Meanderings of a Minister


Christmas Is So Weird!
December 9, 2016, 3:49 pm
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Confused

Yes, you read the title correctly.  Christmas is strange.  Now, you might be saying or thinking that a good Christian should never say things like that, but it is true.  Christmas is strange.  How?  You ask.

First, think about it.  At Christmas, we celebrate that God became a man.  Actually, more accurately, the infinite God Who is bigger and beyond our universe became a fertilized egg, went through cell division and gestation, and went through the birth process to join our world as a helpless infant.  How weird is that?  We would not have planned it that way.  We would have had Him ride in on a magnificent horse into a highly-decorated palace to sit upon a massive golden throne.  Christmas is weird.

Christmas is also weird because a virgin girl, probably an early teen, was chosen to have this baby while being engaged to someone else.  In our day, this does not seem so strange because of all of the single parent families, broken homes, and children who don’t actually live with both parents, but in their day, this was weird.  The fact that the fiancé went ahead and married the girl after she gave birth, they had many other children, and then he faded from the scene makes this stranger yet.

Something else that makes Christmas weird is the setting.  In a shelter for animals?  Born with no fanfare?  Wrapped in cloths and laid in a what?  A manger?  A food trough?  Now, that is weird.  Then, who should come to visit?  Shepherds?  Really?  They come, bow down, and then go back to work?  Christmas is so weird.

And then there is the whole angel thing that sent the shepherds to Mary and the baby in the first place.  They show up, out of nowhere, they tell the story and then…they leave?  They show up, scare the shepherds nearly to death, and then just leave?  Where is the lined path, the party,
the …?  Christmas is so weird.

That was then, but Christmas has gotten even more strange in our day.  How?  Just think about a few things.  First, we celebrate His birth at a time when He most likely was not born.  While we cannot be dogmatic about a particular date, there are some potential reasons why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th.  This was information listed on whychristmas.com and I found it helpful, even though it is weird.

“No one knows the real birthday of Jesus! No date is given in the Bible, so why do we celebrate it on the 25th December? The early Christians certainly had many arguments as to when it should be celebrated! Also, the birth of Jesus probably didn’t happen in the year 1 but slightly earlier, somewhere between 2 BCE/BC and 7 BCE/BC (there isn’t a 0 – the years go from 1 BC/BCE to 1!).

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December.

There are many different traditions and theories as to why Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. A very early Christian tradition said that the day when Mary was told that she would have a very special baby, Jesus (called the Annunciation) was on March 25th – and it’s still celebrated today on the 25th March. Nine months after the 25th March is the 25th December! March 25th was also the day some early Christians thought the world had been made, and also the day that Jesus died on when he was an adult.”

Another way that Christmas is weird is that it is supposed to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, but yet, we give each other presents.  Come on!  None of us would put with that.  Can you imagine having a birthday party for your son or daughter and all of the guests came with presents for each other and then demanded that you meet their needs and help them with the credit card bills they generated buying those presents?  Christmas is so weird!

At Christmas, we celebrate something that should be celebrated every day.  The fact that we have a day to celebrate it is a blessing.  But maybe we should look at HOW we celebrate it.  We should give ourselves to Jesus as a present every day.  After all, He is Lord.  That would not be so weird.



Loving the Christ of Christmas
December 9, 2016, 3:47 pm
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i-love-jesus

During the Christmas season, I find it interesting that many people who never give much thought to Jesus or to why He came to live a perfect life and die a substitutionary death begin to look into these things.  It is almost like God knew this would happen.  (If you saw my face, you would see me smiling as I typed that.)  They don’t actually get a theology book and study them per se, but they begin to think about the truths of the Christmas carols.  They begin to hear snippets of scripture.  They begin to think about the things of God.  But is this enough?

