Friday, December 31, 2010
It's New Year's Eve. 2011 starts tomorrow!
Christmas is over, the holiday hustle and bustle is over. People's thoughts are beginning to turn to New Year's Resolutions, weight loss after the seasonal delicacies, setting goals for the New Year, and exclaiming, “Where did the last year go?"
Or the last 5, or 20?
But wherever those years may have gone, the next year is upon us.
Here's my question: Are you worried about it? Are you worried about the next year, or the future in general?
Let me state it boldly up front.
There are two things that are infinitely foolish.
One is for a Christian to worry about the future. We all do it sometimes, but we at least need to recognize that it's foolish.
But the other thing that's foolish is for a non-Christian to NOT worry about the future. Someone who doesn't know Jesus as Lord and Savior should worry. In fact we should pray for those we know and love to worry, if they don't know Jesus.
There are lots of books written for unbelievers, which teach them not to worry. Psychology books, and self-help books, and positive thinking books, and success books. The book stores are filled with whole rows of shelves of books under the general heading of Self-Improvement. And almost all of these books contain some so-called wisdom in them which tell their readers not to worry.
Some will even quote the Scriptures, with hardly the slightest understanding of what they are really about. They will quote Phillipians 4:6, which says, “Be anxious for nothing.” But they might leave out the next part of the verse which says, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” They don't really know what that means, do they?
Some will quote Jesus who says, “Do not worry for tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” - Matthew 6:34.
Of course, most unbelievers still worry. But many have learned to, as Romans 1 puts it, "suppress the truth in unrighteousness". In other words, they have more or less succeeded in “thinking positive thoughts”.
1800 years ago, a pagan philosopher who is still revered for his wisdom, spoke on this subject. His name was Marcus Aurelius. He was not only a Stoic Philosopher, but he had an interesting job. He was Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 A.D. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus wrote, “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
Nothing wrong with reason. Logic is a gift from God, but may I ask the same question Jesus asked? “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?”
See, Marcus Aurelius had something he should have been anxious about. He should have been anxious about his soul. And in the years he lived, he would have had ready access to the Gospel. The Good News that Jesus Christ, just a few years before Marcus Aurelius was born, died on a Roman cross, to pay for our sins, and rose again from the grave. So that whoever would believe in Him would not perish under the wrath of God, but have eternal life.
But the Emperor chose “the gods” of Rome, instead of The God of creation, and the God-Man of the Cross. And so he had plenty to worry about. But he apparently did not.
The great actor Anthony Hopkins, in a recent interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actor's Studio, said, “Today is the tomorrow I was so worried about yesterday.”
We see that same attitude echoed here by Hopkins, who is in effect saying, “See? I worried about today, and it's okay. So I shouldn't have worried.”
I can't help thinking about the Scripture in 2 Peter 3, where Peter writes, “...mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?” But as Peter says, it escapes their notice that God once destroyed the Earth with a flood, and “by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men....with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day....the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.”
Sir Anthony Hopkins has something to worry about, doesn't he? I pray the Lord might open his heart.
But how about you, Christian?
If you are a Christian, a born again believer in Jesus Christ, well that's a different story.
It is utterly foolish for you to worry.
You can use your reason, your logic, just as Marcus Aurelius did, but for you the logic is based on a good foundation.
Your logic goes like this: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” Romans 8:31. See the logic there? That's what I call logic! If God the Father gave us God the Son, sacrificed on a cross for our sins, is it logical He will now desert us? Of course not.
“I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” He tells us. And that's reasonable, isn't it? With what He's already done, will He drop the ball, so to speak?
No. In fact, as the almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise God, He can do whatever He wants, and He does.
And one of the things that He does is in that same 8th Chapter of Romans, verse 28. It goes like this, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
And did you ever stop to consider how logical that is? We don't deserve His love, but He chose to love us. And He paid for our sins, forgave our sins, and gave us the gift of His righteousness, declaring us righteous.
And we love Him because He first loved us. And now all things work together for good to those who love Him. That's us. Would it be logical that He would work things together for bad to us who love Him? Of course not.
And so it makes perfect sense when the Scripture says in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Now God knows that we are prone to worry, to be anxious. So He doesn't just say, “Don't.” He gives us a very practical alternative, in case we haven't fully absorbed the glory of His love for us yet. The better we know Him, and the wonder of His Grace, and the truth that He loves and accepts us fully in Christ, and that nothing we could do can diminish that love and Grace – the better we know that in our hearts and minds, the less we would be able to worry or be anxious.
