What is This “Christmas Spirit?”

reason-for-the-season

I must confess that I have enjoyed several of the Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel during the past few weeks. My wife and I watched them together; I think we are just romantics at heart.

With many of these movies, I can predict not only the outcome but also the sequence of events that eventually brings the unlikely couple together. Things rarely get resolved before the last seven and a half minutes of the movie. Despite knowing the ultimate outcome, they somehow hold my interest until the very end (although sometimes I would like to see more of the story after the couple finally realizes they are in love, but that’s just me).

One thing, however, has bothered me more this year than in previous years. Many of these movies emphasize the “Christmas spirit” as though that is of ultimate importance.

What is this “Christmas spirit” and why does it matter? Obviously, I do not expect these movies to end with a presentation of the Gospel message. That would be great, but perhaps not a logical expectation for Hallmark.

However, this phrase still leaves me wanting to hear more. What is this “spirit” without Jesus? Why would we even want to celebrate the holiday without emphasizing the life and hope the Lord gives to us?

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

Jesus is the reason for the season. This has been stated so many times that I fear we simply gloss over the words without taking them to heart. The truth embodied in this phrase is, however, at the root with my disappointment with the elevation of the so-called “Christmas spirit” that usurps the celebration of Christ’s birth as the sole purpose for the holiday.

Do you ever wonder why much of the world celebrates the birth of Jesus? There have been many men and women in history who have accomplished great things. We benefit from the sacrifices of many who gave their lives so that we could be free. It’s not that we demean their contributions or their service in any way; we just do not get our families together, give gifts, and celebrate their births.

But we do so with Jesus. Why is that?

One verse that has caught my attention more than once this past year is 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” What, you may ask, does this have to do with Christmas?

It has everything to do with it. If Jesus is still in the grave, there would be no such thing as Christmas, no holiday season, no gift exchanges, no feasting on good food . . . I think you get the picture. Jesus claimed to be one with Father. If He had remained in the grave, no one would have believed that He was God in the flesh. The church would not have even begun yet alone endured for two thousand years.

If Jesus is still in the grave, there would be no such thing as Christmas, no holiday season, no gift exchanges, no feasting on good.

Because Jesus rose from the dead and is alive, we have reason to celebrate His birth. He brought light, life, and hope into a dark world. He is truly the reason for the season, apart from Him it would not exist.

Without Jesus, the world would have remained a dark place, without hope and light and life.

Jesus is the Word that Became Flesh

The Gospel of John describes Jesus’ birth in this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father (1:1, 14).

Jesus’ birth represents God becoming flesh so that through His death on the cross we might inherit eternal life. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus came to give us life; He walked out of grave to prove He alone can forgive our sins and bring us safely to heaven. This is why the angels proclaimed Him as “Savior” in announcing His birth (Luke 2:11). He is indeed the Savior of the world; there is salvation in no other name (Acts 4:12).

This sentiment has no ability to save us or deliver us from our sins. It gives us no reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth any more than other great people.

This is why it matters that we go beyond some feel-good “Christmas spirit.” This sentiment has no ability to save us or deliver us from our sins. It gives us no reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth any more than other great people.

The apostle John also tells us this in regard to Jesus’ arrival on earth, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). We have a choice. To reject the Savior is to spurn ones only chance of eternal life and thereby endure an eternity apart from the presence of God.

This is what Christmas is all about: it’s the Son of God becoming a man so that through His death we might have eternal life. It’s because of His birth, death, and resurrection that we have life and hope in the midst of a dark world filled with despair. Jesus is the only way to eternal life, the only path to the Father (John 14:6).

At Christmas, we celebrate the entrance of life, light, and salvation into the world. It’s so very much more than simply tradition or some fleeting warm fuzzy feeling of the season.

I’m not opposed to the spirit of celebration that surrounds Christmas each year; it’s just empty without a focus on Jesus and His message of salvation for the world. Without His words of life, this so-called Christmas spirit leaves us with no ultimate hope once the new year arrives.

If you do not yet know Jesus as your Savior, please call out to Him today. There are no preconditions for coming to Him apart from recognizing your need of forgiveness for your sins and your need of the life He freely offers to you. He changes us; we do not change to be acceptable to Him.

A Peanut Butter Sandwich with the Jelly

pb-sandwhich

I was startled by what I saw on my computer screen. It showed 47,444,396 views for the song I was listening to on YouTube. I had never seen such a high number, although other songs may very well have such a number or even exceed that total.

The immensely popular tune is Whom Shall I Fear by Chris Tomlin.

Chris Tomlin is an amazingly talented singer and I am never surprised by the popularity of any one of his songs. However, with the title, Whom Shall I Fear, I cannot help but believe its popularity relates in some degree so our search for hope, for something to relieve the anxieties so many of us experience.

We live in a society that breeds fear. If it does not come from the threats all around us, it pops up in the form of broken relationships, financial hardships, illnesses, and the setbacks of growing older.

Is there any relief? Is there any hope?

