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Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas. Show all posts

Monday, December 11, 2017

Real Peace


Introduction
            Advent--the four weeks leading up to Christmas--are a season of waiting as we prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth.  However, Jesus said he would come again to bring a New Heaven and  a New Earth.  Advent is also to prepare so we will be ready when Jesus comes.  No one knows the day or our of Christ's return for the world; it could be in the next moment or in a thousand years.  However, everyone can be sure Christ will come for them individually in their life time--for no one escapes death and when we die we will each see Jesus face to face.  Will you be ready?  Can you be at peace with your inevitable personal encounter with the second coming of the Son of God?  now is the time to prepare so you can have real peace.

Luke 2:(8-12,) 13-14
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
   and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

A Fear Evoking Sight
          Verse 14 is the key verse I want you to consider.  The angels sang, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
            It is no wonder the angel started his message by saying, “Don’t be afraid!”  It would be quite frightening to see an angel appear in the middle of the night.  The shepherds were prepared to protect their sheep from wild animals and thieves, but what do you do with an angelic being?  And then it was not just one angel, it was a whole army from heaven!
            Peace?  Really? And army is designed for fighting and killing and war.  They come bearing weapons.  And this army is a host of angels!  That is not the kind of thing that makes me think of peace!  So the angel assured them toey came to bring peace and there was no need to be afraid.
            How freeing and exciting it can be when we witness something of amazing power and majesty and also know we have nothing to fear.  I think that may have been how Jesus felt.  Remember the time a terribly fierce storm arose while he and the disciples were out on a boat?  The disciples are afraid for their life, but Jesus is asleep.  You see, he had nothing to fear from the storm.  His only concern was the cross he would be nailed to one day.  So he could enjoy the storm--marveling in the power and wonder of it or let the wind and wave and thunder sing him to peaceful sleep. 
            Are you afraid of the thunder?  What if you were absolutely certain the storm would not harm you?  Could you then just watch and enjoy the thrill and beauty of it all?  What about life?  What about the eventual end that awaits us all? 

Real Peace
           Real peace is knowing Jesus is Lord of all and submitting to Him.  Surrender to him is the source of true peace.  When the armies of heaven come, the only ones who need to fear are those who fight against them or who are enemies of God.  But Jesus forgives everyone who truly surrenders and accepts him as Lord.  Those, he saves. 
            Surrender means trusting in God’s way, not ours.  And we have to accept that God’s way is not our way.  Things will have to change.  We have to find peace with the changes God brings as He rights all the wrongs in our world and our lives.

            You can have real peace because of what Christ has already done for you.  The Bad News is we have all sinned and fallen short of God's glorious standard (Romans 3:23).  No one can be good enough to earn God's love or favor.  And unfortunately, the consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).  So, anyone who tries to win God over by the things they do is bound to fail miserably.  Not only will you fail miserably to bring peace and order and fulfillment to your life, you will also live in fear of as an rebellious enemy of God.  That is the Bad News, but the angels came to bring Good News and here it is!
            The Good News is God sent Jesus to be born as a human being, to live as one of us (but without sin), and to die to cover the consequences of our sin.  So we don’t have to be guilty or ashamed or afraid.  God, through Jesus Christ, has already done everything that needs to be done.  As Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.”
            Now, that doesn’t mean we do nothing.  First of all, we have to surrender.  The war is over.  God has won.  He offers forgiveness and reconciliation to all who surrender.  Second, Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a master who went away on a trip.  He put the servants in charge until his return.  Now the servants must decide if they are going to do the Master's will or if they will just goof off until the Master returns.  What will the Master find His servant's doing when He returns?
            Over the next few weeks, many of you will receive guests in home for the holidays.  Many of you are preparing for your guest even now--cleaning, vacuuming, mopping, washing, putting things away.  But what if you're guest showed up a few days early?  Would you be ready?  Or would you be ashamed your guests would find your home in disarray with things still out on the counter your didn't want them to see?  It would be better if we all just kept our homes clean all the time so we would have nothing to be ashamed of if a guest came unexpectedly.
            Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour when he will return (he doesn't even know himself, only God knows).  Therefore, we should always strive to always have you life in order, to be doing the things Christ asks his followers to do.  That way we will have nothing to fear and we can have real peace.  So live your life in such a way that people always know you love them and nothing is ever left undone or unsaid that need to be done and said. 


