Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Very Important Message: Part 2

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

   “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:13-14

One day far in the future, when you are old and gray and you look back at your life, what do you think your greatest accomplishments will be? What do you want them to be?

The familiar Christmas passage above reveals the two great accomplishments of Jesus’ arrival: glory in heaven and peace on earth. Last week we considered how Jesus' birth and life brought God glory in heaven. (You can read that post here.) This week we will consider how it brought peace on the earth. 

Peace can mean general well-being and harmony. But when peace comes, it also implies the existence of a time when there was a lack of peace. It suggests that there was strife and discord that has now been ended by peace. This is most certainly true of us in relation to God.

Colossians 1:21 teaches us that until men turn to Christ, they are His enemies. This is not because God has set Himself against us, but because we have set ourselves against God. Every single one of us from our earliest days on this earth has chosen to rebel against God and His commands. We have all chosen to reject His rightful kingship authority in our lives and live under our own authority. We reject the true king and set ourselves up in His place. This puts us at odds not only with God but also with other men. They want to be king and so do we. Not everyone can be in charge, and not everyone can be right. So we war with each other.

Jesus’ arrival introduces peace into this discord in two ways. First, Jesus puts men at peace with God through His death on the cross: Colossians 1:20 says that through Jesus God has reconciled all things to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Second, Jesus puts men at peace with each other also by His death on the cross. Ephesians 2:14-17 says this of the peace that Jesus brings between the Jew and Gentile: "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility."

Surely, Jesus is the Prince of Peace who brings peace on earth. How about you? Is your life marked by peace? Have you asked Jesus to set you right with God? If not, there is no better time than Christmas to surrender your life to Him. (For more information on accepting Christ as your Savior, see "The Gospel in a Nutshell" at the bottom of this post.) Or maybe you are at peace with God but not with those around you. Christmas is a wonderful time to make peace with that family member you are at odds with. You don’t need to wait for them to apologize to make peace. Jesus certainly didn't! Perhaps you are at peace with our Father in heaven and with men, but you know others who are not at peace with God. Follow Jesus’ example by sharing Him and the good news of His death and resurrection with them this Christmas.

Be a peacemaker this Christmas and spread the peace of God wherever you go. Merry Christmas!

For further reading...
  • Ephesians 2- Read this wonderful passage that covers much of the same material as this post. 
  • Colossians 1:15-23- "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior."
  • Matthew 5:9- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • Matthew 1:18-2:23 & Luke 1:1-2:40- Check out the full Christmas story!
The Gospel in a nutshellIf you are unfamiliar with what the gospel is, here it is in a shortened form. We are all sinners. Every one of us has sinned against God. We have rejected His way and gone our own way. We have all rebelled against the one true King. Our sin deserves punishment. In fact, so great a sin against so great a God deserves Hell. But God, because of His great love for us, wanted to offer us forgiving grace. For God to be just, our sin had to be punished though. So God in His wisdom took the punishment for our sin on Himself in Jesus. Jesus died to pay the price for your sins and mine and then He rose from the dead, breaking the power of sin over us. He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for those who believe in Him. So that now those who place their faith in Him can be forgiven and spend eternity in Heaven with their Savior. If you would like to do that today, here is what you need to do.

  • A- Admit that you are a sinner and in need of God's grace (Romans 3:10 and 3:23).
  • B- Believe that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and that He was raised from the dead (Romans 6:23 and 5:8).
  • C- Confess Jesus as Lord of your life. Turn from sin (from living life your way) and commit to live your life for God (Romans 10:9 - "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.").

You can also check out this post: "What does Jesus' death have to do with me?"

