Follow Me

When Jesus asked us to follow Him through this world (e.g., John 12:26), might He have meant us to start in the stable? While nothing about us could ever be exactly the same as the Most High God-Man, His life does teach us how to live. Maybe that includes showing us how to be born.

In the beginning

The miracle of human birth is the miracle of creation. As at the beginning of the world, when a child is formed inside his mother, the Spirit hovers over a dark void, filling an empty womb with the light of life. Creation is God’s special playground and His special gift. No amount of wanting can cause a child to be unless God is willing. Biblical mothers, Sarah, Hannah, Rachel, and Elizabeth, demonstrate that nothing is impossible with God, not even the birth of an impossible child. When Christ was conceived, the Spirit alone, in His time and His way, filled something empty with something alive.

If you know Jesus, this is how you were born, too – born again, that is. God descended on a heart that was dark and void, filling it with the light of life. No amount of wishing could make it so, but when God was willing, the Holy Spirit came upon you and the power of the Most High overshadowed you (Luke 1:35), and you became what you were not.

God chose the weak

God’s choice to create life doesn’t come only to those the world counts worthy. Jesus’ parents were poor. They weren’t married. They were insignificant in their culture. The world would judge them for having this baby. Joseph, naturally assuming he had been betrayed, sought to end their engagement quietly, but God intervened. He chose these people despite their obvious defects. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are. (I Cor. 1:27-28) 

Your spiritual parents – Christ and His bride, the Church – are humble in heart and “poor in spirit” (Is. 53, Matt. 5). Your parents are only betrothed. Christ has gone to Heaven to prepare a place for His family, and when He returns, we will celebrate His marriage. In the meantime, the Church and the Spirit give birth for the Kingdom, especially among those who know they are insignificant in this world. Those of you who feel you deserve God’s love, take warning. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6) Those of you who feel inadequate, take heart. You are the people God desires – because His power shows up best inside the needy. (2 Cor. 12:9.)

Sons of the Most High

Jesus did not stay small and weak. The angel told Mary He would be called “holy” and “the Son of God,” unbelievable titles for a child born in a stable. From such an inauspicious beginning, Jesus grew in grace and wisdom (Luke 2:52), learning obedience from His suffering (Heb. 5:8). He was God’s only Son in a way that no one else will ever be. And yet, Scripture tell you that you, too, are a child of God (Luke 6:35, I John 3:10). From our own inauspicious beginnings, we become more like Christ each day, growing in grace, wisdom and obedience. We, too, are called “holy” and “saints,” unbelievable titles for people who began life with a stone for a heart.

Glory to God in the highest

Such generosity calls for great gratitude. John, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the angels, Simeon, Anna and the magi all reacted to God’s great gift of Jesus Christ with worship. The tremendous miracle of our new birth should provoke a response, as well. At Christmas time, when some who know no greater blessing than a short vacation are singing with joy, what will be the response of those of us who know the extremity of the miracle which has occurred – at the nativity and in our own lives? When we consider our own spiritual renewal, we might exclaim, along with Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-50)

The angels sang

The angels sang when Christ was born, but in our own lives there can be seasons of silence. If, in this deadly year, God seems far away and miracles hard to come by, celebrate the magical story of the nativity. It happened once, more than 2000 years ago: the Spirit descended, life began and God was glorified. Because Christ came, dead hearts are coming alive all over the world today, following in His footsteps. If you love Him as your Savior and Lord, then it also happened to you.

And the angels sing every time (Luke 15:10).

I Was Wrong

To be a Christian means to be humble, first, foremost and always. To be a Christian means you understand every part of you is fallen by nature. You understand your fallen mind is going to be wrong a lot, your fallen heart is going to be prideful and fearful a lot, and your fallen hands are going to do the wrong thing a lot.

Our tendencies

One might presume, knowing our tendencies, that Christians would be humble a lot. However, blindness is also a natural characteristic of our fallen state. That’s why it is so important to lead with humility. “Maybe I’m wrong,” should be our watchword. And yet, I can hear some among you now saying, “Christians should stand especially firm in their beliefs, because those beliefs are based on the word of God. We are called to contend for the faith.”

I hope you noticed the key phrases in that declaration. “Based on the word of God.” “Contend for the faith.” If we are discussing the most basic tenets of Christianity, John 3:16, Acts 4:12 or Romans 6:23, we can be fairly sure our defense is warranted and inspired by the Holy Spirit. But most issues in life are rarely so clear cut, so firmly based in Scripture, so pertinent to our faith. We must lead with humility in these gray areas, where believing Christians disagree, where Scriptures can be found for both sides of an issue (or neither side). We must listen, wait, pray, search the Scriptures and be open to the possibility that we might be wrong.

