…Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… Hebrews 12:1b-2a
Welcome to my goofy attempts to have Advent devotionals with my busy college students who now live in 3 different cities.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. . . and his name shall be called. . . Prince of Peace.
Peace is something that seems elusive to most of us in the modern world. After all, we can hardly escape the constant barrage of information, and most of us are now so accustomed to the incessant yammering of the media that we don’t even pay attention.
Another scandal involving high-ranking officials? Of course.
Government corruption exposed yet no one serves jail time. Naturally.
We’ve come to expect chaos, even embrace it. But the expectation comes at a cost. The US consistently ranks #1 or #2 for anxiety, depression, and substance abuse despite being the most affluent nation in the world. Money, it seems, does not buy us peace.
Sadly, as a nation we’ve rejected the Prince of Peace. Fewer Americans each year identify as Christian and of those who do, even fewer actually read the Bible or follow the teachings of the Christ they claim to serve. A 2019 Lifeway research study found evangelicals are far more likely to use social media daily than read their Bibles.
Yet in chapter 26, Isaiah writes, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:3-4).
We lack peace because we no longer truly trust in the Prince of Peace. But we can choose to change this. Will you?
Sooooo many people use this word, and yet in utter sincerity, I do not think it means what they think it means.
Nerd Alert– brief foray into etymology ahead!!
The word Christian actually comes from a Greek word which was coined not long after the death of the Christ, who was likely called Yeshua by His contemporaries and more commonly known today by the transliterated and (possibly Swiss-ified from the Geneva Bible translation) name, Jesus.
Long story short, His Greek title would have been (transliterated), Christos. Christianos was the Greek derivative used to refer collectively to those who followed His Way not long after His death. The English is easy to spot from there.
But what does the word mean? What, exactly, makes a person a Christian?
I’ve had a virtual conversation with an atheist who believes Adolf Hitler was a Christian. And from his perspective, it makes sense. After all, Hitler belonged to a nation which identified itself as a Christian nation, he mentioned Divine Providence (a way of referring to God) many times in his speeches, wrote about his concept of God and the Divine Image in his autobiography, and even proclaimed Jesus as Savior and Lord during a speech or two.
Surely that’s enough to make him a Christian, right?
After all, if yours truly, a mother of three, suddenly chooses to identify as a man, I can be a man – thus saith the progressive logic of the current century and thus the atheist’s puzzling little piece fits, though admittedly the picture is more a puzzle assembled than if it remained in scattered pieces.
The truth is, Hitler also used the term Christian while remaining ignorant of its actual meaning. Consider this quote straight from the pen of the mustachioed Austrian madman himself:
It would be better if they left this [missionary] work alone, and if, in its stead, they tried to teach people in Europe, kindly and seriously, that it is much more pleasing to God if a couple that is not of healthy stock were to show loving kindness to some poor orphan and become a father and mother to him, rather than give life to a sickly child that will be a cause of suffering and unhappiness to all.
Adolf Hitler, from Mein Kampf
According to the deceased dictator’s philosophy, the God-honoring Christian thing to do is to sterilize the sick and infirm, allowing them to perhaps raise some healthy orphan rather than perpetuate their inferior genetic stock.
He goes on to sing the praises of eugenics. The gist of this section of merry old Adolf’s autobiography is that allowing unhealthy, crippled, mentally deficient, or “racially impure” (presumably by his standard) people to procreate is an act of immorality.
Logically consistent, but abhorrently far from what Jesus actually lived and died to accomplish. Hitler shaped his concept of God, Christianity, and morality around his lifestyle, ethnic makeup, and opinions rather than shaping his worldview around the actual Christ as presented in His Word.
Like so many of us still do today, deceiving ourselves that we have no kinship with a freak like Hitler. Too many of us fail to see the inherent dangers of redefining what it means to follow Christ.
So is a Christian merely a person who identifies himself with the Christ and calls Jesus his Savior and Lord?
Not according to the Christ Himself:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
The Lord goes on to declare even some people who call Him Lord and do incredible feats – things I’ve certainly never accomplished – in His name will not enter. Jesus labels these Christ-proclaiming high-performers workers of lawlessness, not Christians.
So what is a Christian, if not a person who calls the Christ Lord?
Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
There’s the start of the definition, though it’s necessary to know Jesus’s commands. Read Matthew 16:21-27, John 13, John 15 – heck, really you need to read the entire Book and study the types of Christ in the Old Covenant before moving on to study the actual Christ in the Gospels and letters making up the New Covenant.
To know what a Christian is, study the Christ. And remember that He tells us we can know them by their fruits.
A person is not a Christian just because they say they are, nor because they do a little Divine name-dropping or throw out a frequent, “Praise the Lord!”
Instead, observe their fruit. Do his actions bring acclaim to himself? Does her lifestyle honor herself?
Or do they imitate the life of Christ?
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
I don’t normally do this, but a sweet friend and sister in Christ was moved by my last post to share a testimony of God at work in her life. I found her story deeply moving and was humbled by her transparency.
I especially wanted to share it now as we can clearly see our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, waiting for someone to devour as 1 Peter 5:8 tells us. With her permission, I am sharing it here with you, edited slightly to protect her privacy:
“Scripture says, ‘Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins’ (James 5:20).
