Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Looking Ahead with Purpose

     Christmas has passed.  The company has gone home, and all that remains is to take down the decorations.  As we put away our nativity set, we need to remember not to pack up our sense of joy and wonder that we experience as we hear the Gospel story of our Savior's birth again.  Instead, we need to nurture our love for the Lord as we prepare to enter a new year.
     How easy it is for us to think that Christmas is the end game forgetting that we are about to celebrate the dawn of 2016 with the opportunity to grow in Christ and walk daily with Him as He leads us.  Believers, we need to be among those who celebrate with praise our heavenly Father who is about to open a new chapter in our lives.  Think about it.  None of us has ever experienced 2016 before.  What has God planned for us that we might glorify Him?  There are several ways we can prepare for the adventure that lies ahead.
     First, consider a Bible reading plan for the New Year.  Ligonier Ministries has several different plans listed that can assist us to read the Bible.  These plans are free and available online.  The more we find ourselves looking into God's Word the more we will get to know His character and come to trust Him more deeply.  Likewise, the Bible is profitable for correction, training, reproof and instruction in righteousness, it is a valuable tool in the hands of a man/woman of God (2 Timothy 3:16).  In fact Ephesians calls the Bible the "sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17).  With this sword, we can demolish the strongholds and vain imaginations that set themselves up against the true knowledge of God  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).  Who among us would ever go to battle without a powerful weapon for our defense?  This is why it is so important to start the New Year on the right foot.
     Secondly, we need to be men and women of prayer as we come to the new opportunities that lie ahead of us.  Only the Lord knows the plans He has for us.  Therefore, it would seem wise to seek His guidance and blessing.  Jesus set a blessed example for us to follow throughout His days of ministry.  He took the time to get alone with the Father, and in that time, He was refreshed and ready again to carry out His mission to us.  I like to think of prayer as a refueling process.  Coming into the Father's presence recharges our thinking as well as our souls.  There is no greater privilege that we can enjoy than to spend time with our heavenly Father.
     As we prepare to welcome the New year, we need to also ask the Lord to fill us with His Spirit.  Ephesians tells us in 5:18:  "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,"  The Holy Spirit is our comforter, teacher, and works in us to sanctify our lives.  He convicts us of sin, leads us into righteousness and produces fruit in our lives.  Could there be any greater joy or fulfillment?  The Spirit comes into our lives when we become believers in Christ.  However, daily we need to pray for God to fill us to overflowing so that streams of living water pour out of us and touch others.
     Finally, in Ephesians 5:19, we read that we are to speak to one another in Psalms and sing hymns and spiritual songs.  This speaks of encouragement, praise to God and lifting up one another.  Entering a New Year with a thankful heart is so much better than a hangover.  Self-medicating is so empty compared to building one another up by meditating on what God says about us.
     New Year's can be even more exciting when we consider how we approach this time of new beginnings.  Just as Jesus did not remain a baby in a manger but grew in favor with God and man so we grow up in Him this coming year through Bible study, prayer, being filled with the Holy Spirit and praising God.  We can make a difference by putting on a servant's heart and embracing all the opportunities that another year brings.  On New Year's Eve let us enter God's courts with thanksgiving in our heart!  In doing this, we are storing up treasures in heaven where none can take them from us.  Selah!

           HAPPY NEW YEAR IN CHRIST!                                                                    

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Truth of Christmas

     As I was reading my Bible yesterday, I came across a wonderful, clear sermon which Paul spoke to men of Israel as well as Gentiles who worshipped God.  It was such a clear message that it bears reproducing it here.  The passage comes from the book of Acts 13:16-41  in the NIV version.
     "...Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!  The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; He made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power He led them out of that country, He endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, He overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to His people as their inheritance.  All this took about 450 years.
     After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet.  Then the people asked for a king, and He gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years.  After removing Saul, He made David their king.  He testified concerning him: ' I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'
     From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as He promised.  Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel.  As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you think I am?  I am not the one.  No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'
     Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.  The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning Him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.  Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have Him executed.  When they had carried out all that was written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.  But God raised Him from the dead, and for many days He was seen by those who had traveled with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem.  They are now His witnesses to our people.
     We tell you the good news; What God promised our fathers He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.  As it is written in the second Psalm:  'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.' ......
     "Therefore my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.  Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses. Take care of what the prophets have said does not happen to you:  'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe"  ( Acts 13:16-41).
     Paul speaks clearly to those assembled by relating their own history of God's intervention on their behalf.  He does it so succinctly that it is hard to miss.  Reminding people about the glory and provision of our heavenly Father is like giving a cold cup of water to a thirsty man on a hot day.  We are a forgetful people.  We need a strong reminder.
     As the Apostle traces the story from the Old Testament, we see how God's plan has been woven into history all along.  This is the beauty of the Bible.    It is as relevant today as it was when it was written.
     God's plan was for both the Children of Israel and the Gentiles to come into relationship with Him through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.  This is the message of Christmas that we are forgiven of our sins when we believe in Christ.  He came that we might have eternal life.
     My prayer at Christmas is that many who are reading this will come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, for believers I pray that we can tell others this good news as simply as the Apostle Paul did in this short passage.  May God give us the boldness to proclaim this message of salvation.  It is the best Christmas gift we can give another.  Selah!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Good Things Don't Often Come Easy

     When we read the Christmas story in our Bible, there are many things we are not told.  We do not know, for example, if Mary walked along with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem or if she rode a donkey.  The Bible is silent on this detail.  However, speaking from my own experience with pregnancy, I can say that a long walk or a bumpy ride on a donkey would not be an easy or comfortable  for an expectant mother depending on how far along Mary might have been.  The journey was nearly 70 miles one way.  If we consider possible morning sickness, fatigue and carrying extra weight as we make the journey, we have a whole new perspective on this trip.
     In reality, Mary and Joseph had no choice in the matter.  The Roman government was interested in taking a census and required everyone to return to their hometown in order to register.  This, in itself, was difficult, but adding a pregnancy to the picture only complicated things further.
     On top of all this, when they arrived, there was no room in the inn.  Although the Bible does not specifically say the child was born in a stable, we do know that his mother laid him in a manger (see the story in Luke 2:1-20).  This is what leads us to believe that perhaps Jesus was born in an area occupied by animals.  No matter the location, I am certain this is not what either Joseph or Mary had in mind when they set out on this journey.  Yet, as we know, life rarely gives us a smooth path to our destination.  If it did, would we ever need to trust in the Lord with all our hearts?      
     How many times have we set out on a trip with every intention of arriving on time, unruffled and ready to go?  Certainly our family has had more than our share of mishaps while traveling.    The good news is that when we arrived all the difficulties along the way disappeared from our thinking.  Our reward for persevering was the rich fellowship of friends and family.
     I am certain that when Mary gave birth to our Savior the hardships from the journey slipped into the background as she looked into the face of Jesus.  Her focus was where it should be and we must follow her example.  None of us has been promised a life without hardship, difficulty or pain.  Jesus told us we would face tribulation, but He told us that we should be of good courage because He has overcome this world.  He is the reason for this season that we celebrate, and we should not stop with Christmas.
     Because He came, we can face tiring journeys, difficult circumstances and the challenges of tomorrow.  We are secure in His love and when we focus on Him, all else fades into the background.  He is our strength, our significance, and the very breath we take each day.  I am certain Mary and Joseph felt this way when they looked into the face of the King of Kings.  Good things do not come easy, but the treasure that awaits us as we seek to follow Christ is worth everything we have to offer Him.  Selah!