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Good Medicine

You wouldn’t think it would make a difference.

To Lilly Gillon it may have made a life and death difference.

Lilly is a British two year – old who suffers from a rare form of cancer.  When she received life-saving medical help at a hospital in Oklahoma City, Lilly’s parents were impressed with the warm hospitality of the people in the Sooner State. Lilly’s spirits seemed good.  When she returned to England, however, she didn’t appear quite so happy.

Back in Oklahoma for a vacation with his little girl, Lilly’s dad noticed a marked improvement in her responsiveness. The more the folksy Oklahomans made over her, the more cheerful Lilly became. “They were just so nice,” Graham Gillon remarked. In fact, the people in Oklahoma were so nice – so kind and friendly toward the whole Gillon family –  that the Gillons are seriously considering moving there in order to speed Lilly’s recovery.

Is there a connection between kindness and healing?

The Bible tells us that “a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” [Proverbs 17:22, NLT]. While “a merry heart” is good for our health, sadness “drieth the bones” (KJV).

What about somebody else’s cheerfulness? What about another person’s strength? Can our kindness make a difference? Does it impact others?

Perhaps more than we might think.

We influence people’s dispositions – their attitudes, their spirits, even their health – in so many subtle ways.  A warm smile, a firm handshake, a hug or a tender word of thanks or encouragement can make all the difference in how somebody else gets through her day.

A simple and sincere compliment can offer hope in ways you may never realize. In our preoccupied and hectic lives we can sometimes overlook this.

We seldom know what’s inside another person’s heart or mind. The burdens people carry – their worries and concerns; their loneliness or heartache – are often known but to them and to God. This is especially true of the many strangers we briefly encounter along life’s busy pathway.

“All the lonely people,” the Beatles sang, “where do they all come from?”

There’s a whole lot of hurt in this world that you and I don’t know about.

Broken spirits are mended by cheerful hearts.  When we dispense kindness – especially to a stranger – we share some good medicine.  And we show the love of Christ better than any sermon ever could.

God instructed the Israelites to show kindness to foreigners: “But the stranger who lives among you shall be unto you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” God then reminded his people that “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” [Leviticus 19: 34, NKJV].

When someone’s far from home, and all that is familiar, the kindness of a stranger means a lot. The writer of Hebrews tells us: “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it.” [Hebrews 13:2, NLT].

“Without realizing it”. There’s the key – the part we too easily forget.

Francis Bacon observed: “If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world, and that his heart is no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins them.”

It costs us little to be kind – it is an inexpensive medicine. “If you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers,” Jesus said, “you will surely be rewarded.” [Matthew 10:42, NLT].

Of course, reward was not on the minds of the friendly people in Oklahoma when they reached out to precious Lilly Gillon and “loved on her”. Their motive was not to gain but to give. Lilly and her family will not remember many of the folks who showed their kindness to them while they were strangers in a foreign land. Their paths may never again cross this side of eternity. But every word of cheer and encouragement, every smile and every act of kindness was noticed – and it was recorded by the angels in glory. Perhaps the people of Oklahoma entertained one of those angels without realizing it.

The poet Edwin Markham wrote:

“There is a destiny which makes us brothers; none goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, that’s worth remembering – and worth practicing.

Carry kindness with you every day. As God opens an opportunity, share some with others. It may not seem like much but it may make someone else feel a whole lot better.

Kindness is good medicine.

May God bless you and your family.

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Donald, Francis and the Warhorse

Who would have thought it?

It’s the biggest surprise of the political season.

He has defied all logic and every law of gravity. Every rule in the book has been brazenly broken without consequence except for greater support.

Donald Trump has amazed and amused us for the past four months. For political observers, it has been a summer of fascinating fun. While the press has had a field day, gorging itself on Trump interviews, twitters and outlandish personal attacks, the rest of us have sat back and enjoyed the show.

Pundits have long predicted The Donald’s demise but the most recent polls have him riding higher than ever, actually leading office-holding rivals in their own home states.

The American people – including most evangelical Christians – are frustrated and angry with politics and politicians. They overwhelmingly believe this nation is headed in the wrong direction and they are convinced that Washington is not the answer – it’s the problem.

This has created the perfect storm that is Donald Trump.

The audacious billionaire, with all his braggadocio and exaggeration, comes across as a strong, forthright and independent leader who will bow to no one including, apparently, God. He infamously answered one questioner by saying that he’d seek God’s forgiveness – if he ever needed it.

Many Christians support Trump – polls show him more than holding his own with evangelicals.

