Curious Creating

8 Feb

CuriousYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us that it’s easy to conclude that our plans are good and right, but asked did we consider God’s plan? It’s a good idea to step back and see eternity’s plan from God’s perspective. A great way to evaluate your plans is to use Scripture. God evaluates plans based on motive and His sight is perfect. Just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean God wants you to be engaged in it. Just because you’re presented with a good opportunity doesn’t mean that God wants you to take advantage of it. When you’re in a vibrant, daily, engaged relationship with God through His Son, His plans become your plans. This morning, Solomon addresses a question many people ask.

Pro. 16:4-6 says, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil. Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished. By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.”

Here’s a question of the ages. Solomon begins by telling us, “The Lord made everything for its own purpose.” If you’ve ever watched Ask This Old House on PBS, they have a segment where they show an obscure tool or piece of equipment and the guys on the show try to figure out what it’s called and what its purpose is. I have a number of tools in my shop that are not obvious as to what they’re for, but they are invaluable for getting the job done quickly and correctly. That’s what Solomon is telling us. Everything God created has a purpose. We may not understand it all, but all things have a purpose. When you consider the far away planets, stars, and galaxies, it points to the incredible creative power of God. Those things in the sky are incredibly beautiful. They’ve provided astronomers with objects to spend years studying. We love spending time on the beach and we marvel at the incredible diversity of the fish living in the sea. The seas also provide opportunity to get from one place to another. Scientists continue to discover new species in the animal kingdom. We still find new ways to use items we’ve had around for years. There are 438 million hits when you Google new uses for old items.

Everything God created has its own purpose. Of course, sin corrupted many of the intended purposes of God’s creation. That’s what happened to the wicked. They are part of the rebellion of Lucifer and his demons which were a driving force behind Adam and Eve’s poor decision making skills. The progression of evil started before the garden and culminated in Gen. 6. Gen. 6:6 says, “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” In that pivotal chapter, you’ll remember that we’re introduced to a new character who was given very clear instructions. His name was Noah and to say he built a boat would be a tremendous understatement. Even though the wicked exist, God had an intended purpose and plan for them, but they had and continue to have other plans. Rev. 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Sin changed God’s design for humanity. “Even the wicked for the day of evil.” They were not created evil, but became that way because of sin. And they have a purpose too. Perhaps it’s to show God’s mercy or show His wrath. Maybe it’s to show judgment or maybe grace. Even the wicked will serve God’s purpose.

Here’s another restatement. Pride is on the list of things God hates and Solomon repeats it again. “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished.” There again is the root of where it begins. Everything starts in the heart. We’re not talking parental pride which is really delight, we’re talking personal pride. We’re talking my way is better than anyone else’s. Pride is what sets sinners against God. Pride causes people to go their own way. Pride causes people to consider only themselves. Pride says it’s all about me. Pride says I don’t need anyone else. Solomon says “proud in heart” which gives us the idea that this is really who a person is. It’s not a prideful moment, this is who they are. Remember the word picture for abomination – rotting flesh. As a result of the rotting flesh that is your heart, Solomon reminds us that, “He will not be unpunished.” When we read verses like this, I think we too often think in terms of our timeline. Don’t confuse the here and now with eternity. Nobody gets away with it.  Remember in Pro. 11:21 Solomon said, “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished.”  Do you ever wonder why I use so many cross references? A great principle in Bible study is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. The Bible does not and will not contradict itself. That’s why we study the whole counsel of God’s Word and don’t pick and choose topics that won’t challenge us. When you work through the Bible, you will come across every modern issue we face.

Next, Solomon points to the future. This is a pretty exciting verse and contrasts what he just said. The proud person won’t go unpunished, but “By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for.”  God cannot allow sin to go unjudged. We have people these days that say God has changed and that the rules of the Old Testament are no longer valid. I think we lack a fundamental truth that is found in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Paul is writing to those misguided people at Corinth. Even in all their fussing and fighting, Paul says they, “Have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:2) Jesus Christ affected the change. This is what Solomon is pointing to. Solomon is talking about the atonement found only in Christ. Ps. 85:10 says, “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Lovingkindness is also translated mercy. Tit. 3:5, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” It’s not anything that we have done because God did it all for us in the person that is Jesus Christ.

The word atonement is typically translated propitiation in the New Testament. The “atonement of iniquity” Solomon mentions is the same “propitiation for our sins” that John talks about in 1 Jo. 4:10. “By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for.” Iniquity is a synonym for sin. There is no amount of doing that will erase your sin. There is no process that will earn your way to heaven or that will cause God to forget. It’s not what we do or did, but what God did in Christ. Why would He do this? Paul says it this way in Eph 2:4: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us.” That came to light in Jo. 3:16 that many people in and out of the church know, but have not fully understood: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is what Solomon is talking about. When you have a life atoned for by Christ, Solomon concludes, “By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.” Once again the idea is not that you go through life looking over your shoulder because you’re afraid of God like you’re afraid of being mugged or attacked. Solomon is talking about a reverential respect for who God is. It’s a recognition of the incredibleness and awesomeness of God, but it’s also recognizing that perfect justice will come from God – at some point.

Remembering who God is helps us keep away from those things that are not pleasing to Him. Sometimes we focus on what we think we’re not allowed to do as if God is preventing us from having fun. Growing up, there were lots of things I was not allowed to do, but I was allowed to do way more things than I was not. My parents established rules for my well-being and safety and so I wouldn’t annoy anyone. I followed them . . . mostly. God has established principles and rules for our safety and well-being and for His glory. Having respect and reverence for God with some straight up ‘I don’t want to face His judgement’ thinking will keep us away from evil. I’m not a fan of catch phrases or slogans in church, but the old WWJD does have an application. Of course you need to apply it biblically, but if you have in the front of your mind, “Is this                   going to glorify God or edify His people?” principle going through your mind, I’m certain we would not do a lot of the things we do.

There are questions we all want answers to. God did not create the wicked, but did allow His creation to choose the path of disobedience and rebellion to become the antithesis of His design. Evil and wickedness are present in the world and God will use even that to gain glory. If your life is characterized by pride, you’re like rotting flesh and you will not be unpunished. God loved us so much that He gave us His Son Jesus Christ who atones for our sin. Truth and mercy kiss each other in the person of Christ. Since we have such reverence and love for God, we keep away from evil. All this is part of God’s curious creation where He is the epicenter.

My Way

1 Feb

My WayCheck out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us to acknowledge the Creator and grow fat on the good news that is available because of Jesus Christ. All of us need to listen up and learn. Listen to those wonderful, godly, authentic people God had put in you path. Acknowledge who God is and what He has done in your life and watch what He will do in you and through you. That’s how we become a positive light in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities. This morning, we’ll see how making plans work when you don’t consult God.

Pro. 16:1-3 says, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives. Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.”

This is an odd way to start. “The plans of the heart belong to man.” As we have often said, the heart is the seat of emotion, it is at the epicenter of who we are. There were no chapter divisions in the original manuscripts of Scripture so this is connected with chapter 15. The idea is that when you formulate plans on your own without giving consideration to what God would have you to do, they are your own. When your heart is knit with God’s, the plans you intend to formulate are evaluated in light of Scripture, are bathed in prayer, and they’re formed from a biblical worldview. What’s really neat about this is that Solomon is talking about two different perspectives of the same thing. Men make plans and it’s assumed that they are biblical, godly, holy, etc. Man does that, but it is God that gives man the ability to formulate those words into persuasive and challenging speech. Matt. 10:19 says, “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say.” Many of us are hesitant to offer words to anyone because we’re afraid we won’t know what to say or even that we’ll say something dumb or something that will drive a person farther away from God. To all of that I say nonsense. Not only do we have Scripture that tells us so, but I have experienced the truth of Scripture on more occasions than I could possibly remember. If you always go into a situation knowing exactly how to handle it, know exactly what to say and how to say it, well why do we need to rely on God? One of the most defining Christ like characteristics we can demonstrate is our speech. Whether it’s electronic through Facebook, Twitter, or some other social media or if it’s in one on one conversation. We must not and cannot compartmentalize our faith. Either our faith is going to guide us and transform us or it is dead. It simply comes down to a matter of trust.