Let There Be Peace on Earth             Real Peace starts with you and spreads to those around you.  It starts with the choice you make today, right now.  It continues with the choices you make as you start each new day as you choose to follow Jesus’ plan instead of your own until Jesus’ plan is your plan.  It spreads as you share the Good News and love of Jesus with everyone around you.  Before you know it, peace spread further and further as more and more surrender to the true Lord of Heaven and Earth.
            United Methodists have a wonderful Hymn in our hymnal written by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson.  Here is an excerpt about the song from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-let-there-be-peace-on-earth.

Jill Jackson shared the story of how the song was written:  “When I attempted suicide [in 1944] and I didn’t succeed, I knew for the first time unconditional love—which God is. You are totally loved, totally accepted, just the way you are. In that moment I was not allowed to die, and something happened to me, which is very difficult to explain. I had an eternal moment of truth, in which I knew I was loved, and I knew I was here for a purpose.”  This realization was followed by years of exploring her spiritual nature and her relationship with God.
In 1955, Jill wrote the lyrics for “Let There Be Peace on Earth” while her husband wrote the melody. The song was introduced at a retreat for a group of young people.  Sy Miller wrote about the effect of the song: “One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment—‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’—helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.
“When they came down from the mountain, these inspired young people brought the song with them and started sharing it. And, as though on wings, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ began an amazing journey around the globe. It traveled first, of course, with the young campers back to their homes and schools, churches and clubs.”
Miller noted that the song was then shared in all 50 states at school graduations, PTA meetings, holiday gatherings, celebrations of Brotherhood Week, Veterans Day, Human Rights Day and United Nations Day. Kiwanis clubs sang it, as well as 4-H clubs, United Auto Workers, the American Legion, etc.  The song was taped, copied, printed in songbooks and passed by word of mouth. Eventually it spread overseas, sung by Maoris in New Zealand and Zulus in Africa.  The song has been recorded by a host of vocal artists including Tennessee Ernie Ford, Pat Boone, Johnny Mathis, and Harry Connick Jr.
It received the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge for “Outstanding achievement in helping to bring about a better understanding of the American Way of Life.” The National Conference of Christians and Jews has also honored the composers with the Brotherhood Award.  In 2009 Random House published “Let There Be Peace on Earth” as a children’s book.

            All this from a song written and sung at a retreat for a bunch of kids.  It’s amazing how Real Peace can spread when you and I make a choice to let the peace of Jesus live inside our hearts and share it with everyone we meet.  Will you make that choice today?  Pray about it as you listen to these words of the song:

Let There Be Peace on Earth
(#431, The United Methodist Hymnal)
Let There Be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me.
Let There Be Peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to be!
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me. Let this be the moment now.
With every breath I take, let this be my solemn vow;
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally!
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Real Hope

Introduction
            It's never easy to wait, but waiting implies you have hope.  Over the Thanksgiving break, I found I was waiting with hopeful anticipation for my son to make it home from college in Huntsville.  I was looking forward to seeing and spending time with him.  It was a similar feeling we had with each of our children as we waited for them to be born.  The pregnancies were a long wait--nine months--but they were full of an expectant hope.  We knew they would result in great joy when the waiting is over.
            Advent--the four weeks leading up to Christmas--are a season of waiting as we prepare for the celebration of Christ's birth.  However, Advent is also a reminder that we are waiting for Christ's second coming and that we are to prepare so we will be ready when he comes.  As we wait, as we prepare, let's consider if our waiting includes real hope.
          
 Luke 2:25-35 25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
    as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
    and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” 


Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory
            As I read that passage about Simeon meeting the baby Jesus, a song comes to mind that we often sing--not at Christmas--but at patriotic times.  It goes, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”  The song is the Battle Hymn of the Republic and it speaks of the second coming of the Lord, but it also echoes Simeon's sentiments as he held baby Jesus in the Temple.
            Simeon was a man of hope.  When he looked around, he saw a broken world.  However, Simeon believed God would not leave the world a broken mess.  Simeon hoped for a Savior and the Holy Spirit ensured Simeon he would not die until the Messiah came. Simeon believed.  His hopeful words to Mary and Joseph reveal the kind of Savior Messiah Jesus is.
            Simeon said the Savior Messiah was "...prepared for all people" and "a light to reveal God to all nations."  Simeon was a Jew, a child of Abraham, God's chosen people.  However, Simeon testified that the Messiah was not just for the Jews; He came to give light to all people from every nation and race.
            Simeon said the Messiah Savior was "the glory of Israel".  Many religious people today like to say the Israelites are "God's chosen people."  But what were they chose for?  Was it simply to enjoy God's special treatment at the expense of others?  Were they chosen to get a pass to do whatever they like?  No.  Israel was chosen to be a light that reveals God to all nations.  Jesus is the glory of Israel because he is the fulfillment of their purpose.  Jesus is THE LIGHT that reveals God perfectly to all nations.
            Jesus was born and lived a perfect life to show us the way.  Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins.  Jesus rose from the grave to conquer the power of sin and death.  Jesus ascended to Heaven to sit at the right hand of God to rule in glory.  However, the story doesn't end there.  We believe Jesus will come again. 
            As the Disciples watched Jesus ascend to Heaven in the first chapter of Acts, a man robed in white appeared before them and proclaimed they would see Jesus return in the clouds just as they had seen him ascend.  Christians profess our faith in this second coming even in the 21st century as we recite the Apostles' Creed.  We say: "...He will come again to judge the living and the dead."
           The second coming of Christ will occur in two senses.  First, Jesus will come in a communal sense.  As he ascended in the clouds, so he will descend again for the whole world to see.  This will be his final second coming and it will be for the whole world all at once.  We don't know when Jesus will come again in this way.  We wait with expectant hope for Jesus to come and finally fix all that is broken in our world, but we don't know if it will happen in our lifetime.  We have been already been waiting some 2,000 years and it has not happened yet.  It could be another 2,000 years before he comes; however, it could also be within the next few moments.  "No one knows," as Jesus said in Matthew 24:36, "the day or hour these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows."
            However, we can also think of Jesus coming in another sense, in a personal sense.  Jesus also comes for each of us personally.  His personal coming happens many times and each of us can be sure he will come for us individually in our lifetime--for no one lives forever.  Every person is going to have to face Jesus at some point.  Again, we don't know if this will be today, tomorrow, or years from now, but you can be sure you will not escape it any more than you can escape physical death.  Jesus is coming.  Is your heart full of hope as you wait or are you filled with dread at the thought?  Your answer depends greatly on how you prepare.

Real Hope Brings Peace
            Real hope in Jesus Christ brings peace.  Simeon's greatest hope was to see the Christ child before he died.  His hope was fulfilled and he was able to die in peace.  What a blessing!  Oh that we could all find a peace like Simeon’s because we place our hope in Christ.  Christ came to bring the Good News that all who trust and follow him as Lord and Savior shall not die, but have eternal life.  Jesus didn't come to condemn us, but to save us.  Everyone who has faith in him shall be saved, but those who reject Jesus have already judged themselves to be unworthy of God's grace.
            How awful it would be to achieve your life's ambition only to find it was empty and worthless and unfulfilling.  Perhaps that is the definition of hell.  There are many in our world who place their hope in all the wrong things:  money, careers, power, or people.  They strive, sacrificing their time, their families, their health, their lives, working their fingers to the bone all in the hope that their idols--their little gods--will bring them real satisfaction and fulfillment.  Some work their whole life chasing these false hopes.  Others release their dreams only to find them empty and so start to chase something else in hope that it will do the trick.  Nothing will bring real peace except a relationship with Christ.  He is the only real hope we have. 
            My hope as a minister of Jesus Christ is that everyone will realize their misdirected hope before it is too late, before they waste even one more ounce of time and effort on them.  My hope is that we will all come to Jesus and lay down your dead hopes before him.  Place your hope in Jesus and you will find peace.  Even when you come to the end of your life, you will be able to say with Simeon, "Now I can die in peace."

