Thursday, December 29, 2011

The New Year

During the week before Christmas I was the on-call chaplain at Morehead Hospital here in Eden.  On Sunday morning, just as I was leaving for church I received a page from the ER.  When I answered the call I was told that a two-month old baby girl had just died suddenly and I was needed "stat."  I arrived to a scene I will never forget.  I have been a pastor for over 37 years and I have rarely seen such distraught people over any kind of death.  It was very sad and it certainly was a difficult situation in which to minister.  What do you say to parents and gran-parents that have just lost their baby after she got a clean bill of health from the doctor three days before?  The police were there as a matter of routine and they looked like they felt as awkward as I did.  That little child was so beautiful and the family was so upset, I had to silently ask God "why?"  We can all come up with explanations both theological and medical but none of them can really speak to a hurting family (or even a very human minister!).

Three days later I received another page that called me back to the hospital.  There had been another sudden death but this time it was a 92 year-old woman.  I saw joy on the faces of this family (the son and his wife) as they were so grateful for having their mother as long as they did and for her good health right up until the end.  They were ready to let her go and they know where she was.  It was easy for me to minister in such a situation.  Having lost my parents, I could identify with them and feel both their pain and their joy.

In the span of a few days I had seen the contrast of two similar yet different deaths.  As we enter into 2012 we know that we will encounter all sorts of painful and joful experiences.  In all of these situations the believer in Christ can be sure of at least two things:  First of all, we can now that nothing happens to us that does not pass through the hands of God first.  It is difficult for me to "blame" God for the death of a little baby but it is even harder for me to accept that this was a random event that God could not prevent.  Somehow we all must learn and accept the fact that the Lord knows best.  There is much we do not know but we know the One who does know and that is good enough for me.

Secondly, we can know that the end result of all that happens to us will be for our good and for the furtherance of God's kingdom (Romans 8:28).  Sometimes we can piece together events and see how they worked for the best.  At other times we just have to wait until we "know even as we are also known". (I Corinthians 13:12)

A good way to enter the New Year is to say and live "Jesus is Lord".  I am not much for New Year's resolutions but a fresh commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ is a great idea.  I hope and pray that you will join me in surrendering once again (or maybe for the first time) to the God who loves us and sent His Son to save us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

CHRISTMAS DAY; Dec. 25

If this is not the 25th please go over to the right side of this page and click on the appropriate date.

Read:  Luke 2:15-20  Key verse:  "And when they had seen Him, they told others what the angel had said about this child." vs. 17

If you are reading this on Christmas Day you probably have already opened your gifts, been to church, and had a big meal.  It is still Christmas but Christmas is over.  After all the anticipation and excitement of Advent and the arrival of December 24 and 25 it normal to have a let down.  Feelings come and go--our joy is not based on them.  The important thing is that we have experienced the celebration of Christ's birth once more and we have a story to tell.

When the shepherds had heard about the birth of the Savior they said, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem and see this child that the Lord has told us about!"  It is important to not just hear about Christ but to meet Him as well.  After their visit they went and told others about this amazing event.  When you really encounter Christ you cannot hold it in--you want to share the good news that Son of God has come.  "And all who heard wondered about what the shepherds had said."  This end of the Christmas story is really the beginning.  The rest of our life should be spent spreading this good news.   We should feel that we have to do it, not because we are commanded to(although we are commanded to), but because we want to share it.  The gospel is too great for us not to want others to know it!

The real end of the Christmas story is that "the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard."  All that God does for us brings Him great glory.  Our lives should focus on honoring Jesus with our praises in worship and our telling/doing the good news in our service to others.

Of course the Christmas story really has no end.  It is an eternal truth that the eternal One entered history and changed us for Him and forever.  We can have the privilege to bring Christmas to the world every day of the rest of our lives and then in heaven we will glorify and praise Him into all eternity.  Hallelujah!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 24

Read:  John 1:1-14  Key verses: "In Him was life and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it."  John 1:4,5

"And the glory of the Lord shone round about them."  Luke 2:9b

On this Christmas Eve night many people will celebrate Christ's birth by going to a candlelight service.  I love the symbolism of the candlelight service!  The Bible tells us that this little baby that came into the world was (and still is) Life and that this Life was (and still is) the Light in a dark world.  Even the smallest light can light up a large room.  A single candle burning can give light to an entire worship center.  The darkness just disappears in the presence of one small candle just as the baby Jesus dispels the gloom just by His coming.  Where does the darkness go?  It goes nowhere--it simply ceases to exist.  This is a truth that I love to preach!  But I must learn, as we all must, that it is a truth not only for the mind but for the heart.  Can I honestly say that I have allowed the Life--this Light to be in my heart to the extent that I have no gloom?  My desire is to let this night be for me a "silent night, holy night, darkness flies all is light...Son of God, loves pure light."

