December 24, 2017

Christmas - An Invitation to Experience Peace

How often have I told you that I hope that there is a History Channel in Heaven? There are so many things that I want to see and this moment is one of them. I want to see and hear the angel chorus burst into song and declare, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14

What is most important though isn’t the music; it was what the music promised. The music promised that God had sent a Savior to offer us peace! Our world needs this peace desperately and so do we. To help us understand what God was offering I’m going to use the word peace in the form of an acrostic in the hope that it will help us experience the peace God promised.

1. “P” – “Pass our problems on to God.”

Remember the old carol, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day”? There is a line that says, “And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.” Henry Longfellow wrote the song following his son’s terrible wounding in battle during the Civil War. We live in world full of problems and if we aren’t careful they can overwhelm us. We can easily agree with the line in the song. But we need to remember later Longfellow declared, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: God is not dead, nor does he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men.”

If you are finding peace fleeting because you are drowning in problems do as Peter suggested. He said, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7. The first step in experiencing true peace is to receive the child as our Savior. Then we can pass our problems on to Him.

2. “E” – “Eliminate Regrets.”

One of the surest things I know is if we are alive and breathing we will have regrets. Since this is our reality for us to have any hope of experiencing peace and freedom in our soul we need to eliminate regrets. We need to do so because if we carry our regrets with us they become a ball and chain that curse and destroy our future.

Guilt and grief over past mistakes, hurtful memories and experiences, sins and missed opportunities rob us of our peace. Grudges that we hold on to will rob us of our peace. Only Jesus has the power to move us past the guilt, grief, and grudges. Sorrow looks back, worry looks around, but faith looks ahead. To have peace regrets must be eliminated. Paul, a man who had every reason to be full of regret wrote, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”Romans 8:1. He knew the freedom that comes with being delivered from regrets. He knew we don’t deliver ourselves; it is a work of God.

3. “A” – “Appreciate what we have.”

Very few of us are born content. I believe contentment has to be learned. To illustrate this I recently heard that ten percent of all the gifts given at Christmas last year were returned? Why? They were the wrong size, wrong type, and wrong color. But there was another reason as well; those who received them weren’t content with what they were given. So out we go for the post Christmas sales to get what we really wanted. So often our real problem is we fail to appreciate what we already have.

Once again we can turn to Paul to discover how to experience the peace the angels promised. He said in Philippians 4:12 “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” He had learned how to be free in spite of his circumstances. If contentment and the peace that it brings is something we learn then what’s the secret? The secret is to appreciate God’s gifts.

4. “C” – “Change our focus.”

How often have I told you that left to our own devices we are selfish and self-centered? Selfishness is pervasive and it shows up in strange ways. We are encouraged by our culture to look out after our own self-interests, but Jesus points us toward caring for others and looking out for the interests of others first. It was Jesus who reminded us that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”Acts 20:35.

God knows for us to experience peace we must change our focus from ourselves to others. We need to adopt Paul’s attitude for ourselves. He told us, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 4:2. Only then are we able to change our focus and care for the needs of others. Then we will know the peace the angels sang about and God’s promise becomes a reality.

5. “E” – “Embrace the Life God offers.”

The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:14. Isn’t there something disconcerting in what they said. I wonder on whom does God’s favor rest? Is it me, you, some others or on some select group of special people? Then I remember what Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16. God loves all people and He has made it possible for His favor to rest on everyone.

For us to know peace we must surrender to God’s love and will; and then embrace the life He offers us.

Conclusion

Peace isn’t the absence of trouble. Peace is having the confidence that we are secure in Jesus Christ. So if you want peace let’s pass our problems on to God, eliminate regret, appreciate what we have, change our focus and embrace the life God offers. To do this we need to listen to the angel’s song.

opportunities for Growth:

  • Read Luke 2:1-15 and pay attention to the angel’s song. What impact does this song have on your life?
  • Can you honestly say you are experiencing God’s peace this Advent season? If not turn your attention to the child born Christmas Day and ask Him to transform your life.
  • Take a few moments during the Christmas season to seek God’s peace by:
    • passing your problems on to God,
    • eliminating regret,
    • appreciating what you have,
    • changing your focus,
    • and embracing the life God offers

December 10, 2017

Christmas Calls for a Response

If you haven’t noticed we are in the heart of the Christmas season. There are only fifteen days left to get ready. What I know is, the thought that Christmas is almost here will provoke a range of responses from every one of us. Our responses may vary from that of the Ebenezer Scrooge who said, “Bah Humbug,” and the anti- Christmas Grinch who set out to ruin it, to the little girl in the story of the Grinch who sang and celebrated the wonder of the day even though the presents were gone.

