Friday, December 30, 2022

Good Riddance

Let me ask you something: as the year draws to a close, how many persons around you are sad to see it go? Or more personally, are you sad to see it go? 

When was the last time you were sad to see a year go? 

One of the trends that I've been noticing over the past several years is this kind of rejoicing every time new year's comes around. Every time we're ready to throw away the old calendar and open a brand new one, the sentiment seems to be the same: good riddance

Good riddance to another bad year, to another year of trials and troubles, to another season of my life where things were hard and life didn't seem to go the way I intended it to go. Good riddance to all of the things that have been out of my control. Good riddance to failure. Good riddance, you horrible old year, you. Nobody will be sad to throw you into the garbage.

It's heartbreaking to me how often, when we come to the end of a new year, we seem to just hate our lives and everything about them. 

If you watch social media throughout the year, you will see trials and troubles, yes. But you will also see joys and victories. You will see good times and great accomplishments and excited energies and big smiles. You will see happy moments. You will see big wins and little wins. You will see memories being made and relationships being restored and health being captured and strength standing tall. You will look at your friends' lives, maybe even your own, and you will smile some yourself because you just can't help but rejoice with those who rejoice. 

Then, it will be the end of December, and those very same friends who have filled their timelines with joy amidst their struggles will bitterly declare, good riddance. You, who have filled your timeline with unforgettable moments, will bitterly declare, good riddance

When did we become so bitter about living? 

There was a time, and it wasn't so long ago because I remember it well, when things leaned in the other direction. When persons mourned the end of a year because it had been a really good year for them. When we looked back at all we accomplished, all we enjoyed, all we relished about the past year, and there was something bittersweet about having to turn the page. Sure, we were excited about the opportunities that a new year brought, but it was not without our remembering all of the ones the prior year gave us. 

Fast forward, and we have lost the "-sweet" and simply become bitter somewhere. For some reason. 

It's been far too long since I've heard anyone say, "You know what? This is a little sad for me. This year was a good year in my story, and I'm going to miss it." 

I don't want to be that person. I don't. And I don't want you to be that person, either. 

2022 was a hard year. Sure, it was. I spent months grinding it out in a rehab gym, trying to get some kind of semblance of my life back after almost two years of battling Covid. And I could look back and say, "Man, it was a hard year. I fought so hard. It took everything I had." Or, I could look back and say, "This was the year I rang the bell." This was the year that I beat Covid, finally. This was the year I got my life back. This was the year I started running again. This was the year I took my first full, deep breaths in a very, very long time. 

Or, ideally, I could look back and say both - this was a year I fought hard and gave it everything I had and this was the year I rang the bell. Both are true, and both are okay, and both are good. Not good riddance, but just good.

And that's really what I worry about the most as I see us all grumbling in the final days of another year - when we just keep saying good riddance, we bid riddance to all of the good things that happened to us this year - all of the opportunities that we got, that we really got, that we capitalized on, which were the same opportunities (and more!) that we were looking forward to at this time last year. Last year, at this time, you dreamed of so many of the amazing things that you actually did this year, that actually happened for you. 

Now, here you are, throwing them out with the ragged pages of one more calendar because...because why? Because every one of your breathing moments was not sunshine and rainbows? 

Do not bid riddance to the good. This year has been a beautiful, incredible, glorious part of your story, and you ought to do all you can to celebrate that, to hold onto it, to use it as a springboard to launch you into bigger and even better things next year. Imagine how high you can soar if you don't tear your whole life down to rubble every December 31 and try to start over; imagine how high you can climb if you start with your victories and not your defeats. 

I encourage you this year, as we turn the page, to celebrate all that 2022 has been for you. To recognize all of the good things that came your way, all the goals you achieved, everything you worked for. Acknowledge the hard stuff, absolutely, but don't let it swallow up all the good. Don't let it bury the fact that this wasn't wholly a bad year. Some incredible things happened, too. 

And as the clock counts down to midnight, remember those. Remember that this year may not have been everything you dreamed of, but it was some of those things. It may not have been easy, but there was something good about it anyway. Something worth writing into the pages of your story from this year, probably many things. 

Not good riddance, but thank you. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

New Creation

As you continue to ponder who it is that you want to be in the new year, what kind of goals you're going to set for yourself, what kinds of things you want to change, here's an honest question for you: 

If Jesus is who we've said He is over the past few weeks through Advent, what, exactly, is left for you to do for yourself?

No, really. 

If Jesus has come to give you new eyes to see the world, new ears to hear, a new tongue to speak...if He has come to make your chains fall off, to welcome you into once-forbidden places, to forgive you for your wrongdoing...if His coming brings you hope, peace, joy, love, and faith...if all of that is real (and it is), what are you missing that you're still hoping to add to your life?

Well, Aidan, I would like to be able to eat more cake without gaining more hips.


No, really? That's the goal? Christ has come into this world, the fulfillment of the promise of God from the very first breath of time - that God Himself will walk with you; He has healed the lame and diseased, set free the captive, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and given the Good News to all the world, and you feel like your life is missing cake?

We humans are a very silly species indeed. 

God says, Behold! I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? The New Testament promises that when we strip ourselves of our earthly flesh and put on Christ, we are, in fact, a new creation, something wholly different than we ever were before. The stories of Jesus in the Gospels are stories of men and women just like us who are touched by Christ and healed, restored, redeemed. And none of this - hear me, none of it - by works. 

It's all grace. 

It's all the beautiful, glorious gift of God, given freely to us at a high price to Him. It's all the offering that He has prepared since the very first bite we took of the forbidden fruit. It's all meant to restore us to the incredible beings that He intended from the moment He knit us together in our mothers' wombs. 

Perhaps what we need for the new year, then, is not more looking at ourselves to figure out what needs to be different, but looking at Him to embrace what already is. 

There is a newborn baby crying in a manger, for Pete's sake (whoever Pete is). Immanuel. What more does your life need? 

(Please don't say cake.) 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

One More Day

Why is it so easy for us to think that one more day doesn't matter all that much? 

Yesterday, we were talking about self-defeating prophecies and that moment when we start to think that we're never really going to be different, that we're wholly incapable of change. And if we know we're going to fail, then why not just go ahead and fail today. What difference does one more day make? What's so special about tomorrow?

And yet, the truth is that if we didn't think it mattered what day it was, we wouldn't be waiting until Sunday to change our lives. If one day is just the same as any other, if tomorrow is just today revisited, if it doesn't matter whether it's today or next week or last week or next year, then...Sunday's not all that special, either. 

But we convince ourselves every year that it is. We convince ourselves that Sunday is the day. (This year, it's Sunday. The point, of course, is January 1.) And we aren't willing to concede our defeat until at least Monday. Until we've at least given it one day. One good, full day. One special day.

So we know there is something about one more day. 

It's more than just that, though. 

This is where our own finiteness comes in. None of us knows what really happens tomorrow. None of us knows what a new day brings. We can plan and scheme and think and dream all we want, but the reality is that we just don't know what's going to happen to us thirty minutes from now, let alone twenty-four hours. We think we know. We think that tomorrow will be just like today, which is just like yesterday, but we can't know that. 

And history is full of tomorrows that are nothing like today. 

There's something like four hundred years of history between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew. Four hundred years in which God is doing nothing spectacular enough, apparently, to write home about. Four hundred years without a prophet speaking. Four hundred years without a priest receiving a vision. Four hundred years of tomorrows that are just like yesterdays - of hope and anticipation and confident assurance, but...nothing new. Nothing moving. Nothing happening. 

At any point in those four hundred years, any one of the faithful could have woken up and said, "Well, God's done. He's just done. He's not doing anything new, not in my lifetime. All of His promises have failed. It's just not happening. Might as well get on with my life and start moving in a new direction, the direction I knew I was going to have to move in all along. I'm all alone in this universe, and it's time to start acting like it."

In fact, I'm betting a lot of the faithful at least toyed with the idea, let alone the number who likely really did walk away. It's who we are. It's just something about being human. 

Then, one day, everything changed. 

One day, there was nothing. One more day of silence, painful silence. One more day of unfulfilled hope. One more day of daydreaming. And then, bam! The next day, there's a baby in a manger. God speaks, and His first word is a primal cry. The next day, everything changed. 

How do you know tomorrow, just one day after you're ready to give up, is not that next day? How do you know tomorrow is not the day that everything changes for you?

Because today feels just like yesterday? 

