Do We Have to Choose Between the Manger and the Cross?

Image result for the manger and the cross

During the Christmas season we think about Jesus coming as a baby. There is wonder here. There is a miracle. Yet, do we sometimes we get stuck in Bethlehem and the manger? He was born for a purpose. He was born not to simply be adored. He came to save. Let us never forget it.

 

 

 


Luke 1:49-50 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name. 50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him.”


I think about Mary… When she found out that she was pregnant, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. What was on her mind? We aren’t told if she asked her cousin about baby stuff or being a mother for the first time. What we are told is their opening exchange. It isn’t just softness and light. They are focused on God, His goodness, and His power. Mary’s long statement is called, “The Magnificat” in m

 

any Bibles. It is a statement of praise regarding the work of God. Mary is focused on the good

 

ness and power of God. She declares that God is doing amazing things both for her and for all who would come to God.

Oh how I wish that Christmas for me could be about both. I don’t want to miss the wonder that comes when we think of the God of the universe becoming a little baby. At the same time, I don’t want to forget that even from a little baby our Jesus came with a purpose. He came to save.

 

What about you? How do you keep the balance between the manger and the cross? Is there something special you do?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

 

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Giving Up the Terrible Toos

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I have a suspicion. I don’t think we ever grow out of the terrible twos. Wait, no, I think we do grow out of those terrible twos. But, we exchange them for a different set of terrible toos.

Do you know what type of ‘toos’ I mean? We think, “I’m too old.” Or, “I’m too young.” We think that we are too sinful or too dumb. We imagine that we are too simple or too broken.  We are always too something.


Luke 1: 13…18-20 “But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John… Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. “And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”


What about you and me? Are you ‘too’ something? When you hear your preacher ask your church to follow God deeper, do you always assume that he must be talking to someone else who is more spiritually mature? When you read in the Bible about a person saying yes to God in some profound way, do you wish you could be like that but believe that it could never happen for you? This week at church we examined the call of God in Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah tells the angel that he and Elizabeth are just too old to have a child. They can’t possible raise the boy who would become John the Baptist. It’s too late for them – at least he thinks so. The angel believes otherwise! In fact, just to underline the point, Zechariah has to be silent for nine months because of his ‘tooness.’ Yet, we know the end to the story. They did have a boy. They did name him John.  He did become the prophet of his day that would usher in the Messiah.

Hear this today – it is time we grow out of the terrible ‘toos’.  Or, maybe we need a different ‘too.’  You know the one: Me too! This week, as you are challenged by God to follow Him deeper, say with me, “Me too!” Don’t dismiss yourself as a receiver of the work of God. Volunteer to be His next great work. Ask to be used. Asked to be changed. Cry out, “Me too!”

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Thanksgiving Clears the Eyes

At this time of year we hear people say words of gratitude. We have thanksgiving services. We gather together for the thanksgiving meal. Yet, being truly thankful can be a struggle.

There are many obstacles to thankfulness.

  1. The first is a struggle with circumstances. The struggle is our focus. We focus on what we don’t have instead of what we do have.
  2. The second obstacle to thankfulness is envy. Similar to our focus on our negative circumstances, this obstacle is an unhealthy focus on the good things others have. When we do that, we don’t notice that those people struggle and stumble too.
  3. The third is the mirror – pride. We come to believe that we are the creators of our own bounty. There is little room for gratefulness to God and others when pride clouds our vision.
  4. The fourth obstacle to true thankfulness is entitlement. When we feel entitled to our blessings instead of feeling thankful we feel like we are receiving only what we deserve. It’s hard to feel thankful when you also feel like you deserve the blessings you have.

It’s interesting to me that in the Bible it is the struggling who seem to have a good handle on thankfulness. Sure, they cry out to God to help them. However, in the midst of their petitions is this consistent reminder of how thankful they are. Jeremiah says it this way,

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

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What is Jeremiah’s secret? It is memory! Jeremiah doesn’t just focus in the book of Lamentations on his struggles. He focuses on God’s goodness. He fixes His eyes squarely on what would happen if God gave up on him and his people. He remembers what God has done in the past and how that has led them to the present.