But God knows we are learners. God knows we need our minds renewed. God knows that we are subject to the lies of the world, the flesh and the devil. And so He gives us some practical things to do, while we're learning the depths of His love.
He tells us not to be anxious for anything, but then He says to do something else instead.
First, He says, to let our requests be made known to God. Now obviously God isn't lacking in knowing anything. But He gives us the simple suggestion that we pray (that means talk to Him) with supplication (that means asking for something). Sometimes you'll hear pious preachers say, “Stop asking God for things. Just say, 'Thy will be done' and leave it to Him, you greedy little beggar.”
Well, the problem with that thinking is that it's just not Biblical.
God wants us to ask Him for things. Why? Many reasons, actually, but a big one is that He wants us to be dependent on Him. Not independent. Dependent. God loves being our Father, our provider. Even people like to be needed. Sometimes I neglect to ask for the help of my wife, and she says, “I'm here. Stop acting like a bachelor.”
And God is saying, “Stop acting like a god.” He wants us to pray to Him and ask for things. Of course, He doesn't want us to ask with bad motives, just for pleasure's sake, James 4:3.
But we can now come boldly before His throne of grace, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” - Hebrews 4:16.
So first He says in Philippians to let our requests be made known to God.
But secondly, He says that it should be “with thanksgiving”. What's the logic here? What's the process? Should I pray for something, and then when I get it, be thankful and give God thanks?
Well, there's nothing wrong with that kind of thanksgiving, but that's not what God is getting at here. He's talking about an attitude, as much as an action. Of course we should give thanks for specific things, and specific answers to prayer. But even higher than that, is a heart of gratitude. It's first the recognition for all the good that God has brought into our lives.
Now life is filled with bad things, isn't it? I mean, we live in a fallen world, and the bad stuff, like the poor, you will always have with you.
But most of the things in your life are good, in one way or another. Some of you will have trouble believing that, and I don't have the time right now to prove it. But if you actually, honestly believe that you have more bad things than good in your life, then you have a lot of meditation on the Scriptures to do. You are starting from scratch, you are starting from square one. That's okay. Start.
Absorb yourself in the Word of God and learn of Him until you understand that the blessings He has showered you with are abundant. In a very practical way, maybe write down, or list in your mind, all the blessings you can think of, one at a time. And thank Him for them. And do this over and over, until you have the simple basic truth down, that the blessings in your life far outweigh the bad things. Start with Jesus Christ Himself. Many of us can testify to the truth that if we have Christ, we truly lack nothing. The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall not lack for anything. Everything else is gravy, or frosting, if you prefer.
So first is the recognition for all the good that God has brought into our lives. Then comes our heart attitude about that. It starts with the knowledge that is expressed in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
In other words, every good in your life is a gift from God. So after you recognize the good, be thankful to Him for it, and express that thankful heart with thanksgiving.
Now this process, like all of the Christian life, requires walking in the Spirit. That's why a pagan can't really live a life of thanksgiving. They may say in their psychology books, “Have an attitude of gratitude,” but what is sadder than having an attitude of thanksgiving and having no one to thank?
But we know who to thank, don't we?
And He is the one who has promised to meet all our needs, Philippians 4:9. We may not even know what our needs really are at a given time, but He does. And He will supply them as surely as He supplies the garment of the Lily of the Field.
And so we don't need to worry. We don't need to be anxious. We have a God, a Lord, a Friend who is closer than a brother. And with Him all things are possible. There is nothing He can't do.
And so I leave you with a final piece of logic. Not cold calculating logic, but the warm joyful logic of the Lord who loves you. Here it is:
“If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” The wonderfully logical answer is...Nothing.
So don't worry. And have a Blessed New Year!
Friday, December 24, 2010
It is Christmas Eve as I write.
And we all know the Christian warnings about remembering Jesus. Jesus is the reason for the season. Keep Christ in Christmas. And these cliches have become cliches because they are valid.
Still, the baby in a manger was just the beginning.
It's good to celebrate the birth of Christ. But the Son of God didn't come to earth for the purpose of being a baby. As He grew in years, He grew in wisdom and stature, as a man. He was and is God, but now God with us, Emmanuel.