So what? Yesterday felt just like yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that. Yesterday only has something to say about yesterday; it can't hold a candle to tomorrow. Tomorrow has to illuminate itself. 

The point is this - it's easy for us to give up too soon. To throw in the towel too quickly. To look around and think to ourselves, gosh, today just looks an awful lot like yesterday; tomorrow must not be very different, either. 

But the testimony of human history is clear: there is a whole growing story of humanity in which tomorrow is absolutely nothing like today. Those are the days when everything changes. 

What if that day is tomorrow and you quit one day too soon? 

Behold! I am doing a new thing. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Unhappy Tomorrow

Despite all the joy and love of the Christmas season permeating our hearts and warming our souls, not everyone is optimistic about tomorrow. About next week. About next year.

In fact, I saw a recent headline (I didn't click the article) that indicated that the majority of Americans believe they're going to be unhappy in the new year. 

And you know what?

I bet they will be, too. 

Because it seems to me that they've already decided that's what is going to happen, and if that's what they're expecting, then that's what they are most likely to experience. 

What's interesting is that someone who expects to be unhappy is more likely to overlook the good things in life because their anticipated unhappiness becomes the thing that is most real to them. You really do choose your attitude in life, regardless of circumstances, and if you've already chosen unhappiness for next year.... 

The truth is that we are all full of self-defeating prophecies. All of us. We have this tendency, as broken human beings, to think about the worst things as though they are the most inevitable things. We make promises to ourselves that the bad stuff will happen, and somehow, we think that our promises are more true than the promises of God Himself about things like love, life, hope, mercy, and grace. 

This is why so many of us fail at our resolutions. Every year, we make resolutions with all the hope of Christmas in our hearts, all the hope that things really can be different because how could they not be with a baby in a manger. And every year, it doesn't take long before we start thinking we were stupid to make such resolutions because we know ourselves, and we know that we're never going to keep them. 

We exercise for one day, then two, then three, and our muscles ache, and we remember that we have never successfully stuck with an exercise program. We're just "not capable" of it. So we start to think that we're not going to stick with this one, either. And once we know we're not going to stick with it long-term, we start wondering what difference one more day really makes. So we don't exercise today. And once we've broken it, we've broken it - see? We were right. We told ourselves we weren't going to stick with it. 

We abstain from alcohol or cigarettes or drugs or porn or sugar or caffeine or whatever for one day, then two, then three, but the truth is that we really actually like those things. We like the way they make us feel. And we know that we aren't willing to go through life very long without that kind of feeling. So we decide that we're probably not going to stick with this. We can't. We're not willing. And as soon as we're not willing, we give in. Because what does one more day matter? 

It happens every year, to almost every one. There comes a point where we just expect that we aren't capable of doing anything truly new, so we give up and go back to the old thing - the old thing that we've been trying to walk away from for...years. Because we do this to ourselves every year. 

It's a dangerous thing, the way we let ourselves think. The way we convince ourselves that we're "just being real" about things. That we're "just being honest." 

Why are we always "honest" about all the negative stuff that's killing us? Why is that "being real?" 

The point is - your life can be all of the things that you believe about it. In fact, it already is. The problem is that you're just believing the wrong things. 

But God has not given us a spirit of fear. Or timidity. Or anxiety. Or defeat. 

What if you believed this season in His things, not yours?

Monday, December 26, 2022

Turn the Page

As the Christmas music starts to fade, many of us turn our attention now to the new year, just a few short days away. 

Like every new year, this one starts with the promise of something exciting: opportunity. It's a new day, a new calendar, new chances to make our lives what we want them be. 

Chances to take risks that we chickened out of in the past. Chances to make moves that we were too scared to make last time. Chances to try new things. Chances to become more of who we want to be. Chances to lose weight, break habits, start new routines and traditions. We are going to really take hold of this new year and milk it for all it's worth. 

At least, that's what we say. 

But we said that last year. 

And the year before that. 

But this year, it's going to be different. This year, we're really going to do it. We've got one more year of bad decisions and broken patterns under our belts, and this year, there's no fooling around. It's life or death. It's hope or despair. It's now or never. 

This is going to be our year. 

There's something almost intoxicating about it, this hope that we have. Something that keeps us coming back every year to make new resolutions...or make the same ones with a new kind of resolve, a resolve that feels different than the last time we decided to do it (even though, probably, it's the same...we've just forgotten what it feels like to be so full of hope). 

And...there it is. It's hope. That's what the new year brings us more than anything else. 

It's hope. 

What's strange to me is that we always think hope is about the next thing; what if it's not? What if hope is about the last thing?

Let's not forget that we just finished celebrating a baby in a manger, and not just any baby - the Son of God. Jesus Christ, who crossed heaven and earth to be with us in the flesh. As we saw for the past three weeks, He is everything that we need Him to be (and more), and more importantly to many of us, He is the one thing that we need Him to be. 

What if the hope that we feel this week is not because an entire year's worth of blank pages lay open before us, full of possibilities and opportunities and chances we're going to take? What if the hope that we feel right now is because there is still a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, dwelling among us, full of promise? 

What if our hope isn't the new year after all, but the newborn? 

What if it's not next week, but last week? 

What if it's not what might happen next, but what already took place? 

What if our hope is still Immanuel? 

Friday, December 23, 2022


With just two days now before Christmas, we wrap up our Advent journey of looking at what persons need from Jesus in order to believe. As we said starting out, and as we have remembered periodically throughout the past three weeks, most persons don't think they need Jesus to be everything; they just need Him to be one thing. 

The truth is, a lot of unbelievers want to believe. They do. They have heard the promises of this faith that we hold, and it sounds really good to them. They just need that one thing that will push them over the edge of believing and seal the deal for them. They just need to know that one little shred of it, whatever little shred their life most craves at this hour, is real. That it's true. 

As we've seen, for some, that's something physical. For others, it's something spiritual. For still others, it's a need of the soul. But for nearly every unbeliever out there, if they could look in that manger this Christmas morning and see just one thing, that would be all that they need to give their lives to this King. 

The cool thing is that of all the things we've looked at in the past three weeks, Jesus is absolutely all of them. Every single one. No matter what it is that someone brought to Jesus, needing Him to be, He answered very clearly: I Am

I am sight for the blind. I am voice for the mute. I am hearing for the deaf. I am movement for the lame. I am healing for the unclean. I am freedom for the captive. I am welcome for the stranger. I am forgiveness for the sinner. I am friend for the unseen. I am peace for the restless and weary. I am joy for the downtrodden. I am hope for the hopeless. I am love for the unloved. 

I Am

Not once does Jesus say, "I'm sorry. I can't do that." Not once does He say, "Bad news, bro. That's not who I am." Not once does He back down and say, "Not really my thing" or "I'm not feeling it today." Every time someone cried out to Jesus and said, "Lord, I need ______," the Good News - the Gospel itself - is that Jesus said yes. Jesus was that very thing for that very person. 

I Am. 

Not only was He all that the peoples thought they needed; He was all that they didn't know they did. Every promise made in the Old Testament, every promise uttered since the beginning of the world, He is. He fulfilled every one of them. 

He truly is everything, everything we need and everything we don't know yet that we need. He is everything we understand in our bodies and souls and everything we don't quite get yet. He is all of it, which is something we come to find out only after He's shown Himself to be that one thing that we're looking for. 

All wrapped up in swaddling clothes. 


Thursday, December 22, 2022


When you hear that God is love and that God so loved the world, is there something inside of you that breaks your heart just a little? 

It's common for us, because we think we know ourselves so well, to believe that when God so loved the world, that means everyone except us. That when God is love, He is love only for those who deserve the kind of love that He is. We are very good at coming up with reasons why we ought to exclude ourselves, why the Bible isn't talking about us. Why God isn't talking about us when He talks about love. 

So the question most of us have that we need to know is not really, is God love? or even does God so love the world? but does God love me?

And, well, He crossed heaven and earth to be with you, so...yeah. He does. 

Yesterday, we said that we have hope because God Himself crossed this great distance that exists between us and Him, so we know that it's possible. Today, we have to recognize that He actually did cross this great distance that exists between us and Him...and that is love. 

Not only is that love for all humanity (yes, including you), but look at the family into which He came. It was a poor family, doing their best to get by. Trying their best to be faithful, but faith is hard when you have barely enough for a sacrifice at all. They were young, inexperienced in the ways of the world. They were ridiculed for the things that they believed - an angel, of all things! If you were looking for a way for God to come into the world, this family would not have been it. Not by worldly eyes. 