Yes, His name in Jesus. The Lord is our “strong tower” (Proverbs 18:10).

It’s our expectation of the future Jesus promises us that relieves so many of our apprehensions.

We Groan

We groan. Okay, I know this does not sound like a positive first step toward finding a balm for our worries, but stick with me.

In Romans 8:23 Paul says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” The Greek word for “groan” is sometimes used of the expression of a deeply felt emotion, a “sighing in the sense of longing for something.”[i]

What exactly are we searching for as we groan?

We know from Ephesians 1 that our adoption as sons and daughters into God’s family is complete as is our redemption (see Eph. 1:5-7).  It’s all a done deal; we need not worry about that anymore.

So why do we groan?

We cry out because we have yet to fully experience our adoption and the redemption of our bodies to the fullest extent. Recently, my a-fib acted up again and for two hours in the middle of the night I often groaned as my heart sometimes raced and at other times palpitated wildly.

I asked the Lord for relief, but in response He seemed to say this was necessary to teach me about remaining focused on my hope. If I was going to write about peace in the midst of turmoil, I needed to trust Him for peace in my soul even when my physical heart gave me much cause for alarm. So I groaned in hope of a better day.

We groan because the redemption of our bodies is not yet complete. We hope in spite of what we currently experience.

We groan because the redemption of our bodies is not yet complete. We hope in spite of what we currently experience.

We Hope

Paul goes on to say this in Romans 8, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?”[ii] Our hope is in what we do not yet see, that of Jesus completing our salvation in the sense that we will someday fully experience what we already possess by faith, our adoption into God’s family and the redemption of our physical bodies.

Notice that we are saved “in this hope” of someday seeing this completion of our salvation. Jesus’ return for His church, which we often refer to as the rapture, signifies our full experience of our salvation. The culmination of the Gospel message is Jesus’ appearing to take us home to His Father’s house as He promised in John 14:1-3.

I believe the catching up of the church to forever be with the Lord was a key part of the New Testament proclamation of the Gospel, not something to be taught to believers much later if at all.

Because we have lost sight of the future promises embedded in the Gospel, we sometimes act as though our salvation is totally complete and it’s up to us to follow all the principles of Scripture to somehow live out our redemption. We behave as though the completion of our salvation depends solely on us.

Can you see how this focus adds an enormous amount of stress to our lives? Every day, the futility of hoping in the things of this world hits us hard, but yet we do not lift up our eyes above the daily grind to the One whose hope will never fail us. Instead, we remain committed to making a better life for ourselves now instead looking up to all that is promised us after Jesus appears.

Even if we are somehow successful for a season in limiting the scope of the Gospel to our current lives, ultimately we cannot escape the futility of placing our hope in the moment rather than in eternity.

Even if we are somehow successful for a season in limiting the scope of the Gospel to our current lives, ultimately we cannot escape the futility of placing our hope in the moment rather than in eternity. Everyone’s health eventually fails. Divorce can strike despite our noblest efforts to prevent it. Finances can fail even after the wisest of planning. Medical science can only do so much.

Everyone experiences sorrow and frustration in this life at some point. No one is immune.

Oh, but a much better day is coming. This is why we groan as children of God. We know we were not created for simply a life of frustration and sorrow. There has to be more than what we see and there is.

This is the Gospel. We are saved in the hope of Jesus’ appearing to take us home. The rapture is the future tense of the message of salvation.

We Wait

Because our hope is sure, we “wait eagerly” for it. Despite not seeing it, “we wait for it with patience.”[iii]

No one likes to wait, but it helps when we wait for a sure thing.

With my a-fib, I am scheduled to undergo an ablation early next year that may or may not fix the issue, although my cardiologist assures me the percentage is quite high it will resolve my problems. So I’m waiting in hope this will fix the problem, but I cannot be absolutely sure it will do so.

When Jesus returns, I know with absolute certainty the matter will be resolved; I will have a brand new body that will never perish (see 1 Cor. 15:49-54).

When it comes to waiting for Jesus’ return, we wait in absolute certainty He will show up to take us home.  Paul David Tripp referred to our hope, which includes His arrival, as the “expectation of a guaranteed result.” Tripp went on to say:

It is being sure that God will do all that he had planned and promised to do. You see, his promises are only as good as the extent of his rule, but since he rules everywhere, I know that resting in the promises of his grace will never leave me empty and embarrassed . . . . So even when I am confused, I can have hope, because my hope does not rest on my understanding, but on God’s goodness and his rule.[iv]

Because our hope is secure we wait in confidence of what we will be in eternity. As Chris Tomlin sang, with Jesus in control, we have no reason for fear. The tragedies of life may overtake us for a season, but our ultimate hope never changes.

Jesus is coming to take us away to forever be with Him. It could be today or tomorrow or next month or next year or perhaps even further down the road.

As Paul said, we do not see our hope. We see signs of the fulfillment of prophecy all around us, but we do not see Jesus coming for us and will not until He appears.

While we do not see our hope at the present time, we know He will complete our salvation, bring us home to our Father in heaven, and complete the redemption of our bodies. There is no doubt about this.