Will you choose to trust that God will give you what you need when you need it? If you will take that one step of faith, I guarantee that God will come through for you. One caveat here . . . we’re talking spiritual matters. If you don’t study for a test, I’m not saying that God will magically give you the answer to pass. There is an understanding that we’ve done the work we need to do. We’ve studied the Scriptures, we’re engaged in an actual relationship with Christ, we are being sanctified each and every day, our faith is active and alive. The Apostle Paul compared our faith to a race so if you think about training for a sporting event, how successful do you think you’d be in competing in a marathon if you didn’t have a rigorous training schedule? Somehow in our walk of faith, we think it’ll be different. Lots of people think they can have an effective relationship with Christ if they read their Bible once in a while or pray once in a while or attend church once in a while. Nonsense. Even naturally talented people have to do their part.

This is a tough one. “All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight.” This sure is a verse for today. In the time of the judges, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. (Jud. 21:25) I think we’ve even moved a bit farther away from this. Not only are people doing what is right in their own eyes, but they want to impart their ideals on others. It seems people are no longer content to have their own opinions; there are people that want you to change your opinion and if you don’t, you’re deemed the intolerant one. When people evaluate themselves against no standard or a shifting standard, then all is okay. When you consider your ways, you’ll likely conclude that all is well, that whatever you’re doing is okay. “But the Lord weighs the motives.” It can look good on the outside, but it’s what’s in the heart that matters. Remember the heart is the seat of emotion. You might be able to convince yourself or others of the reasons why you do what you do, but the Lord knows the real deal. Heb. 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” That’s just one reason why we need to be in the Word each and every day. Do you want to know why you do the things you do? Get in the Word and let it reveal truth to you. We should be like David when he cried out, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Ps. 139:23-24)

Here’s one of the best things to do when you don’t know what to do. Solomon says, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.” This verse literally means, roll onto Yahweh your works. That’s a bit strange for us to consider in modern English. It’s connected with the preceding verses. When you consider all the activities you’re engaged in; the overarching goal should be worshiping God. Under the umbrella of worship is prayer; reading, meditating, studying, and memorizing God’s Word; giving, evangelizing, singing praises to God, discipling, teaching, and all the other spiritual activities we engage in all fall under the umbrella of worship which I can summarize as obedience to God. Submit everything you do to God first. It’s okay to have goals and ambitions, but consult God first. Don’t have your life all planned out and then inform God of how it’s going to be. Just because something is a good opportunity does not mean God wants you to take it. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean God wants you to quit. Here’s the progression. You submit yourself to God, you tell Him what you plan on doing and let Him evaluate it. A really cool thing happens when you’re in synch with God. The plans you come up with are really His. God has supernaturally infused His will within you.

It’s interesting to me that people actually think there is a non-spiritual or non-Christian aspect to their lives. How can you possibly separate yourself from Christ? Why would you want to? That great invitation hymn says, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence daily live. I surrender all, I surrender all. All to Thee, my blessed Savior, I surrender all.” The second verse says, “All to Jesus I surrender, humbly at His feet I bow, worldly pleasures all forsaken; take me, Jesus, take me now.” There is no conditional surrender: either you’re surrendered or you’re not. Think about who you’re surrendering your life to. Sometimes it seems people are more willing to surrender themselves to the government or the world’s systems. You’re surrendering yourself to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. You’re placing yourself under the authority of the strong Son of the living God. You’re placing yourself under the authority of the One that created the heavens and the earth and all that it contains. You’re placing yourself under the authority of the One that gave His only Son so that you might have life. Commit yourself to God and watch how He transforms your plans and goals and ambitions.

It’s easy to conclude that our plans are good and right, but do we consider God’s plan? It’s a really good idea to step back and see eternity’s plan from God’s perspective. A great way to evaluate your plans is to use Scripture. God evaluates plans based on motive and His sight is perfect. Just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean God wants you to be engaged in it. Just because you’re presented with a good opportunity doesn’t mean that God wants you to take advantage of it. When you’re in a vibrant, daily, engaged relationship with God through His Son, His plans become your plans.

A Positive Light

25 Jan

LightCheck out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us there is no instance where a life of crime is an option for authentic followers. If you profit illicitly, your household is in danger, and I would encourage you to seek the Lord to turn from your wicked ways. Think carefully and cautiously before engaging in any form of communication. Ponder answers before speaking your mind. Remember that bitter and sweet water cannot come out of the same well. If you have a real relationship with Christ, be sure that He hears your prayers. This morning, we’ll finish up chapter 15 as Solomon gives us some very timely and uplifting advice.

Solomon closes the chapter in Pro. 15:30-33 by saying, “Bright eyes gladden the heart; good news puts fat on the bones. He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding. The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility.”

Things are always easier to see in the daylight. Solomon starts off by saying, “Bright eyes gladden the heart.” If you’re a movie buff, you’ll remember the character Bright Eyes in the Planet of the Apes movies. Bright Eyes was the nickname given to astronaut George Taylor played by Charlton Heston. The nickname was given because of his blue eyes. The bright eyes Solomon is talking about is because of the sun. There is something regenerative about the sun. Eccl. 11:7 says, “The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.” You can always tell when our submariners come home from patrol, particularly when they return in the summer. They are pasty white and look pretty sickly. The sun is a vital source of vitamin D and provides a whole list of benefits. There is an entire science behind the sun called heliotherapy. This is what Solomon is talking about. By seeing the sun and all its benefits, it points to God’s wonderful creation. Without the sun, it wouldn’t take long for life on earth to die out. I checked out Popular Science’s website and discovered people have actually spent some time researching what to do in the event the sun died. I don’t believe that’s going to happen since God is the One that sustains it. The sun is great to be in and reflects the incredibleness of God.

In what looks like a different principle, Solomon then says, “Good news puts fat on the bones.” I know that there are people still working to take off those holiday pounds and you might be thinking, “Don’t tell me any good news!” This is a metaphor as Solomon is so prone to giving us. Hearing good news is satisfying. Good news is like a wonderful meal eaten with family and friends. It’s refreshing. It’s fulfilling. It’s enjoyable. Think about that time when you were told you got the job, or your vacation was approved, or you got the house, or that you’re expecting a child. Think about the times when you heard your kids were doing awesome in school or when someone told you what a joy it is to have them around. Think about when your friends tell you how the words you gave them helped. I don’t think there’s a person alive in their right mind that doesn’t enjoy hearing good news.

Have you ever seen those, “Look up and live” signs? The idea of that safety campaign is that there is danger from things that are overhead like power lines. If you look up before putting up that ladder, you minimize the chance of being electrocuted. Solomon says, “He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.” Listen up and live. You need to listen carefully to what is being said to you or to those around you. Just because you hear things on the TV from famous people doesn’t make it so. Just because you hear something from me, don’t blindly trust me. Check out what I say to make sure I’m telling you the truth. I’m not going to purposefully mislead you, but I’m just a guy.  You will not offend me by checking out what I say against the Bible. Now if you want to challenge me on something, please make sure you’ve done your research. Don’t quote a childhood pastor or Sunday School teacher, don’t quote your parents, don’t quote a book you read, quote the Bible and not what someone else says the Bible says.

