Baptism at Singles Retreat - 147 Baptized!!!

*******************Baptism at Singles Retreat 147 Baptized!!! ***********************

* Sharing times in the Word and looking for growth. Let's Commune Together!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A New Year’s Prayer!

Father, Dee and I want to thank You for Who You are! You have never turned Your back on Your creation even though many of them turn their back on You. You are always willing to offer anyone another chance if they ask You for it. You tolerate every evil there is, just to allow time for more individuals to enter into a relationship with You. You get blamed for all the bad we sinful people do, yet continue to offer forgiveness, grace and mercy. We take most of the glory for the good that happens, much of the time not really giving You the credit for the gifts, talents and abilities You equipped us with while in the womb, yet You still give grace to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. You have to endure our hypocrisy as we claim to have the ability to destroy Your earth while at the same time claiming that all of this was a random accident, without design or purpose, still You continue to sustain this earth, in spite of the way we mismanage it at times. Your love for the individuals in this world is so great that You spared our rebellion at creation, provided a full redemption paid completely by You, yet, refused to force anyone to accept it! Your love is so complete that You allow each individual to choose to have a relationship with You or not!

Our prayer is that all would desire to experience Your tremendous love and grace, realizing that You are God, not a god, or their image of god. You are Who You are and we pray that all will know that though none of us will ever comprehend the Infinite One, we can refuse to judge what we do not understand, choosing instead to embrace the reality that One so far above us, made Himself one of us in order to offer an intimate relationship with the Creator of all things!

Father, each year that passes brings highs, lows, happiness, pain, regret and accomplishment. We pray that as we look back we will realize that through each experience we went through, You were there with us…even if we did not see or believe You were; watching over us, desiring to work every circumstance out in a way to bring us closer to You, help us know You better and to mature us in life! We pray that all will look back over 2014 and connect with what You were doing in their life; letting go of the failures while learning from them; enjoying the victories, sharing the joy with You. We ask for all that suffered losses this past year to turn toward You for the only comfort that can penetrate into the most intimate portion of the heart.  We pray that 2014 will be used as a step toward 2015 and all it’s potential.

Father, as we approach the New Year, our prayer is that all will see the great opportunities that lay before them if they would allow You to illuminate their hearts to Your plans. We pray that all will understand the brevity of this life while comprehending that temporal things can never really satisfy a heart that possesses the reality of eternity, which You placed in it. We pray that every soul on this earth will realize with You, everything is fixable…except when we quit! We also ask that no matter the position that anyone has in life, You encourage them to come to You believing that if they ask it from You, if it honors You and is best for them, You will guide them to it. Help them remember oh Lord, when the grass is greener on the other side of the hill…the water bill is higher!

Father, for our families, first we pray for the family of human kind. Our prayer is that all would come to the understanding that we need to learn to agree to disagree about our beliefs, not kill each other over them! Help us face the reality that not all can be right, but if we believe we are, we can respect others and allow them that same right to think they are; knowing that all of us, including me, will have to deal with the Truth when we face You, our Maker. No matter how committed we were, it will not change that Truth. However, illuminate our understanding that if You allow all to believe as they choose in this life, we should all do the same. Convict our leaders to become honest, refusing to call any “belief system” that condones killing others for their beliefs a “peaceful” one! Give us leaders that care more for what is right and true, than for votes and power. Father, You alone have the right to judge all for what they believe.

Father, for those that claim to belong to the family of Jesus Christ, our prayer is that we will be united in His love and care for each other with the same love You care for us. Keep us from spiritual arrogance and pride. Cause us to stand firm on what Your Scriptures state while never being judgmental or demeaning to other’s beliefs. Let us also never apologize for what the Scripture states, believing that if we truly love others, we desire them to live close to You, which can only be done by obeying the Scriptures. Lead us to live our lives in way that would let all know that they also can experience this great relationship You offer.

Lastly, Father we pray for our own families. Enable us to be Christ like toward one another as spouses, parents and children. We pray all husbands can be what Christ desires them to be in their family, encouraging their wife and children to be in love with Jesus and each other. Fill our wives with a desire to love their husbands and nurture their family. Lead our children to learn how to walk with Jesus in all they do.