While this unorthodox candidate made his unique case in his unique style, the Pope came to America. No leader could be as far apart from Trump in temperament and manner as Pope Francis. He met with the President at the White House, and then became the first religious leader in history to address Congress. He spoke about the need to be compassionate and inclusive and caring. He urged unity on immigration and climate change, arguing for a wise stewardship of the planet. He words were kind and careful. The Pope spoke softly and deliberately in broken English.

He took no sides, offered no policies and ruffled no feathers.

Pope Francis, wildly popular everywhere, was well-received of course. Though some in the Congress listening to the Pope’s speech may have felt a bit like Mrs. McCready after Sunday mass in Boston.

“T ‘was a fine sermon the Father delivered on marriage”, her friend remarked. “T ‘was indeed,” replied the mother of eight. “I only wish I knew as little about the subject as he does.”

The Pope has been criticized for not knowing enough about the topics upon which he “pontificates”. The Pope may speak for God “on matters of faith and morals,” editorialized The Wall Street Journal, but “his infallibility does not extend to economics or environmentalism.”

We look to leaders and institutions more than we should. We place more faith in the “strong man” than we ought to.

Christian voters love their country and are anguished by its moral waywardness. We seek wise and courageous leaders. We believe if we can just find them, if we can convince ourselves that they hold the key to national renewal; and if we can elect them we are sure they will do the right thing and all will be well.

We want to believe. We want to trust.

The candidates know this.

They know how anxious to believe we really are. What else could explain the worldly, thrice-married and arrogant Donald Trump brandishing his childhood Bible before an audience of Christian activists?

When I was a young idealist entering public service, my wise friend Jack reminded me, more than once, that I was placing too much faith in politics. He told me that only God could do what politics could never do: change the individual human heart. It took me a few years and a lot of bumps and bruises to fully realize how right Jack was.

As we embark upon yet another presidential election season – one in which we will choose a new president – we would do well to remember the limitations of politics and the failures and fallibility of mere mortals.

We need to disillusion ourselves about politics. That is, we need to set aside our illusion about what it promises and what it can deliver.

We need to be spiritually realistic.

We must set our expectations of politics – and even of revered global religious leaders -intentionally low.

The political machinations and energies of our government – even of our powerful military – cannot, in the end, be the resting place of our ultimate trust.

“Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory – for all its strength it cannot save you” (Psalm 33: 17, NLT).

Only God can do that.  We must have very high expectations of our Sovereign Creator and the Ruler of all nations.

Our expectations of God must be sky high.

“Whom have I in heaven but you?” (Psalm 73:25, KJV).

When you listen and watch and consider the candidates and their promises:

“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help …Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146: 3-15, KJV).

Politics is important and even entertaining but it will never save us.

May God bless you and your family.

In God alone let us trust.

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Pliable

The two men walked together down the pleasant shaded road.

This was going to be a nice trip – a journey one man knew of and the other wondered about.

The one carried a sack on his back. He looked determined.

“Tell me more,” the younger man asked eagerly. “What will it be like, I mean when we get there?”

The man carrying the sack explained what he had read in the book he held firmly in his hand.

It all sounded so wonderful to the young companion.

“Wow! That’s amazing,” he enthused. “Come on, let’s walk faster. I can’t wait to get there!”

This was the zeal of a new beginning. Hope always abounds at the start.

But we find soon enough that when Christian, with that load on his back, and Pliable, his spirited but untried fellow traveler, fall into the Slough of Despond, it suddenly becomes an entirely different story.

Neither saw it coming.

As the two men thrash desperately, sinking deeper into the mire that represents the trials of life and the adversity to faith, Pliable asks, “Christian, where are we now?”

Christian didn’t know.

Pliable becomes indignant and worried.

“Is this the happiness you told me about?” he cries to Christian.  “If it’s like this now, at the beginning, when we’ve gone only this short way, what is there still ahead of us?”

Struggling in the murky swamp, Pliable finally gets to the bank that is closest to his home.

Crawling out, he turns to Christian, still flailing in the swamp, and announces, “You will have to take the far country without me – I’m going back!”

And back he went.

Back to his old home, his security, his friends and his comforts. John Bunyan tells us in this early episode of The Pilgrim’s Progress, that of Pliable, “Christian saw him no more.”

Christian is pulled from the Swamp of Despondence by a man named Help. Christian chooses, despite this early adversity, to continue his journey. He loses his burden of sin at the cross, encounters many a deceitful and powerful foe along the way but finally crosses the river and enters that beautiful far country that will be his eternal home.

