Sometimes finding favor with God makes life much harder. You know the story. Gabriel informed Mary she would give birth to the Son of God. Many thoughts ran through her mind, not the least of which was how she, a virgin, could conceive.
What’s more, Mary knew the social and biblical fallout that occurs for a pregnant woman without a husband. How could she possibly explain that her pregnancy was an of God and not an act of passion?
Finding favor with God meant that she faced disfavor from people. Maybe finding favor with God isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
Christmas usually causes us to marvel at the virgin conception—and at the love of our God who would become Man so that He could die for our sins. But there’s another part of the Christmas story that amazes me just as much.
It comes from this amazing young woman.
Of all the questions leveled against Christianity, few others cause such heated controversy: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” For many people, Jesus’ words equate exclusivity with arrogance:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. —John 14:6
The exclusivity of those words is unmistakable. Millions question: “How can Jesus be the only way to God? That’s not fair. It leaves out too many people.”
But if you think about it, the real question isn’t, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” but rather we should ask, “Is God holy”?
Here’s why that’s the real issue.
Years ago I met a man named Igor who told me a story I’ve never forgotten. As a child growing up in the Soviet Union, Igor always believed communism’s assumption that God does not exist.
Yet as a gifted medical student and scientist, Igor studied the intricacies of the human body and natural world and struggled over their implications. Such precision in nature demanded a Designer—something his deep-rooted atheism refused to embrace.
Then one day as he and a friend drove through a wintry countryside, Igor saw a distant snowman all alone in the middle of a field—and the truth struck him. He slammed on the brakes.
“Look!” he said, pointing to the snowman. “How did that get there?”
His friend replied with the obvious answer: “Somebody built it.”
“There was no way,” Igor told me, “the details of nature just happened by chance. I decided I must find the truth.”
Just as the snowman had to have been made by someone, so did nature.
Think of the places most significant to you. That’s right, the places. What makes them so special? Most likely, it’s not the places themselves but the events that took place there.
- The camp where you accepted Christ
- The old barn where you became engaged
- The park where your firstborn learned to walk
In our lives, events make places significant because of memories. But in biblical times, it was often just the opposite. The place itself often played a major role in causing a significant event.
The lands of the Bible offer more than a mere backdrop for the stories of the Bible. These places played an integral role in shaping the lives of those who lived there. God designed it so.
And for us, understanding how the land shaped its people gives us tremendous insight into understanding Scripture.
Even more, it gives us a glimpse as to how God uses even geography in our lives today.
There’s not much we can be sure of today. We live in a world of broken promises, broken families, backstabbing friends, and personal failures. And that’s just at church.
After a lifetime of disillusions, we’ve come to expect little else. We often hope for nothing in hopes we won’t be disappointed.
It’s easy to get sucked into the black hole of hopelessness. It happens because we live in an a culture that keeps God at arm’s length, one that claims His name but declines His Lordship.
God is a package deal. And when we refuse all of God then we miss all of what He has to offer. In refusing all of God we’re forced to fill those gaps with substitutes that disappoint and fail us.
But with God . . . ah, now that’s a worldview of a different color.
The Sovereign Lord, the Creator of the universe, offers true hope—and here’s why: He is the only one able to make good on His promises.
Here are 4 promises of God—cleverly disguised by the Apostle Paul as questions—that give you hope for your life.
Dawdling service at restaurants gets under my skin. (The only thing worse is fast food at a slow drive through.) At lunch not long ago we got dawdling service from our server. Here’s what happened.
I never let on to the waiter that I was miffed, yet inside my fuse was burning. Here’s why:
- The table next to us ate and left before we did, though we arrived at the same time.
- Our water glasses were often empty and the food order came out wrong.
- The waiter fouled up the bill.
- I was late getting back to work.
But then, just before we left, I felt like a complete idiot. The waiter made mention that it was his first day. You see, the problem wasn’t his incompetence.
It was my impatience.
Life hands us a line of slow servers. God shows us the best way to disarm our short fuse.
Every Christian who takes a journey to the Holy Land experiences life change—especially if they prepare for the tour. I don’t mean we learn some secret that stops our struggling. The change occurs another way.
A Holy Land tour exposes us to the context of the Bible in a way we never imagined. We gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the Word of God. And God uses Scripture to change us.
But then . . . we come back home.
We face the stack of bills. The yard that needs mowed. The bloated inbox at work. And our luggage has two weeks’ full of dirty laundry. Suddenly, the benefits of your trip to Israel get shoved to the back of a full plate called “life.”
You’ve invested a lot in your Holy Land tour—both in finances and in time—far too much to lose those benefits to the tyranny of the urgent.
After taking and leading many trips to Israel, I have discovered these 7 ways to keep the benefits of a Holy Land tour.
Close one eye and look closely at a marble. It seems massive. In fact, the marble is all you see. It dwarfs everything else. But its size is an illusion.
A basketball is bigger. The planet earth is even bigger. Come to think of it, God is infinitely bigger than your marble. Your problems are like that.
(Photo by Sarah Charlesworth, CC-BY-SA-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Life is filled with marbles. When you fixate on your marbles, you can’t see the reality that they are small in comparison to God’s power.
Sure, they’re real. Of course they hurt. But your life is more than your problems, just as the world is more than your marbles. Or it can be. You can stop staring at your marbles. You only need to sit up, blink a few times, and look around.
God is much bigger than your marbles.
Do you have a buffer zone between you and what can harm you? I’m talking about putting a safeguard between you and evil influences that can cause compromise in your walk with Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, this concept of defense didn’t originate in the New Testament. We see an illustration of it throughout Old Testament history in an unusual place.
Between the Philistine plain and the Hill Country where God’s people dwelt lay 10 miles of low rolling hills. This buffer zone was known as the “Shephelah.”
The hills of the Shephelah were a geographical buffer that represented a spiritual barrier. You have a Shephelah in your life as well.
Here’s a lesson on how you can guard it.
As a teenager, I knew everything. You could even say I was omniscient. I marveled at the incompetence of adults on the simplest issues. They just didn’t get it.
And then I grew up, and something strange happened. I discovered that as an omniscient person, I still had a lot to learn.
So many times I stood so sure of myself only to discover how woefully ignorant I was.
- I knew a lot about the Bible until I went to seminary. It turns out, the more I learned, the less I knew.
- I knew everything about marriage until I got married. But matrimony is course in art, not science. I’ll be learning for the rest of my life.
- I was an expert on parenting until I had kids. Parenting offers a long course of study on your own selfishness.
I’ve learned a lot since I became omniscient. But you know where that omniscient teenager resurfaces the most in my life? The same place it shows itself in your life.
When we’re talking to God.