WAS CHRISTMAS REALLY A “SILENT NIGHT?”

I really like the Christmas hymn Silent Night.  But I have to wonder…was that night a silent night with  all being calm? Was the infant so tender and mild suggesting a comfortable setting for the babe?

From all I read Jesus was born into a chaotic, lawless and troubled world.The leaders of Israel were leading the people further and further from God. Their nation was in subjection to the Roman Empire and many in Israel were fuming and fighting under that condition. One king had it in mind to kill this child-king if he could get his hands on him. And when he could not, what did he do? He had all the children in and around Bethlehem under 2 years old killed. Silent Night? Holy Night?All is calm?  I really don’t think so. Jeremiah predicted that there would be a lot of crying and sorrow among Israel at that time.  The only thing holy about that night  was the Son of God Himself.

Out on the hillside the Shepherds had their hands full too with a frightening display of angel lights and sounds. It was not so silent a night as far as they were concerned.

Was it a calm night for the new Christmas parents? Joseph and Mary were not in a comfortable hostel but far from home, having to make a hard trip to comply with census laws.  They ended up  in a cave stable where she gave birth to Jesus.  This baby was laid in  a feeding trough for animals. Calm, quiet surroundings you think? With animals, really?

I know…we like our Christmases contemplative and quiet so we can think.  That image of a peaceful and peace-filled celebration appeals to us. But in reality Christ’s birth was never meant to be treated in Silent Mode.  The coming of Christ is something to shout about, talk about, sing about, and testify to.  We ought to be making a lot of noise as a church at Christmas. This is our time. This is our Savior. Mohamed has nothing to do with this. The angel Moroni can’t share in this. Buddha has to bow low to this one. Hinduism has no Savior. Man’s religion has to take a back seat to this Lord of Glory come to earth! They must all stand silent before this King Savior – Jesus the Christ. Those are the real “silent night” people. Jesus says we are people of the day (I Thess. 5:5). We are to carry news of him everywhere and shout it from the mountaintops.

No, my friend. Let’s have no silent nights around Christmas. Christ really did come. Now that is something to talk about! Who will you tell over the next few days?  Silent night?? No way!! Think it thru

 

 

 

Advertisements

SHOULD I JUST TELL YOU I AM THANKFUL?

Strange question you might think.  Of course we should tell each other we are thankful. But how do you say you are thankful to someone—especially to God? You might answer: You just say it!

I don’t want to be like the man who on his wedding day said to his bride: “Now honey, listen carefully, I am only going to say this once and not repeat it. “I love you.”  I guarantee that marriage is headed south because all of us need reminded of our spouse’s love regularly.

Neither do I want to keep company with the 9 lepers who never came back to thank Jesus for healing them. Only one of the 10 returned and said thank you (see Luke 17:11-19), and get this –HE WAS A SAMARITAN!  A Samaritan thanking a Jew for anything was indeed rare.  He not only said thanks, but he DID SOMETHING. He came back and bowed at Jesus’ feet. He set aside the excitement of getting home to family, of showing off his new condition to come back to where his healing occurred, back to his first encounter with Jesus!

Just a point of clarification: I must remember that God does not need my thanks to survive or thrive. But I need to give Him my thanks. If He is the source of all my blessings (James says He is 1:17), then it stands to reason we begin our thanksgiving journey with Him.

Once again the question is worth raising: How do I say thanks? Well, we can say thank you with our words. Yes, words are very important. Regularly expressed thanks to God dominates the book of Psalms and is sprinkled throughout all the pages of Scripture. Words communicate what is in our hearts. God gave us speech to use for His glory!

But there is another dimension to giving thanks that we sometimes overlook. Listen to Paul in I Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

It seems then the way we give thanks best is shown in what we do.  Let’s get practical. It is thanksgiving day…the family has gathered…rehearsed all they are thankful for…consumed the turkey and giblets (hey, those are the highlight of the meal for me…yum…yum), the cranberry sauce, potatoes, pumpkin pie…etc. and then everybody scatters to their “fellowship circles.”  So, who cleans up? The cook? The mom? Aunt Sally? It seems to me that all the grateful folks should help clean up.  The best way to give thanks is to jump in and DO thanksgiving. Our thanks pokes out in our shoe-leather. You can say thank you to someone by taking the time to listen to them, help meet a need they have, or speak a word of encouragement backed up by some appropriate action.

