio. When we experience things ourselves, the natural inclination is to believe what we see. Thus, such experiences can help people accept things like the truth of miracles, the historical existence of Jesus, and the reality of the spiritual world. Also, creative visual effects can be used to further illustrate limitations of our natural senses and reasoning abilities.

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Whole Reality Description

Whole Reality is my personal exploration of ways to understand and present the Gospel by using ideas from today’s increasingly secular world. It seems the success of science and technology have blinded many people to the reality of spiritual truths. Modern advances have made great strides in explaining the natural world and providing physical comforts, and as a result, there is powerful perspective of Godlessness in the midst of a culture that used to be mostly Christian. Jesus said we would take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, but now the ends of the earth have come to us.

The result looks like a post-Christian darkness that needs new witnesses to speak in that language.

Seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance, Whole Reality intends to present spiritual concepts through essays and interesting metaphors that draw from the very technology-driven worldview in which people are immersed, sort of like modern parables. The starting point uses a different type of photography, virtual reality photography, as a way to explore the need to deliberately open one’s eyes, both physically and spiritually. While exploring this, experience has already shown how God will use it to open even hardened hearts, and VR photography is just the first of many possibilities. Working as one with a variety of believers to bring many such parables together is a ministry dream that will unfold as God leads and provides.

Until then, Whole Reality is a means to seek the Spirit’s wisdom and guidance, put the leading into practice, and share the opportunity with other believers. Continue reading

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Practice Unity

A small cross of twigsThere is a great need for love in today’s world. Of course, this has always been true, and always will be. However, today’s level of divisiveness makes the need especially clear. Pointing to the source, Christians are called upon to be agents of God’s love. This is a tall order in today’s world, but we can be assured of direction and power when we act according to His will. Continue reading

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Beyond Religion

A small cross of twigsIn today’s world, it seems harder and harder for many people to find a connection between God and church. Many feel that God has the answer to feeling fulfilled, guidance through life, release from judgment, and eternal life, but don’t find themselves closer to Him when sorting through the various doctrines that seem so important. It’s as if something has been lost in the swirl of theology, programs, and politics. There are endless debates about music styles, doctrinal differences that separate people, and a focus on entertainment rather than love. We all read the same book, yet come to radically different opinions of what it means and how to apply it.

Could it be that we need a different approach today, something Scriptural yet not being taught?

This essay is an attempt to answer that question, to seek a new approach, rather than a definitive answer. Answers are found in Him, not in our intellectual effort, so we need an approach grounded in humble seeking. Continue reading

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Our Conquering Messiah

A small cross of twigsIn the first century, Jewish people had high hopes for the messiah. They expected him to defeat Israel’s enemies and free them from bondage. When Jesus appeared, those around him expected a victorious leader. Even at his ascension, the disciples wondered if he was about to restore the kingdom to Israel. Their expectation was for a physical victory, but they would eventually learn that his kingdom is much more profound. Continue reading

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Hearing God Daily: Hebrews 1:1-2

A small cross of twigsThis is the first of what I hope become regular posts, each listing a Bible verse related to God’s voice in our lives. I’ve been noting these for some years, and recently counted over 250 of them. So the idea is to post each of these, sometimes with a little comment, just noticing how much the Bible says about God speaking.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1–2 (ESV) Continue reading

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