But God does it this way so that you know it's for you. So that you know that when He came to earth, He had someone exactly like you in mind. 

See, we think it's all about the rich. About those with access. About those with good looks or economic means or standing in society. And if God had come into a family like this, it would be easy for us to look at the story and say, yeah, God isn't interested in someone lowly like me.

But He didn't come into a family like this. He came into a family like so many of our families - a family struggling. A family scraping by a couple of pennies just to buy a couple of doves just to give whatever small blessing they had to a baby they were promised but never conceived on their own. He came into a family of social outcasts, a family of hard work, a family of broken relationships. Remember that no one made room at the inn for Mary and Joseph in their hometown. These were the persons who should have known them best, and all they would offer them was a place in the barn. 

And God's first word in all of it is blessed are you, Mary

For here, I come.

That is great news for those of us who need to be loved this Christmas. Who need to know that God loves us. Who need to understand that when God so loved the world, yes, He meant even us. Because we are exactly the kind of poor, broken, outcast, misfit, beat-up, dragged-down, worn-out human beings to whom He came in a manger. 


Wednesday, December 21, 2022


Hope is an amazing thing. It's the confident assurance that things are going to be different, that good is going to win, that things can chance. It's the belief that God is who He says He is, that He's doing what He says He's doing, that He loves the way He says He loves. Hope is optimism, but it's so much more than that - because it's not a pipe dream. It's not naive. It doesn't believe just because it fears what happens if it doesn't; it believes because it knows

And Christmas is a story of hope. 

It's what we all want it to be, right? A promise that better days are ahead. A reminder that there is still good in this world. An assurance that God is who He says He is, that He's doing what He says He's doing. That He loves the way He says He loves. Christmas is the hope that there is a God. And not just that there is a God, but that there is a way.

That's the hope of Christmas for me. It's the proof that we need that there is a way between God and man. There's an opportunity to cross the distance, to close the gap. That there's the chance that this chasm in my soul gets crossed, that something spreads across it that allows me to go from one side to the other. That gets me from here to God. 

At Christmas, I know that it's possible that man and God walk together because God Himself came to walk with me. 

God crossed that distance. God closed that chasm. God came so that He could be here with me, and that is what gives me hope - a confident assurance - that I really can one day be with Him. It's possible because it happened, because it's happening. Because it happens every time that we make our way to the manger and see God in the very flesh of a little baby laying there, laying in our arms, taking in our air, crying out in our breath. 

Christmas is hope because it reminds me that it's possible that one day, God will cross that chasm again and bring me back with Him so that I can see His glory, so that I can live in His glory, so that I can take in His air and His breath, crying out in praise to Him. Not only is it possible that one day God will do this (because He already has), but it's a promise.

So was Christmas. 

Jesus was promised from a long, long time ago. He's the One that the people of God kept looking forward to, the One they kept looking for. He's the embodiment of everything that God said was going to be true one day about the relationship between Him and His people. And He's here. It's Christmas, and Jesus is here

And the deliverance of God on this promise gives me confident assurance - a certain hope - in the next one. If God can do this, if God can cross this distance and deliver on this promise, and what's more, if God does cross this distance and deliver on this promise, then who am I to believe He wouldn't do it again? Who am I to think His next promise would be the one that fails? 

I look into the eyes of that baby lying in that manger, and all of the fears, the hesitations, the doubts that I have just melt away. I know they're unfounded. I know they have to be. 

Just look at Him. 



Tuesday, December 20, 2022


It's too simple to say that the past few years have been difficult, but if we're being honest - they have. No more difficult, really, than any of the years before them; it just seems that everyone can relate to the kind of difficulty that we've been having, so it feels more universal, when talking about difficulty, to say that the past few years have been...rough. 

And what many of us want right now is a reason to be happy again. A reason to be joyous again. A reason to feel that things are, well, not just okay, but good

Enter the baby Jesus. 

Mary and Joseph were not having a good time. Their days were not really filled with a lot of happiness. Neither was the world around them. 

Everyone was trudging home - wherever home was - for a census, a tedious process that often came with the imposition of a tax that you had to pay just for existing. As if anyone needed another bill right about now. 

Add to that all of the travel. All of the houseguests. All of the cramped quarters. All of the families trying to make room for extended family members, trying to make beds where there used to be just floor, trying to keep Uncle Bob away from Nephew Tim because they don't get along well, and they're going to ruin everyone's time. Trying to make enough food to feed everyone, with flour getting all over the floor from the bread and crumbs dropping underfoot and lamb roasting, but not fast enough for those who are famished from their journey. 

Even the inn is full. There's literally no more room for anyone as every place called "home" is busting at the seams, trying to accommodate a census.'re pregnant. You're very pregnant. You're pregnant out of wedlock, without even having sex, so you don't know exactly how pregnant you are, but the birth of this baby feels very close. And thank God, because you don't know how much longer you can stand listening to everyone talk about you all the time. All the whispers. All the finger-pointing. All the looks that you've gotten in public for roughly the last nine months. All the laughing, the mocking because you keep saying this is a special little baby you're carrying, not just some ill-gotten son of Joseph, but something truly, truly special. And, well, everyone thinks you're at least a little nuts, not to mention extremely loose in the morals. 

And all of this just can't be over soon enough because you just don't know how much more of all of this you can take, and you just want life to settle back down and settle in and give you a reason to smile again. 

Then, it does. 

Because how can you not smile when that little baby comes to rest in your arms for the first time? How can you not be filled with joy when all of that struggle, all of that trial, all of that rough stuff pays off and in the midst of all the noise, all the hubbub, all the mess, there's this beautiful cry of an innocent baby, a newborn infant...

...a veritable bundle of joy, right in your waiting arms...


Monday, December 19, 2022


This year for Advent, we're thinking about how most persons in the world don't really think they need Jesus to be everything; they just need Him to be one thing - whatever that one thing is that they most need in their lives. We spent the first week talking about the physical needs that persons brought to Jesus. Last week, we talked about the spiritual needs that persons brought to Jesus. This week, as we lead up to Christmas itself, we're going to talk about the soul needs that we bring to Jesus. 

We are ensouled bodies and embodied souls. There is something about the essence of who we are that is connected to a deeper thread than we can really put words to. Because God breathed His very breath into us, there is something about our nature that yearns and aches for Him in a way that's hard to describe until we have found it. 

These are the aches of our souls. 

Thankfully, Jesus answers them, too. 

One of the things that we ache for in our souls is peace. And it's especially easy this time of year to find ourselves craving it even more than usual. We think it's because the hustle and bustle of the season just gets to us - there's so much to do, so much to prepare, so many places to go, persons to see, presents to wrap, decorations to hang, cookies to bake, hams to glaze, etc., etc., etc. until it feels like at just this time when we're coming to a so-called silent night, our world is noisier and busier and more demanding than it's ever been. 

And we just want to breathe for a moment.

We just want to stop. We just want to slow down. We just want to stop having to worry about everything. We just want to settle into the season, just for a couple of minutes. We want to find rest. 

What's heartbreaking is how many of us still think we will find peace in the inn - in the busy places, when everything is finally ready and we get to sit down in the midst of all the things we've been preparing for days or weeks or months now. But we know that never works. As soon as you sit down on Christmas, there's something to get up for, something else to do, something to check on, something to make sure about. There's no peace in the inn. 

The peace is in the manger. 

It's in the place removed from the busyness, where the light of heaven itself shine through the cracks in the windows. It's in the place where the oxen feed on hay and the donkeys lay down and the animals teach us how to just do our thing. It's where the most natural of all things are happening, including the birth of a simple baby boy who starts crying out in the midst of the silent night, and suddenly, everything stops and all you can hear is that little, tiny voice...


Friday, December 16, 2022


If there's one thing we see Jesus saying over and over again in the Gospels when He has encounters with individuals - individuals who are seeking His attention, His affection, His healing, His power, His whatever - it's these words: 

Your sins are forgiven

We've talked about this before, but it bears mentioning again. Because it's easy for us in our post-Cross understanding of Christ to talk about the forgiveness of sins as the ultimate aim of His coming, as something He would obviously do. But we have to also realize that not one of these men or women that He encounters in the Gospels asked for this. No one came to Him and said, "Jesus, I need my sins forgiven."