Solomon is talking about, “life-giving reproof.” Reproof means correction. One of the characteristics of wise people is that they are willing to be corrected. They’re willing to learn from their mistakes and take responsibility for their actions. They’re surrounded by people whose actions and words demonstrate a life devoted to Christ and His Word. There is a willingness to be accountable, a desire to grow, an intentional path to be like Christ. If that describes you, then Solomon says you’ll dwell among the wise. As is typically the case, Solomon offers the contrast by saying, “He who neglects discipline despises himself.” These can be people in or out of the church and they’re from all walks of life. They’re people that will not listen to sound biblical principles. They’re people that don’t want to hear it. There can be a whole list of reasons why. Not applicable to them. God doesn’t care what they do, He’s irrelevant, etc., etc. It’s a whole lot easier for me to let those type of comments slide when those people do not profess to be followers of Christ. It’s a whole different thing when someone professes a relationship with Christ that doesn’t want to hear biblical truth, that doesn’t want correction, doesn’t want accountability, doesn’t want knowledge of Christ, doesn’t want to have anything to do with the church or Christ followers. I have a problem with people that profess they are Christians and really are not. Maybe you’re thinking, wow, that’s really judgmental. I’ll let you in on a little secret. We have changed the definition of Christian. In the old days, being a Christian meant you were a follower of Christ. Follower is defined as an adherent or devotee of a particular person, cause, or activity. So if you profess to be a follower of Christ – a Christian, that means you would be devoted to Him. That means you would follow His teachings, His principles, His example. I know this is a simple and probably dumb example, but if you say you love Georgia football (or insert any favorite sports team), but hate going to or watching the games, don’t know anything about the coaching staff or players, don’t know where the university is, and don’t know what the mascot is, anybody with half a brain would conclude that Georgia is not your team. Making a decision to become a follower of Christ is voluntary. No one made you decide. If you have decided to follow Jesus and there is no marginalization of being a follower – you either are or you’re not – there are no fair weather Christians. What’s stopping you from being who God wants to be in Christ? Is it because you despise instruction? Don’t you see how contrary that is to a life devoted to Christ? Matthew Henry says, “The fundamental error of sinners is undervaluing their souls, therefore they neglect to provide for them, expose them, prefer the body before the soul, and wrong the soul to please the body.”

Of the authentic follower of Christ Solomon says, “But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.” Notice he uses the word listen which means to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing. You’re not just hearing what’s being said. It gets in your brain and you evaluate the words, the tone, the vocal inflection, the eye contact, and the body language. It’s called communication people! When that process is used, there’s understanding. Understanding means to perceive the meaning of; grasp the idea of something. It means to know the meaning of something, such as the words that someone is saying. I’m hammering this because we say we understand Scripture, but then don’t do what it says so we either don’t get it or we don’t care. One is significantly worse than the other.

We’ve heard this before. Solomon closes out the chapter by saying, “The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes wisdom.” This is the idea that God knows best, His ways are way above our ways, His ways are best and He doesn’t need our advice on how best to handle things. Taking it all the way back to the beginning of the book, remember Pro. 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” When we follow biblical principles and acknowledge who God is, we continue to walk on the path of sanctification – day by day growing more and more like Jesus. Knowing and acknowledging that Jesus is the reason for all the change. Jesus is the reason for our ability to love, to forgive, to be patient and empathetic, to be courageous. Jesus is the reason for who we are becoming. “And before honor comes humility.” Honor is a difficult term to define. The word is used in many mottos and vision statements. Members of the Navy serves with honor, courage and commitment. Officers of the St. Marys Police Department serve with honor, integrity, respect, and courage. Cadets at West Point have duty, honor, and country in the front of their minds. It even crosses to sports. The Chicago Fire soccer club plays with tradition, honor, and passion. It means great respect or esteem. Solomon is saying that you’ll never achieve honor without acknowledging how you came to be who you are.

Acknowledge the Creator and grow fat on the good news that is available because of Jesus Christ. All of us need to listen up and learn. Listen to those wonderful, godly, authentic people God has put in you path. Acknowledge who God is and what He has done in your life and watch what He will do in you and through you. That’s how we become a positive light in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities.

Trouble, Trouble, Trouble

18 Jan

TroubleCheck out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us to be sensitive to when it’s best to talk and when it’s best to remain silent. Words used at the right time in the right place can bring great comfort and joy to others. Keep on the path of righteousness, don’t be prideful, and check your plans with God before putting them into play. This morning, Solomon issues some solemn warnings as well as some encouragement.

Pro. 15:27-29 says, “He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live. The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.”

You’ve heard this saying before: crime doesn’t pay. Crime actually does pay, but getting caught doesn’t. There is an illusion that if you don’t get caught, then you got away with it. In the eternal scheme of things, there is no such things as getting away with it. God’s justice is always perfect. Solomon says, “He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live.” See, even Solomon knows there can be short term gains in illicit practices. The illicit practices cover a wide range of illegal or unethical means used to get money. Charging too much, taking advantage of certain classes of people like the elderly, not doing all that you’ve been paid to do, stealing time from your employer, cheating on your taxes, stealing: you get the idea. This would also include scams of all sorts. Though Solomon is talking about profiting from those things, you can safely conclude that even if you don’t get a profit, it’s bad to engage in those type of activities. When you ignore this teaching, you bring, “troubles to your own house.” What kind of trouble you might ask? How about financial loss? How about ruining your reputation? How about being charged and subsequently convicted of a crime? How about incarceration? How about God’s wrath on you? These consequences don’t just affect the guilty, they can also affect your family. Poor decisions made by parents affect the kids. Ungodly decisions made by adults affect those around them.

One of the reasons behind what Solomon is saying is that the drive for money and material possessions can cause us to do things that are contrary to biblical principle. “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim. 6:10) God knows we need cash to live. It’s what goes beyond basic need that gets us in trouble. There are people that are driven by money. One of the top local stories in our area from 2015 was about the man that plead guilty to embezzling $1.2 million from his employer over a seven-year period. Kari and I used to go to church with him. A couple years after he changed churches, he sought me ought to serve as their pastor. Here is a guy that is serving as a leader in a church. That should be an easy thing to avoid. “He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live.” A bribe is persuading someone to act in one’s favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or other inducement. Bribery is illegal on state and federal levels. It’s also biblically wrong. Ex. 23:8 says, “You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.”

Here’s some more guidance on speech. Solomon says, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Here is another example of where things start. Remember Mary pondered why the angel would greet her as, “Favored one.” (Lu. 1:29) Ponder means to think carefully especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion. If we could just control our mouths, we’d avoid many problems. Ja. 3:2, “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” I believe that verse applies to emails, texts, or messaging of any kind. How many of you see or actually post something on social media and then close by saying, “Rant over”? Solomon is saying think before you speak. Take a moment before speaking, that’s what righteous people do, that’s what people do who are controlled by the Holy Spirit.

The contrast to the one who ponders is, “The mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” I can understand getting upset over certain things, or getting mad, but there is no excuse for losing it. James sums it up nicely. Look at Ja. 3:8-12. See, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t praise Jesus on Sunday and profane His name on Monday. It has nothing to do with those that are around you. Just because others use profanity doesn’t mean you have to. People are essentially leading double lives and no one is calling them out. If and when you do, you get the whole intolerant, judgmental, I’m not perfect nonsense. If you’re a follower of Christ, greater is He that’s in you, then he that is in the world. If the only thing people had to go on was how you talked, what conclusions would they make? That is something to think about.

One final concluding principle. “The Lord is far from the wicked.” If you are still unsure of where God stands with wicked people, here’s one for you. This is really interesting given the omni-presence of God. Obviously Solomon is not talking about geographic distance, but spiritual distance. Wicked in this verse conveys the idea of a wicked mind, a perverse mind, an unregenerate mind. It’s a mind controlled by sin, it’s the natural state of the mind and it’s the natural state of man. Take the time to read an incredible passage found in Job 21:1-16. God has no fellowship with the wicked: no relationship. Jo. 9:31 says, “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.” There is a line of separation called sin, but the blood of Jesus erases that line. No matter how often you pray or read God’s word, if you haven’t received the gift of God that is Jesus, He is not obligated to listen to you. Can He hear those prayers? Can He answer the prayers of the wicked? Of course, but He doesn’t have to. “But He hears the prayer of the righteous.” By contrast, God is always available to the righteous who are righteous through Jesus. For certain, God has plans for everyone and He does all He can to get people to understand the salvation that is found in Christ, but He knows not everyone will receive that gift. But for those that are followers of Christ, Ps. 145:18 reminds us, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.”