If it reflects a grateful heart, then what we do is the best expression of thanks. The Lord tells us that our work will be blessed when we not only hear the word of God, but when we do it (James 1:22-25). So as we reflect on “thanksgiving” let’s practice our thanks not only in words, but in deeds too.  Think it thru

Why do we struggle with certain kinds of change?

Some changes we welcome. The change from the old worn out car to the new one. Now that is a change most of us delight in. AC is back…the old car had lost it. Navigation, blue tooth capability is now on board…man what luxury. The old car did not even have a USB socket, let alone the other accessories.
How about the new house with the furnace that does not need constant fixing, and plumbing that actually works all the time. Oh, yes very welcome.
And then there is the long search for a good paying job and you find it. It means a change in work environment, location, etc, but how welcome is that?
Yet when it comes to the changes the spirit of God is orchestrating in our lives, how we find ourselves balking and resisting and dragging our feet! Why is that? Well, after thinking about this in my own life, I think I have identified a couple of reasons, that my “change-meter” malfunctions.

I struggle with change because it takes me into new territory. It appears that is what happened to Peter when Jesus wanted to change his thinking about the Gentiles & the Gospel. Remember the big sheet with all those food sources that the Lord dropped down in front of Peter in his vision of Acts 10? God said, Peter, rise and eat! Wow! This was not just a diet change, but a whole different way of viewing Gentiles and Jews when it came to the Gospel. Peter’s change meter pegged. He was being moved into new territory. Notice what he said: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean”(v. 14). I have never gone there, and don’t really want to go there! Three times the Lord brought Peter to the brink of change (v. 16). Of course when Peter submitted to the change (and it was a process you will recall with the men coming, the house of Cornelius listening to the message, the coming of the Spirit, then Peter in chap. 11 eating with that Gentile family), what great blessing resulted. Change accepted…and today we Gentiles are “in” because of one man accepting the change brought by God’s spirit. The changes God brings to us always seem to have bigger gains than the losses we experience by the change. I must keep that in mind.  I like something C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Here is one other thought on this change thing. I struggle with change because I allow my present state to trump the priority of Christ in my life. I cannot help but recall Paul’s moment of change on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Here is a guy who was comfortable in his Pharisee life. He was serving God (he thought sincerely) and had the powers that be behind him in his ministry venture of taking Christians into custody. Life change and ministry change hit him between the eyes on that day when the light shone down from heaven and Jesus confronted him with those haunting words “why are you kicking against the ox-goads?” Paul was brought to the brink of life change and ministry change when he accepted the fact that Christ holds the priority in life. Three days blind, months and even years of re-direction spelled out just how extensive the change was for Paul. Everything Paul valued and had committed to up to that point changed. What was the results of the change? Well, for starters, most of the New Testament flowed out of his Spirit-empowered pen!

So….Change is always good when God brings it and I accept it. I want to view the changes God allows and brings as really good redirections in my life. Leonard Ravenhill once wrote these insightful words: “THE QUESTION ISN’T WERE YOU CHALLENGED. THE QUESTION IS WERE YOU CHANGED?” Think it thru.

 

 

WHAT IS RESURRECTION LIFE?

Everyone dies. Conception brings life into this earthly existence. Because we are born sinners, our end is already fixed- the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Yet for the believer, death is the “birth” that takes us into the heavenly existence. Life after death is a reality. The Bible says so. Jesus promised that because He lives (after his death),  we will too who know Him. Which brings up the question: what exactly is the resurrection life mean  for the one who knows Christ?

1- It is the hope that we will literally be in heaven with Christ after we die. (John 14; II Cor. 4-5). Paul said it is a better thing to be with Christ than to “truck on” here. That tells us the resurrection life of the future far surpasses the earthly life of the present (Phil. 1:23).
2- It is the promise of a perfect body with no sickness, sin, or sorrowful experiences to plague its existence. Paul speaks of the transformed bodies we will have after our resurrection (I Cor. 15:35-44). These bodies will never be subject to decay or degeneration (I Cor. 15:53-57). In some way, we will be like Jesus (I John 3:2). Literally, we will never face death (physical) again (John 11:25-26).
3- It is the taste of the future life now by being in Christ. Paul said though he was crucified with Christ, he lives. And the life he lives down here is a new life, a different life, a life that will never really end (Gal. 2:20).
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ opened a door of hope for those who believe that can never be closed! Hey, whatever way the path turns we win! Think it thru

WHAT’S WITH THE RED LIGHTS?

