“The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them” (Isaiah 9:2, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
2020: A year most of us will never forget; a year that will live in infamy. Many of us have encountered death. We have lost loved ones and/or mourned with friends who lost loved ones. We have faced the fear of catching a potentially fatal disease. One year ago, if we washed our hands 20 times per day, it would be considered a sign of a psychological disorder; now, it is an official public health policy. The insanity goes beyond the coronavirus, though: protests against police brutality and racial inequality exploded into violent riots and feeble attempts to create anarchist utopias; the year is ending with a disputed, controversial presidential election; and somehow, we all forgot about the murder hornets. Many of us have prayed that God would intervene (without the hornets).
As we approached the end of the year, it seemed as if God was sending us a sign. During the last week of Advent, Jupiter and Saturn came so near to each other in the night sky that it reminded many people of the Star of Bethlehem, which guided the wise men to find Jesus (Matthew 2:1–12). Since many scholars believe the Star of Bethlehem was actually such an astronomical conjunction, the timing seemed almost prophetic.
When Jesus came into the world, people were looking for hope. Violence, death, and political corruption were rampant. A dictatorial regime ruled the known world and oppressed the Jews. People needed hope.
The names have changed, technology has exploded, but the human condition remains much the same. Perhaps “Star of Bethlehem 2020” was a sign from God. People have been reminded to look to God amid the darkness.
Even when there are no dramatic astronomical events to grab our attention, God’s light shines. Jesus is the light of the world, and we can look to Him for light, life, healing, redemption, and hope. Christmas reminds us that God became one of us, enduring everyday human hardships, surrounding Himself with suffering, so that He could redeem us and give us eternal life.
“But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:9–10).
God has been with us throughout the pandemic and every other crisis of 2020, and He is not leaving us. Let us keep looking to His light to guide us through the darkness.
How have you seen God’s light in 2020? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:8–9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
One can grow discouraged contemplating God’s righteousness and justice if we have a wrong perspective. We see words like “righteous” and “blameless” and conclude we cannot measure up to those standards. After all, most of us cannot claim that our official slogan is “I’ve made it,” “I’ve got it all together,” or “I never make any mistakes.” For most of us, our slogan is probably the title of a Britney Spears song: “Oops, I Did It Again.”
I thank God that His Word does not hide the failures of His people. We read that Noah was “righteous” and “blameless.” We hear about how Abraham is the father of our faith. Moses is depicted as one of the greatest men of all time. Scripture honors the great heroes of the faith, but it also broadcasts their sins and shortcomings as loudly as their accomplishments.
The Bible introduces Noah shortly after summarizing the spiritual condition of mankind:
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
The world was filled with violence (Gen. 6:11), wickedness, selfishness, and greed. It was so bad that Jesus compared the apostasy of the end times with the days of Noah:
“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37–39).
In a world that ignored God, where everybody sought pleasure, Noah “walked with God.” Therefore, he found favor (a few translations, including the King James Version, say he found “grace”) with God, Who called him to build an ark and preserve a remnant of living things while God judged the world’s sin.
However, Noah was not perfect. Genesis 9:20–27 tells us that he planted a vineyard after the flood and got drunk on some wine he made afterward. While drunk, he lay naked in his tent and was seen by his son Ham. In response, Ham’s brothers, Shem and Japheth, slipped in with their backs turned so they could cover their father without seeing him. It is not completely clear what the great shame and secret are here. It was not the wine: Shem and Japheth covered their father’s nakedness; they did not snatch his stash of home-brewed booze. Perhaps the Bible is politely not describing something that would have been obvious to ancient readers. Maybe Noah was doing something inappropriate in his drunken stupor. Maybe Ham did something with his father. Sometimes the Bible leaves out some details so that we can focus on our situation rather than critique the choices of the patriarchs. Noah was drunk, and whatever he did at that time would have humiliated the family if they still had any neighbors.
Whatever it was, Noah’s righteousness was not perfection. Great men of God often made big mistakes. Abraham “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). However, Abraham would go on to lie about his wife, saying she was his sister, risking to have her taken in marriage by another man. Moses committed murder and later made excuses why he could not lead the Israelites. King David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) and ancestor of Jesus, committed adultery, conspiracy to murder, and other sins and crimes. None were perfect, but all would come to repentance as they grew in faith toward God.
A righteous person is not perfect. It is someone who comes to faith in God through Jesus Christ and desires to walk with Him. We might stumble. We might struggle. We might lose our focus at times. But, we can always return to Him in faith and receive forgiveness and renewal. No matter how you have sinned, simply confess your mistakes to God, repent, receive His forgiveness, and continue to walk with Him. Do not give up.
“Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
May we all grow in faith, love, hope, and knowledge of Christ Jesus.
How do you think God wants to reveal more of His righteousness through you? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
The Bible frequently calls Christians “children of God.” He is our Father. We are His sons and daughters. Children resemble their parents. Thus, children of God should be similar to their heavenly Father. One way in which we should do that is by bearing His righteousness.
1 John 2:29 tells us that God is righteous. In its comments about this verse, The Disciple’s Study Bible (Nashville: Cornerstone Bible Publishers, 1988) says, “God is righteous, meaning that He not only opposes what is evil but is the source of what is right.” The Old Testament even uses it as one of the names of God, when Jeremiah 23:6 calls Him “Jehovah-Tsidkenu,” meaning “the Lord our righteousness.” Many Christians like to quote another of John’s descriptions of the Lord, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), but God’s righteousness is just as essential as His love. We cannot ignore it. We cannot think that God’s love is somehow divorced or detached from His holiness and righteousness.
Likewise, we cannot assume that we are true Christians without resembling some of His attributes. We will not be as holy, loving, righteous, or just as He is, and we will always fall short of Jesus’ standard during our earthly lives. We will not be perfect on Earth. However, if we do not bear some of God’s righteousness and justice, we cannot claim to have His Holy Spirit within us. If we are not practicing righteousness—as defined by Scripture, not by the secular media and pop culture—we cannot claim to be children of God and followers of Jesus Christ.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a season of anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Jesus becoming human; it is also the first day of a new year on the church calendar. The world will wait until January 1 to make its New Year’s resolutions, which most people will give up within three weeks. Last year, on the first Sunday of Advent, I challenged readers to pursue a “One Year, One Thing” challenge, inspired by a quote from Thomas a’ Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ: “If every year we rooted out one vice, we would soon become perfect men.” Take some time over the next few days to look at your life: Is there an area of unrighteousness in your life? Is there an aspect of God’s righteousness that you are lacking? Aim to grow in one attribute, turning from one form of unrighteousness, in the coming year. You can read more about this challenge here.
May the coming year be a time of greater righteousness and justice in your life.
How do you think God wants to reveal more of His righteousness through you? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
“Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever’” (Revelation 11:15; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
Today is the last Sunday on the church calendar for the liturgical year. Next Sunday, we will begin Advent, which commences a new year for the church. In some denominations, the last Sunday of the church year is the Feast of Christ the King.
The Feast of Christ the King (or Christ the King Sunday) is relatively new. It was introduced in 1925 within Roman Catholicism by Pope Pius XI and was later adopted by Anglicanism and some other Protestant traditions. The feast was proclaimed in response to the growth of secularism, nationalism, and other world views that could draw people from full devotion to Christ. When introducing the feast, Pius wrote:
“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”
In other words, since Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He is the king of everything, and we must yield our entire lives to Him. 2020 has challenged many to wonder if He is really in control.
On January 1, I encouraged readers to view 2020 as a “year of vision.” For many of us, our vision has been diffracted, distorted, and blurred this year. Christians who are willing to ask “Where is God in this situation?” have learned from 2020 that we need to put our faith in God. The coronavirus pandemic, followed by violent protests in response to instances of police brutality, mingled with one of the busiest hurricane seasons in memory, etc., have brought crises that test human wisdom. It is easy to criticize government responses to these issues. It is harder to offer viable solutions.
This year is culminating in a disputed presidential election. Almost three weeks after Election Day, Joe Biden has claimed victory (most media outlets agree with him); however, Donald Trump has not conceded the election but is contesting vote counts in several states.
A few weeks before Election Day, my brother-in-law John Cancemi asked on his Facebook page, “Will God allow Biden and the Democrats to win to teach us not to depend on Trump and the Republican Party?” (This was on his personal Facebook page; interested readers may want to check out his ministry page, “Deeper Word & Greater Power.”) It was a challenging question, but he made some important points:
“It seems like many of us Christians have subconsciously taken refuge in Trump and the Republican Party. We see them as our protectors from the anti-Christian leaning Democrats. Could it be that God will remove that protection in order to teach us to depend on Him?”
Some may not like to hear that. Many conservative Christians view the Democrats, especially with their pro-abortion and anti-traditional-values platform, to be agents of Satan. Many Christians will exalt a conservative prolife President, who at least verbally acknowledges some biblical values, possibly giving him the honor that should belong to Jesus alone. How many Christian leaders have called Trump “God’s chosen man for the office”? (Note that the words “Christ” and “Messiah” come from Greek and Hebrew words, respectively, meaning “the chosen one.”) How many will justify and defend him when he speaks in aggressive, hostile terms against his opponents as if he is exempt from Scriptural teaching how to speak to those with whom we disagree?