Christian never gave up.

He also never saw Pliable again.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan gave the world the greatest single book of Christian faith and doctrine since the Bible. When he began writing it he was in jail because he refused to stop preaching the Gospel. He spent twelve long years in that Bedford prison.

He suffered for his faith and his conscience.

Bunyan knew adversity and understood the importance of Christian perseverance.

Do we?

For the remainder of our lives on earth you and I will live in a world increasingly alien and hostile to Christianity. Our faith and our determination to live it will be tested in new and different ways in the years ahead.

In his story of the sower and the seeds, Jesus tells us that 75% of the spiritual seeds never grew to fruition. The various trials, distractions and temptations of this life deprived them of taking root in the heart and bearing a crop in the soul. The conditions and pressures were various but each of the three cases ended in the same wasted tragedy.

In each instance, there was a lack of perseverance – the failure of determination to stick with it and remain faithful despite the circumstances and opposition. Every time, the situation triumphed over the promise.

The Bible speaks extensively of the urgent need to persevere and The Perseverance of the Saints is a gloriously recurring and integrated theme throughout scripture and throughout the history of Christ’s Church. In Nave’s Topical Bible, the entry for Perseverance runs more than four pages, with biblical references from Genesis through Revelation.

And what is the entry just before Perseverance in this venerated reference work?

Persecution (six and a half pages).

 Over and over again, we read that we shall prevail in our struggles of faith and life, “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Hebrews 3:6, KJV, emphasis added).

The writer says that you and I are “partakers of Christ”, sharing in his life and glory, “if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:14, KJV, emphasis added).

If we trust God “just as firmly as when we first believed” (NLT) – when faith was fresh, the sky was blue and the prospects for our journey glorious – before our first struggle in the swamp of temptation and despair.

Hard times come. They are part and parcel of the authentic Christian experience.

“If you follow Christ” wrote Charles Spurgeon, “you shall have all the dogs of the world yelping at your heels.”

You and I will not need more perseverance than the saints of old needed, but we may need more than we have needed until now.

The Christian has always had to endure “many dangers, toils and snares”.

Let us therefore remain “steadfast, unmovable” (I Corinthians 15:58, KJV).

Let us remember and avoid the tragedy of Pliable.  And know that the grace that has led us thus far will take us to that far country – and our eternal home.

May God bless you and your family.

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The Courtroom

The nation was impressed and moved.

It seemed so rare as to be a kind of spiritual Haley’s comet. You wanted to see it because you never knew when you would have the chance to see it again – at least this deeply and on this scale.

There they were, the families of the victims of the Charleston massacre, publicly forgiving the young man who took the lives of their cherished loved ones just two days before.

They told him that if he would repent of his sins and trust God, God would forgive him and save his soul. They said they had prayed for him, that God might be merciful to him.

There was no cry for vengeance, no demand for death, and no pleading for judgment. Nobody said he would feel better if he could watch the young perpetrator die. Nobody shouted that he would burn in hell for what he did.

He had committed a vicious, bloody, heartless crime of hate and prejudice.

He had killed nine innocent men and women.

In church.

Because they were black.

After sitting with his future victims for an hour in a Wednesday evening Bible study.

They were Christians, of whom it may be said that faith was the animating center of their lives.

They were good folks; people of love.

They had, as one family member put it to the young man, “welcomed you with open arms.”

He had repaid their kindness by pulling out his recent birthday present, a .45 – caliber handgun, and shooting them.

But when he appeared in court via video to be indicted for this heinous and unconscionable act, the relatives told him they forgave him.

The state is likely to seek his life for what he did that night. Prosecutors will argue for it, the government sanctions it and most people will want it.

It’s called justice.

There will be no forgiveness in court.

He killed. He deserves to die in return.

A 21- year old filled with hate and bitterness, violent, without remorse, driven by inner demons. That’s what the government will say. God’s moral law, as the apostle Paul would be quick to remind us, is not intended to mete out mercy, but judgment. The law calls the guilty to reckoning. The state “beareth not the sword in vain” (Romans 13: 4, KJV).

Secular government is not in the mercy business. It’s in the law-making and law-enforcing business. Civil law judges and condemns. This is its God-given role.

But still they forgave him.

Nobody criticized these Christian believers for what they said that day in court. Nobody mocked them. Nobody called them intolerant, bigoted or a threat to liberty. Nobody said they were narrow-minded.

Instead, millions of people who have no use for Christians or Christianity found themselves in genuine and profound respect for this unarguably Christian response.