Real Hope Can Be Painful
            Our hope in Christ does not exclude trouble and suffering.  We still live in a broken world and Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  Sometimes we face resistance and trouble because we trust in Christ; the world opposes Christ and those who follow him.  Sometimes we have pain simply because life in a broken world can be hard.
            Simeon’s words to Mary are very telling.  He said at the end of verse 35:  “And a sword will pierce your very soul.”  Mary, as the mother of the Messiah Savior, was not spared suffering.  She faced perhaps the worst suffering a mother can ever face.  Even though her son was perfect in every way and did nothing but love and help people, she watched him despised, rejected, denied, betrayed, arrested, disrespected, tortured, and ultimately murdered on a cross.  No parent should ever have to witness the death of their child, let alone in such a cruel and unfair manner.  Yet Mary's greatest pain turned out to be her greatest glory--the salvation of the whole world.  Death was defeated!  Eternal life opened to all!  Jesus rose in glory!
            Sometimes real hope also includes the promise of real pain, but our hope is God will redeem all our pain and not an ounce of it will be wasted.  Our hope is that our most painful wounds will—like Mary’s—turn out to be the source of our greatest victories in the end.  So we join with the Apostle Paul's hopeful proclamation of faith, "Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later." (Romans 8:18)

Real Hope is Always With Us
            Our hope in Christ insures that any pain and suffering we experience in this life is infused with a sense of expectant hope.  It is like the pain of child birth.  It is said that giving birth is the most painful experience the human body can endure.  I was with my wife at the birth of each of our children and I can testify that what I saw looked intensely painful indeed!  However, the pain of giving birth is also infused with hope.  You know it will end in great joy as you meet your child for the first time face to face.  So the greatest pain of life culminates in its greatest joy.  So it is with the greatest sufferings we face in this life.  Have faith that our great suffering will culminate in the great joy of seeing Christ face to face.
             Also, have faith you do not go through any of it alone.  For Jesus said, "It is good that I go to be with the Father in Heaven.  For if I go, the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) will come and live inside you."  So the Holy Spirit of God lives inside every person who truly trusts in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  You do not walk through this life alone.  When you are facing your toughest battles, understand that Jesus is right their with you--living inside you--giving you strength to press on with real hope.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What If Churches Were More Like Football Stadiums?

The Satirical Truth As Far As I Can Tell…

Matthew 2:10-12 – 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

            The Wisemen traveled from far, far away to come worship the Savior who was born king of the Jews.  They counted it an honor and privilege to go to such great lengths to see baby Jesus and offer their precious gifts.  Oh that we all were as determined to worship Christ as were they.  
            I am always pondering ways to get more people in church to worship the King.  Football is king in the south.  People go to great lengths to see their favorite team play.  Millions flock into overcrowded stadiums each weekend.  Maybe what football stadiums do will work for the church.  You think?

What if we sold expensive tickets for admission?
            Attending church is free.  Sure, we take up an offering, but
it’s totally voluntary.  Maybe that’s the problem.  The cheapest ticket you could buy for the Nov. 10 Auburn/Georgia game was $189/seat (and that was in the nose bleed section).  Good seats on the home side of the 50 yard line were closer to $800-900/person.  So you couldn’t get your family of 5 seats at the game for less than $945.  With prices like that, our church could generate at least $100,000 per service in ticket sales alone.  The only problem I see here is determining which are the best seats in the House.  Most people want to sit up front and close to the action at the game, but usually on the back row in the church service. 

What if we made people pay for their programs?
            We hand out church bulletins for free and they usually end up in the trash or left in the pews after the service.  Last year’s Superbowl program sells online for $17.99 + tax and it’s a collector’s item.  Churches are tax exempt, so you’d still get a bargain if we sold ours at a comparable price.  We could earn thousands from program sales.  (Now we just need to figure out concessions—Holy Communion maybe?) 
Since people are dying to pay these exorbitant prices to squeeze into cramped stadium seats to watch sweaty athletes chase each other, surely they will flock to our church to sit in comfortable cushioned pews in a beautiful sanctuary to worship the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins.  Our sanctuary will be packed and our parking lot won’t be able to handle all the cars.  So…

We’ll need to charge for parking.
            People will pay $7 to park at the SEC championship game, but that’s 10 blocks away.  They’ll have to pay $40 dollars or more to get reasonably close.  Perhaps the church can be generous and just charge $20 for a spot in our lot and subcontract out the rest to nearby businesses.  Those parking lots will only cost $5-10 depending on how far away they are.