I know there have been times that I have been on both ends of this spectrum of emotions. You may have felt these conflicting emotions at one time or another as well. Hopefully your experience has been more positive than negative. But this isn’t what I want us to focus on today. What I want us to focus on is our response to the Advent of Jesus Christ. The truth of the matter is Advent; the Christmas season, is all about preparing our hearts to respond to the one who can transform our lives and this world. It is about crying out “Come Lord Jesus!”

To help us to prepare an appropriate response to Jesus’ coming I want us to spend time with those who were personally touched by Jesus that first Christmas. When we are willing to respond as they did we will experience transformation during Advent.

1. Mary’s response was one of acceptance and surrender to God’s will.

Let’s listen to the conversation that took place between her and the angel Gabriel. “God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth…to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph...The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God...”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:26-38.

Mary’s response is what I want us to focus on. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:38. Mary’s simple and straight forward response is a lesson to us.

So what does this mean for us? When we read this account of Jesus’ birth do we sense a deeper calling? Do we sense in the story that God is asking us to open our heart to accept and surrender to Jesus Christ?

2. Joseph’s response was one of obedience.

The news of Mary’s unplanned pregnancy placed Joseph in a difficult situation. We read about this and his response in his

conversation with Gabriel. Matthew recorded, “Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Matthew 1:18-24.

Joseph’s response sounds so simple. As Matthew recorded, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him…” (Matthew 1:24). We are far removed from the cultural realities Joseph faced in the Palestine of his day. Mary’s news would have been shattering. There could be no escaping the conclusion that either Mary had sinned, or both of them had, and that mark would always remain. So this devout Jewish man faced a dilemma. Does he heed the angel’s instruction or does he save his own skin and reputation? Thankfully Joseph was a man who loved God more that his own comfort and reputation.

Joseph was a man who understood Psalm 128:1, “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” I am grateful to God for His witness. My hope is that when God speaks, whether it is through His word or through the leading of His Spirit, it would be said of us, “(He) did what (God) commanded!”

3. The shepherd’s response to Jesus’ birth was one of uncontained excitement.

Luke records what happened when the angel announced Jesus’ birth to them. Let’s read, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…” Luke 2:8-18. Their response is a witness to the effect the birth of Christ has on those who receive the good news.

Luke summarized their response by saying, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child…” They were so overwhelmed by what they had witnessed that they couldn’t contain themselves; they had to speak of what they witnessed.

When I think of their response I am convicted and challenged by the Holy Spirit. I have to ask myself. How long has it been since I was so filled with excitement over the birth of the newborn King that I couldn’t contain the news?

4. The response of the Wise Men was to seek and worship Him.

Matthew tells us, “After Jesus was born…Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him…and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11.

There is much more to this story than I have read but what I want us to focus on is the response of the Wise Men. When they saw the star they correctly read the signs and set out to seek the newborn king so that they might worship Him. To seek Him meant a road trip unlike anything any of us have experienced. It was dangerous and costly to the point of potentially costing them their lives. Still, nothing would hold them back.

Most of us have read the saying at Christmas that says, “Wise Men (people) still seek Him!” As we continue with our Advent journey wouldn’t this be a wise posture for us to assume? Wouldn’t it be worth it this Advent for us to seek Him with all of our hearts so that we might worship Him? If you wonder if this is possible remember what Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33.

Conclusion

As I bring this to a close we really have to ask the question, “So what?” Does what I have said today really matter? Does it have any relevance to where we live today? I guess it depends on what we want out of life. What I know is if we are desirous of experiencing the good news that Jesus Christ our Savior is born we will respond as:

  • Mary with acceptance and surrender
  • Joseph with obedience
  • The shepherds with uncontained excitement
  • And as the Wise Men by seeking and worshiping Him.