There is no instance where a life of crime is an option for authentic followers. If you profit illicitly, your household is in danger, and I would encourage you to seek the Lord. Think carefully and cautiously before engaging in any form of communication. Ponder answers before you give them. Remember that bitter and sweet water cannot come out of the same well. If you have a real relationship with Christ, you can be sure that He hears your prayers and will answer them. Live your life as a reflection of God’s renewing power of transformation.

Timing is Everything

11 Jan

TimingListen to the podcast here.

When we were last in Proverbs before Thanksgiving, Solomon told us to seek guidance from others. Seek answers from God and get good counsel to confirm it. If something is weighing heavily on you and you think it’s from God, speak with someone that will provide you with solid, biblical, godly, and timely guidance from Scripture. There is rarely anything God gives us that must begin immediately. It took God six days to create the heavens and the earth and all that is within it. Paul spent years walking around Asia and Europe to get the message of Jesus out to the Gentiles and it took more than a century for Noah to build a boat. This morning, Solomon gives us several principles that stand alone.

Take the time to read Pro. 15:23-26.

There is a time and a place to speak. We’ve said before that not everything needs to be said and what does need to be said doesn’t necessarily need to be said right now. Solomon starts by saying, “A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word.” This is definitely a feel good verse. It’s a verse suitable to put on a bumper sticker, Facebook meme, or e-card. But good things said can be off putting when they’re spoken at the wrong time. The wise person knows when to say that good word and when to remain silent. Notice that the perspective is from the giver of the good and timely words. We saw in the last Proverbs message that we should seek wise counsel and it’s from the perspective of receiving that counsel and the joy of getting good guidance. Here Solomon is talking about the blessing of giving that good guidance. It’s not a prideful thing in order for us to confirm how awesome we are. People sometimes come to me for advice and counsel. I know I give good advice because I just tell folks what the Bible says. I try to be persuasive, convincing, and confident in the words I say and it gives me joy and a good feeling that people are listening to the Bible. I get great joy in knowing that the Word is alive and able to help people that need its comfort, guidance, wise counsel, and all the other tangible things that come from within its living pages. You have that same opportunity to give the life changing bread of life!

Here’s another meme worthy quote. “The path of life leads upward for the wise that he may keep away from Sheol below.” The path of life is the same as the way is the same as the gate is the same as the road is the same as the highway. They’re all different ways of saying stay on the path that leads to righteousness. Stay on the path that leads to the Promised Land. Stay on the road that leads to eternity with God. The wise individual knows the dangers that lurk just off the path. When you stay on the path, you will keep away from Sheol, the place of the dead which lies below. Paul said, For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:20) He also said, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Col. 3:1) Too often we think of earth as our eternal home and all our efforts are used to secure heaven on earth which just can’t happen.

Don’t be filled with pride. Solomon says, “The Lord will tear down the house of the proud.” There is a difference in parental pride and personal pride. Speaking to Jesus in Lu. 3:22 God said, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” That’s the idea of parental pride – it’s a delight or satisfaction in your children. Of course that can spill over fairly easily into personal pride when we think our kids are better than everyone else’s kids. It’s typically manifested in statements like, “My child would never do that.” Solomon is talking about an elevated sense of self-worth. It’s a theme repeated often in Scripture. Pride is the principle that it’s all about me. Ps. 34:3 says, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” God is at the pinnacle of humanity; He is at the top of everything and does not take a back seat to anything that we consider important. When you magnify yourself over the Lord, you set yourself up in opposition to the first commandment that says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3) That’s what pride is, right? It’s the idea of self-centeredness. It’s the idea that the world revolves around you. Over and over God says, “It’s all about Me.” That’s what the first commandment is about.       That’s why we have a commandment against idolatry. The house of the proud will come crashing down. Maybe not physically, but that also might be true. God will do what He must to get people to acknowledge that He is what the universe revolves around. There is coming a day where everyone will recognize Jesus for who He is. “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)

The house of the proud will be destroyed, “But He will establish the boundary of the widow.” Being a widow in Scripture is not always glamorous. There are special provisions given to widows because their primary source of support is gone. The church is supposed to, “Honor widows who are widows indeed.” (1 Tim. 5:3) For all the effort and work that goes into accumulating things here, all will be lost, but the boundary of the widow? God will expand her territory and take care of those that are oppressed and afflicted.

I want to hit one more principle. “Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord.” Remember abomination conveys the idea of rotting flesh. Those plans don’t have to come to fruition for God to be displeased. We’ve seen this before. Back in Pro. 6:18, having, “A heart that devises wicked plans,” is in the list of things God hates. Remember the heart is the seat of emotion. What comes out of the mouth reveals what’s inside the heart. When wickedness resides in the heart, evil thoughts and darkness result. When Jesus is in the heart, righteousness and goodness reside there. Because what’s in the heart flows out, the result is Jesus. “Pleasant words are pure.” By definition, goodness and righteousness are there because of Jesus and His working in your life. Jesus being Lord of your life leads to pleasant thoughts, which leads to pleasant words, which leads to pleasing Jesus and many of the people that cross your path. David said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Ps.19:14)

It’s good to be back in Proverbs. Be sensitive to when it’s best to talk and when it’s best to remain silent. Words used at the right time in the right place can bring great comfort and joy to others. Keep on the path of righteousness, don’t be prideful, and check your plans with God before putting them into play.

Good News for 2016

4 Jan

2016You can listen to the podcast here.

Rom. 10:13-15 says, “for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.” I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2015.  There were some items that people will consider good news while most people will consider it all bad. Here are the top news stories of 2015 according to AP.

  1. ISLAMIC STATE: A multinational coalition intensified ground and air attacks against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, including expanded roles for Western European countries worried about IS-backed terrorism. For its part, IS sought to demonstrate an expansive reach by its operatives and supporters, claiming to have carried out or inspired the bombing of a Russian airliner, attacks in Beirut and Paris, and the deadly shooting in San Bernardino, California.
  2. GAY MARRIAGE: Fifteen years after Vermont pioneered civil unions for same-sex couples, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in June enabling them to marry in all 50 states. Gay-rights activists heralded it as their movement’s biggest breakthrough, but there were flashes of disapproval. A county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, spent a few days in jail after refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in her jurisdiction.
  3. PARIS ATTACKS: The first attack came just a week into the New Year. Two brothers who called themselves members of al-Qaida barged into the offices of the satiric newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and later attacked a Jewish market, gunning down 17 people in all. Nov. 13 brought a far deadlier onslaught: Eight Islamic State militants killed 130 people in coordinated assaults around Paris. Targets included restaurants, bars and an indoor rock concert.
  4. MASS SHOOTINGS: Throughout the year, mass shootings brought grief to communities across the U.S. and deepened frustration over the failure to curtail them. There were 14 victims in San Bernardino. Nine blacks were killed by a white gunman at a Charleston, SC, church; a professor and eight students died at an Oregon community college. In Chattanooga, four Marines and a sailor were killed by a Kuwaiti-born engineer; three people, including a policeman, were shot dead at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
  5. BLACK DEATHS IN ENCOUNTERS WITH POLICE: In Baltimore, riots broke out after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man loaded into a van by police officers. In Chicago, Tulsa and North Charleston, SC, fatal police shootings of black men prompted resignations and criminal charges. The incidents gave fuel to the Black Lives Matter campaign, and prompted several investigations of policing practices.
  6. TERRORISM WORRIES: Fears about terrorism in the U.S. surged after a married couple in California – described by investigators as radicalized Muslims – carried out the attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 people. The rampage inflamed an already intense debate over whether to accommodate refugees from Syria, and prompted Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump to call for a ban on Muslims coming to the U.S.
  7. US ELECTION CAMPAIGN: A large and varied field of Republicans launched bids for the presidency, with billionaire Donald Trump moving out to an early lead in the polls and remaining there despite a series of polarizing statements. He helped attract record audiences for the GOP’s televised debates. In the Democratic race, Bernie Sanders surprised many with a strong challenge of Hillary Clinton, but she remained the solid front-runner.
  8. CLIMATE CHANGE: Negotiators from nearly 200 countries reached a first-of-its kind agreement in Paris on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Many questions remain over enforcement and implementation of the accord. But elated supporters hailed it as a critical step toward averting the grim scenario of unchecked global warming.
  9. CHARLESTON CHURCH SHOOTING: A Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, suddenly turned into carnage when a white gunman opened fire, killing nine blacks, including the pastor. The alleged killer’s affinity for the Confederate flag sparked debate over the role of Civil War symbols in today’s South. In less than a month, the flag was removed from the SC State House grounds.
  10. EUROPE’S MIGRANT CRISIS: Fleeing war and hardship, more than 1 million migrants and refugees flooded into Europe during the year, overwhelming national border guards and reception facilities. Hundreds are believed to have drowned; 71 others were found dead in an abandoned truck in Austria. The 28-nation European Union struggled to come up with an effective, unified response.