We thank You Father for what 2015 will bring forth, believing that if we seek You continually, this year can be the most fruitful so far of our lives! Dee and I ask this in the precious name of Your Son.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Can Christmas really make a difference in my life?

I did not grow up around the ocean, so when we settled in Hawaii for my Sr. year of high school I began a strong learning curve. Even though you may not recognize it, the ocean is always active. Whether it be an undertow that can grab your feet and pull you under, or a rip tide that will take you out past the waves, or just the current that moves you from one side of the beach to the other side of the beach. What I learned quickly was to become “one” with the water. Fighting it was a losing and unwise battle.  

The title I chose is to provoke us to really think about what impact Christmas has on us. We all should know it’s not about a date, whether or not Christ was born on December 25th is NOT the issue. That is the date that people from around the world have chosen to celebrate. The argument about it being originally a pagan celebration is truly a waste of time, as if the date December 25th is an intrinsically evil date! As a Pastor I did not get the luxury of celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and other special times on the “date” they happened. I had a choice; either cram it in due to a horrible schedule, for example when my anniversary falls on a Sunday when I preach 4 services, or pick the best day closest to that date so I can really show my wife how special she is to me. The real question is what has the meaning of that celebration done to you. I love my wife so much I want to have a very special time celebrating the day we were married. So…the question is not what some date has done to you, but what difference has the purpose and meaning of Christmas made in your life?

The first Christmas, not how or where, but it’s meaning is described in John:

John 1:1–4, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The incarnation is so past our comprehension, but not past our embracing. I trust God completely, so I can accept what He states…even though all of it does not register. His mind is infinite, mine is not, so to those that demand we explain God fully, they spell their idea of God as “god”. However, if you believe He is what He describes Himself to be in Scripture, then you spell it “GOD” and you have no problem understanding that you will never fully understand Him!

God became a man in order to save men…but what does that “save,” mean? Too many treat it like it is exclusively a change of destination after death. This is tragic and robs many of the incredible truth that God intends to save the whole person. Yes, we will not be separated from Him in eternity (destination), yet there is so much more! In a very limited way, God is working a second incarnation with salvation. Not that we become gods, but that the Holy Spirit, from the moment of indwelling us, is transforming us by creating the character of Jesus in us. Our flesh begins to take on His nature. 
God intends for Christmas to save us from selfish attitudes, our self-adoration, self-seeking…in other words...ourselves! All of us know we struggle with this nature we received at conception, unless we are dishonest. If you choose to live in denial, just ask those you live with, they will tell you that you have a sin nature. :) 

For the next two devos, I want to look at Christmas from a passage that spells out God’s desire for us through His salvation. It is much more than transportation to heaven, it is about transformation of life!

Philippians 3:10-16 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

v. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings

To “Know Christ” – you see, it is a package!  Most of us only want to experience the resurrection, not any suffering! That is why so many false teachers are so successful today, they are playing to our greed. Don’t feel bad; we are in good company! Remember James & John?

Matthew 20:20–23 Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. “What is your request?” he asked. She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” “Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!” Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

Let’s learn from them though, so we do not repeat their mistake.

v. 10 Becoming like him in his death

Becoming like Him; this is our ultimate goal! Remember Jesus, beginning in the garden until His death? Submissive to the Father and complete selflessness; His first words from the cross expressed His concern for us. Are these characteristics seen in us?

v. 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

What does this mean? Not to earn it, but arrive at this moment already being conformed to Christ. Sometimes the Christ-like character you show may come back and surprise you!