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Very Important Message: Part 1

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

   “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:13-14
How do you communicate a message that you believe is extremely important? Do you shout it to make sure it is heard? Or maybe you whisper it to draw them in closer? Perhaps you put it in print, in ALL CAPS, bold it, underline it, or change the font color. Whatever you do, chances are that you make sure people can tell your message is important.
God has His own ways of making sure we know when He is giving us important messages. One of those ways is by sending the message via His messengers, the angels. This is one way we know that the birth of Christ is so important, because there are so many angelic visits surrounding the event (Matthew 1:20-21, Matthew 2:12, Matthew 2:13,  Luke 1:11-20, Luke 1:26-38, & Luke 2:8-14). But there is only one message in the Christmas story that is delivered by more than one angel. In fact, God sent a great company of angels, possibly thousands of angels to deliver the same message to the same people at the same time. This must be a very important message!
Luke 2:14 reveals the two great accomplishments of Jesus’ arrival: glory in heaven and peace on earth. This week we will consider how Jesus' birth and life brings God glory. Next week we will consider how it brought about peace on earth. 
Scripture compares God’s glory to the sun in Revelation 21:23 when it says that in heaven there will be no sun for God’s glory itself will be our light. So God’s glory is like the sun that sends forth its warmth and light. God’s glory sends forth God’s goodness and excellence so that creation can respond in praise. Jesus is like the rays of the sun in this analogy. The sun would be warm and light giving even if its rays did not reach all the way to earth, we just wouldn’t know it. But because they do bring its warmth and light to earth we can enjoy them and give thanks for the sun. Jesus brings the glory of God’s grace and goodness down to earth in ways we never could have known otherwise. Through Him we experience God's love and forgiveness. Because of Him, God is glorified as we respond with faith and praise.
Christ also provides the ultimate example of obedience. John 17:4 says that Jesus glorified God by completing the work He gave Him to do. God had a perfect and wise plan for Jesus’ life. By submitting Himself to follow God’s plan completely, Jesus allowed Himself to be used to display God's glory supremely. He was born as a man. He lived a life of service to the sick, the dying, the needy, and the sinner. He allowed Himself to be falsely accused, mocked, tortured, murdered, & buried in the very ground He created; all to follow God’s plan for His life and bring glory to His name.

Do you know that God has a plan for your life too? Ephesians 2:10 says that God has prepared good works in advance for believers to do. It isn't just Jesus or ministers that God has a specific plan for. God has specific good deeds He has planned for your future. Only through prayer and the discernment of the Holy Spirit will you determine exactly what these good works are...if you are willing to fully obey Him like Christ. Is God calling you to quit work to stay home with your children? Is He calling you to go back to work, to share the gospel? Maybe you feel led to become a missionary or a minister? He might be calling you to make a big year end gift to a church or charity. Whatever the Lord is calling you to do, even if you don't know what it is yet, will you commit to following His plan for your life? At Christmas as we celebrate that Jesus was willing to come to earth following God's plan for His life, what better time than now for you to submit yourself to God’s plan?
For further reading...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Resurrected Life

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians 3:1-3

Christianity is not a life change. It is a resurrection. The Bible teaches that all humans are dead in their sins. Those who respond to Christ's death and resurrection in faith are made alive through that faith to live for God. Since believers were dead and have now been made alive, it is fitting for us to set out minds on things above (where Christ is and where we are going) as opposed to setting our minds on earthly things. 
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Colossians 3:5-11
When the Holy Spirit first breathes life into the Christian's soul and calls him to salvation, that new believer's mind is dead set on the things of this world and his heart is black with love for sin. As he responds in faith, the Christian gets his first taste of the amazing goodness of God. Having tasted God's goodness, he rightly desires more of it, but the old inclinations toward the earthly remain. The believer must actively choose to put off this old mindset and this old way of living life.

Notice how much of this old life has to do with relationships. This is why it can be hard for new believers to continue all of their old friendships. If these relationships drag the believer back into lust, lying, anger, sexual immorality, evil desires, slander, and filthy language then he must choose between living a resurrected life and his friends. He will do well to recall what Jesus had to say about the man who puts his hand to the plow and turns back (Luke 9:61-62). Of course becoming a Christian does not mean you have to leave your lost friends (Mark 2:13-17 & Luke 15), but it does mean a commitment to cutting these old behaviors out of your life, putting off the old self and some friendships simply will not survive that level of life change.

