Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Delivering the Deliverer

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
Luke 2:6-7a

When Jesus took on flesh and entered history to offer salvation to mankind, He didn't descend from heaven on a cloud or come down in a whirlwind riding a fiery chariot. He entered our world through the womb of Mary. Have you ever paused to consider the fact that it took human labor and significant pain for Christ to come? Most children's stories, Christmas pageants, and nativity movies skip over the labor and delivery part of the Christmas story; so it can be easy for us to overlook as well. But consider that Mary didn't have the conveniences of modern hospitals to help her out. No ice chips or hot tubs. She didn't have pain meds or an epidural. With God's hand upon her she screamed and struggled and delivered the Deliverer. 

But Mary's sacrifice wouldn't end there. Forty days later at the temple, a godly man named Simeon prophesied to Mary that "a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:34-35). How true this would prove. Later once He had begun His ministry, Jesus came and preached in His hometown among those who knew His mother and His family. What He said so enraged the crowd that they tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:14-30). Imagine the social stigma Mary bore. It must have only grown as the religious leaders of the day increasingly disapproved of and attacked Jesus and His followers. But the sword of which Simeon spoke came at Jesus' death. Mary stood at the foot of the cross and watched her beloved Son die for her own sins. She watched as evil men murdered her Son. She watched Him suffer and struggle for breath. 

Although Mary's story is exceptional, as we examine Scripture and history we find that it is not unusual. God often invites people to join in His work. But His work almost always requires struggle, suffering and sacrifice be made. So this begs the question, what great deeds might God be calling you to accomplish for His kingdom in the new year and what cross might He ask you to bear? Are you willing to suffer, struggle, and labor to accomplish great things for God?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

There's a scene in Les Miserables that always gets me. Jean Valjean has just been released from prison. His exhilaration of being set free is quickly squelched as the cold reality sets in of how hard it will be for him to find work or food as an ex-con. When a bishop takes him into his home for the night, Valjean's utter desperation leads him to give in to temptation. He steals some silver from the bishop during the night. Having been caught by police, Valjean says that the bishop gave him the silver. When the police bring him back to the bishop's home to return the stolen goods, the bishop realizes that Valjean's fate is in his hands. In an amazing display of grace, the bishop confirms Valjean's story that he gave him the silver and even chides Valjean for leaving so quickly that he forgot to take the candlesticks. He stuffs these into his bag as well and send him on his way. Now not only free, but with enough money and renewed hope in humanity to have a real chance in the world.  

Romans 5:8 unveils the incredible truth that God loved you when you were still a sinner. Even while you were rebelling against Him in sin, when you were still His enemy, He loved you. He sent His Son to take on flesh and die in the your place. "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die" (Romans 5:7). But God died for you when you were His enemy!

God loved us and showered grace on us when we were not worthy of it. Even now, who among us would consider themselves worthy of God's blessings? No one. So the Christian life ought to be marked by reconciliation, by grace, by not just second chances but by seventy-seventh chances (see Matthew 18:21-22).

Do you show love to those whom you think don't deserve it? Do you pour out gifts on people you think may not even appreciate it? If you are a believer, you ought to. Your love, your surprising grace, just may be the tool God uses to help lift someone out of their present condition. So go in the peace that God has given us. Take hope, grace and forgiveness with you and introduce them into the lives of those who need them the most. Make sacrifices to love unworthy people in costly ways, because this is how God has loved you in Jesus. Be changed by that love and live it out. 

For further reading...
  • Matthew 18:21-35- If you are thinking about holding back forgiveness from someone, you really ought to read this passage first.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Traitors for Christ (W.o.W Rewind) by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead…You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James 2:17, 24-26

Do you remember the story of Rahab the prostitute? I know… it’s been a long time. Let me refresh your memory. Joshua has just taken over for Moses as leader of Israel. They're at the edge of the Promised Land ready to take possession of it when Joshua sends out two spies to check out a city named Jericho that is well-known for its fortified walls. While in the city they stay with a woman named Rahab, a prostitute. Somehow the King finds out and sends guards to Rahab’s house to seize them. But Rahab hid the spies and sent the guards off in the wrong direction.

