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Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Does Your Belief in Jesus Look Like?



What Does Your Belief in Jesus Look Like?

 

We believe that Jesus Christ was with God the Father from the beginning of eternity and is part of the Trinity. (John 1:1)  That His appearance as Savior had been prophesied for centuries.  (Isaiah 9:6-7) And we believe that He came to save the world from sin. (John 3:16-17)  These are historical and traditional main beliefs of Christ’s Church. 

 

We believe from Scripture that Jesus went about performing miraculous deeds and healing the sick.  If we had been alive then we could have seen Him raise the dead.  And watch as He healed the sick. 

 

We believe that He died for us in the past and that He gives us eternal life in the future. It is comfortable to relegate Jesus to the past and to the future.  We can still keep Him at arms length that way!  And keep our faith in Jesus as a nice intellectual or traditional belief system.  We can stay in control that way and feel good about ourselves!  But Jesus doesn’t want to keep His relationship with us intellectual or distant.  He wants to get up close and personal with us.  He wants us to make room for Him in our hearts right now in the present?  

 

He calls us and keeps on calling us –keeps on knocking at the door of our heart!  Keeps on wanting in!  It is our call whether we let Him in or not!  Scripture says:  “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him or her, and he or she will eat with Me.” (Revelations 3:10)  Jesus desires to come into our lives and be with us - share with us – lead us.  Will we answer the call?  Say “yes” to His invitation?  Let Him in?  Things will never be the same if we do!  

 

Scripture says that Jesus will be here with us now if we open to Him.  He says He will never leave us or forsake us.  We believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world.   But do we believe that He is our here and now personal Savior?  Do we know we belong to Him?  Has our belief become an intimate possession?  Do we give Him our doubts and fears?  Our hopes and dreams?  Do we leave our problems with Him?  Do we know that He will ultimately overcome evil in the world? 

 

Do we let Him guide our lives – obey His Word?  Do we take time to pray and to listen for His voice?  He communes with us and dines with us and loves us with all His heart.  Do we enjoy sharing and dining with Him?  Do we love Him back with all our hearts?

 

To believe in Jesus is to commit to following Him –to obey – to wait for His leading.  Some of us only give Him part of our lives.  Part of our love. That isn’t good enough.   He wants it all!  Scripture says we are like sheep and we wander off each in our own direction.  There are so many paths to take in life and many of them lead to harmful and dangerous places.

 

 Scripture says that our Shepherd, - Jesus - wants to lead us (His sheep) off of the bad paths and onto the good paths.  He has good plans for us.  We were created to do good works in Him. (Ephesians 2:10)  If we plan our lives on our own we will stumble off onto paths that lead to nowhere because we don’t know the way.  But Scripture says that Jesus is the Way, (John 14:6) so to believe in Jesus is to let Him be our Way.

 

Wherever Jesus goes, drama goes.  When we read the Bible we find something powerful happening wherever Jesus went.  And often things would get messy.  People were either healed and transformed by Him or they would hate Him and plot to kill Him.  People were blessed and transformed by Him because Jesus is the “Life”.  (John 14:6)  And His abundant life means action and victory.  And Jesus is also called the “Light”.(John 14:6)   And the light is always a threat to those who love the darkness.

 

Our faith in Jesus is very valuable.  We belong to the “kingdom of heaven” when we believe in Christ.  Scripture compares the kingdom of heaven to a pearl of great price.  When a merchant looking for the most beautiful pearl finds it he goes out and sells everything he has so that he can purchase it.  And Scripture also compares the kingdom of heaven which is ours through Christ, to a great treasure hidden in a field.  When a person finds this treasure she sells all she has so that she can buy the field.  (Matthew 13:44-46)

 

We are kingdom people when we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord.  And our place in the kingdom is worth more than any other pursuit and requires our greatest love.  We should be ready to forsake any personal goal that hinders us from entering into the kingdom.  Follow Christ in the faith as He calls us to love and forgive one another.  And stay away from any teaching or activity or sin that would compromise or water down our precious faith.  