"A missionary was sitting at her second story window when she was handed a letter from home. As she opened the letter, a crisp, new, ten-dollar bill fell out. She was pleasantly surprised, but as she read the letter her eyes were distracted by the movement of a shabbily dressed stranger down below, leaning against a post in front of the building. She couldn't get him off her mind. Thinking that he might be in greater financial stress than she, she slipped the bill into an envelope on which she quickly penned `Don't despair.' She threw it out the window. The stranger below picked it up, read it, looked up, and smiled as he tipped his hat and went his way. The next day she was about to leave the house when a knock came at the door. She found the same shabbily dressed man smiling a toothless grin as he handed her a roll of bills.  When she asked what they were for, he replied: `That's the 60 bucks you got comin', lady. The horse “Don't Despair” paid five to one! '"

Ephesians 4:11–13 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Here is a great principle to keep before ourselves as we move past this season: “I must accept all of what it means to be a Christian!”

v. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this,

Never think that you have arrived, it produces really harmful attitudes: Sitting and listening to a sermon, and instead of really paying attention, you are thinking; "Oh So & So needs to hear this"! Or taking a “leave” from ministering to others because you think, “I've done my time!" That makes serving the Lord sound like it is a jail term. I have even heard some say: "Everyone has a right to their own convictions...But I'm the only one that is right!”  Beloved there is a huge difference in being satisfied with Christ vs. being satisfied with your Christian walk! All of us can improve in our walk.

v.12 or have already been made perfect,

The word “perfect” really means mature or complete here. Knowing the life of Paul, and hearing him say that, I know how that affects my view of myself, how about you?

Here is another principle to keep before us: “I am not so mature!” You knowing that you know you are not so mature is a mark of authentic maturity!

v.12 but I press on                       
To “press on” means to never quit; there is always a new opportunity, not just a new day, but also a new moment! To live from moment to moment is conscious living!

v.12 to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.           

When we “take hold” it brings us to an oneness of goal! This is the work of the Holy Spirit, conforming does not mean we lose our individuality, that is what Nazis did! We remain who we were created to be, however our vision, purpose, goals and desires become focused on knowing God and all He is. We learn to see God in all of life…this is the difference between a relationship and a religion!

Psalms 42:1-2 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Here is our last principle for this Devo: “I am going to get out of life everything that Jesus sees in me!”

Why not consider the 3 principles throughout the next couple of days?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Why Does God Allow These Disasters? Doesn’t He love us? Part 2

I appreciate all the comments that I have received and it confirmed to me that I had sensed correctly what the Lord desired me to do. Apparently many are struggling with this issue or desire to receive some clarity from Scripture concerning this. Sadly, I believe this has become an issue due to the very unbiblical teaching coming from the “health, wealth and prosperity” movement, which twists the Scripture and leads many to believe that children of God are removed from the problems of living in a fallen world. 

Last time we looked at two reasons that disasters happen in this world. First, was God’s judgment, but we made it clear that no one but God Himself knows when that is the case. We know that disaster befell the entire earth due to sin at the flood because Scripture states that. We also know that certain disasters will happen in the future during the time of the Tribulation, again, because Scripture states that. However, even though we all will have our own opinions, it is spiritual arrogance and presumptuous for anyone to declare a disaster, whether through nature or disease, as a judgment from God. Those that have done so have cause much confusion and even pain with their unmeasured words.

President Abraham Lincoln came to the belief that the reason America paid such a high price of it’s young men during the war, was due to God judging America for the rape of the African continent of her young men and women. Personally, I believe he is right, yet he never claimed that as from God, neither would I. Only God knows why certain events happen and they are not clear unless His Word states it.

Second, we saw that there are times when the disaster was caused directly by what we have done. That disaster is an effect of our “cause”. Again, we need to be careful in trying to proclaim authoritatively that we know a disaster was caused by our own actions unless the facts clearly show this. That means all agendas must be checked at the door! The facts are what they are, and conclusions must be clearly provable or we are still dealing with “theory”.  

The last reason, and the main one, is that disasters happen because that is the outcome of living in a world that was impacted by the fall of man into sin. This does not mean God has less control over these disasters, God is always totally in control of everything, however, there is a big difference in God being proactive in a disaster versus God being passive in it. He allows everything that happens to happen, even my personal sin, but He does not MAKE it happen! God has set certain laws of nature in order, those laws continue to function, but now in a realm that has been impacted by sin. Disasters, whether they are from nature or disease, did not exist in the garden before the fall. When the first man and woman chose to disobey God’s command it effected everything…in fact it ‘infected” everything with sin. 