No, these were blind men, lame men, beggars, tax collectors, sinful women, bleeding women, the outcast, the downtrodden. They wanted healing, freedom, mercy, recognition, place, whatever. No one asks to be forgiven of their sins. Yet, that is the one thing He keeps telling them over and over. 

Your sins are forgiven.


It's because these men and women were living with an understanding of the world in which the things that they suffered were a direct result of their own sin. Remember the blind man? The people asked Jesus, "Who sinned? This man or his parents?" There was no affliction in the time of Jesus apart from sin, not the way the people understood it. So if you just open a blind man's eyes, that leaves a really nagging soul question left to be answered - am I still a sinner? What about all the things I've done wrong? What if I'm not good enough to remain healed? What about my sin?

We have pretty much the same questions today. Because we know ourselves so well, because our faults and failures are too often at the forefront of our minds, we have trouble with the good things of God. We have trouble believing and understanding and accepting because we know that we are sinners. We know we keep messing up. We know that at our core, there's something still off about who we are. There's a nagging soul question left to be answered for us. 

What we most need from Jesus, a lot of us, is to be forgiven.

We need to know that our past isn't going to be held against us. We need to know that we're bigger than our worst moment. We need to know that there's more to us than the things that haunt us and keep us awake at night. We need to know that there's a Holy Ghost, not just a ghost of sinful past. We need to know that there's a way to move forward from here without the baggage we've been carrying for far too long. 

What Jesus said so many times in the Gospels are the very words that we still need to hear Him say in our own lives. 

Your sins are forgiven

And we hear them in His very own voice, His embodied, here-with-us voice. 


Thursday, December 15, 2022


There's a woman in the Gospels who is in probably the worst predicament we could imagine - yes, even worse than the demon-possessed man chained in the cemetery. She is the woman caught in adultery. 

Remember when Jesus was talking in the Sermon on the Mount about lust, and He clarified that if a man even looks at a woman with intent in his heart, he's committed a sin? Yeah, that wasn't popular teaching yet by this point. So when we say that this woman was caught in adultery, she was caught in the actual act of sexual contact with a man who was not her husband. 

Then, they dragged her to Jesus. 

They dragged her to the man-called-Messiah, the prophet, the One known for healing and for saying weird things, and the truth is that their bringing her to Him was two-fold: first, they wanted her adultery punished, but they also wanted to see if they could catch Jesus in something (like they were always trying to catch Jesus in something). 

So when we imagine this story, we imagine this woman who is either naked or who has some kind of covering thrown sloppily around her, whatever she was able to get on her body as she was being taken away from her tryst. Trust me, the men absolutely did not care whether she was naked or not; at this point, having caught her in the act, they were probably already calling her things like "whore." 

We have, then, a woman exposed. Ashamed. Insulted. Standing before Jesus with the voices of the many condemning her, in front of this very righteous man.

Maybe she's heard of Jesus. Maybe she's heard about this Teacher. Maybe she's even wanted to meet Him, thought about going out to the seashore one of these days. Maybe something about Him draws her heart for some reason she can't quite pin down. 

If that's the case, I promise you - this is not how she planned the encounter to happen. This is not how she wanted to meet Him. This isn't what she had in mind. She was going to sneak into the crowd and listen for awhile - maybe, actually, she already has. But whatever she's dreamed of or whatever opportunities she's had, that's all out the window right now. She is standing here face-to-face with Jesus at the lowest moment in her life, and every single voice says He has to condemn her. 

Then, He doesn't. 

He doesn't say anything, in fact, but rather, stoops down and starts doodling in the dirt. When He finally speaks, His words are not to the woman caught in adultery, but to the crowds shouting condemnation - let he who is without sin cast the first stone. 

And just like that, He dismisses the crowds. One by one, they walk away, leaving just Jesus and the woman. 

And He doesn't even condemn her now. 

Instead, He sets her free. 

There are so many in this world who have heard about Jesus, who have maybe even wanted to meet Him, and...that meeting doesn't go as they planned. They're dragged to the Cross in their worst moment, their most shameful moment, exposed and ashamed and probably afraid, and they hear the calls of the "righteous" that Jesus has to condemn them. 

Then, He doesn't. 

Instead, He speaks to the self-righteous until they all go away, leaving one tender, sacred moment between Savior and sinner, dust on His feet and dirt on His fingers and nails in His hands. And He sets them free, the one thing they most needed for Jesus to do for them. The Releaser they most needed Him to be. 

These kinds of encounters happen all throughout the Gospels, and they are still happening today. Only because He has come.


Wednesday, December 14, 2022


Yesterday, we looked at a couple of outsiders in insider places who just wanted to be seen (whether they knew that's what they wanted or not). The truth is, what many of us are looking for from Jesus is exactly this - to stop being outsiders and to be welcomed in insider places. 

So many of the men and women that Jesus encountered should not have been where they were. A sinful woman walks into a Pharisee's house. A crippled man is standing in the Temple on the Sabbath. Lepers were right out on the streets where Jesus could encounter them. A bleeding woman is pushing through a crowd. A Syrophoenician woman is among the Jews. A tax collector is climbing a tree. 

Over and over again, what we see is that Jesus keeps coming into contact with persons who shouldn't be where they are. Yet, it is the power and presence and promise of Jesus that has drawn them to take the risk, to try to push into these places, to make themselves known when they are supposed to be ostracized, forsaken, or forgotten. 

The Old Testament was full of rules about who could be where and when and how and what was clean and what was unclean and what you could touch and what you couldn't, what you could eat and what you couldn't. And it feels sometimes like our lives are still that way - full of all of these rules governing our freedom of movement, our invitation into society, what is expected of us or accepted of us, what we can and can't do, where we can and can't be, around whom we can and cannot go. 

Our churches are sometimes the same way. Too many have walked into our churches and found the rules too strict, the guidelines too complicated, to even figure out. They sit in our pews, but they aren't part of our worship. They fellowship in our halls, but not really. They get a sideways glance in passing, but no one's reaching out to shake hands or greet one another with a holy hug. 

We spend our whole lives, it seems, trying to navigate all of these rules, inside the church and outside of it. When is it okay to walk into the boss's office? When should I call the doctor? How often can I knock on my neighbor's door? Is it okay to text this person right now? 

We spend our lives waiting and watching and hoping for access, always wondering where the line is and whether or not we've stepped over it. And whether or not, maybe, we've stepped over it one too many times. We wonder if the line is the line or if it's a different line for us, if it's something about who we are. If it's personal. If we're ever going to be invited in. 

Then, there's Jesus, who spends His ministry in all these places where all these folks just should not be, and not once does He tell them they shouldn't be there. 

No, instead, He's often looking at those who think the others shouldn't be there and explaining exactly why it's good that they are. Exactly why this is exactly the kind of place this person should be. 

He welcomes us in, no matter where it is, because it's where He is. He's already there, already inside. 

Because He is Immanuel.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2022


Of all of the things that we think to ask Jesus for, the things that we know our hearts ache for, there's one that He gives us without our asking. Mostly because it's one of those things that's hard for us to nail down exactly what we're feeling, but once He answers, we realize we knew it all along. 

It's the gift of being seen. 

As I ponder this idea, I'm thinking of two women in the Gospels in particular. 

The first is the Syrophoenician woman who comes to Jesus to ask Him to heal her daughter. She is a foreigner, an outsider, and she comes to Jesus in a very "insider" place, and He responds as those around Him expect Him to respond - He tells the woman that the best thing of God are for the children of God (those who were listening in and who had been rudely interrupted by the mere presence of a Syrophoenician woman - in their minds). 

This woman then begs Him, claiming, "Even the dogs get to eat the scraps under the children's table." 

Then, Jesus commends her faith and heals her daughter. 

The second woman I'm thinking of is the woman at the well, who John introduces us to. She is a woman who is trying not to be seen. She has rearranged her entire schedule to go draw water at the hottest part of the day precisely because she doesn't want anyone to see her and start talking to her. She has a reputation, a history, a past. And frankly, she's tired of hearing about it. She's tired of being the fodder for all the town's gossip. 

Then, Jesus comes and asks her for a drink and tenderly brings up the truth about her messy life, and suddenly, she's running off into town, wildly and happily proclaiming that she's met someone who told her everything she ever did. Were it not for her excitement and happiness over this, the townspeople would likely have been wholly unimpressed. After all, most of them (if not all of them) could also tell her everything she ever did. It's not like it was a secret. 