In the candlelight service we each receive light from each other, but all coming originally from the one  light that represents the true Light.  The room becomes even brighter because we have received the light, shared it with others and they have  received it.    We are meant to share the Light because HE is the Light of the world.   He dispels the darkness, but incredibly , uses us to make it happen!   I like for the congregation to sing "Joy to the World"  at the end of the candlelight service and to raise their candles on the last verse if Jesus is their Lord.  "He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love."

Wherever Christ is believed and proclaimed,  His light--His glory shines!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 23

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 Read:  Luke 2:1-7   Key verse: "The time came for the baby to be born." (vs. 6b)

"At just the right time God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law." (Galatians 4:4)

You've heard the expression, "timing is everything."   Time is an ever present reality of life.  We are told that in our culture that time is the most valuable commodity.  We wear  watches to tell what time it is.   In most team sports the game is over when time runs out,   But time and timing are too different things.  In time,  one moment is the same as another.  In timing, there are moments that are much more important than others.  The moment of Christ's birth is one of those crucial moments in history.  God's timing is perfect!

"At just the right time God sent His Son." It is said that the time of Jesus' birth was the perfect moment for the gospel to happen and spread.  It was a time of relative peace.   Most of the known world spoke the same language.   Roman roads were excellent for traveling to get the word out about God's love in Christ.   The timing of Caesar's census allowed Jesus to be born where prophecy said it would happen.  The timing of Christmas was no accident.  God was orchestrating the whole process.

That Jesus was born in time is another fact about the incarnation.    Jesus was born "under the law" and "of a woman."  All that seems obvious to us now, but think about it:  His birth from eternity into time, from total freedom into restrictions, and from glory into humanity causes us to again ask, "how can this be?"   We can't fully understand it, but it is truly wonderful to realize its significance.  God became one of us!  He knows what it is like to struggle to be on time.  He can identify with our struggle with the law of sin and death.(and all the laws of physics, nations, nature etc.)  He got hungry, felt cold, knew sickness and when he stubbed his toe it hurt.  He was tempted in every way we are tempted yet was without sin.  Yet, He still knew and now knows what sin feels like because the Bible says He became sin for us.

When Jesus was baptized by John (another example of God's good timing) he was being baptized for the remission of sin.  He was identifying totally with us in a way that would lead to a painful death on a rugged Roman cross.  He would cry out, as we so often have, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?"  He knows our life because He has lived it.  Because He has lived it, He can guide us through the rough times.

Let us enjoy this Christmas season and every season by trusting God's perfect timing.  Things may not be going as you want them to, but God is right on top of it.  He will work it out if you trust Him.  He never says, "opps!"  He never has to apologize for being late.   You may be wondering why times are so bad.   We can't understand it all, but we can place our faith in the One who does.  He's got the whole wide world in His hands!  It is time to trust the Savior of the world.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 22

Read Luke 2:8-12  Key verse:  "Unto you is born this day...a Savior who is Christ the Lord." (vs. 11)

How can this be?

Let us not underestimate the importance of the angel's announcement to the shepherds that a Savior was born for them.   He was a personal gift to them just as He is to us.  Let the words ring in your heart, "unto you is born...a Savior."   It can be because God is One who loves to give Himself to people and have a relationship with them.

What is it that you like most about Christmas?  Is it the presents?  Is it the food?  Is it the music?  Most of us would say that the best part of Christmas is being with family and friends.  It is the personal part of the season that makes it so great.  And, just think:  We get it all with Jesus.  We get a personal relationship with Christ, plus great time with others.  And we also get a present--the gift of life.  We get food--the Lord's Supper.  We get music--the song God places in our hearts.  So, a real Christmas with Jesus brings every good part of the season into our lives.