And He came to us, dwelt with us, tabernacled with us, in a human body, on Earth, that He might die to pay for our sins, so that we might be saved, forgiven. And then He rose again from the dead, and lives today, in a body at the right hand of the Father, but by His Spirit in us, who believe in Him.
Have you ever done Bible memorization? I have.
If you have, one verse you probably haven't memorized is 2 Tim. 2:8.
It's something important that Paul the Apostle told his spiritual son and protege, Timothy. He tells Timothy to remember something. It's something that you wouldn't think Timothy would need to be reminded of. But he did need to be reminded of it, and so do you, and I.
2 Tim. 2:8:
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel.“
Why would Paul remind Timothy to remember Jesus?
1. To be strong in grace.
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
Strong in the Grace? Sounds like a contradiction.
But life is tough, isn’t it? Timothy had things to do. And so do you.
These things require the grace of God. Remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh?
We can’t be strong in grace if we don’t remember Jesus, that He is alive (risen from the dead). He's not just a dead Savior, He is a living Savior, and may I say it like Jesus did?...He calls us his friends.
Can you imagine? We are FOJ's. Friends of Jesus. The Creator of the Universe, the Lord of all Creation, the almighty God, calls us His friends.
And the Lord wants us to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Do you ever hear preachers, or other Christian folks, all they talk about is sin? Now if you're preaching through the Bible and you come to something about sin, preach it. But do you notice how some think the most important subject in the world is sin? I'm talking about Christian brothers and sisters. They think the most important subject in the world is sin.
Now sin is important. As Christians we're against it, aren't we? But we don't need a huge amount of teaching about it, because we are very familiar with it, aren't we? It's not something we need to be constantly reminded of, or to be constantly dwelling on.
What we do need to be constantly reminded of, and to be dwelling on is Jesus Christ, and His astounding grace. That's what honors Christ, and that's what gives us the light to walk by, the light to walk in the Spirit. And the Bible says that when we walk by the Spirit we won't fulfill the lust of the flesh.
See how that works? If we dwell on sin, we end up trying to defeat it in the flesh, which just compounds the mess. It's like trying to clean honey off of your hand with your other hand, and both hands end up sticky with nowhere to go.
But if we dwell on Jesus, who gives us the water of life, He by grace fills us with His Spirit, and we walk with clean hands. It's grace we need to obsess over, not the Law and sin. And the grace will minimize the sin, as we realize freshly that we are not under Law but under grace, and we are dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ, Rom. 6:11.
"The Law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." –John 1:17
2. Because of His past faithfulness.
Don’t you just love the Book of Psalms?
An entire Christian life could be spent meditating on the Psalms. Maybe no other book so exalts God as the powerful creator of the universe, and maybe no other book exalts God as the faithful provider of mercy for His children.
He is faithful.
And the Psalm-writers, mostly David, write over and over about remembering the Lord.
I want to mention some things the Psalmist says about the Lord, and just let them wash over you.
Take a few moments. Be still, and know He is God.
Remember Him for these things. His:
We are so prone to forget these things, and partly because we are so prone to forget Him.
We live in a “now” world.
We have things to do, people to see, presents to buy, things to arrange, go go go!
And we've got problems, and we have them NOW.
And we know we will have more problems in the future.
And so we’re prone to worry.
But then we remember Jesus.
That He is born in Bethlehem.
That He died for us, for the forgiveness of our sins.
That He is risen.
That He is here.
And not just here, but in us (Christ in you, the hope of glory).
And we remember His faithfulness in the past.
How He rescued us from that storm of life (even a literal storm, maybe).
How He comforted us in that loss we had.
How we had this thorn in our flesh, but His grace was sufficient.
How we lost hope in a certain person and then God turned them around.
How we had that financial setback or lost that job, and He provided.
How we thought we just couldn’t get through that one thing, and He brought us through it.
And so we remember His past faithfulness to us.
We remember Him as we walk through the day, and we remember Him as we lie on our beds at night, like David did.
We remember Him as our Rock and our Fortress, and our Deliverer, and our Friend, and we long for Him like the deer who pants after the waterbrook.
And we love Him. We love Him.
And we remember that He loved us first. Even when we were unloveable. And maybe we don’t feel all that loveable even today. But He loves us anyway. And so we love Him.
I became a Christian in 1976.
Contemporary Christian Music was a brand new phenomenon.