Why does it excite her so much when Jesus does it? Because He's not talking about her; He's talking to her. He sees her. 

So here we have two women - an outsider in a very insider place, and a woman who put herself on the outside on purpose - and both of them receive this incredible gift from Jesus that is exactly what they need: they are seen by Him. 

Seen. Acknowledged. Spoken to. Called by name. Eye contact. A sacred moment pulled out just for them. Right in front of everybody. 

Who would ever pay attention to a Syrophoenician woman? Or a woman with a reputation? 

Jesus, that's who. 


Monday, December 12, 2022


We spent the first week of our Advent reflection this year looking at the physical ailments that made persons cry out to Jesus, the one thing that the physically afflicted needed Him to be for them. And we saw that our own needs are still very much the same. 

This week, we'll turn our attention to some of the spiritual needs that persons brought to Jesus, starting with the most obvious: 


There are a fairly good number of demons in the Gospels - demons in children, demons in women, demons in men, demons in a graveyard (and then, demons in pigs). A father comes to Jesus and says that his son is possessed by a demon that throws him down into convulsions, and then the demon throws the boy down into convulsions right there in front of Jesus. Jesus crosses the sea and comes face-to-face with demons in a man in a cemetery, demons so powerful that even the strongest chains cannot hold the man. We are told that He cast many demons out of one of the women who came to follow Him and be one of His disciples. 

When someone is possessed by a demon, they only want one thing: to not be possessed by a demon any more. That's it. That's all it takes. That's the most-pressing need that the demon-possessed have for Jesus. 

Release me!

Most of us aren't really sure what we think about demons these days. They aren't part of our cultural experience in the same way that they were in Jesus's time, and spiritual warfare is not something most of us are comfortable talking about. We're stuck in the Pharisees' dilemma - if we say that demons are real, then we have to acknowledge the power of Jesus; if we say that they are not real, then we have to account for evil somehow. And either way, if we talk about demons at all, the world is going to think we're weird. Or worse. 

But we can certainly relate to that feeling of being held captive by something we don't want to control us. We can relate to feeling like we don't have control of ourselves because something more powerful than us keeps drawing us to do what we don't want to do. Paul even acknowledges this for us later in the New Testament - for what I want to do, I don't do, but the things I don't want to do, these I do. 

And I think we all have that one thing that if we could just stop doing that, we'd feel a tremendous sense of freedom. We'd feel a tremendous sense of redemption and restoration. We all have that one thing that we just keep falling for, that we will always fall for every time, but that we don't want to. It's just feels like something gets inside of us and we can't stop ourselves. 

It is our demon. 

So we cry out to Jesus to set us free, and...He will. He does. He speaks to the demon in the voice of God Himself, our Lord, and commands the demon to flee. And it has to. 

Because it has heard that voice, that embodied voice. 


Friday, December 9, 2022


This Christmas, we're talking about the one thing that the world needs from Jesus - and it's different for everyone, according to their circumstances. We've started by looking this week at some of the physical concerns that persons brought to Jesus, the very real physical healings that they needed in their lives. And whether we share these physical ailments or not, we can relate to the effects of them in our own life. 

Today, we look at one more sense of physical healing that the crowds brought to Jesus, and that is their overall wellness. 

Here, we're thinking about stories like those of the lepers and the bleeding woman. These men and women were outcasts of society, unable to participate in the things that others took for granted every day. Unable to go to the market and pick up the essentials that they needed. Unable to go to the Temple and worship. Unable to be even with their families, lest their uncleanness spread to those they love most. 

Jesus encounters ten lepers, and He heals them all. A woman who has been bleeding for twelve years pushes through the crowds just to touch His robe; she is also healed. We hear them say things like, "I just want to be clean," but that's not exactly it - they want to be whole. 

They want to be able to live in their own bodies, to take care of their own selves. They want to be able to do all of the little things that everyone else does without a second thought. They want to be in the crowds that are pressing toward Jesus without having to think about what they are risking to be there. 

That woman? That bleeding woman? Every single time someone brushed against even the edge of her clothing, she knew...she knew she was making them unclean. She felt her own disgustingness all the more heavily with every step she took toward Jesus. Those lepers, standing in the presence of such purity, felt their own disease as the heaviest weight. They shouldn't have been there, and they knew it. 

They were supposed to just stay on the edges of society forever. How could they do otherwise?

Except for Jesus.

There are many among us who are trapped in their own bodies, stuck in their own lives. They wrestle with physical ailments, sometimes mental illnesses, sometimes the effects of the broken lives they've either been forced to live or chosen to live. They don't get up every day like everyone else and think about what the day has to offer; their life is so limited, it's not even worth dreaming any more. There are those who can't just go to the store and pick up the things that they need, can't just go to a church and worship, can't even be with their families because the burden is simply too great ( or so they think ). 

Maybe we're talking about someone in a wheelchair who can't attend an event because it's upstairs and there is no elevator. Or who can't go to a relative's house because the hallways are not wide enough. Maybe we're talking about someone with crushing anxiety who can barely take two steps out of her house because the world just feels so big. Maybe it's someone with depression, who can't even see a reason to try. Maybe we're talking about someone with Crohn's disease, who is unable to be too far from a reasonable restroom facility. Or someone with allergies for whom the world is one big reaction waiting to happen.

There are all kinds of things that go wrong with our bodies that leave us feeling trapped in them, especially in a world that doesn't always recognize or accommodate what our limitations might be. Or worse, judges us for them. 

If this is the case, then the one thing we really need Jesus to be, the one thing that would change our hearts toward Him for real, is Healer. 

How good for us, then, that He is exactly this. 

He comes to us, we come to Him. We push through the crowds, and He reaches over them for just a chance to touch us, to take away our burden, to heal our broken bodies. He can, and He does. 

Because He is here. Immanuel. 

Thursday, December 8, 2022


About this time of year, you might think that being deaf would be a blessing - all of the noise, the Christmas songs on repeat, the "Santa Baby"s, the bell-ringing, the kids bouncing off the's enough to make your head spin, and a little bit of pure quiet doesn't sound like such a bad thing. 

But to a man unable to hear, all he wanted was Jesus's healing touch.

The story, as we're told is in the Gospels, is that when Jesus encountered the deaf man, He stuck His fingers in the man's ears, and that opened them. The man was then able to hear.

As I was thinking about this story this week in preparation for writing this reflection, I started thinking about what it is that I hear when I cannot hear anything at all, it seems - when I lie down at night and the pillow covers one of my ears and my blankets cover the other; when I'm trying to escape all of the noise and I stick my own fingers in my own ears. 

And you know what I came up with? My heartbeat. In the moments when my ears are plugged, when it seems I can't hear anything at all, what I hear is my own heartbeat. I almost feel it in my bones in a way that goes beyond hearing. 

I wonder if that's what the deaf man heard when Jesus stuck His fingers in the man's ears. I wonder if that's the first thing he could understand happening in that healing moment. 

That's what a lot of us want from Jesus. 

We want to hear. We want to hear Him telling us a story of our purpose. We want to hear Him calling us to something bigger. We want to hear Him talk about the meaning of our life and the calling on it and what we're supposed to be doing. 

Oh, that we would all be in a place that we could hear our holy heart beat as Jesus restores us to hear. 

Oh, that we would listen.

This is the one thing that many are looking for from Jesus, it's the one thing that would turn everything for them. Lord, let me hear. Let me hear You speak of goodness. Let me hear You speak of glory. Let me hear You call me to greater things. Let me hear You making good out of all things. Let me hear You speak at all. 

Then, He sticks His fingers in our ears, and it's unmistakable. That heartbeat. That purpose. That belovedness. It's all we've ever wanted. 

And it's possible only because He is here, only because He has hands at all with which to touch our too-deaf ears. 

Only because...Immanuel. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022


The blind men stood on the side of the road and cried out; the dumb men waved their arms frantically, trying to get Jesus's attention (we can assume). The lame men...just had to wait and hope that Jesus would pass them by. Or that they had a couple of really good friends who could lower them through a roof somewhere.

It's hard to get healing when you're a lame man. It's hard to get to the places that could even offer you a glimpse of hope when you have no way to get anywhere at all. So far, we haven't excavated any ancient wheelchairs from this period, and if we're talking about a quadriplegic, there's no way he could have used crutches. Every time we see these men, they are lying on mats somewhere, hoping that mercy comes to them. 

Like so many of us.