What if a church service was as long as a football game?
  No one will pay football prices for a 1 hour church service.  That’s just dumb.  The average football game last 3 hours (even though the ball is actually in play for only about 11 minutes).  People deserve to get what they pay for, so we’ll graciously extend the worship service to 3 hours.  Preachers need a lot more time to go deep anyway.  Think how fast we will be able to cure the biblical illiteracy and moral decline in our nation when we commit so much time, energy, effort, and money to worshiping and learning about Christ in church.  Of course, I’m no expert and I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but that’s the satirical Truth as far as I can tell…
Remember, God loves you and so do I!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Follow the Star, Part 4

Introduction
The Baby Jesus was born day some 2,000 years ago.  And ever since, we have been preparing for his return.  He shall come again--for he said he would.  In the meantime, we must to prepare for him, just as we prepared for Christmas.
Mary and Joseph prepared for him.  For an angel from God spoke to them both separately telling them about the coming child, who was to be the Messiah.  Sometimes God speaks directly (in a vision or a dream)--if we we are sensitive enough to hear.  Do you walk humbly and obediently with God every day, like Mary and Joseph, so your ears are tuned in to hear and obey God’s voice when he speaks?  Do you know Him so you will know when He speaks?
The Wisemen also received a sign, but it was more subtle.  They saw star in eastern sky.  There are millions of stars in the sky.  Why did this one start get there attention?  Sure, it was brighter than the rest, but how did they see that star and decide it was special when everyone else paid no attention?  The Jewish religious leaders in Bethlehem saw the same star hovering over Bethlehem and paid no attention.  They were so wrapped up in their own ambitions and the political intrigue of Jerusalem they missed God’s sign, at least until the Wisemen came asking questions that turn their world upside down.  Then they searched their own Scriptures and found the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem.  Are you so wrapped up in your own plans and aspirations that you are missing God’s signs pointing you to a better life?  Maybe it’s time to slow down, refocus, search the Scriptures, and see what God is trying to tell you?
The Shepherds also received a sign--a dramatic and frightening sign.  An army of angels filled up the night sky singing and praising God and announcing the Messiah’s birth.  Sometimes God signs are big and bold and impossible to miss.  God wants everyone to know the Good News about Jesus--even lowly shepherds--and He certainly wants you to know about Jesus.  But you must have the courage to listen and obey or it’s all for nothing.  Do you have the courage to listen and obey God?
But there is another way God speaks to us I want to share in the final blog of this series.  God speaks to us through important people.  We see an example in the Christmas story itself.  Listen to the Word of God...

Luke 2:25-38
25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
   as you have promised.
30 I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared for all people.
32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
   and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

36 Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. 37 Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer.38 She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Simeon and Anna
Here we have two VIPs in the Christmas story who tell Mary and Joseph and everyone willing to hear (including us) that Jesus is a very special child.  Jesus is the Messiah, the one God chose to save the Jewish people (and the whole world). Jesus will turn the whole order of the way the world works upside down.  He will humble the rich and powerful who do not care about God and exalt the poor and lowly who faithfully trust in Jesus. In the process, Jesus will reveal the Truth about who is on God’s side and who is not.
First, we have Simeon, who the Bible says was righteous and devout. Righteous is defined in the dictionary as acting in an virtuous, upright, and moral way.  We all know someone who is a good person, but Romans 4:5 says, “But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.”
Simeon was righteous and also devout. He was devoted to the worship and service of God.  While most people in the world are wrapped up in their own dreams and ambitions, there are a few devout people like Simeon who are totally focused on God.  These are people you should listen to. Simeon was righteous and devout and lead by the Holy Spirit and he told Mary and Joseph (and, through the Bible, the whole world) about Jesus.
There was also Anna, who was a prophet. A prophet (contrary to popular belief) is not someone who tells the future.  A prophet is someone who speaks God’s words. Like Simeon, Anna was devoted to God.  She was very old and had spent almost all her life in the Temple, fasting and praying.  We should listen to devoted people like Anna, who speak the Word of God.

