Web Hits, Blog Stats, And The Gospel

As we approach the end of this year and the beginning of a new one, I have taken some time to examine this blog and evaluate the “effectiveness” of its exposure. I have taken a look at where it is “ranked” within various search engines, what keywords are being queried in order to find it, etc. I have also taken a look back at the amount of web hits it has received and the statistics pertaining to it. In doing so, it occurred to me that this information can be quite revealing, but it only tells a very small portion of the overall story.

Churches have historically considered the measure of the success of their ministry based on their membership and weekly attendance. Statistics have been used to evaluate the growth of their congregation, and that is usually summed up by the total number of bodies filling the pews. “Just get as many people in the seats as possible, and everything else will fall into place.” Many Christian bloggers and webmasters (myself included) have adapted a similar view of their own work for the Lord. We check our web statistics and see how many people have visited our sites, how long they spent on them, which pages they’ve read, and so on. We then proceed to gauge the efficacy of our endeavors based primarily on these results.

While such statistics and data are beneficial for secular websites, and downright crucial for those of a business nature, do they really provide the blogger whose purpose is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ a complete picture? For those whose visitors are viewed as potential customers and whose goal is solely conversions (those visitors who end up buying a product), the bottom line is all about how many sales were generated by the information produced on a website. That is all there is to it. But visitors to our websites are not customers any more than congregants within a church are (although, sadly, some church boards tend to think of them as such and their measurement of success consists of the size of the tithes and offerings collected). We are not selling anything and consequently have no real means of knowing for certain if our efforts have been fruitful or not.

The truth is that our success is measured by nothing more nor anything less than our faithfulness to God. It is the very rare servant of the Lord who knows on this side of eternity what type of impact they truly have made for the Kingdom of God. The day will come when all the “statistics” will be counted and everyone will fully know the fruition of their service. Until then, we must trust that God will bless those things that we do in His name for His glory. If God can use even one thing that we write to reach one single individual, then we have succeeded indeed.

Would You Have Gone To The Manger?

"When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." (Matthew 2:3)

Anyone who has ever seen a Christmas pageant, or read the Book of Luke, or maybe even just seen “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special”, with the memorable recitation of  Luke 2:8-14 by the character Linus, is familiar with the angelic announcement of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Glory to God in the highest!”, the angel proclaims.

But to whose ears did this monumental announcement come? A handful of shepherds who were tending their flocks in the countryside around Bethlehem. God could have commissioned His angel to carry this Message to the courts of the mightiest kings and rulers in all the Earth, even to the court of Augustus Caesar himself. But He did not. Instead, He sent the news to those who would welcome it, to those whose hearts were ready to receive their Savior.

Some time after Jesus was born, the wise men from the East entered Jerusalem. They followed the customary practice and, being that they were searching for a King, went straight to the local palace. They did not inquire of the local shepherds, they did not search the stables and feeding troughs of the city. For it was the King of the Jews Who had been born, would not the local king in Jerusalem have known where He was? Wouldn’t he have welcomed the birth of the Messiah?

“When Herod heard these things he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3)

Does it not seem that the verse should read, “When Herod heard these things he was delighted?” How is it that anyone, upon hearing news that the long-awaited Savior of mankind has been born, would be troubled by this? But he was. Not only that, all of Jerusalem was troubled with him (which makes it implausible that there were only three magi who had arrived in Jerusalem. The whole city was in a commotion, suggesting that there were most likely anywhere from several dozen to a couple of hundred “wise men” riding into town). The shepherds rejoiced and praised God when they had visited the Lord Jesus (Luke 2:20), they went with haste to see what the angel had told them of (Luke 2:16). But Herod first became concerned, then irritated, then angry over the whole matter. The wise men who came seeking the Child rejoiced with exceeding joy upon seeing the guiding star again (Matthew 2:10), while Herod interrogated the priests and scribes about the place where the Messiah was to be born (Matthew 2:4). The wise men worshiped Him when they found Him (2:11), but Herod sought to have the Baby killed (2:16).

What remarkably different reactions to the news of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ we see between the wise men and Herod, and between the shepherds around Bethlehem and the citizenry of Jerusalem. How is it that the very same news, the exact same proclamation of the Savior’s birth, could elicit two completely opposite responses? The birth of Jesus should have been heralded by the entire world, His coming should have been proclaimed with great joy from the mightiest palaces to the lowliest hovels throughout the entire land. Herod’s ruse was that he, too, desired to worship the newborn King (Matthew 2:8), but that should have been exactly what he did. Even Caesar should have come to see the Lord at His birth, but instead he busied himself making sure that all the peoples of his empire were accounted for. While he occupied himself with assuring that no resident of Rome would slip through the cracks and fail to pay what was deemed their share of taxes, the One Who could have given him eternal life was born within his borders, and he did not even notice.

Herod’s problem was that he saw himself as the “king of the Jews.” A wicked man, hungry for power, he had no interest in sharing his kingdom with anyone, even if it was God in the flesh. Without a doubt, Caesar would have responded in kind at the notion that there was One Whose Kingdom would overshadow his own. We may not have earthly kingdoms of our own over which we rule, but each one of us also sits upon a throne before we learn of Jesus Christ. That throne is the throne of our own lives, the throne of doing things our own way, the throne of seeking after our own interests. Herod would have had to concede that he was not the one in ultimate control of his own kingdom had he bowed his knee to Jesus, something he was entirely unwilling to do. For many people, the thought of abdicating their own throne to make room for Jesus is just as troubling.

