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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

It seems peculiar that the gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent centers not on Christ’s first coming, but his second. In all three liturgical years, the gospel passage is taken from the Olivet Discourse—Jesus’s lengthy response to the eschatological curiosities of the disciples. But maybe that is not as peculiar as it seems.

In arresting prose, the synoptic writers report the Creator of all things privileging the disciples into secrets about end things. Interweaving predictions about the destruction of Jerusalem and his future return to earth, Jesus tells them of wars, famines, false Christs, and more. His purpose was not to shock or frighten them, but to prepare them—and not just for the far off events that provoked their curiosity.

Punctuating his revelations are warnings to be watchful, ready, and engaged in faithful service—imperatives for God’s people in every age. But for the disciples those warnings had immediate relevance which, like many times before, went unheeded.

For in a matter of hours, Jesus would be prostrate in the garden praying, while his disciples were sleeping; he would be hauled away by an angry mob, while his disciples fled in panic; he would be brought before a kangaroo court to be ridiculed, spat upon, and struck, while one of his closest intimates vehemently and repeatedly denied him; he would be scourged, marched to Golgotha, and nailed to the cross, while men who had been his constant companions cowered in an upper room, abandoning him to his persecutors.

Incredibly, after three years at the feet of their master, the disciples were no better prepared for the unfolding of prophetic history than they were at the beginning of their tutelage. And that should trigger a question for us: Are we prepared? Standing in history between the Incarnation and the Parousia, are we advancing his kingdom as we watch for his return?

More to the point, are we even expecting his return? Given the 2000 year lapse, have his warnings slipped into the cluttered closets of our memory or, worse, has the delay eroded our confidence in his prophesy or, for that matter, in him?

If those questions cause hesitation, it signals the need to revisit God’s story—the biblical record of Divine activity in the course of human history. The historical record of what God has done, provides a rational basis for confidence in what he has said he will do.

Playing Back God’s Story
Reading the history of Israel is like listening to a CD stuck on “repeat.” Over and over, widespread apostasy led to divine discipline, provoking national repentance followed by a brief period of revival.

Despite withering warnings of prophets, the Israelites repeatedly succumbed to pagan influences when they should have been attending to God’s word, they adopted pagan practices when they should have been transforming pagan culture, and they became a stumbling block to their pagan neighbors when they should have been a blessing to them.

To break the cycle, Israel’s leaders continually played back God’s story, reminding the people of God’s benevolence toward the nation: the parting of the Red Sea, the pillars of cloud and fire, water from the rock, manna from heaven, deliverance from their enemies, conquest of the Promised Land, and the like.

The leaders also proclaimed prophesies, hundreds of them, among the people. Some were given as warnings about the consequences of disobedience while others were given as assurances of God’s ultimate plan for restoring all things.

Two things are extraordinary about the latter: first, they were made far in advance of the events they described; and, second, many of the fulfilling events—including dozens concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—were recorded and passed on to people contemporary to those events.

From Public to Personal
God’s story is more than a record of past and future works on behalf of mankind; it includes personal testimonies of his present work in the lives of individuals.

Daniel, who prophesied about events in the near and far future, gave witness to God’s faithfulness in the present—answering his prayers and delivering him and his friends from capital punishment. In the Psalms, David repeatedly praises God for guiding, protecting, and strengthening him. Jeremiah’s lamentations over the sins of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem include praises to God for comforting him during imprisonment and rescuing him from his enemies.

Nevertheless, spiritual vacillation produced a generation that was ill-prepared for the coming Messiah. Instead of watching for the Lamb of God who would deliver them from sin, first century Jews were expecting the conquering King who would deliver them from Gentile subjugation.

A generation later, eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ detailed, in four independent narratives, how he fulfilled the promises in Scripture from Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 3:1. And for those who failed to notice, Paul explained how the fulfillments occurred among individuals, still living, who could contest any fictions or correct any errors.

Like the Old Testament writers, Paul also shared how God’s story had played out in his own life. In his letter to the Romans, Paul gives witness to Jesus for freeing him from the law of sin and death. He told the Corinthian church how God encouraged and strengthened him during a time of personal torment. And to the Philippians, Paul testifies to his Source of contentment and efficacy in all things.

The gospel readings for the first Sunday of advent remind us that God’s story did not end at Golgotha, the death of the apostles, or the completion of Scripture, but continues on the cosmic stage.

They also remind us that Christians are to be an expectant people, living in the sure hope that as God “showed up” once, he will show up again. Until then, he is active in the lives of individuals who are waiting, watching, and working to establish his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

A Personal Testimony
Most Christians can point to times in their lives when God “showed up”—maybe in an answered prayer, a healing, an encouraging word, a needed revelation. Throughout my Christian life, I have had a number of such occurrences, of which, I’ll share one.

I had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. My timeline, according to the oncologist, was three weeks. But three weeks turned into three months, then three years and now, ten years after being declared in clinical remission, I remain cancer-free.

Prior to that declaration, however, two questions hung in the air like the scent of decaying flesh: Continue reading here.

Dear Swillpit,

Interesting, how humans can go through life without giving much serious thought to their faith. Oh yes, they may believe in a supreme Being and an afterlife. They may be members of a church, even leaders or clergy. They may have mouthed their allegiance to our Adversary. But beyond the sanctuary walls, they live as if he and his teachings are largely irrelevant. You have your demonic forebears to thank for this.

