It’s easy to prepare when we know what’s coming. The lord in Jesus’ parable entrusted his servants with money, expecting them to be wise stewards. Only two of the servants understood their purpose. The third decided it was easier to avoid the risk of investment; he feared failure and the wrath of his lord.
Obedience requires a measure of sacrifice. When God calls us to something new, we easily focus on the unknowns or the difficulty of the path. Like the third servant, we forget the rewards of serving our Lord and His purposes.
The truth is: We serve a generous God. He delights in giving us opportunities beyond our capabilities. He has promised to equip us, and remain with us through each bend in the road. Although we may not know what is around the corner, we can trust the One who called us. He is our comfort and courage, sustaining us through difficulty and rewarding us generously.
God does not delight in our sufferings. He brings only that which is necessary, but He does not shrink from that which will help us grow.
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” —Matthew 18:2-4
Take the posture of being learners rather than experts in the ministry of the Spirit. There really aren’t that many of our generation who have gone before us in some of these things. We must continue to become like little children before our heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We must be more confident in their ability to teach and lead than in our ability to learn and follow. Fortunately, their commitment to us is stronger than ours is to them. And this reality is truly the source of our strength. Be gracious, kind, and patient with differences in perspectives within the community of believers and various streams of the body of Christ. If God is the true source of a move of the Holy Spirit, then He is well able to act independently of our judgments and criticisms to defend His honor. He will raise up creditable witnesses and advocates.
Father, I have so much to learn about You. If I spend each waking day of my life in Your presence, I will still have so much more to learn about Your work, Your love, and Your purposes for my life. Make me a learner, dear Father.
We don’t have to prove to anyone that
something is of God if it really is!
Matthews interviewed the president earlier this month before a student audience at American University. In recent months, he has been more critical of the president’s leadership skills.
A sense of enthusiasm has been lacking since he was reelected last year, Matthews observed.
“There wasn’t that rejuvenation that comes with a reelection. There was no sense of ‘Wow.’ I think that’s hurt him a lot,” he said.
Matthews said previous presidents who had served two terms managed “to come back, just in terms of survival, the last year or two” of their second term. He said Obama would have to “come back with some gusto” if he is to be one of them.
Every year at Christmastime, like clockwork, you can expect the mainstream media to come out with some sort of “fresh” perspective on Jesus. We see this on TV specials and in magazines and reports. Since December has just begun, I thought I’d be pro-active in answering the critics.The basic questions are these: Can we trust the Bible? Can we trust the Gospels? If they were put on trial, as in a court case, how would they hold up?
One man who contributed significantly to Christian apologetics was one of America’s great legal leaders. Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) was a professor at Harvard Law School (1833-1848). He contributed a great deal to the school, expanding it, including its library.
Contrary to some accounts (even found extensively on the Internet, to this day), Greenleaf was not an atheist or agnostic converted to Christianity by the evidence for the resurrection. He was livelong, active member of the Episcopal Church. In 1847, Greenleaf applied his expertise as a pioneer in the area of trial evidence to the Gospels in a landmark book.
Greenleaf says, “The foundation of our religion is a basis of fact—the fact of the birth, ministry, miracles, death, resurrection by the Evangelists as having actually occurred, within their own personal knowledge. Our religion, then, rests on the credit due to these witnesses. Are they worthy of implicit belief, in the matters which they relate? This is the question, in all human tribunals, in regard to persons testifying before them; and we propose to test the veracity of these witnesses, by the same rules and means which are there employed…” He answers, Yes.
*Matthew (also called Levi), the tax-collector and one of the twelve, an eyewitness of the Gospel events. Writes Greenleaf: “Matthew was himself a native Jew, familiar with the opinions, ceremonies, and customs of his countrymen; that he was conversant with the Sacred Writings…”
*Mark (also known as John Mark) was essentially Peter’s scribe in his Gospel—from the early Church comes the consistent report that Peter’s recollection of the Gospel events are found in the second Gospel. Mark went on to preach the gospel in Egypt, where he was martyred.