Why is that?

Because most people are as impressed with the actual practice of Christianity as they are offended by its contradictory profession. Non-believers have some sense about what Christians should be like.

Christians should act like Jesus.

That’s not a complicated theological treatise reserved for analysis at seminaries.

It’s what C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity.

 Non-Christians know enough about Jesus to agree that he would forgive. They know he told his disciples to forgive. They know that those who call themselves Christians are supposed to base their lives – their words and conduct – on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.

In this, non- believers have a better read on the Bible than many Christians do – and a deeper understanding of Christian ethics.

In that courtroom, Jesus Christ was glorified.

In the wake of inexplicable tragedy and in the face of evil, Jesus was lifted up. In the midst of heart-breaking personal loss, our Savior was honored. In those moments, as those followers of Jesus spoke and wept, the sacred transcended the secular.

It was more powerful, more meaningful, more heart and mind impacting than a million gospel tracts, movies or sermons.

The state must sit in judgment. It cannot forgive. The Christian, whose first allegiance is to Christ and not the state, must forgive.

The families of the Charleston nine, sharing the faith of those who were slain, bore testimony to the world about what a true Christian is.

Hate was met with love.

Prejudice was met with kindness.

Anger was met with forgiveness.

This is Christianity – not the shallow, thoughtless and fearful caricature that the media and atheists are so anxious to portray.

This is triumphant Christianity.

As church bells tolled across Charleston last Sunday in honor of the victims, the church where they were murdered was packed. The visiting preacher (the church’s pastor was among the dead) found his text in Isaiah 54:17:

“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper”

Paul told the Christians living in first-century brutal Rome that nothing could ever separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

John began his gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus by asserting that the darkness of this world would never be able to extinguish the light of our Lord.

May the example of our brothers and sisters in that Charleston courtroom renew our determination to follow in His steps.

May God bless you and your family.

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That One

“Hi Mister! I’d like to see your puppies.”

The young boy smiled broadly.

The farmer led the boy to a pen where a litter of puppies scampered eagerly about their mother. The farmer was selling them and the boy had been saving his money. The farmer watched as the lad carefully scrutinized the black and white pups. After a few moments, the boy pointed to a quiet puppy sitting alone in the back of the pen. He called him and the little dog gingerly limped toward the boy, wagging its tail.

“I’d like that one,” the boy said.

“Well,” the farmer said softly to the boy, “I’m not sure you want that puppy. He was born with a bad leg. He can get around OK but he’ll never be able to run and keep up with you like these others would. Wouldn’t you rather have one of these other healthy pups?”

“I really want that one,” the boy insisted. Then the boy reached down and slowly lifted up his pant leg, revealing a steel brace that was attached to a special shoe. “You see Mister,” the boy explained to the farmer, “I don’t run too well myself and I figure this little guy will need someone who understands him.”

Someone who understands.

In all our weakness and vulnerability; in all our frailty and our fears, how much each of us needs someone like that. The world is not a sympathetic place. The world does not understand, the world doesn’t want to understand – the world cannot understand. That’s why we sometimes feel quite alone – surrounded by busy people on a mission that doesn’t include us. Like the little limping puppy, we struggle to keep up in the competitive race of life. And when it seems that everyone can run and jump except us, it’s not always easy.

Yet suppose that the greatest, most powerful, most awesome, most wonderful and most glorious Being in the whole universe understood you more completely than anyone else you’ve ever known. Then imagine that this eternal, omnipotent Being was a God of infinite love who not only knew and understood you fully, but in understanding you, loved you with an unfathomable love.

God does.

This is every Christian’s joyful testimony. We are unfailingly and unchangeably loved by the God who never changes and cannot fail.

At the center of God’s love, of course, is his glory and greatness. But there is also the element of mercy and redemption – and matchless grace – that makes divine love higher, longer, wider and deeper than anything we could ever experience.

God’s love is beyond dimension. That’s how he can understand us – and it’s why he does.

In Christ, God proved his identity with us. This is the glory of the incarnation. God came because he cared. And God cares because he came. And through his Son, God showed us he understood.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,” the writer of Hebrews tells us, “but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.(Hebrews 4:15, NIV). Jesus understands our weaknesses and temptations because he has been “just as we are.” Sinless, yes, divine, certainly, but also fully human. And in the humanity of Christ we have hope.

We know that Jesus has been “touched with the feeling of our infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15, KJV).

I love that King James rendering. It’s so tender, compassionate and expressive.