In Ephesians 6:24, Paul ended his letter to the church at Ephesus by saying,

Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” (Ephesians 6:24, NASB95)

What did Paul mean by this and what does that have to do with Christmas?  Thanks for asking!  First, people at Christmas want to talk about God’s grace as though it were something universal.  This is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the proclamation of the angels to the shepherds.  Here is what they actually said,

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, 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. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”” (Luke 2:10–14, NASB95)

Our Christmas carols, and our universalistic tendencies to not want to offend anyone, have taken these verses and changed them a bit.  They have changed them to “Glory to God in the highest and peace, goodwill to men.”  This makes it sound as though Jesus coming meant everyone goes to heaven, but this is not the case because the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  (Romans 6:23) But in order for a gift to do you any good, you have to accept it.  In order to accept the gift of eternal life, one must turn from their sin and place their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Many simply will not do this.  Many who live right next to us in a free land where they could believe with little opposition simply will not do this.  Many who sit in our churches every Sunday simply will not do that.

Back to Paul.  He was asking God for His grace to be with a certain subset of people.  Who were those people?  Those who love Jesus Christ?  Yes and no.  What do I mean?  First, to love God means to obey God.  (1 John 5:3) To love Jesus is to obey Him.  (John 14:15) So, to love Jesus is to obey Him, but Paul had more in mind than begrudging obedience.  He went further to describe that love as incorruptible.

In the Greek language in which Paul wrote and communicated, the word that we translate as incorruptible actually meant to spoil, to ruin, or even to kill.  What is a love for Jesus that would be incorruptible?  It would be a love that cannot be spoiled, ruined or killed.  It is a love that says, “No matter what you ask of me, it cannot be compared to the Cross on which you died for me, so I will obey because I love you.”  It is a love that would say, “I work for You.  You don’t work for me.  Let’s do what You want today and every day.”  It is a love that would say, when the world asks why we don’t give up on the “Jesus thing”, “Where would we go for He alone has the words of Life!”  It is a love that is not just in word or deed, but from a changed, redeemed, grateful, and amazed heart.  And that drives the words and deeds.

Do you love like that?  Do I?  Do we love the Christ of Christmas?



Why Is the Baby in the Manger Such a Gift?
December 2, 2016, 11:30 am
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away_in_a_manger

As we quickly approach this Christmas season (that’s right!  CHRISTMAS!  Not Happy Holidays.  Not winter break.  Not anything other than CHRISTMAS!), it is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that we can actually go through the entire Christmas season without thinking about the One Whom the season is designed to celebrate.  Of course, we don’t think of it this way.  We think that we have been to all of the special church services, cantatas, children’s programs, dinners, socials, Sunday school parties, etc., but have we actually stopped to unwrap and think about the greatest gift we have ever received.

In Romans 5, we are given a list of what makes this gift so special.  As we think about the Baby in the manger, we can’t help but to think of the cross since this is the purpose for which the Baby in the manger came.  While we may not typically think this way, we need to stop and think about just how awesome it is that God Himself gave us this gift.

For those that have surrendered their lives to Christ, Romans 5 lists the following benefits we receive with this gift of eternal life:

First, we receive peace with God (verses 1, 10a, 11).  This is the peace that means a settling.  It is not primarily the peace that comes because of the absence of conflict or any opposition, but means the peace that comes when that struggle is seen in its proper perspective.  In other words, “We in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him Who loved us.”  (Romans 8:37)

Second, we receive an “Introduction into the grace in which we stand” (verses 2a, 15b, 17b, 20b).  Through the Baby in the manger, we have been introduced to grace.  What does that mean?  It means that it is through that appearance of God the Son that the covenant that would be sealed in His blood was begun and we were given the first glance.  This is even seen in Simeon’s comments later to the young mother, Mary, when he told her “a sword will pierce even your own soul – to the end that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.”  (Luke 2:35)

What is that grace in which we stand?  It is none other than that, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16)  It is that grace whereby we as sinners have the opportunity to have our sins forgiven (Isaiah 1:18).  It is that grace whereby we as unrighteous have the righteousness of Christ thrust upon us (Psalm 24:5).  It is that grace that we have received as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-10).  It is that grace in which we stand.  It is not a grace that we approach, open, throw on a shelf, carry the membership card in our wallet and never think of it again.  It must be what directs and drives our lives.