It is time that we start focusing on the goodness of God again. We need to see how His love keeps intersecting our lives. We need to see the good in our lives for what it is – not what we deserve or just blind luck – it is the gift of a loving Heavenly Father. We are not alone. We are not forgotten. We did not create our own blessings. He is the source of all those things.

What about you and me? Have you noticed that these obstacles all relate to our focus? Are any of these obstacles affecting your focus? Are the eyes of your heart cloudy or blurred so that you cannot see how much God is loving on you? We sang on Sunday the old chorus, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” May that be our prayer today. May we pray that our eyes would no longer be cloudy. May God help us see clearly how good He is to us.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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When God is Important to Us, We Find Joy

What moves you? What makes your heart beat with passion or your eyes light up? It’s worth it, isn’t it? It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the struggle. It’s joy!

Matthew 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46  and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

When we think about joy we connect it with being happy. Unfortunately, that connection makes us doubt our joy when we aren’t happy. Yet, it doesn’t challenge our joy in other areas.

Think about raising your children. You don’t think, “Do I  like it?” Do you? No, they are worth it! There is joy in raising them. Their future is what we are looking for.  We see what they will become and our sacrifices are worth it. This is what Jesus tells us the kingdom of Heaven is like.  It is something that is worth giving all to. It is something that is worth sacrificing everything for. He is worth it! By the way, he tells us that we are worth it too.

Hear these words from the book of Hebrews in a new light, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the  author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2, emphasis mine) What was the joy Jesus was focused on? It was the resurrection to be sure. However, we read in other passages that Jesus’ focus was not simple physical relief. His ultimate joy is to see people, His people, be redeemed for the glory of the Father. So, more than just resurrection was Christ’s joy. You were too.

So, Christian, isn’t He worth it today to be your joy? Isn’t He worth any sacrifice or pain we have to face? That is joy. Not a fleeting happiness, but an abiding declaration of worth. Jesus is worth it. Living in that knowledge is the very definition of joy. May we find it today.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Peace, Angst, and the American Way

The early Superman comics said that he stood for, “Truth, justice, and the American way.” I think that we could say that today we might stand for peace, angst and the American way. We say we want peace. Yet we choose angst.

Angst is so common. We have angst over relationships. We have angst over job situations. We have angst over the future. We have angst over help. Sometimes, I think that we want an IV drip of angst just so we don’t have to leave it behind. So, when Jesus says that He gives peace it is a mystery to us what that feels like.

Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3  Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Yet, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27) Our God is called the God of all peace. We are told in Isaiah (a common Christmas passage) that the increase of our King’s control and peace will never end. So, God cares a lot about peace.

Now, do we? This is the tough part of God’s teaching about peace. We pray for peace. We long for peace. We have peace rallies. Yet, do we undermine peace in how we live?

Let me give you some examples of how we undermine peace daily:

1 – We don’t love our enemies, we seek to defeat them. Jesus tells us that we can find great personal victory (peace!) when we let go of our anger or bitterness and chose kindness instead. Do we do it?

2 – We use karma (what goes around comes around) instead of grace (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) as our definition of justice. Jesus declares that things like vengeance and harsh words turn us into something that we wouldn’t want to know. Can’t we let Him fight for us?

3 – We don’t receive the forgiveness that Jesus has already paid for. This type of peace is internal: forgiving yourself. How many times do we act out of guilt or embarrassment instead of love? God has told us that we are forgiven, and He loves us. Do we believe it or not?

Which type of peace will you seek today? Will you seek the peace that Jesus has bought for your heart and for God? Will you live in grace with those around you? Will you love your enemies? When we don’t, we find that the self-punishment and petty victories are not as satisfying as we want. We discover over time that what we really want is peace instead of hollow victories. What will you seek today?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

If you want to seek peace with others… study and apply Romans 12:9-21

If you want a reminder of God’s love and grace toward you… study and rejoice in Romans 5:1-2

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Faith, Love, and God

There’s as song from the 20th century that asks this question: “What’s love got to do with it?” When we think about the things we believe and put our faith in, we usually think about its truth. However, over and over in the Word of God we are told that our faith is placed in God because of what His love does in us.

