Monday, December 26, 2016

Peace on Earth Maybe

Peace on Earth Maybe
December 26, 2016
Matthew 10:34  "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

As Christmas is slowly behind us, let us take a moment to reflect on how filled with peace we were during this holiday season. If you were like me, it went 90 miles an hour and will only slow down when it gets back into the groove of a normal routine. Sure, you've heard the messages about making sure Christmas was about the birth of Jesus, the Savior.  Christmas is supposed to be filled with peace on earth and goodwill toward men.  Ironically, the birth of Jesus was anything but during a time of peace.  There was nothing about peace in or around his birth story.  Recall that Mary was traveling during the days leading up to the birth, on a donkey, on her way to simply be counted for a census, during a time of infanticide, when the ruler of the land had heard about a Savior coming and wanted to kill him and was in fact killing babies looking for Him.  The truth of the story is that a dispatch of soldiers was sent to find the baby Jesus and kill Him.  How do you think Mary felt, knowing people wanted her baby dead even before He had a chance to come into the world?

But again, what about peace on earth and goodwill toward men?  Surely, it was foretold Jesus would come to bring peace.  The gravity of Scripture is that Jesus came only to bring peace in our hearts, being able to have reconciliation with the Lord from our sins, but not until after Jesus was slaughtered on the cross.  That was anything but peace.  In fact, if you asked Jesus directly, He admitted He did not come for peace.  He said He came only to bring the sword of division.  Jesus was not born during a time of peace, He did not intend to bring peace, and was murdered so that one day in Heaven their might be peace in our hearts.  So again, why do we think Christmas is about peace on earth and goodwill toward men?

Scripture never says anything about peace on earth and goodwill toward all mankind.  Where did they come from? Perhaps it is a quote from a Christmas poem written in 1836 by Henry Longfellow, where those lines are written.  Perhaps they are from a famous speech given by FDR in 1943.  Perhaps they are an interpretation from a Christmas song, slightly quoted, sung in our churches.  Perhaps they are a loosely translated King James Bible verse.  Or perhaps those words are a misinterpretation of something spoken by the angels during the time of the birth of Jesus.

Recall there were shepherds in the field at night tending their flock. Why were the shepherds tending their flock at night?  Sheep don't graze at night; they sleep.  The shepherds were either fearful of thieves or wolves; they were protecting their flock by night.  Angels appeared to the shepherds and to calm the nerves of shepherds ready to defend their flock, the angels told the shepherds not to be afraid.  But the angels never proclaimed peace to the shepherds, just that they should not be afraid.  During the discourse between the shepherds and the angels, the Heavens opened up and there was a host of angels signing.  But the host of angels never declared peace on earth goodwill toward all mankind.  The angels declared glory to God, the angels declared peace in the hearts of those on whom the Lord's favor rests, but the angels never declared peace on earth or goodwill toward all mankind.

It is not fully understood if the angels were signing about the shepherds, about Mary or Joseph, all men on whom the Lord finds favor, or all men the Lord saves from his own sin.  Take it as you'd like, but it was most likely meant as peace to the shepherds, who instantly suggested afterward that they head out to see the savior who was born.  Those shepherds, who were fearful, were potentially risking their flock, their livelihood to go and find the savior of the world.  If they did find the savior of the world, they risked being killed by the rulers who dispatched the soldiers to kill Jesus once He was found. If they declared there was a savior, they risked their lives, nonetheless they risked it all and loudly proclaimed He came as a baby; the Christ child was here.

It's OK to be busy during Christmas, just not OK to forget what Christmas was and is all about, and not OK to misquote the story of His birth.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Is 9:6, Matt 2:1-23, Luke 2:1-20, John 18:36

Monday, December 19, 2016

At His Word

At His Word
December 19, 2016
Luke 1:38  "'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May your word to me be fulfilled.' Then the angel left her."

As it approaches the time of the year when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, it is necessary to revisit the story of His entrance into this world.  As I read the story of Jesus' birth, it is always interesting to note the response of Mary and Joseph at the discovery of His conception.  Start it out nine months to the magnificent delivery and you have Mary and Joseph engaged.  Then Mary discovers she is pregnant.  Seriously, the magnitude of what the angel revealed to her was so heavy and truly life altering.  She would be carrying the Christ child; conceived by the Holy.  The angel appeared to her and told her what would happen, but the angel never told her how to navigate the next nine months, keeping the momentum, the excitement, the faith.