Lastly for this week, we also receive the hope of the glory of God in which we exult (verse 2b).  This takes some explanation because most of us do not speak in these terms in everyday conversation, at least, not like they mean in scripture.  What is hope?  It is not the positive thinking that tomorrow might be better and we are really look forward to the possibility and would like for it to be that.  The hope of the Bible is a confidence that something will be exactly as expected and more.  There is no doubt.  There is no chance.  It is a future fact seen as a present confidence.  When the Baby came in the manger, He showed us that God had come to earth in the form of a Baby and as a Servant (Philippians 2).  He showed us that there is both somewhere to come from and somewhere to go.

He also showed us our purpose.  It is to glorify God.  All of creation is to bring glory to God.  When we fell in the Garden of Eden, it was a fall from that glory to glorifying ourselves.  We have suffered since and needed to be reminded of the heaviness, reputation, and awesomeness of God (Glory).  Because the Baby came in the manger, we who know Christ should now be constantly jumping up and running to bring Him glory (exulting).

Next week, we will continue this look at the gift of the Baby in the Manger, but even with this little bit of Romans 5, we can see just how awesome this gift truly is.  Have you accepted God’s gift?  If not, contact me.  If you have, take some time this weekend (away from church) to think on what a blessed gift you have received and thank God for Jesus.



Standing on the Foundation
December 1, 2016, 4:33 pm
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NDP

I guess I must be beginning to show my age because some things are beginning to bug me more than they used to.  I can’t stand when parents curse their children in the grocery store, when rap artists rap about killing people, stealing, and degrading women through exploitative sex and then turn around and thank Jesus at an awards show.  It bugs me when people say they can’t cuss because the preacher is there and that they need to clean up their act because they are walking into the church building.  I guess I am just getting older.

Probably the biggest thing bugging me at the moment is the way we seem to be turning our back on the God that established our nation.  It reminds me of a story.  Remember Balaam?  Okay, do you remember the talking donkey?  Let me help.

The Israelites were leaving Egypt and walking to Canaan.  Along the way, they were to pass through the kingdom of a king named Balak.  He did not want the Israelites to come through his land because he was afraid of them and thought that they would eat them out of house and home.  He came up with a great idea.  He would hire a prophet to curse the interlopers and then their fortunes would turn bad and they would not be able to make it through his territory.  He probably even saw this as a public service because all the “-ites” in Canaan could keep their homes.

You know the story.  Balaam says he can’t come a few times and then God finally lets him go to Balak with the caveat that he only could say what God told him to say.  He goes and blesses the Israelites instead of cursing them and Balak gets furious.  They tried a few more times with the same result.  You can read the rest of the story in Numbers 22-24.

In the book of Numbers 25, we find that the people of Israel began to sin with the women of Balak and the surrounding area.  Jude tells us that the reason they fell into this sin was that Balaam told Balak this would be the way to make them sin and then God would curse them as a judgment (Jude 11 refers).  The bottom line was, if they obeyed God, they would be blessed and provided for, but if they turned their back on Him, they would be cursed and would lose their blessings and standing with Him.

This is the same situation in America.  We were founded as a Christian Nation.  To deny this is to go back and extricate all references from the Mayflower Compact, the Revolutionary Congress, the founding fathers, and to do violence to most of our historic landmarks.  We founded our nation on the gospel of Christ and it has been that foundation on which we have stood.  For decades, we have been attempting to pull that foundation out from under the nation.  In essence, we are, like the Israelites, sinning and counting on God not to notice.

This bugs me because it does not have to be.  It bugs me because it is not wise.  It bugs me because it ignores history.  It bothers me because it ignores the future.  It bugs me because it is exchanging the glory of God for a lie (Romans 1:18-23).  It bugs me, but maybe I am just getting older.