Who Speaks God’s Wisdom to You Today?
Left to right: Rev. Jack Gillespie, Rev. Bob Beckwith,
Rev. Charlie Green, and Sara Brooker
There are people like Anna and Simeon in our world today.  People who are righteous (who live right and moral lives--but even more important--who trust God).  People who are devoted--not to their own dreams and aspirations, but--to God.  People who’ve gained wisdom through the Holy Spirit who lives in them.  Listen to them.  Seek their advice.  If you believe God is speaking to you, wants something from you, has given you a sign, or is leading you, consult with someone who can give you good advice.
Perhaps it is a Christian minister. I have had many preachers who spoke the Word of God to me and changed my life. There was Jack Gillespie and Bob Beckwith who were talented preachers whose inspiring sermons helped me hear God's call to be a preacher myself. Then there was Charlie Green, who was a pastor with the spiritual gift of caring who nutured me as I answered my call to the ministry. There are many different kinds of ministers with all kinds of gifts. Some are excellent preachers. Some are excellent pastors. Some are excellent administrators. Some are excellent counselors. No one person can be exceptionally gifted in all areas. Don't expect your minister to be all things. But perhaps you might find help in knowing God's will for you though a Christian minister.
We also have our Christian elders. I think of my own Grandma, who when I was only a young boy took my and and looked me in the eye and said, "Chris, one day you're going to be a preacher." I thought, "No way. You don't know what your talking about. That's not part of my plans or even on my mind." Looking back now after 30 years, I see Grandma was not delusional old lady. No, she was righteous and devout and filled with the Holy Spirit and I should have listened to her more while she was alive. Who are the elders in your life you should listen to who could be the voice of God to you? Or perhaps you have a good friend who is firm in the faith who can speak GOd's word to you.
And most importantly, let's not forget the Church--the collective voice of God’s people, chosen by Jesus to be his representative in the world. The Church is an invaluable source in revealing God's plan for you and the whole world. The Church gets a bad wrap these days. So many times have I heard someone say, "I just don't like organized religion." I wonder have they considered the alternative? If there's no organized religion, all we have left is a bunch of people running around thinking and doing whatever they like. We had a time like that before in our history. You can read about it in y the Bible in the book of Judges. It was a time when "...all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes." (Judges 17:6) it was a dark, chaotic, evil time and many, many people suffered. I don't want to go back to that kind of living. So I'm glad we have the Church to be the voice of God to us. I know the church has made mistakes in the past and will make mistakes in the future. We are not perfect. However, when we seek the will of God collectively, we get it right more often together than we do as individuals.

Conclusion
This Christmas, God is speaking to all of us.  He has given us a sign--a baby born in a manger to save the world.  An angel spoke to Mary and Joseph.  The shepherds saw an army of angels announce his birth.  The Wisemen followed a star.  Simeon and Anna--filled with the Spirit and wisdom--both spoke of Jesus’ importance to the world.
Jesus reveals Truth in our hearts about whether we are truly focused on God or our own selfish ambitions.  He offers forgiveness for all who turn away from their sin and choose to follow him.  Jesus comes to you this Christmas with this word:

"Turn from your sin and turn to me.
You will find no peace, no hope, no joy, no love until you do.
Following your own path will only lead
to death, despair, destruction, and eternal punishment.
But if you repent and turn to me,
You will find peace, hope, joy, and love
And even more, you will have eternal life."

Whoever has ears to hear:

Hear the Word of the Lord and obey.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Follow the Star, Part 3

Introduction
            Christmas is a time of signs and symbols.  The miraculous virgin birth of Christ was a sign that this child was very special and here by God’s design.  For Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
God sometimes gives signs to show people the right way.  Have you seen signs to guide you through life?  Some signs can be subtle and hard to notice.  Other signs are obvious, maybe even frightening.  Regardless, when we really want to know God’s will, we grow when we respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading with obedience. 
Today, I want to focus on understanding what God wants from you.  Suppose he has given you a sign.  How do you interpret it?  How do you understand what it means?

Matthew 2:13-16
13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance.

A Clear Sign
            Joseph received a clear message from God.  God sent an angel to warn him in a dream to flee to Egypt with Mary and baby Jesus.  If we accept what the scripture says, there weren’t any symbols to interpret.  Joseph didn’t have to struggle with what the dream meant.
There was another Joseph—in the Old Testament in the book of Genesis—who also had dreams.  That Old Testament Joseph’s dreams were strange and full of symbolic meaning.  Do you remember?  There was one dream in Genesis where the sun, moon, and stars bowed down to Joseph.  It was a symbol of how Joseph’s brothers—along with all the known world—would one day bow down to Joseph when he became Pharaoh’s second in command.
But the Joseph in our story this morning—Jesus’ earthly father Joseph—had a different kind of dream.  It was much clearer.  “Get up right now and run away to Egypt!  King Herod is trying to kill the baby Jesus.”  No symbols there.  The meaning is plain and urgent.
Sometimes God comes to people in a dream.  People have dreams all the time.  Usually, there’s nothing to them—just random synapses firing in the brain while we sleep.  But when God comes to you in a dream to give you a sign (or in any other way), you will know it’s something special you need to pay attention to.  If God wants you to get the message, you’ll be left with the distinct impression that this dream (or sign) is something important to which you should pay attention.