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. Meditate as you read and ask God to help you experience what Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and Wise Men did.
  • During the Advent season find time to quiet your heart so that you might experience the good news once again or for the first time.
  • Pray to respond as:
    • Mary with acceptance and surrender
    • Joseph with obedience
    • The shepherds with uncontained excitement
    • And as the Wise Men by seeking and worshiping Him.

December 3, 2017

A Reason for Hope

Advent marks the beginning of the Christmas season. It starts on the Sunday nearest to November 30th. So this year it begins today, December 3rd, and ends on Christmas Eve. The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent for a follower of Jesus Christ is a time to anticipate and prepare for the celebration of His birth. During this time we prepare our hearts to celebrate the Incarnation; God’s coming in human flesh.

In this chaotic time when our world is full of turmoil and hopelessness it is all the more important for us to celebrate Advent. We do this by focusing on the theme, “Come Lord Jesus.” Specifically we will seek to understand that Jesus Christ gives us “A Reason to Hope.” To help us we will travel to Bethlehem and join the shepherds on the hillside. As we sit with them we will discover that our hope was born in a stable on the backside of Bethlehem. With this in mind let’s see what happens when hope appeared. (Read Luke 2:8-16)

1. HOPE APPEARED IN AN UNEXPECTED PLACE TO AN UNEXPECTING PEOPLE.

If you are familiar with the birth narrative you know that the shepherds weren’t considered by any stretch of the imagination to be the elite of Judean society. They were in actuality on the lower end. So the idea that the birth of the Messiah, the Savior of the world would be announced to them first was unexpected to say the least.

But when you think about it this is so like our God. Paul said it well, “For God does not show favoritism.” Romans 2:11. When He sent the angels to the shepherds He was making it clear that hope was His gift to everyone. John 3:16 says it so clearly, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” What this tells me is that we need to keep our eyes open this Advent because Jesus and the hope He brings may just show up in the least expected place and touch the least expected persons…maybe even you and I. Will you open your heart to this possibility?

2. HOPE APPEARED AND TOOK THE FORM OF A CHILD WHO WOULD BE OUR MESSIAH, SAVIOR AND LORD.

The angel was very specific. He told the freaked out shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12. What they didn’t and couldn’t know was the baby in the manger was Jesus Christ, God revealed, the second person of the Trinity. What we can say is the angel’s message that the Messiah, Savior and Lord had arrived breathed hope into every fiber of their souls.

It is an amazing thing that God clothed Himself in Galilean cloth, was born into poverty and stepped into human history. This is the basis of our present and future hope. We to can in awe and worship cry out that He is our Messiah, Savior and Lord. My hope for all of us here today is that before this Advent season ends, we will either reaffirm our commitment to Him or we will for the first time acknowledge that He is our Messiah, Savior and Lord.

3. HOPE APPEARED AND PROMISES US A FUTURE THAT LOOKS PAST THE PAIN, PROBLEMS AND PRESSURES OF LIFE.

I can’t imagine what the angel’s words meant to the shepherds. I know it was enough for them to leave the flocks and head off to Bethlehem. The message that their deliverer was born would have caused a powerful hope to grow in them. One of the dangers of the Advent season is the story of Jesus’ birth can become just that; a quaint, sentimental story. There is little hope in the story if we have lost the wonder. We need to experience what Isaiah prophesied, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2.

True hope is touched by the miracle of Advent and looks past the pains, problems and pressures of this life and anticipates God’s deliverance. Hope is having faith for tomorrow while we’re still dealing and struggling with the stuff of today. It is as the writer of Hebrews said, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1. The good news of Advent is “We have a hope.” Our hope is built and founded in Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION

Advent isn’t reminiscing about a beautiful story we may remember from the past. Advent is anticipating an encounter with Jesus Christ. Ultimately Advent looks down the road to the future, to the time when the promises God made will be the promises God will bring to pass. So today let’s join the shepherds in worshipping the baby in the manger. Let’s cry out together, “Come Lord Jesus!”

OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH:

  • Read Luke 2:8-16 and try to imagine that you are one of the shepherds. What would it have been like to encounter the Angel? What would you have done?
  • Is Advent a time of preparation and anticipation for the coming of the Savior or has it become something else for you? Ask God to bring the wonder back.
  • This Advent season will you turn your past, present and future over to Jesus? Will you dare to hope that He can provide for you?