We quickly gloss over the nine months of her carrying the child and immediately cross over into the events of the birth, but think about the battle in her mind.  After the angel appeared to her she was excited, elated, in awe, full of anticipation.  She took him at his word and believed what he said.  She believed she was truly pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that she would be the Christ child's mother.  How did she feel days later, weeks later, months later?  Did she doubt?  Did she question herself?  Did she questions if it was real or not?  If Mary was anything like you and me, she probably had thoughts of conflict, wondering if the angel truly did appear to her, wondering if she heard him right, wondering if she understood it correctly, wondering if it really was completely true.  She had to have moments of doubt.  The thing about Mary's story, though, is she didn't go through a dark time of personal confusion.  The Bible would have recorded her sin if she was in error in her path.  She clung to the truth revealed to her and believed, even when things got difficult.

It wasn't easy for Mary, traveling while pregnant, ready to give birth.  She was experiencing labor symptoms riding that donkey, being turned away at the Inn, just before delivery.  She didn't yell at Joseph for not providing a room for her or a comfy nest of her own.  She didn't complain that the Holy Spirit had got it wrong and that things were messed up with how things were turning out.  She never dreamed of delivering her first child in a barn, to a man she technically wasn't married to yet because they had not consummated their marriage.  When she was a little girl, she never envisioned it would turn out this way.  But she took the Word of the Lord for what it was worth and clung to it, clung to the truth that had to carry her through the times of confusion, doubt, and questioning, when it would have been easier to complain or give up.  There are more than a few of us who would have quit.  Not Mary, she took him at his word.

While it's a big deal to have an angel appear to you, there is so much revealed to each and every one of us throughout the Bible and throughout our lives that we have much to go on, much to live by, much to sustain us.  Yet judging by our lives, we don't live it out like we've taken Him at His Word.  Do you believe what the Lord has told you?  Do you live that like it?  Do you navigate as successfully as Mary or do you complain, quit, live out your sin, and then regret your decisions.  As you approach this time of year, do so by taking the Lord at His Word.  You may not be carrying the Christ child, but  you've been on a path directed by the Lord.  It's time live it like you were told by the angel who appeared to Mary.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Luke 1:26-56

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sell Everything

Sell Everything
December 12, 2016
Matthew 19:21  "Jesus told him, 'If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the destitute, and you will have treasure in heave. Then come back and follow me.'"

Jesus said it is very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  A rich man came to Jesus and confessed his devotion to the Lord and listed all the ways he followed the Lord devoutly from his youth.  The man thought surely following the Lord's commands to the letter would be sufficient to satisfy the Lord's requirements of him. But Jesus said the man was still lacking, that the man still had one more hurdle to jump to make his faith complete.  The Lord asked him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor, only then would he have done all the Lord required of him.  The man was sad because he just couldn't do it; he could not part with his money.  Jesus knew it would be difficult for the man and pressed him where He knew it would hurt.  The man's wealth was his most important stronghold.

You and I each have a stronghold, an area of our lives we are just not willing to give over to the Lord.  The Lord asked the man to forsake his stronghold, so there would be nothing between him and the Lord.  For this man, his wealth was standing between him and the Lord.  The Lord asked him to give it up.  It was more of a test than it was a literal request possibly.  Jesus asked it of him because He knew what the answer would be, that it would be too difficult for the man.  Jesus was showing the man what stood between the two of them and the man didn't get it.  For those who are wealthy, money easily gets in the way, in front of the Lord. If you have all the money in the world, then you probably won't need the Lord.  If the money wasn't a big deal to the man then Jesus wouldn't have asked it of him.  You might not be wealthy, but there is something that comes between you and the Lord.

The man's money represented what he wanted to keep away from the Lord.  The Lord could have every area of the man's life except his wealth.  For some of you money isn't an issue because you don't have any, but what about the pursuit of money?  What about your time?  What about your comfort?  Comfort is a bigger deal than most Christians realize.  You might not necessarily be holding onto your money or your time but your comfort level might be standing between you and the Lord.  You're willing to give everything over to the Lord as long as it remains comfortable.  You can give of your time but not too much of your time.  You can give of your money but not too much of your money.  You can give of your patience level but not to the point your patience level is maxed.  The difference between what you have and what you end up giving is the level of your sacrifice.  Jesus asked the rich man to sacrifice his wealth, to sacrifice it all.  The man just couldn't; he wasn't willing.