*Luke, believed to be a physician, traveled with Paul. Says Greenleaf, “If…Luke’s Gospel were to be regarded only as the work of a contemporary historian, it would be entitled to our confidence. But it is more than this. It is the result of careful science, intelligence and education, concerning subjects which he was perfectly competent to peculiarly skilled, they being cases of the cure of maladies.”
*John was a fisherman of Bethsaida, on the Sea of Galilee. Greenleaf says he wrote his Gospel after the other three, recognizing their truthfulness, and added things not found in the others.
Greenleaf notes a great unfairness shown the Evangelists in modern scholarship: They are somehow guilty until proven innocent. They are viewed as untrustworthy for no cause, until they can somehow be corroborated by some outside secular source. (If it was true in Greenleaf’s day, how much more is it true in ours—despite the wealth we have of additional archaeological and manuscript evidence in favor of the Gospels’ veracity.)
Says Greenleaf: “But the Christian writer seems, by the usual course of the argument, to have been deprived of the common presumption of charity in his favor; and reversing the ordinary rule of administering justice in human tribunals, his testimony is unjustly presumed to be false, until it is proved to be true.”
Greenleaf adds, “It is time that this injustice should cease; that the testimony of the evangelists should be admitted to be true, until it can be disproved by those who would impugn it; that the silence of one sacred writer on any point, should no more detract from his own veracity or that of the other historians, than the like circumstance is permitted to do among profane writers; and that the Four Evangelists should be admitted in corroboration of each other, as readily as Josephus and Tacitus, or Polybius and Livy.”
He affirms: “their honesty…ability… the consistency of their testimony…the conformity of their testimony with experience…the coincidence of their testimony with collateral circumstances. Let the evangelists be tried by these tests.” He does and finds them trustworthy. He also answers common objections, such as the miraculous elements found in the Gospels.
“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” -Matthew 5:45b-46
When Jesus says to love your enemies, he’s essentially saying to love everyone and do whatever you can to creatively resolve hostile, enemy-like postures of people towards you – when people disrespect you, when people mess with your stuff, when people say nice things to your face and then e-mail things or text things behind your back. Isn’t it a pleasure when those e-mails and texts are forwarded to us? It means that you, if you’re in business, love your competitors. It means that, if you’re in academia, or in music, or in some kind of an industry where others want to see you fail, you, instead, want to see them thrive because you love them. This is the most difficult and most Christian thing about Jesus’ teaching and one of the most important things that sets us apart in our culture.
What makes you different in the way you treat people than just the average Joe on the street? If you cannot come up with an honest answer to that question, then the assumption is that nothing does. And if nothing makes you different from the average Joe on the street, there’s a problem there. There’s something that needs to be changed and that’s what Jesus is helping us to do when he teaches us to love the unlovable.
Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to love the unlovable. Help me to find creative ways to love those who try to hurt me, defame me, or curse me behind my back. It’s one of the most difficult things you’ve asked me to do, but I know you’ll show me the way. Amen.
Reflection: Whom in your life would you deem the most unlovable? How could you bless that person with the love of Christ?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” - Matthew 5:43-45a
When I finished a sermon on turning the other cheek, giving others your tunic or cloak, going the extra mile, charity and lending, many people had many questions. One of the first things I said in response was that, when we talk about loving our enemies, it is not a new aspect of legalism. For example, I do not believe that Jesus is saying always to turn the cheek when someone slaps you. Rather, he’s saying, think of creative, non-hostile ways to resolve things quickly with people who curse you.
The other thing I heard was, “Well, I don’t really have any enemies.” That’s true for some people. I’m pretty sure my wife Hannah doesn’t have any enemies. Nevertheless, most of us have had enemies in our lives, though it may only have been years ago, so this subject may seem almost irrelevant.
