Tag Archives: Holiday

The Fright of the Shepherds

12 Dec

shepherdCheck out the audio version here.

Last week we reviewed the journey that Mary and Joseph took to get from Galilee to Bethlehem and why they had to make the trip. We saw what must have been a difficult birth process with only Joseph attending to Mary and what did he know? This was his first child too. We left Jesus in the manger all wrapped up in the swaddling cloths. Let’s keep going and see how the other characters responded to the birth of Christ.

Read over Luke 2:6-20 to get an idea of the context of the birth of Christ.

Luke tells us that there were, “Some shepherd staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.” The shepherds are always part of the story. I want you to put yourself in the place of the shepherds. How would you respond if, “The angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them?” Have you ever suddenly appeared to your spouse? Your kids? They screamed. Do you think the shepherds would have done anything different? Of course not because the text tells us, “They were terribly frightened.” They were scared out of their wits. Frightened is the Greek word phobeo. What’s really interesting is the shepherds of that day were generally not the most well respected, wonderful folks in town. Why the shepherds? Why not merchants? Why not the elders of the city? The shepherds were generally dishonest, dirty, and smelly people. The shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks. It was dark and likely very quiet when all of a sudden, the angel appears.

The angel says, “Do not be afraid.” It’s a little late for that! They’ve just had the fright of their life and they’re already scared, but don’t you do this with your kids? They’re in their dark bedroom and they tell you they’re afraid and you tell them, “Don’t be afraid” and they’re supposed to respond by saying okay. The appearance of the angel is different. Your kids are afraid of what might be in the dark. The shepherds were afraid of what suddenly appeared out of the dark. You’d be scared too. The angel told the shepherds something very specific. “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel speaks directly to the shepherds so make this personal. The angel told the shepherds that the good news was for all people. That phrase good news is from the Greek word euangelizo where we get our English word evangelize. The good news is not only of Christ’s birth, but that there has been born a Savior and He is named. Don’t miss the fact that the Savior has been born for all people. All is an interesting word that means all, not a select number, not a few chosen ones, but all. A Savior has been born. In Matt. 1:21 an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “She will bear a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus is the Savior, the long awaited Messiah, our Deliverer, our Redeemer, He is Lord.

In case the shepherds doubted the message, the angel of the Lord told them there was a sign. Really get this in your mind. An angel appears out of thin air and tells the shepherds that the Savior, the One that had been prophesied from the beginning of humanity, the Savior that has been talked about for thousands of years has been born and then the angel tells them how they can find Jesus. He’s in the City of David – Bethlehem, and He’s wrapped up tightly in swaddling cloths, laying in a manger. This is a very specific description to eliminate any confusion in case there was another new born baby in the town. They were given specific instructions on how to find the One. It’s no mistake that the angel appears to these lowly shepherds. Isn’t that the message of hope that we all need? Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous. After Jesus grew up, He said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Lu. 5:32) The angel delivers the life changing news that had been prophesied about from the beginning of time and they get to be a part of it.

What is the collective response to this incredible announcement? “And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.” Here’s the same “suddenly” that we saw earlier. Without warning, the angel of the Lord is joined by his heavenly colleagues. Multitude comes from the same word as plethora. It was the hallelujah chorus. Hallelujah means praise Ye Yahweh. Many people think of Handel’s Messiah. Handel was actually inspired by Rev. 19, but it still works here. Imagine for a moment that you are a heavenly being and you’ve also been waiting for the Messiah, not for yourself, but to see the plan they knew of in Gen. 3:15 come to fruition. There was a boat load of heavenly beings and they were, “Saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” I think it’s important to define the words we so casually say and sing this time of year. Glory comes from the word doxa which means splendor which means magnificence. When the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest” they were expressing God’s incredibleness, His awesomeness, His uniqueness, His majesticness, His greatness, and every other accolade you can attribute to a perfect, holy, righteous, all powerful being. In all of eternity there is none like Him and no one will ever be like Him.