The preaching of the Gospel without the promise of Jesus’ soon appearing is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly, the sweet hope of His return.

[i] Colin Brown, editor, Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969) p. 423.

[ii] Romans 8:24

[iii] Romans 8:25

[iv] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies – A daily Gospel Devotional (Wheaton: Crossway 2014), September 3

Thanksgiving Ramblings

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“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name.”[i]

Since this is my first Thanksgiving with a blog, I thought I would share some things on my heart in that regard. I have much with which to be thankful this season.

Of course I am thankful for my wife, my family, and all my extended family and friends.

There are a few other things, however, that occupy my thoughts today as I think of the coming holiday.

Living Waters

First of all, I am thankful for Jesus, the source of eternal life. He alone is life. That has been so easy to forget during the heated debates of the past few months.

One passage that jolted me back to reality was Jeremiah 2:11-13 and in particular verse 13, “. . . for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” The imagery of God’s Word is so rich, is it not? Who would ignore a reservoir full of fresh clear spring water to dig out a muddy hole in the ground that cannot hold any water?

While I remained mindful that Jesus was my only hope during this the past election season, at times it did not come across as clearly as I would have liked. As I reflect this morning, I see that putting one’s hope in any person or ideology or even in religion is the same as digging a porous hole in the ground thinking all the hopes you put into it will be there in the end. This never works out well. Such hopes eventually turn muddy and evaporate like water in a muddy pool.

It’s certainly not wrong to be passionate about things in this life. The problem comes when we forsake the Lord in the process and allow our ultimate hope to rest in anyone or anything other than Jesus.

In responding to the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus spoke these words, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”[ii] How easy and equally foolish it is to put our hopes in the things of this world that ultimately disappoint. Only Jesus has the words of life. I have tasted the muddy waters of politics and it’s so refreshing to get back to my true source of hope and feel His life bubbling up inside my heart.

Jesus is the Word of God. He became flesh so that we might have eternal life. He is the fountain of living waters that will never fail to refresh us with life.

God’s Sovereignty

Another verse that comes to mind this morning is Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Notice that the Lord does not say that all things are good, but through the apostle Paul the Lord assures us that he is able to bring together all things for our good, although we frequently wonder how in the midst of our suffering.

In late August, issues with a-fib kept me awake for most of the night. I saw my cardiologist later the next day and he put me back me on a heart monitor for a month. Ugh! That was the last thing I wanted.

However, it was through wearing the monitor that my doctor discovered a flutter in my heart and saw my continuing issues with a-fib. As a result, he sent me to another cardiologist to talk about an ablation. That doctor ordered a stress test.

The stress test revealed an “abnormality” and that led to a cardio catheterization, which I had yesterday, Tuesday. My cardiologist found a blockage (85-90%) in one of the arteries in my heart and fixed it with a stent. If the blockage had remained undetected, it could have led to a heart attack or perhaps a stroke.

So what began as a miserable night struggling with a-fib led to the fixing of an issue that could have led to very serious health consequences if left undetected and untreated. God is so very good and He indeed works in mysterious yet wonderful ways!

While I am able to now see how God worked through a terrible night a few months back, often we do not see the purpose in what happens right away or even in this life.

Yet we know God is sovereign in all things and for that I give thanks this morning.

Hope

In June of this year I retired from my career as a financial analyst to pursue my love of writing. I felt the Lord leading me in this direction and in particular guiding me to write about our hope as believers for eternity. The lack of emphasis on the Lord’s appearing and future things became a growing burden of my heart and led to my decision. This remains a burden even as I write this morning.

I am not sure where this path will lead. I hope to eventually have books published, but this may not be what the Lord has in mind. Already through my writing the Lord has opened up paths to minister to hurting people in need of reassurance and hope. Maybe that will be the full extent of what He has for me.

Regardless, I am thankful for the hope I have in Jesus for His leading down this path. He is life, as I said earlier, and He is the sum total of my hope.  He will never fail in the promises He makes to all His children. He is coming soon to take His church up to His Father’s house in heaven.

There are a million “What ifs?” but only one hope, one source of life: Jesus is His name.

What if the blockage in my heart went undetected? What if something had happened before the catheterization? What if the Cubs had lost the World Series?  (Okay, I need to get back on point.) There are a million “What ifs?” but only one hope, one source of life: Jesus is His name.

Jesus is and will always be a spring of living water in my soul. What greater hope could there be other than that? What greater certainly for tomorrow could there be apart from our risen Savior? Who more deserving of all our thanksgiving and praise than our Jesus?

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[iii] That was true two thousand years ago; it is equally true today. Jesus is who He claimed to be and is coming again, just as He said. Jesus is the spring of living water; He is the way, the truth and the life.

Maranatha!

[i] Psalm 100:4

[ii] John 4:14

[iii] John 14:6

Leah’s Story

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The following is an essay written by Jessica Kleeberger, the sixteen year old great niece of my wife, Ruth. This is my first post from a guest writer. Her story fits well with a passion of my heart and I did not think I could express it any better than what she wrote.