Lord, Do Not Hold This Sin Against Them!
September 30, 2016, 2:33 pm
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forgive

I don’t care how many times I read this scripture from Acts 7:60, I am humbled all over again.  Here is Stephen being stoned for his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  The very men that are stoning him are the ones on his heart and the prayer he makes before closing his eyes in death.

Then there is Jesus Himself.  He had been arrested, bound, led away, abused, tried, imprisoned, abused some more, tried again, interviewed, abused some more, starving, thirsty, beaten, sentenced to death, led up Golgotha, stripped naked, nailed to a cross, lifted up for everyone to make fun of, abused some more.  Just before He died, what did He pray?  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This list goes on.  How about Joseph?  His mother was promised to his father, but his great uncle traded her out for her older sister on their wedding night.  His great uncle then insisted Jacob work an additional seven years to actually get to marry the woman he loved and was supposed to originally marry.  What ensued would have made the Jerry Springer show.  Women, children being born, in fighting, dysfunction were prevalent in the house.

Joseph is given a dream of ruling over his brothers, but they weren’t going to have any of that.  It was bad enough that father was playing favorites with a coat of honor.  There was no way he was going to rule over them!  So what did they do?  They sold him.  Yes, they sold him.  Not only did they sell him, but they sold him as a slave to people heading to Egypt where they did not like his kind.  God blessed him in Potiphar’s house.  Then, Potiphar’s wife accused him of trying to seduce and sexually assault her.  He went to prison.  For 13 long years, he wasted away in a prison for something he really did not do.

After getting out of jail, he finally has some power.  He tests his brothers and then reveals himself and invites them all to come and live with him in Egypt.  They go.  Then, father dies.  The brothers come to him afraid that he will seek revenge.  How does he respond?  “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”  He forgave them!

What do all of these events have in common?  Here were men who had every reason to be angry at God and angry at others, but they chose not to.  They chose to forgive.  Not only did they choose to forgive, but they chose to pray for them and bless them and do whatever good they could do for them.  But why?  Why would they do this?

Stephen knew that Jesus was standing in Heaven and ready to receive him.  We would do well to remember that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a believer.  It is actually kind of the best, if it is God’s plan and God’s timing.

Jesus knew that the men He was dealing with did not realize Who He was.  They had no idea how they were being used by Satan, but also by God to carry out the plan God had for Him since before the foundation of the world.  We would do well to realize that many of the people who do us wrong don’t realize what they are doing because they are spiritually dead and cannot understand the things or ways of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Joseph chose to look at what God had done for him and not what had been done to him as the basis for the man he would be or the life he would live.  He broke the victim mentality and was an overcomer.  In our day, more of us should do just that.

So, who needs your prayer?  Who needs your forgiveness?  Who do you need to treat well even they have misused you?  Perhaps this is your chance to show them how much better life is when lived for someone and something bigger than you.  Let’s both do that.



Who Is Building the Church?

build-church

I was reading this morning about the second time the disciples of our Lord were arrested for preaching the gospel.  In Acts 5, we read about the disciples being arrested.  During the night, an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison and took them out and told them to stand in the temple and keep right on preaching.  When the Jewish officials found out they were not in the jail, and that everything was locked up tight and the guards were still guarding, they were perplexed at that was happening and what would come of the situation.

Just as they were wondering about the situation, someone, we are not told who, came reported to them that the men from the prison were now standing in the temple and teaching the people all over again.  This caused the captain of the guard to go and try to arrest them, but instead they basically talked the disciples into returning to answer questions about what they were doing.

While they were trying to figure out how to stop them, Gamaliel stood up and offered his wisdom.  He said that others had come claiming to be a deliverer, but when they died, their following petered out.  His advice was this:

“So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

As I read this over again, I was challenged to ask myself, “Who is building the church?  Who is building this church?  Who is building The Church?”  If I am trying to build a church based upon the force of my personality, cleverness, innovation, or any other means of manipulating people into coming on board and being a part, it will fail.  If I am learning to follow Jesus with all of my heart and I am sharing what I am learning with others and they are learning, then God is building the church and to resist what He is doing is to fight against God.  No one has arms long enough to box God!