This Christmas, many people will “celebrate” the birth of Jesus Christ by spending money on loved ones, eating huge dinners, or attending Christmas parties. They will be busying themselves with enlarging their own kingdoms and sitting steadfast on their own thrones. They will tell others, “Merry Christmas”, but will give no thought at all to the One Who was born in the manger, the One Whose birth the angel announced on that night long ago. Oh, they might sing a song or two about Him, or give away a few greeting cards with a nativity scene on it, but their gesture will be as hollow as Herod’s: Let me sing this Christmas carol, that I may worship Him, too. And all the while they are greatly troubled by the notion that there is a rightful Ruler Who wishes to reign in their own heart.

We must all ask ourselves if we are like the shepherds and the magi, or if we are like Herod and the people of Jerusalem. Do we welcome the news of His coming, or are we troubled by it? Would we have gone to the manger to see the newborn King, or would we have simply gone about our daily lives, as if He had not come? When the announcement that the Lord Jesus Christ has come and that He is the rightful King and Ruler of our hearts falls upon our own ears, we must decide if we will make room for Him to reign on the throne, or if we are more interested in clinging to our own place there.

Is Jesus Welcome?

As we come to the conclusion of the celebration of Hanukkah this year, I wanted to write about something that struck me as very interesting. I was reading about how Hanukkah is actually mentioned in the New Testament over in John 10:22 – “And it was the feast of dedication (Hanukkah), and it was winter.” Well, the part that struck me as interesting about this is the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was in the Temple during the observation of Hanukkah, along with the Jewish priests and religious leaders. As Margaret points out in her comment on this article I was reading, this was supposed to be an occasion of celebration and the religious leaders used it as a time to confront the Lord Jesus and attack Him.

Erected in the Temple stood a Menorah, a candelabrum containing nine branches, one for each day of the celebration plus an additional branch called a Shamash. Each day, an additional candle would be lit to commemorate the miraculous provision of God during the eight day re-dedication of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes. As the story goes, there was only enough olive oil on hand to keep the flame in the Temple burning for one day, yet God caused it to burn for eight days until more oil could be pressed and prepared for service.

In light of this, the image of the Jewish leaders taking up stones against the Lord Jesus Christ (John 10:31) is really quite ironic. They are commemorating a time when God provided light for them in the Temple, yet they are seeking to snuff out the Light of the world. They are commemorating how God made a day’s worth of olive oil last eight days, but they are seeking to destroy the One Who had the power to anoint them with the everlasting Oil that is the Holy Spirit. They are rejoicing over a lamp (menorah) made with human hands, all the while seeking to extinguish the Lamp that God has provided them. They were busy celebrating the feast of Hanukkah, and rejected the very One Whom they claimed to be honoring!

The story has been told of a woman to whom the Lord Jesus appeared in a dream saying, “Get ready, for tomorrow I shall come to visit you at your house.” The woman awoke the next morning, very excited about the Lord’s promised visit to her. She began to clean and straighten her home and prepare a huge banquet for her coming Guest of Honor. As she made preparations, a blind beggar appeared at her door, asking if she might have something to spare for him.

“I am terribly sorry, but I haven’t anything to give to you”, she responded, “I have a very important Guest coming today and I must keep what I have for Him.”

She began to tend to her work again, making preparations for the Lord to arrive. A little later, another knock came at the door. This time, a small girl stood outside who was lost and asked if she would help her to find her mother.

“I am sorry, but I haven’t any time to spare, child. I have a very important Guest coming soon and I must get things prepared for Him”, she answered.

As the afternoon wore on, the woman was putting the finishing touches on her feast when a knock came again at her door. She ran to answer it, knowing that this had to be the Lord Jesus this time. But on the other side of the door was only a very old woman in very old and ragged clothes.

“I was walking by and smelled the food coming from your house. It smells wonderful, would you happen to have enough for me to come in and have some?”, the old woman asked.

“No, I am very sorry, but I have a special Guest coming soon and I must be sure there is enough for Him”, she replied, not wanting this ragged old woman to ruin all of her hard work.

She returned to her kitchen and made herself busy in excited anticipation, knowing that the Lord should be coming any time. But the hours passed by, and still the Lord did not show up. Finally, it grew very late and the disappointed woman headed for her bed.

“I don’t understand, Lord”, she prayed, “You promised that You were going to come to my house today, why didn’t you show up?”

“Three times I came to your door today”, He replied, “And each time you sent Me away.”

While the Jewish leaders were at the Temple, commemorating Hanukkah, God showed up in the flesh and they did not recognize Him. Instead, they sought to destroy Him! He has a way of showing up in the lives of people when they least expect Him to. Sadly, many are busily going about their lives, claiming to be serving Him, but they do not even recognize Him when He comes. I wonder what would happen at so many houses this Christmas if the Lord Jesus did in fact show up? Would He be welcomed as the Guest of Honor that He is, or would He be turned away or even attacked because they failed to recognize Him?