Some Thoughts on the New Year

Each year, I try to set goals for the new year. It’s a good practice, and when I set those goals prayerfully I have that extra assurance and motivation that those goals should and can be achieved. Without being intentional, we become subject to all the random forces around us. Our lives become a crap shoot.

But even when we are intentional, the randomness of life can overtake us to the point we feel like the ship being driven by the wind and waves while we hold on for dear life. 2021 was such a year for me.

I travelled repeatedly across the country to help my parents move out of their home of twenty years into an assisted living facility, while my father was slowing slipping out of this world into the next. When he passed away in July, and I was planning his funeral, and dealing with the grief, I was diagnosed with a health problem of my own. Then in September, while on vacation–our first in two years because of the pandemic–I developed another unrelated health problem, that led to new tests, concerns, and more doctor appointments.

We looked forward to a good holiday season and had scheduled hip replacement surgery for my 86 year old mother with the hope she would be able to walk again, but two days before she was to travel here for the surgery, the results of a cardiology test showed a heart problem which required a catheterization procedure and postponement of the hip replacement.

About the same time we were learning about my mother, my brother was hospitalized with COVID-19. A few days later, he was moved into the ICU, and it wasn’t clear if he would survive. Fortunately, by the mercy of God, he turned the corner on Christmas Day, and while he is still in the hospital he appears to be on the road to recovery.

Then, my cousin died of lymphoma on December 30, 2021. He had not told anyone but immediate family about his illness, so we were shocked when we heard he had died.

All the events I just described largely defined my year, and yet, I had nothing to do with their occurrence. All, I could do was respond to them, while at the same time continuing to seek God, doing my work, discipling others, and pursuing the goals He gave me at the beginning of the year.

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Why Evangelicals are Partial to Conspiracy Theories

I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life when I have been more embarrassed for my Evangelical brothers and sisters. I’m referring specifically to those who refuse to get vaccinated or wear masks, believe conspiracy theories about the CDC, Anthony Fauci, and Bill Gates, and that the last presidential election was stolen. I’ve addressed some of these incredulous beliefs in other posts.

I’m no stranger to Evangelical naïveté and gullibility. I was an elder in a church where many in the congregation had been convinced the key to their health could be found in an examination of their excrement by a naturopath, who was a member of the church. People were securing their scat in ziplocks for him to examine…seriously. I remember asking the pastor, “So tell me this again. They did what?” 

Then there was Y2K. Five years before 1-1-2000, there was some credibility in the alarm. Fortunately, by the time the problem became public, companies had already begun the necessary remediation. However, people in my church became convinced Y2K would be the end of society as we knew it. They bought generators and stock piles of food and water. Recognizing there was indeed a problem, but rejecting the incredible and conspiratorial, I bought stock in Cisco, a leader in Y2K remediation. My doomsday brothers and sisters who believed the crazy prognosticators, got stuck with generators they never used and food they never ate. My wife and I got stuck with a nice profit from the sale of our stock.

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The Good News of Christmas

I was reading the Christmas story in Luke last night in the New American Standard Bible translation, and came across verse 14, one of the most quoted verses at Christmas. But when I read, “And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased,” it seemed wrong theologically.

I was reading it as saying God was pleased with men on earth, which was obviously incorrect. If God was pleased with man on earth, there would be no need for the Christmas story at all. Jesus’ birth was a foreshadowing of His death, which was necessary because man was enslaved to sin and in active rebellion against God.

So, I immediately went to the commentaries and different translations, and I discovered that while the New American Standard Bible was the more literal translation, what the angels were actually saying is there will be peace amongst those on whom His favor rests. Now, this does not sound as good on Christmas cards, but Truth isn’t determined by its marketability.