Kim twisted in her seat to get a good view of the clock, tapping her fingers impatiently against the back of the hard plastic seat. Five minutes passed. Her eye fell on a magazine resting on a side table, and she began to flip through it indifferently. Here was a recipe for the ultimate brownie, there an article extolling the wonders of organic farming, next a promotion for a book with a rather nondescript cover…Ten minutes passed.

Kim, having little patience for the delay and even less for the typical waiting room publication, gave up looking at the magazine and reached for another at random in the stack. She suppressed a groan as she looked at the cover of a slender mother, dressed stylishly in a crocheted shawl and hugging a grinning child. Parenting. Just the thing she hadn’t expected, or wanted, when she had gone out for a celebratory date with Dylan. If only she had not joyfully flung all caution to the wind as she threw herself into his arms. Now parenting was just the thing she could be facing, if the pregnancy tests she had done at home had been correct. Fifteen minutes passed.

Finally, a woman with a white coat and bouncy step emerged from the hall, a clipboard and a sheath of papers cradled on her arm. “Kimberly Wilson?” she asked, pausing in front of her chair. “I have the results of your test.”

Yes, the results said she would be a mother, but she was not a slave to mere ink, contorted into the shapes of letters on a piece of paper. She had options, the nurse said- This was her body, her choice.

Kim thought of all the anti-abortion flyers she had read. They had said that the baby had a unique DNA pattern, the only one of its kind in the world. That life began at conception. She pushed the thoughts out of her head. The nurse was right: This was no one’s choice but hers.

“Take a few days to think about it if you like, dear,” the nurse said, patting her on the arm.

O0o

A few nights later, Kim was awakened by a rustle. She pried open her eye lids, heavy with slumber, and glanced around the darkened room. It was empty. The sound she had heard must have just been the house’s foundation creaking in the wind- she always had been a light sleeper, awakened by the least of nightly noises. She snuggled back down under her blankets, already drifting back to sleep. Her eyes popped open again when she felt something touch her shoulder, and, thinking she must be getting paranoid, she rolled her head over on the pillow to see what it-

“Aaargh!” she shrieked, rocketing up onto her knees and yanking her blankets around her. Only a wild, desperate grasp at her bed post saved her from falling backward off the bed. In front of her stood a shadowy figure, too small to be an adult but seeming almost too still to be a living child.

Kim lunged for the lamp on her nightstand. Her fingers missed the knob, brushing against the lamp, and she barely managed to catch it as it teetered on the edge of the stand. Taking a deep breath and willing her shaking fingers to cooperate, she steadied the lamp and turned it on. The child hadn’t flinched and was staring at her complacently, unstartled by Kim’s panicked flurry. It was probably just an illusion caused by glow of the lamp, but it looked as if the little girl’s eyes, glinting and shimmering like the reflection of starlight on a lake, were silver.

“You frightened me. How did you get in? Where are your parents?” Kim paused for breath, then blurted out, “And who are you?”

“A voice for those who do not have one. Or my little angel. That’s what my Father calls me.”

“A- voice?” Kim murmured, not believing her ears.

She smiled, but it was, Kim thought, a smile far too sad for such a small child. “My mom called me Leah, though. You can call me that.”

Then, although Kim’s stomach was still too slender to bely her pregnancy, Leah tiptoed up and kissed it. The touch of her lips, which felt like the feathery, light brush of angel wings, was swift and gentle, too innocent and reverent for Kim to be offended by it or repulse the gesture. “Hello, little guy,” Leah whispered.

Kim gaped at Leah. “How did you know I was pregnant? And how do you know it’s a boy?”

She shrugged. “He tells me.”

“Who’s He?”

“He is my heavenly Father, and he sent me to show you something.”

“Show me something? In the middle of the night?”

“Why not? Here.”

Before Kim could respond, the child was clasping her hand in a warm, gentle grip. The room with its familiar furniture, cluttered with keepsakes and trinkets, faded in front of Kim’s eyes and vanished.

“What’s happening? Leah, what have you done?” Kim cried, leaping to her feet and trying to yank her hand out of the child’s. Leah didn’t let go. “Shhh, just wait. It will be okay,” she murmured. “Look.”

Something about her quiet confidence made Kim obey, and she was startled to see herself reclining in a hospital bed, cradling a baby. She could see him perfectly- the blonde down on his tiny skull, the squinted eyes that opened to reveal pale blue slits, the tiny fingers curled into fists.

“Joseph,” Leah said softly at her side. Kim, eyes riveted on the scene, tore them away long enough to glance at the little girl. “Joseph?”

“Joseph. Your little boy,” Leah explained, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. “I can show you more.” She raised her hand and flicked her small fingers against each other, but she lacked the coordination to produce a crisp snap. Nothing happened. When her second attempt did not produce any better results, Leah let out a small, annoyed huff and moved Kim’s hand to her shoulder.

“Here, hold on to me.” She clapped her hands, and Kim found herself looking at a sandy haired toddler. Joseph again, Kim supposed.