Four years before I became a Christian, there was a man named John Fischer who wrote a song. And it’s a song I have never forgotten in 30 years. It’s simple, almost simplistic, but it sticks in your mind, and it blesses you, and then you realize how profound the simple little song is.
It’s called the “All Day Song”.
"Love Him in the morning when you see the sun arising,
Love Him in the evening ‘cause He took you through the day.
And in the in-between times when you feel the pressure coming,
Remember that He loves you and He promises to stay."
Have a blessed Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Savior!
Saturday, December 18, 2010
1. Virgins don’t have babies.
I mean, the whole idea is absurd. Remember the birds and the bees? Remember biology? Remember, the egg has to be fertilized by the seed, then grows until birth? How could a virgin have a baby without any seed to fertilize the egg?
2. Gods don’t humble themselves.
There has never been a humble God in history. From the beginnings of man in Mesopotamia, Gods aren’t humble. Gods can’t be humble. After all they’re gods. They are above men, they rule over men, they squash men at will, they fight with men, they dominate men.
To humble themselves would be to show weakness, to show that they’re really not gods. No god ever humbled himself and no god ever will.
3. Gods don’t make friends.
This goes along with number two. Gods don’t make friends because that would be to humble themselves. And they sure don’t make friends with man. What do they even have in common? Nothing. Gods are gods and men are men, and never the twain shall meet. The very idea of having a god as a friend is like a man having an amoeba for a friend. Not going to happen.
I didn’t actually see it, but I read about an episode of the TV show Thirtysomething. I never watched the show because by the time I even heard of it I was already Forty-something.
But this episode was about the character Hope, who was a Christian, arguing with her Jewish husband, Michael, about the holidays.
“Why do you even bother with Hanukkah?” she asks. “Do you really believe a handful of Jews held off a huge army by using a bunch of lamps that miraculously wouldn’t run out of oil?”
Michael shoots back, “Oh, and Christmas makes more sense? Do you really believe an angel appeared to some teenage girl who then got pregnant without ever having had sex and traveled on horseback to Bethlehem where she spent the night in a barn and had a baby who turned out to be the Savior of the world?”
Well, do you believe it, friend? I do.
Well, it wasn’t a horse that Mary rode to Bethlehem, it was a donkey. But the character Michael got it pretty accurate, otherwise, didn’t he?
And it’s got to be one of the most ridiculous-sounding stories ever to be written, that the writer actually expects you to believe. We’re not talking about some fiction writer telling of Hobbits or Jabba the Hutt, and hoping we’ll pretend to believe it just long enough to enjoy the story. We’re talking about serious theological guys who tell the story of the birth of Jesus without batting an eye, and expect us to believe it as true, down to the last bit.
Well, what about our three reasons to reject this baby Jesus?
Let’s take them one at a time.
1. Virgins don’t have babies.
It’s true they usually don’t. But think with me for a minute. Suppose God wanted to send a Savior to pay for the sins of men by sacrificing Himself on a cross, dying to take our sins on Him so that He could give us the free gift of His righteousness, so that we would be saved from Hell, and have eternal life, everlasting life eventually with God in heaven.
Well, there’s one little problem with that. After Adam sinned in the Garden, sin, or the sinful nature, was forever passed on to everyone who ever lived since, and that sin was passed on, the Bible says, through the seed of man.
But a Savior for man would have to be sinless. A sinner can’t pay the sacrifice for another sinner. To satisfy or appease God’s just wrath against sin, the sacrifice must be perfect, sinless, not only without having committed any sins, but without even a sinful nature. In other words, righteous.
And the sacrifice that God the Father sent, was God the Son. The perfect candidate for sacrifice. Pure, righteous, sinless, and with no sin nature.
But that brings up another problem. How does God the Son get to earth to get this done. After all, since it was by a man that we fell or inherited our sinful nature, it must be a man who sheds His blood in our place for our forgiveness and salvation.
But if Jesus were born as a man in the normal way, then sin would pass on from His earthly dad, through his earthly dad’s seed. Got that? The sinful nature always passes on through the seed of the man.
So God did a miracle, a small miracle for Him really, but one with a huge impact on history. He implanted, miraculously a seed into Mary, which the Bible then calls “the seed of the woman” (see, not the seed of a man). This miraculous seed joined with Mary’s egg, and you know the rest. A sinless baby boy was born. Not only sinless in not ever committing a sin, but sinless in not even having a sinful nature, like the rest of us.