Think about it though, angels appear to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and the angels are excited because they know the plan, they can see down the road where all this headed, and in their excited utterance of praise, they say two things. First, they praise God for what He is doing through the incarnation, and rightly so. And second, when they turn to man, they don’t mention salvation, and they don’t mention eternal life; they mention peace. They were excited because there could now be peace on earth among those who were favored by God to be redeemed through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Part of the role of an angel is to comfort and protect those on earth. See Luke 22:43; Psalm 91:11; Daniel 6:22. So many people suffer from anxiety, fear, depression, and despair. Also, so much of the harm that comes to people on earth is the result of interpersonal conflict. I can only imagine what the work of angels was like in a world where none were redeemed or even partially sanctified.

But with the incarnation, once people were born-again, they would enjoy an inner peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit and set out on the path of sanctification, taking on God’s character. The more they became like Jesus, the more peace they would enjoy internally and in their relationships, which meant the less angels would have to do to comforting and protecting man.

What God did at Christmas then, not only benefited man, it benefited the angels as well, and it was reason not only for us, but for them to say as well, “Glory to God in the highest!”

Merry Christmas. GS

The Sovereignty of God in the Christmas Story

“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth…And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.” Luke 1:1,3.

Caesar Augustus was the most powerful man in the world at the time of the events we will celebrate tomorrow. He ruled the known world, was beholden to no man, and was a pagan who would later be deified by his people upon his death in 14 A.D. I’m confident he was not a man who spent time in prayer seeking the will of the God of Israel.

Yet, by the sovereignty of God, Augustus issued a decree that a census be taken that required Joseph and Mary return to their home town, ensuring Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, in accordance with the prophecy in Micah 5:2 (“. . . Bethlehem . . . though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel…”).

That Luke notes Caesar August issued this decree has special significance for us this Christmas, a Christmas in which many are unable or, not unreasonably, unwilling to travel to be with loved ones because of the rapid spread of the COVID variant, Omicron, at a time when it seems to many there is no end in sight of the pandemic that has killed over 800,000 in the U.S. and many millions more around the world.

But God’s sovereignty is not diminished by our circumstances; to the contrary, it is difficult circumstances that give rise to the need for His sovereignty. So, this Christmas, rather than looking eagerly for the end of the pandemic, let’s look expectantly for the exercise of His sovereignty, which is in keeping with the best tradition of the Christmas spirit. GS

Faith in the Pandemic

I’ve wearied of hearing believers complain about the pandemic, spin conspiracy theories to pretend it doesn’t exist, embrace flaky click-bait inspired ideas about the CDC, Fauci, and COVID-19, and then wrap themselves in the flag of faith to justify it all.

It’s worrisome because Christians are called to be the light of the world, not the butt of jokes. We are to lead people to life, not destruction. The sources of Christians’ current confusion are ignorance, fear, an unbiblical view of faith, and pride.

Ignorance: Historical context for the pandemic. We are ignorant of history. There is nothing historically unusual about plagues and pandemics, and the serious ones typically last longer than two years. The plague of Cyprian lasted from 249 A.D. to 262 A.D, the plague of Justinian from 541 A.D. to 549 A.D., and the Black Death in Europe from 1346 to 1353. Yet, Christians complain because this pandemic has dragged on for nearly two years, and we still have to wear masks to church. We should set a better example.

Fear: On conspiracy theories. It is well-settled that people embrace conspiracy theories when they are unable or unwilling to accept the scary, unpleasant truths of reality. If Christians are going to be the light of the world, they need to lead in facing ugly realities and showing the world the path to Jesus, not pimping crazy-town theories about Bill Gates trying to implant chips in our arms through COVID vaccines. Such beliefs are motivated by fear, not faith. 

Unbiblical faith and real faith. The idea that getting vaccinated or wearing a mask shows a lack of faith is both naive and unbiblical. It’s like crossing a busy street and refusing to look both ways because you are “trusting God.” That is testing God, not trusting Him, and it brings God’s judgment, not His approval. It’s forcing God to act on your behalf. It’s what Satan asked Jesus to do when he suggested Jesus parachute off the top of the temple without a parachute. See Matthew 4:5-7. God will not be manipulated by our misguided view of faith.

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