“And on earth peace among men.” The only way to have true peace is to embrace Jesus as Savior. With Him, we can know true peace and it passes all understanding. That word peace means completeness or wholeness. Don’t overlook the significance of this message! If you don’t know Jesus, you cannot have peace. What the world defines as peace is not peace. Jesus provides the opportunity to be complete, to be restored to the relationship God designed for humanity, but it can only come through the gift that was found in the manger. Later in 19:38, Luke says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And in Acts 10:36, “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).” When confronted with the reality of who God is and what He has done there is only one response and that is worship!

In this message, we focused on the shepherds and the angels and there’s a reason for that. The familiarity of this Christmas story shouldn’t prevent us from learning something new each time. The shepherds were scared out of their minds when the angel of the Lord appeared, but the angel told them something incredible: a Savior had been born. The angel even gave them a sign on how to find the One. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned for the next installment as we’ll see how the shepherds went from frightened to fascinated.

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What’s the Harm with Santa Claus?

7 Dec

This 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.

Our Allegience

6 Jul

Fireworks1 EditCheck out the podcast here.

A couple of days ago, we celebrated the 4th of July and many people don’t know that the actual holiday is called Independence Day. This holiday is more than fireworks, cookouts, and parades and this year, more than a long weekend. Independence Day is about a country founded, rooted, and established on Christian principles. It was Patrick Henry that said, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religion but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In his farewell address to the nation, George Washington said, “Do not let anyone claim tribute of American patriotism if they even attempt to remove religion from politics.” “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” – Pres. Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Danbury Baptists on Jan 1, 1802. “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. . . it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams. Despite what politicians, the main stream media, or the history revisionists say, America was founded not on the concept of freedom to worship any god, but on the freedom to worship Jesus Christ.

It was not independence that motivated early Americans, but individual rights. People living in the colonies at the time were known as British Americans. They were citizens of Great Britain. Their main concern was the British Parliament levying taxes on them to pay for the French and Indian War also known as the 7 Years War. There was the Molasses Act, the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, Townshend Act, the Tea Act and others. Effectively, everything that was bought or sold, imported or exported had a tax placed on it or it was regulated. In 1774 following the Boston Tea Party, the British Parliament passed five laws that they would call the Coercive Acts. The Colonists would call them the Intolerable Acts. This led to the famous phrase, “Taxation without representation” and later “Taxation without representation leads to tyranny.” The Colonists had no representation in the British Parliament which led to the Battle at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Hundreds of Colonists gave their lives to regain these rights. It was during this time of conflict that Patrick Henry, a politician from Virginia gave a speech before the Virginia Provincial Convention. 

Here is how he concluded it: “The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable – and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace – but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare absolute freedom from England. John Adams, who was on the drafting committee for the Declaration of Independence, wrote his wife saying, “The second of July 1776 will be the most memorable day in the history of America; I believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival, with shows, games, sports, balls, bon fires and illuminations, from one end of the country to the other, from this time forward and forever more.” It was on July 4th that the final wording was ratified and later signed by the 56 members representing the 13 colonies. John Adams was right. After America declared her independence, she had to win it by force. There was no Army or Navy and their fighting forces consisted of militia units in the colonies. England had an army of well trained and disciplined soldiers. Declaring independence and achieving it proved difficult because the people were never fully united behind the war effort. About a third of the colonists were apathetic. As many as a third of the colonists sympathized with Great Britain calling themselves loyalists. They were also known as Tories. This meant that victory in the Revolutionary War depended on patriots who made up about a third of the new country’s entire population. 7200 Americans were killed during the war; 8200 wounded; 10,000 died from disease and exposure with nearly 3000 men dying at Valley Forge alone. 6500 died in prison after being captured and 1400 soldiers were listed as missing.

The war that began on April 19, 1775 ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783. America was established; a nation where every person could be free and have an input into the ways things should be done. Though many signers of the Declaration paid a high price, others reaped a great reward. Two of the signers became President, three Vice-President, and two sons of signers became President. Seven served in the House of Representatives and six in the Senate. 16 went on to become state or federal judges. 13 became governors and dozens of others held other high political offices. Five would go on to establish colleges and universities including the University of Georgia. Each holds an important place in our history.