However, if that’s you, here is what I want you to think about: Instead of “enemies,” think “competitors.” When you talk about what it means to love your enemies, what Jesus is essentially saying is to love everyone, even your enemies, even your competitors. That means you are to love difficult people. It also means you have to love yourself because sometimes your enemy is you! Love your enemies…and love you, too.
Prayer: Dear Lord, it is hard to love those who try to hurt me. Sometimes it is even hard to love myself. Please help me to love others and myself by seeing them and me through your eyes of amazing grace. Amen.
Reflection: Think of someone who has hurt or cursed you. Now, filter your feelings through God’s love and find a way to love that person. Describe the creative, non-hostile way you’ve discovered to resolve things with this person.
There were three people in front of me at the Wal-Mart checkout. I was on my way to a drawing assignment and stopped to pick up a large sketchbook. Wal-Mart has them cheaper than the art store, although David Art of Metairie is a great place with wonderful people, and I keep them in business.
In front of me was a Hispanic lady with a toddler in her shopping basket. I opened the sketchbook and did a hasty drawing of the child. I signed it and handed it to her. She was thrilled and said, “Merry Christmas.” That was around November 1st, and she was the first one to greet me in this way this season. A Spanish pastor friend heard this and laughed. “We Latinos love to celebrate our Lord’s birth for months!” he said.
Driving the interstate that day was no fun. We were returning from visiting our son and his family (I’m working hard not to say the truth here—that we were visiting our grandchildren!), and all day long the highway had been beset with rain, fog and mist at times so heavy we turned on the blinkers and leaned forward to see the lines on the pavement. But finally we arrived and checked into the hotel and drove down the street to the Cracker Barrel restaurant.
“You have a 15-minute wait,” the hostess said. That was fine. Margaret began browsing, and I hung around close to the line.
Behind me stood a young mother with her daughter about 5 years old. Now, I’m the grandfather of six little girls (little—ha! They range in age now from 16 to 24) and love children. So, I struck up a conversation with the child.
“Have you ever seen a man with a purse before?” (I was holding Margaret’s while she shopped.) She shook her head; she hadn’t.
I told her, “Grandma is off somewhere, so Grandpa has to hold the purse.”
Mommy told her that Daddy sometimes holds her purse.
I spotted a rack of coloring books a few feet away and called her attention to the one with horses. I said, “I’ll bet you like to color, don’t you?” She nodded.
At that, the child reached over and pulled out a coloring book with children on the front. I said, “May I see it?”
I saw it was only $3.95 and the inside covers, front and back, were blank and white. So I said to the mom, “I’m a cartoonist. May I draw her picture here and then buy the book for her?”
She smiled and nodded.
By this time, Margaret had returned from her browsing tour and entered the conversation. I was glad, because people are justifiably suspicious of strangers who strike up conversations. I grieve over this because our society is becoming at the same time more dangerous and more isolated.
The drawing of the little girl turned out excellent, so I turned to the inside back page. “May I draw you here?” I said to the mother. She agreed and gave me a smiling pose.
At the end, I wrote—as always—”joemckeever.com” and got in line to pay for the book.
Some of our readers are wondering why I didn’t write their names on the drawings in the rather creative style I use. Answer: To ask for their names like that felt as though I might be crossing a line of some kind. The mother was already taking a risk by engaging in the conversation and allowing me to sketch their likenesses. Later, Margaret agreed that not asking for names was the right thing to do.
I frequently pray the Lord will lead me about a) engaging strangers in conversation (as to if, when and how) and b) give me discernment as to whatever messages He is sending. I pray c) He will help me draw well, enough to bless and encourage those I sketch, and d) be glorified through it all.
I was in the car wash waiting room with four or five other customers, no one saying a word, everyone eager to get on with their day. After a few minutes, the front door opened and a man and a little girl entered. They made quite a contrast.
The man looked scruffy, like he’d been hitchhiking on the highway. He needed to shave, he carried a scar on his face, his jeans were dirty, and the T-shirt had seen better days. He did not look like anyone you would want to cross.