We are living our humdrum lives, stuck in our ruts, doing the same things day after day and...hoping that mercy comes to us. Hoping that God Himself walks by and gives us an opportunity to move. 

That's what a lot of us are looking for - an opportunity to move. An opportunity to walk away, to go somewhere, to do something different, something that matters. We look around at our lives, and they feel so small, so inconsequential. It feels like the world is moving all around us, stepping over us with sometimes-not-so-delicate steps, passing right by. 

What we want from Jesus is a chance for our lives to be different, a chance to get up and go somewhere and so something. We want to be called away from this place. We want to be told to pick up our mat and move, to go, to do, to live. 

And...we wait. We wait faithfully here because it's the only thing we know to do, the only thing we think we can do. We spend our lives just praying that Jesus happens to come by us, that God happens to walk this way, and that when He does, He'll see us and call us to get up and get moving. 

This is true inside the church, and it's true outside the church - everyone's just looking for purpose, for calling, for a chance to go and do something meaningful in this world. If God would come to the unbeliever and put an unbelievable calling on his life, he'd believe. In fact, for many, this is exactly the one evidence of God they are looking for. 

It happens - for the believer and the unbeliever - in moments just like this, too. Moments when we are just going about our humdrum lives. Moments when we are just stuck in our ruts. Moments when we are just lying on our mats, doing the things that don't seem very glorious at all. Doing the faithful little things over and over and over again because that's all that we've got to do. It's all we can do right now. 

Then, mercy happens by. God crosses our path. We call out, but He's already calling us. We can hear His voice; we can feel His touch. Get up, He says to us with all the authority of Heaven. 


Tuesday, December 6, 2022


While the blind men lined up along the sides of the road, crying out to Jesus for sight, at least one man did no crying out at all. He was the dumb man, or today, we might call him "mute" (lest anyone mistake what "dumb" means). But perhaps we can imagine him frantically waving his hands, doing everything he could - without a voice - to get the attention of the passing Jesus. 

Jesus knows without him saying it what he wants - he wants to be able to speak. 

Like so many of us, this man wanted to have a voice in his world. He wanted to be able to join in on important discussions. He wanted to contribute to the community dialogue. He wanted to handle his own transactions more easily in the marketplace. Maybe he wanted to tell a young woman that he loves her. Maybe he wanted to say the same to his parents. 

Having a voice in dramatically important. Most of us take for granted how easy it is for us to speak. We take for granted all of the things that having a functional tongue makes possible for us. Most of us have never imagined what it might be like to not be able to speak, except perhaps if we have had too sore of a throat for a day or two. But this man wasn't sick; he was fully well, feeling fully well (not puny). He simply couldn't speak. 

We come closest to understanding how the dumb man felt not when our throat is sore or our voice hoarse, but when we see something in the world that breaks our heart or riles our righteous anger, and we are powerless to do anything about it. When we want to say something, but for whatever reason, we can't. 

When we want to speak, but our voice feels too weak. 

This happens to us all the time. At least, it happens to me all the time. There are brokennesses in this world that I can't help but notice, things I can't help but see. There are moments when I walk away and kick myself, wondering why I didn't say anything. Wondering what I would have said if I had. Wondering if that would have made a difference at all, if it would have mattered. 

As we face a world that is not what it is supposed to be, not what God created it to be, we are often confronted with our smallness. With our powerlessness. With the feeling that we ought to say something, but...who are we to speak? 

We, like the dumb man, wave our hands frantically, trying to get Jesus's attention, begging Him to touch our lips and give us something to say. Give us the ability to speak. Give us words that matter. Lord Jesus, we want to speak life.

All it takes is a single touch from the God who walks among us. 

The God who is Immanuel

Monday, December 5, 2022


One of the things that we know this world is looking for from Jesus is sight. The Gospels are filled with the stories of blind men crying out on the sides of the road, and they are also filled with men that Jesus says are blind and don't even know it yet. 

I don't know about you, but it seems to me when I read the Gospels that the blind men outnumber everyone else who comes to Jesus.  

Most of us wrestle with this, whether we are physically blind or not. We struggle with knowing there are things in this world that we just don't see. Maybe we can't see them. Maybe we're not paying enough attention. Maybe we couldn't process them even if we did, such as is the case when men look like trees walking around. 

We just feel like we're missing something important that's right in front of our faces, and without it, we're at risk of taking a wrong turn somewhere. 

And this blindness that we feel doesn't end when we simply come to Christ; we need Him to open our eyes. 

So many of us spend so much of our time saying that we wish God would just show us what He wants us to do. Sometimes, it's an excuse we're making so that we can stay idle or comfortable or whatever - claiming that if God wanted us to do something different, He'd show us. Or that we're not going to move until God makes it clear. Sometimes, we wrestle with our smallness and just want God to show us what part it is that we're playing in things. Sometimes, we need that kind of vision to help us focus, to take our eyes off all of the possible good things that we could be doing and help us to figure out what the good things are that God wants us to be doing. 

The point is - we can all benefit from a touch of holy vision in our lives, and most of us - Christian and not - spend a lot of our time crying out for it. 

The good news, then, is that Jesus never left a blind man begging. Not one. There's not one man who cries out, "Lord, I want to see!" to whom Jesus responds, "Nah. That's not really necessary. You're fine just the way you are, and it's okay that you're blind." 

That's not our God. Our God touches the eyes of the blind and opens them, and He doesn't quit until you don't just see, but see clearly. Until the last bit of scales fall from your eyes.

Only our God is able to give us the testimony, "I once was blind, but now, I see." Only our God is faithful to give us this story. 

Only our God is near enough to open our eyes. 


Friday, December 2, 2022

A Personal Touch

We're talking, as Christmas is coming, about our need for Jesus not to be everything, but just to be one thing. 

While it's cool sometimes to talk about the overwhelming number of prophecies fulfilled in Jesus and to trace God's Promise of Him through the Old Testament and all the way to the manger, we have to be honest in recognizing that that's not what most persons were talking about around Him. It's not what the disciples were talking about, not what the Pharisees were talking about, not what the crowds were looking for. 

We never see someone crying out along the side of the road, "Jesus! Jesus! Were You really born of a virgin? Are You the Wonderful Counselor we were told about?" In fact, the only person to really ask this question was John the Baptizer, who sent to Jesus to ask if He was the one they were all waiting on, even though he, of all persons, already knew the answer to that. After all, he leapt in his mother's womb when the pre-born Jesus drew near. 

Jesus, a couple of times, asks something like, "Who do you say I am?" And every now and then, we get something saying, "You are the Son of God." (Or in the case of the Roman soldiers, "This was the Son of God.") 

But overwhelmingly, Jesus's ministry was not about the theological fulfillment of prophecies; it was about Immanuel - God with us. 

So what we see setting up is this very prominent distinction between those seeking for Jesus and those holding theological ideas. 

Those seeking for Jesus lined up on the sides of the road, climbed into boats, climbed trees, and followed Him everywhere. They longed just to reach out and touch His robe; they cried out for Him to touch them. They all had one specific thing that they needed Jesus to do or to be - restore my vision, heal my lameness, cast out my demon, rescue my child. 

And when these things happened (and notice, Jesus did every single one of them), we don't see a single one of these persons saying something like, "Thank You, Jesus. Now, if only You satisfied all of my theological curiosities, too." We don't see anyone saying, "I can see again! ...But I also have a bit of a trick knee right here that if You could just...." 

A man who has that one thing he needs Jesus to be is simply a believer when he discovers that Jesus is that one thing. Just like that. He doesn't have all of the answers. He doesn't have a solid 13-point theological doctrine. He doesn't suddenly have all the "learning" the religious leaders think he's supposed to have. But he knows this - Jesus is who he needs Jesus to be. 

That's the start of everything. 

On the contrary, and this is where the distinction becomes obvious, it is always those who haven't needed Jesus to be one thing, but have demanded that He be everything, who have the most questions. It is always this group that hesitates to have faith. It is always this group that is antagonistic. Because they haven't had the personal touch of God in their lives - they haven't sought it, and they haven't received it. 

Everyone who condemns Jesus never draws close enough to really get to know Him. They haven't come to Him for Him to be anything. To them, if He's not everything all at once (and very obviously), then He is nothing at all. 

Just look at them scoff - who is this man who thinks he can heal the lame? Well, if you would bring your lame self a little closer to Him and let Him touch your self-righteous heart, you wouldn't have to ask that question. 

It's always those at a distance who can't figure Him out. Those close enough already know.