If you are here today and you call yourself a Christian, you have made an allegiance pledge. Do you remember the day when you made that decision? Remember last week we heard from my buddy Chris Martin and for him, that day was June 1, 1996. The day you understood that your sin separates you from God and without the shed blood of Christ, there is no hope? Do you remember the day when you understood the free gift of grace that God lavished up you? Do you remember that day? The day you made that declaration? At that time you pledged your allegiance, your devotion, your loyalty, your dedication, your commitment, your very life, to Jesus Christ. You made the same proclamation Paul made in Gal 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Paul says that he has been killed with Christ, he no longer lives, but Christ is living within him. No longer will you live for yourself; you’ll no longer seek your will for your life; you’ll no longer live for the things of this world. You now seek God’s will for your life, seeking to do what pleases Him. That’s scary for a lot of people. Becoming totally dependent upon Him. Some refuse. Remember the words of Joshua, “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15) When you become a follower of Christ, you must pay a high price. It’s one thing to make a bold declaration. It’s another to live up to it. Saying it is a lot easier than doing it. Joshua made his declaration, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods.” (Josh. 24:16a) Israel pledged their allegiance to God, but it didn’t last long. Ju. 2:11-12a tell us, “Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers.”  Wars are not won by people who make declarations. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not being fought by lawmakers, but by men and women in harm’s way on the ground. In the Lord’s Army, we find the same thing the colonists found; we’re having a hard time because there are so many that just don’t recognize the enemy.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) Satan comes at us like a roaring lion and an angel of light. The battle is hard to win because some Christians are just like the Tories; they’re still loyal to the enemy and to sin.

Remember that a third of the colonists couldn’t care less? We’ve got some who are uninvolved – people who are content to let others fight the good fight. Jesus demands total, radical, and unswerving allegiance. “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26) Our allegiance to Christ has got to be more than words.  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matt. 7:21) “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.”  (Tit. 1:16) Why don’t Christians fight? We get in the way, our pride, our opinion, our desires, our comfort, our convenience, our will, our way. That’s why Jesus said we must pick up our cross, and deny ourselves daily in order to be his disciples. The church should be leading the battle. The church should be a place of hope for the hopeless. A place of joy despite circumstances. A place of peace beyond understanding. A place of love, forgiveness, healing and acceptance. A place of new beginnings. In Matt. 16:18 Jesus said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

One day we will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and give an account of our lives. Will we be able to say our allegiance is to Jesus Christ and to Him alone?

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?

Faded Glory: Why Jesus had to Come

30 Nov

Baby Jesus

You can listen to the podcast here.

We kick off a Christmas series this morning at C4 called Everything I need to know, I learned at Christmas. I’ve adapted these messages from Dr. Ray Pritchard, President of Keep Believing Ministries out of Elmhurst, IL. You can find them in their original form at keepbelieving.com. Pulitzer Prize winning columnist George Will wrote a column called “The Happiest Holiday” on Dec. 24, 1998. His opening paragraph states: “A sardonic British skeptic of the late 19th century suggested that three words should be carved in stone over all church doors: “Important if true.” On Christmas Eve, at the end of the rarely stately and always arduous march that Americans make each year to the happiest holiday, it sometimes seems that they are supposed to celebrate Christmas as though they have agreed to forget what supposedly it means.”

Have we forgotten? Growing up I can honestly say I did not know the meaning of Christmas. I was not raised in church and had no knowledge of the Savior that was born in the little town of Bethlehem. I didn’t know there shepherds guarding their flocks by night. The three kings of orient were non-existent in my mind. Now we can’t even say oriental – it would be we three kings of Asia are. Some people really have forgotten. Some never knew or don’t care about the eternal importance of this holiday.   This doesn’t change the fact that they can still enjoy Christmas and all the non-Jesus activities, festivities, good will, and time off that occur. Some are so bent on making Jesus the reason for the season that they get hung up on clerks that aren’t allowed to say, “Merry Christmas” and are outraged that Starbucks only offers a plain red cup at Christmas. Does Jesus need us to come to His defense this year? The evidence that the American church is conforming to the secular society is all around us. As long as you keep your faith to yourself and don’t bother anyone or talk to anyone about it, as long as it makes you feel happy and connected, then it’s all good. But the moment your faith steps out of your brain and into society and you start expressing those beliefs then you become enemy #1.