His arms were crossed, and his lips turned up in a pout. She saw herself again, an expression of frustration and sadness evident on her own face. The baby had been cute, Kim reasoned, but it seemed parenting still cost more grief than it was worth. Then, Joseph’s face changed. She saw the childish anger fade from his eyes, and his lips trembled. “I sorry for being naughty, Mommy!” He flew into his mother’s arms, and she snuggled him close. “I forgive you.”

Watching, Kim could almost feel the warmth of the hug. Just as she was almost wishing she could experience the small arms wrapped around her waist and marvel at how much love the small limbs could give, Leah’s clap yanked her out of the scene and into another.

There was a boy leaning against a school wall, a backpack slung over his shoulder. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small white bottle. He unscrewed the lid and raised a handful of pills to his mouth…

“Hey, Steve! Wait!” A voice called. A boy ran up to the wall, bending over and placing his hands on his knees while he panted for breath. The clear blue eyes, filled with concern, revealed what Kim had instinctively felt- This was an older Joseph. Joseph took a deep breath and flicked an unruly shock of hair- now darkening into a pale brown- off his forehead. “Steve, you don’t have to take those.”

“I can’t do it anymore, Joe,” the other boy replied shakily, and Kim thought she could see traces of tears in his eyes. “Nobody cares.”

“I do, Steve. You’re my friend, and I don’t want to lose you,” Joseph said softly, moving to place a hand on his shoulder. “I want to help, and I’m not going to leave you alone until you feel better. Come on, and we can talk to Mr. Benson. He can help. I’ll come with you.”

“I don’t know if this will work, man, but… thanks.”

“Anytime.”

What she felt was not a small amount of surprise, and to her amazement, there was also a thrill of motherly pride- pride in this boy whose compassion had saved a life and surprise that the small group of delicate cells growing inside her could do something so important. How might the world be different, she wondered, if all those fetuses had had their chance to save a life, to write a book, to give a speech, to love and give? Kim, wrapped up in the drama in the scene, almost didn’t notice Leah’s smile and whisper: “That was a good one, but I like this one, too.” She clapped.

Joseph’s hair was completely brown now- at least, what little of it Kim could see peeking out from under his graduation cap. His eyes, dancing with joy and tempered with solemnity, looked up and met Kim’s eyes for a moment. Not the eyes of the well-dressed Kim who stood in front of her son to accept roses and a hug from him- No, that woman was different.

She had changed from the Kim who sat in the doctor’s office contemplating whether not to abort a fetus. Yes, she had learned frustration, weariness, and self-sacrifice as only a mother could, but she had also known love, pride, and joy as only a parent could. Her son had changed her. And Kim wanted the change her hypothetical future counterpart had found- she coveted it. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“My son,” she whispered, then a sob escaped her lips. “I want my son. I want to give him a chance- And I need him to give me one.”

Leah squeezed her hand, and whispered, “You still have a chance.” She stared up at Kim, looking sympathetic and far more knowing about matters of life and death than Kim thought any child anywhere should look. Leah clapped her hands.

Kim bolted upright in her bed, breathing hard. She looked around for Leah, but there was no sign of a little girl- just the shadows cast by her curtains, the keepsakes from last summer’s trip to Washington, and the nest of blankets she was tangled in. And- inside of her- the most important thing of all: her son. It had all been a dream, but her choice was made.

She rubbed her stomach, feeling a closer connection to the tiny being inside her than she ever had before. Her choice would mean changing diapers and signing report cards, bandaging scraped knees and washing laundry as dirty as only a little boy can make it. It would not be easy, but it would be worth it. The little one inside her was potential. He was sleepless nights and tears. He was love. He was a human life. He was Joseph.

“I choose you, Joseph,” Kim whispered. “My son. I choose life!”

O0o

He was just as she had seen him in her dream- the blonde down on his tiny skull, the squinted eyes that opened to reveal pale blue slits, the tiny fingers curled into fists.

There was a knock on her door, and a woman poked her head inside the hospital room. “Hello, I’m Victoria. I volunteer here in the maternity ward, making hats for the babies. Can I give you one?” She held up a tiny, knitted blue hat.

“That’s so nice of you,” Kim smiled. “I would love one. Please, come in.”

Victoria tiptoed into the room, unwilling to disturb the baby.  “Oh, he’s precious,” she whispered.

Kim glanced up and was surprised to see tears in the woman’s eyes. Victoria looked up from Joseph’s face and met her eye. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said faintly, and offered a sad smile that Kim found strangely familiar but couldn’t place. “Your baby is just so beautiful, and this is my first day volunteering here.”

Her voice trembled, and she fumbled in her pocket for a tissue to dab her eyes. “I chose an abortion a few years ago, and I’ve regretted it ever since. That’s why I decided to start coming here to visit new moms- it’s my way of saying I’m sorry to my little girl, if she can see it looking down from heaven.”