But the Christian life is not only about putting off the old self, it is also a concerted effort to set your mind on the things above. We are not merely called to put off worldly behavior but to put on Christian behavior. Christianity isn't something that happens on the periphery of your life. It affects everything! It changes your identity, your behavior, and your hope. Today I challenge you to put on the new self by living out Colossians 3:12-17 below.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
With the help of the Spirit, seek out and put to death sin in your life, and continually seek to add more of the virtues of heaven to your manner of living.

For further reading...
  • Mark 2:13-17 & Luke 15- There is little doubt that Christians must cut sin out of their lives. Sometimes avoiding temptation and sin comes at the cost of losing relationships. Yet, the Bible has a lot to say about Jesus' relationships with sinners. How do these passages balance out the idea that the Christian must cut sin out of her life, but need not necessarily cut sinners out as well? (Any right understanding of this issue must admit a new believer relates to her lost friends differently after her conversion than she did before.)
  • Luke 9:61-62- What does this passage have to teach those of us who accept Jesus and then turn back to our life sin and live an essentially unresurrected life?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

God Weighs the Heart

Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.
Proverbs 21:2 (NASB)

When I was in high school, I worked for my father in the summer. He had a small civil engineering firm. I would work with his land surveyors. One day when I was working out in the field, it began to rain, so we packed up the electronic equipment and went to grab lunch. We made our way to a pizza joint in the area and waited out the rain eating pizza and playing video games. After about an hour the rain subsided and the sun came out. I thought it was about time to head back out, but my crew chief said it could start raining again any time. It really wouldn't be any use to get all the way back out into the field and set up the equipment just to have it start raining again, so we should just stay there and play video games a little while longer, he reasoned. I knew that was an excuse to play video games, but I rationalized that he was in charge and I really didn't have the right to disagree with him. I didn't want to seem like the kiss-up boss' son. And who knows? He might be right, I thought. It really could start raining again any time. So we played Ms. Pac-Man a little while longer. Rationalizations like this sound good in your head, but when your father walks through the door of a pizza joint and sees you playing video games when you should be out working, you suddenly realize how faulty they are. Needless to say I was more than a little embarrassed, and I imagine my crew chief was too.

We all make excuses to do what we want to do. We all rationalize our behavior. We find reasons to think that what we want to do is the right thing to do or at least that it's okay for us to do. But the truth is that God isn't going to judge us by our excuses. He will judge us by our hearts. Proverbs 21:2 tells us that "Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts." The Lord will look past our excuses and our rationalizations and He will look at what really motivated our behavior: our heart. The truth is that my excuses for staying and playing video games that day were just ways of explaining away my behavior. They weren't the real reason I stayed. I stayed because I would rather play video games than go work in the hot sun. I would rather play video games than stand up to my crew chief.

There will come a day when our heavenly Father will surprise you without warning just like my father did on that day. He will enter into judgment on that day against the whole world. And He will judge you for everything you have ever done. Most of us are all too eager to explain away our sin and make excuses for ourselves; but on that day our excuses will not matter. God isn't going to judge you based on the ingenuity of your excuses. He is going to weigh your heart. He will look at your intentions, what you loved and why you actually did what you did. He will look at the true motives behind your behavior. So resist the urge to explain away your bad temper, your filthy language, your tendency to gossip, your occasional drunken frolic, or your sexual activity outside of marriage. Focus today on doing what is right in God's eyes based on what His Word says instead of doing what is right in your own eyes. Ask God to open your eyes today so you can see the sin in your life that you have excused for too long, then repent and ask Him for forgiveness and freedom from that sin based on His Son's death and resurrection. 

For further reading...
  • Proverbs 16:2- Do you think this proverb is restating the same point as Prov. 21:2, or is there some difference?
  • Judges 21:25 & 2:11-23- The book of judges reveals a sad cycle of sin that happens when men do what is right in their own eyes. The people of Israel would turn away from God into idolatry until God punished them by means of oppression from a foreign nation. Finally, Israel would repent and God would send a judge to deliver them. Then in time, Israel would turn away from God into idolatry again, and the cycle would repeat.