The words of that unnamed British skeptic that said, “Important if true” should be bouncing around in your mind especially at this time of year. Are we going to approach Christmas with a biblical worldview? We tend to fall into the same holiday routines and traditions as unbelievers. Our hearts get soft as we think of Christmas memories rather than the most important event in human history. Christmas is more than nostalgic songs from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the world, establishes the foundation for all we believe. In its proper context, the birth of Christ is incredibly relevant to 21st century people who say that Christmas is nothing more than eggnog, gingerbread, and candy canes. I want to show you over these four Sundays, that the Christmas story is the foundation for all that we believe.

Here are some Christmas story facts according to the Bible. An angel visited a virgin who became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The baby in her womb was the Son of God from heaven. God caused a heathen emperor to call for a taxation that sent Mary and Joseph back to Bethlehem at the very moment Jesus was born. Prophets foretold the virgin birth and that it would occur in Bethlehem hundreds of years before it happened. A star led the Magi from the East directly to the house in Bethlehem where Jesus was. Angels spoke to shepherds. An angel spoke to Joseph on three separate occasions. An angel spoke to the Magi, warning them not to return to Herod. The slaughter of the baby boys of Bethlehem fulfilled ancient prophecy. When the elderly Simeon held baby Jesus in his arms, he prophesied of His death on the cross. We also see the incredible names of Christ. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. Jesus – Savior. Immanuel – God with us. Son of the Most High. Christ the Lord. There are also the things He would accomplish. He will save his people from their sins. He will reign from David’s throne in Jerusalem. His kingdom will never end. These are incredible truths when you stop and actually think about them. How often do we mindlessly sing Christmas hymns without listening to what we are actually singing? I encourage you to stop and think about what the Bible claims happened that first Christmas.  Charles Wesley wrote the words we sing often at this time of year, but do we stop to consider their meaning? “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the newborn King!” How about, “True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal, Lo, He shuns not the Virgin’s womb; Son of the Father, begotten, not created. O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” Begotten, not created ties in with John 3:16.

We were created to be much more than we are. Ps. 8:4-6 says, What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” In that passage we see the glory and tragedy of humanity. We are crowned with glory and honor. We were created to rule over the earth. We were made in the image of God; that is our glory. We’ve twisted this up in our society. In sports we have the MVP and the award means what it says. In the movies there are the Oscars, and the Grammys are for singing. We have all these worldly accolades, but who was it that won the Oscar for best actor last year or who won the Super Bowl last year? Eddie Redmayne and the New England Patriots. Those worldly accolades are just for a moment. All our heroes are just people that fade into history. Robert Frost wrote a poem called “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. It goes like this:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I hope you caught those five little words that capture humanity. “So Eden sank to grief.” That’s what happened when Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate the fruit of the tree. Sin entered and death became our destiny. Sadness became a reality. We were made for greatness. That’s what David meant in the Psalm. The plan was for us to be a little lower than the angels for a time, but the angels fell, and so did we. We see the evidence all around us and it invades us every day. Sometimes we see it in a very personal way. That’s what Frost meant when he said, “So Eden sank in grief.” Nothing gold can stay. We were made for greatness – for something so much better than we see in this world cursed by sin. But having been made a little lower than the angels, it sometimes seems that we have sunk so low that we are more like the demons than the angels. Even our righteousness is like filthy rags in the presence of God.