What are you not willing to sacrifice for the Lord?  Are you willing to sacrifice it all?  Are you willing to give a good deal of money to the Lord but keep enough so you have a vacation every year?  What if the Lord asked you to give of your money so much so that you couldn't afford a vacation ever again?  Could you do it?  What if the Lord asked to sacrifice your personal time and spend it with autistic children who tested your patience level?  Could you do it and not feel you needed to reward yourself for your efforts?  What if the Lord asked you to have more than the 2.4 kids you decided to have in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle?  What's standing between you and the Lord.  What is your stronghold?  What is it you're not willing to sacrifice.  Be careful, because the very thing you are not willing to sacrifice could be what keeps you from entering heaven. Jesus said we are to take up our cross and follow Him, sacrificing it all.  Whoever wants to gain his life must be willing to lose it.  Are you willing to lose it?

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Matt 7:21-23, Matt 16:24-27, Matt 19:16-30, Luke 18:18-29

Sunday, December 4, 2016

God Limits

God Limits
December 5, 2016
Acts 17:26  "From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundary lines of their lands."

Dream Big.  Dream God-sized dreams, they told me as a youth.  Naturally, as a kid, hearing I should dream God-sized dreams, that meant my dreams should be as big as God, limitless.  Oh, how the church, in an effort to be positive, gets it wrong sometimes.  I hear more and more messages about having dreams requiring so much faith only God can bring them about.  With the risk of being banned from the Internet or social media altogether, let me just say there is nothing found in Scripture about dreaming God-sized dreams, dreams as big as God.  That is just a load of humanistic thought entering the church, even if well-intended.

The Lord never taught us to have any other dream or vision that does not come straight from Him.  If you just simply thought it up, then it didn't come from Him and no amount of faith will bring it about.  If there is something burning in your heart, that you cannot deny or quench, that you didn't invent, and you feel empowered by the Holy Spirit to step out in faith, then that is certainly from the Lord.  Those dreams however, based on the history found in the Bible, require sacrifice and hardship without glory for the individual.  Those dreams aren't the ones you and I come up with.  Our own personal dreams always end up with us being the hero of the story, not God.  Coming up with your own hair-brained concoctions does not justify or allow you to force God into being involved in your plans.  God is only involved in HIS plans.  A God-sized dream should be measured in the proportion of the size God intended, not the size you intended.  God sometimes puts limits on things, purposefully.  No one wants to hear that God might need your specific church to remain a certain membership size, or that He might want your specific income to be limited.  After all, He came so we could have life more abundantly, correct?  If we just have faith big enough we can do anything we set our heart on doing?

The fact of the matter is the Lord determines our place and time, and sets our boundary lines.  These boundary lines are for PLACE and TIME.  Place and time are with respect to every place in your life and ever time period in your life.  Your place at work is limited by God.  Your place in your family is limited by God.  Your time for expiry is limited by God.  Your time for moving, birthing, planting, all limited by God.  No one likes to have limits set for them.  WE like to determine our limits.  We want the sky as the limit when it comes to what we want.  We also want to limit our pain and discomfort, but the Lord sets those limits too, which may end up in the opposite direction we hope.  We don't get to determine our limits.  Our cup is full when the Lord says its full.  Our family is full when the Lord says its full.  Our job growth is set when the Lord says its set.  Our profitability or success is determined when and where God has determined it.  We cannot push beyond the Lords limits; He has put them in place.

 The Lord has set limits on what you can do, most likely for your benefit.  He works all things out for your good, Scripture says so...this means He works out your limits and boundary lines as well.  It is for your benefit, per Scripture to force you to call out to Him.  Read the Scripture carefully.  The very next verse, Acts 17:27 reads, "God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us."  God put your limits in place so you would be forced to seek Him.  If you had no limit, you would become arrogant and think you didn't need a God.  If your personal dream was fulfilled to the size of a God, then it might become your God.  You would end up the hero of your own story instead of the Lord.  If you find yourself at a limit, then it's because anything further than that and you'd not need to focus on Him.  the Lord knew you and understands the human desire to be the hero of the story.  Make God the hero of your story and He just might move those limits.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Ps 16:5-6, Ps 75:1-3, Pr 8:15-35, Pr 16:1, Matt 26:18, Acts 17:25-27, Romans 8:28