In the spirit of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, I wanted to share a piece of my story with you to give you some hope that Jesus can and will transform the hearts and minds of those you see behaving inappropriately—if they let him do so.
In the summer of 2018, my family and I left Station Hill (and church altogether) for about a year. I was still deeply wounded from a Life Group experience gone wrong several months prior. I’d struggled with them since the beginning, a chunk of which was my own fault. I’d gotten into a couple of disagreements on social media about politics with a group member. My natural political inclinations are center-left; the other’s are solidly right. (Looking back, soooo embarrassing and immature. I was willing to sacrifice the unity of the church and my and their Christian witness for my rights and rightness.)
The final straw came, though, when the pastor referenced the Supreme Court and abortion amidst the nasty Kavanaugh confirmation saga. I’d had it. I walked out of that church, didn’t talk to the pastor or anyone else, and was determined never to return.
To my dismay, however, God wouldn’t leave me alone about Station Hill or break my emotional ties entirely with the people of the church. (They’d already walked with my husband and me through an intense season of infertility, but that’s another long story. In addition, there’s gonna be using a lot of “I” pronouns since this is my story; my husband has his own perspective.)
I eventually returned once the church scheduled a meeting about how to support families at the border, a pro-life cause that I felt was being ignored by both the local church and the global white American evangelical one. I kept coming periodically. The pastor didn’t throw stones at me from the pulpit, and the two close friends there I had remaining generously welcomed me back.
The political sermon in the “True North” series was particularly healing for me. I finally let the Spirit convict me enough to email the pastor to repent of treating the church like a country club instead of a family and for any hurt I’d caused by leaving the way I did. He was gracious, extended the forgiveness to me I didn’t deserve, and invited me to ask any questions I had remaining. Of course, those questions involved politics and revealed my heart of idolatry–which the pastor could see but I couldn’t at that point.
In a sermon a couple of weeks later, the pastor used a quote from Hudson Taylor that I hope I never forget–‘Christ is either Lord of all, or is not Lord at all.’
You know how sometimes it seems that the pastor is looking straight at you? That was one of those times for me. I felt like I’d been stabbed in the heart; I very nearly burst into tears. Jesus is my Savior, and I’d really thought He was my Lord. It hurt me that the pastor didn’t think that Jesus was my Lord–‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (Proverbs 27:6), though, because I obviously hadn’t surrendered to His Lordship when it came to politics.
That statement, combined with a Coffee House Theology podcast on Galatians 4 that I just “happened” to tune into–about not letting the Judaizers (or their modern equivalent) lure you back into bondage—sparked some immense spiritual growth and love and healing. I feel like I was “born again” again.
While I haven’t been politically perfect since that time, God has been so gracious and patient and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love to keep forgiving, teaching, and redirecting me.
I was obedient to let God remove me from a state government job that at that point was reinforcing my ungodly tendencies. With the pastor’s sermons, I was able to finally see that I was trying to uphold government as the instrument of redemption, trying fruitlessly to force society to skip from brokenness to restoration without going through Jesus.
I surprised myself that when President Trump got Covid, my genuine desire was to pray for him instead of to gloat. I opted to attend the Women’s Night at church rather than to watch another fruitless, divisive presidential debate.
The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him.
As I read through Joshua and now Judges, I can’t ignore the similarities between ancient Israel and the Christian church of today. Despite repeated promises and emotional swearing of fealty prompted by displays of glory or power, the Nation also repeatedly forgot the Lord.
In Numbers and Deuteronomy, God commanded Israel to drive out all the people in the Land He would give them. However, He also let them know they would fail to do it and that the gods of those nations would become a snare to them.
Then in Joshua, we read here and there of groups of people Israel didn’t quite dislodge. The idea behind today’s verse from Judges 10 is repeated multiple times throughout this book. Basically, the people turned from serving the Lord to serving the gods of the people they had failed to drive out of their land.
Of course, we don’t serve those gods today. We’re far more advanced.
Today, we serve the gods of career and of Netflix, the gods of entertainment and of comfort, and the gods of the people around us – the gods of culturally-defined morality and worldly sexual ethics which have nothing to do with the Lord. Today, we serve the bloated and demanding god of self most of all.
Even the church, though she bears the name of Christ in her Christianity, serves these gods. As Christians, we fail to drive the world out of our sacred places and so we let the world’s gods take over.
We’re afraid to stand out, so we don’t. We don’t really believe that a focus on Scripture alone is enough, so we add entertainment. I have to wonder if those ancient Caananite gods were more entertaining than the scrolls of Moses…
Israel was proud of being a free people, set free from bondage to Egypt. Yet they quickly bound themselves up in sin, ignoring the One who set them free for the pop-culture statues and rituals around them.
We say we believe in Jesus and are thankful for what He did for us, dying to save us from sin. Yet we do not behave like thankful people who have been set free. We continue to act like slaves to sin; saying one thing but doing another.
Oh people, we are no different than our ancient fathers.
Lord, forgive us! Lord save us from our weak wills and from our compromises with sin! Turn our hearts fully to You today. May we be repulsed by the very sins we now embrace, ashamed of the things we once did as we choose to obey, to read Your Word and know You more. Help us to walk in Your ways and enjoy the joy of Your presence now and forevermore, amen.