Why would God visit us? God made us for greatness and we blew it. There is a but. God is not finished with us yet. David asks a question in Ps. 8:4, “What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” I think that’s a valid question. We blew it in the garden. God gave us another chance and the wickedness was so great on the earth, that He told the only righteous guy left to build a boat. Have you ever thought why God didn’t just give up? Listen to David’s question again, “What is man that you take thought of him?” Why would God care so much to send His one and only Son; that He would actually come to us? The writer of Hebrews tells us, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” (Heb. 2:9) Jesus wasn’t born into human royalty – He was born into poverty delivered by a man that wasn’t his father in a stable in a little known village, ignored by most people. Jesus came to undo the curse on humanity and one day we will see Him just as He is. (1 Jo. 3:2) The writer of Hebrews quotes David when he said, You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him.” But that has yet to happen. We weep over the pain and suffering of this world, but there are better days ahead. G. K. Chesterton said, “Whatever else is or is not true, this one thing is certain – man is not what he was meant to be.” We were made for glory, but our glory faded a long time ago. We disobeyed in the garden causing us to die spiritually and die physically. And then inexplicably, we tried to do things on our own. We wonder why the world is the way it is and we question God’s love, but for many people, we need look only in the mirror. Our spiritual state is reminiscent of the famous Pogo comic strip quote that states, “We have met the enemy, and he is us. As is often the case with God, there is a but. There are at least 10 direct references in the Bible where God says, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” God sent prophets to tell us how to get to Him, but the people killed them. He gave us Scripture that we ignore. He tells us how to live and we tell Him He’s old fashioned and out of date. Jo. 3:16 says He loved us too much to leave us to our own devices.

That is the Christmas story. Most people didn’t pay attention. It didn’t make sense how a young woman could become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t make sense why it would happen in such a way. A King born as a baby in the little town of Bethlehem where there was no room at an inn. He was Immanuel, God with us that would save us from our sin. He grew up the son of a carpenter, lived a sinless life and then we killed him on a cross. But death could not hold Him and He rose again just as He said He would. The general population is wrong about God and is wrong about Jesus. C.S. Lewis said, “The son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God.” The good news of Christmas is that God has done it all. The only thing left to you and me is to believe. God wrapped up his Son in swaddling clothes and proclaimed to humanity, “This is my Christmas gift to you.”

Do you believe it? Will you receive it? Remember that columnist George Will that I started with? His column was called, “The happiest holiday,” and he’s right. I made the decision that Jesus is the Christ, the strong Son of the living God. Christmas is happiest for those that know Jesus. Important if true. You must decide.

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Happy 238th America!

3 Jul

andy-griffith-34

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Wordless Wednesday

25 Dec

Merry Christmas Submarine

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Wordless Wednesday

18 Dec

Santa on Motorcycle

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Wordless Wednesday

27 Nov

so-much-to-be-thankful

The Road Less Traveled

17 Dec

Less TraveledYou can catch the podcast here.

Last week we looked at the perfect gift of Jesus. When we help those in need, we’re helping Jesus. That’s the paradigm shift we need to rethink Christmas. This week, we’ll finish our series by examining the road we are all called to travel, but few actually go down it.

Matt. 2:11-12 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.”

My how time flies. It’s only Dec. 16th and most of the stores have put all their Christmas decorations on sale. There are still parties to go to, tests to take, gifts to buy, and food to cook. Some of us have been listening to Christmas music since Nov. 1st. We’re all caught up in the excitement of the season. On Dec. 26th, all the excitement passes, we don’t want to hear another Christmas song, smell gingerbread, of have leftover turkey and ham. After Christmas, we’re left exhausted from the shopping, the parties, the cooking, the cleaning, and the relatives. We start off the New Year with the depressing thoughts of returning to work and school in clothes that are too tight and bills that are stacked too high. Immanuel – God with us has been lost into the frantic pace of Christmas, BUT, it doesn’t have to be this way. Jan. 6th brings us to an event that few Christians observe, and even fewer know about. This is the day we celebrate the Epiphany. The day we celebrate the arrival of the magi. These wise men were experts in astronomy, astrology, and natural science. According to Western church tradition these wise men were Balthasar – often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.