At Kim’s confused look, she smiled through her tears. “No, scientifically I don’t know her gender, but I’ve always been sure in my heart that it was a little girl. Each year, I think of her and how old she would have been, what milestones she would have passed…”

Victoria’s voice trailed off, and Kim realized the woman had grey eyes, almost silver, which combined with her tears faintly resembled starlight reflected on a lake. When she smiled again, Kim recognized it.

“My baby would have been seven years old this summer,” Victoria murmured. “I call her Leah.”

Written by Jessica Kleeberger as “A pro-life persuasive Story.”

 

 

Desire Breeds Hope

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Before settling into my new calling as a writer, my wife Ruth and I decided to take a road trip to celebrate my retirement from a long career as a financial analyst. We greatly looked forward to our trip: to our stay at a bed and breakfast in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina and then to our time exploring Savannah, Georgia.

Before we left on our trip, Ruth and I spent much time thinking and talking about our vacation and what we would do. Our anticipation of hiking in the mountains, exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, and dining at seafood restaurants in Savannah increased our desire for the day to come when we would at long last leave on our trip.

When it comes to our glorious future, however, many churches remain mostly silent regarding our life to come. How can we eagerly await Jesus’ appearing and eternity if we seldom, if ever, hear about it?

“Bland assurances of the sweet by-and-by don’t inflame the soul.” John Eldredge

John Eldredge referred to this disconnect in his book Desire, “C.S. Lewis summed it up, ‘We can only hope for what we desire.’ No desire, no hope. . . . Bland assurances of the sweet by-and-by don’t inflame the soul.”[i] Later Eldredge added this statement regarding this connection of desire with our hope:

Whatever it is we think is coming in the next season of our existence, we don’t think it is worth getting all that excited about. We make a nothing of eternity by enlarging the significance of this life and by diminishing the reality of what the next life is all about.[ii]

Passing references to the fact that we possess eternal life do not impassion us, especially in America where so many of us enjoy comfortable lives. Without a vision of what to expect in eternity, it’s difficult to imagine heaven can be any better than our current existence with smartphones, widescreen TVs, and all the comforts this life can offer.

It’s The Specifics!

When Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, he provided specifics of what America would look like with the ending of racism. His vivid picture of racial equality inspired a nation. If he had simply called for the ending of racism without his detailed vision of what it would look like, his message most likely would not have given so much hope to the crowd that day.

Likewise, it is the specifics of our spectacular hope that focus our hearts on eternity. As Eldredge noted, “bland assurances” of a distant eternity do not cause us to desire eternity nor do they give us hope.

Ruth and I grew in our excitement of our trip to the South as we talked about the specifics of what we would do on our vacation.

It’s the details of the Lord’s return for us, our roles in the upcoming millennium, and our eternal home that arise desire in our hearts for what is coming and magnify our hope.

We do not know all of the details of our immortal bodies, our roles in judging the world, or what our upcoming existence will be like. However, what Scripture teaches us about these things is more than enough to inspire us each day with desire, even longing for what lies ahead and generate hope in our hearts for Jesus’ appearing.

Hard Pews and Hollywood

Our desire for eternity is frequently deflated by popular misconceptions of what it will be like.

Many see eternity as an unending church service as John Eldredge also notes in his book Desire, “Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea of eternity is an unending church service . . . . we have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky. . . . And our heart sinks.”[iii]

Of course we will sing and worship the Lord throughout eternity; I am very much looking forward to that. Scripture, however, also speaks of our reigning with Christ during the millennium and then forever. We will have thrilling kingdom responsibilities and forever enjoy a restored earth. We have an amazing future; one we can be excited about and celebrate!

Lonely believers sitting on clouds with harps and angels diving into icy rivers to earn their wings do not exactly thrill our hearts with thoughts of heaven

Hollywood does not help us in this regard with its rather depressing pictures of eternity. Lonely believers sitting on clouds with harps and angels diving into icy rivers to earn their wings do not exactly thrill our hearts with thoughts of heaven.

In 1 Corinthians 6:2 Paul asks, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” This sounds entirely different than hard pews or what Hollywood would have us to believe about heaven. That does much more to peak our interest than the bland pictures we often visualize in our minds.

The Ploy of Satan

While churches do not fill in the blanks regarding our eternal hope, Satan actively works to introduce teachings that destroy our hope and take our eyes off eternity. First, his false teachers generate so much controversy that many pastors stay away from the subject just to be safe.

Secondly, the teachings of many leave us straining to identify what hope is left for us. If all of the New Testament prophetic passages have somehow already been fulfilled and those in the Old Testament reduce to allegories of the church, where is our hope for the future? We are left with just hope of the “sweet by-and-by.”

Where is our ultimate hope, for example, if Revelation 19-22 has already been fulfilled as some teach today? Such teaching seriously undermines any desire for eternity and squashes all hope. We are left with no specifics of eternity and no reason to take our eyes off this life and desire something better.

Where is our ultimate hope, for example, if Revelation 19-22 has already been fulfilled as some teach today?