Those are just the top stories and maybe there’s one item that might be considered neutral. We typically focus only on bad news. I guess that’s all that’s fit to be printed or broadcast. When I get a phone call, there’s generally a crisis on the other end.

As Christians, we can always share the good news of who Jesus is. The good news we have is called the Gospel. We just celebrated Christmas which tells the story of how Jesus was conceived of a virgin and born into this world. We must go further and tell people that He lived a sinless life as He walked the road to Calvary where He willingly gave up His life that we could be reconciled with God. Jesus died on that cross, but three days later, He rose again defeating death. He was seen walking about by the multitudes. He appeared and gave the disciples hope. Jesus ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. That’s all exceedingly good news. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

As we move into the New Year, there’s going to be crises, challenges, and problems. Let’s focus on living for Christ in spite of our circumstances. Let’s adjust our attitudes and focus on the positive. As I look forward to the coming year, there are a few things I would like to have take place:

I’d like to see people truly commit their life to Christ. It’s clear that this is what God wants: 1 Tim. 2:4 says God, “Desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In America, we have decided that sin is relative. There is no standard of conduct, but the Bible if very clear that we have a sin problem. Rom. 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Is. 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But that doesn’t mean God has given up on us. God draws us to Him through the power of the Spirit. Jo. 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” God made a way through Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We have been justified in Christ: we are declared righteous based on the merits of Jesus. We have been sanctified: Christ’s righteousness is applied to each of us every single day.  It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone knows they’re welcome at the foot of the cross. Jo. 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Pet. 3:9) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (Jo. 3:16) You don’t have to be a certain way to get to Christ, you can have a conversation with Him right now.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about ministry. Is. 44:22 says, “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” We need to turn back to the Lord. Why? We have a tendency to take things for granted. The things of God become common place so we look for what is new, what is flashy. We’re looking to be entertained. I saw something on Facebook just yesterday from Jeff Foxworthy that said, “If your preacher needs smoke bombs, rock bands, theater lights, dramatic skits, and circus acts to keep people interested, you need a new preacher.” All the responsibility for our Christian walk falls on the pastor or preacher. Some people would have you believe that man does not exist for God’s benefit, but that God exists for man’s benefit. God becomes this genie in a bottle that is there when you need Him rather than the One who is worthy of our continuous worship. We are looking for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him. A general commitment to Christ substitutes for repentance. Emotional feelings replace true worship.

We tend to be foolish. Matt. 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” To put anything above the Lord is foolish, but we do it all the time. I think few people would admit that, but our actions speak louder than our words. I’d like to see people get more involved in the opportunities we have here. We tend to be impatient which further separates us from God. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work hard. Fewer and fewer people make themselves available to do the hard, stressful, and emotionally draining work of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are willing to persevere. More and more people say no to serving in the church. What have you or what are you saying yes to? I’d like to see people really make connections with others. There are people very casual about participation in the things of the church. We have people that miss one, two, three, four weeks and no one seems to notice and if they do notice, nothing comes of it. I’d like to see people participate in intentional ministry.

I’d like God’s people resist Satan. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (Ja. 4:7) We cannot resist the devil in our own strength. We must first submit ourselves to God. Then we can stand against Satan in the strength and might of the Lord Himself. Resist his destructive plans. Satan is a destroyer. He will try to destroy your home, your church relationship, your testimony, etc. Once you say yes to Satan, it becomes easier the next time, and easier. Satan’s way is never good, but unfortunately, even Christians are too ignorant to recognize this.

I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2016. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised in John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” We’re too attached to this temporary home. We work to have things that will pass away. We spend the majority of our time on things that have no bearing on eternity.

What do you want to hear and see by the end of next year? How many will you share Christ with? How will you serve the Lord by serving others? Will you live the life of holiness God has called you to live? How authentic will you be?

A Savior is Born

21 Dec

shepherds-11You can listen to the podcast here.

God is amazing. Two weeks ago I preached about there being no room at the inn. I wanted to remind you of the incredibleness of one verse about the birth of Christ. Nothing happened by accident. It was all part of God’s plan even though it’s hard for us to understand. If Joseph and Mary had waited a month or if Caesar made that decree just a few weeks later or earlier, things would have been different. God is the God in all circumstances and His timing is always best.

Luke 2:11 says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

This was a huge announcement. Notice the first phrase of the verse, “For today in the city of David.”       There can be some confusion about the city of David. In the Old Testament this phrase is used about 45 times and refers to Jerusalem. In 2 Sam. 5, David leads his men to Jerusalem which was under the control of the Jebusites. David defeated the Jebusites and 2 Sam. 5:9-10 says, “So David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built all around from the Millo and inward. David became greater and greater, for the Lord God of hosts was with him.” In the New Testament the City of David is only referred to twice and it means Bethlehem. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinians – Arabs. Tourism is the main industry of Bethlehem and all the holy sites are very commercialized. At the center of Bethlehem sits the Church of the Holy Nativity. Inside this church you walk a long corridor that lead to a room where there is a very tight stairway leading down to the bowels of the church where it opens up into a larger room. In that room you find a silver star with a hole in the middle that leads down to the earth marking the place where Jesus is believed to have been born. During a trip to Bethlehem in 1865, Boston pastor Phillips Brooks looked over the hills of the little town and penned the now famous words, “O little of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.” Back in 1865, all was still quiet in Bethlehem. Remember King David and his family lived there and David most likely tended his sheep on the hills just outside the little town.

This announcement was no surprise to anyone familiar with the prophecy. Micah the prophet told everyone this would happen in 5:2, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” That prophecy happened about 700 years before Christ was born. Bethlehem was, “too little to be among the clans of Judah.” Back when Bethlehem was no more than a little, inconsequential place, the Lord decided it would be this way. It wasn’t even big enough to have a flashing yellow light. The Jews of the day would certainly have known this, but listen to this exchange found in Matt. 2:1-6. Jews should have been well versed in this prophecy. It kind of reminds me about things that as believers, we ought to know, but don’t. Something else to think about is the magi came from the east and show up in Jerusalem and ask about the King of the Jews that had been born. The magi knew and went looking for the King. The chief priests and scribes certainly should have been looking for this. Bethlehem is such a short distance away so wouldn’t you think they’d have been watching and waiting for years? Even though they should have had the knowledge and the wherewithal to investigate, they didn’t. It’s not enough just to know, knowing should lead to action.