Our Savior has been “touched” – moved and influenced.

Our High Priest isn’t some stoic god playing chess in the sky with our lives. He knows how you feel – intimately, deeply, and fully.

He knows too your “infirmities” – the frailties of mortal man. He understands your doubts and your fears. Because he was once in the flesh, he appreciates the limitations of the flesh.

The prophet Isaiah reassures us that God is never through with us, even when we’re down. “A bruised reed He will not break. And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.” (Isaiah 42:3, NASB).

God embraces us – the wounded, the limping. God will not break us while we are bruised. He will not snuff us out even if our fire of holy devotion that once burned bright may now be only a smoldering ember of pain and regret. God’s Spirit will fan life into us once again. He will never give up on us – even if we give up on him. Because he understands us, God loves us the most when we deserve it the least.

Every church must be a place where the wounded are welcome. God’s family isn’t what you join after you’ve got your act together. It’s where you’re safe to come while you’re getting your act together.

When we limp, God doesn’t pick on us, he picks us. “I’d like that one” he says. To him, despite our limp of sin and weakness, we are very special.

We are God’s gracious choice.

He holds us, cares for us, feeds us and loves us. God adopts us and he takes us home.

He understands.

May God bless you and your family.

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As a Matter of Fact

It was unimaginable.

Maybe life would go on but for them it would be forever changed by the tragedy of these past few days.

Hope and joy had turned so quickly to despair and confusion. The events unfolded beyond their control – and beyond their belief.

Anticipation they once held with such certainty now seemed so long ago, shattered by the inexplicable horror and fear that had engulfed them.

As they walked, the two of them, they spoke of what they had seen. What did it mean – “all these things”? Why did this happen? What would the future hold now? It would doubtless be something quite different than what they had expected.

Luke tells us that these two disciples “communed together and reasoned …” as they walked the dusty seven miles from Jerusalem to a village named Emmaus (Luke 24: 15, KJV).

They were trying to process all that had just happened.

This was hard for them. It’s hard for any of us to understand tragedy and dreams that vanish overnight.

Lost in deep thought, their hearts riveted with grief, they sought to comfort one another. So absorbed in their shared heartbreak, they hardly noticed the stranger on the road who “drew near, and went with them” (Luke 24:15, KJV). Luke tells us that this was a divine concealment – “their eyes were held that they should not know him” (verse 16, KJV).

He was friendly – and showed concern.

He asked them what they were discussing and why they seemed so sad. What’s happened?

They stopped on the road and looked at him. They seemed amazed, even in their sadness.

The man named Cleopas asked him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who does not know what just happened there?” (Luke 24: 18, NCV). The things that took place have stunned so many.

“What things?” he asked (verse 19, KJV).

Cleopas told him about “Jesus of Nazareth.” He was a mighty prophet, in both word and deed, favored by God and the people. But then “the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted”(KJV) – “we were hoping” (NCV) that he was the Messiah, the one promised so long ago, who would come and set Israel free (verse 19-21).

Our hopes soared.

And now he’s dead.

This all happened three days ago, Cleopas explained to the stranger.

But there’s more.

Cleopas told him that some women who visited his tomb that very morning insisted it was empty! There was no body! So Cleopas and others went to see for themselves. Sure enough, they saw the tomb and it was empty. But where was his body?

A mystery.

Cleopas hesitated.

These women had told them that they had seen “a vision of angels, which said that he was alive” (verse 23, KJV).

Alive?

Alive!

Jesus may have smiled, struck by the irony of his anonymity.

What Jesus did next is worth noting. He didn’t engage their speculations or ask any more questions. He didn’t join them in wonder. He didn’t ponder unknown meanings.

He taught them.

From the Old Testament, as they walked together on the road to Emmaus, Jesus expounded on the promises and prophecies concerning himself. He ignored theories and taught truth.

What has just happened is not fantasy, he told them. It’s fact.

This is not some hallucination. This is reality.

As they neared the village and it was getting dark, Cleopas and his friend persuaded Jesus to have dinner with them. As Jesus prayed and passed around the bread, their eyes were opened and suddenly they recognized him.

And then he was gone.

Jesus had always been audacious on the subject of death.

“Destroy this temple,” he announced to the stunned Pharisees, “and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19, KJV).

To the grieving sister of a dead friend, Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11: 25, KJV).

No other religious leader in history promised to defang death – to conquer this last enemy – and then did it.

He tells you and me that if we place our faith in him, we will never die. And then he asks us simply:

Do you believe this?

When he appeared to his disciples, after his resurrection, he was again taunting death.