After generations assailing their spiritual yearnings, we learned that allowing them a small space for religion is better than allowing no space at all. Surprised?

I know it sounds strange, but the more adamantly they reject religion, the more it occupies their thoughts and conversations. In fact, a hardened atheist is apt to spend more of his mental energies pondering “God” and religion than the most ardent believer.

Remember Siggy Freud, how he was obsessed with the question of “God” till the end of his life. It was even the subject of his last book. Today, dear Dickie Dawkins is following suit. His chart-busting book, The God Delusion, marks the apogee of a career built around the question. It is a cruel irony that the more they insist the matter settled, the more their thoughts are haunted with it, and their lives are directed by it.

That’s because the Enemy has stacked the deck. He fashioned them to run optimally when they are filled with him. If they try to run on anything less, sooner or later, they will experience an itch they can’t scratch, an unease that won’t subside, or … an irrepressible need to rant about a Being that does not exist (funny, how the irrationality of that rarely occurs to them!).

It is the natural consequence of maintaining the swirl of contradictions that their unbelief imposes upon them—like the insistence of universal human rights in a universe bereft of a rights-Giver. For the tortured soul who values intellectual integrity, keeping the throng of conflicting notions spinning in mid-air requires constant effort that, for some, just becomes too much.

Oh, how many we have lost in their twilight years! Who could have imagined that the most celebrated atheist of his time, Tony Flew, would have abandoned a lifetime of disbelief? I fear the same fate awaits our dear Dickie.

Yet those who religiously attend their God in the church hour can, with scant coaxing from us, leave him there. You see, Swillpit, religion is like a vaccine: a little dose can inoculate a patient from its totalizing effects. A trifling measure is all it takes to dull their spiritual senses, making God’s whisperings fade in the cacophony of voices in the world outside.

Content that their spiritual house is in order, they easily drift into lifestyles, and even attitudes, that are practicably indistinguishable from their unbelieving neighbors. And as their neighbors look on, they are left to conclude that a faith that makes no difference in lives of the faithful is one that has no moral authority.

There, my boy, is our silver lining: For should we, hell forbid, lose the immunized believer to his Maker, he has made the job of winning others much the easier for us. Indeed, his kind has done as much (maybe more) to fill our banquet hall as Nietzsche, Freud, or Dawkins. If it weren’t for him, I fear we would be in a famine down here.

As I hope you recall from Tempters Training, we can’t eradicate their transcendent longing, but we can divert their attentions to other objects, like Reason, Nature, or Progress. However, over the course of human history, it has proven to be much more useful and easily accomplished to allow them short rein in their devotion to God. The key is to work with, rather than against, their natural leanings.

One of our top Tempters put it this way: “It’s like the two strategies in pitching baseball: In the first, you get the batter to think your going to throw one kind of pitch, and throw something else. For instance, if he’s looking for a fastball, you throw a change-up. In the second, you find out what kind of pitch the batter likes, and throw it ‘almost there.’ If he likes it low, you pitch it a little too low. If he likes it inside, you pitch it a little too inside. That’s what I do with my playthings—pitch it ‘almost there.'”

Here’s how it works, Swillpit... Continue reading here.

Over the last few decades, “equality” arguments have successfully secured everything from the legalization of abortion, homosexual sodomy, and same-sex “marriage” to the dismantling of the biological basis of gender.

Equality (of opportunity) is the cornerstone of the American justice system. The great social movements of our nation—abolition, emancipation, women’s suffrage, and civil rights—all owe to the moral force of the principle that “all men are created equal” in recognition that each is a creation of intrinsic worth.

But the equality of our nation’s founding has devolved into the equality of outcomes that a person feels necessary in his pursuit of happiness. The result has been the divorce of “civil rights” from social responsibility, physiological reality, moral truth, and natural law.

Consider what is happening in the educational system.

Everyone Is Special

In the interest of making sure no one feels uncomfortable about himself, an increasing number of schools have eliminated class standings, “exceptional” curricula, honorary distinctions, and all-male sports (like football) while allowing biological males to compete in (and win!) women’s events.

Notwithstanding the intent of the administrators, such practices do anything but make people feel comfortable because they quash a fundamental longing of the human spirit—confirmation that our hard work and efforts are meaningful and our achievements valued.

In The Incredibles (2004), Dash is a young boy with superhuman speed. When he asks permission to use his special ability in school sports, his mother demurs,

“The world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we’ve just got to be like everyone else.”

 “But Dad says our powers are nothing to be ashamed of. Our powers make us special.”

Parroting the groupthink of the day, his mother sighs,

“Everyone is special, Dash.”

Dash turns and shrugs,

“Which is another way of saying, ‘No one is.’”

The scene evokes some important truths about human nature. First, physically and intellectually, we each have abilities and skills that vary in type and measure from person to person. So, contrary to the founding document of our country, in whatever aspect “men are created equal,” it is beyond what is evident.

Second, “fitting in,” by leveling our talents and abilities to achieve equal outcomes, is “artificial equality.” Lastly, human flourishing is accomplished not by artificial “equals” but by responsible citizens, using whatever gifts and abilities they have for the betterment of society. Continue reading here.

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