Scripture teaches that we possess an amazing and thrilling hope for all eternity; one that should excite us and focus our hope all the more on what is to come.

It’s understandable Satan would not want us to hear about the thrilling details of eternity since that would fill our hearts with hope and longing for Jesus’ appearing to take us home.

It’s not understandable, however, that so many pastors neglect prophecy and in so doing dampen the desire and thereby the hope of those in the pews.

As John Eldredge so aptly stated, “No desire, no hope. . . . Bland assurances of the sweet by-and-by don’t inflame the soul.” But once we hear what the Bible teaches about our hope, we cannot help but desire for what is to come.

Jesus is coming soon! The more we understand what that means for us the more we will desire His appearing.

[i] Eldredge, John, Desire (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), pp. 64-65

[ii] Ibid., pp. 110-111

[iii] Ibid., p. 111

The Rapture, What’s to Fear?

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What causes fear in us at times regarding the rapture? Does our apprehension arise from its abrupt nature or its unexpected timing? Does the unknown or the supernatural cause anxiety to rise within us? Perhaps we do not want our dreams for this life to end so soon.

I suspect many of us at times can identify with a least a few of the above reasons.

Does Scripture give us any help to relieve our apprehensions and hesitations? Is there a way to look at the rapture that sparks delight and hopefulness rather than dread or even disdain?

I believe there is.

One of the most comforting pictures of the rapture in Scripture is that of the bridegroom coming for his bride. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul purposely used language to invoke images of the Jewish wedding customs of their day when speaking of Jesus’ return for His church.

The Marriage Covenant

Jewish marriages in the first century AD began with the groom making a covenant with his bride. The groom “would drink a cup of wine with her which sealed the covenant and he would pay the bridal price for her to the father.”[i] The bridal price ensured that the groom would follow through on the covenant.

Do you see the similarities with what Jesus did for us in purchasing our salvation on the cross? He paid the price with His blood so that we, His church, might become His bride.

Jesus’ words regarding the cup of wine He drank with His disciples in the upper room resemble those spoken by a groom sealing the marriage covenant with his bride, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood . . .’”[ii]

The drinking of wine from a cup and the announcement of a covenant both spark images of the Jewish marriage customs as well as point to fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies regarding the new covenant.

The Announcement

Once he confirmed the marriage covenant with His bride, the groom announced he was going to prepare a place for his bride in his father’s house.[iii] He would not see his bride until he completed his work on the honeymoon chamber and returned for her.

Once he confirmed the marriage covenant with His bride, the groom announced he was going to prepare a place for his bride in his father’s house.

Jesus’ words in John 14:2-3 mimic this announcement of the bridegroom, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

I believe Jesus purposely chose words to show how His actions resembled a groom leaving to prepare a place for his bride with a promise to someday return for her.

The Return of the Bridegroom

Similar to Jesus’ words regarding His return, the Jewish bridegroom returned later to take his bride back to the place he had prepared for her.

The Jewish groom enjoyed coming as a thief in the night to quickly snatch away his bride and take her back to his father’s house. He arrived at his bride’s home with much fanfare as his friends shouted and blew a shofar or trumpet to announce his surprise arrival. The groom then took his bride back to his father’s house for seven days.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul speaks of Jesus coming for His church with a shout or the “voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (v. 16). In John 14:2-3, Jesus stated that the purpose of His return for us will be to take us back to His Father’s house. There we will remain for seven years while the Great Tribulation takes place on the earth.

The Comforting Message for Us

The brides of Jesus’ day did not fear the arrival of the bridegroom. The bride looked forward to the surprise return of her bridegroom; this was an expected and exciting part of the wedding festivities.

This picture of the rapture provides much comfort for us because of the following reasons:

1. He’s preparing a place for us!

Jesus is now preparing a place especially for us. This is frequently overlooked in teachings regarding the rapture.

We can be sure this place will be amazing beyond anything we can imagine. Jesus is designing and preparing it with our specific needs and desires in mind. The best five star hotels on earth cannot compare to the place Jesus is getting ready for us.

The rapture represents Jesus return to take us to the place He has prepared for us. We can be sure this place will be amazing beyond anything we can imagine.

The rapture represents Jesus return to take us to the place He has prepared for us. Would not the brides of Jesus’ day eagerly anticipated seeing the place their grooms had prepared for them?

2. The Rapture is a groom returning for His bride!

While the element of surprise in the rapture may alarm us at times, it helps to remember this was part of the excitement for Jewish weddings of the first century AD. The groom was not coming to harm his bride, but to take her home to begin their exciting adventure together.

Rather than be something to fear or even dread, the bride joyously anticipated the day when the groom would snatch her away and take her to his home. Her groom’s surprise appearance represented a key part of the love story they would share for the rest of their lives.

So it is with Jesus’ return. He’s taking us away from this life to something wonderful, to an eternity full of wonder and amazement, which we will enjoy in new immortal bodies that will never be subject to illness, pain, gaining, or death. Jesus is coming as a bridegroom coming for His bride; it’s an act of love to give us a much better life than we can imagine.