The little girl, perhaps 4 years old, was a vision of loveliness. She was dressed up in her party clothes with her hair beautifully fixed.
Everyone in the waiting room turned to watch them enter, stared at the unusual duo, and said nothing. That’s when I spoke up.
“How did an ugly guy like you get such a beautiful little daughter?”
Yep. I said it. And you could feel everyone in the waiting room sucking in their breaths, wondering what was about to come.
In the dead silence that followed, the man said, “I ask myself that every day of my life!” And everyone laughed.
We got into a conversation, and I sketched them both. And then I learned what was happening.
The man and his wife, the child’s mother, were divorced. She was remarrying and moving several states away. Today was the last day he would be seeing his little girl for some time. It was a sad occasion.
God used me to minister to him that day, for which I will be eternally grateful.
Do not fail to show hospitality to strangers, Scripture tells us in Hebrews 13, for in doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Sometimes you are the stranger, and sometimes you get to be the angel.
Some people, when hearing these stories, give me far more praise than I’m entitled to or comfortable with. This is nothing, folks. I’m just doing what I do, in the same way one of you might cut someone’s yard or repair their steps or bake them a loaf of fresh bread.
Later this morning after typing this, I drove to the supermarket in the Alabama city where we had spent the night to buy a case of water. As I paid for it, the young employee standing next to the checker said he would carry it to my car. That caught me by surprise.
His name was Matthew, and as he helped me place it in the back seat, I noticed the tag on his apron said, “No tips accepted.” So I said, “Matthew, I can’t give you money, but I’ll give you something else.”
I opened the trunk and took out some paper and did a quick sketch of him, signed it and handed it to him. After a few words of encouragement to him, he was on his way. And I was blessed. Matthew was the angel today.
Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.
At first glance, the beginning of Matthew is a less-than-exciting literary starting point of the New Testament. It is a list of “begats” tracing Jesus‘ lineage back to Abraham.
What this beginning lacks in literary punch it makes up for in theological significance. Among other things, the genealogical tables of the New Testament place the gospel squarely on the plane of history. Jesus was born “in the fullness of time”—His ministry is defined and interpreted against the background of Old Testament history.
The New Testament provides two genealogical tables for Jesus, one by Matthew and one by Luke. These tables differ at significant points. Matthew was writing for a Jewish audience and Luke for a Gentile audience. Matthew was concerned to show that Jesus legally descended from David and was therefore a descendant of Judah to whom the messianic kingship was promised. Matthew treats the legal descent of Jesus and limits the lists to three groupings of fourteen generations, allowing himself to make omissions.
Luke follows the natural descent with greater detail. He takes the list back to Adam, as it was a central theme in his Gospel to set forth the universality of the gospel. Jesus is indeed the Son of Abraham and the Son of David, but He is also the new Adam who comes to redeem not only Israel but men and women from every tribe and nation.
Most of us know the general outline because we’ve heard or sung it or watched it being enacted in the Christmas programs that most churches offer during December. We know about the shepherds, the angels, the “Wise Men,” the star, the innkeeper, the long journey of Mary and Joseph, the baby in the manger, and we know about the gold, frankincense and myrrh. But how much of what we know is tradition and how much comes from the Bible?
For the last several years David Langerfeld, Associate Pastor of Harrisburg Baptist Church in Tupelo, has given a Christmas IQ Test to his Sunday School class. I should warn you that this is a tough quiz. When I took it, I missed several questions. Try taking it first without checking the Bible to see how well you know the real Christmas story.
For extra fun, make copies of this quiz for your Sunday School class or small group and see how much everyone knows about the Christmas story.
Click here to read the answers (along with a few additional comments from me).