Genesis 3:17–19 And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

Romans 8:20–21 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.

I do not understand where some of the leaders in the Church ever got the idea that as believers we walk around this earth in a safety bubble that insulates us from the ramifications of the original sin. We all still die, don’t we? Why do we think that if a typhoon comes it will not hit our house; or if a disease breaks out, we do not have to take precautions because we have an invisible force field around us that protects us from every sickness?

To pervert the meaning of “by His stripes we are healed” to mean we will not be affected by the diseases of this world, not only exposes a very bad hermeneutic, it cheapens the real issue of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ! Our body is a temporal one and will continue to decay due to the fall, but our spirit is eternal and is separated from God forever, unless something was done to change that. Jesus healed our souls from the disease of sin! Yes, God does still heal and will, but only when He chooses. As Scripture states - we come to the elders, get anointed and ask for that healing, but it is not guaranteed! It is always according to God's will. It is amazing how quiet one of those health, wealth and prosperity teachers become when they or their spouse becomes ill. They don’t claim it is because of personal sin or lack of faith…instead there is a deafening silence.

God makes it clear that good and bad things happen to all! 

Matthew 5:45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Hebrews 11:32–38 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

Jesus, when trying to illustrate that all will die and all need to repent makes the very point that bad things just happen, not because of anything a person did.

Luke 13:1–5 About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”

In fact, Jesus even made it clear that He does not desire to have us live in an unreal world, but the real one. His real concern is in the spiritual one.

John 17:14–15 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.

We need to understand that this world will have many troubles and we are not exempt from them. Most are not judgments directly from God that we know of. So if the Scripture is silent concerning that, so should we be.

In closing, there are two very important truths we need to take into and through each disaster we experience. First, we do not go through them alone. Unlike many, we always have the eternal God holding our hand and offering guidance to us as we enter into a time of trial. Second, we have the opportunity to allow any disaster in our life to become a very precious experience as we lovingly help others that experience similar times.

2 Corinthians 1:3–4 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

This is where we learn that victory in the midst of disaster is a reality. When we become “other” focused, we take our eyes off of ourselves and become the agent God uses to bring comfort to those that are suffering. Nothing brings greater contentment to the heart than sharing God’s grace and love to those that need it so badly.

Let me leave you with an admonition. When you have a time of trouble or disaster enter your life, make sure your eyes are looking two places. First, to God and then to others, this will change how you deal with these times.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why Does God Allow These Disasters? Doesn’t He love us? Part 1

We will return to our thoughts of Christmas, but due to another Typhoon hitting the Philippines, and receiving quite a few questions asking me why God allows things like this, I thought it would be wise to deal with this issue. We have been in the Philippines for 21 years and it was standard knowledge that Typhoon season was August – Mid October, and if a late one came it would be the first week of November. Last year, while we were in Ministry in the USA and Canada, on November 7, Haiyan hit. We all know the devastation! Right now we are in Toronto, Canada meeting with a potential CCF Satellite and we watched Hagupit hit the Philippines, the lateness of the season is surprising.

Again, many individuals find themselves questioning God over an issue like this, which I understand, and that leads me to offer some counsel to help. Understand though, I will approach this from one perspective without any apology. I go to one source for validation of Truth, which is the Word of God. I realize that many will say that believing the Bible is only my theory, and I will agree with you. You will, you ask? Yes, because the Truth is that every belief in the world is a theory until it is “seen”! What do I mean? Until we die, everything we believe is theory because only those that have died know what happens after life.

So if we are honest we must face the fact that if what we believe is the Truth then we will have chosen correctly. However, if we discover that what we have believed is not Truth, no matter how hard we believed it, it is false.

Even Paul was honest about this:

1 Corinthians 15:12–19 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

Paul knew that “if” what we believe is not true, that does not change the Truth! Truth is what it is! If Allah is true, nothing can change that, if Buddha is true, nothing can change that and if Christ is true…nothing can change that! So all belief systems are built on faith, including evolution. So the question that enters is the evidence that supports that belief. Many say that I have blind faith because I have not seen God; as if any evolutionist has seen the Big Bang, or the first evolved Ape-man. You see all Atheists have faith – they believe everything just happened – no intelligent “cause."  All Agnostics have faith – they believe a Supreme something made things happen or created things, but cannot be known personally. I have faith – I believe in a very personal Creator that not only created and sustains everything, but One that desires to be intimate with all humans.