Ha! You look like you’ve seen a ghost!

“Why are you frightened?” he asked them. “Why do you doubt who I am? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do!” (Luke 24: 38-39, NLT).

Jesus held out his hands. He showed them his feet.

Then he ate some broiled fish while they surrounded him and stared in dumbfounded amazement.

Where was his body? Here was his body! Not hidden or stolen but eating dinner.

The resurrection is more than a feeling or a sentiment or even an indwelling power.

It is more.

The resurrection is not just an experience. It is an event. It is history.

It is a matter of fact.

He Is Risen!

He Is Risen Indeed!

May God bless you and your family.

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What About You? The Cosmic Christ: Part IV

The gentle breeze bent the flickering fire only slightly.

The stars were bright against the clear black sky.

It was one of those pleasant evenings that seems so perfect it offers its own peaceful exhilaration.

Having eaten, the men now sat around the fire in low conversation. They spoke of what they had seen and heard – reflections on their recent travels.

They were happy and excited. They had never experienced anything even close to this.

The response of the growing crowds, the teachings, the miracles – four thousand men, not counting women and children, all fed with only seven loaves and a few fish. And there were seven full baskets left over!

What had taken place in Decapolis, near the Sea of Galilee, was incredible. Hundreds of eager people seeking to be healed came to him: the blind, the dumb, and the crippled. Others brought loved ones.

It seemed to the men a sea of suffering humanity crying out to be lifted up.

He healed them all.

He had not sought fanfare and tried to contain it but the more he told them not to tell, the more they did.

And of course, there were the adversaries too. The Pharisees badgered and challenged and lectured and fumed. They laid verbal and theological traps.

He sprung every one. The legalists never even came close to cornering him.

For the twelve, it had been one heavy head trip.

They stood amazed in his presence.

They didn’t expect it, couldn’t explain it and wouldn’t have believed it – had they not seen it with their own eyes. One of them would later write:

“We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life” (I John 1:1, NLT).

That was the impact of the experience; the affirmation of one who had been there; of one who had been with him.

And so tonight, it came.

It was the moment he had been leading them to. Everything he had said, everything he had done, had helped to prepare his close circle for tonight – this time and place of decision.

On a hillside in Caesarea Philippi.

He knew that eleven of these men would have a rendezvous with his destiny that would transform and shape the rest of their lives.

They would never be the same. The world would never be the same.

He had returned from a time of prayer alone. And while they talked among themselves, he had remained pensive. Now suddenly he broke into their private conversations for a group discussion.

Jesus looked at them intently, one by one.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16: 13, NASB).

They were silent. They looked at each other.

Andrew spoke first.

“Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah.”

Thaddeus added: “But still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16: 14, NASB).

Jesus nodded his understanding and smiled. He knew there would always be conflicting opinions.

Then he looked at them and asked:

“But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” (verse 15, NIV).

Again there was silence.

Several of the men looked down, as if searching for the right words in a heart put on the spot.

Then Peter spoke – only for himself with such assurance. But it turned out he was also the spokesman for those who would soon join him in turning the world upside down.

He spoke with slow deliberation, as if startled by his own declaration.

“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16: 16, KJV).

Jesus asked the central question of Christmas. Peter gave the only answer possible for the follower of Jesus.

To succeeding generations – including many of our sons and daughters and our grandchildren who are skeptical of the deistic and exclusionary claims of historic Christianity in an age of tolerance and pluralism – let us press those claims without apology or compromise.

He is the Christ – and the only Christ.

He is the Son – and the only Son – of the living God.

Jesus is the Word of life, John wrote, the one who is from the beginning.

Jesus is the Savior of the world – and the only Savior.

Ask the prophets who foretold his birth.

Ask the angels who announced it – to Joseph, to Mary and to certain poor shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night.

Ask Simeon who held and blessed him in the temple.

Ask Zechariah whose loosened tongue heralded the coming Messiah.

Ask the wise men who bowed down and worshipped him as their king, though he was but a child.

Ask Handel, Watts and Wesley who wrote the immortal songs that triumphed his coming.

From beginning to end, the Bible’s theme is Jesus Christ.

His birth in Bethlehem is the uniquely orchestrated, impressively detailed, compellingly accurate, beautifully expressed and amazingly fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament.

The true meaning of Christmas is the thoroughly persuasive validation of the truth of the Bible and the truth about Jesus Christ.

He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

What about you? Who do you say that he is?

Who do you dare to tell?

May God bless you and Your family.

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