So not only did this virgin have a baby, but it couldn’t have been any other way, or the baby could not have been sinless.
2. Gods don’t humble themselves.
It’s true in human history, that those called gods in verbal stories and written literature never humble themselves. But let me say a couple things about that.
First, they are not really gods, of course. The Bible clearly says there is only one God. There is only one true God who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and everything that is in the earth. The Bible says that this one God is in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That’s what theologians have named the Trinity. But there is only one God.
And so all those so-called gods who never humbled themselves, are just made-up stories and superstitions of fictional gods, or in some cases, may be actual beings which we call fallen angels or demons. And anybody knows, no demon is going to humble himself.
But the true God of the Bible did humble Himself.
George Herbert, the poet and Anglican priest of the 1600’s put it poetically like this:
"The God of power, as he did ride
In his majestick robes of glorie
Resolv’d to light; and so one day
He did descend, undressing all the way."
This “undressing all the way” is nothing more than the humbling of the mighty Creator of the universe. This Creator God who spread trillions of galaxies into space, and made the atoms and neutrons and electrons and quasars and army ants and the aardvarks who would eat them; this almighty, all-knowing, all-wise Jehovah God, because He so loved us, humbled Himself.
And came to earth, Emmanuel, God with us. Came to earth as the most helpless creature there is, a baby.
A real baby, by the way. Don’t believe the Christmas carol that says “no crying he makes”. I’m sure He cried alright. And he kicked and cooed, and drooled, and He couldn’t have lived more than a few hours if He wasn’t cared for.
But He grew, and because He was a real baby, He grew to be a real man. He was really God, too. But He set aside the glory and rights that He had as God. Could we dare say, "like a man becoming an amoeba"? Probably not. But it was the most astounding humbling that the world has ever seen.
And it had to be that way, but He didn’t have to do it. The Bible says He did it because He loves us. And He loves us because He chose to love us, before the creation of the world. How’s that for a mystery? He didn’t love us because we’re so lovable, He loved us because He is love, and He chose to love us.
The Bible says He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.
An explosion of glorious love as big as God, resulting in a baby away in a manger, no crib for his bed.
3. Gods don’t make friends.
Have you seen the bumper sticker, “The more I get to know people, the more I love my dog.”
It’s a sad point, really, but one that we can understand. People are fearfully and wonderfully made, the Bible says, but the same Bible says "Cursed is he who trusts in man.”
Or how about the cynical little verse, “To dwell above with saints we love, O that will be glory. But to dwell below with saints we know, well that’s a different story.”
What God in His right mind would want to be friends with us?
I would contend that the Bible teaches that God not only loved us when we weren’t lovable, but he chose to befriend us when we were his enemies.
Thankfully, Mary didn’t say to the angel, “Are you crazy?” O.K., she did say, “But I’ve never been with a man.” So she wasn’t gullible. But you know what she was? She was godly. And so she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
She wasn’t gullible and she wasn’t stupid. She had to have known instinctively what she was in for. The humiliation, the doubts even from loved ones, the shame for her betrothed, Joseph, the jeers and stares and tsk tsk’s. But she did what a godly girl should do. She said in effect, “Thy will be done.”
When we read what’s called the "Magnificat", Mary’s beautiful words in Luke Chapter 1 which begin with, “My soul magnifies the Lord”, we see that her language is filled with the Psalms. This tells us that she was probably raised in a Bible-believing home. And this too was part of God’s wonderful plan.
Malcolm Muggeridge, commenting on our modern Roe v. Wade society wrote,
“It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. Mary’s pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger. Thus our generation, needing a Savior more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born.”
But God worked it out, didn’t He?
With a baby in a manger, who was Himself God, yet man.
And the man grew in wisdom and stature, and He suffered beyond imagination as He shed His blood and died. And by shedding His blood and dying, and rising again from the dead, this man who is also God, became a friend to those who had been His enemies.
This is His Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of friends of God.
Friends of God are those who have been born again. They are those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And they are those who have given up working and striving to earn God’s love and favor, but accepted the free gift of His love and forgiveness and salvation, by grace.
Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
As of this message, it’s close to Christmas. The day we celebrate the birth of Jesus. And once again, we are reminded of three wonderful things.
A virgin did have a baby.
And our God did humble Himself.
And the one true almighty God has made us His friends.
Happy Birthday Jesus...and thanks.