Here’s the reality of His coming. In Lu. 2:11 the angel says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” “Born for you.” Focus on those three words. The Son of God has been born for you. Oddly enough, for something so miraculous, the pregnancy and birth of Christ really was ordinary. The miracle occurred nine months earlier. Joseph had nothing to do with Mary becoming pregnant. When she asked how, the angel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Lu. 1:35) In Matt. 1:20 an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “The child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” That’s when the miracle took place. I’m sure Mary battled all the things pregnant women face. Morning sickness, fatigue, swollen feet, intense hunger that occurs without warning. The virgin birth is incredibly significant because it comes after the virgin conception. He was born of Mary so He was human. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit so He was deity. God enters humanity just like us taking on all the issues we face and yet with one distinct difference. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He was fully God and fully man. Somehow this overshadowing by the Holy Spirit created life in Mary that was totally divine and totally human. How can it be? I have no idea. He was and remains totally unique. The totally unique became completely common for the following nine months.

This is a story of faith. Some people read Luke 2 and call it theological fiction. It’s a great story, but it’s simply a fairy tale with religious significance. It’s like Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Luke said, “for today” in his writing. It’s widely recognized that Luke’s purpose for writing was to provide a detailed account unlike any other biblical writers. That’s what he says in Luke 1:1-4. When you read the words of Luke, you need to read it like you are reading history. It is truth, not fiction and we believe it by faith. Look at the result of the coming of Jesus. Luke says, “For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Those three titles should jump out at you. Savior, Christ, Lord. Each word is significant. Savior is actually an Old Testament word that means one who delivers his people. Christ is the Greek version of the Hebrew word Messiah which means the anointed One. Lord is a term for Deity. It’s a synonym for God. When the angel appeared in Joseph’s dream, he said, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21). No sin is too great; no one is too far gone. No one is beyond His grace and His mercy. That’s the message of Christ’s birth. Luke 19:10 says, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” This is the essence of Christmas. God loved you so much that He was willing to give up His one and only Son so you could have life.

So what you ask, you’ve heard it all before. What’s the purpose of His coming? Look at our verse one more time. “For today in the city of David there has been born for you.” Don’t gloss over those two little words, “For you.” Remember what’s going on here. There were unnamed and unnumbered shepherds in the fields. The angel is speaking to them collectively, but gives an individual declaration. Being a shepherd took little skill and was often fulfilled by young people. Remember David was just a boy when he tended sheep. Did you ever ask yourself, why did the angel appear to a bunch of shepherds. Why didn’t the angel appear to those Jewish scholars that were hanging out in the temple less than ten miles away? Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Ma. 2:17) Jesus came for you. It is the simplicity of the Gospel that gets so many people wrapped up. Why would He do that? It doesn’t make sense. Many people believe in the birth of Christ, but it’s not enough to believe that it happened. We must come to the conclusion that Christ came for me. The gift of God is available when you receive it as your own.

In five short days, Christmas will be here. Across the globe, people will celebrate in much the same way. They’ll gather around the tree that has presents piled high and often all around it. There are kids that wake up their parents literally in the middle of the night because they are so excited to open the presents. There are kids that know that Christmas is exactly 108 hours away. Do you ever leave presents under the tree that remain unopened? Of course not, yet we have been given a gift that came with incredible cost. As I reflected on this principle, I am more convinced than ever that we profess that we have received the incredible gift of God’s Son, but like that ugly Christmas sweater or tie, we simply don’t use it after it’s been opened. We put it in a closet and we’ll only wear it, or bring it out when the gift giver is present. Isn’t that like our relationship with Christ? Do we just wear it when the pastor or our church friends come over? Do we keep it in the closet until we need it. Over the years, Kari has given me some really great gifts. A shotgun. Reloading equipment. A basketball goal. I still have the shotgun, but haven’t used it in a number of years. Same for the reloading equipment. The basketball goal was sold on a yard sale.

As I get older, I need less and less things and want even less. As believers, the biggest, most incredible gift we’ve ever received is the gift of Christ. It’s a gift that is useful regardless of the season. It doesn’t wear out and it never gets old. It ever goes out of style. The gift of Christ is a gift that should keep on giving. It’s a gift that has immeasurable value. It’s a gift we should be grateful to use and show others how to use it too. What have you done and what are you doing with the most incredible gift ever given?

What’s the Harm with Santa Claus?

15 Dec

 

SantaThis is a reposting of an article I wrote in December 2010 concerning Santa Claus and believers. This is my perspective as a child of the King, a father, a grand-father, and a pastor.

He’s fat and jolly. He loves kids. As Christians, is there a problem including Santa in your Christmas festivities and if so, what’s the big deal? I get asked that question fairly often during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

We see it all too frequently. Parents drag their kids all over town to get their picture made with Santa. Many children are placed on Santa’s lap kicking and screaming. I mean, really kicking and screaming. Think about it, some children don’t want to sit on the lap of someone they know let alone a complete stranger, but Santa dutifully endures the children, no matter what kind of mood they’re in.

By most reports, the origin of Santa Claus can be traced back to the 4th century and a man named Saint Nicholas. He was the Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man, particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors supposedly stole his remains and moved them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe. St. Nick’s reputation for generosity gave rise to the idea he could perform miracles. It wasn’t until 1822 when Clement C. Moore wrote the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” for his family on Christmas Eve that the idea of Santa Claus grew to legendary proportions. The story became known as, “The Night before Christmas” and was first published on December 23, 1823. The rest I suppose, is history.

Santa Claus continued to live on in the hearts and minds of children and adults as well. He is on TV every December in the classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” as well as others. Santa has appeared in a myriad of movies including, “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Polar Express,”  The Santa Clause 1, 2, 3,” “Santa Claus, the Movie,” and “Ernest Saves Christmas.” And who can forget the popular 1964 movie, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

Santa is so fun, who could find fault with such a popular, lovable, jolly, old guy in a red suit?

I’m not going to tell you what to do, mostly because my experience has shown me that people will do what they want to do anyway. I would however, like to offer up some ideas why bringing jolly old St. Nick into our lives might not be the best thing to do as an authentic Christ follower.

Can we be authentic Christians if we include Santa in our Christmas activities? There are people that I love and respect that include Santa in their family Christmas traditions so I don’t want you to think I live with some lofty, high, and mighty, holier than you people attitude because I don’t. I love the Santa Clause movies (all three of them) and I love Elf. But what’s the difference in enjoying a good Santa Claus movie and telling our children that Santa Claus brings them presents? I would say there’s a huge difference.

 

SPOILER ALERT!       SPOILER ALERT!

 

Santa Claus is not real. At all. He’s totally fake. Really.

Look at the characteristics of Santa.

  • He knows when you’ve been good or bad, so you need to be good, for goodness sake, right? The idea is that Santa brings gifts to those children that are good. Often forgotten now a days, is that he gives a lump of coal to those naughty children. Have you ever known any child that got a lump of coal in his stocking? Can you name just one kid? Have you ever known someone that knew someone that knew someone else that heard of a kid getting coal at Christmas? Me neither. The idea here is that a child needs to earn the gifts that Santa brings. I’ve never met a kid that didn’t think they were “good” enough to receive presents.
    • Santa’s reward system is contrary to that of God. God’s gift is unconditional. John 3:16 tells us that God gave His son to us simply because He loved us. We didn’t have to earn God’s love.
    • So God’s gift is not dependent upon our behavior. Can I get a Hallelujah?!?!? In fact Romans 5:8 tells us God’s criteria is the exact opposite of Santa’s. Even though we are currently bad (sinners), Christ  died for us. It’s not whether or not we are good or bad, it’s simply because we are here.
    • Only God is omniscient.
  • Santa has the supernatural ability to deliver presents to children all over the world beginning on Christmas Eve by flying around in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Think about the logistics of that. Does he go back and forth to the North Pole to restock, or does he carry all the gifts at once? Is the sleigh equipped for landing on any type of terrain? I mean does it work on sand so Santa can go to places in Saudi Arabia? Does he have a conversion package that adapts the sleigh to concrete landings? I know these are silly questions, but you see how far you have to go to continue the myth of Santa. He has to be everywhere at once in order to carry out this feat.
    • Jeremiah 23:25 tells us that God fills the heavens and the earth.
    • Proverbs 15:3 says the eyes of the Lord are everywhere.
    • Psalm 139:7-10 tells us there is no place where He is not.
    • Only God is omnipresent.