Do not get me wrong. I am proud to be an American. I was a member of the America First Party (its national press secretary, in fact) long before Trump adopted that slogan and announced his plan to Make America Great Again. I do not support the Democratic Party.
However, we have to ask ourselves hard questions: Do we allow the Bible to define our political positions, or do we try to reinterpret Scripture so that it matches our party’s platform or our favorite politician’s values? Are we willing to admit that a beloved leader makes mistakes, or will we make godless excuses when he or she does wrong? When we disagree with a politician, can we acknowledge that he or she may have some positive attributes? Perhaps they sincerely want to do what is best for our country and their constituents, but they are misguided about what is right.
Who is your God? Who is your Lord? Who is your Savior? Scripture tells us that God has given Jesus the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9–11). Let us give Him the honor He deserves. Too many Christians have assumed God cannot work without the Republican Party. That is idolatry, and God will not share His glory with anybody else.
Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
One mistake a Christian can make is to emphasize one of God’s attributes while ignoring others. God is a Personal Being, and sometimes His actions can seem complicated or paradoxical. As we consider God’s righteousness and justice, we cannot forget His love and mercy. As James 2:13 says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible). God’s judgment is present alongside His mercy.
The Israelites learned that lesson after crossing the Red Sea. They rebelled several times after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They worshiped a golden calf while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. They frequently complained about how God fed them.
On one occasion, they seemed almost ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses sent 12 spies to survey the land. When they returned, 10 gave a bad report, saying the Israelites would be wiped out by the people of Canaan if they tried to enter. As a result, the Israelites threatened to kill Moses and return to Egypt.
God’s glory appeared, and He had another idea: He could slaughter all the Israelites, spare Moses, and start over with a new nation descended from Moses.
“But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, “Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now’” (Numbers 14:13–19).
Moses intervened and asked God to preserve the people who had just threatened to kill him. They did not deserve mercy. God had already forgiven them several times. This was not the first time Moses had to stand in the gap for them. It would not be the last time, either. The people of God have always been flawed humans—from the time God first revealed Himself to Abraham, through the Exodus and ministry of Moses, throughout the rest of the Old Testament, into the New Testament, and throughout church history until today. We have always needed God’s forgiveness, and we always will. We do not deserve it, but He forgives us anyway.
God most clearly reveals His glory and power through mercy and forgiveness. Moses reminded God of an earlier occasion when He appeared to him. At that time:
“Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations’” (Exodus 34:6–7).
As God pronounced judgment upon the nation, Moses recalled these words. He did not have to coerce God. He simply recalled how God had revealed Himself. God promised that He would be merciful and forgive. Moses took God at His Word and prayed that He would remain faithful to it. God responded by forgiving the people: not because they deserved it but because forgiveness is one of His specialties.
Yet, God made it clear that His mercy was not an excuse to sin. God forgives, but there can be consequences. Sometimes, the effects of that sin last for generations as he “visits the iniquity…to the third and fourth generations.” A few hundred years after Moses’ time, Israel’s ruler, King David, committed adultery with a married woman named Bathsheba and murdered her husband. God forgave David, but the child died. Despite that, his next child with Bathsheba, Solomon, became Israel’s wisest king and an ancestor of Jesus. Despite David’s sin, he was forgiven and mankind was blessed with salvation. There were painful consequences, but God’s mercy triumphed even amid judgment.
When Moses prayed for the Israelites, God spared them. However, there were consequences. The people thought that even God could not get them safely into the Promised Land. Therefore, God held them to their word. Only two of the adults who left Egypt eventually entered the Promised Land—Caleb and Joshua, the only two spies who believed God could give them victory. God forgave, but there were consequences for the people.
Today, we cannot separate God’s mercy from His righteousness and justice. God still forgives. However, sometimes He will leave us to face the consequences of our sin. God may forgive us, but we suffer just the same. Perhaps we may bring pain and suffering to our families. He may forgive us if we commit sexual sin, but we may have to accept the consequences of unwanted pregnancy, disease, or wounded reputation. God can forgive us for sins committed in anger, but we may have to endure broken relationships. He can forgive us if we steal or otherwise break a law while sinning, but we may have to suffer the legal consequences.
God’s mercy triumphs over judgment, but His great desire is to write His law in our hearts so that we can reveal His righteousness, justice, and goodness through our lives. Let us thank God and trust Him to remain merciful, allowing His love to propel us to be more like Him.
Has God ever shown you His mercy while correcting you with His justice and righteousness? How have you seen God’s mercy in your life? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
A Bible teacher, writer, editor, and former pastor, with a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from Syracuse University (1987) and an M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1991).