1. Joseph was originally from… (Luke 2:3)
E. None of the above
2. What does the Bible say that the Innkeeper said to Mary and Joseph? (Luke 2:7)
A. “There is no room in the inn.”
B. “I have a stable you can use.”
C. “Come back later and I should have some vacancies.”
D. Both A and B
E. None of the above
3. A manger is a…
A. Stable for domestic animals
B. Wooden hay storage bin
C. Feeding trough
4. Which animals does the Bible say were present at Jesus’ birth?
A. Cows, sheep, goats
B. Cows, Donkeys, goats
C. Sheep and goats only
D. Miscellaneous barnyard animals
E. None of the above
5. Who saw the star in the east?
B. Mary and Joseph
C. Three Kings
D. Both A and C
E. None of the above
6. According to the Bible, how did Mary and Joseph get to Bethlehem?
D. Joseph walked, Mary rode a donkey
E. Horse-drawn chariot
F. Who knows?
7. How many angels spoke to the shepherds? (Luke 2:10)
D. None of the above
8. What did the angels say/sing? (Luke 2:14)
A. “Glory to God in the highest, etc.”
C. “Unto us a child is born, Unto us a son is given”
D. “Joy the world, the Lord is come”
E. “Glory to the newborn King”
9. What is a heavenly host?
A. The angel at the gate of heaven
B. The angel who serves refreshments in heaven
C. An angel choir
D. An angel army
E. None of the above
10. There was snow that first Christmas…
A. Only in Bethlehem
B. All over Israel
C. Nowhere in Israel
D. Somewhere in Israel
11. What is Frankincense?
A. A precious metal
B. A precious fabric
C. A precious perfume
D. None of the above
12. In Matthew, what does “wise men” or “Magi” refer to?
A. Men of the educated class
B. Eastern Kings
C. Men who studied the stars
13. What is Myrrh?
A. Middle Eastern Money
B. A drink
C. An easily shaped metal
D. A spice used for burying people
E. None of the above
14. How many wise men came to see Jesus?
E. We don’t know.
15. Where did the wise men find Jesus? (Matthew 2:11)
A. In a manger
B. In a stable
C. In Nazareth
D. In Saudi Arabia
E. In a house
F. None of the above
16. When the wise men found Jesus he was… (Matthew 2:11)
A. A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes
B. A young child
C. A boy in the temple
D. A grown man
17. The “star in the east” that the wise men followed… (Matthew 2:9)
A. Stayed in the same place their entire journey
B. Disappeared and reappeared
C. Moved ahead of them and stopped over the place where Jesus was
D. Was just a mirage
E. None of the above
18. The wise men stopped in Jerusalem… (Matthew 2:2)
A. To inform Herod about Jesus
B. To find out where Jesus was
C. To ask about the star
D. To buy presents
E. None of the above
19. Where do we find the Christmas story?
E. All of the above
F. Only A and B
G. Only A and C
H. Only A, B, and C
20. When Joseph found Mary was pregnant, what happened?
A. They got married
B. Joseph wanted to break the engagement
C. Mary left town for three months
D. A and B
E. B and C
21. Who told (made) Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem? (Luke 2:1-5)
A. The angel chorus
B. Mary’s mother
D. The shepherds
E. Caesar Augustus
Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. —Matthew 4:17
God’s demand on us to become standard bearers requires us to leave the night and look forth to the morning. “Who is she who looketh forth as the morning?” She is a church filled with standard bearers who refuse to return to the night as soon as they leave the church parking lot or the mission trip. “Fair as the moon and clear as the sun” is not just for the altar or the service or the times with other Christians. Repentance, conversion, and becoming fair and clear are not for a moment but for a lifetime.
Leave sin behind at the altar once and for all! Get real about repentance. Sorrow may accompany repentance but sorrow is not repentance.
Repentance is change! Repentance involves a total change of life.
Jesus came preaching repentance. To the religious He says repent. In other words change your minds, get a new concept of God’s kingdom in your hearts. To those with wealth and power He says repent. Change where you deposit your treasures. Instead of putting treasures where moth and rust corrupt, lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20). Instead of seeking things, seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33).
Jesus, change me. Make me today more like You.
Transform me into Your glory. Use my
repentance as the tool to break
and remake me. Amen.