We all have faith – Remember faith is trusting belief. So when you cannot see or understand everything, but still believe – it is faith. Blind faith is when you have no evidence or reason to believe. The average evolutionist does not know all the facts or understand all the theories, but believes in the Theory – that is faith, based on what those that claim that their theories are the evidence that we evolved. Their dating theories are theories, and to accept them also takes faith. Biblical faith is also based on evidence. This includes the intelligent design of the universe; the stars, the earth and all creation; also, the historicity of the Scriptures; which is greater than any 10 Greek historical documents brought together. (I have in my discipleship manual 10 pages of facts about this, if interested to see let me know)  The historic facts that are told in the Bible, and most importantly, the historic evidence of the Person of Christ, the eyewitness testimony of His life, death and resurrection. Our faith is not blind at all.

All of this I say to make it clear that as I approach this topic, I do so from a clear perspective of one that holds to Scripture as Truth and the explanations from the Scriptures for Who God is.

Here is what no one can do – say exactly why a specific disaster happens, only God knows that, but we can see from Scriptures reasons that disasters happen.

One clear reason is God’s Judgment. God will cause or use disasters to judge sin in order to cause people to see the danger of sin and repent. The two most obvious would be the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. With those two judgments the whole earth knew that God is serious about sin. But don’t go where the world goes in its thoughts about God and sin. They act like God is afraid of it or allergic to it. I have heard some describe God like some big whimp that can’t look at sin because it offends His delicate nature! How silly! God’s righteousness, holiness and light devour the presence of sin. He hates sin because of what it does to those that are vulnerable to it! God’s disdain for sin is motivated by His love for those that sin kills! God warns all throughout Scripture that sin carries a heavy cost.

Job 31:2–3 For what has God above chosen for us? What is our inheritance from the Almighty on high? Isn’t it calamity for the wicked and misfortune for those who do evil?

Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wages are not something given, they are something earned! Our life of sin earns the outcome of separation from God. So there are times God allows a disaster to awaken the people to the fragility of life and causes them to seek help from someone higher than themselves or the government. However, unless stated in Scripture, no one can say whether a particular disaster was sent directly by God to judge a situation.

I will cover one more issue, but then will have to deal with the remaining issues in the next Devo.

Not only can disasters be due to the judgment of God, they can also be the reaping of what we have sown. Again, due to agendas by political groups or special interest groups, we really do not know what effects we are having on the environment. Anyone that thinks all this industrialization and technology does nothing is not being honest. The problem is we cannot have an honest discussion about it, because many groups are agenda driven and have lied about the facts. It seems that much of science is up to the highest bidder! How sad. We even have a well-known politician that made millions selling his book and movie that have now been proven to be fabrications of the truth. All of this does not take away the Truth of Scripture:

Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

This is a Scriptural principle that applies to individuals and societies. If we cut down every tree on a mountain, when the rains come we will see landslides. If we build communities in flood areas or right on the edge of a river or the ocean, when storms come we will see those communities pay the price. God is not at fault, we are. Jesus warns of this mindset:  

Matthew 7:24–27 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

There are some more issues that need to be dealt with, which we will cover next time. For now though, we should ask ourselves…when disasters happen, what do we do? Blame God or seek His guidance and protection? Our response exposes our heart. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

All I want for Christmas is _____________?

Many years ago I remember a very funny commercial. It started with the announcer introducing a guy who loves Mondays. Most people do not enjoy Mondays because it’s either back to school or back to work. But this guy loved Mondays, he is walking around singing and celebrating. Finally the announcer says he can’t stand it any more, because no on should be that happy, especially on Monday, so then he yells, “Oh Shut up!” And slaps the guy.

What I remember the most is how that guy loved life! When we meet someone who is just packed full of life, we notice it.

