Thursday, December 31, 2015

Refreshing Your Memory

I hope I have stimulated your thinking about New Year's resolutions.  While there is nothing in Scripture that would instruct us to make them annually, there is certainly scriptural references that will encourage us to always be pressing forward, always be more diligent, and be constantly aware of our need to grow. 

There is a song we used to sing in church that had a dominate theme of resolving to come to Jesus, and it was a song that was usually sang following the sermon as an invitation song. Closer inspection causes me to believe this is a song which could be used at any point in the worship as encouragement to make right decisions toward being a servant of the Lord.  Look at the words of the song:

I am resolved no longer to linger, charmed by the world's delights. Things that are higher, things that are nobler, these have allured my sight. 

I am resolved to go to the Savior,  leaving my sin and strife. He is the true One, He is the just One, He has the words of life. 

I am resolved and who will go with me, come, friends without delay.  Taught by the Bible, led by the Spirit, we'll walk the heavenly way. 

Chorus:  " I will hasten to Him, hasten so glad and free, Jesus, greatest, highest. I will come to Thee."

In the New Testament book of 1 Peter, the Apostle begins his letter by reminding Christian readers of their confirmation as children of God. He told them to "make every effort to confirm their calling." It's like Peter was encouraging them to refresh their minds often concerning the things they have received and developed in their lives. He was making reference to his earlier statements about faith, goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance , godliness, mutual affection and love.  And, if these qualities are in them in increasing measure, they will keep them from being unproductive. 

Those qualities are the evidence of Christian service, and yet, there is a need in the life of every Christian to see these qualities increase as long as he is on his journey through life.  It means we need more faith today than we had in times past. It means our lives should manifest more marks of godliness than in previous years.  He is saying the journey is always going to be laced with our commitment to growth and improvement. 

Quoting Peter in Chapter 1:12-13,  "So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live."

We serve a God who continually gives us the necessary ingredients to serve and honor Him, and at the same time enjoy a life of peace and security in Him.  "I will hasten to Him, hasten so glad and free, Jesus, greatest, highest, I will come to Thee."


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Making Resolutions

Christmas is over and you would think everyone realizes it's time to get back into the routine to which we are accustomed, but reality sets in and we are just half way through the holidays. New Year's Day is rapidly approaching and if we are honest about this year's resolutions which we made back in January, we know we only have a few days to bring them into being.  

I read a story recently about a 2nd grader who was facing a school assignment to make some resolutions for the approaching new year. After the teacher explained New Year's resolutions to the class, Johnny began to think long and hard. The teacher had said the resolutions we make should be things which improve us and strengthen us, as well as bring us to be a better person. So Johnny started dwelling on how he could improve.  His mind didn't take long until it had him in deep thought about improving his school grades. As he thought, he decided he should also resolve to be more attentive in Bible class. That makes two areas of improvement and Johnny wasn't sure he could handle more than that. His mind wandered to the squabbles he regularly had with his sister and how he could make some improvement in that area. But the longer he thought about it, that was not going to be one of his resolutions. After all, she needed more improvement than he did!

Johnny, with his 2nd grade thinking, is a lot like those of us who are adults. Yes, we can find areas where we need to improve. Sometimes we resolve to be more kind, to lose some weight, to get ourselves to work on time, and be a better neighbor. Then we think like Johnny was thinking toward his sister. After all, we show more kindness than some people we could name. There are those who need a weight loss program a lot more than us. We may show up late for work too often, but there are always some who come in later. And those neighbors! If anyone need to be a better neighbor, it's the guy next door. 

Here is the usual thinking: I am about average in all those areas, so there are a lot of people who need those changes more than me. 

For the Christian, each and every day we should be keeping in mind those areas where we need to grow and mature. Certainly our New Year's resolutions should include spiritual matters.  If we think like most adults, and like Johnny, we settle the issue by remembering there are Christians who need more growth and maturity than us.  Then the resolutions fall by the wayside and accomplishment becomes impossible. 

Allow me to make some suggestions for Christians, and you do some serious thinking about each one, and see if any of these are areas where you can resolve to grow.  Personal prayer, Bible reading and study, ministering to the sick, jail visitation, helping the homeless, church attendance, volunteering wherever needed, improving relationships, feeding the hungry.......the list can go on.

