Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wise Men, Part III of III

Wise Men, Part III of III
December 27, 2010
1 Corinthians 1:21 "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe."

Having just celebrated the birth of Christ on Christmas only hours ago, the plan God had for mankind through the destiny of His Son's life should be fresh in our minds. The Magi, or Wise Men, who traveled from the East after seeing His star, recognized the significance of Jesus' birth. They understood and traveled a very long distance to come and worship Him. In a sense, the Magi were among the first believers of Christ's deity. They got the hints, probably from reading through prophecy, and believed. If they did not believe that the Savior had been born was the Son of God, they probably would not have been so willing to travel such a long distance to worship Him, or bring gifts to set at His feet. We often call these Magi "Wise Men" because they were successful at understanding the prophecies of Jesus' birth and finding the star in the sky that pointed to His physical location. But I would suggest they should be called "Wise Men" because of their belief in who this Christ Child was, the Deity of Jesus, the Son of the Living God.

It wasn't until Jesus' death and resurrection that the message of Christ's completed work on the cross for Salvation was preached throughout the world. This message of Salvation is interesting, though. No where else in history had anyone seen that the birth and death of a man could bring about the forgiveness of sins and eternal Salvation. It seemed such a foolish thought, when it was originally proposed, that Jesus was just that man, the fulfillment of what God set out to do for mankind. If you think about it, it seems foolish to this day, the idea that the birth of a Deity -- who would later be slaughtered-- could bring about such Salvation. It truly seems odd, foolish, and downright ludicrous. This is why it takes someone to "believe" in the message. If you could touch salvation, physically see your sin and Hell, then it wouldn't take a "belief" to make you understand what God did for you through the birth of His Son. The "wise" men of our age don't rightly understand this sometimes, that Jesus was sent to live, and then die, for their sins.

The message of Jesus was foolish when it was originally preached, and it is still foolish to many people today. God knew it would be deemed foolishness. But listen to what the writer, Paul, tells us regarding such thought:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.' Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe."

It is interesting through reading this passage from 1 Corinthians, to realize that smart and learned men do not usually understand or "believe" in what God did through Jesus. I would submit to you, Believer, that you truly can be a learned man and also one who believes in Jesus, His birth, His death, and His salvation for you and mankind. The Magi did. They were clearly smart enough to study prophecy and possessed the ability to read the sky and follow a star, AND they believed in who He was (and is). They declared with their own words that they traveled specifically so they could worship Him. They believed in who Jesus was and wanted to worship Him. Wow. If only you and I could say that every day of our lives. If only we could declare that we believe in who He is and decide each day to go to great lengths so we could worship Him through all of our actions. That would make you a "Wise Man"; that would make me a "Wise Man."

If we did this, our actions would confound the smartest of the smart, but we would also be declaring that we truly are "Wise Men and Women of God." If we believed in who Jesus is, and lived our lives in worship unto Him, then our actions, however foolish they may be to outsiders, would be deemed Wise by the One True God. I'm confident the Magi had a lot of explaining to do in why they set out on such a long trek, but it was clearly a wise decision.

1. When was the last time you did something in your efforts to follow the Lord, that seemed foolish to others?
2. How can you make all your actions a declaration of what you truly believe about the Lord?
3. How is following the Lord and worshiping Him a wise thing for your life?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Prov 17:16, Prov 28:26, Matt 2, 1 Cor 1:18-25, 1 Cor 2:6

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wise Men, Part II of III

Wise Men, Part II of III
Dec 20, 2010
Daniel 9:2 ". . . I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet . . .'"

Daniel was a prophet in the Old Testament who had an amazing ministry from God. Daniel was given many dreams and visions which spoke about both his current time and times to come (many of which are still to come). A little history for background purposes: Daniel was a Hebrew, taken captive by the Babylonians when they attacked Israel; he was brought to Babylon, castrated, and forced into the king's service. When Daniel was placed in service of the king, he decided to work as unto the Lord and serve his earthly masters well. In fact, Daniel grew in stature and standing with the king, and rose up in command under him. The king of Babylon was later overthrown by the king of the Persians, with Daniel remaining a captive in service to the new king. Eventually, Daniel was placed in high command over the entire Persian Empire. In spite of being taken away from his homeland, castrated, and forced into service to not one, but several Godless, foreign kings, Daniel kept his internal compass pointed toward the Lord and served God regardless of his earthly surroundings. Wow. However difficult you think you have it, your life does not compare to Daniel's.

