I invite you to look at--

My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.

My Videos where you will find a few two-minute videos on various subjects related to The Beauty of God for a Broken World.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Christmas Refugee

In churches across the country, children put on simple Christmas pageants. Angels with floppy wings and floppier halos announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds wearing grey or tan bathrobes. Perhaps the shepherds bring a small, stuffed sheep to the Baby as He lies in a bed of straw. Then three wise men in kingly robes arrive holding brightly wrapped gifts. The children sing Away in a Manger; the congregation holds lighted candles as they sing Silent Night; and the program is over.
But the Christmas story is not really over. The gospel of Matthew tells us that after the wise men left, God warned Joseph to flee with Mary and the Baby into Egypt to escape the murderous rage of Herod. After the death of Herod, Joseph brought his small family back to Israel. “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son’” (Matthew 2:15). The passage Matthew quotes is Hosea 11:1, where the prophet says that God called the nation of Israel out of Egypt
In the Old Testament, Israel is God’s national son (Exodus 4:21-23). In the New Testament, Jesus is God’s eternal Son. During their four hundred years as refugees in Egypt, the family of Jacob became the nation of Israel. Then God sent Moses to lead them back into the Promised Land. So when Jesus took refuge in Egypt, He (the eternal Son of God) was recapitulating the history of the Israel (the national son of God).
God used Israel’s refugee experience to exhort them to be kind to aliens. “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34). Similarly, Jesus commanded His followers to be kind to strangers.
Do you remember the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)? A Jewish man who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead was rescued by a Samaritan. The Jews despised Samaritans. Furthermore, the robbers might well have been lingering the vicinity, so the Samaritan was risking his own life to help the injured man. Finally, the Samaritan paid an innkeeper to care for the man until he recovered. Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “Go and do the same.” In other words, be willing to help people who don’t like you even if there is some risk and some cost involved.
That is what Jesus did for us. The Bible says that Jesus died for us when we were ungodly sinners, enemies of God, and subject to His wrath (Romans 5:6-10). Those who put their faith in the crucified, risen Christ are healed of sin’s curse and enter into a peaceable relationship with God (Romans 4:25-5:1).
Therefore, those who have been befriended by God ought to befriend the friendless, even those who might be our enemies. At this Christmas season, we need to remember that Jesus was a refugee Himself, and we ought to be willing to help refugees, even if there is some risk and some cost in doing so.
Some Christian leaders, whom I greatly respect, have opposed settling Syrian refugees in the United States. The Lehigh Valley, which hosts a large Syrian community, has been in the national news lately because the Syrians who live here are divided over the refugee issue. Some of them fear that the very Syrians who murdered their relatives might find a home here. Some fear that ISIS might deliberately smuggle its operatives in among genuine refugees.
I understand those fears. I really do. There are some genuine (though very small) risks involved. In recent years, my wife and I have hosted five refugee families in our home for two weeks at a time. Three were Muslim; two were Christian. We have loved all of them. Our health would not permit us to take another family right now, but perhaps in a few months we would be able to do so. And we would welcome a Syrian family as willingly as we have the rest.

(Published in the Allentown Morning Call 12/19/2015)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Fear Not

“Fear not” said the angel to the shepherds, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10). Fear not. Angels seem to have a habit of saying that. The angel Gabriel who appeared to Zacharias told him not to be afraid. The same angel said the same thing to Mary.

I suppose most of us have assumed that the sudden appearance of the angel is what frightened Zacharias and Mary. The glory of the Lord shone around the angel that spoke to the shepherds, and a sudden light on a dark night must have been frightening.
But what if the angels themselves were scary creatures. Angels don’t have bodies as we do. They are spirit creatures. They can take on bodies from time to time in order to appear to human beings, but the bodies they take on may not always have the same form. Sometimes they look like normal men, as when two angels and the Lord dropped by Abraham’s tent for dinner. By the way, in the Bible, angels never appear as women or children. Angels are never gentle and soft. Sometimes angels appear with four wings or six wings. The angels Ezekiel saw had four wings and four hands.
As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle (Ezekiel 1:10).

What if the angels who appeared to the shepherds looked like that? While our granddaughter Meghan was staying with us, I loaned her a word burner and gave her a piece of wood. This is what she produced in an afternoon. It is one of Ezekiel’s angels with four wings. Two of his hands are visible and three of his faces – the lion, the eagle, and the man’s face. The bull’s face would be out of sight in the back. Over the head of the angel some wheels within a wheel, and as Ezekiel says, its rims are full of eyes. Underneath the angel are the words, “Fear Not.”
If one of these angels appeared surrounded by a blindingly bright light, you or I would certainly be terrified. I don’t know what the shepherds saw when the terror of the Lord fell upon them. Perhaps they looked like men without wings. Perhaps they looked like Ezekiel’s angels. In any case, the words of the angel were certainly necessary, “Fear not.”

When angels appear, they frequently display some of the glory of the Lord, and when they do, they are awesome and fearful to behold. God uses these servants of His to impress upon us the fact that He is great and terrifying. No human being is able to stand in His presence.

BUT God is also gentle and kind. When He sent His Son to the earth to save us from our sins, how did He have Him appear? He came as a tiny, helpless baby who had to be cuddled and carried and clothed. He had to be nursed at His mother’s breast. He had to learn to sit up, and then to crawl, and then to toddle back and forth between Joseph and Mary.

You and I would not feel comfortable walking up to a scary angel for a casual chat, but we can draw near to a baby in a bed of hay. The angels teach us that God is powerful and terrifying. The baby Jesus teaches us that God is approachable. He is approachable through Jesus. If you come to God through Jesus, He will accept you. If you try to come to God on your own, watch out lest an angry angel cast you out of heaven before you get anywhere near the throne of God.

You don’t have to fear the angels if, like the shepherds, you are going to Jesus. The brightest, scariest angel would say to you, “Fear not, go to Bethlehem and see your Savior. Fear not, go to Calvary and see the Lamb slain for your sins. Fear not, go to the empty tomb and confess Jesus as your risen Lord.”