Shepherds were the lowest of the low on the totem pole of society.  You were a shepherd if you could not do anything else.   God Chose to reveal the birth of His Son first to these lowly men, at least in part, to show that He came for every one.  It doesn't matter what your status is or what you think it is.  Whoever you are or whatever you have done, Christ comes to you personally and wants to be a part of your life.  He is a personal Savior who died on a cross for our sins and rose again.  What good news of great joy! (for all the people)

Friday, December 9, 2011

ADVENT Dec. 21




Read   II Kings 4:8-37  Focus:  vss. 32-37     Key verse:  "And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm."  (vs. 34)

How can this be?

God becoming human is a miracle but He has always been personal.  He desired to have direct contact with humanity so He came.  "Christ emptied Himself of His privileges as God, taking the form of a servant in the likeness of man, and appeared on earth as a man."(Phil. 2:7,8)  


This coming into direct personal contact with humanity is pictured in an event in the life of the prophet, Elisha.  Elisha had prayed for his friend, the Shunammite woman to have a child and she did.  When the boy was grown, he was working in the fields with his father when the boy collapsed and died.  When Elisha heard about it he sent his servant to run and place his staff on the boy's face.  When Elisha arrived at the house the boy was still dead.  The prophet went into the room where the son's body was laying and stretched himself out on top of him:  eyes on eyes, mouth on mouth hands on hands and the young man came to life!   In a similar way God has come to us.  The life that we need is beyond long distance help.  One of God's servants could not do the job!  So He has come to get right down where we are--to get as close to us as He can.  Laying on top of some one is very personal!   Christmas is that gift of His life to and for us as He comes eye to eye, mouth to mouth, and hands to hands.


This beautiful reality of the Word becoming flesh and living among us changes everything!  For it shows the lengths He will go to warm our lives and be personal with us.  There are many ways we die.  We die a little when some one we love dies, when we get a life-threatening illness, when we lose a friend, spouse, or job.   On and on I could list the ways we go through the valley of the shadow of death.  Christ will come to us.  He longs for us to long for Him.(Isaiah 30:18)  Make room for Him in the inn of your heart.  He will stretch Himself out on you and fill you with life you did not know possible.  He will give you Christmas.



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

ADVENT DEc. 20

Read Joshua 5:13-15   Key verses:  "What message does my Lord have for His servant?"(Josh. 5:14b  "You are standing on holy ground."(Josh. 5:15b)

How can this be?


Mary's question is answered in at least five ways: 1. God's love is the motivation.  2. His power is the agent.  3.  His activity is the reason.  His life is the gift.  4. His person is the result.  


In another pre-incarnational visit by God, Joshua, about to lead an attack on Jericho, encounters a man with a drawn sword blocking his way.  Joshua wants to know if the man is on his side.  The man states that Joshua has asked the wrong question.   He said that He was on neither side, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come."   Then Joshua fell at the man's feet and asked, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"   He answered, "Take off your shoes, for you are standing on holy ground!"


The LORD had made a personal visit to remind Joshua and us that being on God's side is more important than His being on our side.  Joshua led Israel to a great victory because he was surrendered to the LORD.  We have a personal God who often delivers messages through angels(messengers), prophets, priests, and even donkeys but at times prefers to do it Himself.  It is part of God's character as Person to want to interact with His people on a face to face basis.


Ultimately He came as a new-born baby who grew up to be a great man and die on a cross for our sins.  Mary understood the holy significance of this event.   The song that she sang indicates that she had removed her shoes because she was standing on holy ground.(Lk. 1:46-55)  "My soul magnifies the LORD and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior", started the song.  


I love and enjoy all the trappings of Christmas.  I enjoy Santa, Rudolf, Frosty, and the others.  But Christmas is Jesus!   When I think of the great event of the incarnation, I realize that I am standing on holy ground.  Christmas is joyful, but Christmas is serious.  God comes to us, not to take our side but to be by our side.  We become victorious because we have surrendered into a loving relationship with the Person of God who is victorious.  This is the message He has for us during Advent.  We are standing on holy ground.  Do not allow Christmas to become too secular or too casual.  This whole magnificent celebration is joyfully serious.  It is holy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

ADVENT Dec. 19

Read Genesis 32:22-32  Key verse:  "It is because I saw God face to face and He has spared my life." (vs. 30b)

How can this be?


