Jesus’ birth makes life now matter

Nativity scene

A number of years ago, I was at a dinner gathering with people from around our community. I knew most of them by reputation, but they were not involved in the congregation I served. Cathy, the woman sitting next to me said, “Do you mind if I ask you a theological question?”

“Not at all. What’s on your mind?”

“Well, both my parents recently died. I believe they are in heaven. As I was talking to my husband about heaven, I said that I felt ready to die. I don’t want to die now and leave my family, but I believe in the Lord. Then I thought: What is the point of life in this world anyway? I mean, there are many good things in our lives, but just what is the point of this life, especially if heaven is so great and glorious?”

John, our host, chimed in, “Life here is really great—but there’s also plenty of heartache. Why not go straight to eternity?”

These questions, though new to them, are ones many have asked silently in their hearts. In one sense, these are the Ecclesiastes questions. The Book of Ecclesiastes, normally attributed to Solomon, David’s heir and King of Israel whose wealth and power were beyond comparison, dives deeply into the the futility and never-quite-satisfying nature of life. Here are the opening words:

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-8 New Living Translation)

Citing the cyclical nature of life, the endless repetition, the author asks, “What is the point of life when all that we do seems to add up to emptiness, vanity, and meaninglessness? Why do we keep going?”

To ask these questions is to penetrate to the meaning of life; to answer them is to grasp in a new way the very purpose of existence.

I think a partial reply is found in the verse, “To you is born this day in the City of David a Savior…” (Luke 2:11)

Jesus came to show us that part of God’s grand purpose for us includes the fullest experience of life in this world to better prepare us for the fullness of life in glory!

Jesus’ birth gives meaning to history. Jesus’ life on this earth gives meaning to my story and yours. This earthly life is our way of connecting with God now and for eternity. A passage from Forbes Robinson (1867-1904), an Anglican chaplain, presents the heroic aspect of our living now by faith. He suggests that our living “by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) can inspire even the angels who have no experience of “faith” because they live now in God’s presence —what a fascinating thought! Robinson writes,

“If angels could envy, how they would envy us our splendid chance, to be able, in a world where everything unseen must be taken on sheer faith, in a world where the contest between the flesh and the spirit is being decided for the universe, not only to win the battle ourselves but also to win it for others! To help [another] up the mountain while you yourself are only just able to keep your foothold, to struggle through the mist together, that surely is better than to stand at the summit and beckon. You will have a hard time of it, I know; and I would like to make it smoother and to ‘let you down’ easier; but I am sure that God, who loves you even more than I do, and has absolute wisdom, will not tax you beyond your strength…” [quoted in John W. Doberstein, Minister’s Prayer Book (Philadelphia, PA, Fortress Press, 1986), 203-04].

Life is not just an exercise in waiting for heaven. Life now matters. Affirm the message of this quote, attributed to Irenaeus of Lyons (a second century church leader), “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” God became flesh to validate as well as redeem life in this world. Live now.


Strength Comes With The Doing

“Be wise at what is good…” Romans 16:19

God deepens our experience of faith through our action.

strength with doing_jason-briscoe-149781
Photo by Jason Briscoe from

Many of us don’t try something because, at that time, we don’t feel strong enough, wise enough, talented enough, or just-about-anything enough. So we wait—and miss so many opportunities. Life opens up for us when we learn that strength doesn’t come before we begin a task. Strength actually comes with the doing of the task.

Think about exercise: It seems foolish to say it, but you cannot wait until you “get strong” to begin to exercise. Strength is the product of exercise. And it’s important to realize progress in physical exercise is not noticeable immediately. At first, we will feel tired. And then things will change. According to Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., author of Aerobics, after about six weeks of consistent effort a series of changes happen “all at once” in the body.

In my book, SoulShaping: Taking Care of your Spiritual Life, I tell one of the most famous and amusing experiments demonstrating this. A researcher in exercise and human physiology set a weight on the floor, tied a rope to it, ran the rope over a pulley fastened to the edge of a table, then sat on the other side of the table and looped the rope over the middle finger of his right hand. Then, in time to a metronome, he began lifting the weight. The first time and for many weeks thereafter, the best he could do was 25 lifts before his finger became fatigued. To expand the experiment, he had a mechanic in the building lift the weight occasionally, in the same manner, and the mechanic always beat him. One day, about two months later, the researcher began his usual lifts, but found his finger wasn’t tired at 25. He kept going and ultimately reached 100. He suspected what had happened, and brought the experiment to a rather unorthodox conclusion. He invited the mechanic in again and made a small bet that he could best him. The mechanic accepted—and lost.

What the researcher suspected was the vascularization of his finger muscles–more blood vessels had opened up, creating new routes for delivering more oxygen. What was most interesting was that they apparently didn’t open up one at a time but a network at a time. Physiologists call this “the training effect.”

Athletes report similar “plateaus of progress,” improving not only day by day, but in quantum jumps. This vascularization is the most essential factor in building endurance. It reduces fatigue in the skeletal muscles, saturating the tissue with oxygen and carrying away more wastes. It is a vital factor in the health of the heart, the most important muscle of all.  More or larger blood vessels supplying the heart tissue with energy-producing oxygen considerably reduce the chances of any cardiac failure.  And even if a heart attack were to occur, the improved blood supply would help to keep the surrounding tissue healthy and improve chances for a speedy recovery.

Consider an analogy in the spiritual realm. Spiritual experience shows a similar correlation to physical conditioning.  After sustained discipline, our spiritual lives respond and deepen with increased vitality and sensitivity to God’s presence and direction. Likewise, when we step out in faith, only then do we experience the reality of faith. When we make a commitment to sacrificial giving or to serving or to regular discipleship—only then do our hopes turn into reality.

For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8)

Here’s the principle: Strength comes with the doing. If no demand is made, no strength is supplied! Paul wrote,

“Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 New English Translation).

If you want to experience spiritual vitality, put yourself in a place where a demand is made upon you. Bring Jesus Christ into your conversation. Say yes to mentoring a child or young person who has just begun walking with Jesus. Reach out to a neighbor in need. Pray with a person for a problem they have.

When we step out in faith, our faith grows. When we step out, we will be amazed at our experience of God’s presence. It may not–in fact usually does not–come in a dramatic way. It may not happen all at once– remember the training effect. But there will be a sense of peace and confidence that you’ve done the right thing, and God is pleased.

Achieving strength and competence takes time. But that time brings a huge return on investment.

“Your obedience is known to all and thus I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 16:19-20).