 

We are coming to the end of the year now. Another year has come and gone.  Scripture says: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare: before they spring into being I announce them to you.”  (Isaiah 42:9)  Let’s ask God to convict us in areas of our lives from this last year that need to change.  And let’s follow our Lord Jesus Christ into the New Year and into the new things that He has for us to do!      

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas outside the Wall

 
Christmas outside the Walls
 
The Christmas season is a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  And the Christmas season is also a time to celebrate family. Scripture says: “Oh how good and pleasant it is when family lives together in harmony.”  (Psalm 133:1) We picture Christmas with family laughing together around the dinner table and opening gifts around the tree. Family members sharing stories and playing games together, singing carols and going to church together. When we think of Christmas we think of family.
 
But then there are people who don’t have family to be a part of on Christmas.  Death has separated these sad ones from a beloved family member. Every year churches open their doors for “blue” Christmas services for grieving widows and widowers who have lost spouses or for bereaving children whose parents have died. 
 
But sometimes arguments or even abandonment can separate people from the warmth and belonging that family should bring at Christmas as well as every day. As the smells of Christmas cooking and the noise of love and laughter drift by from other family groups celebrating Christmas together, these ones without family sit alone at Christmas often feeling rejected and bitter. They say that Christmas is the loneliest time of the year for these ones without family- these ones who spend their Christmases alone - outside the wall.     
 
We celebrate Jesus’ birth on Christmas because Jesus saves us from our sins.  Ephesians 2:13 says: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  Scripture says that long ago only the Jewish nation had God’s promises and our Gentile ancestors were far away from God.  Jews and Gentiles could not eat together since Jews were “circumcised” and the Gentiles were “uncircumcised.”  The Jews who were “clean” were prejudiced against the Gentiles who were “unclean.”  And the Gentiles were hostile towards their Jewish neighbors too. (Ephesians 2)  There was a dividing wall that separated them.
 
But Jesus came to tear down the dividing wall!  To break down separation.  To put us back together. Scripture says: “for He himself is our peace, who has made the two one, and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...  His purpose was to make the two into one in Himself.  Thus making peace and reconciling both the Jew and the Gentile to God through the cross by which He put to death their hostility.  Jesus came to preach peace – to you who were far away from God and peace to those who were near to God… In Him you are all being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”  (Ephesians 2: 14, 15b, 16, 17, 22)
 
We celebrate the good news of Christmas because Jesus came into the world to tear down the wall (of sin) that separates us from God and from one another.  We sing Christmas carols about His wonderful Gift to us – His love and His forgiveness.  We kneel and we pray, we light candles, and give gifts and offerings. The tinsel, the tree, the baby Jesus, the festive dinner, the Christmas music! It is a holy time.
 
But Jesus wants us to be more involved at Christmas than to just enjoy ourselves.  Jesus calls us to follow His example and tear down the walls in our lives that separate us from our loved ones! To share their burdens and be patient with the little annoyances they sometimes cause us.  To follow Jesus and forgive them like He forgives us. To spread His grace and love over all of our dealings.
 
We try to follow Jesus, but it is not easy. There are walls in our lives already sturdily in place that divide. If we look we may see strong walls of resentment we have built around ourselves – constructed for our protection!  And then walls of self-righteousness we set up to keep out those people who don’t measure up to our high standards.  And of course the walls of indifference that so easily pop up in our minds to separate us from all those people who are inferior.  And there are walls of fear that automatically appear at every turn.  So many walls in our lives!  What can we do?
 
We are comfortable with our walls but Jesus is not. He keeps calling. Calling us to open up to sharing His love.  He keeps urging us to tear down any walls of hate in our lives.  To keep the peace as much as we can. He keeps promising that we can do it if we follow where He is leading.  That He will be with us and give us the love to make it happen.
 