We have seen the answer to Mary's question in the love of God, the power of God, the activity of God, and the life of God.  Now we find the answer in the person of God.   Even before God came to earth in His Son, He was(and always has been) personal.  A good argument for the existence of a personal God is that we are personal(created in His image).  How could the impersonal create the personal?   Personal ones love relationships with others like themselves.  God has lived in a great three way relationship within the Trinity since all eternity.  In creating us He desired to develop new relationships.  In a relationship one wants to identify with the other.  That is what happened when the Son of God came to earth.   This personal God became human so that he could experience our existence and take our place in death.


God made several pre-incarnational visits to earth before that first Christmas.  One of those trips was to Jacob.  It was not a fun visit for Jacob although it ended up great.  He was afraid for his life as he was about to have an encounter with his twin bother, Esau whom he had cheated years ago.   On the night before the encounter Jacob wrestled with a man all night.  That man turned out to be the LORD.  Jacob was blessed but he also was crippled.  His weakness became the LORD's strength.   When Jacob was willing to stop trying to control things and give them to God, he discovered the liberating blessing of the LORD.   In meeting God face to face, Jacob had found that real life comes from knowing the LORD(Jn. 17:3).  


Mary's surrender to the LORD (Lk. 1:38) led to the ultimate personal visit from God.   "The Word became flesh and pitched His tent with us.  And we have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only...who explained God."(Jn. 1:14,18)   The miracle of Christmas is that the Eternal God became a little baby.  Forget the halo in the paintings, He was human in every way.  Because He experienced humanity (yet without sin) we can have a relationship with Him.  Like Jacob, we can see Him face to face and live.  Sometimes it takes a wrestling match to really see Him, but when we surrender to Him and quit striving, the blessings of a wonderful relationship fall upon us.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

ADVENT Dec. 18



Read Luke 1:5-25,39-45  Key verse: "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."  (Lk. 1:41)

How can this be?


God is in the life-giving business.  Mary wondered how God could work a miracle in her life even as she prepared to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who herself was blessed with the miracle of a child.   Elizabeth, like Hannah, had been barren but now was pregnant with a baby that would grow up to be John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.  Even in his the womb John sensed he was in the presence of Divinity when Mary came to visit his mother..  He leaped for joy and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  God can become a man because He is a life-giver.  That's what He does.


When we are carrying the Life of God in us, others can sense it.  They may not be able to put their finger on what they are feeling, but it can cause them to jump for joy.   They will want what we have.  In my late twenties I made some friends that had the joy of the LORD.  I did not understand all the theology or even agree with it, but they had something I wanted.  They had life and I did not.  My encounter with them ultimately caused me to ask for God's life in me through the Holy Spirit.  I still cannot explain how it can be, but I know god has placed his life in my heart.


I have learned over the years that "God is light and in Him is no darkness at all."  John the Apostle wrote this light is the life we all need and are looking for.  Christmas is a time of life.  A new life coming to a feeding trough in Bethlehem.  And He changed the world!  The leap of joy you will feel, will cause you to begin the wonderful experience of being filled with His Spirit.

ADVENT Dec. 17

Read I Samuel 1:1-28  Key verse: "I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him.  So now I give him to the LORD" (vss. 27,28)

How can this be?

 Mary gave no thought to having a child.  Why should she?  She was a virgin.  Yet God wanted to implant in her the Light of Life.   God's plan was to give her this Life that the world might have everlasting life.   Hannah wanted nothing more than to have a child but she was barren.   Her earnest prayer for a child was answered and she was so grateful that she pledged that child to the LORD.  The child named Samuel became a great prophet, priest, and the one who anointed Israel's first king.  Mary's child became the great Prophet, Priest, and KingNo wonder Mary asked, 
" How can this be?

God is the great life-giver.  You may have a major disappointment in your life that no amount of prayer seems to help.  Hannah wanted a child more than anything else on earth.  She would go to Shiloh every year to worship the LORD and beg Him for a child.  She never gave up!  Finally she conceived and had a child.  Yuo can be sure that God's plan for you includes life.  He wants to energize you with His life, power and love.  It may not come in the exact form you would like but it will come.  