The Scripture states that Jesus came so we might have life, and throughout the pages of the Bible the quality of that life is described.

The meaning of Christmas is different for many people, yet even with Santa or the Grinch there was giving involved. The Biblical meaning of Christmas is that God became a man. What did He bring with Him?  All that He is…which includes Life! Real Life!

John 1:1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

v. 1-2 The Greek word for the “Word” is λόγος logos. A Greek philosopher named Heraclitus first used the term Logos around 600 B.C. to designate the divine reason or plan which coordinates a changing universe. In John, Logos speaks of Christ, Who for the procurement of man's salvation put on human nature in the person of Jesus the Messiah, the second person in the Godhead. This is the clearest communication that God could have made to His creation concerning His love.

Romans 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Someone captured the magic and mystery of the incarnation in graphic form:

   In Jesus divine omnipotence moved in a human arm;
   In Jesus divine wisdom was cradled in a human brain;
   In Jesus divine love throbbed in a human heart;
   In Jesus divine compassion glistened in a human eye;
   In Jesus divine grace poured forth in human lips.

v. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

This includes you and me! Jesus knows us inside and out, and He understands what would make our life abundant. This is why so many individuals feel their life is unfulfilling. When you do not have a relationship with the One that designed you, you will never experience that sense of purpose and destiny that He made you for. On the other hand, those that have a relationship with the One that made them, no matter the circumstances…which can be terrible in this fallen world…there is a deep sense of satisfaction in life due to their possessing an understanding of Why they are here and Where they are headed. If you claim to have that relationship, but find you are constantly living in discontent, I encourage you to check your connection with Him. Jesus stressed this many times, consider John 15:

John 15…“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing…“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love… “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

v. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

When we use the word “life” (ζωή zōḗ) we must be careful to bring from Scripture a context. This word can mean merely a heart beating and lungs breathing, however when spoken of what Christ brings that is not how it is used. “Life” in the Scriptures that refer to Christ denotes an essence of fullness, satisfaction and a genuine enjoyment. The life Christ brings is vital, vibrant and growing.

John 10:10…I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The word “abundantly” (περισσον perisson) means: Over and above, more than enough. What’s interesting is the repetition of (ἐχωσιν echōsin) which renders the verse to read “that they may keep on having abundance!” God desires us to have a continued life that is over and above, more than enough. Even so, He has chosen as a loving Father to allow us to make that choice for ourselves.

John 5:39-40 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Let me leave you with three thoughts:

First, this abundance is not what the “health, wealth & prosperity” teachers are teaching. They make the “abundant life” equal material wealth; Jesus admonished us concerning this:

Matthew 6:31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

God may choose to bless some with wealth; most He does not. His greatest gift is the “quality” of life and eternity, not the temporal passing things of this world.  

Second, this is a hard concept because it is from the mind of God, and our minds have been affected greatly by the fall. The key is to gauge how much time do you spend allowing God to develop your inside, compared to how much time you spend taking care of your outside and worried if you are attractive enough, popular enough, wealthy enough or even “liked” enough on Face Book!

John 6:63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

When we let God take care of our outside and we focus on the inside, life becomes a wonderful adventure.

Third, what is the secret? Well contrary to too many books, there is no method! The only way to experience abundant living is to live close to the Lord.

Consider Paul’s balance concerning this life:

2 Corinthians 4…We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed...That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

What do you want for Christmas? How would you define your life? What do you feel you are missing in life? Why? What can you do about that?

Monday, December 1, 2014

How are you Willing to allow Christmas impact you?

Ivan Pavlov experimented with dogs and why they salivate. He showed that if they are conditioned to expect food they would begin to drool. He would ring a bell when he fed them; after a while if he rang the bell, even with no food, they still began to salivate. This is called a conditioned response. Some doctors that treat cancer patients have discovered that after treatment just going to the doctor’s office nauseates some patients. One lady who had cancer, months after she was done with therapy, while shopping in a grocery store she ran into the doctor that had treated her. She immediately threw up!