And He is everything, sure, but that's not it: He is that one thing that you most desperately need Him to be. 

He is Immanuel. 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

One Thing

As we turn the page on our calendars, we turn our hearts toward Christmas and the coming of our Savior in the swaddling clothes of a child. 

When I started thinking about Christmas this year, I started wondering what it is that I need to know when I hear that newborn baby cry this year. Immediately, my heart was overwhelmed with all of the assurances that I need in my life right now, all the reminders that I need of God's goodness. At the same time, I realized that the things that I think about first this year are not the things that I thought about first last year. Or the year before that. Or the year before that. In fact, every year, as I come toward Christmas, it seems that my heart is looking for something else entirely in that manger. 

And that's okay. 

It's okay for my life to change and to grow in ways that I need to know something different about God this season. In fact, it's the way that faith is meant to work. As our circumstances change, we come into contact with greater and greater things about God, coming to know more of Him as our world demands that we know more of Him. As our faith requires it. So I'm not troubled to come again to this stable, peering around the corners and looking into the manger to see if I can see what my heart needs to see. 

I have absolutely no doubt that I will. 

The more I thought about my own coming to Christmas, the more I thought about the world's coming to Christ. 

When we are taught about evangelism, we are taught to go out and teach about Jesus, about everything He is and everything He's done. We go out and proclaim how amazing He is and how much beyond our imagination He is and how He is literally everything, and we can get lost in the overwhelming nature of God-made-flesh-among-us. There's so much to say, so much to see, so much to know. To many of us, the sheer volume of information that we have about Jesus is sufficiently overwhelming; how could anyone not believe? 

But the truth is that most persons aren't looking for sufficiently overwhelming. They aren't looking for a large volume of information. They aren't looking for "everything." Their lives, right now, aren't built to hold that, just like mine isn't. And yours isn't, either. 

In fact, the more we talk about how Jesus is everything, the more others start to drill down deep into their own hearts and discover what it is that they really need. You see, everyone has that one thing - just that one thing that they need Jesus to be. It depends on where they are in their life, what their needs are, how their heart is shaping up, but in any given season, for just about any of us, it boils down to one thing. 

And if someone could just show them that Jesus is that one thing, if Jesus could just reveal Himself to be that one thing, then they would believe. Just like that. 

It really is that simple. The world isn't looking for Jesus to be everything, to be Savior King, to be God-in-flesh, to be whatever all the glorious and wonderful things are that we are ready to proclaim Him this season; they just need Him to be that one thing their life needs right now. 

The Good News is, of course, that He is. 

As we come toward Christmas, I want to talk about the many one things that Jesus is, the one things that we need Him to be this year. That the world is looking for. That your heart is aching for.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

A Strange Hope

If you heard me say yesterday that it ought to give us great hope that we are not the first generation to deal with a group known as "the offended," and you've been paying attention to your Bible even the tiniest bit, then you're probably thinking right now - uhm, Aidan? That's a strange kind of hope you're talking about. 

Because these guys that we're looking at this week, guys like Paul and Jesus, were crucified by the offended. Yes, the ruling authorities declared them innocent. Yes, no actual fault could be found in them. But they were still crucified, just as many others like them were killed. 

Great hope there. Excellent hope. Just what you've probably always wanted from hope - the confident assurance that even being right doesn't save you from being crucified. 

Such is life. 

Or death. 

Or whatever. 

But it is great hope because it reminds us that our worldly wisdom, the best of what we think we know, isn't really all that wise. And it reminds us that when we are persecuted for truth - for being right - we aren't being singled out; we're not alone. Jesus has been there, done that, lived (haha) to tell the tale. 

These are the two things that we tell ourselves in times like these to try to settle our hearts just a little bit, aren't they? 

First, we tell ourselves that we're right. We're telling the truth. And because we're telling the truth and we're right, that ought to protect us from anything bad that might happen to us. Yes, the world can rant and rave and claim offense, but at the end of the day, the fact that we are right ought to keep us from any harm. 

The biblical story tells us something very different. And, it's true - God never called us to be right; He called us to be righteous, and there's a really big difference. And, it's also true - God never promised that even our righteousness would keep us from trouble in this world. In fact, He promised it would bring trouble right to us. So we can stop digging our heels in and demanding that our rightness keep us from any harm or trouble. Simply put, it won't. And when it doesn't, we can know that God already knew and promised us that much.

Second, we tell ourselves that the offended are simply unreasonable and that it's not actually the truth they don't like; it's us. They have some kind of pre-existing bias against us, whether it's because we're Christians or because we're male or female or because of where we live or some position we hold in our community or our economic level or whatever. It's not that the offended don't want to hear it; it's that they don't want to hear it from us

Then, we get all self-righteous and offended on our own and start making it personal against them because hey, they started it and made it personal against us. 

But it's not personal. It never was. 

If it was personal, Paul wouldn't have been the guy. He says himself all of the things that he can claim that should have bought him credibility with the very crowds that cried out against him - he was just like them in every way, except for this one fundamental disagreement in belief about who Jesus was - and even that didn't protect him. Because it wasn't personal; it wasn't because it was Paul saying these things that the offended were offended.

It's not because it's you saying it, either. No matter how new of a convert, how big of a hypocrite, how high or low of a status you have, whatever - it's not about you. It's not because it's you that the world is so offended by the message of Christ; it's because of Christ Himself, the high price He paid and the high price He calls His followers to pay for the sake of love. 

These are just things that I thought were worth thinking about this week, as we continue to try to navigate our way through a world that feels hostile to the very things that we hold dear about God and faith. It's not new, and it's not unique to us; this has been the way from the very beginning. 

So take heart, for there is great reason for hope - yes, even hope crucified. This is the way of the Cross. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022


It's the buzzword of our day, it seems - offended. Drop that word, and you can rightfully expect the world to stop for you. You can expect others to bow down and apologize. You can create an entire movement and remove an entire chunk of vocabulary from the dictionary and edit the pages of history itself just by being "offended" by something. 

Certainly, "the offended" are one of the toughest groups that we are up against. 

But this challenge isn't unique to our day.

This is exactly what we're talking about this week. This is the very thing that we see happening in the New Testament (and sometimes, the Old, as well) - persons who were confident they had everything figured out by creating tiny little boxes consisting entirely of their own self-righteous worldview started dragging these "Christians" before the ruling authorities claiming offense, trusting that everyone else was just as offended as they were. 

They did it to Paul. A lot. 

They did it to Jesus. 

Remember, the ruling authorities kept just kind of shrugging their shoulders saying, "I don't get it." These mobs kept insisting these men were the worst of the worst, absolutely intolerable, deserving of death for the good of society, but the ruling authorities kept just being baffled and saying to one another, and to the people, "I think the mobs are just offended? I think that's what's happening here." 

And the mobs kept just screaming, "Listen to him talk! See how offensive it is?" And the rulers just kept shrugging their shoulders like...what is going on? What do you want us to do about someone you merely find offensive?

That's what strikes me as funny in this whole thing. Here, we have the rulers of the majority of the world, and they say things that imply offensiveness isn't that big of a deal. It's just...part of living in a multiethnic world, as far as they're concerned; ideas are going to clash sometimes. Deal with it. 

Yet today, we live in a world that will literally stop everything because one person is offended. If you have a voice that can make a big enough noise, you can destroy anything. We can't just let anyone be ignorant any more; say something ignorant, and you're offensive and must be dealt with. We can't just let someone have a different opinion; go against the flow, and you're offensive and must be dealt with. Over and over again, particularly in recent years, we have seen being "offended" tear down some of the most inarguable stories - things no one would have blinked twice at for hundreds or thousands of years are now likely to get you canceled, or worse, because one day, someone decided they were "offensive" and that makes you a threat to the entire fabric of the human race for ever even having the thought, let alone saying the word. 

This is how we've ended up with a "Jesus" who is just nice and loving and tolerant and adores everything about this broken world because there's not a place in our culture, we think, for anything at all like truth. That would be offensive. 

But that's exactly the point. I mean, that's exactly why Jesus was put to death in the first place. He wasn't violent. He wasn't a threat. He wasn't a drunkard or a lawbreaker.

He was simply offensive. 

So was Paul.

So was Silas.

So was Peter. 

So was the Gospel. 

So it still is today. 

That doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing, no matter how much the world shouts at you that it does. 