Paul says in Romans 5, “1  Therefore, having been justified by faith,  we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5)

The reason I chose this passage as the focus of how we walk in faith because of the love of God is these 4 words: and not only this.  Not only this… We rejoice not just because we are justified by faith. We rejoice not just because we have peace with God. We rejoice not just because we look forward to Heaven.  Now, all of those things are enough to rejoice in, but Paul says that we (that is all Christians) can and should rejoice in our tribulations! He says that we rejoice in our sufferings right alongside these glorious truths. How can that be? It is because of the love of God!

Do you see the ‘because’ in verse 5? Paul understood the far-reaching implications of God’s love.  It isn’t just a “second-hand emotion.” God’s love is God’s commitment to do in us as He promised. Paul mentions the Holy Spirit at the end of verse 5. Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a few important things.  He calls Him our Comforter.  He calls Him the Spirit of Truth. Jesus calls Him the One who prays with us.  Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the pledge of God’s promise.

That’s why Paul knew that God would keep all of His promises. That is why Paul knew that all our suffering is even something to rejoice in. It’s because the Spirit reminds us constantly of the love of God. If He didn’t intend to keep His promises, God wouldn’t have sent Him. Yet, here He is. He empowers Christians. He gives comfort when we are hurting. He leads us and works in mighty ways among us. He proves over and over that God loves us.

So, will we respond to that love with faith? God’s people have always done that. They see the love of God poured out in the Son on that cross, and they respond in faith. They see the Holy Spirit affirm that love in their own lives and they respond with faith. Will we?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Fear & Hope

Fear is all around us. We watch scary movies. We are afraid because of terrorists, diseases, and natural disasters. We are afraid for our children, our parents, ourselves. So when we read in the Scriptures to not be afraid, it can appear to be a pipe dream. What is this power that God seems to think we have to not be afraid? That power is hope!

In Matthew 8 there is an interesting story about Jesus, the disciples, a boat, and a rain storm:

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep. And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, ” Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm. (Matthew 8:23-26)

I am struck by Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid?” He connects their fear with their lack of faith in the second part of the question, doesn’t He?  He isn’t talking here of saving faith.  He is talking about the faith to live everyday life. You see, faith is a special Bible word to describe a certain type of trust. Yes, it is the type of trust that solidifies our side of salvation. However, it is more than that. We are invited to keep living in that trust everyday. That is what Jesus is saying simply in His question to them. In other words, He is saying – “Why are you afraid if you are trusting me to take care of you everyday? Is your faith in my care really so shaky?” That is where hope comes in. Hope is the lived out expression of our trust. It is not an emotion or mere wishing. It is the perspective we get when we live in our trust.

So, how does a person get good at hope? Well, here is the rub… Trust comes with experience. It can’t be fabricated nor is there a shortcut to get there. Paul describes it this way:

And not only this [rejoicing in the glory of God], but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

He rejoiced (exulted) in struggles because they proved something. They proved over and over that God would always be there for us in Christ. We would persevere because of Jesus. As we persevered our character would be honed. That change of character would affirm our trust and give us hope. Why? Because the growing of Godly character in us shows us that God will never leave us or abandon us – He loves us!

No shortcut – just lived out love. God’s love for us and our love for God lived out in the arena of life with all its bumps, cuts, and bruises. When He changes us, we are reminded again that He told us that He would empower us to face challenges and grow. What happens then? Our trust grows too.

So, when you go through those hard times, keep trusting God. You are laying a foundation for hope. That hope will not disappoint you. It will remind you that you are never alone. God goes before you. He upholds you. He cares for you everyday. Then, you and I can face the future without fear.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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