3. The Rapture will lead to much celebration!

Once the bride and groom had spent seven days together, the feasting began. They joined their attendants, friends, and invited guests for a huge celebration of their wedding.

This is in our future as well. Revelation 19:6-10 describes the “marriage supper of the lamb” that occurs in heaven before we return to earth with Jesus. Just as with the marriage celebrations of Jesus’ day, I do not believe this will be just a sit-down dinner lasting a few hours; it will last several days, at least!

4. It’s the alternative that should be frightening to us!

Here is where the comparison breaks down a bit. During the seven days the bride and groom spent together in the honeymoon suite, the bride’s attendants and friends of the groom began celebrating.

During the seven years we are with the Lord in heaven, however, the Great Tribulation will occur on earth. Evil will flourish. Humanity will experience God’s wrath as a final call to repentance. It will be a time of great suffering and much death upon the earth.

Whenever I am tempted to fear the Lord’s return, I think of the alternative. We will be sooooo much better off being with the Lord than remaining on the earth. I believe the “sudden destruction” mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 happens shortly after the rapture.

It’s the alternative of Jesus not coming for us that should frighten us. Jesus is coming to lovingly take us out of this world before the terrible judgments and destruction of the tribulation.

Truly, it’s the alternative of Jesus not coming for us that should frighten us. Jesus is coming to lovingly take us out of this world before the terrible judgments and destruction of the tribulation.

Just as with a groom coming for his bride, the rapture represents Jesus’ love for His church. Will Jesus’ return surprise us when it happens? Most likely! Will He in love tenderly welcome us to the place He has prepared us? We can count on that.

The wedding imagery of the rapture helps us see it as an act of love rather than something to fear or dread. It’s meant to change our perspective, to help us look forward to Jesus’ return for us with excitement rather than anxiety.

When anxious thoughts of the rapture creep into your thinking, remember it’s not about striving to replace fear with hope but of looking forward to Jesus’ appearing as a bride getting ready for her groom’s arrival.

Jesus does not want us to be afraid of His return for us but rather eagerly anticipate it as the beginning of eternity or our time in paradise. He’s coming to rescue us out of this world and take us to a place of amazing beauty and joy, beyond all we can imagine.

[i] Winston, Joy, Jewish Wedding Ceremony, Article on the Rapture Ready Website

[ii] 1 Corinthians 11:25

[iii] Winston, Joy, Jewish Wedding Ceremony, Article on the Rapture Ready Website

The Scenes of Eternity

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Perhaps they were not the most encouraging words to hear as a young child.

I remember my mom’s comments on the brevity of life. “Time goes so fast!” she would sometimes exclaim. I cannot remember her exact words following that statement, but they always seemed to contain the discouraging implication that old age would come quickly for me.

My mom’s words came back to me during a recent visit to Savannah, Georgia when I came across the above painting, La Parabola, at the Telfair Academy for art. Life in its entirety, from childhood to old age, pictured in just two scenes. As I first stared at the painting I felt a sense of sadness. What a depressing picture of life!

Cesare Laurenti (1854-1936) painted La Parabola in about 1895.  He intended the picture to depict the progression of “human life . . . The race toward pleasure, until clouds of weighty thoughts and sorrow come to disturb the serenity of the young soul.”[i] On the left panel, we see a young girl racing toward adulthood and the joys of romance. On the right, we see images of the same woman ever advancing in age toward death.

As I further contemplated the two scenes of this painting a few weeks back, the words of 1 Corinthians 15:19 echoed loudly in my ears, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” To be sure! If this painting represents the totality of our existence, we have no hope whatsoever. But such is not the case.

As believers in Christ, we look forward to a new beginning when Jesus comes for His church. 1 Corinthians 15:52-53 says this about our hope, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” What an amazing hope we possess in Christ Jesus!!

In eternity, the scenes of our lives appear radically different.

We may someday enter the scenes of eternity as an elderly man or woman (as depicted in the painting) only to be changed, at Jesus’ appearing, back to a time before the process of aging took away our youthful appearance. Then in countless never-ending  scenes of eternity after that, we will appear exactly the same as we forever celebrate the joys of eternity in the presence of our wonderful Savior.

In Jesus, we find sweet relief from the sad progression of life portrayed in this old painting. In eternity, the glorious scenes keep coming; they will never end. What will they picture for you?

If you have never called upon the name of the Lord for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, please do so today before it is too late. 1 John 5:12 says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” If you are in the latter category, please call upon Jesus today. Jesus alone is “the way, the truth, and the life.”[ii] He waits in love to forgive all your sins and give you eternal life. Only in Christ will our eternity be one of joy and not judgment.

If you already know Jesus as your Savior, praise him for the glorious eternal hope you have in Him. The scenes of this old painting are but a minuscule part of your life compared with eternity.

Thank Him for a hope that will someday take us far beyond the scenes of La Parabola to the never ending joyous scenes of eternity.

[i] From a letter of Cesare Laurenti to Carl Brandt

[ii] John 14:6