My point today is that God has blessed each of us with talents and interests where we could be improving ourselves and helping others. My encouragement to you today is for everyone to spend some time with God, determining where you can bless others and glorify the Father. Then resolve to make your New Year's resolution a blessing to every life you touch.  God bless.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Becoming a Servant

Philippians 2:5-11
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
    taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

I read that passage often because it contains the one thing I need to remember, more than anything else. I can easily grasp the idea Paul begins with and I know I should always strive to have a Christ-like attitude.  It's the next part I wrestle with.

Paul tells us Jesus is God but he didn't grab onto equality with God as something to flaunt.  Instead, he made himself nothing.  That's the heart of the matter I struggle with all the time. Jesus made himself nothing. 

Think with me about all the important things Jesus taught, like the Sermon on the Mount, the parables, the individual instructions to those he met, and even his discourses with the Pharisees. Then I think of his suffering and ultimately his death on the cross. I want him to be my everything yet Paul reminds me  that he made himself nothing. 

Paul continues to tell us that he took the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  While on the earth in human form, Jesus demonstrated for us the concept of emptying ourselves of self, and becoming nothing so we can adequately take on the nature of a servant.  Remember what he said in Mark 10:43, "Whoever wants to be great must become a servant." (from The Message.)

So here is the part I need to remember. As a Christian servant of God, I am to strive to be like Jesus in every way, even to the point of taking on the nature of a servant for all mankind. It is only because Jesus became nothing that he can be our everything.  May "every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."


Monday, December 28, 2015

Another look at and old story.........

It's an old story we have heard before, but sometimes we need to hear the old stories again.  They were told for the benefit of all mankind, giving us a course of direction to take with our lives when similar situations arise.  This one is from John 8. 

Early one morning Jesus showed up at the temple courts and a crowd gathered around him as he sat down to teach.  Then those which were known as the teachers of the law, along with the Pharisees, showed up and brought with them a woman who was caught in adultery.  They stood her before the assembled crowd while confronting Jesus with how to handle the ordeal. “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.   The Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”  It's one thing to be caught in a sin, but another thing to have our sin made known to a group of people. And the surprising thing is, the accusers of this woman were not really concerned about her, they were simply trying to push Jesus into a corner with his answer.  How would you answer them?

Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with his finger.  The group pressed him further for an answer of how to handle this woman and her sin, but the answer they got wasn't what they were expecting. When Jesus stood up and spoke, he said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  One by one, the accusers left and soon only Jesus and the woman were standing there. Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Some would conclude from this story that Jesus isn't going to condemn us if we commit adultery!  The good news is that Jesus isn't going to condemn us for any of our sins if we commit our lives to him and leave our sinful ways.  That was too much for those religious leaders to grasp. They had the strict adherence to the law on their side, she deserved to be stoned. But she had the loving and forgiving Savior on her side. 

Some would argue that the story produces a false sense of forgiveness in that this woman showed no remorse, didn't say she was sorry, and did not promise to stop sinning.  The story's end in the Bible is comprised of the words of Jesus  for her to go and leave her life of sin.  We have no additional information that would tell us if she did that, or continued her sinful ways. 

The lesson for us in this story is that while Jesus would still consider adultery a sin, he teaches us that forgiven sinners are more important than the law which condemns them to death.  Maybe your sin is not as bad as adultery, and maybe your sin has not been made public, but the fact still remains, we all sin, "and fall short of the glory of God."  We deserve punishment. We deserve death. 

On the cross, Jesus died for this woman caught in adultery, just as he died for you and me. His blood covers our sin and brings us into a rightness with God. His mercy and his grace are given as his response to sinful mankind. Our response is to "Go, and leave our lives of sin."


Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas

Thanking you for your support and love for the message we share.  Blessings to you and yours this Christmas season.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

God and Sinners Reconciled!

Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled."
 Joyful all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies;  With angelic hosts proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem."

Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord; Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the God-head see, Hail, the incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel. 

Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth. 

"Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing" announces the arrival of Jesus in Bethlehem and shares the attributes of the King of Kings. With the miraculous birth of our Lord, God himself enters earth in human form. What better way for God to do that, than to make it happen with the excitement of a newborn baby? 

While the song, written by Charles Wesley in the 1700's, may be familiar to us, there is biblical power and truth in every verse.  Let me show you three verses of the song, and three important characteristics of the coming of Jesus.

1. Because "Christ is born in Bethlehem,"  the separation of man from God because of sin, is repaired. God and sinners may be reconciled. Jesus makes possible our victory over sin. 

2. God has physically come to earth. "Veiled in flesh" Jesus can in human form, yet he is also representing Deity.  Our Emmanuel dwelt among us and brings us light and life. 