So Santa takes on a God-like character. Is that a problem? I think so. I’m pretty sure that God said there shouldn’t be any gods before Him. Now I’m not saying anyone out there is worshiping Santa, but come on, when did it become okay to lie to your children? I don’t know a parent out there that would be okay with their children lying to them. After all, isn’t that what you are doing by perpetuating the myth that Santa is real? Do you tell your kids that there really is a talking sponge that wears square pants?

What about selfishness? Acts 20:35 says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Doesn’t the idea of Santa bringing presents contradict that? When a child sits on Santa’s lap, the conversation typically goes like this: Santa: “Have you been a good boy (girl) this year?” As a side note, why does Santa ask this? I thought he knew if you’ve been good or bad. Well perhaps it’s to give the kid an opportunity to fess up for wrongdoings. Anyway, back to Santa. After that question, he generally asks, “What do you want for Christmas?”  The child then recites a list of acceptable gift ideas for Santa. Now it’s about getting gifts, not giving which is consistent with Scripture.

In light of this, when do you talk to your kids about Jesus? Isn’t He the reason we celebrate Christmas? What about the manger? What about His miraculous birth? What about His purpose for coming? What about God’s incredible, unconditional gift to us? I cannot reconcile Santa with the Bible.

As Christian parents, our primary mission regarding our children is to introduce them to Jesus Christ at the earliest age possible teaching them who He is and why He came.

I am certain there are people that completely disagree with me including pastors and people a whole lot smarter than me. That’s fine. It is my choice to exclude Santa from our celebration. It is your choice to include him. I don’t love you less, I don’t think bad thoughts about you. When I present my case, some people get down right angry with me. Yes, it’s true. They’ll say, “Pastor Ian is just an old-fashioned fuddy duddy that wants to take the joy out of Christmas for my child.” On the contrary, I want to introduce you to Jesus Christ, the only person we can truly find joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. Jesus Christ is the reason for Christmas, not Santa Claus. What are you missing out by excluding something that is not in the Christmas story found in the Word of God? Remember, I’m talking to people who profess to be followers of Christ. Why would you want to take any of the focus off of the One that made our salvation possible?

One more thought. When your kids find out that you have been perpetuating a myth about Santa (okay, when they find out you have lied to them), how will they feel about what you have told them about Jesus. Will He be viewed as a myth or make believe too? Hmmm.

Can You Hear the Angels Singing?

14 Dec

AngelsYou can listen to the podcast here.

Take a look at the familiar Christmas story found in Luke 2:8-14.

Apparently angels are scary beings. The angel told Joseph, “Do not be afraid.” Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” And the angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” Put yourself in the shepherd’s place. All of a sudden, an angel appears and tells them that Jesus has been born. “And there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” The sky was filled with more angels than you could count. They were singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

This is the way it typically happens. The key word in that text is the word suddenly. God always works in His own time and I think we wish there were more of these types of moments. Suddenly means without warning, it means quickly and unexpectedly. The angels weren’t there and all of a sudden, they were and they filled the sky. The shepherds were out in the field taking care of their flocks by night, but could the angels be seen in Bethlehem? What about in Jerusalem eight miles away? Did the angel’s praise reach across the miles? These are questions to get you to think. Of course, we don’t know the answers, but I can tell you one thing for sure: the angels filled the sky and the shepherds saw them.

Are angels real? Of course they are. 2 Ki. 6 tells the story of Elisha and his servant when the Aramean army surrounded them in the city of Dothan. Seeing the enemy on every side, the servant cried out, “What shall we do?”  Elisha responded by declaring, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Ki. 6:16-17) The angels were always there, but the servant simply could not see them. When his eyes were opened, he saw what had been there all along. There are skeptics all around us so how should we respond to someone like that? It is a matter of faith. Just because you cannot prove something does not automatically disprove it. That was part of my journey to recognizing that God is real. There are things all around us that people take by faith, or I think a more applicable term is take for granted. How can you see the beauty of nature or the beauty of humanity and not see God? You cannot ignore the supernatural element of Jesus’ birth. Angels are a huge part of the story. An angel tells Mary she will give birth to Jesus. An angel tells Joseph not to dump Mary. That angel would then tell Joseph what was going on and that the baby would be called Jesus. An angel warns Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt. An angel tells them when it’s safe to return to Israel. And in Lu. 2:11, an angel tells the shepherds that the Savior has been born and then the sky is filled with angels. Later, we have the mysterious star that led those far away Magi all the way to the very house where they found Jesus. And the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but to go home another way. Angels and stars and dreams. Crazy supernatural stuff throughout this story. I think these are some things we know, but really have forgotten how incredible they are. When you reduce Christmas to good feelings and family time, you miss out on this incredibleness. This story helps us solidify that there is a heavenly realm. This world is not eternal. We look forward to the day when we join God in our eternal home. This world is not our home – that’s why we’re strangers and aliens here. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are pilgrims on a journey from this world that is passing away to a world that will last forever. We are looking for a city with eternal foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

The end is coming. What we know today will be gone soon. Those things that many feel are so important will pass away. 1 Jo. 2:17 reminds us that, The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” We are here today and gone tomorrow. Jesus said, Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matt. 24:35) Rev. 16:18 says, “There was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty.” That earthquake destroys all that we know. All the incredible architecture gone. The great masterpieces of the ages gone. All the earthly treasures held so dearly are gone. There is nothing we can do to save any of it including ourselves. Our salvation comes from another source. That’s why Christmas is so important. Miracles surround Christmas: the angels, the star, the dreams, the prophecies, and most of all, the virgin birth. But those miracles are just signs pointing to the greatest miracle of all. Since we get a play by play of events from Scripture, it’s only fitting that we look to the Bible to see why. Jo. 3:16 tells us that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Tit. 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.” Gal. 4:4 says, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.  Phil. 2:6-7, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.” One of my favorites is found in Jo. 1:14, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The birth of Christ is the incarnation of God. It is the unity of deity and humanity. The infinite became finite. The immortal became mortal. The Creator became the created. The omnipotent lived inside a young girl’s womb. The Almighty became helpless. The Deity was wrapped in rags. The King was born in a stable. The incarnation is essential in our faith. Without the incarnation, there can be no birth. Without a birth, there can be no sinless life. Without a sinless life, there can be no atonement for sin. Without atonement, there is no need for the crucifixion. Without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection. Without the resurrection, there is no hope. Without hope, there is nothing.

I don’t want you to miss the main point. Having a biblical worldview is supernatural. When you take the supernatural out of Christmas, you’re left without the miraculous. You’re left without hope. You’re left in your sin. As Christians, why would we want to do that? The central point, the main thing, the primary focus, the theme, the moral of the story is all summed up in two words: “I am.” Christmas without Jesus is like a computer with no operating system. It’s like an iPod with no music. It’s like a phone that doesn’t make calls. It’s like cooking without food. It’s like Face Time with no face. Those things just don’t make sense.

Anytime we see angels in Scripture, I think they appear suddenly. Even though we might say we want God to work suddenly, I don’t think we really do. Especially when you consider how long you’ve prayed for lost family members and friends. Or when you consider that loved one that is dying. I think we often pray for more time. Right now we have some time, but who knows how long.