Sometimes red lights annoy me because their timing is not conducive to my busy schedule. The idea of sitting and waiting is not appealing to me…so sometimes I accelerate and run a yellow light so I don’t have to wait at the red light. You know bad things can happen at red lights too. Someone could rear-end you while you are sitting there waiting on the green light and your turn to go. I had that happen last year. Ever had your car stall and the light turns green and you cannot go? If only you did not catch that red light, then your car would have kept running and you would not have to deal with the embarrassment and frustration of holding up traffic, right? Now having vented my frustration and annoyance with red lights, and before you condemn me as a dangerous lunatic of a guy behind the wheel, let me tell you I understand their necessity. They are there for our protection. They are there to prevent chaos on the road and an orderly arrangement of traffic.
But there is another kind of “red light” that becomes annoying for us too. That concerns the red lights God puts into our path as believers.
I always think of Jonah when I think of the red lights God raises up in front of us.
There was the red light of the storm in Jonah chapter one. God sent the storm. It was God saying to Jonah, you need to stop now because you are on a path I have not chosen for you. And it is not a good path. This kind of red light is really God’s way of showing kindness to Jonah. If Jonah would have repented and made an about face, everyone on the ship would not have had to suffer because of his refusal to obey,including Jonah himself. Running a red light could bring danger to your passengers as well as to you. And that is what happened here. Jonah just ran that red light, went to sleep in the hold, and put all his fellow passengers at risk. When awakened he refused to change his heart and the problem intensified.
Then there was the red light of the fish in Jonah chapter two. I can only imagine his thoughts when he found himself still alive and in a fish’s stomach. Somebody put the brakes on and it was not Jonah! Here was a red light he could not run or avoid. Red lights from God need to be occasions for prayer. When God halts our journey it should be a call to prayer as it was for Jonah. Reading Jonah’s prayer made me realize that Jonah had not had any recent conversations with God about his life direction. This was a distressing time, a lonely time, and a fainting time in his life. Yet, God heard, answered, spared his life, and returned him to the path he had abandoned. Those blessed red lights!
There is one more red light. The red light of the worm. In chapter four Jonah sits down in the sun to see what would happen to Nineveh. He is hot, tired, and a tad bent out of shape. God causes a shade plant to grow up and give him some relief. Then God erects another red light. The plant gets destroyed by a pesky worm. This red light was given to Jonah so he would rethink what is most important in life -plants or people. He was so upset over the dead plant and that blasted worm that he failed to see the people who had never dying souls.  God intends among other things that red lights lead us to adjust our  “to do” lists, our passions, our value assessments, and even our stewardship habits. It is too easy to let slip the most important priorities of our lives for plants and worm frustrations.  Can you welcome the red lights? They are God sent! Think it thru

DOES TOMORROW LOOM TOO LARGE?

Let’s face it. We are a couple of weeks into the new year already and looking ahead to our next day’s journey. The danger is that we can try to live tomorrow before it gets here. Tomorrow looms large to us. Perhaps too large. I am not saying that we shouldn’t  plan for tomorrow as much as our limited life allows. But we must realize that we only have strength for the day imparted and so we cannot live tomorrow on today’s energy (God promised Israel: “As your days, so will your strength be” – Deut. 33:25). But when tomorrow looms large especially when it promises something we dread (I think I have a dental appointment looming on the horizon–get what I mean?), then we find ourselves a bit shaky in the strength & courage department.

I am reading a rather heavy tome called “The Christian’s Reasonable Service” by Wilhelmus A’Brakel. (Just the name intimidated me at first). It is in volume 2 that the author talks about the need for spiritual strength for our journey into tomorrow. He said this: “Spiritual strength is an undaunted steadfastness of heart, given by God to His children, whereby they, while entertaining a lively hope of acquiring the promised benefits, overcome fear of all danger and opposition, unyieldingly engage in warfare, and courageously persevere in obedience toward God.”  Now that is a mouthful. What is he saying that is so helpful to us?