To explain to the spies why she helped them Rahab says, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you… for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:9 and 11b). Then she asked the spies to swear to spare her life and the lives of all her family when they come take possession of the land. The spies agreed and Rahab let them down by a rope from her window. They returned to tell Joshua all that happened. Shortly thereafter Israel marched into the Promised Land and defeated Jericho. Rahab and all her family were spared.

So why are we talking about this obscure Old Testament character? Well, because the New Testament seems to think she is worth talking about. Notice that Rahab is the only woman mentioned by name as one who had faith in the great faith chapter, Hebrews 11. The apostle James also mentions her as an example of justification by faith in action. Not only that, but we also find out in Matthew 1 that this Rahab is an ancestor of Jesus Christ himself. So the real question is, what did Rahab get right that we need to imitate?

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as being “certain of what of we do not see.” From the account in Joshua 2 it is clear that Rahab is certain of something she does not see. She was certain that Israel’s God was the true God of heaven and earth. She had faith in a God whom she hadn’t even encountered yet. Hearing testimony of the great miracles that He was working on His people’s behalf was enough. She believed. But James rightly points out that Rahab did more than just believe; she acted on her faith. She was so certain of this that she was willing to wager her life on it. She was willing to betray her king, her city, and all the people in it (save her family) in order to be in right relationship with the one, true God. She was a traitor for Christ.

Now I want to ask you two questions. First, does your faith work? James says that “faith without works is dead.” If you have a living faith, then it will produce action in your life. It is this “living faith” that is dangerous. It is this type of faith that brings about change in our world and lights hearts on fire for the Lord. Do you have a living active faith? If not, then you should ask God to renew and revive your faith. We serve the originator of all life. It was He who breathed life into Adam and Eve’s lifeless forms, and He can breathe life into your lifeless faith if you ask Him to.

Second, are you willing to be a traitor for Christ? Rahab valued being in right relationship with God more than she valued anything else…even her own life. She knew she would be killed if the king’s guards found out she had lied, but she feared God more than death. She valued God above all else. She was willing to turn her back on everyone and everything in order to follow Him. The Bible teaches that this world is at odds with the world to come. James 4:4 says “friendship with the world is hostility toward God.” This world is so at odds with God’s kingdom that we must choose between the two. Where does your allegiance lie? Are you willing to “betray” this world in order to be a citizen of the next? Are you willing to choose God over any and everything else in this world that could compete for your time or passion? That’s what it means to be a traitor for Christ. You choose Christ over all else. You choose Christ over anything that comes between you and Him, because you value Him more than anything.

Make your choice.

For further reading this week…

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Carry Them Up the Mountain (W.o.W. Rewind)

Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Matthew 15:29-31

With what difficulty they must have climbed that mountain to see Jesus! For many of the lame, the crippled and the blind it was a trip they could not make on their own. They had to be carefully guided or even carried up the mountain. The passage clearly states that they were brought to Jesus by the crowds and laid at His feet. Those needing healing are not the actors in the passage. They are being acted upon by their good friends. They had friends who exerted great energy to bring them to Christ. Oh, but with what ease these same men, women and children must have gone skipping back down the mountain they had been carried up! Upon meeting Jesus their eyes were opened, their deepest hurts removed, and their injuries healed. And take note of the outcome on the people as whole: worship. The crowd was in awe of Jesus' power and they praised God!

The Bible tells us that sin has an amazing power to blind and deceive us, so that people who are still lost in their sin do not know to come to Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). They do not know that healing can be found in Him unless we tell them, unless we bring them to Him.

Who are you working to bring to Jesus right now? What friend or family member are you inviting to church? Who are you telling all that Jesus has done for you? You must bring people to Jesus! They cannot make it on their own.

I know that sometimes it feels like pointing your friends to Jesus is an impossible task. Sometimes it may feel like you are carrying them up a mountain, but press on! Don't give up. Continue to encourage your friends to turn to Jesus, for if they will look to Him in faith then the powerful working of the gospel in their lives will lead to greater worship for the Lord both now and in eternity. 

For further reading...