We have the time this moment to share the truths that the angels sang about that first Christmas. Today, we sing those same songs. Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! If you listen with all your heart, you can still hear them singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among those with whom he is pleased!” “Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled. Joyful, all ye nations rise, join the triumph of the skies with the angelic host proclaim: Christ is born in Bethlehem. Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

No Crib for a Bed

7 Dec

CribYou can check out the podcast here.

Lu. 2:7 says, And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

As you may know, my wife Kari loves nativity scenes. We have them in almost every room in the house and some remain out year round. Those scenes are generally the same give or take some animals, wise men, or shepherds. They show Mary holding baby Jesus with Joseph lovingly looking down on her. Maybe Mary and Joseph are standing looking adoringly at Jesus as He lies in the manger. Nativities have Jesus wrapped tightly in white linen swaddling clothes lying in a pristine manger on fresh hay. Put that same manger in front of a City Hall or public park and watch a few very vocal people have a conniption fit screaming separation of church and state. There’s always going to be someone offended by this peaceful, wonderful depiction of the birth of the Messiah, but I wonder why people aren’t offended at the liberties taken with the scene.

Gal. 4:4 says, But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.”

There was no room at the inn. This is a something we hear all the time and probably don’t give it much thought. What’s wrong with this picture? When I was growing up, I liked to look at those cartoons that show two seemingly identical scenes and you have you figure out what’s different about the two. In the manger scenes of today, what’s different about the scene portrayed in Scripture? If you’re God, why would you make it happen like this? Think about it, if Joseph and Mary had hurried along, maybe they would have gotten that last room. Can you picture Joseph, “Come on Mary, hurry up, it’s late and we want to get a room.” God could have ensured there was room at the inn. He could have spoken it into existence. It’s like He planned for it to happen. Bethlehem is located about eight miles south of Jerusalem. Today, it could be classified as a tourist trap. It’s very commercialized and very anti-Israeli as it is controlled by the Palestinians. Back in the first century, it was a no nothing town, hardly a blip on the map.   The only thing of note was that it was the hometown of King David. The whole reason Joseph and Mary were there was because of Caesar Augustus and his decree. He ordered a census be taken so that taxes could be collected throughout the Roman Empire. In order to do that, you had to go back to the place of your birth and be counted. Joseph was a descendant of David. It just happened that Mary was in the final days of her pregnancy. I’m sure you women can imagine what a fun journey that must have been. So they end up in Bethlehem at just the right time for Mary to deliver. But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” (Mic. 5:2)

This was not your typical inn. No room at the inn brings up all sorts of connotations. We have a hard time separating ourselves from our modern conveniences. Maybe we picture a quaint bed and breakfast. Nobody was leaving the light on for you in the Roman Empire. There were no global leaders in hospitality. There was no choice of pillows or free breakfast. The best the Empire had to offer pales in comparison to even our mediocre hotels. The only thing travelers wanted back then was a place to lie down and not be attacked by bandits. The inn was a building without the creature comforts we would expect. Luke uses two different words for inn in his writings. One word refers to a small building dedicated to serving travelers. At one end of the building, you tied up your transportation. For an additional fee, the innkeeper allowed you to sleep on a rough mattress on the floor. He also kept the fire going and provided food for the animals. This is the kind of inn mentioned in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Lu. 10: 34.

When Luke told the story of Jesus’ birth, he used a different word for inn in 2:7 that basically means a guest room. This inn would be smaller and simpler than the one in Lu. 10. The animals would be kept in a stable that was often nothing more than a cave in a hillside with low rock walls to keep the animals from getting out during the night. This was the kind of inn where there was no room. Why was the place full that night? Why were they told there was no room? There were lots of people traveling due to the census. Maybe they didn’t have any money. We really don’t know. From our perspective, there’s something wrong with the picture. Jesus deserved better and God could have done better. If you want to play the sovereignty of God card; that was the way it was meant to be. There was no room at the inn because that was part of God’s plan.

Why was it that way? Let’s back up the story a bit. Mary and Joseph had to return to Bethlehem as part of the census. Mary was pregnant and they arrived in the little town of Bethlehem in the very last stage of pregnancy. It was a difficult journey because of the route they took. They would have avoided Samaria because it was Samaria and they would travel about 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It would have taken about a week because Mary was pregnant. Have you ever traveled with a pregnant woman? Even today, traveling by the quickest mode of transportation is made impossible by pregnancy. Several major airlines refuse travel to women in the last days of pregnancy. The most restrictive is American; you can’t fly within 30 days of your due date unless you have a note from your doctor signed within 48 hours of traveling. All the airlines require you to consult with your doctor prior to flying. So Mary and Joseph would be taking the slow route – driving today. They arrive in Bethlehem tired and most likely hungry to find a place to stay, yet there was no room at the inn.

In writing about this text, Charles Spurgeon answers the question “Why would God allow it like this?” in three ways. He asks, “Would it have been fitting that the man who was to die naked on the cross should be robed in purple at his birth?” He says that Christ would be a peasant His whole life. Nothing is more fitting since He laid aside His glory to take on flesh. Second, He was born like this because he was the King of the Poor. The poor and the outcasts knew Jesus was one of them because of the way he came into the world. Spurgeon goes on to say, “In the eyes of the poor, imperial robes excite no affection, a man in their own garb attracts their confidence.”  The poor of the earth know that in Jesus they have a friend who cares about them. Third, He was born like this in order that the humble might feel invited to come to him. The whole scenario of there being no room at the inn, born in a stable to relatively poor and unmarried parents is an invitation to those that are rejected by society, the abused, mistreated, overlooked and forgotten people of the world that desperately need a savior. In His flesh, Jesus was like us. Jesus had to be born like this. If you look into Jesus’ future, you can even see why. Is there a hint here of his upcoming death? Sir Francis of Assisi said, “For our sakes he was born a stranger in an open stable; He lived without a place of his own wherein to lay his head, subsisting by the charity of good people; and he died naked on a cross in the close embrace of holy poverty.” This baby lying forgotten in an exposed stable, resting in a feeding trough is God’s sign to humanity. God has come to the world in a most unlikely way. Phil. 2:7 says, “But emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” On the surface, there was no glow around baby Jesus. There was nothing about Him that seemed super natural or God like. At the time of His birth, there were no choirs singing the Hallelujah chorus. He was just a little baby born to ordinary parents. And this was exactly the way God wanted it.

What do we learn from this? When we stand back at look at this aspect of the Christmas story, some really incredible truths emerge. We learn that God uses adverse circumstances to accomplish His purposes that make no sense to us. No room at the inn is really an insignificant detail that few people take time to evaluate, but since it’s part of the story, we have to ask ourselves why. Put yourself in Mary and Joseph’s place. It wasn’t some minor detail, but a huge obstacle. Even though an angel had spoken to Mary and to Joseph, there still must have been doubt. I think of all we have available to us, and we still doubt. Sometimes we don’t see things clearly until years later. We also learn that the world really has no room for Jesus. Jo. 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” He came to the people who should have known him best. He came to the people who knew He was coming. Even those wise men, the Magi from the east recognized the sign that God gave them. But His own people rejected the Christ Child. We also learn that His humiliation started early and continued to the very end. He was born outside because they wouldn’t let Mary and Joseph come inside. In Matt. 8:20 Jesus told a scribe, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” When He went to the cross, He had nothing except what He was wearing and the soldiers gambled for His coat. When He died, He was buried in a borrowed tomb. Jesus was an outsider. He was born outside and He died outside. Finally, we learn that as His followers, we share His fate. We live with Him, we suffer with Him, we die with Him, and we will reign with Him. What happens to Jesus happens to His followers sooner or later.

One verse has so much packed into it. There was no room at the inn is more than a minor detail – it was there for us. Every detail of the Christmas story is there for us. The sequence of events, the timing, the census, the journey, no room at the inn, no crib for a babe are all details for us to recognize Emmanuel – God with us. Will you make room for Jesus in your life?

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