First, he tells us that strength has to have a spiritual source. God has to give it. And He gives it to us in Christ (I Cor. 1:30 – Christ is made to us among other things strength). Only in Christ can I have this strength that  breeds a steadfastness of heart  for tomorrow’s events.  The Psalmist said in 31:34 “He shall strengthen your heart.” The prophet Isaiah speaks assuredly about this to his people as they faced an uncertain tomorrow when he says: “He gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increases strength” (Isa. 40:39).  A’Brakel really opened my eyes when he observed: “The benefits hoped for are so desirable that they can endure all that is uncomfortable…Hope in the faithfulness and truthfulness of the promising God makes acquisition such a steadfast and unquestionable fact, that the stronger the believer is in this respect, the stronger his courage will be.” Those promised benefits may not come in our time and in our way, and we may have to face some opposition and trial, but they will come enabling us to have steadfastness of heart and courage to persevere. Those promises give us strength for tomorrow. God told Habakkuk he would have to wait for awhile until God unfolded what he had promised in the vision: “…if it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

Second, he tells us that this spiritual strength is an overcoming kind of thing.  The courageous believer is made so because he realizes that “…everything which is in opposition has no power to conquer him and prevent him from reaching his objective, omnipotent help being on his side.”  I think this is what the Psalmist was talking about when he said in Ps. 27:1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” The tomorrow that looms before us in such a foreboding way is no match for the omnipotent help we have been promised by our Lord.  Fear must go away in light of what we have been promised. When we feel our courage slipping away remember what Isaiah said in Isaiah 27:5 “Let him take hold of My strength.” Tomorrow loomed big in David’s eyes as he realized the people were planning on stoning him because the Amalekites had raided his headquarters in Ziklag.  How did he deal with that potential disaster?  The text tells us “But David encouraged himself in the LORD his God” (I Sam. 30:6). He counted on God’s strength to be there in his tomorrow!

Third, he reminds us that spiritual strength is maintained by our obedience. God has given us grace to obey. We have to know that something desirable is at stake in tomorrow’s battle and that desirable thing is for us to persevere in obeying our Lord no matter what the enemy chooses to use against us.  We should know our enemy. We are acquainted with the Devil, the world, and our own flesh. On the flip side, our enemies are well acquainted with us too! That is why we need this strength from God. We not only desire to defeat our enemies but at the same time we also want to stay obedient. As we experience God’s strength,wait for it, and rely on its promise  we are able to persevere in obedience. Paul reminds us in II Cor. 10:4-5 of this:  “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power (strength) to destroy strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

David got it. In  Ps. 119:115 he declares: “Depart from me, you evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.”

Don’t let tomorrow loom too large!  Omnipotence has gone ahead of us! Take courage and draw on his strength. Take the psalmists words into your soul:“Be of good courage,and He will strengthen your heart” Ps. 27:14.  Think it thru

 

IS THERE SUCH A THING AS “CHRISTMAS TOO QUICK??”

I know…you might be thinking that after the Christmas presents are unwrapped and the Christmas parties are behind you, and the relatives have returned home, you might think that you are ok with it all being over. It went by quick enough and now life can get back to normal. But are we too quick to count down the days rather than making the days count?
I wonder if we “hustle” the Christmas season along too quickly!  It should be a time on the calendar when we slow down enough to think about God coming in the flesh to live among us for 33 years. How many conversations of wonder do we have with friends and relatives about this incredible event? Instead I am afraid that  our children hear conversations like: “I have so much to do or  we have to run here or I must stop and get this, etc?” Do they ever hear in depth conversations about Jesus at this time of year? The problem is we have “rushed our spirituality” right out the window. We have created a “go faster” mentality about the whole Christmas thing. Everyone brags about their busy-ness and flurry of activity as if that qualifies us for some star in our imaginary character crown! Maybe we have just forgotten the “Martha & Mary” story in the Gospels.

I keep thinking of that verse in Luke [2:19]where Mary kept going over in her mind what the Shepherds told her about the angelic announcement regarding the birth of Jesus.  She slowed down and just thought it through. Good news…great joy…a savior! No one can embody all of that stuff in the human family. It took Jesus Christ to bring all of that to us. And Mary just could not stop thinking about it.Can we?

Recently God called R. C. Sproul home to glory. The one quality that I appreciated most about him was  his ability to make us think deeply and long about who Christ is and what He came to do. You could not help but linger at the Biblical table laden with the subject of Jesus Christ when he taught and wrote.

Somehow in this coming year we need to learn to take the “quick” out of our to do list. Jesus Christ is worth some time to contemplate! We need to “linger awhile at the table!” Think it thru