So, then, this began a period of soul-searching and introspection.  How am I leading?  How are we building our church?  Are we doing it?  Am I?  Is that why I get frustrated when they don’t do things my way?  Is that why it seems there is so little fruit?  If I am building it, it is not going to be much or amount to much.  If God is building it, then it will be all He wants it to be.

How would I know if I am building the church myself?  If I am constantly looking for ways to trick people into coming?  Yep, me.  If I am always worried about what people think of me, you got it.  It’s me.  If I tone down the gospel because it is not popular, it’s me.  If I insist on the songs I like, technology I find cool, Bible study topics that are my favorites, then, yes, it’s me.

So, what does it look like for God to build a church?  First, He will be its focus.  Not the personalities that run it.  Not the latest book, series, or videos.  The focus will be on bringing Him glory and serving Him.  Second, His Word will be central to all that it does.  The sermons will seek to understand Him and His Word.  The music will be in accordance with His Word.  Small groups will study His Word.  His Word will be spoken in its halls, classrooms, and even fellowship tables.  Third, His Mission will be the mission of the church.  While a lot of other activities may or may not be present, a commitment to the Great Commission will be evident.  Jesus said He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  A church being built by Him, for Him, and in His power will do what He is doing.  Lastly, the church will be marked by joy.  Joy in the Lord, His purposes and His people.

So, if this description is accurate, then we all need to take a look at our churches and ask who is building the church?  If it is a man, we are in trouble.  If it is God, we are in for a treat.



Anything Repeated Is Worth Remembering

Don't Forget

It seems like I have been in school almost the whole 48 years I have been alive.  My brother is two years older than I and he did not want to learn how to read, write or do math as my grandparents were attempting to prepare him for Kindergarten, so I learned instead.  That began a life of learning in one educational environment or another.  I learned to work jigsaw puzzles at 2.  I learned to read at 3.  I learned numbers and math at 4.  I then attended K-12th grade and went off to college.  I dropped out of college and went on active duty with the Navy where I went to a number of schools there.  I went back to college and got an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in business.  I went on to Seminary and got a master’s and a doctorate in ministry.  I finally went back to Seminary and got a second master’s degree in Church Planting.

Why do I share all of that?  To somehow impress you with my pedigree?  Hardly!  It is simply to layout for you why I know, when learning, anything repeated is worth remembering.  I cannot tell you how many teachers, professors, graduate assistants and administrators have told me that.  Even my Navy instructors told me, “If you hear it once, so what.  If you hear it twice, remember it because it will be on the test!”

What does that have to do with anyone not in school?  I am glad you asked.  Many people struggle with God’s will for their lives, but only because they have not applied this principle.  In Micah 6:8, the prophet, verbally and plenarily inspired by the Holy Spirit, told the people of Israel, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  (Micah 6:8, NASB)  First, in this verse, Micah says that the people have already been told this truth.  Search your concordance and you will not find these words verbatim, but you will find it repeated over and over throughout the Bible in many ways.

First, the Ten Commandments address this concept.  Remember the Ten Commandments?

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol…
  3. You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet…

If you look at the pattern, you see that the first four Commandments deal with walking humbly with your God.  The last six deal with doing justice and loving kindness to your neighbor.

Second, Jesus would later say all the law and prophets hang on loving God with all your heart mind soul and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself.  (Matthew 22:34-40) Third, a careful study of the Old Testament shows God punished the people when they got either one of these wrong.

What is God’s will for your life?  “To do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”  It is often repeated, you better remember it because it will be on the test.  The first and foremost way to walk humbly with God is to submit to the Lordship of His Son, Jesus.  This requires admitting to Him that you are a sinner and surrendering to His plan of dying on the cross for you.  You must give over control of your life and live out His instructions.  When you give your life to Him, you will have passed the test.  Remember…if you have ever heard this plan before, you have heard it twice now and it WILL be on the test.