You may have tried to tear down the walls in your life and found that you cannot do it on your own.  But Jesus can do it through you!  Because of His birth we can have “new birth” or be “born again”.  The characteristics of the new birth is that we yield ourselves to God so that Christ’s spirit is formed in us and His nature begins to work through us.  Just as Our Lord came into human history 2,000 years ago, so He must come into our lives today.  Have we made room for Him to come into our lives?  Scripture says: “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)  If we make room for Him to be born in us He will give us the power to break down our walls and transform our lives . 
 
    
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Behold the Virgin Shall be with Child



 

Behold the Virgin Shall be with Child!

 

The prophet Isaiah wrote these words “Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).  These words were written about 750 years before Jesus was born.  And 750 years later, Matthew believed that the old prophecy of Isaiah was finally being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. 

 

Inspired by God, Matthew writes: “So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’”  (Matthew 22-23) 

 

One of Jesus’ names was to be “Immanuel”. The name Immanuel here declares the presence of God with His people. Also the angel told Joseph to name this baby “Jesus” and the name “Jesus” means “Yahweh (God) is Salvation.”  Jesus would be the long awaited Messiah.  Obviously the baby Jesus would be different from any other baby ever born. And His conception would be different from any other conception – in that He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus would be God and He would be human.  

 

The gospel of Matthew starts out with the genealogy of Jesus.  This genealogy demonstrates continuity between the Old Testament and Jesus and it also shows Jesus’ royal line in that Jesus was a Son of David.  And it also demonstrated Jesus’ link with Abraham the patriarch or father of the Jewish race in that Jesus was called a Son of Abraham. 

 

We usually read the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth from the gospel of Luke since Luke’s story is so beautifully written  - the shepherds and the wise men – the bright star and the angels singing in the heavens – the stable and the baby Jesus sleeping on the hay in the manger –  and Mary and Joseph standing watch over the Christ child.  And our Christmas carols reflect Luke’s miraculous story.

 

But when Matthew’s gospel describes Jesus’ birth, his words aren’t so magical, and they do not easily lend themselves to Christmas carols. Matthew jumps right in talking about the problems Jesus’ birth brings.  First he gives us a glimpse of the problems Mary’s pregnancy causes her with her fiancé Joseph.  Matthew writes: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to divorce her secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19). 

 

“But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  (Matthew 1:20-21) 

 

Biblical scholars tell us that there were no sexual relations during an ancient Jewish betrothal period, but an engaged couple like Mary and Joseph were considered to be “husband” and “wife” and their engagement could only be broken by divorce.  Matthew uses the terms “husband” and “wife” for Joseph and Mary before they were married.

 

Joseph obviously did not believe Mary when she told him that she was pregnant and that she had not had sex with another man. A pregnant virgin – impossible!  It had never happened before – or since – so how could Joseph believe that Mary could be the only woman in the world who became pregnant without having sex?  He wasn’t stupid, was he?  

 

Mary told Joseph about Gabriel, the bright angel that had appeared to her bringing news that she would become pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. And she told him about this same angel who had promised that she would give birth to the Son of God, the One who would save His people from their sins!  That yes, she was the only virgin to ever be pregnant with a child, but her Child would be the only Child to save His people from their sins!  A miraculous pregnancy and a miraculous Baby!

 

 But this was all too much for poor Joseph to take in. All he knew was that the woman he loved - the woman he had trusted – the woman he called his “wife” -this woman had betrayed him and was pregnant with someone else’s baby! And soon the whole village would be whispering about it.  It must have been humiliating and painful – not only for Joseph but also for Mary.

 

We are not told how Mary felt in all of this. She had wanted God’s Will in her life.  But submitting to God’s will was already causing her to lose her man. She had counted on her Joseph to be there for her and to believe her when she told him about how the angel had given her this wonderful news.  But instead Joseph had become angry with Mary’s news of the Baby. He didn’t believe one word of her story. He thought she was lying. And he didn’t leave room for God in her story either! So Mary was pregnant and watching the man she loved reject her and walk out of her life.  And while he was walking away he promised that a shameful divorce would soon follow.  At least he was good enough not to have her stoned! 

 

But then God stepped in and took care of the misunderstanding.  God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream and told Joseph that what Mary had told him really was true!  That Mary was indeed pregnant by the Holy Spirit and that she truly would give birth to a Son who would save His people from their sins!  And they should call His name “Jesus”. 

 

Matthew continues the Christmas story by telling us that Joseph woke up from his dream and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and he took Mary to be his wife. Joseph and Mary later traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.  And wise men or Magi from the East came to Jerusalem asking where they could find the king of the Jews.  They had seen His star and they had come to worship Him. 

 

Matthew now describes a second problem that the birth of Jesus brings!  It seems when Jesus came into the world as a baby two thousand years ago, His birth caused problems for some. And when He comes into our lives and world today, it is the same. His Presence with us can also cause problems from a rejecting world. 

 

Matthew begins by telling of how Herod, the evil king at that time, was troubled by these traveling Magi asking where the new baby king of the Jews could be found. Who was this “new king” they were asking about anyway?  Herod was the only “king” the Jews could have!  How dare they talk of a “new king” being born!  Jealously and rage filled Herod’s heart.  He asked the wise men to return to his palace after they had found this “new king”.  Return and tell him where this baby king was so that he could go and “worship” him also.   (King Herod had no intention of worshipping Jesus!) 

 

The wise men or Magi followed the star to Bethlehem and Scripture says that these men “rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”  (Matthew 2:10b)  It seems that Jesus’ presence brought exceeding great joy back then and His presence in our lives brings us exceeding joy today!  And when the wise men came before the baby Jesus and His mother Mary, they fell down and worshipped Him. And they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi were probably Gentiles.  Matthew shows that people of all nations acknowledge that Jesus is “king of the Jews” and we Gentiles come to worship Him as Lord like the wise men did.  But God warned the wise men in a dream not to return to the wicked Herod and tell him where Jesus was but to travel back to their country another way.

 

King Herod waited for the wise men to return and tell him where he could find this “new king” – the baby Jesus.  But when the wise men never returned to Herod with that information, he flew into a rage.

 

 When the wise men had first asked King Herod where to find this new king, the scribes and religious scholars of the day had come before King Herod and referred to an Old Testament prophecy in Micah as to where the new king would be born.  There are many prophecies in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus’ birth, but this one in Micah says that the Messiah or king will come out of the town of Bethlehem.  This scripture reads: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me, the One to be ruler in Israel.  Whose goings forth are from of old and from everlasting.”  (Micah 5:2) 

 

The scribes and the religious scholars believed from studying Scripture that their Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They referred to Micah’s prophecy when the wise men asked where He might be found. Yet none of those ancient theologians bothered to accompany the wise men to Bethlehem (a 7 mile journey) to see if, indeed, the Messiah had been born!

 

The little town of Bethlehem is now a point of pilgrimage for thousands of Christians yearly.  But let us learn from those scribes and religious leaders in Jesus’ time who knew all the right answers but did not make that first pilgrimage to Bethlehem. They knew where their Savior was to be born from studying prophecy but they did not love Him enough to go find Him for themselves.

 

 Today neither our orthodoxy, biblical knowledge, nor church attendance guarantees that we will see what God is doing in our midst. We can know all of the correct answers like the religious leaders of old did and yet miss the Savior! Let’s be willing to love Him enough to follow the leading of God and His Word wherever it may lead.   

 

     

 

 

 

        

 

  

 


Friday, December 6, 2013

Your Faith in God is All Important




Your Faith in God is All Important

 

The Bible says: “Without faith it is impossible to please God,…”  (Hebrews 11:6)  It sounds like no matter how intelligent we are or how many good works we have done, we still can not please God unless we have faith in Him.  Martin Luther wrote: “Faith is the angelic messenger between the soul and the Lord Jesus in glory.  Let that angel of faith be withdrawn, and we can neither send up prayer, nor receive the answers.  Faith is the telegraphic wire which links earth and heaven …”   And Scripture also says: “Everything is possible to him who has faith in God.”  (Mark 9:23)  Everywhere in Scripture we read again and again that our faith in God is all important.

 

The Bible says that God has given each one of us a measure of faith.  (Romans 12:3)  Our faith is alive and active and there are steps we can take to nurture the measure of faith that God has given us and to help it grow.  For starters Scripture says: “Faith comes by hearing – hearing the Word of God.” (Romans 10:7)  So we can build up our faith by reading and meditating on God’s Word.

 

 When we have faith in God the promises in the Bible are ours.  The promise in Second Corinthians 12:9 is ours.  “My grace is sufficient for you.”  God’s grace is sufficient for any need we have, whether finances or relationships or health or any other need.  God is ready to help us as we respond to Him with faith.  By faith we can stand on the many wonderful Biblical promises!  

 

We operate by faith in something all of the time.  When we drive our cars we put faith in the brakes to work and when we reach out to a close family member we have faith that they will be there to answer us (but sometimes humans fail us).  Even though God never fails us, having faith in an invisible God is different since we can not physically see Him, the way we see the smile on our relative’s face.  But when we want to know God, He will be there: Scripture says: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  (James 4:8)  And when we read the Bible we can see through the eyes of faith that the God of the Bible comes through for His own, even if sometimes it is after death. 

 

A person isn’t a football player unless he actually plays football.  And a person does not have faith unless he puts it into practice since faith is active.  Scripture says: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-17)  We can “practice” faith by joining a Bible study or going to church or giving to the poor or helping out where we are needed.  We can give our lives to God and trust Him for each new day.      

 

Faith was so important to God that Scripture says that He blessed Abraham and his children (the Jewish people) simply because Abraham had faith in God.  “Abraham did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith …” (Romans 4:20)  We humans seem to think that God is pleased with our service and our work.  But more than that, God wants to be trusted and loved. And he wants us to be dependent upon Him – have faith in Him.  And that is what Abraham did, according to Scripture.  He simply trusted God. 

 

Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible.  Faith begins where human power ends.  When we come to the end of ourselves we come to the beginning of God.  God promises to be with us and He asks us to give Him our lives and our problems.  If we do not believe in anything that we can not touch or see or hear then we will have trouble learning to walk in faith.  But life does not consist just of what we can see and hear and touch.  We may not physically see God but we do see His handiwork all around us.  If we open our hearts to God we will see Him.  Scripture says: “A fool says in his heart that there is no God” (Psalm 14:1)   

 

We have faith in many things.  Sometimes we may have more faith in ourselves than in God.  We can be convinced that we are in control of our own world.  It’s easy to be proud of our own capacities and forget that God gave us those capacities.  Or despair when we have troubles that are outside of our control.  And we forget that God promises to be with us and nothing is outside of His control

 

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”  (Matthew 17:20)  I have heard that a mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds there is.  So Jesus is telling us that even though our faith may be the size of a tiny mustard seed, with God it is enough to do big things.  Jesus is encouraging us to use the little faith that we have. That when we pray we don’t have to have but a little faith for God to answer – to move our mountains. 

 

What is the mountain in your life?  Loneliness, loss of a job, health issues, a wounded relationship, trouble at home?  Let’s give our mountain to God and use our mustard seed sized faith to trust God to take care of our problem. He may move our mountain right away or He may move the mountain in the future.  But let’s let go and let God take care of it. 

 

Martin Luther wrote that having faith in the God of the Bible gives us confidence and makes us happy, joyful and bold in our relationship with God and with others. The Holy Spirit makes this magic happen through faith.  When we have faith we joyfully want to do good to others (Gal.5:6) And this precious faith bubbles up in our lives and makes us want to serve and love and praise God.  Jesus describes it this way: “He that believes in Me, rivers of living water will flow out from his heart.”  (John 7:38)  Have you seen that joy and confidence that faith brings in the lives of fellow Christians? 

 

The person with faith in God becomes a channel through which God’s blessings flow to other individuals.  Having faith in Christ changes our lives and causes us to do things we would not have done if we did not have faith.  Faith in God is all important, so let’s ask God for more faith!