The Grinch

One of the most amusing characters this time of year is the Grinch, who despises Christmas and has a generally negative personality. People like him have been around for a long time.

Such a man was encountered by Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13 when they took the gospel to Cyprus and the household of the Roman Governor. In his employ was a magician named, ironically, Bar-Jesus (meaning the son of someone named Jesus), aka Elymas. When Paul tried to teach the gospel to the governor, Elymas kicked up an awful fuss and tried to “turn the proconsul away from the faith” (v8). He was a first-class Grinch. Paul said to him, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” (v9) That’s quite an indictment against this troublesome man.

How many times have people tried to turn others away from the good news of Jesus Christ? Or made crooked the straight ways of the Lord? We often see modern-day versions of Elymas, who do all they can to discourage others.

Sometimes we can have a Grinch-attitude by criticizing good things that may simply be new, different, inconvenient, or something that threatens the status-quo. I’m not talking about matters that are rebellious or un-Biblical, which are rightly rejected. But good and righteous things are sometimes criticized just because we don’t like to consider change.

The New Testament urges us to be positive, kind, open to that which is good, Biblical and helpful. “Encourage one another day after day” (Heb.3:13). “Encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess.5:11). Faith has an open attitude to God and the brethren. “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col.3:12).

Let’s make sure the Grinch is just a fairy-tale, not a reality within us.

– Tim Johnson

Unfathomable Riches

The apostle Paul was ever aware of how unworthy he was to preach the gospel. In Ephesians 3:8 he said, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.”

His was a world in which half of all people scraped along to make ends meet, and the other half strove for power and great wealth. Some would say things haven’t changed very much today. At one time, Paul was an accomplished Jewish Pharisee, respected for his strength and zeal and his opposition to the early church. He would not have been unfamiliar with wealth and power. But all that changed when he met Jesus.

In Paul’s estimation, he went from greatness to the very least of all saints. His pride of power and place no longer existed. He now lived to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. But God gave him the valuable and ironic role of preaching to the Gentiles, no longer the Jews.

But it was the substance of what he taught them that was so stunning: “the unfathomable riches of Christ.” They are riches that are so deep and complex that no man can ever wear them out or fully learn them all. They were mysteries that had been “hidden in God for ages,” but now revealed. Paul was given the work of preaching such marvels about Christ to people who had never heard them before.

Most of us live basic lives without much wealth to enjoy or power to wield. We wonder if society has passed us by. But Paul reminds us in Ephesians 3:8 that we have been given unfathomable riches that open up to us more and more every day, and will be fully revealed in the next life. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom.8:18).

Like Paul, we are certainly unworthy of such profound things.

– Tim Johnson

A Christmas Tree Kind of Life

The wife of a friend of mine really loves Christmas. The Christmas tree goes up immediately after Halloween and stays up until late February. That’s a full one-third of the year! I like a nice Christmas tree too, but a month is enough for me.

Some people live a Christmas tree kind of life. They insist on extravagance, excess, lots of glitter and show, missing out on nothing. It’s an attempt to have the perfect life. Hardship and sacrifice don’t exist for them, for it doesn’t fit their lifestyle. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with some luxuries and comfort, but is that the point of living? Is that what Jesus died to give people?

We can learn from the mistakes of ancient Israel in Amos 4:1-3, where the wives of powerful men prodded their husbands for cash to spend on endless luxuries. They stooped to cruelty and extortion to get it. Amos warned that their spoiled and lustful ways would soon come to an end.

Is a life really worth living if it never experiences hardship, or doesn’t have to fight hard for good purposes, or is rarely kind to others? Something valuable is missing if we always insist on putting ourselves first, and always own the best.

Paul warned Timothy, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim.2:3-4). Soldiers have everyday lives too, but they’re not to become so entangled by it that they become ineffective. In this text, I don’t think Paul was simply trying to get Timothy to work hard. Suffering hardship wisely infuses life with wisdom and value. This is just as true for preachers as it is for anybody else. Life is not for selfish indulgence; sacrifice and service must play its part too.

Enjoy your Christmas tree, but don’t insist on a Christmas tree kind of life.

– Tim Johnson

The Day Peace Was Signed

It was 5:00 am in the cold November woods of northeast France where officials gathered in a rail car to sign the papers that ended WW1. Word immediately went out by telegram that all fighting would stop at 11:00 am. A final shot was fired from the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris at that exact moment, and peace finally reigned in Europe. The following year, after much negotiating, the more famous Treaty of Versailles was signed. The spot where the Nov.11th papers were signed has been preserved. The rail car was taken to Germany in WW2, but it was destroyed as the war came to a close. Pieces of it were kept, and a replacement placed back on that spot in the forest.

The war has often been called the bloodiest in history. About 23 million soldiers were killed and another 18 million were wounded. Canada lost 61,000 soldiers, and 172,000 came home wounded. These are mind-boggling figures. It’s no wonder that Armistice Day was proclaimed across the British Empire in 1919, originally observed on the first Monday of the Nov.11th week, combined with Thanksgiving in Canada. In 1928, the Canadian government declared Nov.11th at 11:00 am to be Remembrance Day, observed yearly. We remember all those who lost their lives, and what it took to bring peace.

God brought us peace at another cold, lonely spot in 33 ad. The sacrifice was so powerful, it never has to be offered again. “He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). It was the day peace was arranged between God and man. It has the potential to save every human being alive, if they would only turn to Him in obedient faith. Pens and treaties can be powerful, but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is decisive. No one knows the actual spot where the cross stood. Some claim pieces of it exist, but there is no proof. Unlike the monuments that help us remember war’s casualties, we have only the Word of God to tell us what He did to save us. In a way, it is more fitting and powerful.

And today, as every Sunday, we remember.

– Tim Johnson

Fake Medicine

I once met an elderly preacher who supported himself by selling home-made medicines. He wandered the forests and picked plants he believed could help people, and then ground them up and made liquefied products. But their effectiveness was called into question. He gave people false hope for physical problems. The same thing happens when people think parts of the Bible are not inspired, yet insist God’s word can save us. It’s like trusting in medicine you have decided is fake.

For example, in the late 1700’s, German scholars taught that since Isaiah prophesied events that would take place over huge amounts of time, he couldn’t have written all 66 chapters of his book. They decided the first 39 chapters are his, but others wrote the rest much later. Some claim the book was completed by up to four people, and that half the book is just history recorded by men.

But if half of Isaiah is not inspired, how can we trust the rest of the Bible? And if it can’t be trusted, how can these same scholars teach us that its message can save us? They have turned God’s word into fake medicine.

Jesus and His apostles thought differently. All of them quoted from the book of Isaiah and never gave a hint that there was any more than one writer. For instance, Jesus quoted from Is.6:9-10, 42:1 and 61:1-2 (see Matthew 13:14, 12:17, and Luke 4:17 respectively) – the first, middle, and last sections of the book. Jesus said he was quoting “the prophet Isaiah.” He meant just one. Further, the apostles quoted from many sections of Isaiah in their inspired books. Just look in a Bible concordance under “Isaiah” and see how many times he is quoted. All of them simply state “Isaiah said,” or “the prophet Isaiah,” etc.

These New Testament quotes indirectly tell us that there was only one Isaiah, and all 66 chapters of his book inspired by God. This is what Jesus believed, and He knew what He was talking about. There’s no legitimate reason for us to believe otherwise.

The book of Isaiah, like the rest of the Bible, is the real thing. It’s completely trustworthy, powerful, and can cure the sicknesses of the soul. Don’t settle for something that doubting men water-down and render useless – like fake medicine.

Have you taken God’s medicine today?

– Tim