3.  Laying aside his heavenly credentials, Jesus was "born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth." The birth of a baby; the salvation of mankind. 

That's the angels' message to mankind. Jesus was and still is that message for us. "Glory to the newborn King."


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Business of Shepherding

From the familiar 23rd Psalm we learn of God's shepherding ways over the sheep.  Perhaps you do not see yourself as one of the sheep, but you are. We all are. Scripture also describes us as "the sheep of his pasture."

Both of my grandfathers were farmers. Their land was known as a dry-land farm, meaning there were no modern irrigation systems to water the land and make crops grow, and you quickly became a person of prayer, praying for rain. 

Most farmers in that day would also have a cow or a few pigs to help with feeding the farmer's family.  One of my grandfathers also ran a dairy so that farm had many cows.  I think I have told you before about showing up at his farm one day and learning my grandfather had obtained a few sheep. All the grandkids were surprised to see them and they became the "hit of the farm" with all the young folks. 

There was one visit to the farm when my grandfather was trying to get the sheep into the safety of the fenced barnyard for the night.  I know that must have been frustrating because a simple honk of the horn on  his pickup truck would bring the cows running to the barn.  But not the sheep.

That's when I learned the lesson about sheep.  They aren't very intelligent!  In fact, leading those sheep to the barn brought out the desire of the sheep to scatter and run away.  My grandfather had a cow dog that would help him round up cows, but the dog was frustrated, too, when he couldn't seem to get the sheep to cooperate.  That was the only time I remember my grandfather using language, aimed at those few sheep, I had never heard him use before. 

I remember telling my grandfather, "God doesn't like it when we talk like that."  He replied, "God never did try to run sheep!"  I didn't give it much thought then, but now I know how wrong he was. If we are the sheep of God's pasture, then he is quite experienced at running sheep. 

Whether we admit it or not, we sheep disappoint and frustrate our shepherd, too.  Knowing  the real safety of shelter which is found only in God, we often choose to go in the opposite direction.  We choose our own way which is contrary to the way God is trying to lead us.

In his book, Fearless,  Max Lucado writes, "Maybe one reason why the angels first appeared to shepherds in order to announce the birth of the Messiah is that their Boss delights in identifying Himself as a shepherd."

I hope you can remember that.  Remember the Lord is your Shepherd and he longs for you to let him lead.

It's a lesson for each of us during this special time of the year. The more we turn loose of the shepherding business ourselves, the more the real Shepherd can lead us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Recognized

It wasn't a job I volunteered to do, but the process of finding someone else to do it had failed, so I was "railroaded" into doing it.   I had been assured the suit would fit because it was fully adjustable.  If extra padding were necessary it would be provided.  Yes, I was going to be Santa Claus for my oldest son's first grade class. 

I picked up the suit the day before the class party and successfully kept it hidden from my son.  I couldn't have him figuring out the secret and telling all the other kids.  I felt very confident in my ability to pull off this job without my own son realizing it was me inside that suit.

My grand entry was to be at 2:00 and I was right on time.  The teacher walked to the classroom door and opened it while announcing to the class, "Look who is here......its Santa!"   I walked in with "Ho, Ho, Ho," while the children cheered.  This party was on!

Amid the excitement of all the children, and while I was making my way toward the Christmas tree in the corner, a boy from the class (every class has a troublemaker) announced, "Hey Ronnie, it's really your dad!"   Ronnie came closer, examining me from head to toe, his eyes attempting to find me behind the long flowing beard and the stuffed red suit.  I felt a little relief when Ronnie responded to the other boy, "No, it's not!"  I don't know how long it took him to know it was me, but before the party was over, everyone in that class was calling me by my real name. 

While recalling that story today, a verse of scripture came to mind and I cannot stop thinking about it. The verse is recorded in the somewhat brief description of Jesus entering the world.  We are all familiar with Matthew's genealogy, and Luke's detailed account of the Christ-child.  Another writer of gospel accounts simply mentions Jesus showing up on the earthly scene with, "the Word became flesh and dwelled among us."  God gave us some things to figure out from John's account of the gospel with implication that Jesus had been around since before creation, and it was now that God chose for him to come in human form and actually live among us.

John has something else to say in this strange announcement of Jesus living among men. It's in John 1:11-13.  The something else, makes all the difference for you and me.  "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God."

I played Santa at a first grade Christmas party and my own son didn't recognize me.  Jesus, the Son of God came to earth and lived among men, but his own people did not believe it was him.  Look again, "12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God."

That's the real Christmas story.  We can still receive him today.  He gives us the right to become children of God.