Christmas has always been one of my favorite seasons, way before I entered into a relationship with Christ. I believe I had a conditioned response to that time of year. I would long for cold temperatures, different colored lights, fireplace smoke in the air and favorite Christmas songsmany having nothing to do with Christ. When I discovered the real reason for the season, I wanted to change that conditioning. I still desire the cultural aspects of the Christmases I enjoyed, for all those things are not evil, but I wanted to have a new condition dominate the season. Now I begin this season with thoughts, meditations and reflections on my Lords becoming human and how that has changed everything for me. I still enjoy Chestnuts roasting but it takes a back seat to focusing on the unbelievable demonstration of the love from our God for all of humanity.

I met a young person who thought Jesus was a man with a big white beard and lived at the North Pole! All Santa could ever do is give gifts that perish; Jesus gives life, light and peace…both internal and eternal!

Let’s ponder the history of the first Christmas:

* It had been a shepherd’s normal day; Sheep feeding, making sure none wandered off, perhaps even having to protect them from a predator. Now that it was dark and the sheep were down for the long, hopefully quiet night, the shepherds that worked with each other could relax a little…still keeping an eye open for any unwanted visitors.  They may have talked about their day or maybe how the census that Caesar Augustus required was causing so many people to travel.  As they were speaking something wonderful happened!

Luke 2:8–20 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

These shepherds were not the elite of this world! They did not have fame, a published book, a lot of money or a wall filled with diplomas showing their keen intellect and scholastic accomplishments. These are the credentials the world looks to when anointing those they count as authorities on any topic. Though these items are positives when it comes to personal accomplishments, they mean very little when dealing with accepting and sharing Truth. The issue when dealing with Truth is the heart! A heart that is willing to accept Truth for what it isTruthhas real authority. No agenda; bias or preference affects the Truth, it only twists it!  A willing heart takes what is given by Truth, accepts it and allows it to impact his or her behavior. These Shepherds did that and we can learn from their lives how we should be open to the Truth of Christmas.  

First, we see the Shepherds had a willing heart, which responds to God.

Notice: Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.

The first thing they did was respond to what God told them to do. This is the nature of a willing heart, no matter the past mistakes. Consider the difference between The Pharisees at the empty tomb and Saul, the Pharisee, when the risen Lord confronted him. Saul responded immediately by falling on his face to worship, the Pharisees bribed Roman guards to lie! Saul was hard headed; the Pharisees were hard hearted! A willing heart can soften the stubbornness of the head.

Second, we see the Shepherds had a willing heart, which reports about God.

"They made known the statement which had been told them about this Child."

The shepherds all experienced this wonderful moment and wanted to share it with others! All of us as believers should connect with this experience, the time we realized Who Jesus was!

I have attended many weddings, often as the one performing the vows. As I watch individuals during the wedding service, I see many different kinds of reactions; tears, smiles, excitement and hope.  Yet, I have found a common thread with one particular group…the married women. All of them at one time or another, during the wedding, look up at their husbands, with a glaze in their eyes, tilt there head and give this slight smile and then, like the doggies in the back windows of automobiles with the spring necks, they just kinda start floating. Even a maid of honor did it, with her husband in the balcony! All were connected by a common experience! It was not something they had heard about, or dreamed about or even something they were hoping for. Each and every one of those ladies was remembering their wedding day. The experience was real and still has an impact on them now. Our experience of understanding Who Jesus is should always drive us to share that joy with others.

Third, we see the Shepherds had a willing heart, which rejoices because of God.

"The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them."

As a Pastor my counseling load would increase greatly at the Christmas season. Many times the reason was due to the circumstances, especially financially, that the person found himself or herself in. I understand being a little “down” if your budget limits what you desire to do during this season. However, if it dominates your days, you are not finding your joy in the True reason for this season. No matter the economy, weather or schedules, God is still the same! He sent His Son so you could enjoy a relationship with the Person Who made you, designed you, has a great plan for you and NEVER stops loving you! We need to find our joy in that Truth!

Meditation: What dominates your thoughts during this season? Are you excited about it? Why? Are you feeling let down by it? Why? Are you making yourself take just a little time each day to reflect on your relationship with Christ? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to condition your heart to be a “willing” one?