I am in a group that is studying the prayer of Jabez(I Chron. 4:9,10).  He prayed, "Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory and that Your hand would be with me."  Sometimes we do not know exactly what blessings God has for us but He does have them for us.   He wants to expand our territory by using us to bring His life into dead and barren places.   If we truly want His hand to be with us and we ask for it, we will have it.  The asking is important.   Prayer can really change things.  The LORD is continually placing opportunities in our lives to bring life to others.  Christmas is a great time to live out and speak out the truth of God's love in Christ. 

When Hannah's prayer was answered she remembered her promise and gave Samuel back to the LORD.   All our blessings are from Him and should be dedicated to Him.  It is in giving back to God what He has given us that life comes forth to make a difference in the world.  

A good way to live is to ask God and then to give to God.    It is just one of the great and amazing ways God works.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

ADVENT: Dec. 16

Read Genesis 18:1-15  Key verse: "...your wife Sarah will have a son," (Gen. 18:10b)

"How can this be?"


Christmas can come because of God's love, power, activity and also His Life.  He is the great life-giver.  Although Mary's pregnancy was the most unusual, spectacular, and important in the history of the world, there were other times when God intervened to bring life into a woman supernaturally.
We could talk about Rebekah(Gen. 25:21), Rachel(Gen.30:22,23), Hannah(I Sam. 1:19,20), and Elizabeth(Lk. 1:13).  But today let us think about Sarah.  She was about ninety years of age and had never had a child.  Abraham was about one hundred years of age.  The LORD made one of His pre-incarnational visits to Abraham and Sarah.(remember that God is active in His world and gets involved).    He told them that they were to have a child who would carry on the promise which would eventually lead to the coming of Christ.(Gen. 17:19)  Sarah actually laughed at this idea saying, "How could an old and barren woman like me have such pleasure, especially when my husband is even older?" and "Can an old woman like me have a baby?"   Sounds a little like Mary's "How can this be?"  God's answered clearly and emphatically,  "Is anything too difficult for the LORD!   


God's own name means eternal life(I AM Who I AM).  The LORD not only is life, He gives life.  He will come into the barrenness of your existence and produce life!  Past failures and even successes mean nothing for you right now.   We all need to know that we can have productive lives at any age.  Your track record doesn't matter.  "Nothing is impossible with God!"(Luke 1:37)  His supernatural life can infuse you with purpose, peace, and emotional prosperity.


God told Abraham and Sarah to name their son Isaac which means "laughter".   Humanly speaking it is a laugh that we might have effective and meaningful lives.  Christmas is a reminder that God can and God will make a difference.  The laughter that He brings into our lives is the sound of music in our hearts as we celebrate His coming into our hearts.

ADVENT: Dec. 15



Read Matthew 1:18-25  Key Verse: "Behold, a virgin will conceive a child.  She will give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel, which 'God with us.'" (Matt. 1:23)


"How can this be?"

I think it was Billy Graham who said that he was in India watching some road construction.  He noticed an ant hill that was about to be destroyed by the bulldozer.  He thought about the imminent doom of those ants and said to himself, "if I could just become an ant I could warn them and help them."  Like those ants, we are a people facing destruction.   Because of our rebellion, we are doomed to an eternal hell.  God knows our fate and wants us to enjoy eternal life with Him, so He sent His Son to "seek and to save those who are lost."   He came to be with us and save us.


Mary wondered how it could happen.   Joseph, no doubt, felt the same.   The angel spoke to him in a dream and said, in effect, that it was possible because of God's activity.  This child would be called Immanuel which means "God with us."   The LORD has always been involved in His creation.  The writer to the Hebrews says that Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways through the prophets, but now He has spoken to us through His Son who is an exact duplicate of God.(Heb. 1:1-3)  The LORD has always been involved, but His most decisive move was when He came in Jesus Christ.   The angel told Joseph that Mary's pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit.  It was a God-thing.
Today God is with us through that same Holy Spirit, who is Himself God.   I hope you have settled things with God and have a personal and eternal relationship with Him.   You may have the sweet by and by settled, but what about the nasty now and now!   Everything may be going OK now, but what lies around the corner.?  Is there a bulldozer headed your way that maybe you don't see?   Trust God's activity in your life through His Holy Spirit.  He is the same God that spoke to Mary and Joseph.  He is the same God who spoke to a lost world in His Son, Jesus.  He is the same God who will come to you in your time of need.


"We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell;  O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel."