Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Blessings of Christmas

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
-- Luke 2:10-11 ESV

To kids, sometimes all Christmas means is toys and presents.  They get easily distracted by these gifts and forget everything else.   Don't we sometimes forget as adults too?  We can get so distracted by travelling, by gift purchases, by sending out cards, and by preparing for the feasts that we lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.  Christmas was invented by men long ago to celebrate the birth of Christ.

The Christmas season is one where we do get very busy but we are also reminded of the birth of Christ by what is all around us.  Even though it may not be a religious day for many people, they do acknowledge that it is a day about the birth of Christ.  As Christians, we need to remember the birth of Christ not only during this busy season when our minds are overly occupied, but at all times throughout the year.  For without Christ's birth, we would not have the blessing of his life to model ours after. Without Christ's birth, we would not have the blessing of his life story and the story of his disciples to read.  Without Christ's birth, we would not have the blessing of his death on the cross to purify us before God. Without Christ's birth, we would not have the blessing of his resurrection to show us death is defeated for those who believe.  Without Christ's birth, we would not know the true extent and depth of the grace and love of our Father.

We must remember Christ's life and let it dwell richly in our hearts if we are truly to call ourselves Christians, not just on Christmas day or in the Christmas season, but all of our lives.  Jesus is Christ the Lord. He came to Earth to find lost people and offer them salvation from themselves.  And he did just that, perfectly.  We can help each other remember Christ all year round.   We can help each other live our lives in the love of God and the joy of Christ's life.  We can share Christ's light with one another and all we meet if we always remember that it all started with the birth of the son of God in a lowly manger in Bethlehem one night thousands of years ago.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
-- Luke 2:14

I Need To Test All Things

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
-- Acts 17:11 NIV

We are all on our own spiritual journey through this life and have to work out things for ourselves and live by our choices (Philippians 2:12-13).  We are taught the way that God wants us to live our lives through His words in the Bible but sometimes we feel the need to answer the callings of our heart and learn things for ourselves.   We come to believe that God would want us to be happy in whatever we want to do and so we step out on our own understanding.   Or we can think that God is not there for us because He wouldn't make life so difficult to bear so we tend to forget Him as we live our lives as best we see fit.  But as in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15:11-32, in all these times God is there waiting for us to turn to Him.  God is the source of eternal life and has revealed His nature and ways through His word and His love for us all through His son Jesus (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 3:16-17).

I became a Christian late in my life, just 13 years ago, but I almost always knew that God was there.  I never truly doubted Him, I just ignored Him and did things my own way often times choosing a dark path.  Since becoming a Christian, there have been many times where I wished God was different and wanted different things for me, that He would understand me and my needs better and not make it so hard on me.  But then I remember, wait, this is the creator of the universe who didn't have to create me but did, a loving father who sacrificed His own son that I might be in His joyful presence eternally.  I don't understand why, and many times I know I don't deserve it, but He did that for me and for all of us.  And He continues to be there for me even still.  I don't have all the answers, not even close.  I just know my life is so much better since I decided to follow Jesus as I read about Him in the bible.  It is my constant prayer that I seek God where He is and not just where I want Him to be, and that I remember that His love is always available to those who walk in His light (1 John 1:6-10).   I will keep on praying no matter what is going on in my life, good or bad,  and sincerely try to always look to scripture to find out if the things that people say are true (Acts 17:11).  I want to embrace His Spirit in all that I do (Colossians 3:17) and do that which He asks of me in scripture, always loving Him with all my mind, heart, soul and strength (Matthew 22:36-40).   I hope that as I walk on my journey I can share God’s light within me by showing others the way and offering the hope they need (2 Timothy 2:15, Mark 16:15).  If together we test all things against God’s word and align our hearts with God’s nature, even though we stumble, we can never fail.

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
-- Jude 1:24-25

Listen to Our Hearts

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  
-- Galatians 4:4-7 NLT

I write software for a living and as such have a pretty logical mind.  It helps in my line of work as the computer will do exactly what I tell it to, no more, no less, and it will do it very fast.  It doesn’t care if what I tell it to do is right or wrong; it has no emotion about it at all.  It won't do anything but what I tell it, even if it is wrong and turns the computer into a smoking hole.  So getting things in the right order and having all the steps needed to do something is kind of second nature to me at work.  And I find that sometimes I treat my study of God’s word and what He wants me to do in this life in that way.  All the steps are there in the Bible for me to follow.  If I just do those in that way, then it will all work out.

We tend to think that logic and emotion are two separate things, that they don’t coincide.  People might say “if you could just put aside your emotions for a second we could talk rationally.”  But we can’t seem to do that.  Some emotions are very logical.  Things like loving your child , being attached to your family, and disliking evil are all emotions but are very logical for survival.  They all make sense on both on a personal level and on the grander scale of humanity.  This is all because this is how God designed us.  In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus said “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  God created us with both emotions and reasoning and He intended that we should use both.  We're not meant to be robots reasoning things through without feelings.  We are instead meant to be so much more.

If we read Luke 10:25-37, we see the story of the Good Samaritan.  The priest and the temple assistant (Levite), men of great wisdom and learning of the day, walked on by.  The Samaritan felt compassion for the man who was attacked and so he helped him.  It was his emotion that made the logical action of helping the man seem so natural.  So remember that God wants us to listen to our hearts.  He wants us to know that feeling the Spirit within ourselves and sharing that joy is just as important as knowing what it means to be a Christian and living the life.  Share your joy today and watch as everything else just seems to make sense.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Speak the Truth in Love

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  
-- Ephesians 4:15

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
-- John 8:31-32

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
-- Romans 13:8-9

Did you ever say something and then realize oops, that didn't come out right?  You may have been right about everything but either the way you said it or how it was taken just made it all wrong.  It's hard to take that back sometimes, hard to explain that you didn't mean it that way.  And the damage is done; the message is lost not because of the message but because of the delivery.  God knows this about us and gave us the way to get around this.  In order to speak the truth, we must know it.  And as we see in John 8:31-32, the truth is in Jesus teachings as we find in God's word.  Read it, study it, embrace it and learn from it.  Only in that way can you speak of what you find there.

If we then are to speak these truths in love, does that mean we do so with all these warm fuzzy feelings or does it mean something more?  It is not the same love as we have for football or pizza or whatever which makes us feel good when we experience it.  That is too shallow a love.  The love we are to have for our neighbor is based on the love we have for God and what He has done for us. It is a deep soul changing love that guides our daily walk and lasts forever.  We can try to speak the truth to others with gentleness or only pleasing words so as not to offend them but that can lead to a shallow understanding on their part that never takes root.  We can speak the truth no matter how harsh saying it is out of love for them but then they reject that harshness and thus the message.  We need to remember that oftentimes people are not as afraid of God's eternal judgement as they are of our judgement here and now.  What is really needed is to be scripturally sound and humanly compassionate.  On many occasions, Jesus would simply tell people the truth of their sin and then the message of hope and forgiveness and leave it to them to decide.  The need for following Christ has to be the desire of that person's heart and soul and neither we nor our God can give that to them. All we can do is reaffirm to her that we love them and want for them what God has given to us.  If we remember God's hope in us, faith in us, and best of all love for us, and we know the truth from knowing and believeing in His word and embracing His son Jesus, we can speak what we know in love and let them decide.

Dearly Loved Children

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
-- Ephesians 5:1-2

Parents love their children.  Even when their children make it hard to love them, we love them nevertheless. It's part of our design as human version 1.0; we parents just can't help it.  And so it is with God since we are designed in His image.  The message that God loves us, His children, is so often repeated in the New Testament that you would have to go out of your way to ignore it.  And as our children imitate our behaviors and traits, Paul asks us to imitate God in the same way.  We need to imitate Him in our love for one another, in our goodness towards all, in our forgiveness for when others wrong us, and in our patience with those who do not follow in His way.  God does this for us and so we in turn should learn from that example and walk in the same loving way He does as best we can.

As parents, we understand that our children not only look like us to a great degree, but follow our example in what they say and do.  When we do good things, they follow that.  When we do bad things, they follow that too.  When we say good things, our children repeat them.  When we say bad things, our children can repeat them too, much to our embarrassment.  Children have no greater example to follow than their parents.  They learn to interact with the world through watching how we do it and imitating that example.  As children, we look to our parents for how to do things. We don't know anything else for a very long time.  We know that is why they are there and we love them because they love us and help us.  We can learn the hard way that doing or saying the wrong things just because our parents did is not always acceptable.  And so we learn to imitate the good examples and ignore the bad ones.

God gave us all the example we will ever need in Christ Jesus.  Jesus is the ultimate example of the most free and generous love that ever was. We can all take great comfort in knowing that He loved us all so much that he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  It is all the proof we will need of His love.  So let us all walk together in love for God, for Christ, and for each other and imitate the example God has placed before us in Jesus as best we can. 

The Rainy Day

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
James 1:2-3

In his poem "The Rainy Day", Longfellow concludes "Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary".  While the poem starts our gloomy, it ends with the realization that everyone has to deal with dark things at times in their lives but at the end of every one of them, there is hope and sunshine.  It seems to me that it is easy to fall into a funk but so difficult to get out of it.  I think we can allow ourselves to dwell on the gloomy and dark things a bit too much and we miss the fact that God is there waiting and wanting to help us.  We can sometimes get lost in our sadness and can no longer see a way out and then fall easy prey to temptations.

God promises to us that there is always a way out as we read in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.".  Notice that it doesn't say He will do this for you sometimes but that there are some things He just won't help you with.  He will not abandon you.  He has a plan for you.  He loves you more that you can really understand. Like the sun behind the clouds in Longfellow's poem, He is there.  If He is there when we fail Him, how much more will He be there when we are hurting?  Some trials are really hard to bear.  Regardless of what we know and how hard we try to maintain our faith, some hard times are just going to hurt.  And then we can get easily confused and angry and ask God what He thinks He is doing.  But as James points out, these trials are designed to build our trust in God.  Rather than go it alone, believe in your faith, trust in it, and seek God all the more.

If we remember Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose", we can make it through anything.  There is some purpose in our dark days, ones we may not understand just yet. But God is love and is always there for each and every one of us. Seek Him out even more so in the dark times and He will show you the way.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Worship and Praise

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!
Psalm 117:1-2

As a kid, when we received a gift we usually shouted with joy.  We could not contain ourselves; we jumped and hollered and sometimes even remembered to say thanks. And if we did remember, it was usually something like,”thankyou!!!thankyou!!!thankyou!!!thankyou!!!!"  The Bible is an amazing and wonderful gift from God.  It contains everything we would ever need to know to live our lives in peace within ourselves and with each other (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  As we see in those words, Jesus was the ultimate gift from God, the gift of eternal salvation for those who believe (John 3:16). God has done so many things to show us that He loves us, doesn't want us to be miserable, and wants us to have eternal life in heaven with Him that we cannot help but be thankful and sing praises to Him.

Many people think that praise and worship is only singing songs at church and being there on Sunday mornings to do the Lord's supper and hear a sermon.  But God tells us how to praise and worship Him in His word. John 4:23 says, "But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him."  God wants us to worship him with sincere hearts, hearts full of love for Christ and for each other.  If we do this, it doesn't matter if we are in a special building at a certain time or we do the various things we see as patterns in the bible in a certain order.  Paul discusses a style of worship in 1 Corinthians 14 that had apparently gotten out of hand due to spiritual gifts they had received.  Rather than let them continue down that path, he states that "all things should be done decently and in order" (v. 40) so that unbelievers might come to know Jesus and believers could be increased in their faith. And so we should strive to ensure that as we come together, we should align hearts and minds to thoughts of Christ and God's great gifts to us. We should exalt God and express our love and awe to Him who gives us more than we deserve. We should make sure that we do our own little parts in harmony with one another to ensure that the message that we love Him is received by God and by all those in attendance.  

So leave your life’s baggage at the door when you come in. God knows of these things and will answer your prayers.  Be on time and prepared if you are on the worship team to make sure everything is in order. And be sure to take the love and peace that you feel as you worship and let that be the everyday you that everyone else sees so that they know that you "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5)