A Sensitive Ear
Now, if you make a habit in your life of tuning God out, you might not notice God’s voice.  (I know some husbands who have learned the art of tuning out their wives and kids.  The house could be on fire, and they still will not notice if the game is on TV.  Piece of advice:  if you do that too much, you won't have a wife and kids for very long.)
If you’re the kind of person who goes through life dismissing God’s voice—“Oh come on! God doesn’t speak to people.  I don’t believe in all that superstitious nonsense..."—you’re probably not going to notice when God speaks to you.  But if you believe God can and does speak to people, and you make a life-long practice of asking Him for direction, listening intently for the Spirit, and obeying when He speaks, you will notice when God sends you a clear message.
You know, a lot of people envy Joseph’s message from God.  God spoke so clearly to him:  “Get up!  Run to Egypt!”  We say, “Why can’t God just speak to me that clearly ?”
Do you realize, Joseph was a godly man?  He didn’t just wake up one day with the ability to hear God’s voice.  His whole life, Joseph was practicing and preparing his ‘God-ears’ to hear God’s voice.  Matthew 1:19 tells us Joseph was a righteous man.  That means he trusted God.  He worshiped God.  He prayed to God.  He had a relationship with God.  He went through life listening and trying to obey God.  So when God came to Joseph in a dream, Joseph already had the ears to hear.
What about you?  Do you trust God?  Do you worship God?  Do you pray to God?  Do you have a relationship with God?  Do you read the Scripture?  Do you believe God can and will speak to you?  Do you try to listen to God and obey?  The more you do, the more sensitive your ears will be.
But that's not what most people want, is it?  We would rather God only speak to us when we have a question or when we want something.  Then, once we get what we want, God can just go get back in His box and be quiet.  We'll call Him when we want something. 
What is that?!?  We've got it backwards, I think.  God is the Creator of the universe.  He created us, not the other way around.  We don't get to tell Him when and when not to speak.  Nor should we want to.  We should count every word that comes to us from Him a blessing and a privilege.  We should be at His beckoning call.  But we are sinful, selfish people and so we've got it all mixed up.

Importance is Important
Let me give you some important advice about interpreting God’s signs.  If you see a little something that might be a sign from God and it encourages you, just accept it.  Don’t question it.  Be encouraged.  For example, if you’re driving home from work and you see the most beautiful cloud formation in the sky and think, “Wow!  It’s almost like God painted that just to tell me He loves me.”  Well, maybe He did. (God does love you, so you can be sure that's true.)  Maybe it wasn't really a sign from God, but what’s the harm in just accepting that it might be?  I mean, God does love you and we’re not talking about selling your house and moving to China here.  We’re just noting the wonder of God’s creation and getting a little encouragement.  So why question it?  Just accept it!  It’s a small sign.  Give it the benefit of doubt.
This can apply to bad feelings too.  Suppose you are out late at the gym and it’s dark outside when you get done.  You go to walk out to your car to go home (like you do every other night in December), but you get this ominous feeling like maybe you shouldn’t walk to your car alone tonight.  I say: trust your instinct.  Maybe God is trying to tell you it’s not safe out there tonight.  Maybe you should wait inside until someone can walk you to your car.  What’s the harm in just accepting it as a sign from God?  Again, we’re not talking about selling your house and moving to China here.  All that’s at stake is a few minutes of your time and maybe asking someone for help. 
Now if you are having persistent feelings of doom and gloom, fear, depression, paranoia, distrust, etc. that are going on for weeks at a time, I suggest you talk it over with an experienced and trustworthy Christian friend.  God doesn’t want us to go through life afraid and paranoid.  If we are, there might be more going on we need to address.
The point is, the potential consequences the sign has on your life is important in how seriously you take it.  If it’s just a small thing, just accept it and thank God for it.  However, if the sign is pointing you toward a really important decision that will have lasting consequences, you ought to take a little more care in understanding it. 