Blind to our own blindness

I am writing this to remind myself to lead with grace and humility, because I have been wrong. Specifically, I have wronged my brothers and sisters in Christ who are people of color. For years, in various ways, I have been challenged to consider that their lives are harder than mine, their opportunities fewer, their dangers greater. For years I have disbelieved them – really, never even considered whether to believe them. Why? Because everything has been fine in my world. I realize now that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the self-centered nature of a fallen heart is blind to its own blindness.

The rhetoric which says all the laws have been changed so racism isn’t a problem convinced me. Americans judge people individually; we don’t prejudge people as a group. I thought the solution to every problem was salvation and that being interested in social issues made you a liberal. I was convinced, because that’s how it was in my white world.

Surprised

For no reason except the grace of God, I began reading biographies of black Christians about four years ago, and God finally gave me eyes to see. I was wrong, blind and self-centered. But the point is, it surprised me. I was surprised I had never really questioned myself on an issue where I had been challenged to question myself multiple times. How had I missed the fact that I might be wrong?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:3-8)

As Christians, we hope to become as much like Jesus Christ as possible, the One who humbled Himself more than we could ever possibly be humbled, deliberately moving into our world so that our pain became His. When challenged to see from someone else’s perspective, I want my first response to be, “Yes. Help me understand your world because that’s what Jesus did for me.” I want to lead with humility and be willing to take on someone else’s pain.

Because racism exists in America. It is wrong. And so was I.


Related Resources:

A Psalm for Covid-19

Psalm 121 – Help Is on the Horizon

The coronavirus pandemic marks the first time an entire generation, a privileged one at that, has been asked to undergo the trials of their ancestors – loneliness, danger, economic hardship, disease. How are we doing? Honestly, some of us are not doing very well. As the worldwide crisis goes on, it seems like a perilous journey that might never end. Psalm 121 was written to encourage worried travelers on a more literal, no less perilous journey: the rugged, weeks-long trek through ancient Israel toward Jerusalem.

This is a song for an anxious pilgrimage.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 
He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; 
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 
The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 
The LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore

Where does my help come from?

From most areas of Israel, Jerusalem would have been an upward toil. In verse 1, travelers look toward the mountains which lie ahead of them. At the outset, they realize there are undiscovered problems hidden in those hills.

And yet, the horizon also holds an answer. The beautiful temple of God, plated in gold, sat atop Mount Zion at the apex of the capital city. From certain vantage points the travelers might glimpse their destination in the intense sunlight, glowing in the distance. By raising their eyes toward their coming hardships, the pilgrims would also be reminded of the powerful presence of God, their help along the way.

Watchman on the walls

The Lord is portrayed as the watchman on the walls of our lives. He keeps us, guards us, watches over us in the most active and intimate way. He is as close as our shadow, and his protection extends to every time of day or night. We may sleep in hostile situations with confidence that He does not. It is His job and His character to keep us from harm. Without knowing what lies around the next bend, whether bandit or lion or refreshing mountain spring, we can trust that nothing comes to us except by His permission. In addition to the ten dangers we do encounter, this poem implies there have been hundreds more we passed safely by, thanks to the continual watchcare of God. And we do not face the problems of the journey alone.

Dangers still in the distance

The psalmist wrote his final stanza in the future tense. After describing the Lord’s present protection, he invites worried travelers to trust God for those dangers and years still in the distance. We cannot always see the boulders in the road, the robbers hiding nearby or the mountains of tomorrow, but we know they are there. This song assures us many potential threats have already been fenced out and our God is with us every step of the way. We tend to imagine the troubles ahead, but God is far greater than our problems, real or imagined.

As we face a changed world, not knowing where danger lies but knowing it’s out there somewhere, where does our help come from? When the eyes of fear glimpse illness or loss or poverty, let us also envision the presence of God guarding, guiding and comforting us all along our journey. Psalm 121 reminds us, we can either focus on our fears or upon God’s constant presence and abiding love.

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8


Questions:

  1. What dangers do you imagine lie in wait for you?
  1. Can you trust the Lord to protect you on the journey of life? Consider memorizing a verse from Psalm 121 to help you remember God watches over you.