And sometimes - okay, actually, a lot - the world make the claim and then asks you to speak for yourself, and when you do, they just point a finger and say, "See? See? It's offensive." And maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. Maybe it's supposed to be. Maybe it's not. 

But it's not new. 

And that fact should give us hope.  

Monday, November 28, 2022


The New Testament, particularly the early parts of it (the Gospels, Acts) are full of a number of trials, times during which believers in this new Way were dragged into the courts to defend themselves for one thing or another. Jesus was dragged before Pilate, Stephen before the Sanhedrin, Paul before the Romans, and a few others in between. And there's something interesting that keeps happening in these trials:

The people just assume the accused will condemn himself. 

They assume that the person they've dragged into court is going to start talking and everyone else will be just as offended as they are. They assume that when asked a question, the accused is going to answer and reveal his own rascality. Sometimes, the crowds quiet down just to hear the accused speak, only to go into a raucous uproar all over again, and the accusers just stand smugly by like, "See? See how much trouble this guy is causing?" 

We keep seeing stories that say that they've tried to bring in witnesses to accuse this or that person, but it's never the witnesses that actually end up doing anything. No, everything hinges on the accused actually speaking for himself, then everyone else just pointing fingers and insisting on his guilt. 

There's a bit of a game afoot here, if you're paying attention. Watch the pattern: 

An offended party drags the accused before some kind of council or ruling authority. The offended party then makes claims about what the accused allegedly said that was so offensive, usually something about the faith itself - something the accused believes that the accuser doesn't. The council or ruling authority asks the accused if the accusation is true or what he has to say for himself. The accused then repeats what he said that so offended whoever it was that dragged him there. Then, the accuser points the finger and says, "See? See? He said it." 

Then, the ruling authorities tend to get really confused (except when the ruling authorities are the Pharisees, then they just get a little stone-y and vengeful), unable to understand what it is exactly that the accuser wants the accused imprisoned or killed for, as it just seems to them to be some weird disagreement on the facts of their own shared-ish faith. The onlooking world (the Romans) can't understand why it matters so much that a man should face death just because he believes something different than someone else. 

But, as it tends to happen, the accuser makes such a stink and raises such a fuss that...what are you gonna do? What can you do? You can't have a riot, so you have to do something. 

So Jesus is hung on a Cross, Paul is forced to appeal to the emperor, 

I'm telling this story because this is our story, too. And we'll talk about it for a few days.

We're not going to talk about this all week, though. Thursday brings in a turn of the page for us, as December starts, and I've got some holy things burning in my heart as we head toward Christmas, so we're going to shift gears and start settling into an Advent of sorts, a season of reflection and hope and anticipation, and talk about Jesus. A lot.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Unlearned Men

The point of this week's discussion is this: any time someone tells you that you're not educated enough to understand the Bible, that person is trying to build his or her own authority so that he or she can preach their own understanding or adaptation. 

Sometimes, they're teaching the truth; often times, they are not. 

But if you look through the Bible, you'll see something strange happening - most of the men and women God chose, overwhelmingly most, were uneducated. 

He wasn't choosing the intellectuals. He wasn't choosing the elite. He wasn't choosing even the religious leaders. Samuel was adopted into the priesthood, not from the official line of priestly descent. Moses struggled with his own speech issues, but was chosen to speak anyway. David was a shepherd boy, the caretaker of his father's flocks. Amos was a fig picker. Even in the New Testament, we see that the peoples often "marveled" when the apostles spoke because they were "uneducated." And Jesus Himself was born into poverty, in the basement of an inn, no less. And when He read the Scriptures in the holy gathering, many asked even of Him, "Isn't He uneducated? He's just the carpenter's son." 

Over and over and over again, God has chosen the uneducated to whom to reveal His Word. Over and over again, He has shown that it doesn't take any special ability, except that which is given by Him, to understand. To prophesy. To preach. To love. To hope. 

There are no academic exegeses in the Scriptures. There are no word studies. No one stops to say, Gosh, I wonder what this means. The Scriptures are written plainly, spoken plainly, read plainly. It's not some hidden mystery that has to be discovered by all of our advances in academia. 

(In fact, if you've been following along with this blog for very long, you know that I absolutely hate what academia has tried to do to the Bible. It has tried for too long to tell the faithful that what they believe from the Bible is wrong because the Bible is "a human book written by humans within human history and if you don't know anything about humans, you can't possibly know anything about God." It's infuriating how even today, the Pharisees want to put a weight on you that you just can't bear.) 

Even Luke, who is perhaps one of the most educated of the biblical writers, doesn't make his account high-brow. He doesn't tell Theophilus that he'll do his best to relay the story, but he'll never understand it. No, he says that even his story is plainly told. Because it is the nature of the story of God that it is plainly told and that every heart that is open to it can understand. 


So no, there is no evidence, no reasonable argument, that you are ill-equipped to understand the divinely-inspired Word of God. There's no reason why you can't read your Bible and feel "strangely warm," as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus, knowing that God is with you. There is nothing at all to say that what you understand from the Bible, in the heart of your God-created being, is somehow insufficient or inaccurate. 

Yes, your flesh is going to get in the way. Mine does all the time. It's part of being human. But...God knew He was writing to humans when He started. To claim that our humanness is somehow a just doesn't make sense. It diminishes God, and right at the place where we are coming to understand His glory. 

Ignore that. 

God delights in His children who read His Word and are moved by it. Even, as He has shown so faithfully from the very beginning, His "uneducated" children who, in fact, are the only ones to ever truly tell the world about Him.  

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Interpreter

The Bible sets no precedent for us needing a human interpreter to understand what God has given us. In fact, it repeatedly tells us that we will be given all that we need to see. 

Ironically, what we are an Interpreter.

This was the promise all along, right? This is exactly what Jesus said. He said it was better for us if He went away because that meant He was sending Someone else to help us understand everything. He promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon us and guide us in all truth, and the New Testament repeatedly reports this happening - someone believes, the Holy Spirit comes upon that person, and that person understands what God has been trying to say all along. 

Now, if you've been following along this week, you know that there are probably some persons out there who are going to say something like, "Yes, God gave the Holy Spirit to the early believers because they were the ones who were going to have to tell the story for us. So they needed the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit to get it right. But He doesn't give us that any more." 

First, as we saw earlier, this doesn't really solve anything; it just pushes the inspiration and interpretation question a little bit further away, as we then have to ask how we're ever supposed to know whether we understand the human interpreters correctly.

Second, wow. God doesn't intend to give us the Holy Spirit any more? That's a slap in the face. (Among other things.) 

The Holy Spirit is fundamental to the Christian faith. Period. Everything we know, every good thing we do, every act of love, even of being loved, is a product of the Holy Spirit at work in us. To argue anything else is to say that there is such a thing as human goodness, and if there is human goodness, then the work of Jesus was entirely unnecessary as, it seems, we absolutely would have gotten there on our own. I mean, if we're getting there now on our own so far removed from God's gifts of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, all on our own left to figure things out by human wisdom, much for the work of the Cross and the promise of the Spirit. Thanks, God, but we don't need it. 

So then the next argument is, well, the same as it's been all week - that there is still a Holy Spirit, but it isn't given to you. It's only given to a select few, to elite pastors or academics, who are then tasked by God with the challenge of dumbing things down so that even you can understand (which is interesting because in the same breath they say this, these guys also often do everything they can to talk over your head so that you really believe that things are too complex for you until you get so frustrated that you end up just screaming, "Just shut up and tell me what I'm supposed to do!" Then, they've got you). 

But that wouldn't be the testimony of the Bible, either. The Bible keeps telling us of all these times that persons received the Holy Spirit on account of their believing, and these aren't elite pastors or academics. A lot of times, they aren't even Jews - they're Gentiles. They're the ones to whom the faith was closed for so long, like so many of the ragamuffins that today's religious elite still try to keep out of the church. In other words, it's the very same guys and gals that the "church" said could never be persons of God who received the gift of the Holy Spirit and came not only to know truth, but fire. They are the foundation of all that we are. (Okay, a lot of the foundation.) 

The same is still happening today. 

Everything we know, we know because God gave it to us to know. And because God then gave to us the One Who knows it - the Holy Spirit - to lead us into that truth. And that includes biblical truth. That includes the words that you've been told you aren't "supposed" to understand for yourself. In a sense, that's right - you don't. But you don't need some fancy full-of-himself human authority to tell you what it means. 

You've got the Holy Spirit. 

And that's exactly what He is for.