Let me give you 4 tips that can help you discover what God Might saying to you.
            Tip #1 - Talk it over with a spiritual advisor.  If you feel like God might be trying to tell you something, talk to a trusted Christian friend, family member, Sunday school teacher, or pastor.  You may even want to discuss it with a professional Christian counselor.  These are people who can give you insight about what God might be saying (or if it's God speaking at all).  They can also encourage and give you support. 
            When I felt God was calling me to be a pastor, I talked with several people over a period of time:  my mom, by best friend, my wife, and my pastor.  They helped me understand and verify God's call and it just made me feel better to have people I trusted walking with me on that journey.  Even now, after years of experience walking with God, I still practice my own advice.  I talk to people about what I think God might be saying to me.  It is tremendously helpful (essential really).
            Tip #2 - Ask, " Does what I think God is telling me match up with the Bible?  The Bible is the foundation of what we believe and the last word in everything we do.  God gave us the Scriptures to guide us and He's is not going to ask you to do something contrary to His own Word in the Bible.
            In South Carolina in 2012, Tammi Estep stabbed her husband.  She said she did after, "Jesus and Mary told me to kill him because he is Satan's spawn!"[i]  Well, how many wives have not thought there husband's were the spawn of Satan at one time or another…  Seriously though, God is not going to tell you to murder someone.  Nor is He going to tell you to do something that contradicts what He's already said in Scripture.  If you feel He is, I would point you back to Tip #1 - Talk to a spiritual advisor.
            Tip #3 - Does the sign intend to lead you or others closer to Christ?   The Great Commission from Jesus to His followers is:  "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…" (Matthew 28:19 ).  This is our mission.   Remember, life is not about you.  This isn’t the story of your life.  This is God’s story and you are just one actor in the movie.  You don’t even have that big a roll.  So remember, if God is talking to you--directing you in some really important matter that will have life-long, lasting consequences--it will probably be linked in a large way to leading you or others closer to Christ.  If it isn't, if it's linked more to you own self-centered interests, it's more likely not God speaking to you.  Either way, I would point you back to Tip #1 - Talk to a spiritual advisor.
            Tip #4 - Ask the Holy Spirit to verify it for you.  It's OK to ask God to help you be sure.  People did that in the Bible many times.  There was even a man named Gideon in the book of Judges who made a kind of experiment.  God sent an angel and told Gideon to go fight some people who kept raiding Israel.  Gideon asked for a sign to verify it.  He said, "I'm gonna lay out a piece of wool fleece on the ground.  If there's dew on the fleece in the morning, but not the ground, I will know You were speaking to me."  And in the morning, there was dew on the fleece and not the ground.  But Gideon wanted to be sure, so he repeated the experiment, but this time he said, "Alright.  If it's really You, this time there will be dew on the ground all around, but not on the fleece." And it happened just like that!  In the morning, there was dew on the ground, but none on the fleece!  So Gideon knew it was God talking to him and he went off and defeated his enemies.
            It's OK to ask for a sign to be sure it's really God speaking to you.  But some might point out what Jesus said in Matthew 12:39, “It is an evil and adulterous nation that looks for a sign.  No sign will be given…”  Jesus' frustration in that instance was with those who had already seen sign after sign after sign that proved Jesus was indeed the Son of God.  He'd healed the blind and deaf, made the lame to walk, walked on water himself, and even turned water into wine.  What more would it take to convince people?  Enough signs had already been given.  Some people didn’t want to believe and so they just kept asking for more signs.  Then they would pick apart every sign given with sinful cynicism.  They weren't going to believe no matter what Jesus did. 
            So you can ask for a sign, but once you know God is told you to do something, it's time to act.  We probably all have had times we knew what we were supposed to do, but didn't want to do it.  Don't keep asking God for signs as an excuse to put off obedience.  Get busy.  And, oh, did I mention you should see Tip #1 - talk to a spiritual advisor?  You should. 

Conclusion
            I want to end this blog with a few guiding questions as you contemplate what God might be saying to you now.  Listen for God’s voice as you pray about the following:
  • Have you been listening to God?  Have you been exercising your spiritual ears?  Have you been trusting Jesus?  Have you been praying? Have you been reading your Bible?  Is it time for you to start today?
  • What has God been trying to say to you?  Has He been nudging you?  Has He been shouting?  Have you been ignoring Him?
  • Do you need to talk to a spiritual advisor—trusted Christian friend, family member, or pastor?
  • Is it time to “Get up and go” do what God’s been telling you to do?  What’s stopping you?




[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/tammi-estep-stabbing-south-carolina_n_2130765.html