Daniel was clearly a very busy man, being in forced servitude to several different kings. In spite of his work and probable lack of spare time, Daniel decided the most important thing to do was pray and study scriptures. Notice Daniel's own words found in Daniel 9:2--"I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet . . ." Daniel said this after he had risen in command in the Persian king's service (which was also after his famous night in the lion's den). Despite Daniel's many dreams and visions from the Lord, despite Daniel's knowledge and earthly stature, despite Daniel's own wisdom, he still studied the Scriptures, including the words of another prophet who was possibly still alive at the time, the prophet Jeremiah (who wrote the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations).

The point we should take away from Daniel's story is this: no matter how mature we think we are, no matter how wise we think we are, there is still more for us to learn, there is still more for us to understand about God and His Word. The mark of a fool is the display of his arrogance, thinking he has reached his pinnacle, thinking he has nothing else to learn from the Lord. Christian, you will never be done learning, you will never be done understanding, you will never be complete in your wisdom until you come into perfection in Heaven. Until then, there is always something to learn from the Bible, from personal prayer time, from your pastor's sermon, from books, and even from devotionals. The moment you decide you cannot learn a new perspective or detail from a common child's version of Noah and the Ark, you have become a fool. A wise man will find education in everything, even a small child's Bible story.

I've read through the Bible many times, the first time when I was only seventeen. Yet my understanding of scripture doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of all there is to know and understand about God and His Word. From last week's devotional, we read it took three learned men from the East (the Magi, or Wise Men) who understood prophecy and scripture enough to follow a star to where the Christ child was born. This star, because they studied and found it, led them to Jesus. A simple star, yet it took wise men to find it and then follow it. Listen to what the prophet Daniel says about stars in Dan 12:3--"Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." Determine to be a wise man; study and learn your whole life, from everything, especially Scripture, and be wise enough to train your children to do the same. Your wisdom will shine like the stars, leading others to the Lord.

1. When was the last time you truly studied the Scriptures?
2. Have you devoted your whole life to becoming wise and mature or have you plateaued in your understanding?
3. How can you open your eyes to learn from everything, even from a child?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Dan 1:17, Dan 6, Dan 12:3, Phil 2:15, Col 3:23

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wise Men, Part I of III

Wise Men, Part I of III
December 13, 2010
Matthew 2:1-2 "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'"

A compass is a simple tool that has been used for thousands of years, giving navigation and direction to those intent on finding their way. It has a needle that always points North, fixated in magnetic direction no matter how many degrees you rotate the dial. If a traveler follows specific coordinates, always being mindful of North, then a final destination of success is guaranteed. This is true no matter how an explorer is traveling: by sea, by plane, by car, and even by camel. Enter the Magi who probably traveled by camel. Magi were recorded in the Bible as men who came from the Far East, possibly the Orient, following a star to where the Christ Child was born. These Magi, aka Wise Men, didn't use a compass to guide them, but instead used a specific star, directed by God to lead them to their final destination.

The Magi were clearly learned men, hence the commonly used term Wise Men. They were aware of Jewish scripture, so they had probably read the first five books of the Old Testament, and probably most of the writings from the prophets. They had studied the Scriptures enough to know and understand prophecy about the Christ Child as well as His birth and destiny here on earth. Whether these men were true God-fearing men is not known, but they certainly were philosophers who had studied religion. It is interesting that these men, not known as Jews but as "Magi from the east", had enough knowledge of God and His scriptures to be alert to the birth of Jesus. They paid attention and were led by a star to the place of the nativity. My question is: why was there not a single Jew who paid attention to the star or was looking for it? Why weren't any Jews watching and waiting for this sign to lead them to the nativity? Why did it take "Magi from the east" to follow the star? If the "Magi from the east" could see the star, why didn't anyone else see it? Would you have followed the star? Would I?

While we will never know how these Wise Men came to discover the star, leading to the nativity, it still speaks volumes on paying attention to direction. You and I, like the Jews back then, don't pay much attention to direction. If we did, we would always be submissive to the leading of the Lord and always be paying attention to His signs of direction in our lives. If we were like the Wise Men, we would always be alert and headed in the right direction, living our lives on a path to Jesus and success. You need direction in your life, we all do, but seldom are we so confident as these Wise Men who followed the Lord's leading. If only we were as vigilant as the Magi, vigilant enough to be called Wise Men, always looking for and submitting to the leading and direction of the Lord.