As in many case, tradition has trumped the truth. The truth is, the wise men were nowhere near the manger looking down at baby Jesus. By the time they arrived, Jesus had been circumcised in the Temple on the 8th day. Joseph and Mary had found a more permanent dwelling because Matt. 2:11 says, “After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother.” We’re not certain that Joseph was there in the house with them. When we look at the truth, we see that when they got there, “They fell to the ground and worshiped Him.” That is the only response possible when you are in front of the King of Kings. That is what you do when you go before Immanuel, before the One that created the heavens and the earth. Based on Matthew’s account, it would have been some time before they arrived. It is true they brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but that doesn’t mean there were three wise men. They brought these gifts – Matthew calls them treasures – with them; they didn’t fall out of the sky. The magi presented the Christ child with gifts befitting a King. The story of the wise men ends with Matthew saying, “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.” (Matt. 2:12)

There is a new road. I think this is a really neat verse because I think it captures the essence of our walk of faith. The wise men went another way. Herod represents danger. Verse 16 tells us, “Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under.” I can’t help thinking when God warns us of danger, do we turn and go the other way in obedience, or do we want to sneak a peek at the danger; maybe get just close enough to touch it. God’s Word is consistently warning us of danger if we’ll just read and respond to its message. For many people, January and the New Year represent a new beginning. Resolutions are made. We’ll lose weight, exercise, quit smoking. Pray, read the Bible, be more faithful in church, begin serving, begin giving to the work of ministry. We make a commitment to go down a road less traveled and this year will be different.

The wise men brought gifts to Jesus. It’s difficult to place a value on the gifts they brought. To give you an idea of their value, here it is in today’s money. Gold: $1700 per ounce. Frankincense: $31.25 per ounce. Myrrh: $250 per ounce. Some experts put the total value of the gifts well over a million dollars. When you add the value of the gifts to the cost of traveling for two years, you can see the money invested to find the King. There is that dreaded word – money. Do you think it’s any coincidence that there is treasure included in Matthew’s account? Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) Our monthly bank statement may reveal more about our true character than anything else. We’ve become members of the church of the monetarily selfish. Mark 10 tells us of a man that was seeking the road less traveled and asked Jesus what he could do to inherit eternal life. He said he had kept the 10 Commandments ever since he was a boy.

Mark 10:21-23 says,“Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” Jesus knew that money would challenge His people. He knew the difficulties that money brings. That’s why He said, “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.” (Matt. 6:24) Our modern retailers tell you differently. You must have a bigger house, better car, bigger TV, the latest technology. In an article called, “McMansion Economics” the LA Times reported that the average American family shrunk over the last 30 years, but our houses got 42% bigger. If we shifted to the average size of a home 30 years ago, we would save an average of $80,000 per home. We now have days of the year dedicated to fulfill every materialistic desire. Black Friday and Saturday. Cyber Monday. When we’re feeling blue, we participate in retail therapy. We have forgotten that we cannot find true happiness in stuff. When we use God to get what we want instead of God using us to get what He wants, we miss Immanuel. I wonder if Jesus is in heaven singing, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.” Paul warned Timothy that even a desire to live godly would bring persecution. (2 Tim. 3:12) Let the angel’s words to Mary be applied to you, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.” (Lu. 1:30)

Is there a better road to travel? Don’t fear falling off the fiscal cliff. Jesus said it best, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25) The answer is yes, there is more to life than life here. Our lives should be a contradiction to the world’s; should be in harmony with Scripture; should be an example of hope and determination, and perseverance, and trust. Jesus answers the dilemmas of life by offering a contrast in Matt. 6:33, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What will be added? Everything you need to live for God. It’s a contrast to the Gentile way of life. First seek God’s Kingdom. This is the place where God reigns. This is the place where He is in charge and we willingly submit to His authority. It’s a place where God’s people provide vibrant demonstration of an authentic relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We’re also to seek His righteousness. We need to be right acting. It is the character or quality of doing right. This righteousness should be prevalent in all that we do: relationships, business, taxes, finances, parenting, and friendships. We are to act morally and ethically. And we’re supposed to share this with others. The only way we can have the quality of righteousness is to be a child of the King. “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” (1 Jo. 2:29)

This Christmas, remember it’s not about you or your children. It’s not your birthday, it’s Jesus’ birthday.