While there may not be a star above your head, there is a God in Heaven who represents true North on your compass in life. If you fix your compass on Him, always being mindful of His rightful place in your life, you will reach your immediate and final destinations with success. God should be the constant in your life; no matter how many degrees you turn, He will always be in the same place. This is so comforting to know in the midst of the specific direction you need for your current situation. I have no doubt you need and want direction, God's direction for you and your life. But you must be fixated on Him in order to know the path you should take. It will be the same path the first Wise Men took, a path leading you to worship the Lord. Your life, if you stay on the path God has for you, will become a living act of worship unto the Creator. But you must be like the Wise Men who saw His star and traveled to worship Him. You must look for His direction no matter where it might lead you.

1. Have you ever been mistaken for a Wise Man?
2. How can you fixate your spiritual compass on Him, maintaining His direction for your life?
3. How can you seek His "star" for the specific direction you need right now?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Ps 94:8, Ps 119:98, Ps 121:1-3, Pr 12:15, Pr 13:20, Pr 18:15, Is 29:13-15, Dan 12:2-3, Eph 5:14-16, Matthew 2, 2 Tim 3:15

Monday, December 6, 2010

Blame Blame Go Away

Blame Blame Go Away
Dec 6, 2010
1 Peter 5:7 "Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you."

Blame is an interesting thing. It is our effort to find a reason to be mad, angry, upset, or hurt. We use blame in an attempt to justify our actions, but blame has the opposite effect. The only thing we accomplish by blaming others is maintaining our status as a victim. Certainly, there have been some people who were the initial cause of pain or strife in your life. Absolutely, it was real. However, blaming them doesn't allow you to move forward or move beyond that hurt. Blaming others, or even blaming God, is trying to force them to take responsibility for what has happened in your life, so they might fix you. That is not going to happen. Blame is an effort to guilt others into benefiting your life and it is only manipulative. Even if someone else was the initial cause of your difficulty, identifying individuals as the culprit for purposes of fixing the situation is not actually going to change anything. News Flash: no one else can or will fix your problems, even if someone else instigated the original, perceived harm. This isn't comforting, but it is a reality you must accept.

If you focus all your energy and efforts on blaming others for your difficulty, it does not allow you to focus on living your life, nor is it what God intended for you. There is an alternative to blaming others, however, and it is very freeing, even exciting. God says to cast all your cares on Him because He truly cares for you and your situations. This includes the past hurt, pain, and strife you have been trying to care for on your own. Your own efforts only nurture the painful situation, but God's efforts can nurture your life into new growth. That's what God is after anyway, new growth in your life. While God is not to blame for what happened in your life, He actually is glad to take responsibility for creating new growth from the pain you have experienced (no matter how long ago that hurt was initiated or who's to blame).

God is more than willing to take responsibility for fixing all that is wrong in your life. He is not going to take that incident away, the one you are blaming others for and wanting to be made right. He will, however, take that situation, that pain, and use it for His glory. God will use that past situation to shape you, mold you, to make you into the person He needs you to become. God can take the hurt and pain away and use your past for something amazing in your future. God is in the redemptive business; He wants to redeem your situation right now, the one you've been harboring for so long, blaming others for. He wants you to stop playing the role of the victim and become the victor through Him. There are no victims in God's kingdom, only over-comers and conquerors. If you submit your life to God and allow Him to work, even in your pain, your life can and will become a testimony of God's power for others to see.

There is a huge caveat, however, to becoming the victor over your past situations. You must get rid of the blame. You have to stop blaming others, yourself, and God for all that is wrong in your life. Once you stop the blame game and submit the situation into God's hands, you allow Him to take responsibility for new growth and fruit in your life. I know the past situations in your life were real and have effects on your life today. But focusing on the past and blaming others for any hurt will not allow you to focus on what God wants to do in and through your pain, for your future. Blame will only lead to bitterness, not a solution to your problem. Allow God to take responsibility for your life right now and receive the freedom to move forward in your amazing future.

1. Who have you been blaming for your problems?
2. How can you stop blaming others and begin to submit that hurt to God?
3. How can you allow God to use that past situation toward your amazing future?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Gen 3:12-13, Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28, Rom 8:37